‘I study painting. In the beginning I used only one color to paint the sky blue. My teacher, Mr. Partington, complained, “Are you painting the sky?” “Yes, I am.” “Then paint the sky, don’t just spread paint on the canvas.” When we look at the sky, every minute the color is changing. Even as I turned to mix blue to match the sky, the sky had changed. I am sure you understand this.
This knack of seeing shades of color can be applied to seeing human life. If you say someone is bad, or someone is good, it is like saying the sky is blue – nothing can be accurate in your thinking. “Good” and “bad” are names. We look at everything with these names, and we always think about everything with these names. This is a naive and inaccurate way of thinking. Because your mother said “bad”, it is bad; because your father said “good”, it is good. And you teach this to your children and never think about it. Your brain doesn’t work until you get into some real predicament. Then you must think about it yourself, and you must make a judgment yourself…
When your discernment becomes accurate, you will not make this mistake; you will know. When you come to life, you know death. When you know light, you understand shadow.’ (The Zen Eye)
I have quoted from Sokei-An a couple of times before. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the clarity of this generation of teachers, from the mid-twentieth century, is not eclipsed by the greater familiarity we now have with what they were first bringing to our attention.