The Colors of the Mind

From my forthcoming book:

Anyway, next Dogen delivers another one of my favorite lines in the essay. He says, “Thus, the colors of the mind excited by a flower or the moon should not be seen as self at all, but we think of them as our self.” 

And he concludes the section by saying, “If we consider what is not our self to be our self, even that can be left as it is, but when we illuminate [the state in which] there is no possibility of either repellent colors or attractive ones being tainted, then action that naturally exists in the truth is the unconcealed original features.”

We see, hear, and experience lots of things —Dogen’s examples are flowers and the moon. Those are nice examples. I’m sure you can think of plenty of not-so-nice examples of things you’ve seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. Whatever we encounter “excites the colors of our mind,” as Dogen puts it. We have a specific individual reaction to them that is unique. People often react in vastly different ways to the same experiences, even when they’re standing right next to each other. It all depends on your previous experiences.

But however we react to what we experience, we tend to take that reaction to be our self reacting to whatever it is. That’s how we describe it. “I saw that play and I was moved to tears.” “I was disgusted by that sandwich.” Whatever my reaction is, it’s an example of me. I can define myself by the way I react to things. For example, End of the Century is my all-time favorite Ramones album, even though lots of Ramones fans hate it. I can define myself, in part, as one of the rare Ramones fans who loves that record. And that would not be a lie.

There are reasons I like that album that are unique to my trajectory through life. For one thing, it was the first Ramones album I ever bought. I’d read a few articles about them, but I didn’t know what they sounded like until the first time I put that record on my dad’s turntable. They did not play The Ramones on the radio in Ohio in those days. I was also 16 years old when I got the record, and things mean more to you when you’re 16 than they do when you’re older. 

Many years later, that album is still my favorite, even though I totally understand why other Ramones fans don’t feel that way about it — especially if their first Ramones album was one of the earlier ones. 

It’s weird how we’ll get into all kinds of disputes with each other based on aspects of our personal preferences that are shaped by totally arbitrary stuff we had no choice at all about. Musical preferences are easy. But even our religious and political preferences are shaped by all kinds of arbitrary and meaningless happenings in our lives. Yet we get really worked up about that stuff. Sometimes dangerously worked up! If we examined ourselves and discovered how meaningless it was, we’d probably waste a lot less energy on it. 

That stuff is not our real self. Our real self is something quite entirely different.


Angel City Zen Center now meets on ZOOM several times each week often with Brad giving the lectures. We’re even having an online retreat in November. For details check


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IT CAME FROM BEYOND ZEN and SEX SIN AND ZEN are now available as audiobooks from! You can also get Don’t Be a JerkHardcore Zen,  Sit Down and Shut Up and There is No God and He is Always With You in audio form — all read by me, Brad Warner!