Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

ZMBMAs some of you know, I am currently engaged in study in the Diamond Approach (DA) teacher training program. I recently read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and it was such a transformative experience, I’d like to share some of my impressions with you. The impact of nature and the ocean and sky interrelated with the reading, to really open my mind.

I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind over the course of about seven weeks. I was renting a house on the coast near Big Sur, with huge open views of the Pacific, sea and sky, and read the book every night before bed. The book and location together impacted my soul by creating a sense of vast openness, not-knowing mind, and spaciousness. I listened to my DA group’s teaching of the blue diamond of the Diamond Guidance (see Spacecruiser Inquiry, by A. H. Almaas, p. 334) during this period as well. This DA teaching evokes that same sense of open not-knowing mind. Awareness, awakeness, freshness, not-knowing, unlimited possibility.

The book blew my mind in so many ways, and I sometimes didn’t understand what Suzuki was talking about at all (“You should be like a frog always,” p. 68; “The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud,” p. 13), but it had the impact of opening my mind to simplicity and unknown experience, over and over again over the course of the reading. It opened me up to not knowing, being okay not to know, even with others—that is, it opened up a self image (of knowing everything, being smart). It increased my openness to life, to not knowing what will happen, what is good to happen—to acceptance of reality.

Big Sur sea & skyOne example of how it deepened my personal experience is in my personal yoga practice, which continues to have a freshness even though I have been doing the same practice, with some variation but a core set of the same poses, for 11 years. Experimenting with the idea from the book that each moment is unconnected to the previous moment (ashes are not connected to charcoal), I had the experience of each moment of swan-diving forward into a forward fold as being fresh, unknown, not knowing myself, not knowing what was moving, just a sense of awareness, presence, and movement or flow, which became stronger as I went further into the fold. A sense of newness of reality, not just the pose—that all of reality was an unknown mystery, with wonder and openness and a deepening sense of embodied but expansive presence that was filled with white light and colour. It’s a little scary to be that open to not knowing, that open to each moment. “Everything is just a flashing into the vast phenomenal world.” (p. 94)

During this time I did a phone inquiry with my regular inquiry partner Spacecruiser Inquiryand the openness of not knowing was something we explored during our dialectic inquiry. This led to an experience of reality that was totally unfamiliar. The field was a golden amber-orange, reflecting our valuing of each other and of working together, with merging gold, and I could see this in the room I was in. As I invited the inquiry to not know what this was and find out more, my mind was completely gone, no conceptual awareness at all, just complete freedom into something new I had never experienced before. Bringing my thinking mind to the experience in order to describe it, there was a sense of vastness but without a sense of spatial dimension, and absolute cessation of self and concepts, but still with awareness. So free! So that is one example of how the book engaged my inquiry. Overall, the book brought a new sense of curiosity and interest to my inquiry, to see what is fresh in each moment, what will it be this time!? Fresh air into the staleness.

The book also had a big impact on my meditation practice. Suzuki said zazen is enlightenment. The act of sitting is all that’s needed, all there is. This freed me from superego judgement about my practice and striving for it to be a certain way. “Sit without any gaining idea.” (p. 26) Also the instruction to press my diaphragm down towards the hara (p. 8) or kath, to gain strength in my posture—this was a new instruction that I have found very helpful for landing in the kath.

If you’ve never read ZMBM, I envy you, for you still have the option of your own fresh discovery ahead of you! How will Suzuki’s mind impact your mind?