ZEN MIND, BEGINNER'S MIND : Informal talks on Zen Meditation and practice by Shunryu Suzuki. Edited by Trudy Dixon, with a Preface by Huston Smith and an Introduction by Richard Baker. 138 pp. New York and Tokyo : Weatherhill, 1970 and Reprinted.
Some years ago I undertook a fairly extensive program of reading in Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Buddhism and in Zen. Most of my Zen books have since disappeared. Only the choicest remain, among which is Shunryu Suzuki's 'Zen Mind Beginner's Mind.'
Buddhism may be said to have begun with the enlightement of the Buddha. Many centuries later, however, when Buddhism entered China, an incredibly elaborate and complex superstructure of Indian scholastic thought had grown up around the Buddha's original insight. The Chinese, with their basically down-to-earth and common sense attitude, had little use for Indian over-elaboration and set about ridding Buddhism of it.
The Chinese, as Lin Yutang says, believe in a reasonable use of reason, and not in reason's excesses. The end product of their effort to rid Buddhist thought of its heavy freight of scholasticism, and to shift the emphasis from theory back to the practical by centering Buddhism once again in the enlightenment experience, became what the Chinese know as Ch'an and the Japanese as Zen.
As Shunryu Suzuki himself pointed out, when freed of unnecessary theory and speculation, Buddhism as Zen becomes something that is basically "quite simple" (page 64). Its essence was brilliantly captured in the thirty-one verses of Third Patriarch Seng-ts'an's 'Hsin-hsin-ming,' the very first Zen treatise in verse. This is a beautiful text that deserves to be far better known, and an easily accessible translation will be found in D. T. Suzuki's 'Manual of Zen Budhism' ('On Believing in Mind,' pages 76-82).
The first verse of the original Chinese may be read as follows, with oblique marks to indicate line breaks:
"To realize the Way is not difficult / If you'd only stop choosing; / Just let go of all of your hate, and love, / And everything will be brilliantly clear" (my transl).
This statement may gain in meaning if we set it alongside an observation made by the great Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253), founder of the Japanese Soto sect of Zen Buddhism and one of the most brilliant philosophical minds Buddhism has ever produced, who wrote in 'Genjo Koan,' the third chapter of his 'Shobogenzo' :
"Conveying the self to the myriad things to authenticate them is delusion; the myriad things advancing to authenticate the self is enlightenment" (Tr., F. H. Cook, 'Sounds of Valley Streams,' page 66).
Suzuki Shunryu, who as a member of the Soto school was a direct spiritual descendant of Dogen, would certainly have understood this. In fact, so far as I can see, the idea expressed by both Seng-ts'an and Dogen Zenji is at the very center of his book.
'Zen Mind Beginner's Mind' is a golden book that may be heartily recommended to all open-minded readers. In it they will find a Buddhism freed of all scholastic superfluities and unnecessary elaboration, and one that returns us to what the Buddha was really about.