Thursday, February 10, 2011

From the Monk to the Master

The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom (不動智神妙録, fudōchishinmyōroku) was a letter written to Yagyū Munenori by the Japanese Buddhist monk Takuan Sōhō. In it, Takuan attempts to adapt Zen teachings to the art of the sword. According to the modern translator William Scott Wilson, “one could say that fudōchishinmyōroku deals not only with technique, but with how the self is related to the Self during confrontation and how an individual may become a unified whole.”

Takuan Sōhō was a Zen monk, calligrapher, painter, poet, gardener, tea master and, perhaps, inventor of the pickle that even today retains his name. His writings were prodigious (the collected works fill six volumes), and are a source of guidance and inspiration to the Japanese people today, as they have been for three and a half centuries.”

Takuan influenced both Munenori and Musashi, and his teachings are reflected in both Book of Family Traditions and Book of Five Rings. In The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom, Takuan begins by explaining the importance of No-Mind-No-Thought. Per Wilson,

Again, we speak with reference to your own martial art. As the beginner knows nothing about either his body posture or the positioning of his sword, neither does his mind stop anywhere within him. If a man strikes at him with the sword, he simply meets the attack without anything in mind.

As he studies various things and is taught the diverse ways of how to take a stance, the manner of grasping his sword and where to put his mind, his mind stops in many places. Now if he wants to strike at an opponent, he is extraordinarily discomforted. Later, as days pass and time piles up, in accordance with his practice, neither the postures of his body, nor the ways of grasping the sword are weighed in his mind. His mind simply becomes as it was in the beginning when he knew nothing and had yet to be taught anything at all.

In this one sees the sense of the beginning being the same as the end, as when one counts from one to ten, and the first and last numbers become adjacent.

In other things – musical pitch, for example, when one moves from the beginning lowest pitch to the final highest pitch – the lowest and highest become adjacent.

We say that the highest and the lowest come to resemble each other. Buddhism, when you reach its very depths, is like the man who knows nothing of Buddha or the Buddhist law. It has neither adornment nor anything else which would draw men's attention to it.

The ignorance and afflictions of the beginning, abiding place and the immovable wisdom that comes later becomes one. The function of the intellect disappears, and one ends in a state of No-Mind-No-Thought. If one reaches the deepest point, arms, legs, and body remember what to do, but the mind does not enter into this at all.

The Buddhist priest Bukkoku wrote:

Although it does not
mindfully keep guard,
in the small mountain fields
the scarecrow
does not stand in vain.

Everything is like this.”

Takuan believed that only by keeping the mind from stopping in any one place could the swordsman act with the spontaneity and freedom of the beginner. But he also emphasized the importance of rigorous training, saying, "If you do not train in technique, but only fill your breast with principle, your body and your hands will not function."

Train the techniques. Repetition is the mother of skill. But in your training, seek what Takuan called No-Mind-No-Thought.

"If one reaches the deepest point, arms, legs, and body remember what to do, but the mind does not enter into this at all."

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