The Smallest Distinction: opposing dualities create tension

“Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”

(Hsin Shin Ming: Verses on the Faith Mind by the 3rd Zen Patriarch, Jianzhi Sengcan; d. 606)

Link to the full text.

From the commentary by Mu Soeng:

Remaining trapped in the world of preferences we are led to an expression of how things should be. When our expectations of how things should be conflicts with how things are, there is dukkha (suffering or dis-ease).

In our likes and dislikes, we want to control things, and in that preference to control things “heaven” and “earth” get separated. In Chinese linguistic usages, “heaven” and “earth” are metaphors for the “higher” (whatever that may be in Chinese understanding) realm and the realm of the mundane, earthly life. For the Chinese, the purpose of existence is to create a harmony between these two realms (even though in reality there is only one realm).



“Heaven” and “earth” are also metaphors for all opposing dualities that create tension, stress, ill-will, for the individual as well as for society at large. In the poem here, “heaven” and “earth” point to certain mind-states: a sense of ease or a sense of dis-ease. When we are at ease, we feel light and free and bouncy; when we are not at ease, we feel heavy, dark and limited. Sometimes we may feel one way and sometimes the other – and our likes and dislikes come into play causing us to grasp onto one and shun the other.

Equanimity provides the sense of ease that becomes available only after likes and dislikes have been brought to a complete rest. Any time we make distinctions based on our addictive preferences, there is a lack of harmony, a lack of balance, a sense of incompleteness in our experience of this moment.

Sengcan says “heaven and earth are set infinitely apart”; in the vernacular of our time and place we might say “something is off.”

“Trust In Mind”, Mu Soeng, p. 79


2 thoughts on “The Smallest Distinction: opposing dualities create tension

  1. Tomas, your post reminds me of the Chinese saying, “Tian-xia” (All under heaven). I am reminded of the film Hero where Jet Li’s character sacrifices himself for the unification of China. Unification is where it is at. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

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