Master Ma's Ordinary Mind - Selections
“Ordinary Mind is itself the Way,” said Mazu Daoyi. See what this master has to say—and discover the extraordinary nature of your own “ordinary” life.
The Salt and Miso Are Not Lacking
Huairang, hearing that Mazu had begun teaching in the
Jiangxi region, asked his disciples about it.
“Is Daoyi really expounding the Dharma for the
“Indeed he is.”
“And no one came to tell me about it!”
Huairang sent one of the monks to see Mazu, telling
him to wait until Mazu entered the Dharma hall to deliver
his Dharma talk and then to ask him simply, “How’s it
going?” The monk was to remember whatever Mazu said
in reply and then report back.
The monk went to see Mazu and did as he had been
instructed. Mazu replied, “It’s been thirty years since my
dubious start; at present, salt and miso are not lacking.”
The monk returned to Huairang and reported what he
Mazu’s response that “at present, salt and miso are not
lacking” is quite interesting; it’s perhaps as if he’s saying,
“I started out without any idea of what I was getting
into, but thanks to your training, I’m not going
A rich lifestyle doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have
peace of mind; too many possessions tend to invite
suffering. But salt and miso are basic staples, so it
would be acceptable to read this as the common sentiment
that the happiest life is that of honest poverty.
However, considering Huairang’s interest in his former
student, there may be something a bit deeper going on
in the details.
In his response, perhaps Mazu is simply revealing
his mind: “I’m just living everyday life. To live without
artificial problems is Zen itself. No need to say anything
I suppose a Zen priest would be expected to have
such an attitude, but those in the secular world might
not find it so easy. A teacher in the midst of the bustle
of worldly life, concerned with helping a hard-working
student to find a job, might be tempted to say something
to the tune of this: “‘Just live naturally’ is a nice
ideal, but it won’t put food on the table. You need to
be practical. Settle for a desk job.” But remembering
Mazu’s words, he restrains himself, instead giving the
following advice: “Go for it! Set your sights high, follow
your dreams. It may be tough at first, but go ahead
and live out the life that’s in you.” Perhaps Mazu’s road
to becoming a Zen master with his own temple wasn’t
easy, and that’s what he calls his “dubious start.” Thirty
years later, he’s made it—he’s living his life to the fullest
and hasn’t failed to put food on the table.
A realized being seeks nothing, not even enlightenment.
He or she can be completely satisfied with a
simple diet of brown rice, miso soup, and vegetables. In
Japan, this natural, no-problem way of being is popularly
expressed in the Zen maxim byojo shin, kore michi
nari, or “ordinary mind is the Way.” Most people don’t
realize it, but these words belong to Mazu Daoyi.