Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – a short review

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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
“Each of us must make his own true way, and when we do, that way will express the universal way. This is the mystery. When you understand one thing, you understand everything. When you try to understand everything, you will not understand anything. The best way is to understand yourself, and then you will understand everything. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will help others, and you will be helped by others. Before you make your own way you cannot help anyone, and no one can help you. To be independent in this true sense, we have to forget everything which we have in our mind and discover something quite new and different moment after moment. This is how we live in this world.”

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a book of teachings that were put together from a series of lectures by the late master Shunryu Suzuki. It was published in 1970 by Weatherhill Publishing House. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind was conceived by Marian Derby, a Suzuki disciple, and is based on talks given by him to a small group in Los Altos, California. Trudy Dixon and Richard Baker (Baker was Suzuki’s successor) edited the talks – by choosing those most relevant, arranging them into chapters – and then the material was sent to publication. It is one of the best and most succinct introductions to Zen practice.

Suzuki-roshi, as he was known, traveled to the United States in 1959 as a visitor, but eventually became a permanent resident, based in San Francisco. He established many Zen centers, including the first Zen training monastery in America. One of the temples he founded is named “Zen Mind Temple” (Zen Shin Ji, Tassajara) and another one is named “Beginner’s Mind Temple” (Ho Shin Ji, the City Center in San Francisco).

Shunyru Suzuki was one of the first Zen Buddhist teachers to share Buddhism with Americans in the middle to late 20th century. His approach was informal, and he usually drew his examples from ordinary events and common sense. His fundamental teaching and practice are drawn from all the centuries of Zen Buddhism and especially from Dogen, one of the most important and creative of all Zen Masters

In the forty-seven years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has become one of the great modern spiritual classics, much beloved, much reread, and much recommended as the best first book to read on Zen. In this book, Shunryu expresses the heart of Zen in the simplest but most profound ways. His way is not that of a philosopher with a theory to propound, but that of a Zen master whose statements are to provoke or stimulate us into growth. Suzuki Roshi does not propagate or encourage any dogma or belief, instead, he reflects the true essence of Zen.

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi presents the basics—from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality—in a way that is not only extremely pristine, but that also resonates with the joy of insight from the first to the last page. One of Suzuki Roshi’s endearing qualities is the way he couches the most profound concepts in simple terms. In order to convey his understandings, he uses images and experiences from his own life.

Suzuki’s talks on zazen are spare and direct, demystifying Buddhism as a religion or philosophy and continually bringing the focus back to the simple and perfect practice of sitting. He points not to intellectual or emotional ways, but to a very simple practice: sitting meditation and awareness of what we are doing, from one moment to the next one. Again and again, he mentions the necessity for the simple practice of sitting and attending to the present moment. Although Suzuki discusses simple things – like posture and breathing during meditation, he also brings forth complex subjects as selflessness, emptiness, impermanence and mindfulness. He also provides useful and illuminating truths for anyone interested in becoming more mindful.

What is meant by the term ‘beginner’s mind’?

Zen Buddhism teaches a concept of “Beginner’s Mind”, shoshin, as a positive attribute, something to cultivate. According to Zen, we should all try to have a Beginner’s Mind. The purpose of Zen practice is to have a simple, pure mind, open to all possibilities. The beginner’s mind goes beyond ‘me’ to the realization that it is just an expression of the larger universal Mind. The mind ceases to think in a dualistic way, in terms of polarities such as good and bad, or agreeable and disagreeable, and consequently can focus on the fullness of the moment, as it is.

The beginner’s mind is the open mind, the attitude that includes both doubt and possibility, the ability to see things always as fresh and new.

The beginner’s mind is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices.

Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see things “as they are.”

Beginner’s mind is the practice of Zen mind.

Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action.

“All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something.”

photo credit: startupcfo


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