390. Not picking or choosing

The first lines of the Hsin-Hsin Ming, the Verses of Faith-Mind go as follows: 

“The great way is not difficult, only avoid picking and choosing.

 When Love and Hate do not arise, things cease to exist in the old way.”

It’s fair to say that the general way of looking at that passage is to say that the two parts are the same. In other words, the reference to ‘love and hate’ and the reference to ‘picking and choosing’ is the same thing. And on that assumption we think we primarily require to develop Equanimity,  particularly when we’re practising. From that comes the common instruction that we should allow our thoughts to come and go freely and not be attached to them — not try to push them away or dwell on them.

But that common perspective is both banal and a misunderstanding — the two parts are not the same.

The reference to ‘picking and choosing’ doesn’t  mean that our arising  thoughts are already formed and appear within our awareness. What I think it means is that for a thought to exist (in the normal sense), we require to engage in picking and choosing. We require, in other words, to constrict our attention in order that a mental object or a feeling object, like an emotion, is constructed. 

Because to do that we require to disregard all other aspects of that ‘thought’ or ‘feeling’; the somatic aspect of it, the karmic aspect of it, the environmental aspect of it and various other things. If a thought is arising for me, that thought indicates not that there’s something pre-formed that I should have an attitude of neutrality towards. 


The fact that the thought (in the normal sense) arises at all  is an indicator that I’m engaging in picking and choosing.  I’m constricting my attention, thus an identifiable thought arises.

It arises from my activity of constriction which I’m unaware of.  So when a thought arises what I require to do is not to take a position towards that thought but recognise that I’m engaged in picking and choosing. In Uchiyama’s words, I “Open the Hand of Thought ”; what I’ve put out of my awareness, in terms of my body, my environment, my karma, and so on is brought back into awareness. When it’s brought back into awareness the thought, as it exists in the old way, disappears. 

So the activity of not picking and choosing, in other words, the activity of not constricting my attention, which you could call the practice of non-duality, means that in consequence, love and hate do not arise, because love and hate require that constriction, because they need to have something specific to adhere to.

Things ‘cease to exist in the old way’ not because we have an attitude of neutrality towards them but because our unconstricted awareness is primarily a wholeness out of which, as if in a dream, specific things appear to arise and disappear.