Thoughts have a power all of their own. Any thought we hold too tightly, or keep too close to our hearts, can have a detrimental effect on our lives. A thought can become an obsession. For example, a thought that our partner is having an affair develops in our mind, and we filter all of their actions through it, searching for evidence however small. This small thought could develop into an obsession and jealousy and mistrust begins to taint every moment of our lives. Eventually we will see things that are not actually there and over time this will strangle the relationship like weeds in an untended garden.
We should strive to regularly empty our minds lest a thought achieves a foothold that cannot be overcome. Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a Japanese Zen Master and Philosopher from the 1600’s, provided similar advice to his contemporaries whether they were the Shogun, Master Swordsmen, fellow monks or lay members of his community. In a translation of his writings The Unfettered Mind by William Scott Wilson, he said:
If your mind leans in the direction of these thoughts, though you listen, you will not hear; and though you look, you will not see. This is because there is something in your mind. What is there is thought. If you are able to remove this thing…your mind will become No-Mind, it will function when needed, and it will be appropriate to its use.
Unfortunately achieving this state of No-Mind is difficult if not practised regularly. We must make this state, even for a heartbeat, part of our daily lives. But again Takuan warns that this too is a thought: “…the mind that thinks about removing what is in it will, by the very act, be occupied.” He wrote a short poem to help us, and four hundred years later it rings as true as the day he wrote it:
To think, “I will not think.”-
This, too, is something in one’s thoughts.
Simply do not think
about not thinking at all.
Takuan Soho (1573-1645) was a prelate of the Rinsai Sect of Zen, well remembered for his strength of character and acerbic wit; and he was also a gardener, poet, tea master, prolific author and a pivital figure in Zen painting and calligraphy (William Scott Wilson – The Unfettered Mind, 1986).