Beginner’s Mind 4: Grateful for the Weeds

beginner's mindGrateful for the WeedsmeditationSuzukiTorontoZen

Below the belt is uddiyana bandha. Above the belt is pizza.

When you sit you’ll start to see that the intimate details of your life is what your practice is all about. Never mind about nirvana – it was all a joke. You can’t think your way there anyway. You might as well trust your practice.


Suzuki says that your life is like being on a railroad track. When people get interested in the track and they lose their balance. He says: don’t worry about the track. Just look after the view from the train. Your life is on a track – how to arrive on that track? To be on a path, to be on a track, means being connected with forgiveness and assertiveness.

Nothing Extra

In meditation: drop into experiential place of feeling your breathing. When you really exhale it means dying to this moment. After sitting awhile, sitting practice can become mechanical, or we can develop ideas about what our practice is about and this can get in the way. We can lose the intimacy of practice that only beginner’s mind makes possible. To watch each breath. Nothing extra. Nowhere to get to but here. Nothing achieved. No reasons, no results, no goals, nothing extra.


Suzuki had a practice of saying yes. (Though everyone who lives in a city has a practice of saying no.) Whenever the bell rang in the morning he woke up and said, “Yes!” And began his calligraphy practice. Then the bell would ring again signaling time to have breakfast with his wife. “Yes!” How few of us really do this, instead we put our alarms on snooze, we toss the clock across the room. How to say yes to what is actually happening now?


I was speaking to Peter Levitt this week, one of Canada’s great poets and a Suzuki aficionado. He was sharing Suzuki stories. One of Suzuki’s early students was Stan, a Jewish guy with a well-to-do father who flew in from some European capital to visit. Stan wanted him to meet his teacher, so they had tea. When he was finished, the father met up with his son and exclaimed, “Stan, I think your teacher’s Jewish!” Stan replied, “Dad, are you crazy? He’s a Japanese Zen master, he barely speaks English.” “No, I’m telling you, he’s Jewish.”


David Chadwick’s Zen Is Right Here: “If something is learned just by your thinking mind, it tends to be very superficial. When a mother bird teaches a baby bird to fly, the mother tries like a baby. She can fly very well, but she imitates the baby. The mother bird becomes like a baby bird and does something that is possible for a baby bird to do, so the baby bird will study how to fly. That is also practice.”

Here is an example of beginner’s mind. Although the mother bird knows how to fly, she flops around instead, she meets the baby bird as a baby bird. Can you meet your sitting practice at the place it actually is? Instead of, for instance, getting intellectual about it? Perhaps the Jewish Euro father sees Suzuki as Jewish because beginner’s mind is not Japanese. It’s the same practice when you’re Muslim and throw yourself to the ground in prayer. It’s the same practice when you’re Christian and you pray. And when you exhale to the very end of the exhale. In each instance you might experience what Suzuki names “a religious feeling.”


From Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind: “If your mind is related to something outside itself, that mind is a small mind, a limited mind. If your mind is not related to anything else, then there is no dualistic understanding in the activity of your mind. You understand activity as just waves of your mind. Do you understand the difference between the two minds: the mind which includes everything, and the mind which is related to something? Actually they are the same thing, but the understanding is different, and your attitude towards your life will be different according to which understanding you have.That everything is included within your mind is the essence of mind. To experience this is to have religious feeling. Even though waves arise, the essence of your mind is pure; it is just like clear water with a few waves. Actually water always has waves. Waves are the practice of water. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion. Water and waves are one. Big mind and small mind are one. When you understand your mind in this way, you have some security in your feeling. As your mind does not expect anything from outside, it is always filled. A mind with waves in it is not a disturbed mind, but actually an amplified one. Whatever you experience is an expression of big mind.”
Delusion is a difficult word. Stephen Batchelor translates this word as “confusion.” In Sanskrit the word literally translated means “upside down.”

In traditional talks about meditation, pure awareness is often likened to clear still water, pure water. If there are geese flying past, they appear in the water, because it is a clear mirror. But when the mind is busy there are waves and murkiness. How can you see anything in that murk? But here Suzuki says that waves are the practice of water. What does it mean in your life that waves are the practice of water?

In sitting practice stillness can feel like practice, while distraction can feel like not-practice, but they are both practice. They are both waves.

Private experiences create bigger egos.

The small mind discriminates. It cuts. And the first cut it makes is the boundary line between me and everything else in the world.

*photo credit: Caitlin Strom*