Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (a re-read)


I had just last week moved "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" (read and reviewed a year and half ago) to the charity pile when I learned that Steve Jobs found much enlightenment from Shunryu Suzuki's "beginner's mind" (or "shoshin"), teachings. Before letting the book go, I figured it might be worth  a re-read, and it was, very much so. I will leave the review unchanged with a three star rating, although I do think a lot more of the content resonated on the re-read. Perhaps this is a a function of having taken up yoga, which has helped me to appreciated the value of emptying the mind, or perhaps it is just a function of being that little bit older and having done some pondering between the first read and the second.

a zen monk practises zazen (seated meditation)
I will publish a collection of my favourite quotes and passages in future posts. For now, here is a selection of short quotes from Shunryu's Wikipedia page:
"Our tendency is to be interested in something that is growing in the garden, not in the bare soil itself. But if you want to have a good harvest, the most important thing is to make the soil rich and cultivate it well."
"So the secret is just to say 'Yes!' and jump off from here. Then there is no problem. It means to be yourself, always yourself, without sticking to an old self."

"Zazen practice is the direct expression of our true nature. Strictly speaking, for a human being, there is no other practice than this practice; there is no other way of life than this way of life.

"Take care of things, and they will take care of you."

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

"Life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life."

"As soon as you see something, you already start to intellectualize it. As soon as you intellectualize something, it is no longer what you saw."

"Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer."

Some elements of the book remain a puzzle to be pondered over. For example, here are a couple of mysterious paragraphs from the epilogue: 
True nature is watching water. When you say, "My zazen is very poor," here you have true nature, but foolishly you do not realize it. You ignore it on purpose. There is immense importance in the "I " with which you watch your mind. That I is not the "big I"; it is the "I" which is incessantly active, always swimming, always flying through the vast air with wings. By wings I mean thought and activity. The vast sky is home, my home. There is no bird or air. When the fish swims, water and fish are the fish. There is nothing but fish. Do you understand?
We must have beginner's mind, free from possessing anything, a mind that knows everything is in flowing change. Nothing exists but momentarily in its present form and color. One thing flows into another and cannot be grasped. Before the rain stops we hear a bird. Even under the heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth. In the East I saw rhubarb already. In Japan in the spring we eat cucumbers.

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