Review: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

This week I’m reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: a Zen classic from a brilliant master. The book is drawn from a series of talks given by Shunryu Suzuki on Zen Mind and how to practise. They’re divided into three sections that cover Right Practice, Right Attitude, and Right Understanding.

The beginner’s mind of the title is simply about asking who or what you are: What is my mind? Who is thinking these thoughts? In Zen practise you’re always at the beginning and you can never really know anything for sure. Remembering this keeps your mind open and doubting, which means you can approach life like a true beginner, knowing nothing. Only then can you see things as they really are.

As soon as you think you know what Zen is or that you have attained enlightenment or understanding, you are lost. But keeping your beginner’s mind is one of the hardest things you can do.

Here’s a quote:

“For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our ‘original mind’ includes everything within itself. It is always reach 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-centred 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 emphasised 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 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.”

Essential reading.

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