November 2018 Message
“Never forget the Beginner’s Mind”
Rev. Dean Koyama
There is a story of a person who had heard of the reputation of the
Buddha. One day he sees the Buddha begging in the street and
approaches him to see how profound his teachings really were. The person said
to the Buddha,
“Hey, I hear you are a great teacher, please teach me the essence of your
The Buddha, humbly bowed his head and said,
“I have nothing unique to teach nor do I have any eloquence to teach.”
But the person insisted,
“Surely, you must have something to say to show me your path to
The Buddha modestly responded by saying,
“Very well, everything that has a beginning has an end. Each moment is the first
time and the last time.”
Some time ago, a Kindergarten teacher in Texas posted a wonderful video of her classroom greeting practice. Every morning, she would assign one student to greet each of the other students. They would make eye contact, shake hands or hugs, and smile to each other, as they would come into their classroom. In this video, the “greeter” is a small boy who, at the beginning of the year was very shy. However because each student had the opportunity to make contact with every other student in the classroom, he became more confidant and felt as if he really belonged in the class. And when it was his turn to be the greeter, he did so willingly. In the video you can hear him as he greets each of the students with a hearty “Good morning,” and calling each of the student’s name. The teacher, Ashley Taylor was inspired to do something as a result of the many school shootings and felt that perhaps by this one simple gesture, the students would learn compassion and that they were not alone.
I actually saw this video when it was originally posted on Facebook and my reaction was probably very similar to yours. I felt all warm and mushy and just loved it. Then I read some of the comments posted afterwards. The first few comments were: “Wonderful” “Beautiful” “What a great idea.” “Loved it.” Etc.
But later on I saw these comments: “Hope they had the sanitizer wipes nearby.” “Look at all the germs!” “Great way to spread colds and flu’s.”
Is it our human nature to take something so pure and innocent and transform them into something so negative? I truly think that comments like these, or when one mocks or belittles another, are based on the notion that “My life is more important than yours.” This is the basis for disrespecting, teasing or even bullying another just to make things in accordance with one’s self-centered way.
I think every once in a while we have to remind ourselves as the late great Zen Master, Shinryu Suzuki Roshi once said, “Never forget the beginner’s mind.” With the beginner’s mind, one is able to see that every life is equal and important. With the beginner’s mind, every thing is a first time and the last. But I think that with the beginner’s mind, we can realize that even though it is not OK, it is OK for it to be not OK. The beginner’s mind is able to see that each and every moment is special and unique.
One of the pleasures I had, as a father to 3 very small children, was to read to them before they went to sleep. I would cuddle in their bed, and depending upon how tired I was I would have them pick one to three books.
Almost every night they would pick the same exact books.
“Don’t you want to read something else?” I would ask.
“No, read these please,” they would emphatically answer.
I would repeat the ritual of reading the same books every night. Unfortunately, no matter how energetic I was at the start, I would get drowsy after a couple of pages from the first book because we read them so many times.
Since I read them over and over again, I already knew how the story would end. There were no surprise endings. But the boys enjoyed the repetition and corrected me if I skipped a word. Sometimes, if I was really sleepy, I would try to skip a couple of pages hoping to end this night time ritual quickly so that I could go to sleep in my own bed. But they would always catch me and make me read from the correct spot. Then I would get so drowsy that I would fall asleep while I was reading aloud and insert all kinds of words that wouldn’t make any sense.
For example: “Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham. Would you like them here or there? I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere. Not on a boat or gravy, Jellybeans go fast potatoes...”
That is when the kids would run and complain to their mother who was enjoying some precious moments of solitude free from the kids.
“Mom, Dad is falling asleep again and he didn’t finish reading to us!!!!”
She would come to their bedroom, tell me to go to bed and finish reading the stories.
As I reflect back upon that wonderful time, I realize that while I looked upon reading the same books for the umpteenth time with drudgery, the kids still looked upon them as if they were hearing the story for the very first time filled with wonder and awe. They were able to look upon these times as being the first and last.
As the Buddha taught Sariputra, “Everything has a beginning and end. Every moment is the first and the last.” No matter how much we may try to re-create an event or occasion we can’t. Similarly, no matter how many times we may do the same thing over and over again, it is different. Something will have changed, be it the time, the circumstance, or the environment. Nothing stays the same. Therefore it will always be a different moment.
I think we can see this in the actions of those kindergarteners greeting each other before they start their day in the classrooms. They are able to live life with the Beginner’s Mind. This is seen in the beautiful expression, ichigo ichie or everything has a beginning and an end, or every moment is the first and the last. But most importantly this is also expressed by the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu.
Rev. Dean Koyama