What Are the Three Minds?

Zen master Dogen wrote that someone working to benefit others should maintain three minds: magnanimous mind, parental mind, and joyful mind.

Lion’s Roar
19 May 2024
Illustration by Ray Fenwick.

In his “Instructions to the Cook,” Dogen, the Japanese founder of the Soto Zen school, wrote that someone working to benefit others should maintain three minds: magnanimous mind (daishin), parental mind (roshin), and joyful mind (kishin).

Magnanimous mind (or “big mind”) means, according to Dogen, “being unprejudiced and refusing to take sides.” In other words, magnanimous mind is not swayed by biases or preferences. Cooks with magnanimous mind work with the ingredients they have, not the ones they wish they had. What’s there is always enough.

Parental mind (literally “old mind”) takes great care with whatever, and whomever, one encounters, not distinguishing between self and other. Unforgettably, Dogen instructs cooks to handle ingredients “as if they were their own eyes.”

Joyful mind is the mind of gratitude for what is. The cook sees the opportunity to feed and serve others not simply as a job but as an opportunity. With that view the cook finds a joy that is not conditional—it arises from the vow to benefit others and doesn’t depend on things going right or fade when things go wrong.

These three minds can be seen as reflections of one another: for example, parental mind is a natural extension of both magnanimous mind and joyful mind; joyful mind is very much the mind of a parent. Together, these three minds describe the internal world of the bodhisattva.

Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

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