Light and Dark

Life

Refined and common speech come together in the dark,

 clear and murky phrases are distinguished in the light.

………

In the light there is darkness,

but don’t take it as darkness;

In the dark there is light,

but don’t see it as light.

From “Harmony Of Difference And Sameness,” a poem by Zen Master Shitou Xiqian and chanted in Zen temples around the world.

 

Winter Solstice is coming in a few days. I am looking forward to the move back toward longer days. This has been a very mild winter for us, and for that I am very grateful. But, man, I have such a hard time with the long stretches of dark during this time of year.

At my Zen center we are studying the Sandokai, a poem that is chanted in Zen centers throughout the world. The poem has a lot to say about light and dark. I’ve quoted a couple of lines above. Last night at our meditation meet-up our teacher gave a talk about light and dark and elaborated on how the poem is telling us that darkness is unifying. In the dark we can’t see differences, it is when the light comes that we notice details. She told us about the wonderful way she experienced during a predawn meditation session at a retreat. As she sat, the sun rose and she noticed how it illuminated and showed her the detail of what was around her, rocks sitting in the distance  were revealed to be people sitting  a small distance away.

I can’t say I’ve had this kind of experience. I’ve only experienced darkness as a negative thing and something that I’ve avoided.  I am, admittedly, a little bit afraid of the dark. I have to fall asleep with the light on in the bedroom if I am alone. I never seemed to grow out of this infantile fear.

However, this Buddhist way of looking at the dark is different.  That the the dark represents our interconnectedness.

I don’t have anything really to say about it except, “wow.” It’s a new way of looking at the world. And I wonder how I can use this understanding to help me get through the winter?

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