Beginner's Mind

"Beginner's Mind" number 52 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Suzuki Shunryu Roshi embodied and spread what he called Beginner's Mind in his teachings. In Suzuki Shunryu’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind there is a famous quote that reads “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few”.

This is classical stuff. The stuff of beginners. I'm a beginner. Sometimes I forget that. My practice is a beginner's practice. I sit with other beginner's and if asked, my teacher would say he's a beginner. We are all beginners sometimes pretending we are not.

If I was into tattooing, Zen Mind Beginners Mind would make a good one.

The first character means first, initial,
primary, junior, beginning, or basic.
The second character means heart, mind, soul, or essence.

In Japanese, this word means innocent,
or one with no knowledge of good and evil.
It literally means "without mind".

Let’s take a look at six aspects of Beginner’s Mind.

  1. Immerse your attention in your activities. Do this without regard for the outcome. The activity and the awareness of doing the activity are not separate. This is sometimes called 'flow' but a beginner is not conserned with what expericences are call by the so called experts. They look for themselves.

  2. Life as a beginner is all about asking questions rather than finding answers. Zen practice is a questioning practice. My teacher is fond of encouraging me to softly ask my question while sitting and wait. Just ask and wait. The most important thing is to remember to ask my question. A beginner remembers to ask questions.

  3. A beginner is encouraged by the newness of awareness. Starting a new activity shakes things up for the expert and it is what a defines a beginner. I recently took up spoon carving. I'm a beginner again. (Yet I already notice my tendancy to get comfortable with a method and design. My spoons are all starting to look alike.)

  4. The opposite of beginner is expert. We are all expert at something. Yet mostly this expertise is developed because of our habitual natures. Look at your habits and there will be the stuff to loosen up about, to question.

  5. Keep a don't know mind. Zen Master Seung Sahn was fond of giving this teaching. Once things are solidified in our mind we become ridged, fixed and closed. This feeling of uncertainty, of expectant questioning provides space to move in. Don't know mind is the only space into which we can full experince life. If mind is already full of ideas, there is no room for the moment to moment living of life.

  6. Have fun! This is the beginners motto. Lighten up and see the wonder in your life. Face it, we all have days which we have problems and issues to deal with. Yet a beginner approaches each situation with a question, even if that situation is unfamiliar or potentially sticky.

There is something counter intuitive about going to a teacher to learn about beginner's mind. This points to our ego's neurotic nature.

Quit taking directions from the ego and embrace this Beginner's Mind.