The Beauty of Beginner’s Mind

The wisdom of uncertainty frees us from what Buddhist psychology calls the thicket of views and opinions. “Seeing misery in those who cling to views, a wise person should not adopt any of them. A wise person does not by opinions become arrogant. How could anyone bother those who are free, who do not grasp at any views? But those who grasp after views and opinions wander about the world annoying people.” I like to think that the Buddha said this last sentence with a laugh. Ajahn Chah used to shake his head and smile, “You have so many opinions. And you suffer so much from them. Why not let them go?”

Freedom from views is like a cleaning of the glass, a breath of fresh air. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki calls this open-mindedness “beginner’s mind.” Listen to Rachel Carson, the great naturalist, as she evokes it: “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”

When we are free from views, we are willing to learn. What we know for sure in this great turning universe is actually very limited. Seung Sahn, a Korean Zen master, tells us to value this “don’t know mind.” He would ask his students questions such as “What is love? What is consciousness? Where did your life come from? What is going to happen tomorrow?” Each time, the students would answer, “I don’t know.” “Good,” Seung Sahn replied. “Keep this ‘don’t know mind.’ It is an open mind, a clear mind.”

In close relationships, if we rely on assumptions, we lose our freshness. Whether as parents or lovers, what we see about those close to us is only a small part of their mystery. In many ways we don’t really know them at all. Through beginner’s mind we learn to see one another mindfully, free from views. Without views, we listen more deeply and see more clearly. “For there are moments,” says Rilke, “when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”

To learn more, visit Practice: Don’t Know Mind

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