Filed in Community, Zen (Chan)

Cultivating Beginner's Mind

Yvonne Rand offers two practices for bringing us into the Buddha space of Beginner's Mind.

Yvonne Rand

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Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a poem called “Please Call Me By My True Names.” There is one verse of the poem that, one day, under trying circumstances, leapt off the wall where I had hung the poem. This verse expresses in another way the practice of taking on more than one point of view:

I am the twelve-year-old girl refugee on a
Small boat who throws herself into the ocean
After being raped by a sea pirate
And I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable
Of seeing and loving.

My tendency is to take the point of view of the twelve-year-old girl. It is much more difficult for me to be the sea pirate.

When I was in India recently, I had an experience with a rickshaw driver. I decided that I wanted to spend my last day at the memorial site for Gandhi, in old Delhi. I stayed until it was dusk and then discovered that there were no taxis. I had no idea how I would get back to my guesthouse. After standing and waiting for a motor taxi for a long time, it became clear to me that I would ride in a bicycle rickshaw or nothing. I was frightened, but I decided to take my chances.

The previous evening, I had stayed up rather late talking to the bookkeeper at the YWCA guesthouse. He was Indian and he wanted to know how I liked India. We talked about some of my encounters with taxi drivers, because they had sometimes been unpleasant. He talked to me about the life of a taxi driver. In all instances, he said, these drivers have expenses they have to meet—for example, payments to the owner of the vehicle—whether they get enough fares in a day or not. He helped me to see the perspective of a taxi driver in Delhi, who saw me as a Westerner, a lone woman; I became fair game. And if I was unaware enough to pay ten times the usual fare, it was all right.

I had, up to the time of this conversation, felt angry at taxi drivers who would try to charge me three or five or ten times the usual fare. The conversation came up for me that evening as I was sitting in the bicycle rickshaw feeling uncomfortable being the passenger, while a young, apparently healthy but certainly thin young man peddled us along. I felt frightened, but I realized also that I might be in the rickshaw at most for an hour. The driver was spending long hours every day, perhaps for his lifetime, in this situation, wending his way among trucks and buses and cars.

When the driver and I discussed how much he wanted, and how much I wanted to pay, I could enter into a discussion with a stance from which we could come to some meeting point and some respect for each other, and then continue on our respective ways.

What I am suggesting is that when you find yourself in a situation, especially a situation which you will be in for a while, take on the point of view of another being in that situation. If you are working in the garden taking care of tender new plants that snails love, you might be a snail. A friend recently described doing hospice work, sitting in a hospital room with someone who is sick, with the family and friends there, and a television set turned on but with no one watching it. She sometimes takes on the point of view of the television set. And she can see all these people, all these things happening. And she can be there, quietly, with no one noticing her.

Please try these practices and see what happens.

Reprinted and adapted from Wind Bell: Teachings from the San Francisco Zen Center 1968-2001, edited by Michael Wenger © 2002 by San Francisco Zen Center. Reprinted with permission of the San Francisco Zen Center.

Yvonne Rand began her Zen studies with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1966. She has a special interest in Right Speech and is writing a book on language practices as a path. A mother and gardener, she is the resident teacher at Goat-in-the-road, in Marin County, California.

Image: © Hulton Archive

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