Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: A Book Review
‘Zen mind, beginner’s mind,’ an informative book on Zen Buddhism, by Master Suzuki Shunryu, highly bases on Zazen practice. This book is a compilation of Suzuki’s lectures delivered to his students in the 1960’s. Suzuki makes the reader realize the importance of the beginner’s mind, practicing without assuming either knowingly or unknowingly, that we know it all. He insists that in Zen, only the big minds prevail, as opposed to small minds, which he termed as egoistic in nature. In Zen, Suzuki advices that the Zazen practice is essential. The beginner’s mind is a pure mind beginning Zen practice.
The goal of zazen, the sitting meditation is for enlightenment, for us to experience physical and mental freedom through experiencing both our inner and outer worlds. Inhaling makes us experience the inner world, as the air we inhale goes into the inner world. On the other hand, exhaling makes us experience our outer world, as the exhaled air is released to the outside world. In zazen therefore, it is essential to follow the rhythm of our breath, as Shunryu Suzuki Roshi advises.
Suzuki employs vast imagery and symbolism in his trainings. For instance, he goes ahead to refer to his students as just swinging doors. He pronounced this while training his students on zazen, the sitting meditation. He used the term ‘swinging door’ to symbolically refer to the throat, used for breathing. Zazen encompasses inhaling and exhaling, whose rythms are crucial in the whole process. The throat plays a major role in the passage of air in and out of the body. In addition, exhaling and inhaling opens us to two worlds, the inner world, and the outer world. The throat is therefore a swinging door, which makes us get in and out of these two worlds. In the zazen process, this is a continuous pattern, and therefore, the throat is in constant action, letting us in and letting us out of these worlds. This is why Suzuki refers to it as a swinging door since it is not constantly shut. Suzuki then refers to his students as swinging doors. Since human beings can only live through breathing, it shows that breathing is the essence of human life. Subsequently, breathing could not be possible without the throat, which serves as a passage for air. He described the throat as a swinging door. Therefore, humans are just their throats (swinging doors), without which they cannot live. During meditation, a person’s mind moves out of the physical world to another world, what remains is him breathing, just the throat (swinging door) continuing with breathing pattern. This is why humans are capable of experiencing both the inner and outer worlds.
On the aspect of time and space, Suzuki recommends that we should live each day at a time. In any activity, it is important to focus on the purpose, and not completion. Similarly, while learning Zazen, one should not expect to learn in one day. However, progress is achieved steadily. One does not become an overnight sensation, but needs to work hard to get there.
“Every existence is a flashing into the vast phenomenal world.” Here, he refers to the freedom of our being. During zazen, if the appropriate procedures are followed, one achieves the main goal, which if freedom of being. This is a state of temporal existence, which is independent of other existences. In real life, people change every moment, however, this change varies each moment. Who a person is today cannot compare to who he was yesterday, or who he will be tomorrow. Human existence itself presents different freedom of existence; ‘I’ can never be ‘you’ since these two are independent of each other. Human experiences too vary and are independent of each other. Humans are independent beings but are share with every existence in the phenomenal world. This is why humans always cooperate.
“Step by step I stop the sound of the murmuring brook” is a phrase Suzuki uses to show the dominion humans have over their minds. In this case, one can stop the sound of a murmuring brook with their minds by simply ignoring the sound and not thinking of it at all. This human capacity, once achieved is freedom in itself. Zane will have been realized, since one will now have overcome or conquered themselves through self-reflection and discovery. Therefore, humans can have a clean mind by using their power to stop all negative thoughts in their heads.
Suzuki does not favor Zen Buddhism as a religion. In this book, he does not seem to propagate some form of belief or dogma. He thinks that in order to learn Buddhism, we need a teaching, a practice, and that is the Zen teaching. He considers Zen practice as peering into our real selves, with the purpose of studying and discovering ourselves. He does not consider having an object of worship as the only way of spirituality. However, he claims that it is more important to concentrate more on any activity we do and ensure we present the good in it. Only by doing this shall people come to terms with the truth. He argues that when people discover and know themselves, then that is true Zen.
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