Detail, Tomb of the Lioness, circa 520 BC
From the Etruscan necropolis of Tarquinia
Photograph by the author
Here we are, coming up on the first post of November, a month that will eventually mark the seventh anniversary of this Blog— insh'Allah.
Yesterday, early in the morning, I cracked open my Shambhala copy of the new edition of Dogen's Shobogenzo. The passages I was reading are worthy of several comments, but I don't have the copy with me. What's on my mind this morning is his remarks about the need for a beginner's mind.
We usually take this to mean someone who is just starting out, someone who is learning. But there is a second, perhaps more esoteric, aspect to this idea, this state of mind, and that is to understand it as an inward mind.
Our mind is always directed externally. That's how it's trained; that's how it grows up. Our attention is drawn outward by objects, events, circumstances, and conditions; it becomes identified with them, and that's all the mind is. It's these external things. We forget that the mind begins with an inward aspect of mind that is there before objects, events, circumstances, and conditions.
So the beginner's mind is not the mind of the person starting out; not in the conventional sense, anyway. It is the inward mind, the mind that is already present, that already exists. Before we have a face and a name, there is an inward Being, there is a consciousness. This was brought home to me yesterday when I was standing on line at Starbucks in the morning, and I suddenly realized that I am called "Lee."
But, I saw, I don't in the least know who this person Lee is; everyone else has an experience of him in such and such a way, but I don't have that experience. Everyone else's experience of Lee is outward; and mine is exclusively inward.
Quite frankly, I'm not even sure I want to be this person "Lee" because, knowing the inward experience of him, I'm fairly certain he's unreliable, untrustworthy, and constantly confused.
But there is someone who is not in all of those relatively weak states. There is an inward presence, a consciousness, that is already there. It's not named Lee. It is the I that I experience as my Self, before there is any Lee.
The beginner's mind is the inward mind. Everything with life begins with an inward sensation of the Self. The outward – directed experience of life actually has nothing to do with this beginner's mind, because it comes to everything not as a beginner, but as one with a set of elaborate associations, preconceived notions, and so on. What comes before it, this inward mind, is the beginner, because everything begins with it. If there is an investment and attention within the inner mind, if there is an effort at presence and relationship there, then everything else that takes place in life emanates from it effectively. One might say that beginning with inwardness, it becomes possible to work, because it is the place in which essence is real and the beginning is true; but if I begin with outwardness, I am always invested in psychology and analysis, not in experience and sensation.
So there is a need to come into relationship with the inwardness of Being. This is the true beginning, and that is also the place from which the flower opens which receives all of the impressions of life. So to be invested within this flower, this opening inwardness of being, is to be in the location to which all of the pollen is delivered. It is a reproductive area, an area in which the seeds for the soul are received and can generate a different kind of food for life.
When I conceive of the beginner's mind as beginning here, now, within Being, and not treating it as a conceptual position — but, rather, a state of inwardness — I begin to investigate who I am. I don't know the answer to this question; but I have many inward parts that can listen to who I am and try to understand this Being called Self with a little more attention and love than I usually bring to my life.
May your soul be filled with light.