The beginner’s mind is not a baby’s mind which is still forming, taking in the immediate world around it and learning to communicate with it. The beginner’s mind is more like a vessel that is dirty. No matter what is poured into this dirty vessel; no matter how pure or nutritious it is, it becomes contaminated. Zen Buddhism, and with that, Buddhism, in general, cannot be poured into a mind fouled with delusion, hostility and desires that move contrary to the teachings of the Buddha.
The beginner’s mind is a mind that is defiled and contaminated by the conditioned world and its knowledge. It is also a closed, limited mind that has been programed by its culture to believe in materialism. Whatever the beginner has learned about Zen Buddhism chances are very good that it is wrong. As we might expect, the beginner’s mind needs a certain kind of medicine to heal it; a curative practice to change its course at least to the point where there is less delusion, less hostility and less desire which the Buddha calls the three poisons.
The proper curative practice should first begin with staying away from the various sources of contamination as much as possible; it means also to break old bad habits which open us up to contamination. For those of us who have served in the military and remember bootcamp, the proper curative practice begins with something akin to military bootcamp but differs in many other details since the aims are different. The practice begins with an emphasis on what could be describe as focusing on small details and being mindful, day in and day out, with no let up. It is also about, internally, observing our thoughts, our mental dialogue and images to see their arising, momentary persistence, and change; then their passing away. But there is even more besides this, much more. The beginner’s mind is no more capable of receiving the teachings of the Buddha than a little league baseball pitcher could pitch in the major leagues.