Etymology: A combination of two Japanese characters: sho (“initial”) and shin (“mind”). Meaning: For Zen Buddhists, the word shoshin (which in secular parlance means “innocence” or “inexperience”) refers to a beginner’s mind—a state of openness and wonder that allows a person to approach life unfettered by the preconceptions, biases or habits associated with knowledge and experience. Maintaining this condition through practices such as meditation is an essential step toward enlightenment. The paradox of enlightenment is that a person cannot attain it if they seek to do so. Unlike Western philosophers like Descartes and Rawls, who cleared their minds of assumptions in an explicit effort to gain deeper insight, Zen practitioners strive toward shoshin for its own sake, not as a tool to achieve something greater; they reject personal ambition and the trappings of intellectualism. That’s not to say that shoshin equates to an embrace of ignorance: Rather, a beginner’s mind is ready for and open to new ideas. Use: The word is used throughout Buddhist philosophy, but is particularly common in the Zen tradition, notably in the writing of Dōgen Zenji, founder of Japan’s Sōtō school of Zen in the 13th century. Its global usage today is attributed to another Sōtō monk, Shunryū Suzuki, who popularized Zen in California in the 1960s. The simplicity and clarity of his teachings struck a chord with many Americans and are neatly illustrated by the opening line of his seminal anthology Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Zen’s popularity continues unabated, with echoes of shoshin in the ubiquitous mindfulness movement and the “disruptive” thinking of the tech industry. Steve Jobs was a Zen devotee; some argue that the intuitive nature of Apple devices and its early slogan, “Think Different,” revealed his interest in shoshin. You might suggest that this commercial application of Buddhist philosophy appears to embrace the letter, rather than the spirit, of Zen—but that would reveal a failure to abandon your preconceptions. "The paradox of enlightenment is that a person cannot attain it if they seek to do so" TwitterFacebookPinterest "The paradox of enlightenment is that a person cannot attain it if they seek to do so" This story is from Kinfolk Issue Twenty-Three Buy Now Related Stories Arts & Culture Issue 19 Going Incognito We all secretly wonder what mischief we’d make if invisible: When our identity is hidden, everything seems possible. Arts & Culture Issue 19 The Best Policy Sometimes we talk to each other without feeling heard. Honesty—a most intimate interaction—can be just as thrilling as its more devious inverse. Arts & Culture Issue 19 A Sense of Suspense With unhinged imaginations and mountains of cliff-hangers, the filmmakers behind the sci-fi podcast Limetown have all the makings of a scary story. Arts & Culture Issue 19 Like Clockwork In this new column about time, we learn how slipping off our watches makes us feel like deadline-damning renegades. Interiors Issue 19 Prankster’s Paradise Is the nine-to-five grind approaching monotony? Arrive at the office early to even the playing field and invoke mirth for your co-workers. Arts & Culture Music Issue 19 On a Grander Scale Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna now may live on the opposite side of the globe, but she’s determined to evolve while staying true to her roots.