Shunryu Suzuki: "Beginner’s Mind" - Talk and Transcripts

This audio talk and transcript is from the Engage Wisdom Suzuki Roshi archive.


This talk formed the basis of the Prologue of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, on page 1 of the 50th Anniversary Edition. Both the original draft and the published text are available in .pdf form below the audio transcript.

Newly imported in 2020 from the original tape reel, this audio recording was previously lost from the archives, with only the 1960’s transcript surviving.

Significant audio distortion has been carefully removed in the remastering process, uncovering some previously inaudible words - including immediately before the famous “beginner’s mind” passage, from 4:55 through 6:30.

Audio Transcript: 

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 here is very valuable. We say ‘shoshin’. 'Shoshin' 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 you keep your beginner’s mind in your [blank space in transcript]. If we continue to practice one year, two years, three years, our beginner's mind [blank space in transcript] will have some pattern, and we will lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

In beginner’s mind we have many possibilities, but in expert mind there is not much possibilities. So in our practice the important thing is 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 beginner's mind. This is the secret of Zen, and secret of various practice -- 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, or 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 satisfied, we keep our precepts. When we ourselves is always self-satisfied, we have our original beauty, 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 concentrated. 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 beginner. This is very important point, and difficult. 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, [laughter] 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 point.

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 [laughs]. No-one knows what it is [laughter]. It is very difficult to figure out what it is, and to explain what it is. But if you have beginner’s mind, it’s all right. "Thank you very--" if you can say, “Thank you very much” from the bottom of your heart, that’s all right. If you say “What it is?” [laughter] you have no secret. Just 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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