Seeing the World Without
Holding Worldly Values

by Kosho Uchiyama, Roshi

Featured in Mountain Record 31.2, Winter 2012-2013


There are any number of arguments these days based on the assumption that all people are seeking happiness. Perhaps this is simply because the Japanese are not familiar with looking at things rationally, but for whatever reason, whenever that rose-colored word “happiness” is brought up, there is a tendency to assume unconditionally that this is something everyone is after. If we accept the validity of everyone’s desire to be happy, then we would have to inquire into what happiness is, and consider its opposite, unhappiness. But it is not my intention here to argue about what happiness is. Rather, I wish to draw attention to the following problem: the idea of seeking happiness presupposes that at present we are unhappy.

In Buddhism, this kind of dualistic thinking has no place. Previously, I talked of how it is impossible to trade even one fart, and how finally, just living out your life, regardless of the circumstances, is the absolute reality of your life. In living out the buddhadharma, this kind of life-attitude is essential. Usually, people think only in terms of how they can better their situation, if only a little bit, and avoid suffering. Seeing things from the perspective of the buddhadharma or of Big Mind means to cease engaging in this type of prejudiced, discriminative thinking and to be resolved that whatever we meet is our life.

When I speak of Big Mind in terms of no longer engaging in discriminative thinking I do not mean that one becomes inert. We simply cannot live day by day without discriminating. There is no human life in which there is no difference drawn between miso and kuso. This is why the question arises in the Tenzo Kyokun about whether one separates the sand from the rice or the rice from the sand. Apparently in olden days in China the rice polishing process was not very efficient, and there were a lot of tiny pebbles mixed in with the rice. The first thing the tenzo had to do was pick the tiny stones out of the rice before it was cooked. In this respect there can be no doubt that food fit for human consumption lies at the point where the rice has been distinguished from the stones. So, in our daily lives, we have to discriminate, but what we must not forget is the fundamental attitude grounding this discrimination: everything we encounter is our life. This is the attitude of Big Mind.

Practically speaking, just how does this work? Earlier I quoted a passage from the Tenzo Kyokun regarding Big Mind: “Magnanimous Mind [Big Mind] is like a mountain, stable and impartial. Exemplifying the ocean, it is tolerant and views everything from the broadest perspective. Having a Magnanimous Mind means being without prejudice and refusing to take sides. When carrying something that weighs an ounce, do not think of it as light, and likewise, when you have to carry fifty pounds, do not think of it as heavy. Do not get carried away by the sounds of spring, nor become heavy-hearted upon seeing the colors of fall. View the changes of the seasons as a whole, and weigh the relativeness of light and heavy from a broad perspective. It is then that you should write, understand, and study the character for magnanimous.”

Usually, pound and ounce are thought of as units of weight. This metaphor means, however, that you should not be swayed by the values of society nor get all excited simply because it is spring—finding yourself in favorable circumstances. Likewise, just because it is fall, there is no need to get all upset and have a nervous breakdown. Rather, see the four seasons of favorable circumstances, adversity, despair, and exaltation all as the scenery of your life. This is what lies behind the expression “Big Mind.”

I mentioned this earlier, but since it is so very important I want to stress it again. Living out your life firmly grounded in Big Mind does not mean you become dumb and mute, nor that life is devoid of the “scenery” of enlightenment and delusion, heaven and hell, success and failure, or happiness and unhappiness.

Nevertheless, living with the attitude that everything that arises in your life is the element of stability that Dogen Zenji taught as shikantaza. This is the attitude of a man practicing zazen and, at the same time, the posture (in the broadest sense of the word) of a man of Zen.