Beginner’s Mind

My youngest son is very serious about becoming a Buddhist. It’s a heartfelt quest on his part. I’m happy for him. Buddhism will provide him with a depth at his center that has been lacking so far. As his father, I get to ask him questions. This is somewhat like asking an eighteen-year-old the meaning of life. People of such age are typically certain about all such questions. Occasionally, an eighteen-year- old will give an interesting answer to a meaningful question.

So –

I remarked to my son that when I feel miserable I generally want to point Buddhist Mindfulness at the miserable feelings. My experience is that this kind of Mindfulness just makes me significantly more miserable. He agreed that this was the case. Then he said I was supposed to meditate my way out of this misery. He knows I’ve been meditating since I was twenty. I told him that I had never done such a thing as part of my meditational practice. This seemed to surprise him.

On later reflection, I realized I had used the ‘Abba’ mantra a couple of times when I was very definately and painfully off my spiritual path. This interested my son, but still wasn’t the answer he was looking for.

I then told my son the story told to me by a friend who is a former T’ai Chi teacher. The story goes that amongst his many travels in his own quest, my friend visited some Buddhist monks at a monastery somewhere in the Far East. One of the monks invited him to come to a meditation session. (I get the impression this wasn’t just my friend and the inviting monk, but my friend with a larger group of monks.)

My friend remembers this mediation session as being over in five seconds when it actually took two hours of normal time. He also remembers encountering a sense of infinite whiteness. The monks thought my friend was a natural. They invited him to stay at the monastery (permanently). My friend was very unsettled by this strange experience and was interested in leaving the monastery as quickly as he could.

I then recalled an experience of my own where I had the opportunity to briefly meditate with Geshe Jampa Khechok at the Emaho Foundation. My sense of what his meditation looked like was the same infinite whiteness my friend had experienced at the Buddhist monastery. At this point my son says “Yes! That’s it, Dad! It’s like a white grease board that has been completely erased.” My son is an engineer. He uses such grease boards to design products and make project plans. Such a grease board is also a very useful teaching tool. A grease board is rarely completely blank. But, it’s not unusual to erase all the information on the board at the beginning of a new project/design.

At this point I’m beginning to understand that my son is talking about the Beginner’s Mind.

So I told my son that my mediation over the last forty years was about the Abyss. The Abyss is a valid representation of the Ultimate Reality – it’s just a very difficult, painful, insanity-producing representation. The metaphor I would use to explain my mediation is that of touching a hot stove. Initially, I was desperate for any kind of expression of the Ultimate. I reached out and found the stove and set my hand down on the burner for about five seconds. I acquired a permanent burn from this experience. I was able to validate that Ultimate Reality does exist. My meditation since has been to reach out and very briefly touch the stove to remind myself that it’s still there and still hot.

I have one topic that I haven’t discussed with my son. The white grease board metaphor presents the Beginner’s Mind as an external reality. My studies down through the years on mystical systems say that the Beginner’s Mind needs to be an internal, integrated reality. We’ll see what my son has to say.

Subsequently, I was able to talk to my son. I presented the following visualization on the Beginner’s Mind and his white board image. These four points came to me like a series of pictures.

  1. I visualized the white board as a circle the size of a room.
  2. Since visualizations are not limited to normal real world physics, I visualized part of the circular white board sitting vertically in my head, resting there, from my ears up.
  3. Then I visualized the white board sitting vertically on my spine and exercised pranayamic breathing with the visualization.
  4. I allowed the circle of the white board to grow very large.

My son liked the visualizations I shared with him. His only comment was that I hadn’t erased the white board before I started my visualization. I said I had started with a clean white board. In my son’s experience white boards are almost never clean.

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