Arousing the Way Seeking Heart

What is the Way Seeking Heart?

Sometimes it is referred to as the “thought of enlightenment” and in Sanskrit, bodhicitta (click here for the Wikipedia entry). In Guidelines for Studying the Way, Dogen takes up this issue, saying the various names for the Way Seeking Heart all refer to “…one and the same mind.”

The same and one mind. Hmmm.

What mind is that?

The first piece of reflection in the just-launched Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training is about this essential question because it is a touchstone for our practice.

Vine of Obstacle students are beginning to dig into this and so today it’s on my mind too and I’ll offer a few reflections on the Way Seeking Heart.

“Just return to your first intention,” Katagiri Roshi used to say.

For me it was when I was a kid, laying in bed in northern Minnesota and hearing the fading sound of a far-off train. I knew then that I would die.

Dogen in Guidelines for Studying the Way (and elsewhere) encourages us to see impermanence of both this fleeting world and – turning the light of awareness around – the fleeting self too – the fleeting subject that experiences this fleeting world.

Like Issa’s poem when his baby daughter died:

This world of dew
Is a world of dew
And yet … and yet….

Cut through the bullshit, in other words, and drop prettying up the rawness of the Way Seeking Heart by calling it a “world of dew” or “unborn” or “three thousand worlds in a moment of thought” (Dogen’s examples) or any other cognitive reframing trick.

Just look at how selfish this very mind is, currying favor with phenomena constantly, for our own benefit, for our own fame and gain.

Just look at “…the breath going in and out, which ties a lifetime together: what is it after all?”

Do Not Waste Your Time Admiring a Painted Rice Cake: Kukai and Dogen on the Art of Enlightenment
Guidelines for Studying the Way - Why?
Cold as Hell!
Vine of Obstacles Online Support for Zen Training: Applications Now Being Accepted
  • Harry

    Hi Dosho,

    Intriguing stuff. I look forward to engaging with the ‘Vine’ project at some time in the near future.

    How are you working with koan therein? Are you using a formal/set curriculum of koan or working with them in another way?

    Good luck with it to all involved.


  • doshoport

    Hi Harry,
    Thanks for your comment. In include toward the set curriculum and like to improvise. The Vine of Obstacle training aims at being a personalized approach to training. I have some ideas about starting points … and it is co-created so will be flexible to individual inclinations and interests.

    • Christian

      Thank you for your continuing efforts on this blog and trying to make Zen accessible to the American layman; without watering down the wisdom of the ancestors. I really enjoy reading it.


      • doshoport

        Thank you for your kind words.

  • Robert Schenck

    Though I did not realize it at the time, of course, I was only ten when a photograph of a tractor shoving a hill of corpses into a pit in Germany planted the seed of nonviolence in my mind. I was twenty when John Kennedy was murdered. I was twenty-nine when nine-year-old Kim Phuc was photographed running naked and burning down a road toward the camera in Vietnam. By that time my pacifism was the fruit of revulsion, apolitical, nihilistic, Ophelian. It was my friend John who brought me the buddhadharma. He was a disciple of Stephen Gaskin. It took John two years to to persuade me to begin practice by trying to tell the truth all the time. That was step one of Gaskin’s method. I laughed out loud. It sounded preposterous, absurd. I was a student of literature, philosophy, history, art. The only truth was irony, paradox, oxymoron. There was no truth! John persisted, persevered. “Come on! You know what honesty is! You know what openness is! Can you be honest or not?” Finally one night I determined to try, and in the morning I did. That practice, that intention, instantly changed my life. From that moment on, instead of wanting to be cool I wanted to be good. That was thirty-eight years ago.

    • Jeanne Desy

      Wow. What a story.

  • Jeanne Desy

    While I’m at it, I was trying to adjust to shocking memories that began to come loose after my father’s death, when I was diagnosed with cancer. Boy, suffering, but much more, I didn’t want to die. I knew about healing meditation because I had edited a book by a psychologist who worked with cancer patients, and because I’d been exposed to a healing light meditation once, maybe twice. So I began doing that every day, and the Way rose up under my feet.