Beginners Mind

In Zen practice many teacher emphasize the idea of Beginner’s Mind and the importance of maintaining it throughout practice.

On one level I think this refers to keeping an open mind, the fresh eyes of the beginner. A mind that does not carry the weight of expectation, but has the eagerness of a child. A mind full of curiosity, not yet jaded.

And it makes good sense to cultivate such a mind. Sometimes I wonder if we could re-embrace the openness and curiosity of children, could we not learn as quickly as they do once more?

Of course, this attitude runs into difficulties when we consider an attribute of wisdom that grows with experience, that of discrimination. As we age we realize that we have limited time and that what we learn will assist us most if we can assimilate it into our existing models of the world. And it will not do to endlessly soak up information that we consider useless. I have left behind the days when I would gleefully learn by sight hundreds of Magic: the Gathering cards, not only learning each of their individual effects but also pondering their endless combinations.

As children we can willingly learn anything and everything because we have the blessing of trusted parents who help us find choice information. As we gain independence we must decide for ourselves what to invest our mental capacities into. So we must strike a balance between curiosity and discrimination, and between openness and caution.

Beginner’s Mind has another meaning, one I find even more powerful. What does a beginner do, except begin? The hardest part of practice, I find, consists merely in beginning, again.

If we can keep the Beginner’s Mind and just begin again, again and again, always beginning our practice, then we can go far.