Notes from the Crooked Cucumber:  The Life and Zen Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki by David Chadwick

The earliest known version of the lecture that Shunryu Suzuki gave in Los Altos on Beginner’s Mind … was used in the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. This is from either a manuscripts typed for Trudy Dixon to work on in which case it would be close to exactly word for word or by Marian Derby, known to many as Marian Mountain. Marian edited her transcripts quite minimally, so the [famous] Suzuki quote [In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.] and [version] below might have even been further from what it came to be. This is something Suzuki wanted. He didn’t want his lectures to be printed or published without editing by his students. In the case of the Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind lectures as well as others edited in his lifetime, the editors (Trudy Dixon or Richard Baker) would go over the editing with Suzuki – though I seem to remember that he didn’t seem to care much and just trusted what they were doing. The spirit is not lost in editing – at least in my opinion by the editing that has been done so far.


In beginner’s mind we have many possibilities, but in expert mind there is not much possibility.

November 11, 1965
Thursday Morning Lectures
Los Altos

People say to study Zen is difficult but there is some misunderstanding why it is difficult. It is not difficult because to sit in cross legged position is hard or to attain enlightenment is hard, but it is hard to keep our mind pure and to keep our practice pure in original way. Zen become more and more impure and after Zen school established in China it is development of Zen but at the same time it is — it become impure. But I don’t want to talk about Chinese Zen or history of Zen this morning. But why I say I want to talk about why it is difficult is because just you came here this morning, getting up early is very valuable experience for you. Just you wanted to come is very valuable. We say ‘shoshin’. Sho shin means beginner’s mind. If we can keep beginner’s mind always that is the goal of our practice. We recited Prajna Paramita Sutra this morning only once. I think we recited very well, but what will happen to us if we recite it twice, three times, four times and more?  Then we will easily lose our attitude in reciting — original attitude in reciting- the sutra. Same thing will happen to us. For a while we will keep our beginner’s mind in your [blank space in transcript]. If we continue to practice one year, two years, three years or more we will have some [blank space in transcript] and we will lose the limitless meaning of the original mind.

In beginner’s mind we have many possibilities, but in expert mind there is not much possibility. So in our practice it is important to resume to our original mind or inmost mind which we, ourselves, even we ourselves do not know what it is. This is the most important thing for us. The founder of our school emphasized this point. We have to remain always beginners mind. This is the secret of Zen and secret of various practices — practice of flower arrangement, practice of Japanese singing and various art. If we keep our beginner’s mind, we keep our precepts. When we lose our beginner’s mind we will lose all the precepts and for Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic or not — we should not lose our self-satisfied state of mind. We should not be too demanding, or we should not be too greedy. Our mind should always be rich and self-satisfied. When our mind become demanding — when we become longing for something, we will violate our precepts not to kill, not to be immoral, not to steal, or not to tell lie and so on. Those are based on our greedy mind. When our mind is self-satisfied we keep our precepts. When we ourselves is always self-satisfied, we have our original mind and we can practice good and we are always true to ourselves. So the most difficult thing is to keep our beginner’s mind in our practice. So if you can keep your beginner’s mind forever, you are Buddha. In this point, our practice should be constant. We should practice our way with beginner’s mind always. There is no need to have deep understanding about Zen. Even though you read Zen literature you have to keep this beginner’s mind. You have to read it with fresh mind. We shouldn’t say, “I know what is Zen” or “I have attained enlightenment.”. We should be always big enough. This is very important. And we should be very very careful about this point.

I was very much impressed by your practice this morning. Although your posture was not perfect, but the feeling you have here is wonderful. There is no comparison to it. At the same time we should make our effort to keep this feeling forever in your practice. This is very very important. In Japanese art, when you master some art — when you become successor of your master, you will receive some paper on which something is written.

No one knows what it is. It is very difficult to figure out what it is — to explain what it is.

But if you have beginner’s mind, it’s all right. If you can say, “Thank you very much” from the bottom of your heart, that’s all right. If you say “What it is?” you have no secret — you can say “Thank you very much”. That’s enough. But this is very difficult. So by your practice we must make our beginner’s mind more and more — we should appreciate beginner’s mind. This is the secret of practice — Zen practice.



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