Few years ago my Zen Master Yangil Sunim asked me to study this obscure Zen saying:
“Cultivate a – don’t know mind – and everything becomes clear as a blue sky”
Then he added: “Don’t know mind opens the door to serenity and tolerance. It is the foundation of Zen practice. Work on this”
Zen loves to challenge us all the time with those enigmatic sentences.
“Don’t know mind “ goes totally against our Western education and the expectation of our society for the following 3 reasons:
- Since our young age knowledge, more knowledge, and more and more knowledge is expected from us.
- This “I don’t know” attitude or response is less and less acceptable because of the endless source of information made available from the search engines.
- We don’t want to look stupid, ignorant or disinterested. If I say, “I don’t know” many will ask, “You don’t know? Really? I thought you knew!” or ”You should know”
Because of this enduring knowledge pressure we are looking for more information, more facts, more proof, more understanding about zillion of things. This is the Google syndrome: growing anxiety, confusion and stubbornness from information and knowledge overload. Is there an end to this knowledge frenzy search? Never because knowledge is, like desires endless and change all the time. We can never be satisfied with what we have learned and we want more and more knowledge either by necessity, to feel smarter or to be in control.
Our little mind also called ego mind is behind this hysteric knowledge quest. Our ego wants to accumulate ideas, opinions, beliefs, concepts so we can analyze, understand, compare, judge, make decisions and be able to maintain a social conversation.
There is nothing wrong with this approach. But such endless knowledge quest and its results may make us more confused, more frustrated and more opinionated than before the search. Our rigid opinions and values can incarcerate our thinking, prevent our quest toward inner serenity and promote our intolerance toward others.
What is a “don’t know mind”?
Zen teaches us to let go our addictive preoccupation to accumulate opinions, beliefs and judgments unless absolutely requested to make decisions. Zen is asking us to embrace an attitude of “don’t know mind”.
This “don’t know mind” does not mean stupidity, laziness, confusion or rudeness. It is is simply an open and receptive mind; a mind not paralyzed by too many preconceived opinions, ideas, beliefs and value judgments.
A “don’t know mind” is like a beginner mind or a baby mind open to everything. It can easily be achieved by freezing, questioning, doubting our opinions and valued judgment once a while. This receptive, not-sure mind opens the door to our intuitions and awakening.
“Don’t know mind” is also associated to a so-called mirror mind since it will reflect things as they are without preconceived attachments. On the contrary a “Know it all mind” is full, frozen and almost hermetic to everything new with little room for progress, tolerance and serenity.
Through the process of “unknowing” or “de-knowing” you will discover the real knower that is your inner self.
Thoughts to contemplate:
Are your opinions and values obscuring your intuitive insight into your current situations? Stop having automatic preconceived opinions or judgments on everything including people unless you are sure that such opinion will succeed in changing them. With this open mind the clouds of confusion and frustration will dissipate and your intuitions to what to do will become obvious.
Consider your most cherished opinions about life, death, love, God, no God, maybe God, friendship, intelligence, lover, spouse, boss, consciousness, mind, big bang, freedom, etc. Do you really know your opinions to be true? Maybe, maybe not. Contemplate them and reassess. We are surrounded by incomprehensible mysteries. Instead of filling the void with many opinions, we should be more courageous to accept and live with our ignorance.
This attitude goes directly against our ego but for Zen, having ideas or accumulating knowledge from reading millions of books and spending nights after nights on the Internet will never achieve serenity and wisdom. Wisdom is simply to be mindful moment to moment and dealing with things one at a time as they are. Experiencing awakening is simply experiencing what is real and differentiating reality from illusion.
Thank you. Ven. Ji Gong Sunim Nov. 2015.