Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind | Shunryu Suzuki

Summary of: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
By: Shunryu Suzuki


Embark on a journey of self-exploration and spiritual growth with this summary of ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice’ by Shunryu Suzuki. Discover the power of posture, how non-duality is at the heart of the Zen worldview, and the profound lessons in Zen breathing. Embrace the concepts of patient perseverance, experiential learning from failure, and the importance of maintaining a calm mind amidst the chaos of modern life. Delve into the art of pure activity and strive to be in the present moment, while understanding the true nature of generosity and the beauty of selflessness that comes with practicing Zen. This summary breaks down complex Zen ideas in a simple, engaging, and instructive manner.

Zen Posture for Spiritual Growth

The lotus posture in Zen practice is more than just a physical position, it holds symbolic meaning and promotes spiritual growth.

Zen Buddhism has gained popularity for its ability to provide a sense of spiritual peace and tranquility, and one of the ways it achieves this is through a specific posture. The lotus posture requires you to sit cross-legged, preferably with your right foot on your left thigh and your left foot on your right thigh, your spine straight, your chin gently pressed down and your center of the body aimed directly towards the floor. This position allows the mind to automatically tune into the spiritual realm, making it the entirety of the practice itself.

The lotus position in Zen practice symbolizes non-duality, the notion that all things and beings on earth have the same essence. Life and death are no longer perceived as opposite entities but rather as a unified, harmonious idea. While the body and mind dissolve, they remain eternal. This posture symbolizes a non-dualistic view of the world, where seeming contradictions are unified.

By adopting this posture and incorporating the notion of non-duality into practice, one can achieve spiritual growth and find comfort in the cyclical nature of life.

Cultivate Awareness with Zen Breathing

Zen breathing cultivates an awareness of our true nature by focusing our attention on the breath and dissolving the feeling of time and space. This practice helps us let go of duality and realize the unity of the world, connected by the flow of breath.

Zen breathing is a simple practice that involves observing the breath as it enters and leaves the body. By doing so, we begin to notice the world as a unified whole, free of boundaries. The air flowing through the throat connects the inner world of the body to the outer world, leading us to let go of the idea of “I” and “other.”

This practice takes us even further by dissolving the feeling of time and space. When we let go of ego and the world disappears, time and space cease to exist, and minutes slip away without differentiation. We are left with only the in breath and the out breath.

In summary, through Zen breathing, we can cultivate awareness of our true nature and let go of duality. This practice helps us to realize the unity of the world and dissolve the illusion of time and space.

The Futility of Control

In a society obsessed with control and micromanagement, the idea of letting go seems counterintuitive. However, the author argues that relaxation and observance of our surroundings without interference can lead to breakthrough ideas. Life is inherently disorderly, and attempts to control it are futile. Even trying to control others often backfires. Instead, people behave more reasonably when allowed to be free. In meditation, trying to control our thoughts is counterproductive. The proper method is to observe without judgment and return focus to breathing. In essence, the best way to live and meditate is to relinquish control and allow the natural flow of things.

Overcoming Adversity in Meditation

Meditation can be challenging, but encountering adversity can help you grow. Just as weeds enrich the soil when buried near flowers, overcoming struggles in meditation can feed your practice and lead to progress. While waves of distraction and discouragement are normal, it’s essential to make the correct effort to calm the mind by focusing on the breath. With practice, your effort will become more precise and less strained. Zen’s approach to effort and success differs from the conventional Western conceptions of these words and emphasizes the value of using adversity to nourish your practice. So, when you encounter difficulty in meditation, know that it’s an opportunity for growth.

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