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Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  533 ratings  ·  44 reviews
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 writ
Paperback, 256 pages
Published June 15th 2004 by Wisdom Publications
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"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” (, 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 o
Apr 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
A. Jesse
Aug 04, 2010 rated it liked it
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. Unc
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
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, h
Oct 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dharma
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 ...more
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 differe
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jean Paul  Wijers
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I had to read this book several times, to fully understand its meaning.... and to gain valuable insight: I love this book! Much recommended for those interested in zen Buddhism.
Aug 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was one of best books I have read about Soto Zen and Buddhism in general.

My original exposure to Zen was DT Suzuki. He was from the Rinzai tradition. I found those books misleading.
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism
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 do ...more
Apr 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
John Porcellino
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen-buddhism
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.
M.C. Easton
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 s
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
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!
Ryan Spellman
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
James Elliott
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is an excellent introduction to ZaZen and Buddhism.
Juan Jacobo Bernal
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
A tender and loving text from a devoted Zazen teacher. A formidable introductory text for those interested in understanding Zen insight meditation.
Sean Xie
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very random find, and a thoroughly beautiful short book.
Susa Schwalbe
Nov 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and perfectly consistent, yet dense and certainly one to come back to.
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
This is my first recommendation for a book on zen meditation, it's very practical and direct, but also deep and useful. ...more
Nov 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
A no-nonsense introduction to zazen practice and everything it embodies and produces. Personally i still have my doubts about the method, especially the sesshins, since there is a considerable risk of dissociation and other pathologies, for which there is little support in zen circles, to my knowing.

My biggest critique and the reason i did not give 5 stars is the lack of teaching on how to integrate zazen into daily life, especially for people who have to work hard and support children, etc. I'm
Jan 23, 2009 added it
Shelves: zen
Another one that's worth putting near the top of my list. Like Everyday Zen, this is one of those no-nonsense, no-gimmicks books that gives you feeling of being very much the real thing. The thing I found most helpful here was Uchiyama's explanation of how to do zazen, particularly his ZZ' line. The man's parting words were quite helpful to me too. Finally, I always appreciate it when people point out all the places where you can get the wrong idea about Zen (e.g. you shouldn't think of it as a ...more
Jun 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Opening the hand if thought is an important book on the foundation of Zen Buddhism  This is no light weight book on meditation but the real deal. The book breaks down the true essence of the method of practicing zazen in the correct form. The book gives a good translation and meaning of various text for us westerners. I found it heavy going midway through, with some parts I had a hard time understanding. This is a book that I will appreciate more as I gain more understanding and sit.
Nov 25, 2012 rated it liked it
This was recommended to me by a zen-savvy friend as a good resource for getting started with meditation. That portion of the book is very good, and I have found it helpful. There is much more to be found here though, and while interesting and well handled, it's very deep and heady stuff. This is not a book you will fully digest in one sitting. I expect to revisit it over time. ...more
Zack Becker
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If I had to pick one book to recommend as an introduction to Zen meditation, this would be it. Uchiyama's writing is bright and concise, and he does a fine job giving instruction in the nuts and bolts of Zen meditation. But I wouldn't describe this book as only suitable for novices; there is so much here for the experienced Zen student as well. ...more
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen
This was my MIB -- Most Important Book of the year. Uchiyama Roshi is wise and humble, and has a delightful mastery of use of metaphor to illuminate the difficult and profound zen teachings of Dogen for the modern reader.
Benjamin Hoffman
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. A lucid explanation of Zen Buddhist practice, or Zazen. I gained a number of refreshing and encouraging insights in the process of reading it. It has been thoroughly underlined and will be a go-to in the future.

I will be able to write more the next time I read through it.
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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

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According to some historians, the month of April is actually named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, by way of the Romans....
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“In other words, without being tossed about by personal feelings and ideas, just returning to the life of my true self, without envying or being arrogant toward those around me, neither being self-deprecating nor competing with others, yet on the other hand not falling into the trap of laziness, negligence, or carelessness—just manifesting that life of my self with all the vigor I have—here is where the glory of life comes forth and where the light of buddha shines.53 Religious light shines where we manifest our own life.” 1 likes
“When we open the hand of thought, the things made up inside our heads fall away; that’s the meaning of dropping off body and mind.” 0 likes
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