What Is Beginners Mind and What Are The Benefits Of Having It?
“In the beginner’s mind there are plenty of possibilities, but in the expert’s there are only few.” This is a famous “Beginner’s Mind” quote from a legendary Zen Buddhist book written by Shunryu Suzuki. The full title of this book is “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice” (1980). Even if you don’t know anything about Zen Buddhism, this book offers an art of living that can be beneficial to everyone who wants to achieve happiness, mindfulness, creativeness, and self-understanding.
Why “Beginner’s Mind” is one of the most important books on Zen Buddhism
Many Americans find achieving Zen mind via regular meditations and breathing practices challenging or even impossible. You may agree that sitting in a cross-legged pose is not difficult. However, it can be more difficult to keep your mind free from thought or focused on one thought – and this is the fundamental sense of Zen Buddhism. That is why “Beginner’s Mind” is one of the most important Zen books – it is simple to follow and gives you a way to practice without frustrating meditation techniques.
For example, Steve Jobs, who studied Buddhism and traveled all around the world to find a guru to teach him the ways of learning about insight meditation, said that this book changed his life. The book taught him to trust his intuition and explore curiosity through the analysis and preconceptions explained by the Zen guru Shunryu Suzuki.
The main point of this book is to teach you how to think like a beginner even if you are used to being a leader in other aspects of your life. All practices explained in this book may help you let go of the idea that you are an expert who knows “everything.” After letting go of this thought, you open yourself to new ideas, ways of doing things, and ways of seeing the world. If you feel that you need to re-charge or take a new perspective when dealing with problems or doing creative brainstorming sessions, but can’t think outside the box, the methods described in “Beginner’s Mind” may be very helpful.
Key points of Suzuki’s “Beginner’s Mind”
- The title “Beginner’s Mind” comes from the Japanese phrase “shoshin” (literally means “beginner’s mind’). The author says that reciting the famous Buddhist sutra Prajna Paramita (Perfection of Wisdom) can be useful only once. Repeating it twice, thrice or more times can avert you from the original sense and change your attitude towards this sutra. The same thing may happen with any repetitive activity in your life. For a while, you manage to stay creative keeping the beginner’s mind, but after 1-3 years of doing the same activity you may become not an expert (though many people start thinking this way because they improve in their work), but, on the contrary, you start limiting your original attitude and suppress creativity in your repetitive work.
- Zen students trying to “become self” when following meditations and practices of the “Beginner’s Mind” work to understand that being dualistic is not an option. You can’t afford to lose your self-sufficient state of mind. Your original “beginner’s mind” can’t be closed. It is always an empty mind ready for new things. And when your mind is empty, it is always ready for the perception of new things. In a beginner’s empty mind there are endless possibilities while the expert’s mind has only a few of them. Having both states of mind, being a beginner and expert at the same time, is not possible.
- The Zen art of beginner’s mind can’t be achieved if you think that you have already gained something. This self-centered thought may limit your mind. Only when you don’t want to achieve anything with your action and have no thought of yourself during beginner’s meditation, you can become a true “beginner”. Having a compassionate mind is the real Zen meaning because only this kind of mind can be boundless.
- What does Zen mean to you? Shunryu Suzuki claims that a key to beginner’s mind is to be fully aware of how you see and experience the world around you. Imagine that you enjoy looking at a sunset, hearing a water spring, and hiking, but you do these things without internal recognition that your brain tries to label all your new experiences and categorize them as something that you’ve done before. Disconnecting to this categorization and seeing all things as wonderful and new is the real Zen meaning.
- The most difficult thing is not to learn how to become a “beginner” but how to keep this state of mind. The deepest understanding of Zen and reaching “enlightenment” can be possible only if you read every sentence of the book with an open and empty mind. You can’t say “I know Zen” because it is endless. .
- Age, gender, race, and religious beliefs shouldn’t prevent you from having “beginner’s mind.” Enjoying the spontaneity and freedom of childhood by seeing things like a child and re-opening yourself is never too late.
Recommended beginner’s meditation for a single person or a group of people
- While sitting indoors or outdoors, look at a fixed object or scene, like a tree or building. Try describing it by means of words. Like painting a picture with words. In a group, you may take turns describing the object. You can be precise or poetic – the most important is to use different descriptions of the same object;
- Then gently close your eyes and do the same but without words. Spend the next 5 minutes in silence. Attempt to keep your mind absolutely blank – no words, no pictures, no thoughts. In such way, you can practice inner silence that makes you a human being instead of a human doing;
- Open your eyes and look at the object that you described. Do you see any difference in it now compared to the earlier word-painting? Do you still believe that only words can improve understanding?
Tips for people who want to experience mindfulness for beginners
The following tips from Zen Buddhists can help you not to achieve the status of a guru but may keep you on the right track when following this technique. You don’t have to implement all these expert tips at once, instead, consider using some of these tips during your daily meditations:
- Start meditating at least 10 minutes a day;
- Do your beginner’s meditation the first thing in the morning;
- Try not to worry – others may move faster; this doesn’t mean anything. You can do everything at your own pace;
- Try to analyze how you felt before and after meditation;
- Focus on your breaths;
- Come back to the sound of your breath every time your mind gets distracted;
- Try to stay positive;
- Get to know yourself, and try to become friends with your inner self – smile more often to your mirror’s reflection and learn to love yourself;
- During a meditation try to notice the sounds, light, and energy around you;
- You can do your daily meditation anywhere – don’t stick to one place.
By understanding and practicing “Beginner’s Mind”, you can be open to more possibilities and experiences in your life. You can become more open-minded and creative, may be able to form closer bonds with the people surrounding you, and you may be able to better understand your purpose in life.