A lesson on breathing from ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’
by Shunryu Suzuki
When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless. We say “inner world” or “outer world,” but actually there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes out like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you think, “I breathe,” the “I” is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no “I,” no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door….
Tozan, a famous Zen master, said,
“The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain.”
A Clear Interpretation of Life
This is a pure, clear interpretation of life. There may be many things like the white cloud and blue mountain: man and woman, teacher and disciple. They depend on each other. But the white cloud should not be bothered by the blue mountain. The blue mountain should not be bothered by the white cloud. They are quite independent, but yet dependent. This is how we live….
When we become truly ourselves, we just become a swinging door, and we are purely independent of, and at the same time, dependent upon everything. Without air, we cannot breathe. Each of us is in the midst of myriads of worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment after moment. So we are completely dependent and independent. If you have this kind of experience, this kind of existence, you have absolute independence; you will not be bothered by anything.
About the book
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” So begins this most beloved of all American Zen books. Seldom has such a small handful of words provided a teaching as rich as has this famous opening line of Shunryu Suzuki’s classic. In a single stroke, the simple sentence cuts through the pervasive tendency students have of getting so close to Zen as to completely miss what it’s all about. An instant teaching on the first page. And that’s just the beginning.
In the thirty years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has become one of the great modern Zen classics, much beloved, much re-read, and much recommended as the best first book to read on Zen. Suzuki Roshi presents the basics—from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality—in a way that is not only remarkably clear, but that also resonates with the joy of insight from the first to the last page. It’s a book to come back to time and time again as an inspiration to practice.
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Book Review by K. Brodrick
The has been the most useful book on Zen I have read so far.
Zen abhors analysis and description, and Suzuki takes a practical, human approach to the practice of zazen. The book was compiled from talks given by him at his Zen centres, and is full of honest advice and personal experience.
I am on my third reading, and am finally getting to appreciate some of the messages. These concepts are in fact very simple, if you read with your heart rather than your head. It is free from Zen-stifling intellectual analysis and explanation which is found in lesser works, there is no struggling with brain-busting koans, and satori is never mentioned.
One of the most important messages is very encouraging: that difficulty, distraction and hardship actually improve the practice of zazen. Great news for Beginners like me.