Zen Mind Beginner Term Paper

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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Deciphering The Wisdom Of Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki

One of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism is the need to defeat desire of all types in order to focus all energy on attaining what is truly important in life, the enlightenment of the mind. This process, though, is not without its constraints, but it can be achieved by following some straightforward steps. For instance, in his only book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki describes several Zen concepts for maintaining a "beginner's mind" that may be unfamiliar or even completely alien to Western minds but which capture the essence of the Zen mindset in ways that can help illuminate these elusive concepts. To this end, this paper reviews Suzuki's seminal book to gain some fresh insights concerning Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

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Term Paper on Zen Mind Beginner's Mind Assignment

What does Suzuki mean when he advises adherents to "keep a beginner's mind" and "it is absolutely necessary for everyone to believe in nothing?" Rather than sounding like sage advice, though, this guidance sounds more like an episode of Seinfeld, the "show about nothing." Nevertheless, the Zen master makes it clear that this is the goal of all Zen practice: "In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means 'beginner's mind.' The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's mind" (p. 21). While the term "beginner's mind" suggests a novice thinker at work, the crux of this guidance simply means to "keep an open mind" when contemplating the forces of life without any preconceptions or attachments that can cloud the mind. In essence, Suzuki suggests that to the extent that the mind becomes concerned with externalities during periods of contemplation is the extent to which the Zen mind will not be attained. Unfortunately, it is all-too-human to attempt to not think about something and simply be unable to think about anything else as a result. In this regard, Suzuki points out that, "When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears as if something comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the waves of your mind, and if you are not bothered by the waves, gradually they will become calmer and calmer" (p. 34). When true vacuity is achieved, Suzuki advises that this state is called "the big mind." For novice Zen practitioners, this might mean approaching contemplation with a tabula rasa mentality, only to have everything that has been read or discussed concerning Zen floods back in, confusing the thinking process in profoundly adverse ways. This point is made by Suzuki when he admonishes practitioners, "When you try to attain something, your mind starts to wander about somewhere else. When you do not try to attain anything, you have your own body and mind right here" (p. 27).

It is this blank slate state that represents the essence of the "beginner's mind" advocated by Suzuki where openness is the hallmark to be sought rather than a void to be filled. Indeed, Suzuki points out that, "It is absolutely necessary for everyone to believe in nothing" (p. 27). "Believing in nothing" is far more difficult than many observers might believe, though, because it is just human nature to believe in something, even when a conscious effort is being made to avoid such thoughts otherwise, but it is, Suzuki adds, the essence of attaining the nature of the Buddha, or a Zen mind. According to Baker, "Zen mind is one of those enigmatic phrases used by Zen teachers to make you notice yourself, to go beyond the words and wonder what your own mind and being are" (p. 13). In this regard, Suzuki makes it clear "what the mind and being are" when he advises his adherents that, "We do not exist for the sake of something else. We exist for the sake of ourselves" (p. 27). This is well and good, of course, and few people -- even those who do not understand or agree with what the master is talking about -- would likely argue with this seemingly innocuous homily.

The point that appears to be made by Suzuki in this regard is the beginner's mind, the Zen mind, is a journey rather than a path and that achieving true greatness lies in achieving a mental state that can accommodate new thoughts and ideas without actually doing so. As Baker points out, "Spiritual practice in the West had long been associated with great accomplishments and mysterious powers. But as Suzuki-roshi explained, 'In the beginner's mind there is no thought, 'I have attained something.' When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners" (p. 22). Many practitioners might disagree and suggest that sitting ramrod straight for hours on end practicing zazen is the most difficult thing in the world, but Suzuki stresses that the beginner's mind is the most desirable state. According to Suzuki, "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" (emphasis added) (p. 22).

For some Westerners, however, the guidance to "always be a beginner" may run contrary to firmly ingrained and even innate desires that drive people to become more than they are by aspiring to greatness, or at least having a shot at it. Similarly, the admonitions to strive for a "beginner's mind" appears to be counterintuitive. People learn and grow by contemplating new things, of course, and by experimenting and testing. This is the foundation of Western knowledge -- empirical observations and the scientific method. These aspects of Western life, though, are not congruent with the Zen mind and may represent one of the biggest obstacles to progress of all. This desire to be "more than a beginner" when it comes to meditation, though, is misplaced and must be confronted if progress is to be made. The confusion experienced by some Western readers when confronted with Suzuki's words of wisdom, though, is perhaps understandable given the cryptic manner in which the master frequently frames his guidance. For example, Suzuki writes, "After some years we will die. If we just think that it is the end of our life, this will be the wrong understanding. but, on the other hand, if we think that we do not die, this is also wrong. We die, and we do not die. This is the right understanding" (p. 25).

Good grief! How can people "be and not be" and "die and not die" at the same time? At first blush, this assertion from the Zen master just does not make any sense and the temptation exists to discount this guidance as so much metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. The answer to this question, Suzuki maintains, relates to how these concepts are understood and mentally processed. If something is desired, it must be ignored. If something is intruding on the goal of attaining a beginner's mind, it must be eliminated. In other words, the hereafter is of no concern to the Zen master because it is not important. The only important thing, Suzuki maintains, is the here and now and the practitioner's place within it. According to Suzuki, "We must exist right here, right now! This is the key point" (p. 27).

The main problem that emerges from Suzuki's analysis of the human condition is the irrational and undesired qualities of the thought process, qualities that can prevent Zen practitioners from achieving the mind-body combination that is needed to attain a beginner's mind. In this regard, Suzuki emphasizes that, "When we have our body and mind in order, everything else will exist in the right place, in the right way. But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us" (p. 27). By changing oneself first, Suzuki maintains that everything else will follow in due course. In fact, Suzuki even cites the ecumenical nature of Buddha when he was evaluating the world's religions before discarding them in favor of something new, something that was rooted in the here and now and focused on the individual alone. According to Suzuki, "He was not interested in some

metaphysical existence, but in his own body and mind, here and now" (p. 28). This level of wholesale acceptance of what is rather than what is wanted or desired is an essential element in Buddhist teachings as well as in what Suzuki is trying to express with respect to the malleability of time. A Zen mind can control time, at least to the extent that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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