Shoshin: The Beginner’s Mind

Shoshin is a concept from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” Shoshin refers to having a mind that is open and curious. A mind that is free from preconceptions when studying a new subject. 

Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”- Shunryu Suzuki

We tend to follow the way of our parents, teacher and mentors. A fixation on how things “must be” or “should be”, close our minds to new possibilities. We may even get lost in thinking our way is the right way. It may be difficult to be faced with ideas that go against our own, making us act emotionally rather than rationally. The beauty of an open mind is the conversations it unlocks with other people and our internal voice.

Children are the students. They ask the foundation questions such as “why is the moon following us?”, “Why the seawater taste so salty?”, “Where did I come from?”. These are the questions beginners have. They seek to understand first and know second. Children have a mindset of infinite possibilities and are genuinely curious about how the world works. This curiosity grows the spirit, mind and body.

“Adults” on the other hand, seek to know first and understand later. Knowing puts a full stop to your learning.

We are often thrown in perpetual cycles of the student-teacher duality. A teacher knows that one day she will become a student again. Staying humble the student will empty the mind to become a teacher. 

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing” – Socrates 

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There’s an ancient Zen proverb, to illustrate this point. It is a great reminder that we should be life long students of life. 

Empty Your Cup 

A long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them and enlighten them in the way of Zen.

One day an important man came to visit the master. “I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” The tone of the important man’s voice was one used to getting his way. The Zen master smiled and said they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. Whilst preparing the tea, the important man began explaining what he knew about Zen, and why he was worthy of enlightenment.

When the tea was served, the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and onto the robes of the man. Finally, the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over me. Can’t you see the cup is full?” The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this teacup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind ready for filling.”

So is your cup empty or full? 

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