When Sister Kyoko from the Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center in San Francisco requested that a priest from San Francisco Zen Center join their interfaith celebration of Diwali, “Igniting the Spirit, Illuminating the World,” on October 29, Anshi Zachary Smith responded. Because Diwali is the Festival of Lights, Sister Kyoko asked Zachary to speak from the Zen tradition about what light means to him.
In reflecting on the program, Zachary noted, “It was wonderful to be there with a large, diverse group of people, all of whom seemed to be comfortable and happy to be together. The various expressions offered were lovely–including dance, music, candle lighting, guided meditation, and Dharma talks.”
Here are some of the words Zachary offered:
“The Zen school has consistently explored the relationship between light and dark, both as metaphors and as actual qualities. An early example from the Tang Dynasty is the ‘Merging of Difference and Equality’ by Shítóu Xīqiān, who lived in the 8th Century CE, where he says, ‘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. Light and dark complement one another like the front and back foot in walking.’
“An example of light and dark as metaphors shows up in a story from the Blue Cliff Record, a collection of Koans from the Song Dynasty, where the great Tang Dynasty Master Yúnmén is speaking to the assembly of monks and says, ‘Each of you has your own light but If you try to see it, it’s dark. Now, what is your light?’ At this point no one in the crowd could say anything besides, perhaps, ‘Hmmm, drawing a complete blank here,’ so he answered for them, ‘The kitchen pantry! The main gate!’
“He’s talking about the light that shines from the everyday things of the world if we’re just open to it. Everyone knows what it’s like to be really tangled up in thought and the agendas of the Self. It feels dark and close, like there’s a kind of gravity that holds everything in and very little information gets in from the outside. And, I think it’s safe to say we all know the other mode of engagement that becomes available through sincere practice where very little is obscured and where the world and the body feel spacious and full of light. Everyday objects shine, each with their own special quality.”