Saturday January 10th, midst a splattering of snow, Hardcore Dharma recommenced for a second, subsequent term.  This time around we’ll be working book by book as opposed to subject by subject.  Like last time, we’ll be reading texts from the three major schools of Buddhism: Zen, Theravaden and Tibetan.
The first text we’re working with is Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner MindI’ll admit, when I first got the syllabus for the class I was a little disappointed by the choice.  I’ve had this book since I was 19, long before I knew Buddhism was anything other than monks, suffering and a belief in reincarnation.  It was assigned, along with the Epictetus’ Art of Living by an acting teacher when I was a sophomore in college.  I artistically connected immediately to the idea that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few” but otherwise I couldn’t identify with text.  It felt opaque and over-simplistic.  It felt like the text that Matt Groening referenced whenever he brought a stock character Zen monk into an episode of The Simpsons. 

So guess what I realized reading then discussing Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind after a couple years of practice and study under my belt?  Well I realized that the book is, um, not so much for know-nothing-about-dharma “beginners.”  Shunryu Suzuki’s Soto Zen perspective is presented in deceptively simple prose that, when investigated, presents some complexly compelling dharma.  As least it did for me.
Shunryu Suzuki is a spiritual descendent of Dogen Zenji, who brought Soto Zen Buddhism to Japan in the 13th century.  Dogen’s main question about Buddhism related to Buddha Nature.  He wanted to understand why, if everyone had Buddha nature, the practice of meditation was necessary.  He came to the conclusion that Buddha Nature *is* the practice.  Huh.  Zen.  In 1962 Suzuki founded the infamous San Francisco Zen Center.  According to “ZM, BM”s introduction, he came to the US for only a visit but then decided to stay because he was so impressed with the open quality of his American student’s mind.  Oh baby boomers.  It’s a shame that we’ve turned the 60’s into one big advertising campaign, because it seems like there were times when you were authentically interesting.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a collection of Suzuki’s talks.  Some ideas we discussed in class have already been brought up by fellow bloggers this week.  Ellen Scordato’s post & subsequent comments has a great discussion about chittamatra, or the Mind-Only school of Buddhism.  Buddhistfemme’s post discusses the very famous “big pasture” Suzuki quotation – that is, if you want your sheep (friends, mind, fowl, etc.) to behave, then you need to give them lots of room, try not to control them, encourage them to be, as he says, “mischievous.”  Free-range emotional management, a humane alternative brought to you by the spiritual dynasty of Dogen Zenjii.
I was struck both in reading and in class by the quotation Ethan cited while we were meditating: “What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.”  The concept of what I think of as “I” as a continually evolving alchemy between my perception and my actions is not new to me.  The fact that this could be discovered in sitting practice so directly (in that the in-breath is the physical manifestation of perception and the out breath the physical manifestation of action) feels revelatory.  And I must say, in a very spiritually materialistic way planting this quotation in my mind before sitting has prompted some rad sitting sessions this week and some nice moments of clarity in walking talking life practice.  I’ll go as far to say it’s beginner-ing up some know-it-all aspects of my pseudo-expert mind.
Zen Mind is a Buddhist classic and I’m sure many folks, in and out of class, have given it a once over.  What are your thoughts?  How do you feel about the tone of Soto Zen that Suzuki is presenting in general?  I like it when I can read it in the context of a class, with a teacher and other folks to discuss it with, but I’m still a bit skeptical of that inscrutable Zen rhetoric.  What do you think?  What do you think about Zen’s emphasis on physical formality in contrast to their “big pasture” mind?  Do you think that Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is more of an intermediate read then its title suggests? 
In related news, “Swinging Doors” happens to be one of my favorite Merle Haggard songs.  I urge you to please.  Enjoy.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kH1iEVXM_I0
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