I featured Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind in 5 Best Zen Books Everyone Should Read. It’s now time to discuss this iconic book in detail.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a compilation of talks given by Shunryu Suzuki, a renowned Zen master from Japan and the founder of San Francisco Zen Center. Shunryu Suzuki is renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia.
I first heard about this book while reading Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson. I was fascinated to learn about Jobs’ interest in Zen. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind was among his favorite books. In the book, Suzuki talks about treating each moment as your last and this philosophy influenced Jobs’ life greatly. In the Stanford commencement address he gave in 2005, Jobs describes how “remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
After finishing Jobs’ biography, this was the first book I grabbed. Until then, my knowledge of Zen was limited to books on the subject by Osho.
This book opened my eyes to the fascinating practice of zazen meditation and made me take meditation seriously. It was only after reading Beginner’s Mind that I became a serious practitioner.
This is a short book. But this is not a book that should be read in a day. It needs to be read slowly to be absorbed completely. And it needs to be read multiple times, probably at different phases of your life.
The other thing to remember while reading this book is that it is not a step-by-step guide to master zazen meditation. While Suzuki discusses Zazen in detail in the book, his main intention is to share deep insights into the Zen philosophy. It’s simple and complex at the same time, much like Zen. The book explores the significance of keeping a beginner’s mind while approaching Zen.
The book is split into 3 chapters – Right Practice, Right Attitude, and Right Understanding – roughly corresponding to body, feeling, and mind. The final chapter which is the epilogue deals with the establishment of Zen school of thought in America.
The best summary of this Zen classic is found in Suzuki’s thoughts on mindfulness, “Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself. We say, ‘It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, it is hard to have calmness in activity, but calmness in activity is true calmness.'”