Zen Road
Zen Road
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Beginning mind

by Taisen Deshimaru


If shoshin, beginning mind, is not correct, every action will be in vain, devoid of authenticity.
- Eihei Dogen, the Gakudoyojinshu (“Applying the Mind to the Study of the Way”)


Master Tanken, a famous Tendai monk (711-782), was the first to say this. This point is the same in all of Buddhism: beginning mind is very important. If, at the beginning, you go in the wrong direction, if you run in the opposite direction, it is like getting on the wrong train: you cannot arrive safe and sound.

Why did you become a monk? I cannot understand why everyone wants to become a monk.


They shave their heads right away, and very quickly they let their hair grow back. Shaving sometimes becomes a kind of fad. Shaving your head is not a fad; it is the decision to become a monk, and it is an important commitment. Shaving your head, wearing the black kolomo and the kesa and doing zazen are not decorations for the dojo. Some people think that the kolomo and kesa are work clothes for zazen and sesshin. This is completely false.


It’s not easy to become a monk. “I want to be a master, that’s why I became a monk.” Such an attitude is erroneous. “I want to become a monk and continue zazen in order to find a pretty girl in the dojo.” That is completely false shoshin. Then, even if you come morning and evening, your zazen will not be effective at all. Beginning mind is more important than what comes later.


[Picture of Taisen Deshimaru walking with some disciples in the 1970s]

If you received the ordination with an incorrect beginning mind, you will make mistakes afterwards. If, later on, you understand deeply and correct yourself: ok. Then true beginning mind appears. If you receive the ordination and make mistakes, you are not a true monk. You are a fad monk, a surface monk, a diplomatic monk, a so-what monk…


And so shoshin is very important. If shoshin is wrong, all your actions are superficial, your whole life is shallow, you are a hollow monk. This means that you must take the right train, the right road, the right way. If you make a mistake, you will end up in danger.


Beginning mind when you receive the ordination, when you become a monk, is the inner revolution of the deep mind. It is to suddenly change from the ordinary world to the Zen world. In the ordinary world, making money by speculating on sugar is a success. But that has nothing to do with the monk world. It is better to lose money: then you become poor and afterwards you are a good monk.


For the social world, you seem like a complete failure. But in the monk world, it is better to be poor. Receiving the ordination is beginning mind, when we change quickly from the world of reality to the eternal world, without error. This is the real inner revolution.


Becoming a monk is like being at the wheel of a ship: you must always keep an eye on the direction. In a boat or in a car, the driver must constantly remain vigilant. Shoshin is very important. But it is not just the first days that count; you must maintain this beginning mind at every moment and over the course of months and years. Phenomena are always appearing. Everything changes. Everything is mujo. And so every day you must take care to maintain the exactness and correctness of shoshin.


Our life is not material. It has no form. And so it does not reside anywhere. It evolves freely, everywhere. It is not attached to a place or a time. It is an existence beyond time and space. This real life exists, but sometimes it does not exist. It is beyond our reasoning and our thinking. The material world, science, the intellect or the economy cannot grasp it. It is a world of a different dimension.


I always say that hishiryo is beyond thinking. It is your life. It is you. It is zazen. Your zazen does not allow for any language, only silence. It does not allow for any guessing, only faith – astonishment. It’s true.



Excerpts from L’enseignement oral, édition intégrale, vol. 4, le Gakudoyojinshu d’Eihei Dogen (“The Complete Oral Teaching, vol. 4: Eihei Dogen’s Gakudoyojinshu”), commentaries by Taisen Deshimaru, (Paris: AZI, 1986).


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