This article is about the 8th-century Buddhist poem. For the 2nd-century Taoist text, see The Kinship of the Three.

The Sandōkai (Chinese: 參同契; pinyin: Cāntóngqì) is a poem by the eighth Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xiqian (Sekito Kisen, 700–790) and a fundamental text of the Sōtō school of Zen, chanted daily in temples throughout the world.


The poem's title, "參同契", is pronounced Sandōkai in Japanese or Cāntóngqì in Mandarin Chinese. The characters, in particular the first, 參 (san or cān), can have several quite different meanings, and therefore the poem's title is susceptible to a variety of interpretations and translations.

English translations of the title, some more and some less literal, include "Merging of Difference and Unity", "Merging of Difference and Equality", "Agreement of Difference and Unity", "Harmony of Difference and Sameness", "Harmonious Song of Difference and Sameness", "Identity of Relative and Absolute", "Harmony of Relative and Absolute", "Harmony of Difference and Equality", and "Ode on Identity".

The title of the Sandōkai is the same as that of a 2nd-century Taoist text on alchemy, which is also known as the Cantong qi; in reference to the Taoist work, "參同契" is often translated as "the Kinship of the Three".


Identity of Relative and Absolute

The mind of the Great Sage of India was intimately

conveyed from west to east.

Among human beings are wise ones and fools,

But in the Way there is no northern or southern Patriarch.

The subtle source is clear and bright; the tributary

streams flow through the darkness.

To be attached to things is illusion;

To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related,

and at the same time, independent.

Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place.

Form makes the character and appearance different;

Sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.

The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases.

The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother.

Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.

Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour.

Each is independent of the other; cause and effect must return to the great reality

Like leaves that come from the same root.

The words high and low are used relatively.

Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness;

Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light.

Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before

and the foot behind, in walking. Each thing has its own intrinsic value

and is related to everything else in function and position.

Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid.

The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Reading words you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards.

If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it.

When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far.

If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it.

I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened:

Do not waste your time by night or day.

Text commentary

Toward the end of his life Shunryu Suzuki Roshi gave a series of lectures on the Sandokai. These have been published as the book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness.

See also

External links

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