For over thirty years, Opening the Hand of Thought has offered an introduction to Zen Buddhism and meditation unmatched in clarity and power. This is the revised edition of Kosho Uchiyama's singularly incisive classic.
This new edition contains even more useful material: new prefaces, an index, and extended endnotes, in addition to a revised glossary. As Jisho Warner writes in her preface, Opening the Hand of Thought "goes directly to the heart of Zen practice... showing how Zen Buddhism can be a deep and life-sustaining activity." She goes on to say, "Uchiyama looks at what a person is, what a self is, how to develop a true self not separate from all things, one that can settle in peace in the midst of life."
By turns humorous, philosophical, and personal, Opening the Hand of Thought is above all a great book for the Buddhist practitioner. It's a perfect follow-up for the reader who has read Zen Meditation in Plain English and is especially useful for those who have not yet encountered a Zen teacher.
Kosho Uchiyama (内山 興正 Uchiyama Kōshō?, 1912—March 13, 1998) was a Sōtō priest, origami master, and abbot of Antai-ji near Kyoto, Japan.
Uchiyama was author of more than twenty books on Zen Buddhism and origami,of which Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice is best known.
Uchiyama graduated from Waseda University with a masters degree in Western philosophy in 1937 and was ordained a priest in 1941 by his teacher Kodo Sawaki.Throughout his life, Uchiyama lived with the damaging effects of tuberculosis. Uchiyama became abbot of Antai-ji following Sawaki's death in 1965 until he retired in 1975 to Nokei-in, also near Kyoto, where he lived with his wife. Following the death of his teacher he led a forty-nine day sesshin in memorial of his teacher. In retirement he continued his writing, the majority of which consisted of poetry.
Reading about Zen is alot like reading about food. There are those glossy coffetable books that show off the aesthetic of fresh food or the creativity of the author/photographer and there are solid books filled with recipies that make your mouth water. It`s theory and practice. There are a lot of Books on Zen and Buddhism that are like those glossy tomes, all theory and aesthetics but no practical information on how to actually achieve the results pictured there. Opening the hand of thought is a recipe book. If you don`t sit on your cushion regularly it will not be of any interest to you. There are no nice pictures of japanese gardens or interiour design. If you take zen serious a physical practice there will be tremendous help from the lectures in this book to point you in the right direction. One of the best books on buddhist thought and action I have ever read. Zen isn`t something special, it`s not a higher state of being its just the practice of realising your true self through hard work, patience and facing the wall. This is Soto Zen in its purest form.
"Enlightenment is not like a sudden realization of something mysterious. Enlightenment is nothing but awakening from illusions and returning to the reality of life."
I first encountered Kosho Uchiyama’s writing in “How to Cook Your Life” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), a small book that includes Dogen’s famous “Instructions for the Zen Cook”, as well as commentary on the text and a couple of essays by Uchiyama. I had loved his comments and thoughts about Dogen’s text, but somehow, I only recently came across his most well-known book, “Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice”.
This is easily one of the clearest, best-written book on Soto Zen I’ve read. It will not displace Brad Warner’s work as my personal favorite, but it comes at a very close second. The section on how to do zazen and the explanation of goalless practice might be one the most clearly explained on those subjects I have ever read. There’s something very precise and yet very simple about the way Uchiyama explains the process: its is gentle, yet no-nonsense and perfectly grounded, which makes this book perfect for beginners (though a few other books might help clarify some of the ideas discussed in this one), but also for more experienced meditators who need a refreshing burst of inspiration and motivation - stripped of any esoterism or confusing turns of phrase.
The final chapter, The Wayseeker, is especially inspiring and moving: it was Uchiyama’s final lecture before he retired, and it describes in great details his vision of how to live as a bodhisattva, how to apply your zazen to your whole life.
Highly recommended, but don't feel bad if you skim the second half.
The book's early chapters offer the most specific and practical guide to zazen that I have read in print -- the method, its goals, and what the meditator can reasonably expect to achieve. It clarifies the relationship between zazen and thought beautifully.
After that, Uchiyama Roshi heads off into the weeds, offering chapter after chapter of opinions on modern life and religion, the state of Zen in Japan, on and on ad nauseum. Uncle Uchiyama sits back on the couch and grumbles at the television -- "Kids these days. No one practices real Zen anymore."
Be patient with the old man's gripes, and don't take them too seriously. Read his instructions on zazen and your sitting will be transformed.
This is a delightfully frank, clear study of Zen practice. I understand it is widely considered one of the best books on Zen, specifically zazen, which is why I turned to it in the middle of a brief course I am taking at the Chapel Hill Zen Center in North Carolina.
Kasho Uchiyama was somewhat unique in that he began his studies focused on Western philosophy and Christianity before deciding to become a Zen priest and eventually serving as the abbott of a Zen temple near Kyoto. As a consequence, he had a good handle on many of the left-brain tricks Western civilization plays in highlighting the analytic, rational dimensions of human experience at the expense of the right-brain's tendency to wander in the synthetic, irrational dimensions of experience that emphasize unity over division.
His fundamental point, made repeatedly in different ways, is that Zen is the self being the self, meaning that that which we consider our individual self actually is indivisible from the interdependent totality of the universal self. I am inseparable from you, you from me, we from the wind, the present moment, and the peace of recognizing that the best way to understand this is through minimal exertion and ambition, i.e., through zazen, which is sitting quietly for forty and fifty minutes at a time in a certain posture that facilitates our observing the illusory nature of our thoughts coming and going, changing nothing.
He draws on sayings of the Buddha and ancient Zen masters deftly, tells tales and recounts parables, and deals with the confusion that words inevitably generate by suggesting we practice zazen to experience the wordless moments that come before and between thoughts.
The impact of the book definitely is enhanced by the collaborative translation efforts of Tom Wright, Jisho Warner, and Shohaku Warner. They give Uchiyama a relaxed, personal voice in English that reads almost like a transcript of someone simply thinking out loud.
Real masters in a discipline are often this simple and direct. King Lear is more simply written than Hamlet, for example. This is known as "old age style" and can be found throughout the arts.
A book about zazen is in some ways a non sequitur. As Uchiyama frequently points out, the issue is not really discussing zazen but rather sitting for ten years and then sitting for another ten years. That's when you come to understand the significance of sitting. Enlightenment or mental health or stress reduction are not on his agenda. To the contrary, he maintains that the more goal-oriented you are, aggrandizing your personal self, the less likely you will be to come into touch with the universal self.
He contends that zen is more or less a godless religion but a religion nonetheless. The reason for this appears to be that he considers God to be what some others might think of as that fuzzy term, the Godhead, that is, the universal self from which we emerge and to which we return, life and death being a necessary continuum, more peaceful and compassionate and less disturbing when it is thought of as such. There is no apex in this continuum, no crisis, no heaven, no hell, simply an opportunity to pass from one's individual self into the aforementioned universal self.
I'm in accord with William James on religions: if they have a positive effect on the believer or practitioner, good. This "proves" nothing about metaphysical reality in an empirical sense, but pragmatically, it suggests they "work." Almost all of us can tell when a believer or practitioner is happy and at peace. If you read this book, you will see that Uchiyama, whose life was not always easy, clearly found happiness and peace.
The clearest thing I've read on zen practice and the dharma--maybe ever. Uchiyama is funny, human, and totally simple in his explanations of terms and practices that can often seem exotic or esoteric when taken up by other writers. He actually provides a hilarious diagram of "The Mind of Zazen" that clarifies things for me immensely--this is after four years of practicing zazen! It's so simple and so clear that I'm inclined to give my parents a copy and say, "This is what I'm doing, or at least what I'm aiming at doing." Thanks, Shintzy, for loaning it to me.
This is an elegant guide to Zazen that does not pander to current fads but cuts to the vital heart of the practice of "wholeheartedly sitting in the middle of your life" xiii
Please refer to my daily updates for some wonderful quotes.
I was also glad to have articulated my vague unease with the goal oriented approach to meditation that western medicine has pounced upon and many doctors now promote. Mindfullness and meditation may very well be viable solutions to life's woes, but KU clearly differentiates the way of Zazen as a life practice "only for the sake of buddhadharma, without justifying it by human emotions and worldly ideas" p149
KU never left Japan but in his life as a monk expressed a wonderful grasp of the ancient texts as well as the modern predicament. Humble and stern, he is a true master and this book is a treasure.
This book blew me away. The late Kosho Uchiyama explains Zen in a way akin to taking a mind-altering drug. One concept it took me a while to grasp is that we exist to each other only as perceptions of each other. My perception of you is formed inside my mind, making you part of me. In the same way, I am part of you. Ideas like this have profound implications for our ethical treatment of one another, though Uchiyama pretty much leaves that conclusion up to the reader.
A core text for my zen practice. Although it falls into some of the zen traps of making simple ideas in serpentine language, the book is extremely helpful and brings focus in a practice that can be hazy at best at times. I would say that this is not a book for beginners though. You should already be sitting and thinking about the principles before you attempt to read this book; otherwise, many of the ideas will flow right by you like a silent stream.
On the one hand, there are plenty of insights from Zen with which I agree, e.g., life being the end of life, the danger of over-intellectualizing and -representing life, and the importance of practice; but at the same time, I find the nature of Zen thinking and how its conclusions are drawn repugnant, e.g., the reality that my universal Self is one with the entire universe... I never know whether I simply cannot comprehend this worldview because of my Western conditioning, because the Japanese terms are difficult to translate/conceptualize (but that—conceptualization—is precisely the danger!—it must be experienced!) and I am simply not recognizing this, or because it is too contrarian.
Buddhism in general frustrates me because I feel like there's a kind of invincibility to it. My criticisms can all be brushed off because I failed to understand properly, because I am thinking too hard, because I think in a Western/rationalist way, because I just need to "live it out." Maybe I'm paranoid, but I always sense a tone of condescension that annoys me. Buddhist authors tend to justify some assertion or koan of theirs by explaining that, actually, the terms in question have been misunderstood, and so reconceptualize them in order to fit the system. And yet, Buddhism, it is repeated, is not a system...
Anyway, perhaps I ought to meditate further on these things... Maybe if I "open the hand of thought," this will reveal itself to me...
Parts of this book are very good for exploring the teachings and how to practice everyday zazen (sitting). Other parts seem very opaque, and repeated in a hundred ways. Perhaps when I learn more about Soto Zen, I will go back and read this again.
The Shurangama Sutra tells us that the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon; or in plainer language, the Diamond Sutra says that "the dharma cannot be spoken". And yet, it was recently pointed out to me the irony in the sheer volume of words that have been written about something that cannot be described. And I've read a lot of them (as evidenced by my Buddhism bookshelf), too many probably. But Uchiyama's book was a recommendation from my teacher, and is indeed different than most. He doesn't shy away from the fundamental irony in trying to describe the indescribable. In fact his core teaching is amazingly simple - practice zazen with pure intent and just keep doing it over and over again. That's it.
Kind of like losing weight, no? It all comes down to eating less and exercising more. But the number of books written on weight loss probably exceeds even that written on Buddhism; and likely for the very same reason. Nobody wants to hear that Buddhism, or at least Zen, is just about meditating. It's so much more alluring to spend all our time talking and thinking about meditating than it is to shut up and actually do it. But that's the essence of the finger pointing at the moon, and its taken me a long time, a very long time, to begin to understand it.
I read this book in a busy time of exams and final papers. Uchiyama brings passion and sincerity in the practice of Zazen. A unique teacher who is really accessible and yet point to a sincere practice that takes vow of commitment from those who sit zazen. A great advocate of Shikantaza, a just sitting approach to Zazen.
To my surprise, he quoted a lot of Christian Scriptures. He studied Western Philosophy and Christian Theology before becoming a Buddhist Zen monk.
Uchiyama Roshi was a Soto Zen iconoclast, and these teachings for modern practitioners are direct and no-bullshit. This book contains down-to-earth discussions about and instructions for zazen, Zen meditation. Thoroughly contemporary and rock solid.
There are a few points when Uchiyama addresses the American audience directly and they're all pretty silly. In one of the early chapters hes's like (and I'm paraphrasing), "this spirit has a lot of similarity with the spirit of the pioneers in the the wild west. But actually that history is kind of fucked up, isn't it? Anyway they're not actually that similar." How did no one tell him to just delete this? And then there's a minor dig at Americans in his discussion of the types of misguided zen practice, using the bhavacakra as an analogy, and he speaks of many Americans as trapped in the realm of "heavenly zen," or the tendency to be motivated by a condescending primitivism, a hatred of our own materialistic culture. It's kind of fun to be interpellated for a change! However I have to recommend Bernard Faure's "The Kyoto School and Reverse Orientalism" for some valid worries about "EAST and WEST"-type thinking and its ties to nationalism and fascism. I wish more zen guys read this sort of critique.
My main problem is the predominance of zazen-talk, which gets a bit repetitive too. Uchiyama really skimps on discussing sīla and interpersonal issues. To be fair, towards the end he has a lovely presentation of vow and repentance as a two-pronged practice to exercise on and off the mat, but aside from some novel conceptual scaffolding I suspect I would've gotten more out of just reading Dogen's "Instructions to the Cook."
Glad I read this! I wouldn't recommend it as a beginner book though. It feels more like a supplement to pre-established and serious practice. I chose to read it mostly out of interest in the Antaiji lineage, which is known for its spartan minimalism. (See, for example, the sub-chapter "Sesshin Without Toys.") The crux of the "what is zazen" argument is indeed helpful. And The final chapter which I understood to be a transcript of Uchiyama's last teisho before retiring had some real tear-jerker moments.
Kosho Uchiyama (1912-1999) studied Western philosophy before becoming a Soto Zen priest in 1940 under Kodo Sawaki Roshi. In 1965, he succeeded Sawaki as abbot of Antaiji temple and monastery. Given Uchiyama's knowledge of Western philosophy and religion, he welcomed to the monastery Western students of Zen. He retired as abbot in 1975, continuing to write and meet with those interested in Zen. He published many books on Zen, a few of which have been translated into English.
Opening the Hand of Thought provides a clear personal perspective on Soto Zen practice. It combines Uchiyama's reflections on his own Soto experience with his knowledge of Western philosophy and Christian religious practice. I will not attempt to summarize this excellent book here, but rather note the lines that struck me as particularly noteworthy:
"The expression "letting go of whatever arises" is my own way of expressing the idea of ku, or emptiness." (p.11)
"Everything exists in one accidental way or another. This is the present reality of life. It is the reality of that which cannot be grasped, the reality about which nothing can be said." (p.12)
"To sit with the idea that you are going to gain enlightenment is just ridiculous." (p.18)
"Zazen is to Buddhism what prayer is to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Just as prayer is giving up of our small petty desires and asking that God's will be done, zazen is also a giving up of our egotistical evaluations of ourselves and entrusting our life to the power of zazen..." (p.19)
"However much we become enlightened, it just is not very much. Our practice begins to ripen only as we start to be aware that although we live in the midst of enlightenment, the little we become aware of in life is just scratching the surface." (p.19-20)
"In zazen we have to vividly aim at holding the correct posture, yet there is no mark to hit! Or at any rate, the person who is doing zazen never perceives whether he has hit the mark or not. ... We just sit in the midst of this contradiction where although we aim, we can never perceive hitting the mark." (p.47-48)
"...thoughts ceasing to occur is not the ideal state of one sitting zazen." (p.50)
"There is scenery only where there is life. While we are living in this world, there will be happiness and unhappiness, favorable and adverse conditions, interesting and boring things,. There will be pleasant times and painful times, times to laugh and times to be sad. All of these are part of the scenery of life." (p.59)
"It is a life that is unbearable unless we discover the value of our existence within ourself." (p.73)
"Since everything in and around us is constantly changing, we have to practice this samadhi inside and outside the zendo throughout our whole life." (p.80)
"We don't gradually become enlightened and eventually obtain buddhahood by means of zazen. This small individual I we talk of will always be deluded." (p.87)
"The samadhi of self settling on itself can take on a retrogressive tendency to indulge in escapism." (p.94)
"Buddhist samadhi--that is, zazen--is the foundation for the manifestation of this life." (p.97)
"Actually, there is no I existing as some susbstantial thing; there is only the ceasless flow. This is true not only of me, it is true of all things. In Buddhism, this truth is expressed as shogyo mujo, the first undeniable reality, that all things are flowing and changing, and shoho muga, the third undeniable reality, that all things are insubstantial." (p.99)
"Buddhism teaches that our attachment to our self as though it were a substantial being is the source of our greed, anger, suffering, and strife. It is crucial that we reflect thoroughly on the fact that our self does not have a substantial existence; rather it has an interdependent existence." (p.100)
"Delusion is this very view of myself as an independent substantial entity." (p.103)
"...the true or genuine zazen found in Buddhist scriptures was never intended as a means of disciplining the mind...." (p.109)
"Living every day by surrendering to zazen, being protected and guided by zazen, means to live having a direction--that is, living without being pulled by the thoughts and emotions rampaging inside us." (p.113)
"For the person who sits zazen, vow is nothing other that the practitioner's own life. We take all encounters--with things, situations, people, society--as nothing but our own life, and we act with a spirit of looking after everything as our own life" (p.115)
"We who practice zazen hold this vow, and function with it as our life direction, while at the same time we just keep returning to zazen repenting at being unable to carry out that vow. ...Vow gives us courage; repentance crushes our arrogance." (p.116)
"A bodhisattva is someone who sees the world through adult eyes and whose actions are the actions of a true adult." (p.127)
"When we open the hand of thought, the things made up inside our heads fall away; that's the meaning of dropping off of body and mind." (p.141)
"Enlightenment is not like a sudden realization of something mysterious. Enlightenment is nothing but awakening from illusions and returning to the reality of life." (P.144)
"If you think the most important thing in your system of values is something made up in your head, you're totally wrong... Anything our discriminating minds believe to be valuable is not of absolute value." (p.147)
"From the beginning I have said that the zazen each of us practices is the only true teacher." (p.150)
"For breaking the ego's grip, nothing is more effective than giving something up." (p.154)
"Zazen is good for nothing; it really is useless. But the longer I practice, the clearer it becomes to me that nothing is separated from me." (p.155)
"The human condition involves existing in the middle of this relationship between personal self and universal self. In our life as personal self, universal self is not something to yearn for, it is the direction toward which we should aim...When we consider personal self from the ground of universal self, we realize that we are not what we should be. We can't actualize universal self, because we are restrained by the handcuffs and fetters of karma." (p.157)
"Realizing that development and backsliding are your responsibility alone, endeavor to practice and develop." (p.164)
I read a lot of Zen books. Mostly ones for beginners but they're all useful in some ways, if not frustratingly out of reach in others. This is my first time reading Uchiyama. He had such a gift for elucidating even the most mystical aspects of Zen practice in understandable language. It's really wonderful. In fact, I would say this has just turned into my go to book recommendation for anyone curious about Zazen. It has the best description of meditation I have come across. I mean it's really something. Where other books may allude to practice, or focus only on letting go of distractions, or focus on staying mindful, Uchiyama paints a total picture of practice: getting distracted, coming back, getting sleepy, coming back. The far reaching implications of this description not only inspires confidence and Right Mind when sitting, but allows the reader to extend the philosophy of Zen Buddhism outward to other areas of daily, practical life. That's what separates Uchiyama from other thinkers, his attention to the daily life of a regular person, to the ordinary moments one can encounter when not living a dedicated life in a monastery.
If you are at all interested in the concepts or practice of Zen Buddhism, find this book.
Uchiyama’s book is a gift to Sōtō Zen practitioners everywhere. After seeing it on the recommended reading list at my zendo, I picked up a copy and savored every page. Uchiyama emphasizes that Zen Buddhist practice, specifically zazen, is everything: vow, repentance, and living out the reality of life itself.
Written in an approachable and straightforward tone, peppered with references to Western philosophy and the Judeo-Christian tradition for Western readers, Uchiyama strives for clarity and simplicity. And he succeeds. It is an indispensable guide to Zen practice, one I will return to many times. His words changed my relationship to my own practice, and before each sit, I remember that “the only true enlightenment is awareness of the vivid reality of life, moment by moment.”
No doubt that this is an excellent book, but I think that a lot of it goes over my head, and it is also written from a religious position, which I don’t really subscribe to - I had decided to re-read this as a book about meditation. It is that, but it is in the context of a religious perspective on that meditation. He is also talking about concepts that are difficult to put into words, and sometimes go completely over my head!
Such a treasure of a book on zazen and buddhadarma. Uchiyama has a very stripped-down, matter-of-fact, and easy-to-understand delivery of some concepts that I have struggled with. I was happy to have my own copy so I could underline and takes notes in the margin! The glossary is nice as well, and it also includes notes broken down by chapter.
I highly recommend this for anyone that practices zazen --- or even just those curious about Zen buddhism.
There are many good parts of the book that gave me much to think about. I don't believe that there is only one correct way to practice zazen, however, and the insistent reminder that other practices are mistaken was distracting at times. The book should be considered as advanced reading for practitioners who already have an established practice, not for beginners.
An exquisite summation of the subtle and pure Zen meditation known as shikantaza, "Just Sitting", perhaps the purest, simplest sounding, and most challenging to practice meditation there is, and how it relates to the functioning of Zen Buddhism as a religious life.
One of the greatest Zen and Buddhism books I've ever read, so clear, right to the point and with great stories and explanations from Roshi Uchiyama. I highly recommend it for people who are diving in the mysteries of Zazen and Satori.
A no nonsense approach in explaining the zen lifestyle with zazen as the centre focus. I found the biblical references a bit strange (and maybe unnecessary…) … maybe too much focused towards the western audiences.