What would Takuan Soho tell Mark Cavendish?

A letter by Takuan Soho(1573-1645) to Mark Cavendish, pro tour cyclist, winner 15 Tour de France stages

Although you see the rider that moves to pass you, if your mind is not detained by him and you meet the rhythm of the advancing bike; if you do not think of blocking your opponent and no thoughts or judgements remain; if the instant you see the moving bike your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the lead from him; the line that he was going to use will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the line that defeats your opponent.

Adapted from the letter by Takuan SohoThe Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom” to Yagyu Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship.

What is Immovable Wisdom?

As with many terms used in Zen and the martial arts, Immovable wisdom is often misinterpreted to have a mind that does not move, when it is almost the exact opposite; it does not stop, or is not stopped. This state is sometimes described in Japanese as Fudoshin, Immovable Mind, and many physical tests for it have been developed for Aikido (and other disciplines) examinations.

Fudoshin - Wallpapers on the web

Early in their study students will misinterpret this “test” and will become hard like wood or stone…and fail. Instead they must learn not to allow their mind to be moved, or caught, by the examiner. The mind must become like still water; not “caught” by the hook as it passes through.

…the mind that does not stop at all is called Immovable Wisdom. – Takuan Soho

Takuan Soho, in a letter to the Samurai Yagyū Munenori, wrote of  “Immovable Wisdom” and how a person near enlightenment was capable of controlling a thousand arms, their mind not stopping at any particular one. He goes on to say that …one who understands this is no different from the Kannon with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes.

…the ordinary man simply believes that it is blessed because of its 1000 arms. The man of half-baked wisdom, wondering how anybody could have 1000 eyes, calls it a lie and gives in to slander. But if one understands a little better, they will have a respectful belief based on principle and will not need the simple faith of the ordinary man, or the slander of the other, and they will understand that Buddhism, with this one thing manifests its principle well.

he goes on…

All religions are like this… The ordinary man thinks only on the surface, the man who attacks… is even worse. This religion, that religion, there are various kinds but at their deepest points they are settled in the one conclusion.

“I” is for Immovable Wisdom

Humanity, how do we ensure the survival of our species?

It’s to dangerous to keep the consciousness of the universe on only one planet, it could be wiped out… Sax Russell, from Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Red Mars

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is top of my “Recommended Reads” list and I am featuring it and an authorial review on day M of the A to Z April Challenge (14 April).

In the first volume, Red Mars, Sax Russell, a scientist and one of the first 100 people on Mars has a long and thought-provoking monologue that I found life changing. I’ve included just an excerpt of it in this post; it was in response to Anne Clayborne’s case for leaving Mars as it is – too beautiful to risk loosing.

The beauty of Mars exists in the Human mind , … Without the human presence it is just a concentration of atoms, no different from any other random speck of matter in the universe.

It’s we who understand it, and we who give it meaning…

But science is more than that. Science is part of a larger human enterprise, and that enterprise includes going to the stars, adapting to other planets, adapting them to us. Science is creation. The lack of life here [on Mars] and th lack of any findings in 50 years of SETI indicates that life is rare, and intelligent life even rarer.

And yet the whole meaning of the universe, its beauty, is contained in the consciousness of intelligent life. We are the consciousness of the universe, and our job is to spread tha around, to go look at things, to live everywhere we can. It’s too dangerous to keep the consciousness of the universe on only one planet, it could be wiped out…

We can transform Mars and build a cathedral,  as a monument to humanity and the universe both!

This is more “one hand clapping” stuff I know but read in its entirety, and using the terraforming of Mars as a literary example, it makes a compelling argument, and one wonders why this argument is brushed aside by our nations’ leaders.

“H” is for Humanity

The Bureau of the Five-Grain Transmigration – from A Journey to the West

A Journey to the West is one of the four great Clasics of Chinese literature and was written in the sixteenth centuury by Wu Cheng’en. In the west it is better known by as “Monkey” because of the 1960’s cult television series of that name.

A scene of Journey to the West

A scene of Journey to the West (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It tells the story of the pilrimage of the buddist monk Xuangzang. In this excerpt the character Pilgrim (aka the Handsome Monkey King) is called by the derogatoryly term pi-ma-wen, by “Idiot” (aka. Piggy).

“Just now when we entered the hall,” Pilgrim said, “I chanced to notice a little door on our right. Judging from the foul stench coming through it, I think it must be a Bureau of Five-Grain Transmigration. Send them in there.”

Idiot, in truth, was rather good at crude labour! He leaped down, threw the three statues over his shoulder, and carried them out of the hall. When he kicked open the door, he found a huge privy inside. Chuckling to himself he said, “This pi-ma-wen truly has a way with words! He even bestows on a privy a sacred title! The Bureau of Five-Grain Transmigration. What a name!” Yu, A.C. 1977, The Journey to the West Volume II Pg. 315. (Translation of)

An illustration of Zhū Bājiè

It seems as though even the classics can’t let a good peice of toilety humour pass them by.

“F” is for the bureau of Five-Grain Transmigration

What is the Beginner’s Mind?

The beginner is blissfully unaware of the pitfalls of this form or that; and so their mind does not stop and they move in a natural way. Unfortunately this beginner’s mind slips from our grasp no matter how much we try to hold on to it and may take years of diligent practice achieve, and for many it is never achieved again.

This could be why many people flitter from one thing to another; at first enthralled by their own extraordinary ability and then blaming one teacher after another for its loss.

When one practices discipline and moves from the beginner’s territory to immovable wisdom, one makes a return and falls back to the level of the beginner. -Takuan Soho

When you study an art, be it martial or otherwise, you are taught diverse ways to move and act; how to hold the sword, racket, bat, or paint brush, and where to put your mind and therefore it stops in many places. Then when you move you are extraordinarily discomforted. After many months and years of training and practice one’s posture or the clinical manner of holding this or that do not weigh heavily on your mind and the mind no longer stops and becomes as it was at the beginning; when you knew nothing and had yet to be taught.

The beginning therefore is the same as the end and is also known as the state of No-Thought-No-Mind. More on that on another day.

Again, we can 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. -Takuan Soho

The mind does not stop he simply meets the attack without anything in mind

“B” is for the Beginner’s Mind

A is for “A Fettered Mind”

Hiroshima Dome:

We’re all fettered by something, not least of which is our biological “gilded cage”.

Anyone who has had more than a passing interest in either the martial arts or zen would recognise that “A Fettered Mind” stems from Takuan Soho’s book The Unfettered Mind – Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master. But things for me are always more organic than just lifting a title from someone else’s imagination.

It was somewhere in the 2000’s that my writing focused switched from technical articles, mostly related to Spatial Science (my day job) and the martial arts experience particularly Aikido and Ki, towards more creative writing. My grandfather was an officer in the Second Australian Infantry Forces and served in a non-combat role in Europe,ack home in Australia, and later in East Asia. My mother was born after he enlisted but by the time the war had ended five years later he had not been home to see her. Rather than return home to his family though he chose to volunteer for the British Commonwealth Occupational Force (BCOF) in Japan. Most of this I discovered shortly after his death.

Why would a man I knew to be good and kind abandon his family?

It was a question I had failed to answer through research so I decided that I would literally solve it myself. At first this project wa entitled “Tex” the name he was known by, having been born in the small town of Texas, Queensland, Australia. Late one evening while researching the novel Takuan’s “The Unfetered Mind” fell onto my writing desk from the bookshelf.

“Now that is one saying I can’t use to describe you Tex,” I said into the darkness.

I browsed straight to my project and entitled it “A Fettered Mind”.

A is for “A Fettered Mind”

I have uploaded the short story Hanami, which is based on my grandfather Tex’s service with he peace keeping forces in Japan.