Beginner mind Shunryu Suzuki

Beginner mind Shunryu Suzuki

Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen master and teacher, emphasized the importance of cultivating a beginner’s mind in one’s spiritual practice. In his Beginner mind Shunryu Suzuki, encouraged individuals to approach each moment with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to let go of preconceptions. This “beginner’s mind” is a state of mind that is free from assumptions and judgments, allowing for fresh insights and deeper understanding.

Maintain the original attitude

According to Shunryu Suzuki, practicing Zen is often seen as difficult, but the challenge lies not in sitting in a cross-legged position or achieving enlightenment. The true difficulty is in keeping our minds and practice pure. Over time, Zen has evolved and become impure, but my focus is on helping you maintain a pure practice.

In Japan, we have a concept called shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The aim of practice is always to maintain this beginner’s mind. Imagine reciting the Prajna Paramita Sutra once—it may be a great recitation. But if you repeat it multiple times, you may lose the original attitude you had towards it. The same can happen in other Zen practices. Initially, you may keep your beginner’s mind, but as you continue practicing for months or years, you might lose the boundless meaning of the original mind.

For Zen students, the key is to avoid dualistic thinking. Our “original mind” encompasses everything within itself. It is always abundant and self-sufficient. By beginner mind Shunryu Suzuki understands a self-sufficient state of mind. This is not closed but rather empty and receptive. An empty mind is always ready and open to anything. In the beginner’s mind, there are countless possibilities, whereas in the expert’s mind, possibilities become limited.

Let go of restrictions, the beginner mind of Shunryu Suzuki

Excessive discrimination restricts us, while excessive demands and greed diminish the richness and self-sufficiency of our minds. Losing our original self-sufficient mind leads to the violation of precepts—lying, stealing, killing, and immorality. By maintaining our original mind, the precepts naturally follow.

In the beginner’s mind, there is no thought of achievement or self-centeredness. Such thoughts confine our vast mind. When we let go of thoughts of achievement and self, we become true beginners and open ourselves to genuine learning. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion, boundless and infinite. Dogen-zenji, the founder of our school, emphasized the importance of reconnecting with our boundless original mind, enabling us to be true to ourselves, empathetic to all beings, and actively engaged in practice.

Thus, the greatest challenge lies in preserving the beginner’s mind. Deep understanding of Zen is not necessary. Even when reading Zen literature, approach each sentence with a fresh mind. Avoid thinking, “I know what Zen is” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This principle applies to all arts—always remain a beginner. Be extremely careful about this point. As you begin practicing zazen, you will come to appreciate the value of your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice

Beyond fixed ideas

In the Beginner mind Shunryu Suzuki confirms that as we grow older and gain knowledge and experience, our minds become filled with preconceived notions and fixed ideas. These mental patterns can limit our ability to see things as they truly are. By adopting a beginner’s mind, we can approach every situation with a sense of wonder and openness, as if experiencing it for the first time.

The beginner’s mind is characterized by a lack of expectations and a willingness to explore. It is a state of mind that is receptive and open to new possibilities. Suzuki often used the metaphor of a teacup to illustrate this concept. He would say, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” Like a teacup that is empty and ready to receive, the beginner’s mind is receptive and open to the present moment.

Cultivating a beginner’s mind requires letting go of our ego-driven need to be right or to have all the answers. It involves embracing a sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn from every experience. It means approaching challenges with a sense of humility and a willingness to learn from others, regardless of their level of expertise.

Beginner mind of Shunryu Suzuki and Posture

Now we will discuss the posture we adopt during zazen. When sitting in the full lotus position, the left foot rests on the right thigh, and the right foot on the left thigh. Despite having distinct left and right legs, they become one when crossed like this. This posture represents the unity of duality—neither two nor one. For the Beginner mind of Shunryu Suzuki this teaching is of utmost importance. Not two, and not one. Our body and mind are neither two nor one. Believing they are two is incorrect, and believing they are one is also incorrect. Our body and mind are both two and one. While we often perceive something as either singular or plural, in our actual experience, life is both singular and plural. Each of us is both dependent and independent.

Eventually, we will pass away after some years. Regarding this as the end of our life is a misconception. However, thinking that we do not die is also incorrect. We die, and we do not die. This is the correct understanding. Some may claim that our mind or soul exists eternally, and only our physical body perishes. Yet, this is not entirely accurate since both mind and body have their end. However, it is also true that they exist eternally. Furthermore, even though we speak of mind and body as separate, they are actually two sides of the same coin. This is the correct understanding. Thus, when assuming this posture, it symbolizes this truth. With the left foot on the right side of the body and the right foot on the left side, it becomes indistinguishable which is which. Either side may be perceived as left or right.

The key aspect of adopting the zazen posture is to keep your spine straight. Your ears and shoulders should align in a straight line. Relax your shoulders and lift the back of your head toward the ceiling. Draw your chin inwards. Tilting your chin up weakens your posture, likely leading to daydreaming. Additionally, to strengthen your posture, press your diaphragm down towards your hara or lower abdomen. This will aid in maintaining physical and mental balance. Initially, you may find it challenging to breathe naturally while maintaining this posture, but with practice, you will naturally and deeply breathe.

Your hands should form the “cosmic mudra.” Place your left hand on top of your right hand, with the middle joints of your middle fingers touching and lightly touching your thumbs together as if holding a piece of paper between them. Hold this universal mudra with great care, as if grasping something precious. Keep your hands against your body, with your thumbs at the height of your navel. Allow your arms to rest comfortably and slightly away from your body, as if holding an unbroken egg beneath each arm

There is a lot new to learn

In our fast-paced and knowledge-driven society, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we already know everything or that there is nothing new to learn. However, Suzuki reminds us that there is always something new to discover if we approach life with a beginner’s mind. Each moment holds the potential for growth, insight, and transformation.

The beginner’s mind is not just applicable to spiritual practice; it can be applied to every aspect of our lives. By embracing a beginner’s mind, we can approach relationships, work, and daily activities with a fresh perspective and a sense of curiosity. We can let go of old habits and ways of thinking that no longer serve us, allowing space for new possibilities and growth.

In conclusion, Shunryu Suzuki’s teachings on the beginner’s mind remind us of the value of approaching life with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to let go. By cultivating a beginner’s mind, we can break free from the limitations of fixed ideas and preconceptions, allowing for greater insight, growth, and a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us.

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