Sameness and Nonsameness

Taoism and Buddhism have had a long history of co-existence and interaction. Many of the early Buddhists in China were also Taoists, and Taoism exerted a profound and positive influence on Buddhism. One reason for this is that both Taoism and Buddhism share a non-dual view of reality.

Buddhism expresses this understanding as pratitya-samutpada or interdependence, and in Taoism it is harmony, represented by the concept of yin-yang. In non-duality, there is a quality of sameness to all things, and yet there is also a quality of difference.

The I Ching (“Book of Changes”) is one of the oldest books in the world. Its origins are thought to pre-date recorded history. Most people think of the I Ching as a way of divination, or fortune-telling, but it is really one of the great works of philosophy, and it was used by both Taoists and Buddhists. One such Buddhist was Chih-hsu Ou-i (1599-1655). He began as a Ch’an (Zen) monk, but when he was 31, he gave up Ch’an to devote himself to Pure Land practice as taught by the T’ien-t’ai school. He was also a prolific author, composing numerous commentaries, liturgies, and translations, including a commentary on the I Ching.

The 13th hexagram, Tong Ren (Sky above, Fire below) is translated by Alfred Huang as “Seeking Harmony”, while one of the translators of Wang Bi’s commentary has it as “Fellowship.” In the translation of Chih-hsu Ou-i’s commentary, it is presented as “Sameness with People”. Here is an excerpt from the latter:

Without difference, how could sameness be shown? Make sure the different do not lose their difference, so that sameness can rest in great sameness.

In Buddhist terms, just as sky and fire are similar yet dissimilar, dissimilar yet similar, the various states of being each have their families, each of which acts as one being with one mind.

One mind has all possible states of being inherent in it, and every state of being has every other state of being inherent in it, so there are countless differences in the points of interpenetration of these states of being, which are representative of our states of mind.

So all these states of being are ultimately based on just one mind. This is the final attainment of sameness without sameness, nonsameness with sameness.”

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Alfred Huang, The Complete I Ching, Inner Traditions International, 1998; Wang Bi, The Classic of Changes A New Translation of the I Ching, Trans. Richard John Lynn, Columbia University Press, 1994; Chih-hsu Ou-i, The Buddhist I Ching (Chou i ch’an chieh), Trans. Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987.


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