Beginner’s Mind

In the course of my endeavors at learning the Martial Arts, I had not encountered the term [[Shoshin]] until I started learning [[Aikido]].

In Aikido (and as I learnt in all walks of life), it is a greatly coveted state of mind. An old Zen saying goes like this:

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.


so I thought a lot about this, and learnt more about it from experience. Indeed! Once you have "mastered" a field, what other possibilities exist in for you in that field?


My Tai Chi teacher often quotes his Master and says —

"Tai Chi is a University I never want to graduate from. For if I think I know something, I stop learning"

So in the field of limitless possibilities (life), we must strive to keep ourselves from becoming "experts". I have my own Tai Chi practice as an example. Back in 2002, I started learning Tai Chi from DVDs (learning the Yang Style 24-form) and thought I knew something about this exquisite system only after a few months..since I was getting better at it with practice. So in 2003 when I met my Teacher for the first time, I had a very "bad" attitude (don't know if it showed because he never made feel that I was being an arrogant fool in those initial encounters). I felt I "knew" something about Tai Chi because I'd learnt those 24 forms.

So I started learning and then decided I knew enough and stopped. Until it dawned on me one day that I didn't really know that much (as one practices, the absurdity of "Mastery" becomes more and more evident…at first subtly and then with a vengeance). So I went back to my Teacher. And learnt again for a longer duration. Then again I felt I had "learnt" the Art. And again after some time had elapsed I realized I hadn't. So the third time I went back to my teacher, I went with the humility and hunger to learn that I should have had right from the beginning. And then I really started learning. But it is a constant struggle — having to remind oneself that what we know is but the tip of the iceberg and those who have gone before us, and dedicated a large portion of their lives at it know so much more than we do.

Eventually it dawned on me (also with the gentle guidance from my teacher) that learning Tai Chi is like riding the waves in an infinite ocean. There are crests and there are troughs. My teacher says that the crests get getting higher and the troughs keep getting deeper.

When I look back, after my first year of serious learning, just about the time when I felt comfortable with what I did, there was a "phase shift" and suddenly things that seemed so obvious to me became confusing. Tai Chi is learnt in phases —

a) The physical aspect — Alignments, positioning, forms

b) The energetic aspect — how different forms affect the flow of energy in different ways

c) the spiritual aspect — how integrating the physical and the energetic brings forth spiritual development.

So the physical alignments and forms learnt, I had just about hit a sweet-spot when I realized the finer details to the physical alignments (and I till date keep discovering or re-discovering even finer details).
The energetic aspect of the forms dawned with the advent of a sense of tingling all over the body, spread over a large surface area. But then as practice progressed it was evident that the previous experience was superficial. "The cut runs deeper"…and finer. And this is an ongoing process — the crests do feel higher each time and the troughs deeper.

Isn't it the same case with Life as well. Just when you feel you have "mastered" an aspect of your life, an awkward twist in the tale makes you reconsider your opinion (vis-a-vis your mastery of that aspect thereof).

Isn't it better to go through life with all the humility and sincerity of the Beginner's mind?

That said, how many of those who even realize this fact actually live this way?

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