Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (by Shunryu Suzuki)

People say that practicing Zen is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in the cross‑legged position, or to attain enlightenment. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our practice pure in its fundamental sense.. In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means "beginner's mind." The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner's mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our "original mind" includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self‑sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.

If you discriminate too much, you limit yourself. If you are too demanding or too greedy, your mind is not rich and self‑sufficient. If we lose our original self‑sufficient mind, we will lose all precepts. When your mind becomes demanding, when you long for something, you will end up violating your own precepts: not to tell lies, not to steal, not to kill, not to be immoral, and so forth. If you keep your original mind, the precepts will keep themselves.

In the beginner's mind there is no thought, "I have attained something." 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. The beginner's mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen‑zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasized how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.

So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner's mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, "I know what Zen is," or "I have attained enlightenment." This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen, you will begin to appreciate your beginner's mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.

Introduction to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind; by Shunryu Suzuki


MakingPeace MakingPeace
46-50, M
31 Responses Jul 8, 2008

Hm Hm...... The mind becomes infantlike. There is no distinction between mom or a bottle of milk. You perceive what is in your line of vison because your eyes are open. Hear the normal sounds around you because your ears are not pluged and sence your brain is not asleep various thoughts will comes to mind. These thoughts like countless waves on the sea are constantly bobbing on the surface of the mind uninterrupted as a result of the functioning of the six senses. Having these thoughts will not diminish the effectiveness of the art of no-mindlessness unless we involve ourself with them by trying to check,eliminate or pursue any of them. Let thoughts come and go as they will without dallying or struggling with them. When one is free from the bound of thoughtwaves one becomes less concerned with there rising and disappeaing. thoughts will become like uninvited gust, if you dont make a fuse over them they soon leave but give them an audience to entertain them and they will linger on.

cftp -- a regular practice seems to be very important if you're serious about it. I started on my own, as well, and continue on my own, but I did take a formal meditation class and have attended some retreats to further my practice. The internet can be a great resource to help you connect with people who can help. Many would recommend finding a teacher -- but teachers can come in many forms, many of them quite informal. Some of the Buddhist sites might be able to help with finding a local sangha you could join. One that I've participated at is www.zenforuminternational.org . There are some good people there who might help to direct you.

8footdread -- you raise a very good point -- thanks -- yes, I've been learning quite recently, in fact, about the need to stay grounded on this earth. Sometimes you just can't get too many reminders of such sage advice.

a little too abstract a little too wise - it is time to kiss the earth once more<br />
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a wonderful conversation here full of learning...thank you for sharing<br />
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such is the duality in the multiplicity of unity

Hi Leila :) That ego is a tricky bugger, eh? lol For me, I see the spirit/soul as somewhat synonymous with the 'true Self' in Buddhism. Finding our way back to that.... yes, this is what our deepest longings all point to, in the end, I think. So nice to see you around!

Good advice Dee. Finding others who have been traveling this road with some success is the most important thing. Everyone seems to have these 2 sides, the one that seeks pleasure or escape, excitment, that gets angry and selfish, the ego. Then the other side which is peaceful, loving, quiet and whole- the spirit or soul. I don't think Buddhists talk about the soul, but they emphasize peace, calm, quiet, unselfishness, love and kindness. We have to find our way back to that, letting go of the noisy selfish part of ourself. Everyone is challenged in this way, everyone on the planet. So you are not alone, Citizenfotheplanet, none of us are.

Hi Citizenfotheplanet -- I've been thru similar feelings -- seem to be cycling back over them now, in fact. It is really important to have someone more experienced guide you thru the rough spots, so if you don't have anyone like that, seek out some support. One 'place' I could suggest is the spiritual teacher Adyashanti -- he was trained in Zen Buddhism, but has a more universal approach to his teachings that I like. Check out his website, there are many great resources there, and he has a regular radio program that you can call in and talk to him. But this is just a suggestion -- it's important to find someone that you feel comfortable with!<br />
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I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head when you said, "I feel like I opened my eyes to the world, but maybe I was not ready to put what I saw in perspective". Another reason I like Adya's teachings is he explains this 'process' quite well -- and from a particular perspective, it is a process! One that many of us struggle through -- so you're in good company ;)<br />
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Perhaps others will have some more advice to offer... All the best to you!

You are most very welcome.<br />

Right. :^)

Makes a lot of sense to me. It's neat how science is pointing to and confirming so much of what (eastern) philosophers have been saying for millenia..<br />
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Now that I do it every day, I can't imagine not doing it.. It just somehow becomes a part of you.. or you a part of it? I guess that's really it, it's a way of connecting with all that is around you.. which is what loving kindness is all about :)

Right. And i think that's the whole idea, the very purpose, behind meditation. This is why we need to do it.<br />
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There have been studies done that show a certain part of the brain actually increases in size for long term meditators. Meditation is exercise, it strengthens parts of our brain that help us to transcend emotional reactions, pull out of mental spin cycles... back to calm...<br />
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"When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless." <br />
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The challenge is to find this and then, perhaps, keep coming back to it.. find a comfortable perch upon which to sit and stay there.

Right. Exactly. The other challenge is to find one's original mind, one's natural capacity for compassion and kindness, and center awareness there, return once again to a simple and deeper truth. A deeper peace.<br />
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<i>If you are too demanding or too greedy, your mind is not rich and self‑sufficient. If we lose our original self‑sufficient mind, we will lose all precepts. When your mind becomes demanding, when you long for something, you will end up violating your own precepts: not to tell lies, not to steal, not to kill, not to be immoral, and so forth. If you keep your original mind, the precepts will keep themselves.<br />
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In the beginner's mind there is no thought, "I have attained something." 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. The beginner's mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. </i>

Transiency<br />
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<i>The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence...<br />
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We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence. We should find perfection in imperfection. For us, complete perfection is not different from imperfection. The eternal exists because of non-eternal existence. In Buddhism it is a heretical view to expect something outside this world. We do not seek for something besides ourselves. We should find the truth in this world, through our difficulties, through our suffering. This is the basic teaching of Buddhism. Pleasure is not different from difficulty. Good is not different from bad. Bad is good; good is bad. They are two sides of one coin. So enlightenment should be in practice. That is the right understanding of practice, and the right understanding of our life. So to find pleasure in suffering is the only way to accept the truth of transiency. Without realizing how to accept this truth you cannot live in this world. Even though you try to escape from it, your effort will be in vain. If you think there is some other way to accept the eternal truth that everything changes, that is your delusion. This is the basic teaching of how to live in this world. Whatever you may feel about it, you have to accept it. You have to make this kind of effort."</i><br />
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I guess when your life is in the middle of an upheaval, it can be comforting to know that this is life, that change is a part of life, that difficulty and pleasure are just two sides of one coin. You just can't have one without the other.

I approach really deep books like this in the same way. Don't read in a linear way, just open up to a page, like throwing the I Ching. What jumps out always seems to fit.

I have to start reading again.. I've gotten away from it the last while. The thing I find so awesome is that I seem to pick up a book like this one and find something that just fits so perfectly with whatever has been going on that day or in the last while. I guess it shows how timeless these words are, and how they fit into our lives in so many different ways.

It's been like my bible, Leila :^)

These were very very helpful ideas MP & Dee, thank you both so much for sharing this wisdom. I will definitely check out this book!! :D

Excellent thoughts Dee, excellent :^)

Quote for the day:<br />
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<i>"We say, 'Pulling out the weeds we give nourishment to the plant.' We pull the weeds and bury them near the plant to give it nourishment. So even though you have some difficulty in your practice, even though you have some waves while you are sitting, those waves themselves will help you. So you should not be bothered by your mind. You should rather be grateful for the weeds, because eventually they will enrich your practice. If you have some experience of how the weeds in your mind change into mental nourishment, your practice will make remarkable progress. You will feel the progress. You will feel how they change into self-nourishment. Of course it is not so difficult to give some philosophical or psychological interpretation of our practice, but that is not enough. We must have the actual experience of how our weeds change into nourishment."</i><br />
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From "Mind Weeds" ZMBM ~S. Suzuki<br />
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The way I interpret this today, is that the weeds are our thoughts, particularly the unsettling thoughts.. perhaps thoughts that are bitter-sweet. If we can learn to pull these weeds and use them to nourish.. perhaps neutralize the bitterness with the sweetness, this will serve to nourish our mind and calm our thoughts, and allow gratitude to come in and fill us. The experience of this process will move us forward in our practice, in always trying to stay focused on *now*.. there is only Now.


Forecast calls for partly scattered clouds with a chance of rain, followed by clearing towards the afternoon ;)

Right! Great example. In fact, maybe a flashlight wasnt the best analogy. Its more like opening windows and letting natural light into a previously dark room, probably. Suzuki roshi and other Buddhist teachers often use the analogy of sky and clouds. Our original natural Big Mind is like the sky. Little mind is/are the clouds that fly thru the sky. We identify with those clouds and storms, think thats us. But behind the clouds there is that blue sky, clear, wide. That's our Big Mind, our original awareness, always there, even when hidden...<br />
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And Sukuki roshi said part of the goal of zazen is to keep some of that blue sky awareness in all our activities, so even when the clouds (thoughts, emotions, desires, etc) are rolling thru some blue sky is there, and you realize the clouds are not everything. He said if we can keep even a little bit of that "calm" blue in the picture, it transforms our perception and experience of psychic storms and such...

Yeah, like a flashlight.. exposes the small mind and allows us to see the effect it has over us, and how we have misperceived so many things. Kinda like in the Wizard of Oz when the curtain comes open and we see that the Wizard is but an ordinary man. The small mind tells us "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain". But the big mind whisks away the curtain, and allows us to see it all clearly.

Right, exactly! Which is why in Zen there is not so much emphasis on "achieving" or "attaining" enlightenment. Instead, we try to cultivate this kind of open mind, a beginner's mind. If we could maintain it, that would be enlightenment, actually, lol. But its very rare that people can keep this up 24/7. The small mind has deep roots, many little habits that need to slowly and carefully be unraveled. Inside most of us its like there's a box of knoted and twisted ropes, meaning our history, our issues, dysfunctional habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. It can take decades, lifetimes, to unknot the knots, untwist things. Big Mind is kind of like a flashlight, maybe... Helps us to view small mind's issues, as you just described.

Part of this I see as acceptance, and another part is seeing problems in a 'clear light'.. that is, free from encumberances placed by our 'small mind' or ego. This requires making the distinction between the 'small mind' and the 'big mind'. To perceive from the 'big mind' requires first a recognition of the 'small mind', then a step back, to find that space in between the two. When this is achieved, then the mind comes into focus and clarity of thought is achieved. This allows us to view our 'problems' for what they truly are. No easy thing to achieve!<br />

<I>"The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense. " </I><br />
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Absolutely! I think this has been the greatest gift I've recieved from years of Zen practice. I have a better understanding of how to accept things as they are. So much of life is our struggling with problems. Accepting in the Zen sense doesnt mean you just leave problems alone, but rather you learn to see the problems in a different way. Just by seeing things "as they are" in reality will often help to resolve difficulties, cause everything in the universe is always changing anyway! You see how things are and in time they start to change naturally, and you can nudge them a little, in a certain direction, lightly.. cause now you see the natural dynamics at work, what is happening...<br />
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How can this practice help the westerner who is a slave to the dollar and is hurting?

<I>"If you want to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort. How to make this kind of effort is the secret of practice. Suppose you are sitting under some extaordinary circumstances. If you try to calm your mind you will be unable to sit, and if you try not to be disturbed, your effort will not be the right effort. The only effort that will help you is to count your breathing, or to concentrate on your inhaling and exhaling. We say concentration, but to concentrate your mind on something is not the true purpose of Zen. The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense. Zen practice is to open up our small mind. So concentrating is just an aid to help you realize "big mind", or the mind that is everything. If you want to discover the true meaning of Zen in your everyday life, you have to understand the meaning of keeping your mind on your breathing and your body in the right posture in zazen. You should follow the rules of practice and your study should become more subtle and careful. Only in this way can you experience the vital freedom of Zen."</I><br />
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From 'Control' in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" ~Shunryu Suzuki

Uncluttered, open, receptive, free :^)

It makes me think of a wide-eyed child.. just open and taking in everything they experience, with no preconceived notions because they have no experience to 'muddy the waters'. Innocent, pure, naive.

Thank you for sharing. I found this to be very important for me today. I will strive to regain and maintain my beginner's mind.