Reflections on Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

Author: Shunryu Suzuki

“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, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

When your mind empties, when you are open to what changes in the universe, everything is possible, and nothing is possible. Existence is not separate from non-existence. Existence depends on non-existence to be. They inter-are.

When you have knowledge, you are limited by that knowledge. You are trapped by your ideas of what life should be and not be. A tea cup will overflow unless it is first empty of its contents.

Nothing is ultimately good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. Yet in your mind, you create categories of good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, right and wrong, black and white. You’re constantly making finer distinctions about what you like, don’t like, and don’t care about.

The mountain shrouded in mist is nothing special or mysterious to climb. There is no more wisdom on top of that mountain than there is in a shit. It is just as sacred as a nap below the bough of a tree, as washing the dishes, as sunlight fading over a meadow, as belly laughter, as a walk down a narrow path.

Enlightenment is nothing special, nothing you need to strive to acquire. When you are empty, there is no “you” to consider things as empty. There is no “you” apart from everything else, even from non-existence. There is no permanent unchanging self.

You don’t have to capture your Buddha-nature. You are Buddha-nature. There isn’t anything that is separate from Buddha-nature. You don’t need to struggle for years to experience an idealized state that you can brag about. You are alive now, despite your ideas about now. You can wake up to this direct moment.

To awaken is so ordinary, you shouldn’t have to grasp after it. You are already here.

With a sincere intention, you can be present. You can breathe in the clear sky. There is nothing else to attain. Sometimes doing nothing is better than trying to gain something.

There is nothing special about being here either, except that it is so easy to forget.

You spontaneously express your nature when you are empty. There’s no need to put on a show of being spiritual, and important, and all-knowing. To seek out a superior status, or epiphany, or recognition from your peers, is to miss the point.

It is easier for you to empty your mind when you meditate but it is harder to be mindful when you’re out in the world. In the world, if your mind doesn’t wander, then that is ok. If your mind wanders, then that is ok too. Just gently bring your awareness back to your breath.

Everything can be your teacher, even the rain dripping from a rooftop, even yellow flowers growing in a field.

When you look into impermanence deeply enough, you will see the divine in the mundane. There is no essential difference between the divine and the mundane other than in your ideas and opinions, in your need to fit all of life into fixed categories.

From the vibration of an atom, to a leaf shaking off a tree, from the gray hairs on your grandfather’s head to a newborn cuddling in a blanket, the universe is interdependent and changing. To intellectualize about change doesn’t reveal its truth. It will reveal its boundlessness when you are ready.




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