The cause of suffering is the mind that differentiates. Get rid of it.

Zen Practice


We have been taught to be “discreet” people, at school and home, since childhood. Looking up the word “funbetsu” or “discretion” in the dictionary, you will find meanings such as “to understand reason, to consider what is right and wrong or profit and loss”. In English, it is translated as “discretion” or “good judgment”. As you see, the word is used positively here as a standard of judgment for a person to act sensibly and ethically.

On the other hand, in the world of Zen, bunbetsu, which has the same Chinese characters as funbetsu above, does not have a positive meaning. Rather, bunbetsu, “differentiation”, is considered a cause of suffering and mental disturbance. Zen master, Sengai (1750-1837), who was active in Hakata in the Edo period preached a sermon on bunbetsu as follows:

    A man named Kichiemonn asked Zen master Sengai, “Which is right, Nanmanda or Namuamidabutsu?” Sengai answered, “I’ll think about the answer before you come back here next time.”

    When Kichiemon was leaving, Sengai called and stopped him, “Hey, Kichi.”
    Kichiemon said “yes” and turned around, “Yes.” Sengai said, Kichi, this is Nanmanda.”Right after that, Sengai called him again, saying, “Say, Kichiemon.” Kichiemon answered, “yes” again. Sengai said, “Kichiemon, this is Namuamidabutsu.”

    Note: “namuamidabutsu” and “nanmanda” are parts of the Zen sutras.


The Zen master Sengai taught the true meaning of bunbetsu to Kichiemon in an easy to understand way using Kichi and Kichiemon as examples. As you see, in Zen, “differentiation” is to judge “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong”. If you insist that you are right, then the other party is wrong. There the hatred, which causes opposition and conflict, is born.

In Zen teaching, differentiation is regarded as being particular and selective. It says that if there is no differentiation, there is no suffering.

Zen teaching says that it is not hard to reach the truth. Just don’t be selective. When we decide something in our daily lives, we select our preference among choices of good, bad, prefer, and dislike in accordance with our own standard of values after a comparison with other choices.

For example, everybody wishes to be happy and to not be unhappy. However, we are not able to choose just happiness without considering unhappiness. Happiness is felt because there is unhappiness. In this life, happiness and unhappiness cannot be separated; they are a set. There is happiness because there is unhappiness. In other words, unhappiness is a requirement of happiness.


It is human nature to selfishly think that if your wish comes true, it is “good”, but if it doesn’t, it is “bad”. However, differentiation is a cause of attachment and suffering. If you select neither “like” nor “dislike” for example, you will be able to accept the result without becoming emotional even if you encounter an unpleasant situation.

When you judge something only as “good” or “bad”, you lose the whole picture. However, if you cling to a neutral position and attach yourself to not differentiating things, then it is the same as being selective. Zen preaches that in order not to differentiate, you must not be selective. It is a difficult concept, isn’t it?


I shall cite one more example of differentiation. We all have somebody whom we do not get along with well or do not like. I am no exception. However, lately, I am trying hard to find positive sides of the people I do not like and accept them regardless of my personal feelings.

Interestingly, as I try to accept them, I begin to rather like them. And I sometimes feel that they also open their minds toward me little by little. There seems to be a law of human relationships that when you dislike someone, he or she dislikes you. So a prerequisite to building better human relationships is to get rid of differentiation.

More than anything else, discarding the differentiating mind is a panacea to keeping your mind calm. When you suffer from differentiation, recite these magic words, “It is not hard to reach the truth and all you need to do is not be selective.” You will, without a doubt, notice that differentiation is the cause of your suffering.