Zen Mind Beginners Mind Book Review
Product: Zen Mind Beginners Mind book
Where to buy: Amazon.com
What’s inside: A practical guide to simplify your mind by creating the right practice, the right attitude, and right understanding of the universe around us.
My Rating: 1000/10
Have you paid attention to your breathing lately?
We humans on average breathe 23,000 times a day. How many of those have your full and undivided attention?? Chances are if you practice some type of meditation, then 5-20 minutes a day may be devoted to being aware of the air you depend on entering your lungs. Do you extend the attention of your breathing past the point of meditation? After reading this book, I have found that the simplest of actions such being aware of my posture and breathing have had the biggest impact on my life. Shunryu Suzuki came to the United States in 1959, and led a group of Zen practitioners, initially for the Japanese population in California, and later he attracted American students who went on to form the San Francisco Zen Center in 1962. From this center, he created others across the country, eventually building the first Western Monastery, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 1967.
The book has three chapters, titled “Right practice, Right attitude, Right understanding.” In the first chapter, Shunryu discusses having a correct posture, proper breathing, being in control of your body, explaining how the mind is like the waves of the ocean and speaks of practicing non-dualism, so that you may realize that what you are doing is nothing special. This explanation does not mean that life is special or unspecial, that you are ordinary or extraordinary. It means that every single day is your practice, every moment can be a meditative state by breathing slowly and deeply, while paying attention to your posture.
Being aware every moment, practicing in this manner is our true nature. When there is no “I” in what you are doing, when you do not declare your action such as ” I must attain this” or “I know this is true,” then something happens. He goes on to say that one should not try to stop their thinking but to let it stop by itself. Let your thoughts come and go waves do in the ocean. When you try to stop your thinking, you are bothered by it. Do not let yourself be bothered by anything. Everything that you experience in your mind comes from within so that nothing outside of yourself can cause you harm, as long as you do not let what is internal bother you. If you can control this, then nothing outside of you will disturb you, and thus you will live serene and calm.
Your attitude about the world around you determines who you are and who you become.
The second chapter covers repetition, excitement, having the right effort, making mistakes, studying yourself, the negative and positive, along with several other topics. Sitting down before practicing zazen is still practice, so is getting up and moving on to cook or read or go about your day. All experiences are expressing your true nature, which is in turn, practice. Practice is showing gratitude for our rare life. Anything we wish to master in life requires thousands of hours of repetition, and if we tire of the repetition, the activity becomes quite difficult. If we become excited about our practice if we are eager to brag or boast to others about it, this is part of the journey but is not practical, and our mind becomes jagged. You may do what the world calls great things, speak in front of many people, and create many ways for humans to connect with a common interest, but the key is to keep looking forward. This way you do not become too busy from being pulled back and forth between excitement and disappointment.
“If your practice is good, you may become proud of it. What you do is good, but something more adds to it. Pride is extra. Right effort is to get rid of something extra.” If your effort heads in a direction that is harmful, then this effort is wasted, and you will have to backtrack. Being so involved with your practice is dualistic, and therefore you see a distinction between practicing and not, and therefore your practice becomes impure. Impurity and purity do not mean to go from one state to another, but things are just as they are. If you are trying to attain something from practicing zazen, your practice is already impure. If this is confusing, it is because you are trying to understand it. You already understand it simply by being human. Be present, be aware, and live each moment to the fullest.
Most often when we do something, we try to “catch two birds with one stone.” This method may be effective in some areas such as batching email or doing a full load of laundry, but when you are checking email or doing laundry, be fully present in that activity. When your mind is not focused on your breath, it wanders during each activity, and thus you are not giving your full effort. When you are idealistic in practice, you try to obtain a goal. Attempting to obtain a goal is absurd. Practice zazen as you do, and when it is time to do something else, move on to that. Practicing zazen for a few minutes by sitting and breathing is perfect practice. Just relax, do not try to obtain something, just be still and allow your mind to wander.
What you learn from your teacher is not yours, but a part of your activity. There is no difference between the practice while sitting with your teacher, and everyday life. Whatever you are doing, that in itself is zazen. This all may seem like a joke, but our minds and our bodies are often disconnected and unsynchronized. When you listen to someone speak, give up all preconceived notions and ideas, and listen objectively. Just observe what their way is. In doing this, you will find acceptance of what is and with that, serenity. Shunryu says that the best way to understand all of this is not to talk about it, but to just practice without saying anything. In saying something, you automatically leave out the negative or positive. In saying nothing, there is the middle or non-dualism.
How well do you understand yourself?
“Our understanding of Buddhism is not an intellectual understanding. True understanding is actual practice itself.” This chapter goes into detail about naturalness, emptiness, mindfulness, non-attachment, calmness, going beyond consciousness, and much more. Suzuki explains that most people’s naturalness is heretical, or a “let-alone policy” which in his words is sloppiness. Naturalness is drinking water when you are thirsty, eating when you are hungry, sleeping when you are tired. This is not to be out of routine or to expect more when your routine is different from that of others. Find your balance, and expect nothing more of yourself. You do not force yourself to drink water when you are thirsty; you enjoy doing so. To force and expect are not natural.
To study Zen is not to gain more knowledge, but to empty your mind. All existence comes from emptiness and will return to emptiness. Is it not funny and contradicting that attachment is one word, while the two words non-attachment are attached by a hyphen? Understanding this paradox is to understand the universe. There is no separation between meditation and everyday activity; they are one in the same. “To realize pure mind in your delusion is practice. If you try to expel the delusion, it will only persist the more. Just say, ‘Oh, this is just delusion,’ and do not be bothered by it.” Your practice is your delusion, and this is the meaning of practicing Zen.
Writing this review was somewhat difficult, for if I were to explain all of the positives that practicing meditation or reading this book has brought me, I would not be true to what it teaches. On the other hand, I cannot not say something, for then there would be no review! After flipping through the book while writing this review, already my way of writing has been altered, or is this how it is all along?
In the “natural” context of my writing, reading this book has taught me much about myself, in the sense that my mind has become simplified through letting thoughts be as they are. In times of distress, I was attaching to my thoughts, and thus not acting in accordance with harmony. If you found this review interesting, please pick up a copy of Zen Mind Beginners Mind.
I would love to hear any stories of your methods of meditation or hear your thoughts on this book. Feel free to leave a question or comment down below!