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Way Seeking Mind

February 22, 2012

By Stephen Damon

A couple of days ago, our Zen group had a lively discussion about Way Seeking Mind that I’d like to continue on this blog.  Way Seeking Mind  is the part of oneself that motivates our search for that “something more” that many of us are looking for. In Japanese, Way Seeking Mind is doshin do, which literally means being aware of, or turning towards, the Tao.  Of course, when we turn toward The Way or the Dharma we are really turning toward the deepest part of our self—the magnanimous self or Big Mind. This turning doesn’t happen just once in an enlightenment experience, but rather it must be as continuous a process as our breathing. As Dogen said, “Buddhas keep on becoming Buddhas.”

Way Seeking Mind may appear in the earliest stages of our lives, long before we’ve heard of Buddhism or Zen.  Sometimes it will express itself in unusual dreams or “memories” that seem too old to be our own.  And sometimes it will appear when we look at our life and want something more—not more things, not more happiness, but something we can’t quite put our finger on.

Looking back on our life from the point of view of Way Seeking Mind can be very helpful in coming to a new perspective.  We usually think of ourselves in terms of our relationships to others or things.  We may be a mother or a son; an employer or an employee; an American or Canadian; a Catholic or a Buddhist, and so forth.  When we look at our life from the perspective of the appearance of Way Seeking Mind we are looking at ourselves in relationship to ourselves. When we do this we see that what we had considered the important facts of our life such as where we grew up and went to school are accidental and incidental.  That is, we lose our sense of who we thought we were and find ourselves in front of one of the basic questions of life: what am I

Way Seeking Mind often expresses itself in these kinds of unanswerable questions.   When I was very young, about ten or so, I had a question that no one could answer—not my friends, or parents, or teacher or Rabbi.  In fact, most people I asked had no idea what I was talking about. Some thought I was crazy.  It was such an unusual question that I struggled to find the right words.  Let me try again.

I can understand that someone I know is that person with his or her own family.  I can see that people grow up as individuals with names and identities and life histories.  But what I didn’t see then, and still don’t understand now, is how I got to be identified with this body, this life.  How come I wasn’t born as someone else?  How come I see everything from this particular point of view?

When I started to practice Zen and study Zen teachings I found that this question was finally being addressed. The first person who understood what I was asking was my first Zen teacher who said, “No wonder you’re a Zen Buddhist.” After that conversation during an all-day sitting, I went back to my Zafu, repeating a line from Hokyo Zammai, Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi: Now you have it, preserve it well. And that is what I have tried to do.

Eventually this question formed a kind of physical presence with a gravitational pull that attracted certain kinds of similar influences which nourished it.  Or maybe I should say that I began to sense that this question was an expression of a presence already in myself. And it is this part of myself, my Way Seeking Mind, that helped me find a path that would eventually lead me back to where I started from: myself.  

Many Zen groups use the practice of giving Way Seeking Mind talks as a way of helping people look at their lives from the point of view of their search for the Dharma.  It’s very challenging to reformat your life story in this context and it is wonderful to hear how others do it.  I have heard many and I am always struck by not only how different the expressions of way seeking mind are, but how similar they feel to me.  One person may talk about an experience he had in church  and another may talk about an experience she had working with homeless people, but both talk about a subtle turning of the self towards something mysterious and unnamable that feels very familiar to me.

Please feel free to post an experience you’ve had with Way Seeking Mind.



  1. Seizan Tokudo permalink

    That was a nice – clear and simple – explanation. Thank you!

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