Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Beginner's Mind

The term "beginner's mind" comes from the title of Shunryu Suzuki's much loved and revered small book, actually a collection of talks he gave --- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

Suzuki Roshi came to San Francisco from Japan in 1959 and through his life, teachings, and personal presence ---became a major foundation block---in the development of American Zen Buddhism. He died in 1971.

I remember when my son John and I visited the San Francisco Zen Center probably thirty+ years ago, the guide showed us a painting of the late teacher. When she started moving on, I asked, "Could I stay just a minute longer?" She said that many people did not want to leave the portrait. And, like myself, most of those persons had never met Suzuki Roshi in person --- they met him in his book.

Here is more information about his life.

Beginner's Mind is not just for those interested in Zen, it is a helpful way of living. Basically,
it means --- as often as you can --- approach a task, an action, a person, an event---with the mind a beginner would have if he had never done the task, performed the action, met the person, encountered the event. I don't believe this mind is exactly an "open" mind because that has a touch of effort or purpose. Rather it is closer to an "empty" mind.

Many Christians recite the Nicene or Apostle's Creed on Sunday. By the time they are even a teenager they have said it so many times---they have completely lost the awareness of the Creeds's impact on them when they said it for the first time. Can you say The Creed next Sunday with a beginner's mind?

Of course, one cannot erase all of the impressions accumulated over the years and return exactly to the moment when you first recited The Creed ---but it is possible with a little effort, a "small turning" of the mind--to recite it the next time and the next time--with some freshness, with a mind "empty" of anticipation and overtones. With a mind of total awareness.

Here is an example from my teaching. There were a few teachers (especially when I was just starting to teach) who would ask to look at my class list. Then they would make comments like: "Bill is a Big cheater." "Sally is a smart aleck." "George is a clown." "No need to work too hard on Jerry, he doesn't have much upstairs."

I would dutifully listen to my elders. However, I was resolute in trying to forget everything I was told. I wanted no expectations or antipations to affect my response to my new students. Certainly, this may have made me vulnerable at times, but it's better to be that way than to keep the kids in the grooves that they may no longer want to follow, but because of peer pressure and teach expectations -- they are locked into.

How often do we see a man and a woman eating dinner out. We know that they are married because they seldom speak to each other, or even look. Beginner's Mind may help.

You are working on a political campaign, and are asked to do a mundane chore, e.g. folding flyers for envelopes. The first time --many years ago -- you did this it may have been worth your attention. Can you return a little to that "point in time".

Here is part of what Suzuki says about Beginner's Mind in the first short chaper of the book mentioned above:

Our "original mind" induces 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.

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.