No Preferences

by Bob Schwartz

Xinxin Ming

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

Thus begins one of the most famous Zen texts, Verses on the Faith-Mind  (Xinxin Ming), attributed to Jianzhi Sengcan (d. 606), the Third Ancestor of Zen.

This is one of the most common themes for way seekers. And as difficult as it is ubiquitous.

Smart or less smart, knowledgeable or less knowledgeable, all of us have preferences and opinions about this and that. We make distinctions. Good and bad. Better and best. All of us. All the time. Some people more than others.

There can be practical reasons. We want to know what to embrace or avoid.  And if we think we know that, we want to tell others. On the less practical side, we may want to demonstrate just how discerning we are. How smart we are. That happens.

The point is to be watchful of our tendencies to fill our lives and time with those preferences and distinctions. They will, without our noticing, take us over.

Zen goes one step further. The reason to give up preferences is not primarily to improve something about ourselves and our relationships with others, though that may be an effect. More than that, those preferences and distinctions don’t exist. At all. We just impose them on whatever is. This idea seems not just unlikely from our experience, but impossible.

Don’t believe Zen? Believe Jesus, who made the same point. “Do not judge and you will not be judged” is not just about being fair and self aware and not being hypocritical. It is about the hollowness of judgments themselves. Of course we will make judgments, but clinging to them and making them the centerpiece of our time and life is not the way.

Infinitely large and infinitely small;
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
So too with Being and non-Being.
Waste no time in doubts and arguments
that have nothing to do with this.

One thing, all things;
move among and intermingle,
without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about nonperfection.
To live in this faith is the road to nonduality,
because the nondual is one with the trusting mind.

The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is
no yesterday
no tomorrow
no today.

From Hsin-Hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith-Mind, translated by Richard B. Clarke