Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Beginner’s Mind or Is it Difficult to Say: “I Don’t Know”?

Do you remember your childhood? Do you remember your own “One million Hows, two million Wheres, and seven million Whys”? Was it awful or difficult to say: “I don’t know”? Surely it was not. You just wanted to know something new.
 The entire world is the Wonderland for a child.

When we begin studying the photography it’s the Wonderland for us too, we are frank, free and inquisitive.  We are not confused to say that we don’t know or don’t understand something. But as we progress, it’s getting more difficult to demonstrate that we can’t understand something. And we are not as open as we were recently. Why? We are not the beginners anymore.


Meanwhile in Zen Buddhism there’s a concept called the “beginner’s mind”. To quote Wikipedia: “It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would”.
Let me remind you a story. A university professor went to see a Zen Buddha master to inquire about Zen. The professor asked if he could tell the master what he already knows about religion and Zen. He began to give some wearisome facts while the master was making tea. The master started to pour tea into a cup. The professor continued to talk. The cup overflowed and the tea started to run down the table and onto the professor’s leg… The professor couldn’t restrain himself: "What are you doing? The cup is overfull! No more will go in!" The master answered: "Yes. Like this cup you are full – with your own speculations and opinions. Until your cup is empty, there is no more room for anything new”.

The beginner's mind is the idea of approaching things without prejudice.
As we learn we get caught in pitfalls and our beginner’s mind is lost.

The first problem is the vast amount of excess information nowadays. If we think logical, more information on a subject should make it easier. But information may be wrong or may represent only one perspective from an infinite amount of possible perspectives. Sometimes photographers have completely different viewpoints about what is important and about what is right. For example you heard that “Canon is obviously better than Nikon” as many times as you heard that “Nikon is obviously better than Canon”. You heard that you need only natural light as often as you heard that you need a flash. You heard that you are a computer man not a photographer if you use Photoshop as often as you heard that you are not a photographer without a Photoshop.
 Nobody is right or wrong. Each one of the suggestions is simply a reflection of somebody’s own concept of the photography. It’s up to us to take suggestions and figure out what to incorporate into our own philosophy of photography.

The second problem is an evaporation of mystery.
Think about the first time you watched a great photograph. How did you feel? We call photography the art and it’s a bit a mystery. It conveys emotions. It captures a moment. It removes us to another world. As we study the photography, we tend to lose this flare. The magic disappears and the analytical mind is left. Our beginner’s mind is gone, we become “all-knowing” guys with our “full cups”.

Is it possible to know everything? The Latin phrase “scio me nihil scire” is translated as “I know that I know nothing” and is attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates. However the well-known translation misses the point of the statement which should be translated as “I know that I don’t know”. “The author is not saying that he does not know anything but means instead that one cannot know anything with absolute certainty but can feel confident about certain things” (Michael Stokes: “Apology of Socrates”).

To quote Shunryu Suzuki:  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”.
 No matter how far we get, there are new and exciting things to learn. No matter how advanced you think you are, returning to a beginner’s mind will open your mind. You might wish to empty your cup :)
A Universe of possibilities awaits you!

Thank you for reading!

Feel free to comment.