Cultivating Joyful Mind, Kind Mind, Great Mind

“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.

Just Being Present

A Zen teacher from the 9th century in China could sometimes be heard having a stern conversation with himself: “Master Zuigan!” he would call out. “Yes?,” he would inquire, “Are you here?” “Yes!” He responded to himself.

How sweet, how odd, and how wonderful! This Zen teacher underscores how challenging it can be to be present, to show up, to be present for ourselves, and for our lives. And he didn’t have a smart phone, the internet, or television to contend with. It seems that showing up and being fully present has always been challenging.

I’ve been reading a book by poet Jane Hirshfield called Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. In an essay about concentration she says:

“Violinists practicing scales and dancers repeating the same movements over decades are not simply warming up or mechanically training their muscles. They are learning how to attend unswervingly, moment by moment, to themselves and their art; learning to come into steady presence, free from the distractions of interest or boredom.”

How can we learn to attend to ourselves, to our relationships, our work, our lives? What prevents us from the simple act of showing up? Fear, greed, wanting what we don’t have, not wanting what we have. Or as Jane points out – the distractions of interest or boredom – the need to be entertained or the anxiety and distraction of not being entertained.

How can we be more present? By practicing again and again, noticing when we are present and when we are not. By leaning in toward our fears, and our discomfort. As well as embracing our joy and our appreciation. As Jon Kabat Zinn says, being present for the “full catastrophe” of being alive, of being human.

I like the practice of Zen teacher Zuigan, “Are you here?” He asks himself. “Yes!” We can all try this – are you here? – when listening to another person, when driving a car, when eating your food. Checking in with ourselves – what’s happening, right now, with your thinking, your feelings. What’s in your heart?

Cooking/Kitchen Meditation

“When you prepare food, do not see with ordinary eyes and do not think with ordinary mind.”

This quote is from a document titled Instructions to the Head Cook, written by Eihei Dogen in 13th century Japan. Dogen is one of the most revered teachers in the Zen tradition. His temple, Eiheiji is one of the premier training temples in Japan today.

I find it an encouraging and inspiring reminder for the 21st century; how to cultivate an attitude of caring, a spirit of generosity and of focus, right here in my kitchen. I can do this while chopping vegetables, steaming kale, or washing dishes. Meditation, bringing awareness and focus to day-to-day activities, can be done anywhere, even in the kitchen.

Dogen goes on to say, in his instruction to the Cook, that you should bring three minds to your work in the kitchen: Joyful Mind, Grandmother Mind, and Big Mind. Joyful Mind is somewhat obvious, but not always easy to practice – enjoy what you do in the kitchen. Be present, have fun, create an atmosphere that is playful and alive. Bring your knives and vegetables and pots and pans alive.

Grandmother Mind is the attitude of unconditional love of sincerity and of acceptance. Imagine planning, cooking, and cleaning with this mind, working with others with this mind, and serving food with the mind of grandmotherly love and acceptance.

Big Mind is the mind that is wide and open, accepting things as they are. There is an expression in the Zen tradition that says “The Way is easy; just avoid picking and choosing. When you give up grasping and rejecting, the Way unfolds before you.” This is pointing to the spirit of Big Mind. On one level, impossible. On another, this is how are lives really are, beyond picking and choosing. And yet, what should we make for dinner?

Experiment. Bring into your simple activities of working in the kitchen — the mind of joy, grandmother mind, and big mind.

Day Of Mindfulness/Weekly Sabbath

When my two children were in elementary school, a weekly day of doing less was an important part of our family ritual. We borrowed some ideas from the Jewish Sabbath as well as Buddhist Day of Mindfulness practices. At the heart of our day we had three simple rules that we applied from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday evening:

Rule #1: There was no spending money.
Rule #2: There was no watching television.
Rule #3: We did something together as a family.

These three guidelines produced significant results in the quality of those twenty-four hours. What a relief to not buy anything, not have the television on, and spend time simply enjoying each other’s presence. My wife and I talked more with our two children; we read books, told stories, played games, went for walks, and shared meals. The biggest benefit of this structured break was that, for a day, the pace of our lives slowed down and our family connections increased.

One of my favorite parts of this ritual was the formal ending. We observed the Jewish tradition of looking for the first three stars to become visible on Saturday evening, signaling that Sabbath was over. It was fun and exciting for the four of us to stand on our deck together, seeing who could find the three stars as the sun faded and nighttime slowly emerged. Of course, since we live in Marin County, dense fog sometimes forced us to use our imaginations.