No-Form, No thought, No Mind

When we study a new art form we are given forms of movement and told to repeat them endlessly. Our teachers are vigilant and correct our form when we stray but a hair’s breadth.

In Search of Simplicity

As we advance we are given ever more complicated forms to practice, yet we see our teachers break their own rules, seeming to do exactly what we are berated for.

I see shades of Form and No-Form argument in the following passage from Takuan Soho.

The mind that becomes fixed and stops in one place does not function freely. Similarly, the wheels of a cart go around because they are not held rigidly in place. If they were to stick tight, they would not go around. The mind is also something that does not function if it becomes attached to a single situation. – Takuan Soho

One must know the correct form intimately, from the subtle angle of a finger to the large movements of the torso, before we can perceive where to lesson our grip on that form.

You cannot throw the pieces of a cart in a pile and expect to use it as a cart. It must follow the form…but not too rigidly or it becomes a model of a cart—not the real thing itself.

It is the same when we practice any art form, we copy the masters endlessly, searching for those subtitles that belay their importance, hidden many times by large flourishing strokes of the brush or pen.

In the martial arts the form alone is not effective in actual combat.

When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style. – Bruce Lee

In a passage from his novel “Musashi“, Eiji Yoshikawa wrote:

Yoshino told Musashi he was rigid and would lose any battle in that state. She cut open her lute to show him how it could produce such varying sounds with only four strings.

It had a central wooden piece that was held in place but not firmly.

“If the cross piece were as taut and unbending as you are, one stroke of the pick would break a string, perhaps even the sounding  board itself.”


Takuan Soho’s writing is infused with wit and multiple levels of meaning. In the following passage he discusses the ‘Mind of No-Mind’ motif.

The mind that thinks about removing what is within it will by the very act be occupied. If one will not think about it, the mind will remove these thoughts by itself and of itself become No-Mind.

If one always approaches the mind in this way, at a later date it will suddenly come to this condition by itself. If one tries to achieve this suddenly, it will never get there.

An old poem says:

To think, “I will not think”—
This, too, is something in one’s thoughts.
Simply do not think
About not thinking at all.

You have got to love that!

“N” is for No-Form, No-Thought, No-Mind

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4 thoughts on “No-Form, No thought, No Mind

  1. I have always hated this phrasing. As I see it, the meaning is that of a mind that has organized and habituated the majority of it’s own processes – specifically self-regulation. That is to say, a master in any trade knows all there is to know about that trade. Through years of experience, they’ve literally already seen and dealt with all possible events. Thus, responses to all possible situations that may come during the practice of that trade are habituated – ready. So they don’t have to really figure anything out when involved in the trade, there’s “no thought,” just reaction.

    Now, imagine a person who can perceive, feel, and control all that composes them; ranging from thoughts, emotions, body, everything that is not outside of themself. With that ability, this person would naturally organize themself into the most productive and efficient person possible, overcoming current problems and preparing for the future. (What they would determine to be the best state is a different subject.) “No mind,” may be that. A person who has so thoroughly come to understand themselves, who has consciously constructed and prepared themselves for all possible future events within, that the majority of their thoughts and actions are reactive.

    Now, I don’t think you could be that way to -everything-. Life throws new things at us all the time. But personal experience tells me this is applicable to a large percentage of life.

    • Frugality is more than the ability to slmipy do without a good (though sometimes it comes do that). It also encompasses the ability to make lesser goods or non-goods serve in place of more expensive goods.I actually do make use of old butter containers (along with other robust and resealable packaging), they are an excellent way of letting one acquire things in bulk and yet have them ready at hand in conveniently sized (and sealed) containers. It also helps provide an alternative to putting opened cans in the refrigerator (which is bad for the food in them).A frugal life can be quite abundant if one’s frugality is actual foresight and wisdom combined with a bit of clever adaptability.Of course, having a great supply of money confers more social status (it is possible to buy most people’s affection with money, less easy to buy it with wisdom, which requires some intelligence and humility to perceive). Or at least, having a lot of money confers social status until everyone realizes that it is just colored paper printed out by criminals to suit their own agenda of robbing everyone else.Then, having a great pile of money makes you look like a fool or a crook. Probably both. And frugality, particularly by choice, becomes the mark of a person worthy of respect.Soon enough, those that know only how to “make money” will realize that it is not a worthwhile skill to have, it was never a worthwhile skill. Being able to “make money” rather than use one’s labor and intelligence to increase the utility of actual objects all comes down to one form or another of counterfeiting. Too many people making money and too few people making the goods that money is supposed to buy is exactly why the entire system is about to come down.Chiu Chun-Ling.

  2. Nice post. It reminds me of a saying I have heard attributed to jazz innovator/master Charlie Parker regarding the creative process. Something like “first you have to learn all of the scales/chords and then you have to forget about them and just play.”

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