Opening the Hand of Thought

Kosho Uchiyama

world we live in is not something that exists independently of our
thoughts and ideas.  Our world and these thoughts and ideas appear to
us as a unified whole.  Depending on what our thoughts and ideas are,
our world may appear to us in completely different ways.  These
thoughts and feelings constitute our psychological condition. 
Moreover, our psychological condition is at the same time our
physiological condition.  When something breaks down inside of us
physically, our minds no longer remain clear. And if our minds are not
clear, then the eyes with which we see the whole world take on a gloomy
appearance.  On the other hand, when we feel healthy our minds
brighten, and so consequently our outlook on everything becomes

our physiological conditions are tremendously influenced by the
environment in which we live.  The changes and conditions of climate
and weather both affect us.  This cause and effect relationship is
particularly easy to see when you lead a life as unvaried and devoid of
distractions as the sesshins at Antaiji.

essential matter here is the attitude of just striving to wake up
regardless of the conditions you are in.  It is not about arriving at
some state where all thoughts have disappeared. To calmly sit amidst
these cause and effect relationships without being carried away by them
is shikantaza.

the weather, there are all sorts of conditions in our personal lives:
clear days, cloudy days, rainy ones, and stormy ones.  These are all
waves produced by the power of nature and are not things over which we
have control.  No matter how much we fight against these waves, there
is no way we can make a cloudy day clear up.  Cloudy days are cloudy;
clear days are clear.  It is only natural that thoughts come and go and
that psychological and physiological conditions fluctuate accordingly. 
All of this is the very reality and manifestation of life.  Seeing all
of this as the scenery of life, without being pulled apart by it—this
is the stability of human life, this is settling down in our life.

In The Record of Linji, Linji Yixuan (Rinzai) says:


true practitioner of the Way completely transcends all things. Even if
heaven and earth were to tumble down, I would have no misgivings. Even
if all the Buddhas in the ten directions were to appear before me, I
would not rejoice.
  Even if the three hells were to appear before me, I would have no fear. Why is this so?  Because there is nothing I dislike.

Rinzai, the appearance of all the buddhas in the past, present, and
future was not something to rejoice over, nor was the appearance of the
three hells something of which to be afraid.   Of course, not being
afraid of the appearance of some hell doesn’t mean that for Rinzai hell
had no existence.  For him, hell was a kind of scenery that was
different from the scenery of the Buddhas.  The point is that whether
some hell, all the buddhas, or anything appeared before him, Rinzai saw
all of these as the scenery of his life.  For us this is nothing but
the scenery of our zazen.

hope that people who practice zazen will continue regular sesshins and
daily zazen for at least ten years.  It’s a tremendous thing to be able
to give oneself to this kind of practice and not be caught up in
distractions.  Our deepest mental suffering will come up during these
years of zazen, and we will be able to continue our practice only if we
have the stability to see this suffering as the scenery of our life and
not be carried away by it.  Working through these ten years, we develop
a posture of living out the reality of our true self.


we lead this sort of life and sit zazen, at whatever age, there is no
doubt that we will come to have a commanding view of who we are.  When
we live this way, not only zazen, but daily life itself, is such that
we cannot find the value of our existence in what other people say or
in things that we want.  It is a life that is unbearable unless we
discover the value of our existence within ourselves.

What is
essential is for us to live out the reality of our true self whether we
are doing one period of zazen, a five-day sesshin, or practicing for
ten years or more.

The Activity of the Reality of Life

All of
us, regardless of whether we realize it or not, are living out the self
as the whole universe.  Since this is such a critical point, I’ll
repeat it here. Usually we make the idea of the small individual self
the center of our world and become firmly convinced that this small
individual self is our whole self, but this is not our true self.

reality of life goes beyond my idea of myself as a small individual. 
Fundamentally, our self is living out nondual life that pervades all
living things.  This self is universal existence, everything that
exists.  On the other hand, we usually lose sight of the reality of the
life of universal self, clouding it over with thoughts originating from
our small individual selves. 

When we
let go of our thoughts, this reality of life becomes pure and clear. 
Living out this reality of life as it is – that is, waking up and
practicing beyond thinking – is zazen.  At this very point our basic
attitude in practicing zazen becomes determined.  The attitude of the
practitioner in practicing zazen as a Mahayana Buddhist teaching never
means to attempt to artificially create some new self by means of

should it be aiming at decreasing delusion and finally eliminating it
altogether.  We practice zazen, neither aiming at having a special
mystical experience nor trying to gain greater enlightenment.  Zazen as
true Mahayana teaching is always the whole self just truly being the
whole self, life truly being life.

all have eyes to see, but if we close them and say that the world is in
darkness, how can we say that we are living out the true reality of
life?  If we open our eyes we see the sun is shining brilliantly.  In
the same way, when we live open-eyed and awake to life, we discover
that we are living in the vigorous light of life.  All the ideas of our
small self are clouds that make the light of the universal self foggy
and dull.  Doing zazen, we let go of these ideas and open our eyes to
the clarity of the vital life of universal self.


discover the attitude of zazen as true Buddhism when we believe that
the truth of this small self as an individual entity is universal self
and actually practice the reality of life in zazen. This zazen is
referred to as the activity of the reality of life.

Excerpted from Opening the Hand of Thought – Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice


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