I’m an avid note-taker and I guess you could also call me a kind of content curator or maybe a content collector. I’m constantly taking notes as I’, reading books and blogs, as I’m listening to podcasts, and I’m also constantly capturing and collecting interesting social media posts from the people I follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. As I was looking through some of my recent notes and some of the additions to my content collection, I started thinking about curiosity, authenticity, and an idea in Buddhism called Beginner’s Mind. So let’s talk about that right now.
Earlier this week I saw an Instagram post from Ty Phillips. Ty is one of the co-founders of the Tattooed Buddha Website and he regularly writes there, as well as bunch of other places. Here’s what he posted:
This really struck me and I saved it immediately. What I love about this is quote is that its not just about originality of thought or trying to be an original thinker. It’s not just about avoiding mediocrity or falling into the trap of the status quo. Its about discovery. It’s about exploration, innovation, and curiosity. It’s also about authenticity.
With this in mind, what’s interesting is Ty’s background. He belongs to the Celtic Buddhism tradition, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Ty explains that Celtic Buddhism is a merger of Tibetan Buddhism with Celtic history and mythology, and so what he tries to do in his own work is to “unite Anglican and Buddhist teachings”. I have to admit as someone kind of obsessed with the study of religion and culture, I’m fascinated!
Buddhism has a rich history, it is a rich tradition, culturally and philosophically. Yet, instead of treading the well-established or well-worn path of traditional Buddhism (not that there’s wrong with doing that), he’s uniting these two seemingly unrelated spiritual paths into something kind of new and unique, and he does so because it is an authentic expression of who he is. That’s pretty inspiring.
If you follow this channel or if you have seen any of my videos at all, you know I’m fairly deep in studying Buddhism, or more specifically Zen, and and even more specifically Chan but, that’s not the end-all, be-all of who I am or what I’m interested in. In the spare time I’m afforded I’m usually found juggling four to five books on a wide range of subjects – Philosophy, Ecology, Sociology, theology, Religion, psychology, and the list goes on and on. If I’m on my phone – I’m probably reading an ebook or a blog. If I have earbuds in – you can bet I’m listening to a podcast or an audiobook. If I’m just lounging – there is always either my kindle or a hard copy book in hand or at least close by. But, I don’t see any of these subjects or endeavors as separated or isolated from one another, and I don’t see them as being separate from my Zen practice. They all inform one another. Philosophy, ecology, sociology, etc. – that all forms the lens through which I see my Zen practice, and my Zen practice forms the lens through which I see these various topics and fields of thought.
There’s a great Tweet I recently captured from T.K. Coleman that says:
Coleman, goes a little deeper into this idea in one his blog posts titled You Don’t Need to Make a Career out of Everything You Love. In the essay Coleman talks about having passions, interests, and pasttimes outside of your career. Coleman says that “the universe is bigger than your job. It’s bigger than your job plus all the other jobs that will ever exist. Hence, there will always be interesting, exciting, and inspiring possibilities to explore that are not directly connected to the work you receive paychecks for.” He goes on to say that “the sum total of all my coworkers, customers, company mission, compensation, and creative activities related to my job will never be big enough to capture and satisfy the full range of my diverse interests.” Coleman highlights that “being human means you’re bigger than all the jobs and all the passions you’ll ever have.” I know Coleman is talking about work and career but, I think what he’s saying still applies to what we’re talking about. No one thing, no one career, no one path, no one tradition, no one idea, no one school of thought, no one interest, can authentically summarize the totality of who you are.
Red Pine writes that “One of the hallmarks of Zen is that it’s teaching is not separated from our every day lives.” Zen is not separate from who we are, it isn’t separate from who you are. Nor is it separate from all the divergent things that make up your life. In his book The Zen Experience, Thomas Hoover writes that “in Zen the distinction between oneself and the world was the first thing to be dissolved…it resolves naturally into a love of all things.” There’s a sense of wonder and curiosity here. This is kind of what leads me to think about what Zen calls the ‘beginner’s mind’. There’s a great article I read on Dailyzen.org titled “Beginner’s Mind” by Charlie Ambler. In the article Ambler explains that “Zen practice is about everything…It’s all-encompassing,” not because Zen is one thing but because Zen is made up of everything. Zen is all the things.
Ambler goes on to say that “Over time, repeated experiences become routines, and we start to narrow our field of vision. With this narrowing comes a heightened acuity but also a neglect of periphery. We stop noticing details we used to pick up on. As we zero-in on our skills, goals, values and thoughts in this way, we both gain something and lose something at the same time.”
In other words, Beginner’s mind unlocks the purity of open-mindedness, the open-mindedness of exploration and discovery.
Ambler points out that “To approach any activity with a beginner’s mind is to remain open and curious. We remember what we don’t know, instead of focusing on stroking the ego. We become radically humble and honest with ourselves about what we’re doing. We find joy in simply doing and learning rather than trying to prove something to the world…And when we do this, a new sort of excellence emerges, one rooted in joy rather than zeal.” To me this is statement of authenticity, a call to the spirit of sincerity.
We express the authenticity of all of our passions and curiosities, the authenticity of all that we don’t know and all that we hunger to know more about.
My Zen teacher recently wrote an article called “This is the Reason Why I Am a Reluctant Monk“. There’s a great line in that essay, he says “The truth is our training is never complete.” It’s never over, we’re never done.
Sometimes we get so rooted to a specific tradition, a particular school of thought, a particular way of being or a particular way of doing things that we cease to examine anything at or outside the periphery of our tradition, outside the periphery of who or what we think we are or should be. Beginner’s mind beckons you to explore your curiosity, to give voice to it, to be your authentic self.
Suzuki Roshi once said, “When you become you, Zen becomes Zen.” When you become you, art becomes art. When you become you, literature becomes literature. When you become you, life becomes life. When you become you, the world becomes the world. Carl Sagan said that “we are the way for the universe to know itself.” In his book, The Great Work , Thomas Berry writes that “the human might be identified as that being in whom the universe celebrates itself”. As mystical and woo-woo as this idea may sound, maybe there is at least some metaphorical truth here, maybe we are that part of the universe that is coming to know itself as itself. Maybe, when you become authentic, everything in the entire universe becomes authentic, too.