Tuesday, February 16, 2010

'Beginner's Mind'.

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few”.

(Shunryu Suzuki Roshi)

It's not easy to relinquish all our views and opinions about ourselves and everything for a time, but that's what we have to do in zazen if we really want to taste it.

'Beginner's mind' is sometimes revered in Buddhism as the attitude that is open to all possibilities, that is unhindered by assumptions and the mental baggage of habitual, learned behavior. However, often a beginner might approach something with expectations, or with ideas of how something should be based on what they've heard about it, or they might mix it up with something similar and have that as a sort of comparison. I certainly approached Buddhism like this. A lot of people seem to approach Buddhism and Buddhist practice with all sorts of ideas about it and other things, like ideas they've read or seen on TV or heard about or whatever. It's understandable because we want to get a handle on what it's all about. Often we first want our expectations and ideas affirmed, and we might even loose interest and/or be disappointed if they're not.

While it's certainly good to understand aspects of Buddhist philosophy, it's more important to commence practicing zazen sincerely allowing all our expectations, comparisons and aspirations to come forward and just fall away. After a while they'll cease to disturb us and we'll begin to understand what 'beginner's mind' really means. This is how we really learn the essence of Buddhist philosophy.

If I could go back and give myself some advice I'd say "Listen more! Talk less! Ask more questions! Don't make assumptions!"...but I doubt I'd listen to the advice really as I was, and am, a bit thick when it comes to being a good beginner at anything.


  1. Harry,

    Great post.
    One thing I like in Buddhism is "beginner's mind". And we can always return to that attitude if we want. It's fairly simple. Just forget all the stuff we "learned" so far.


  2. Thanks for dropping by, Peter.

    Yes, now that might be something worth learning.