Mushotoku mind means an attitude of no profit, no gain. It is the core of Taisen Deshimaru's Zen. This respected master, the head of Japanese Soto Zen for all of Europe, moved from Japan in 1967 and brought this work to Paris, from where it was disseminated throughout the West. This book presents his brilliant commentary on the most renowned of Buddhist texts, the Heart Sutra, known in Japanese as Hannya Shingyo-a philosophical investigation on the futility of philosophical investigation. Deshimaru's work fills a great gap in the interpretations of this seminal text in that he emphasizes "mind-emptiness" (ku) as the foundation of Zen practice, in contrast to the usual "mindfulness" focus of other Zen approaches. This "emptiness" and "purpose of no purpose" is one of the most difficult ideas for Westerners to understand. Yet we know that our most cherished values are based on mushotoku mind when it comes to love. We value the unselfish love of family or country that is based not on what we can get from the relationship but on what we can give. We know, too, that these virtues are not accomplished directly through our will but indirectly through dropping our expectations. In his lectures on this subject, gathered here into one volume by translator and Zen teacher Richard Collins, Deshimaru returns to a chorus: Mushotoku mind is the key attitude characterizing the way of the Buddha, the way of the bodhisattva, the way of Zen and zazen, and the way of all sutras (teachings). The written word has a checkered past in the history of Zen, which offers mind-to-mind transmission of wisdom without scripture and without words. Still, it is difficult to imagine Zen without its literature. Poems, koans, anecdotes, autobiographies, commentaries, sutras, all play a role in the transmission of Zen from the fifth century to the present. Ultimately, these written records can always be only fingers pointing at the moon of zazen. Interpretations of the Heart Sutra abound, from as early as the T'ang dynasty. Deshimaru's contribution to this wealth is colored by his Japanese heritage, his knowledge of Western philosophy, the cross-fertilization received from Parisian students of the 1960-70s, and above all by the central place he gives to mushotoku, which Richard Collins translator calls "the heart of the Heart Sutra."
A beautiful small book combining a translation of and Master Deshimaru's commentary on, the Hannya Harimita Shingyo, known in English as The Heart Sutra. The Sutra itself is a crystalline distillation of the core of Buddhist thinking, which you could sum up as "going beyond the beyond." It's an apprehension of the from-a-western-perspetive-paradoxical or contradictory, sense that illusion and ultimate reality can't be distinguished from one another, which entails a radical redefinition (again from a western perspective) of ego and a deep sense of the interrelationship of all things. At some points words can only approximate, but the words of the Heart Sutra reach as close to the heart as any I've encountered.
It can be difficult to avoid making Buddhism sound like new age flapdoodle, a problem I've returned to in reviews of several books that cover similar ground. Mushotoku Mind manages to maintain both the clarity and the true strangeness. It won't be reduced to bumper stickers. At the same time, it's a very nicely done introduction to core Buddhist ideas like the Four Noble Truths, the Three Treasures, the Eightfold Path, etc. (I'm still thinking about the place of numbered lists in a tradition that's deeply suspicious of analytical methods.)
Deshimaru belongs to the Zazen tradition, a branch of the Mahayana (middle way) approach (as distinguished from the Theravada (or Hinayana) approach. He's very much on the side that distrusts method, at least beyond the basic importance of sitting zazen. Again, this is something I'm still contemplating. My teachers have been oriented towards the Tibetan tradition, which involves a stronger emphasis on the master/guru. That's present in Deshimaru, but he has sympathy for approaches that are closer to sudden satori/enlightenment.
This isn't quite for those seeking a first book on Buddhism, but once you have a general sense of what it's about, it would be a perfect place to continue.