Beginners Mind

Good morning, everyone. Onegai shimasu. Happy Mother’s Day to any of you that might be a mother out there! We all have a mother, so let’s honor our mothers today.

I’m going to read in the way of Shokushu this morning, the Ki saying, I’m going to read to you again, Tohei Sensei’s four basic principles to unify mind and body.

Shinshin Toitsu no Yondai Gensoku

To realize the original unity of mind and body 

Number one

Seika no iten ni kokoro o shizume toitsu suru.

Calmly realize your mind at the one point in your lower abdomen. 

Zenshin no chikara o kanzen ni nuku.

Completely release all tension from the entire mind-body and emotion. 

Number three

Karada no subete no bubun no omome o sono saikabu ni oku. 

Let the weight of every part of the body settle at its lowest point. 

Number four

Ki o dasu.

Ki is extending, naturally.“

Suzuki Sensei, my teacher here on Maui, used to repeat to us very often, “In a beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in an expert’s mind there are few.” Probably everybody knows this saying. Suzuki Sensei did not invent it. In fact, another Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, used to say that, in the beginning, when you come to a practice, you have beginner’s mind. Once you have practiced for some time, you become an expert. And then if you’re very fortunate, some day you come to beginner’s mind once again. So what does that mean?

Everybody knows this, yeah? So why is it that when we’re a beginner we yearn so much to become an expert, and that’s enough? We spend all of our time studying and practicing and the goal is becoming an expert. Most people, once they become experts, stay that way for the balance of their lives. But once in a while someone has some kind of realization, awakening, or understanding that comes about at some point in their expert life, and they move forward into the second level of beginner’s mind. What is that second level of beginner’s mind? I think this is very profound.

When we live in this world, we’re told that to be an expert in something is to know a lot about whatever it is. I’m a highly educated person, I’m 75 years-old, so I know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. Right? But I don’t know anything about the most important thing, which is what’s going to happen in the next moment of my life. And I think that’s where the rubber hits the road with this deal. At some point in an expert’s life, you look around and realize that for all practical purposes you haven’t learned anything about what’s happening in this moment. You know a lot about stuff, you can describe it, you can teach it, you can write a book about it, you can share it with other people, but the actual direct experience of it can only happen when your mind is completely free and open in the moment. And this is what we call beginner’s mind, the second level of beginner’s mind. Something to consider.

All right, we’ll do some Ki breathing now. Please sit up and close your eyes …

(20 Min. Ki Breathing)

(14 Min. Ki Meditation)

(12 Min. Whole Body Meditation)

All right. So if we can just rest in our one point, then it’s natural that we relax, it’s natural that we’re calm, and we can feel the Ki movement. It’s the activity of Ki. You know Ki is everything there is, so everything that comes about comes about by virtue of this moving, dancing, tingly sort of feeling in you. Everything that arises, arises through this phenomenon. We don’t have to know ahead of time. That’s what I was talking about: what’s going to happen next? Well, we can’t know what’s going to happen. And the good news is we don’t have to know, because this is plenty, because we’re in it, and it’s having its way with us. So this is very important, to just sit with this, sit in this, and just accept and enjoy the feeling. This is what Suzuki Roshi called a beginner’s mind. A mind of infinite possibility. A fresh mind. A mind in which we don’t look at the world through a screen of what happened in the past. When we meet somebody we see something fresh and new and unknown. We don’t carry the judgment, the remembrance of the history of whatever happened yesterday, good or bad, it doesn’t matter. We don’t know. This guy, Bertrand Russel I think it was, said once, “only my tailor knows me well, because every time he sees me he takes my measurements over again.” 

So this is true. Most people don’t take the measure of what they come upon in every moment fresh and new.

Student:  Thank you, Sensei. It seems to be a big difference, every time I sit. And I’ve been wondering why that doesn’t so much carry into the day. I have this feeling when I’m sitting. When I go to work, or go to the store, why is it that we revert back to looking through the lens.

Can you tell me why please?

Student:  I think it must be just habit. Just allowing habit to have its way with us.

Well, you sit for a reason in the morning. Right? What is the reason that you sit?

Student:  I’d say to start your day properly; start your day again.

What would “properly” be?

Student:  Resting in one point. Resting in one point.

Resting in one point. So resting in one point is what allows us to be fresh and beyond petty concerns. And free of that screen that is made up of our habit, our conditioning. I remember one time I went to a retreat and had several days of meditating. And when I got out, all I could think about was I really wanted some Mexican food. I thought about that food as I drove to the restaurant.  And as I parked my car and walked into the restaurant, I could feel the layering of judgement covering back on top of me. And I began to see everything as I had seen it before. It was so sad because I had experienced such freedom by sitting for several days. That’s what happens: you can get very, very deeply into being free of those petty judgments, free of your own history. You can become a chaste virgin again. You can somehow find a sense of innocence again. Of course it’s possible to carry that on throughout your day. But you can’t drag it with you. It has to be freshly discovered in every moment. That’s the key. That’s why every teacher tells you to sit and sit and sit. 

Student:  Thank you, Sensei.

Someone else say something please.

Student:  Hi Sensei. Thank you. The first third of the meditation I felt calm and settled. And then a story popped into my head. It was just a past experience and it just distracted me. It was a good memory, it was interesting, but it was a story and there were some unsettling parts of it, and it just came back to me. I was just very disturbed by the story aspect of it. It didn’t have the same meaning, it was just an experience in the past. It left me feeling kind of like something was missing or empty. And then I couldn’t get back into the meditation after that. I was just contemplating why, you know this is a story, this is part of my past, part of my life. It’s not a bad story, but what does it have to do with now, and why is it so unsettling, and why can’t I get back to being in one point?

I think maybe you were on Maui when I taught rooster meditation. We have a lot of wild roosters around our yard. Here on Maui we have many wild chickens, right? The roosters start going off about 2 am. They must think they have the power to bring the sun, because they start crowing. And when you’re sitting early in the morning and the rooster crows, it repeats while you’re sitting. But it doesn’t repeat in any kind of order. It’s chaotic, and you don’t know when it’s going to happen next. I was experiencing this chaos, and when I heard it, it kind of disturbed me, it upset me. “Ahh, these roosters! Why? Kill all these roosters; kill them all and get them out of my yard! They’re disturbing my meditation.” Then of course I realized that there was something missing there in my personality, that I should need to make everything evaporate that disturbs me. So instead I resolved to embrace the rooster. And as I began to make that my meditation, I was never surprised by them again, and they just became part of what I was doing. And I saw that everything is like this. And things that had disturbed me and interrupted my so-called meditation in the past – which seemed to happen so often, of course, we all have stories from the past – then began to affect me differently. I didn’t chase after them so much. It’s hard to describe exactly, because this is a particular experience, but it is just a matter of accepting them. It’s embracing what it is, without chasing it. In other words, letting it just be here as a part of what’s happening. And then you’re still in it, the center of you is still in it and not taken away from it. You have that power to embrace whatever comes in. If you want to spend a lifetime meditating, let me tell you, that’s an important thing to learn, because you’re going to be otherwise constantly avoiding. 

I’ll clarify this by saying that if I was speaking to just a beginner, I might say this a little differently, because in the beginning you need to build your capacity to be in attention. If you don’t have a deep capacity to be in attention, it’s very difficult for you to embrace that which seems to be outside of you or away from you and come from afar to you. 

So I always tell people, early on, to just return to your breathing or return to your meditation exercise. And by returning and returning and returning, we build our capacity of meditation. Sometimes I compare it to lifting weights. We become more and more capable of a deep attention. But it’s not merely teaching that a beginner does this and an expert does that. Life, as you may know, is not like that; it’s not always one thing before the other; it’s often a big mish-mash of everything all at once. 

This is something to be aware of in your practice. Of course, always return to the one point in the lower abdomen. Always return to resting in reality, free of that judgment, free of those petty concerns. But on the other hand, then when something arises, let it arise and be there as long as it needs to. You know, it’s like the clouds in the sky … there’s a clear blue sky, you can say that’s you. And so this cloud moves across the sky. You don’t want to try to knock the cloud apart and get it out of the sky. You just let it be there. Sometimes it just sits there for a day. But sooner or later it moves along, and often it’s just passing through you. Just let it be like this. Let it be. Don’t be disturbed.

Again, happy Mother’s Day. And please, honor your mother today.

Love you all. Thank you very much. Bye bye. 

(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 10. Mai 2020)