Friday, May 2, 2008

What's inside the meditation beginner's mind?

Ultimately, the great meditation teachers advise that the best attitude to take toward meditation is an open mind, completely free from all preconceptions and expectations. One of my first meditation teachers, Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, calls this beginner’s mind — and he counsels that the goal of meditation is not to accumulate knowledge, learn something new, or achieve some special state of mind, but simply to maintain this fresh, uncluttered perspective. “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything,” he writes in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” As the title of his book suggests, Suzuki teaches that beginner’s mind and Zen mind—the awake, clear, unfettered mind of the enlightened Zen master — are essentially the same. Or, as another teacher puts it, “The seeker is the sought; the looker is what he or she is looking for!”
Needless to say, it’s easier to talk about beginner’s mind than it is to maintain or even recognize it. But that’s precisely the point — the “don’t-know mind” of the beginner can’t conceptualize or identify beginner’s mind, just as the eye can’t see itself, even though it is the source of all seeing. No matter which meditation technique you choose, try to practice it with the innocent, open, “don’t-know” spirit of beginner’s mind. In a sense, beginner’s mind is the nonattitude underlying all attitudes, the non-technique at the heart of all successful techniques.
Here are the characteristics of beginner’s mind:
  • Openness to whatever arises: When you welcome your experience in meditation without trying to change it, you align yourself with being itself, which includes everything — light and dark, good and bad, life and death — without preference.
  • Freedom from expectations: When you practice beginner’s mind, you encounter each moment with fresh eyes and ears. Instead of meditating to achieve some future goal, you sit with the confidence that the open, ready awareness you bring to it ultimately contains all the qualities you seek, such as love, peace, happiness, compassion, wisdom, and equanimity.
  • Spacious and spontaneous mind: Some teachers liken beginner’s mind to the sky — though the clouds may come and go, the boundless expanse of sky is never damaged or reduced in any way. As for spontaneity, Jesus summed it up when he said, “You must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Free from expectations and open to whatever arises, you naturally respond to situations in a spontaneous way.
  • Original, primordial awareness: A famous Zen koan (provocative riddle) goes like this: “What was your original face before your parents were born?” This koan points to the ineffable, primordial quality of mind, which predates your personality and even your physical body. Perhaps beginner’s mind should really be called beginningless mind!

No comments: