Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Curiosity: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

I thought it would be good to post something about my favorite book. Out of what seems like a thousands of books, it is my favorite. When I was in college I took a free speed reading course that promised to double my reading speed. It actually quadrupled it, going from about 250 wpm to 1000 wpm. It was mainly done by eliminating a lot of bad reading habits and creating two simple new ones (taking in words in natural groups, rather than one word at a time and picking up the groups both left to right and right to left, eliminating pausing between each word, eliminating the need to subvocalize every word, and eliminating the need to move the eye to the very beginning and the very end of each line). After taking this course, I plowed through about 30 books in less than one month, until I hit this book, where I would get so blown away by what it was saying that I was reading sometimes one sentence a day, because I wanted to just keep rolling the deep thought over in my mind and/or let the thought lead me to deep nonthought.

Part of what I learned from this book is to always keep the attitude of the beginner, the curious child, to shed all the presumed learning from the past and look at everything fresh again, without all our thought analysis. If you look at how an infant looks at a flower, you can see Zen Mind in action. Or when I saw my youngest brother in his crib looking at his hand and in wonderment about how it moved to his very new thoughts about how to move it, endlessly making it open and close, finger by finger (which works well for him when he plays Racquetball and instructs others). One of the signs that we have lost this mind is that we move from curiosity to impatience or pushing for results. When we are really curious, we are deep in the moment and have the fertile ground for insights to flash across our minds. It was this kind of mind that allowed the Buddha to realize the nature of sorrow and how to end it.

This beginner's mind is also related to "dana parmita" the first of the "crossing over attitudes" that leads to supreme perfect enlightenment. The word "parmita" is usually translated as something like "virture" but we really have no equivalent in our language to this. The very attitude itself, which we can take on and live from in any moment, leads us immediately across into our enlightened mind and enlightened heart. It translates as "open hearted generous giving". The one gift we can give to everyone always all the time is curiosity. It always opens our heart to others and is always compassionate and playful with the circumstances of our lives and the lives of others, always wishing that things be good for everyone, always willing to tweak things so that they are better, and always feeling how good things always are.

This attitude is behind the teachings of Krishnamurti, though he hides it well sometimes. But one simple meditation that he led people into was to be curious about their own sorrow and then to see what it would be like to just remain curious about everything in general ("curiosity without an object"), and then I would add what would it be like if we were curious about curiosity ("curiosity squared" as in E=MCsquared). It seems that the comet Lovejoy has this curiosity and playfulness (as in "What would be like to dive into the Sun?...and then come out playfully spinning...I realize I might be personalizing an impersonal phenomena, but in the realm of metaphor, at least, it seems valid).

Shunryu Suzuki discoursed about how we lose this mind when we become "experts" and how we lose all kinds of possibilities when we do this. We lose the ability to think outside the box and even paint ourselves into a corner. If we notice we do this, then we can become curious about seriousness and notice what it does to us. We can become curious about "expert mind" and how it locks itself into one reality tunnel and does not see the light of day after a while.

I read the book in college and when I would need to go into a problem of any kind I found this book guiding me through it. The first thing that I would do is to go into "I do not know" and look at the problem fresh. Very often the problem was created by the interpretation of life itself, by the thoughts and expectations I was putting on everything. When they were identified and removed, then there would be, again, the "Great Affirmation", that life is good, very good, and everything is unfolding perfectly. Sometimes I would be stripped down to the very essence of a "sensation of hurt", some tension would be felt in the body, and I would simply look at the tension, just embrace it and feel it. The first thing I would find is that the "looker" would disappear and with it a kind of duality. Then I would discover a kind of innocent mind that could look at it new, just as the Buddha did when he was in his 40 days of meditating into enlightenment, when he stripped his own mind down to this also, and just watched with no agenda, curious about the movement of sorrow itself, and found that it "spontaneously self liberated" (went away by itself with the dawning of an insight). The rigorous analysis of the Abhidharma is really a left over, words and notes, of 40 days of deep curiosity about the movement of sorrow.

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