Part 1, 2, 3

Do not see perfect and vulgar
And you will have no prejudice for or against

The Great Way is wide
Not easy and not difficult

Small views are prone to doubt
Circling, turning quickly, but always too late

To consider it, grasp it, and measure it is to lose it
And certainly enter a depraved path

It’s natural to let go
In essence, nothing goes or stays

Allow your nature to join with the Way
Free and unfettered, afflictions disappear

Worrisome thought is contrary to the real
It muddies, submerges, and ruins
To trouble the mind is no good

What use is there in loving the known
But fearing the strange?

Commentary

Do not see perfect and vulgar
And you will have no prejudice for or against

The Great Way is wide
Not easy and not difficult

When we set up perfect or good against vulgar or bad, we narrow the path that we can walk. This makes it easier to go off into the weeds or slip into gorges. Our Natural Way is wide. It’s isn’t called the Middle Way because it’s between two opposites, but because there aren’t any opposites. Just This.

If we say that it’s easy to walk it, then we’re discounting all of the commitment and effort it takes to practice. If we say it’s difficult, then we’re ignoring the fact that it’s nothing but our True Nature, which is always present—even when we’re lost in the weeds. Easy and difficult are just more subjective and relative judgments. Really, the Way is just the Way.

Small views are prone to doubt
Circling, turning quickly, but always too late

To consider it, grasp it, and measure it is to lose it
And certainly enter a depraved path

If we fall into the trap of this or that thinking, then we’re prone to doubt and angst. If I say, “It’s A, not B,” then someone else is gonna say, “It’s B, not A,” and then we’re going to fight and try to prove each other wrong. When this happens in our own minds, it’s called cognitive dissonance—another term for suffering.

When we start to doubt our views, instead of using that moment as an opportunity to stumble on openness, we usually grasp onto another view or grasp whatever we’re already holding onto a little bit closer.

The open way, beyond extremes, we can’t grasp it. We can’t prop it up or defend it with strong arguments, because then we’re talking about something else. Reason and words work with comparisons. When it comes to what can’t be compared, well, they’ll never reach it. Like Sengcan alluded to in part one, “It’s beyond picking and choosing.”

It’s natural to let go
In essence, nothing goes or stays

Allow your nature to join with the Way
Free and unfettered, afflictions disappear

Letting go is a skillful means. We can’t take it literally because we were never really holding on. If you chop the head off of a snake, but then find out it was really a rope the whole time, then you didn’t kill the snake. Letting go is like that too.

It’s natural to let go because change is the way of things. it’s like a hot pan on the stove. If we touch it, we immediately pull our hands back. If we go on a long hike, we eventually sit down and take a load off.

Whenever we grasp onto something, we’re only grasping something imaginary because, in reality, the thing we tried to grasp has already changed into something new. We have too.

That’s why nothing goes or stays, staying and going are ideas we form based on memories. Without memory, there’s no perception of coming or going. Each breath is the only breath, and we can’t even call it, “the breath,” because language is memory too.

If we let ourselves mirror the way things are, if we think, speak, and act in harmony with that, then there’s nothing holding us back. We’re unburdened and free of afflicted thoughts and feelings. Affliction is conflict. Here, there’s no conflict. There’s no left or right, no front or back. Just This.

Worrisome thought is contrary to the real
It muddies, submerges, and ruins
To trouble the mind is no good

Without coming or going and good or bad, what’s there to worry about? If we get a bill, we pay it. If we can’t pay it, we can’t pay it. If we get old, we get old. But when we naturally follow the Way, we can spontaneously do things that help us to pay the bills, that help us to age gracefully.

Worry interferes with our ability to make skillful choices. It prevents us from seeing things clearly, and it stunts our capacity for kindness, compassion, and peace. It taxes our minds, bodies, relationships, and society in general. Like Sengcan said, “That’s no good.”

What use is there in loving the known
But fearing the strange?

These lines were tricky because, “Known,” and, “Strange,” were put into a familial context. The known is one’s parents, the strange is distant relatives. The gist of it is about partiality and one-sidedness.

We all take comfort in knowing. If we’re taking out the garbage one night and hear a strange sound, then we’re probably gonna be a little freaked out because we don’t know what it is. Then we see a cat walk from the shadows, and our fear evaporates.

Sengcan is asking us to overturn one of our most deeply-rooted instincts because, inevitably, this instinct is what ruins our lives. Fear is the foundation of all atrocity. It’s the poisoned well that gives rise to hatred, jealousy, pride, and sorrow.

Zen isn’t aversion therapy, Sengcan isn’t asking us to pick up a spider or anything. He’s asking us to turn around and look at how fear and attachment are destroying us, and he’s asking us to overturn them by shattering their foundation: the wandering mind, the selfish heart, and this or that thinking.

Part 5

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