Friday, March 14, 2014


One of the best books ever written on Buddhism, indeed on meditation and the ‘inner’ life, is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by the Japanese Sōtō Zen monk, rōshi and teacher Shunryu Suzuki [pictured above]. We all need to cultivate a ‘beginner’s mind,’ which means seeing all things as if for the first time, for we are indeed seeing all things for the very first time because everything is in a constant state of flux. Even the familiar and the everyday—those things around us that we habitually see---they never remains the same. The Zen mind is a beginner’s mind, seeing each thing in all its directness and immediacy and freshness. Everything is new and wonderful, and you are part of the ongoing unfoldment of life itself from one moment to the next. (In that regard, I am reminded of something the great German mystic Meister Eckhart once said: 'Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.')

There are many schools of Buddhism, but there is this golden thread running through all of Buddhism, namely, that each one of us can be---and in a very real sense already is---Buddha. Now, I am not talking about the historical Buddha as such. I am talking about a person or being, and also a potentiality, that is within each one of us, that is trying to burst its way into full expression in and as each one of us. This is what Shunryu Suzuki has to say about the matter in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

'To do something, to live in each moment, means to be the temporal activity of Buddha. To sit in this way [Zazen] is to be Buddha himself, to be as the historical Buddha was. The same thing applies to everything we do. Everything is Buddha’s activity. So whatever you do, or even if you keep from doing something, Buddha is that activity. …'

Elsewhere in his book Suzuki refers to this way of living as ‘being Buddha.’ He writes, ‘Without trying to be Buddha you are Buddha. This is how we attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment is to be always with Buddha.’ He quotes the historical Buddha’s statement, ‘See Buddha nature in various beings, and in every one of us.’ (It is recorded in a number of Buddhist scriptures that the Buddha said that we are all buddhas, a buddha being a person who is enlightened, that is, awake. This is reminiscent of what Jesus himself affirmed, namely, 'Is is not written in your law, I said ye are gods' (Jn 10:34; cf Ps 82:6). Sadly, all too often we fail to see ourselves as we really are---and, no, despite our selfishness and self-centredness, we are not miserable sinners.)

These ideas are by no means unique to Buddhism. You find the same ideas expressed in several other religions including Christianity. The New Testament expression, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1:27) refers not so much to the historical Jesus but to what some have described as ‘one’s Inmost Self,’ and others the ‘Mystic Christ,’ the ‘Christ within.’ Still others refer to this entity or potentiality as one's 'highest self' or 'true self.'

Whatever words we use---it really does not matter ('the word is not the thing,' as Krishnamurti used to say)---we are talking about a power, potentiality and perfectibility existing and indwelling as our potential perfection but otherwise living largely undeveloped in our human spirit and ever seeking first, progressive unfoldment, and then perfect expression in our daily lives.

Now, all that will sound too airy-fairy, esoteric and mystical for some of you, so let’s try to keep it simple and practical. You are the temporal activity of Buddha (or, if you like, the Christ within) when you see all things as they really are, that is, when you live from moment to moment with a ‘beginner’s mind’ unencumbered by beliefs, opinions, and prejudices. You then experience everything for the very first time with choiceless awareness. You are living mindfully. You are in a constant state of at-one-ment or attunement with all that is. You are alive!

Of course, 'being Buddha,' or Christ for that matter, also necessitates that you be kind, loving and compassionate. That goes without saying. One is never awakened or enlightened in selfish isolation from other people. We are only Buddha, or in touch with the Christ within, when we are in complete attunement with the spirit of love. On the subject of selfishness, I have always liked what another great Sōtō Zen monk, rōshi and teacher Dainin Katagiri had to say: 'To be selfish means we attach to our self as our first concern. It's very difficult to be free of this.' By 'self' Katagiri is referring to one's 'false' or 'lower' self consisting of our likes, dislikes, attachments, aversions, prejudices, beliefs, etc. By the way, Katagiri was for a number of years closely associated with Shunryu Suzuki at the famous San Francisco Zen Center where I myself have attended some talks. 

The Zen mind---the quiet, still, but ever-aware and curious mind---is a beginner’s mind. Become a beginner, and live that way from now on. You can do no better.

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