Sounds a bit paradoxical, but I can easily say that despite how much I’ve often thought that I knew throughout my life, or how hard-won that advanced knowledge came into being for me, the older I get the better I appreciate how little I actually DO know.
In truth it seems that with every passing day I feel this almost humorous certainty growing stronger within me: a certainty-of-my-own-ignorance—that jolting realization that what you once believed to be truth, actually wasn’t, and you may never know the REAL truth no matter how old or knowledgeable you become because that TRUTH exists in a realm that is incomprehensible to your present existence.
This body shock of awakening to our own innate ignorance can be scathingly honest and quite humbling.
It certainly was to my ego.
But to those who study Zen, this isn’t some new concept—some might simply call it ‘cultivating the Beginner’s Mind.’
What is Beginner’s Mind? Here’s a good explanation first from Wikipedia, then from a Zen master himself.
“Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning ‘beginner’s mind.’ It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts.”
Text source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin
Master Shunryu Suzuki can explain it far better than I can:
“People say that practicing Zen is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in the cross‑legged position, or to attain enlightenment. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our practice pure in its fundamental sense.
In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means ‘beginner’s mind.’ The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind…
For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our ‘original mind’ includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self‑sufficient state of mind.
This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
The most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind.
You should not say, ‘I know what Zen is,’ or ‘I have attained enlightenment.’ This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner.
Be very, very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen, you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.”
from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
So I acknowledge that here I sit in my own ignorance while trying to make sense of our life existence.
These are the very things I often write about: What is reality?—What is consciousness?—What are we doing here? Why are we here? Who benefits and how do they benefit from our incarnating here during this time period or ANY time period?
All those unanswerable questions come down to the battle in our minds over the relevance between our DOING and our BEING.
Here is a basic truth as I presently know it: I AM. I EXIST. I EXPERIENCE. I OBSERVE.
And I try like the dickens NOT to judge the value of what I am observing because to do so implies a comparative knowledgebase that I do not have—at least not from my humble human perspective.
So each day I open my eyes and wonder what this day will bring to me. I wonder what new realization will occur to my sensing abilities. I wonder what type of sense I can make of whatever is happening to me and around me, but knowing full well that ‘making sense’ is a judgment in itself.
However, I also know that only through shoshin—beginner’s mind—can I simply observe all and note those observances without judgment or expectation—knowing I must simply allow all occurrences (and not labeling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’) to flow along with the river of life into the great sea of consciousness that connects us all and patiently awaits our return.
This I also know: Beginner’s Mind is not easily achieved nor sustained for long unless you willingly intend it.