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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind Summary



Do you feel stressed in life? Nowadays that seems to be the norm. We are trapped in the rat race and there are so many obligations. There are so many things that society tells us we should achieve. Social, relationship, and fitness goals. We go through life and try to be perfect high achievers. But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if society’s priorities are all wrong? What if the goal of achieving a certain social status, job title, or income is misguided? In the Book, the Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, the author Suzuki talks about another way of living life. Where you bring your focus back to the activities that make up your day and find peace from them, with no motive beyond that. In this summary, I’ll share with you three key lessons that I learned from the book.



Key Lesson #1: Zen breathing makes us aware of our true nature


Most of us breathe unconsciously all the time without even paying attention to it. In Zen practice, the goal is to become aware of this and they focus on bringing attention to the breath. You basically follow the air as it moves in and out of your body. By noticing this process, you’ll find that the inner world of the body and the outside world are one, connected by the flow of the breath. This practice teaches us to let go of the idea that ‘I” and the “other” are separate. As a result, we move toward our true nature, which is “I am one with everything there is.”



Key Lesson #2: It’s better to observe than to control


Many people are control freaks and want to control everything. But constant control holds us back. You probably have experienced that some of your best ideas came when you were relaxed. Instead of trying to control everything, just step back and see what happens without your interference. This life is basically a series of random happenings and you can’t control most of it. This is also true in meditation. When we meditate we try to control our thoughts and eliminate the ones we don’t like. But if you’ve done any type of meditation, you know that this doesn’t work at all. Instead, you should just allow the thoughts to be and observe them as they come and go. The only effort is to return the focus back to the breath every time you catch it drifting. This might sound easy but it’s not.



Key Lesson #3: Excellence should not be the goal


In our societies usually we value the people who succeed. But in Zen, they have a different concept of success. They don’t focus on the outcome, they just focus on the practice. The intention is to simply practice without worrying about how difficult or effortless that practice is. In Zen, they have a saying that “worst students are often the best.” What they mean is that the worst students must overcome so many challenges at the start. So they practice a lot and gain skills and discipline. The good students, on the other hand, start off well. But later, they reach a plateau and they would need to put a lot of effort into overcoming it. But since they haven’t practiced doing so, they often just give up. That’s why in Zen they only focus on the practice itself and not the outcome. They teach that failure can be a success and vice-versa.



So in summary, Zen practice is not about achieving something. Rather, it’s simply to bring awareness to our breathing. Let go of the tendency to control the process or the outcome. Be fully present in the practice and master the practice without obsessing about the results.


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