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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Published in 1970, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is a compilation of talks by the Sōtō Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki, who taught Zen Buddhism in the United States, mainly in the 1960s, and founded its first Zen Buddhist monastery. Throughout these talks, he emphasizes the practice of zazen, the discipline of sitting meditation. The book is not so much a philosophical or intellectual discussion on the meaning and history of Zen but rather a guide on the precepts of practice. “Written teaching is a kind of food for your brain," he says. "Of course it is necessary to take some food for your brain, but it is more important to be yourself by practicing the right way of life.” To borrow Suzuki's metaphor, there's a cornucopia of food in this roughly 175-page book. About those just starting to practice zazen he tells us that "The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities."

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is divided into three parts: "Right Practice," "Right Mind," and "Right Understanding." Suzuki teaches that “in the proper way with the right attitude and understanding of practice, then that is Zen. The main point is to practice seriously, and the important attitude is to understand and have confidence in big mind.”

Reading the talks had a calming effect on me, maybe because they're given in a sort of zazen manner—unembellished, and also methodical, and like a stream, as they were spoken. The book also brims with insight and wisdom, and with drops of humor now and then as well. For anyone reading books in English to understand Zen, or who are practicing zazen, this one should be at the top of their pile.


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