Uchiyama, K. (1993). Opening the hand of thought. Okamura, S. & Wright, T. (eds.). Arcana/Penguin.
I’ve quoted from this book a few times and today borrow a review from Br. Harold Thibodeau. It’s remarkable in that it comes from a Roman Catholic monk who, coincidentally, lives at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky which was Thomas Merton’s home for 27 years.
In this book, Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama attempts to elucidate and explain a crucial question that is not easily solved no matter how long one studies Buddhism or sits in zazen: if Zen practice is at the center of our lives, how can we live it fully and freely in our day-to-day practice?
The first lines of the translator’s Preface clearly demonstrate the need for this book to be in print. They state that “If Buddhism in general and Zen in particular is ever to lay deep roots in the mainstream of Western culture and civilization and not be relegated to being simply one of those quaint or odd Oriental traditions in the religious supermarket of our day, then Zen, or the so-called practitioners of it, while studying the examples of past teachers, will have to be able to see the problems modern people are faced with as well.”
Furthermore, “if Zen is left only to be understood under the guise of profundity, then Zen will surely be left behind.” It is important to realize that zazen practice involves the living out of our life just as it is. However it is possible for one to lose sight of reality which results in suffering in our lives. Uchiyama Roshi clearly shows us the egocentricity that lies at the basis of whatever we see or do. It tags along with us. Inevitable egocentric thought distorts and cripples our life. Uchiyama asserts that “being dragged about by egocentric thought is nothing other than the ‘original sin’ committed by humankind in its beginning. Adam and Eve truly put us in a mess. Aside from ignorance, where is the apple we ate? That apple is precisely what we arc eating again and again in our attachment to ourselves”.
Throughout the book, the interested reader will find many useful explanations and insights expressed in good English syntax along with a dash of humor. In Dogen’s teaching (Soto tradition) it is important to practice enlightenment right now, right here—every moment. For him ‘practice and enlightenment’ are one. However it is not a matter of obtaining this as a result of practice.
Uchiyama agrees with Dogen in saying that what is essential “is to be vividly aware and to open the hand of thought from moment to moment, because it is our thoughts that bind us”.