Having no preference

Student: We often hear the comment, “Just have no preference and everything will be fine.” It sounds straightforward and yet it seems impossible to practice in today’s world. Can you say more about this?

Roshi: There was a time in the 80’s and early 90’s when I saw it this way. Today, more than 20 years later, I now see that this advice to have no preference is still holding a preference — the preference being to have no preference.

If we use the triangle to visualize what I’m saying, at the left corner of the triangle is our dualistic mind and way of thinking, which has preferences for and against all kinds of things. We are full of likes and dislikes, should’s and should not’s, do’s and don’t’s, ought’s and ought not’s. Here at the left side of the triangle we are stuck in a dualistic view and suffer due to our preferences.

Then if we shift to the right side of the triangle, which we can call the absolute, we see clearly without preferences for and against all things. This is also what I call holding a Buddha view. It frees us from suffering and allows us to live a life with no fear. However, we are now stuck in the absolute and in liberation. We hold on tightly to this preference because it appears to free us from suffering. This is also called an enlightened view or being stuck in the absolute at the top of the summit of the mountain.

When we drop this Buddha view and our hold on the preference of having no preference, we are shifting from the right hand corner of the triangle to the Apex. From the Apex we see clearly that we were holding on to a deluded view that having no preference was superior to having preferences. This is a trap we can fall into whether we’ve had only a glimpse of enlightenment or even a true enlightened experience. It is only when we are free from enlightenment that we see the stuckness of this position. From the Apex we have no preference for or against having a preference or for or against having no preference. We treat both views as we would our own two children, with no preference for one over the other. We embrace both children equally.

From the Apex the next step is to divorce or go beyond even identifying with these two views. Now we create a separation and distance from embracing both having a preference and having no preference. At this point we are at what I call Me, or jokingly, me.com. This is where we are coming from being oneself truly not knowing, beyond knowing and not knowing, beyond dual and non-dual. This is neti neti. This is gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate. The most difficult thing in our practice is to go beyond both the Buddha and Dharma. To let go of both Buddha and Dharma is to be truly free from all attachments, free even from not being attached. This is Zen.

34 thoughts on “Having no preference”

  1. What freedom! From the Apex, I am free to choose or choose not to choose, and to be with with what is. What I like best, is that I feel whole, not split. oops! That is a preference, it is okay, I am flexible and can move out of that position, being pleased with being not so free,after all I live in a world where there is me and the other.

  2. Thank you Roshi, really enjoying these posts. This one in particular. Very nice to meet these teaching words simply, in this space with you.

  3. I always look forward to your words of wisdom. I’m now a coach-in-training (Centerpointe background) and we’ve been discussing, as coaches, having no-attachment, no preference, letting whatever comes up be OK. Today, in fact. So, your blog is an answer to today’s question.

    It makes sense that being non-attached, having no preferences is being as stuck as insisting on having a preference obviously is. We tend to think that freedom from that preference is freedom, but it’s not. Your apex makes more sense to me all the time. Difficult, but it is a growing understanding.

  4. This is pretty crazy for me, in a good way, as I watched the great way video on YouTube last week, and this exact portion of having no preference struck me as exactly the thing our minds must awaken to, by it I mean its senselessness. He even suggests we should not accept such things, and yet I spent so many years striving to lose my even senses

  5. Thank you for the insightful article. “. . . free even from not being attached” hits home.

    In the mid 1970s I was addicted to books like Sheldon B. Kopp’s “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!” I thought that because my life wasn’t perfect, I had to change myself. At that time, I didn’t realize that the idea of my life not being perfect was simply a notion.

    But I must have intuited something, because every six months or so, I found it necessary to throw those books away.

  6. This is incredibly powerful! And the divorcing part offers a whole new level of consciousness. Big Mind seems to continue to unfold into higher and higher dimensions. I feel very blessed to be able to partake in this cosmic ride. Thank you so much, Roshi!

  7. Am I right to suppose that before you get to the point of being able to look at life from the apex beyond having preferences and not having preferences, you will probably have to spend some time – WITHOUT TRYING to get to this apex – with practicing to have no preferences. What I mean is, taking one step after the other, otherwise this again would be a preference, and above all it would be great effort, not an effortless effort.

  8. Genpo Roshi:
    Please accept my gratitude for putting to words your version of the duality-nonduality preferences concept. It is to appreciate truth for what it’s worth do I respectively ask the following questions:

    When you say “To let go of the Buddha and Dharma is to be truly free from all attachments, free even from not being attached. This is Zen.”
    What do you mean by being “truly free”? Further, if it requires anything whatsoever that needs to be “really free” isn’t this concept/symbol already been chosen by you rather than imposed on you?
    One more thing, If “this is Zen” what is no-zen?

    Please advise.

  9. I always look forward to your words and wisdom Genpo! The apex is just so comforting and filled with acceptance for me. Much gratitude and love!

  10. I always look forward to your words and wisdom Genpo! The Apex is just so comporting and filled with acceptance for me. Much gratitude and love!

  11. Samaja samadhi vs. nirvikalpa samadhi. The path found by Saraha and instructed to all Mahamudra masters. Thank you, Roshi.

  12. Beautiful, thank you! I feel the first step would be letting go of judgement by watching all these frightening attack thoughts in my mind. And then, some day, perhaps, feeling free like space! And loving.

  13. Having a preference or not having a preference – this is the question now? Having a bugy wugy or not or going beyond bugy wugy… I guess it sounds all so serious, so I need to make a joke.
    From my understanding I can have a preference and I can not have a preference. And I’m not attached to either. So I can choose freely and even have both options at the same time. I can choose preference with all seriousness just to reject it next moment. All is equal, but still I’m choosing, but I’m aware of it and I don’t blame others for my mistakes…

  14. Genpo,

    I have heard a simple story that, perhaps, illustrates this understanding. On on hand, we have vanilla and chocolate ice cream. And I like chocolate! (Actually, i like vanilla with chocolate sauce, but that’s not the point here!) Does it MATTER if I get chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Of course not, its ice cream. I simply have a PREFERENCE for ice cream. On a relative scale, I prefer chocolate to vanilla. But on an absolute scale, it’s all just ice cream and really doesn’t matter. I can be equally happy, content and at peace with either choice. When I come to see this, I am no longer attached to my preference for chocolate. NOW, I can still choose chocolate (the apex) because, back when I cared still, I really DID like chocolate better. It’s just now I know it ALSO really doesn’t matter. Unattached preference!!

  15. so if there were a choice point i could choose to have a preference, I could choose to have no preference, I could choose to have both, I could know that I have a choice but not choose, I could know that I have a choice and choose. does that sum it up ?

  16. I have noticed that when I am on sesshin I have no food preferences, work practice preferences, and so on. When I am at home or in a restaurant I have preferences. I guess this is because on sesshin I am more in my Buddha nature than when away from my Zen center. What you say makes perfect sense to me. Thank you….Karen


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