Abbot’s Message: March-April 2023

Sanshin—Dogen’s Three Minds

In 1237, as Dogen Zenji was creating his new monastery in the wilds of western Echizen Province, he composed the Eihei Shingi,* with precise instructions and an overview of temple responsibilities. The first chapter of this manual is Tenzo Kyokun, instructions for the head cook. Tenzo Kyokun is a wonderfully practical text that still guides our own kitchen practice and influences all aspects of our Zen practice.
In ancient China and Japan, the tenzo or head cook was a pivotal position for a senior monk in a monastery. Think about it. The daily care, feeding, and health of many monks or nuns depended on this person. Training monasteries were often deep in the mountains. One could not go to the supermarket or the corner store to get a missing ingredient. In fact, there is a well-known story in which Dogen tells how, on his arrival in China, he encountered a tenzo who had traveled many miles to purchase mushrooms for his community.
The last section of Tenzo Kyokun speaks of “sanshin”—three qualities of mind necessary for the cook: Joyful Mind (kishin), Parental Mind (roshin), and Great Mind (daishin). “Shin” translates as heart/mind, so “mind” here is not strictly pointing to mental activity. I think that most of us in the West tend to see heart and mind as two different organs. But a Buddhist understanding points to the oneness of heart/mind. One commentator explains that these qualities of mind express the “internal world of the bodhisattva.” As such, they are not at all distinct from each other. Rather, we see them interpenetrating and reflecting each other, as heart/mind become our whole life.
While Dogen expresses this in his instructions to the cook, the principle actually applies to anything we do, inside or outside of the temple. This is enlightened activity. Or to put it another way, enlightenment is activity informed by these three minds. This is each person’s responsibility. Dogen writes, “Do not overlook one drop in the ocean of virtue by entrusting it to others.”
If we look at a life of practice, of course we can plunge in at any point, beginning with the expression of any of these minds. But it is provisionally useful to consider how the Three Minds might unfold: Great Mind gives birth to Joyful Mind, which gives birth to Parental Mind.
Great Mind or Magnanimous Mind is grounded in zazen, which itself is vast and boundless. Suzuki Roshi spoke of Big Mind, which is the same thing. This is wholehearted activity, throwing oneself into the house of Buddha with no self-centered thoughts. Commenting on Tenzo Kyokun, Suzuki Roshi said:

First of all the cook must have a big mind, a magnanimous mind to accept criticisms and complaints. He shouldn’t smile. You cannot even smile, because if you smile the monks will be even more angry. Just accept what people say and understand human nature.

Great Mind is like an ocean or a mountain. As Dogen writes:

The ocean does not refuse water; therefore it is able to achieve its vastness. Mountains do not refuse earth; therefore they are able to become lofty. Great Mind calmly and naturally includes every sentient being and even every insentient being.

The expression of Great Mind is gratitude, which gives birth to Joyful Mind. Grateful for the gift of life, for the opportunity to be of use to others, joy arises and flows freely. Dogen writes:

Now we have the good fortune to be born as human beings and to prepare the food that these three jewels receive and use. Is this not of great karmic significance? We should thus be very happy.

In one of his lectures, Suzuki Roshi tells an enigmatic story about Joyful Mind.

Where I grew up in Japan there are many fishermen and fish shops. Besides fish stores, we have people carrying fish and selling them in the street. They are running down the street with a big flag, and they are always full of joy. If they were not happy, the fish would look old. The fish just look fresher if they are carried with joy. When fish become old, their eyes turn from blue to white. But even if the fish are white-eyed, if the fish-sellers are running with joy the fish look fresh.

That is the transformative power of Joyful Mind!
Paternal Mind, or roshin, naturally arises from Joyous Mind. Literally, roshin means “old mind.” Some translators call it Grandmotherly Mind, or Nurturing Mind. Thinking of my paternal grandmother, this is a perfect fit—the one member of my family who seemed to love and accept me without judgment or expectation; who unfailingly fed, taught, and encouraged me. Such a heart/mind is the spirit of service, marked by unconditional love without concern for oneself—which of course returns to Great Mind. A quotation attributed to Kobo Daishi, the ninth-century Japanese founder of the Shingon school, says: You can tell the depth of a person’s enlightenment by how they serve others.”
We have an expression in English: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Zen students have another way. Stay in the kitchen, keep cooking. Sit still, pay attention, bring these three minds of zazen right into the kitchen. As Master Tozan said, “When it is hot, let the heat kill you. When it is cold, let the cold kill you.”
–Hozan Alan Senauke


*Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of Eihei Shingi
, translated by Taigen Daniel Leighton and Shohaku Okumura. State University of New York Press, SUNY Series in Buddhist Studies, 1995.