“Instructions To the Head Cook” is one of my favorite pieces of writing from Dogen, the 13th century founder of Zen in Japan. In it he describes the three states of mind that the head cook should cultivate in all activities in the kitchen: Joyful Mind, Kind Mind, and Great Mind.
I’m struck by this simple yet radical notion of cultivating states of mind. Usually we feel as though our state of mind, our feelings and emotions just happen, generally in relation to the events and circumstances of our lives. And, of course we are influenced by what we do and what happens in our lives, within and outside of our own control. At the same time, what a powerful idea, that we can cultivate states of mind. Here are three states of mind suggested by Dogen, that are applicable to our lives, not only in the kitchen but anywhere, at work, or outside of work:
Joyful Mind: “since you are cooking pure meals in this lifetime, this is a life of rejoicing…” Whatever we are doing can be thought of as cooking meals – our work, our relationships, our play. What meals are you cooking? Whatever we are doing, we can cultivate doing it wholeheartedly and joyfully, by simply cultivating the mind of joy.
Kind Mind: This is sometimes described as grandmother mind, the mind of unconditional love, looking over everything we do with love, without expecting anything in return. Cultivating kind mind mean bringing our presence and kind attention to each activity.
Great Mind: “is the mind like a great mountain or a great ocean.” Dogen describes this as the mind of equanimity; staying focused on being aware and present, bringing compassion to whatever we are doing; staying open to freeing ourselves and others from greed and fear.