A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay
The concept of Beginner’s Mind got me thinking after our day retreat last week. It reminded me of A, how little I actually know, in comparison to how much there is to know and B, how beneficial this seeming disadvantage can be on the spiritual path.
We talked about how Beginner’s Mind shows up in our lives. How it can open up whole new understandings on life, practice and the universe. And how, as a society, we favour the glory of competency and being good at everything, over the vulnerability of not knowing.
I don’t think I have ever met a scholar or an “expert” who isn’t in some way humbled by the fact of just how much information there is out there…about everything – an inexhaustible font of facts, ideas, perspectives and opinions. In any realistic evaluation of the universe, where experience informs the evidence of the senses, all of our encounters with knowledge and understanding would be firmly grounded in an attitude of Beginner’s Mind. Because we can never reach the limits of learning – there is always more to know. And therefore, we are always, in a certain sense, beginners.
As a practitioner with a terrible memory and limited capacity for retaining information, I can really identify with the concept of Beginner’s Mind. Buddhist and generic spiritual concepts and teachings that I learned and assimilated over many years have now faded to an almost irretrievable extent. When I am reintroduced to them, I often find a fresh perspective that maybe I hadn’t seen or really appreciated before. Or that the teaching comes from a different angle altogether and is associated with an unexpected source. This can be very disruptive to my ego and the parts of me that like the idea that I’ve got it all boxed off. My Expert Mind might inspire me to study a bit harder in order to throw up defences against the pain of having to say ‘I don’t know’. But, surely enough, I will find myself back at the same place, defeated by reality, once again.
And the defeat is not an empty one. The teaching is implicit in the journey, as is often the case. We never actually reach the end.
In a culture that doesn’t like limits or failure, Beginner’s Mind is not a popular concept. The intellectual and materialistic carrots that we are all chasing are not rooted in compromise or concession. But if we are prepared to actively align ourselves with our inherent limitations, we may be able to see ourselves more clearly and, therefore, live more deeply.
Beginner’s Mind is a state of genuine humility, where we really know that we don’t know and accept it as a blessed truth.
Namo Amida Bu.
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