The Triple World is Only the Mind
San means “three” and kai means “world.” So sangai means “the three worlds,” or “the triple world.” Traditionally, Buddhist theory looks at the world as the amalgamation of three worlds: the world of thinking, the world of feeling, and the world of action. In traditional Buddhist terminology these three worlds are called the worlds of volition, matter, and non-matter. The phrase “the three worlds,” or “the triple world,” is often used to mean this world here and now, the whole world, the real world, which includes the world of thinking, the world of feeling, and the world of action. Yui means “only,” “solely,” or “alone,” and shin means “mind.” So sangai-yuishin means “the triple world is only the mind” or “the triple world is the mind alone.” The phrase “the triple world is only the mind” is often interpreted as an idealistic insistence that the whole world is produced by our mind. Historically, many Buddhist monks thought that this was the case. Master Dogen did not agree; he insisted that in Buddhism, the phrase “the triple world is only the mind” means something far more real. This phrase refers to the teaching that reality exists in the contact between subject and object. From this viewpoint, when we say that the world is only the mind, we also need to say that the mind is only the world, to express the fact that the relationship is a mutual one. In this chapter, Master Dogen explains the meaning of the phrase “the triple world is only the mind” from the Buddhist viewpoint, criticizing idealistic interpretations.