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

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

Is Ego the mind killer?

There is no more destructive but imperative construct to our existence than Ego. With too little of it we are like a washed out water colour painting, too much and then self destruction is  inevitable.

Don’t mistake modesty for a lack of ego either, some of the most outwardly modest people suffer the same malady.

Sir Hubert Wilkins the great polar explorer, ornithologist, pilot, soldier, geographer and photographer is a great example of this.  General Sir John Monash , on returning to Australia after WWI eulogised Wilkins as “The bravest man alive” at a large public gathering. He later received a message from Wilkins “begging him not to praise him publicly again.”

And Vilhjalmur Stefanson, a fellow polar explorer met With General Monash later and told the Australian papers:

Sir John Monash seems to agree with me that Wilkins is so aggressively modest that he carries it to a fault. It ought to be enough to hide your light under a bushel without threatening to knock anybody down who wants to take the bushel away.

I think Wilkins hid a large ego under that same bushel, and it is more likely that it was the escape of this ego that he feared more. Wilkins came close on several occasions to destruction, and causing the death of the men and women who served with him but in the end it may have been his strong caring nature that helped keep his ego under that bushel.

A little luck didn’t go astray either.

Ego in the martial arts has ruined many teachers. It seems that a large ego is a prerequisite to lead a dojo, it is especially to attractive to new students who seek a sensei/master/guru figure.

I have seen several sensei self destruct, believing to much of their own publicity and get summarily purged from their style’s national or international organisation. The ego must be held in check.

The first step must be awareness.

“E” is for Ego

Who was the 15th Dalai Lama?

My faourite quote from the 15th Dalai Lama is:

People object when coerced down a particular path, even if they know it is for the better. It is primeval; they feel trapped and cannot get passed this feeling. You have to make them want to go; make the lead so soft they forget it is there.

PS. FICTION WARINING!!!

The current Dalai Lama (the 14th one) trancends the idea of a religeous leader and is almost an architype to himself. I’m no longer surprised when I come across him as a character in fiction. This by no means denigrates His Holiness, it is because he has touched so many of our lives. The drawers at my writing desk are filled with his quotes and advice on little peices of paper or desk calendar tear offs:

“Sometimes we feel that one individual’s action is very insignificant.  Then we think, of course, that effects should come from channeling or from a unifying movement.  But the movement of the society, community or group of people means joining individuals.  Society means a collection of individuals, so that initiative must come from individuals.  Unless each individual develops a sense of responsibility, the whole community cannot move.  So therefore, it is essential that we should not feel that individual effort is meaningless- you should not feel that way.  We should make an effort.”— His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from ‘The Dalai Lama’s Book of Love and Compassion’, available from Snow Lion Publications.

This quote empowers the individual and comes to my mind whenever I hear people lament their “one” vote or slip into apathy. I keep it close.

The quote at the start of this blog appeared in a short Sci-Fi story I wrote entitled “Panacea” set around the middle of the twentyfirst century. In the story I needed to insert a spiritual element in an attempt to “softly lead” the readers mind to a particular conclusion that I left unsaid at the end of the story.

This fictional Dalai Lama (I remind you of this again) I once desribed to a writer friend as the 14th Dalai Lama on crack. He was less predictable than the 14th Dalai Lama. I felt that if His Holiness had any failing it was that he was so archetypal, so good, and therefore predictable and open to manipulation by subversive groups.

My 15th Dalai Lama never held a gun but he was militant and as Murakami wrote in his book 1Q84:

“Once a gun appears in a story, it will be shot and someone will die”.

D is for the “Dalai Lama”

The Cunningham Classic – one of Australia’s Spring Cycling Classics

I’m making lighter post today for day three of the April A to Z Challenge.

Saturday 6 August 2011 was the 29th annual Cunningham Classic but for me, only a three year cyclist it was my first. The race was held soon after Cadel Evans won his first Tour de France so it was hard not to get caught up in the  huge buzz of excitement about cycling in Australia.

The race, for all but the elite riders, was 96km from Gatton to Warwick in Southern Queensland. The main climb looks hard on the profile but it is only the last few kilometers that hurt.

Cyclists are split into two main groups by their physiology; either sprinters or climbers. I’m definitely more of a sprinter so I was not entertaining any aspriations of wining the King of the Mountain (KOM) jersey.  Professional riders all talk about riding through the pain and that the climbs don’t hurt them any less than us mere mortals, it’s just that they can go faster.

The race started at a slow pace and it was only some hard words from my teammates that stopped me from attacking even though we had 70km to go. My team had set a goal for me to be about fifth wheel coming in to the last km as that would be the best position heading in to the final sprint.

In hindsight I may have been better off attacking and racing 70km solo.

So I did as I was told and stayed in the pack. Eventually the pace increased to what you would expect in a race and when we hit the climb all of those vying for the KOM jersey were up the front while I just wanted to stay close enough that I could make contact again once the road leveled off. I was keeping pace with most of the riders until someone passed me on the outside. I dug in and got on to his wheel. It hurt and kept hurting but something clicked and I was able to stay with him right to the top.

So now I was about 5 minutes behind the lead group. No one left with me looked like trying to catch them so just put my head down and rode as hard as I could. There were about twenty riders on my wheel the first time I looked around but about twenty minutes later when I finally caught up with the lead group there was only two left. “Now for a rest,” I thought and sat in the middle of the pack. Eventually a few of us took turns at the front and a rider in red told me that there was someone who had broken away and we had to try and catch them. Later we found out that he was in the C grade race behind us so we had no need to chase him down.

This “red guy” kept the pressure on though and I was doing a little too much work on the front, while the other “smarter” sprinters sat in the pack.

About three kilometers from the finish the speed increased and the lead group was suddenly down to just six riders with me on the back; I had achieved my team objective – now I had to win it. One km out we hit a slight rise and everyone got out of the saddle; the sprint had started. The rider in front of me, “red guy”, was slow to start and a gap of two lengths had opened up in front of him. I was about to go around him when he jumped out of the saddle and accelerated. I was pretty tired already so I slipped back into his slipstream and was right on his wheel; there was at most a few inches between us – the perfect spot to slipstream.

Except at that instant he “sat up” (that’s cyclist jargon for giving up) and as we were on a slight rise it was as though he’d put on the brakes and my front wheel clipped his rear wheel and my bike was pulled out from underneath me.

I’ve been training in the martial arts for over twenty years so I naturally tucked my head in and “rolled” forward. Seemed like a good idea at the time and there was not a scratch to my helmet but this type of roll is not meant to be performed at 45km per hour. I hit the bitumen shoulder first and tumbled over and over, while “red guy” rode off, probably unaware what had happened.

The Cunningham Classic is superbly organised and every lead group of riders had a medical and support car following them so I had an off duty Ambulance officer at my side within seconds.

My left leg, hip, arm and shoulder were cut and blood was flowing freely from a gash on my left knee. They gave me one of  those pain relief whistles, where you breath in on them to be administered pain relief and, boy, did I need it. X-rays at Warwick hospital confirmed that I had completely snapped my collarbone and would need surgery to put a titanium plate on it.

I was a bit vague about “red guy”s race number but I’ll never trust a rider in red again! Ouch! And no I don’t have a zipper on my spine, I wouldn’t let them cut off my jersey until there was no alternative, and they took the x-ray with it still on.

Thanks to Upperlimb.com (the race sponsors…mmm) for putting me back together.

I was off the bike for three months and still not back to the fitness, or the weight, I was last year but:

“Bring on the 2012 Cunningham Classic” – I have unfinished business!

“C” is for the Cunningham Classic

The first 95 kilometres of the 2011 Cunningham Classic was so much fun, my best riding to that date…

the next 10m,,, not so much fun!