by Len Barrow
The eponymous Zen Master Dogen Zenji stated that the beginners mind was the Zen mind. The ultimate beginners mind could be likened to that of a 1 ½ year old’s mind. They have no concept of self or self-reference. In fact if you put them up to a mirror they cannot recognize themselves. This is a beautiful thing. In Zen philosophy the self and selfishness can be likened to Being a hungry ghost suffering in hell or a demon in Zen folklore. In relation this, the selfless person is regarded as a saint or Bodhisattva. If you think this is crazy, look at the selflessness of Martin Luther King or Gandhi. They were saints. Look at histories selfish people. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin (among others) were extremely selfish and truly demonic. It is as simple as that in Zen philosophy.
To a young child everything is a wondrous new experience. They don’t look at things as right or wrong, good or evil and rich or poor. Young children don’t have stereotypes. They view everything as it is with no ego commentary. According to Dogen Zenji, they have the Buddha’s mind. I find this so simple and beautiful.
This is a wondrous state to be in yet the question arises: “can we get back to this pristine state”. I think we can. This can be achieved both as teachers and students. The following is a story of how student’s “beginner’s minds” can be a great asset to us all.
I was reminded that this phenomena could be achieved a couple of weeks ago. Robert asked me to do a surf lesson with a German couple. They were complete beginners in relation to the surf and as such had the beginners mind. In addition to being nice people, the couple was fresh, spontaneous and open to whatever came their way. They had the minds of 1 year olds in relation to the surf. Another way of saying this is that they exhibited pure awareness and attention. In other words they had the Buddha’s mind or exhibited the Zen way of attention without even knowing it.
I asked them to observe the water carefully. They became aware of the direction of the current and the various movements of the waves. When I looked at their faces I was surprised to see how in tune they were to the ocean as they were observing every movement of the sea. All of their actions were unconsciously and spontaneously directed by the ocean. In a way, through their hyper-attention, they were fusing themselves to the ocean. The ocean was no longer something outside of them-selves. The subject and object dissolved into pure awareness.
They were infectious in their ability to pay attention. I started to get into a Zen meditative mode without even trying. It was as if we were sharing minds as they were in tune to what I was teaching them about the ocean (sharing minds is not an unusual Zen theme). We were doing the Spock Vulcan mind meld, surfer style!
As they caught waves the look of pure attention on their faces was infectious. I watched them with total awe as they were catching their waves for the first time. I had no thoughts or judgments in my head and just became a one year old also! What a pure and sacred act! We were three “one year olds” existing in perfect attention with the beautiful ocean. For a time there we had the Zen mind. It was as simple as that.
As they caught waves they had the hugest smiles on their faces. It was an honor to teach them. In a way they reminded me to slow down, pay attention, and be a child who is open to the wholeness of the universe.
Mahalo Silke and Martin!
You actually were the teachers that day!