Ancient Japanese wisdom traditions such as Zen Buddhism and the Martial Arts, have a lot to bring to the table of modern western life. The samurai warriors and Zen monks alike, made it their life's mission to understand the workings of their body and mind resulting in rare levels of insight and self-understanding.
In the age of the internet we can readily tap into this reservoir of knowledge and inspiration and use it to improve our lives. Welcome to some ancient wisdom for stepping out of the mind.
Presented below are seven aspects of wisdom borrowed from the world of Zen and the Japanese Martial Arts. They are:
These seven aspects, or 'faces of wisdom' if you will, may prove particularly useful on the path to self improvement and motivational inspiration. Following first is an explanation of the first face of Japanese wisdom called 'shoshin', also known as the 'beginners mind'...
One way to translate the Japanese wisdom principle of 'shoshin' is 'first mind' - 'sho' meaning 'first' and 'shin' meaning 'mind'. Thus, shoshin can be said to refer to the mind or intelligence that we were initially born with.
This first, primordial and pristine mind is often referred to as 'beginners mind'. It is essentially untouched by the layers of conditioning that we accumulate over years of living. This 'beginners mind' is the pure intelligence within us. It carries no baggage of it's own. Yet it's often the layers built around it that prevents us from seeing, acknowledging or remembering that we are in possession of such a gem.
The principle of Shoshin or 'Beginners Mind' is the starting point of all true study. It is the most important possession of any real student. There is an interesting Zen tale that illustrates the essence of the 'beginners mind'.
A Zen scholar sought out a particular Zen Master in order to obtain instruction from him. After a long search, he found the hut where the Master lived and requested entry. The prospective apprentice was invited in for a cup of tea.
The Zen Master and his guest sat down together at a small table and the master asked him what he knew about Zen. The guest started talking and just never stopped. Apparently his knowledge of Zen was very broad. He knew many Zen stories, he was familiar with the teachings of different Zen masters and lineages and he could elaborate on the principles and finer points of Zen philosophy in great detail. Obviously he was quite an accomplished Zen scholar.
At a certain point during this decidedly one-sided 'conversation', the Zen Master started pouring his guest a cup of tea. The tea filled the cup to the brim, but the Zen Master continued pouring and the tea started spilling all over the table. The guest jumped up from his seat, 'Stop pouring, stop pouring! Can't you see the cup is full - it can't take any more tea!'
The Zen master stopped pouring and looked the young Zen scholar squarely in the eye. 'Just as this cup of tea is full and cannot take any more tea, so your mind is full of Zen and cannot take any more Zen. I cannot teach you a thing. If you truly want to learn, you must first empty your cup. You must empty your mind of everything you think you know about Zen. That's my condition for taking you on as a student.'
If we truly want to learn - whether it be an academic subject, a spiritual truth, or getting to truly know a fellow human being - we need to approach our subject with an open mind. We need to set aside what we already think we know, in order to make room for new information to enter our senses. We need to use our 'beginners mind' instead of looking through the lenses of our conditioning.
'Emptying our cup' or using a 'beginners mind' doesn't mean we stop using our intelligence. On the contrary, it means piercing through the thick layers of conditioning that we have accumulated over the years in order to see with the discerning eyes of wisdom and insight. It means to allow our innate intelligence to come into direct contact with our subject of study.
To believe in something opens a gap between our innate intelligence and the subject of our belief. To believe in something requires stepping away from what our intelligence has immediate access to. Belief asks us to go out on a limb. It requires us to take a leap of faith towards something that is beyond our experience.
Only when we experience something, only when we have touched it with the hands of our very own intelligence, intuition or senses can we break free of the need to believe. Once experience has been had 'knowing' comes to replace 'believing'.
When we bring our full natural intelligence into play we discover ‘truth’ through direct experience - by seeing or feeling or doing, and this eliminates the need to believe. Belief is no longer required once knowing takes its place.
This is why keeping a beginners mind is so important. A beginners mind, or shoshin, is the gateway to experience. It is coming to life with our 'hands empty' so to speak. We open ourselves up willingly to experience whatever it is that is there. If we arrive already 'knowing', or believing, then new learning will elude us. Fresh experience will be out of reach.
Meditation is a powerful practice that helps cultivate 'beginners mind'. How to meditate for beginners offers two simple meditative techniques to get you off to a strong start practicing Shoshin.
Please stay tuned for the other faces of Japanese wisdom (coming soon):
Ken & Kan