The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman [NOOK Book]


The Japanese have always closely associated the sword and the spirit, but it was in the 1600s during the Tokugawa shogunate when the techniques of swordsmanship became forever associated with the spirit of Zen. The Unfettered Mind is a book of advice on swordsmanship and the cultivation of right mind and intention, written by the 17th-century Zen master Takuan Soho (1573-1645). Takuan was a gardener, calligrapher, poet, author, adviser to samurai and shoguns, and a pivotal figure in Zen painting. He was also ...

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The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman

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The Japanese have always closely associated the sword and the spirit, but it was in the 1600s during the Tokugawa shogunate when the techniques of swordsmanship became forever associated with the spirit of Zen. The Unfettered Mind is a book of advice on swordsmanship and the cultivation of right mind and intention, written by the 17th-century Zen master Takuan Soho (1573-1645). Takuan was a gardener, calligrapher, poet, author, adviser to samurai and shoguns, and a pivotal figure in Zen painting. He was also known for his brilliance and acerbic wit. The succinct and pointed essays in this book were written to the samurai Yagyu Munenori, who was a great swordsman and rival to the legendary Miyamoto Musashi.

In these writings Soho is concerned primarily with understanding and refining the mind—both generally and when faced with conflict. Soho illuminates the difference between the right mind and the confused mind, the nature of right-mindedness, and what makes life precious. First published in 1988, this book is considered a true classic that influenced the direction that the art of Japanese swordsmanship has taken since.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780834827899
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 310,713
  • File size: 984 KB

Meet the Author

William Scott Wilson is the foremost translator into English of traditional Japanese texts on samurai culture. His best-selling translations include Hagakure and The Book of Five Rings.
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Read an Excerpt

The Affliction of Abiding in Ignorance
The term ignorance means the absence of enlightenment. Which is to say, delusion.
Abiding place means the place where the mind stops.
In the practice of Buddhism, there are said to be fifty-two stages, and within these fifty-two, the place where the mind stops at one thing is called the abiding place. Abiding signifies stopping, and stopping means the mind is being detained by some matter, which may be any matter at all.
To speak in terms of your own martial art, when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent. This is what stopping means.
Although you see the sword that moves to strike you, if your mind is not detained by it and you meet the rhythm of the advancing sword; if you do not think of striking your opponent and no thoughts or judgments remain; if the instant you see the swinging sword your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the sword away from him; the sword that was going to cut you down will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the sword that cuts down your opponent.
In Zen this is called "Grabbing the spear and, contrariwise, piercing the man who had come to pierce you." The spear is a weapon. The heart of this is that the sword you wrest from your adversary becomes the sword that cuts him down. This is what you, in your style, call "No-Sword."
Whether by the strike of the enemy or your own thrust, whether by the man who strikes or the sword that strikes, whether by position or rhythm, if your mind is diverted in any way, your actions will falter, and this can mean that you will be cut down.
If you place yourself before your opponent, your mind will be taken by him. You should not place your mind within yourself. Bracing the mind in the body is something done only at the inception of training, when one is a beginner.
The mind can be taken by the sword. If you put your mind in the rhythm of the contest, your mind can be taken by that as well. If you place your mind in your own sword, your mind can be taken by your own sword. Your mind stopping at any of these places, you become an empty shell. You surely recall such situations yourself. They can be said to apply to Buddhism.
In Buddhism, we call this stopping of the mind delusion. Thus we say, "The affliction of abiding in ignorance."

The Immovable Wisdom of all Buddhas
Immovable means unmoving.

Wisdom means the wisdom of intelligence.
Although wisdom is called immovable, this does not signify any insentient thing, like wood or stone. It moves as the mind is wont to move: forward or back, to the left, to the right, in the ten directions and to the eight points; and the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.
Fudo Myoo grasps a sword in his right hand and holds a rope in his left hand. He bares his teeth and his eyes flash with anger. His form stands firmly, ready to defeat the evil spirits that would obstruct the Buddhist Law. This is not hidden in any country anywhere. His form is made in the shape of a protector of Buddhism, while his embodiment is that of immovable wisdom. This is what is shown to living things.
Seeing this form, the ordinary man becomes afraid and has no thoughts of becoming an enemy of Buddhism. The man who is close to enlightenment understands that this manifests immovable wisdom and clears away all delusion. For the man who can make his immovable wisdom apparent and who is able to physically practice this mental dharma as well as Fudo Myoo, the evil spirits will no longer proliferate. This is the purpose of Fudo Myoo's tidings.
What is called Fudo Myoo is said to be one's unmoving mind and an unvacillating body. Unvacillating means not being detained by anything.
Glancing at something and not stopping the mind is called immovable. This is because when the mind stops at something, as the breast is filled with various judgments, there are various movements within it. When its movements cease, the stopping mind moves, but does not move at all.
If ten men, each with a sword, come at you with swords slashing, if you parry each sword without stopping the mind at each action, and go from one to the next, you will not be lacking in a proper action for every one of the ten.
Although the mind act ten times against ten men, if it does not halt at even one of them and you react to one after another, will proper action be lacking?....
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Table of Contents

Foreword 15
Introduction 19
The Mysterions Record of Immovable Wisdom 27
The Clear Sound of Jewels 67
Annals of the Sword Taia 111
Notes 132
Bibliography 142
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Takuan Soho was 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. Adviser and confidant to high and low, he seems to have moved freely through almost every stratum of society, instructing both shogun and emperor and, as legend has it, being friend and teacher to the swordsman/artist, Miyamoto Musashi. He seems to have remained unaffected by his fame and popularity, and at the approach of death he instructed his disciples, "Bury my body in the mountain behind the temple, cover it with dirt and go home. Read no sutras, hold no ceremony. Receive no gifts from either monk or laity. Let the monks wear their robes, eat their meals, and carry on as on normal days." At his final moment, he wrote the Chinese character for yume ("dream"), put down the brush, and died.

Takuan was born in 1573 in the village of Izushi in the province of Tajima, an area of deep snows and mountain mists. Izushi is a village ancient enough to be mentioned in both of the early histories of Japan, the Kojiki (A.D. 712) and the Nihon-gi (A.D. 720), and the countryside around it is sprinkled with relics of earlier ages, as well as ancient burial mounds and pottery shards of extreme antiquity. Although born into a samurai family of the Miura clan at the culmination of 150 years of civil strife, Takuan entered a monastery at the age of ten to study the Jodo sect of Buddhism, moving on to practice the Rinzai sect of Zen at the age of fourteen and becoming the abbot of the Daitokuji, a major Zen temple in Kyoto, at the unprecedented age of thirty-five.

In 1629, Takuan became involved in what was referred to as the "Purple Robe Affair," in which he opposed the shogunate's decision to cancel the emperor's power to make appointments to high ecclesiastical ranks and offices. For his opposition, he was banished to what is now Yamagata Prefecture, and it was in this far northern hinterland where the first and the last of the three essays in this volume were written. He was included in the general amnesty upon the shogun's death, and returned to Kyoto in 1632. During the following years he befriended and taught Zen to the abdicated but very influential emperor, Go-Mizunoo, and so impressed the new shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, who constantly sought his friendship, that he founded the Tokaiji in 1638 at the shogun's behest. And, while friendly to both shogun and emperor, he adamantly steered clear of the political quarrels that so often embroiled the shogunate and the chrysanthemum throne.

To the end, Takuan is said to have followed his own independent, eccentric and sometimes bitter way. His strength and angularity are apparent in his calligraphy and painting as well as in the following essays, and it is interesting that we can, perhaps, have a taste of the man's character by simply sampling a dish of takuanzuke, a pickle made from the giant Japanese radish.

His life may be summed up by his own admonition, "If you follow the present-day world, you will turn your back on the Way; if you would not turn your back on the Way, do not follow the world."

It is said that Takuan sought to infuse the spirit of Zen into every aspect of life that caught his interest, such things as calligraphy, poetry, gardening and the arts in general. This he also did with the art of the sword. Living during the last days of the violent feudal strife which culminated, essentially, with the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Takuan was acquainted not only with the peace and sublimity of the artist and tea master, but also with the confrontation--victory and defeat--of the warrior and general. Among the latter were such disparate figures as Ishida Mitsunari, a powerful general who supported Toyotomi Hideyoshi; Kuroda Nagamasa, a Christian daimyo who engineered Mitsunari's downfall; and, especially, his friend Yagyu Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship and teacher to two generations of shoguns. To these men and these times, Takuan addressed himself no less than to others.

Of the three essays included in this translation, two were letters: Fudochishinmyoroku, "The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom," written to Yagyu Munenori; and Taiaki, "Annals of the Sword Taia," written perhaps to Munenori or possibly to Ono Tadaaki, head of the Itto school of swordsmanship and also an official instructor to the shogun's family and close retainers. The circumstances of how they came to be written are unclear, although the frank advice and rather Confucian admonishment to Munenori at the end of Fudochishinmyoroku adds another interesting if somewhat puzzling dimension to this work.

As a whole, all three are addressed to the samurai class, and all three seek to unify the spirit of Zen with the spirit of the sword. The advice given is a blend of the practical, technical and philosophical aspects of confrontation. Individually and broadly speaking, one could say that Fudochishinmyoroku 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. Taiaki, on the other hand, deals more with the psychological aspects of the relationship between the self and the other. Between these, Reiroshu, "The Clear Sound of Jewels," deals with the fundamental nature of the human being, with how a swordsman, daimyo--or any person, for that matter--can know the difference between what is right and what is mere selfishness, and can understand the basic question of knowing when and how to die.

All three essays turn the individual to knowledge of himself, and hence to the art of life.

Swordsmanship as an expression of technique alone and meditative Zen had long existed in Japan, Zen having become firmly established around the end of the twelfth century. With Takuan they achieved a true coalescence, and his writings and opinions on the sword have been extraordinarily influential in the direction the art of Japanese swordsmanship has taken from that day to the present, for it is an art still fervently practiced, and it reflects a significant spectrum of the Japanese outlook on life. Firmly establishing the unity of Zen and the sword, they have influenced the writings of the great masters of the time and produced a spinoff of documents which continue to be read and applied, such as the Heiho Kadensho of Yagyu Munenori and the Gorin no Sho of Miyamoto Musashi. The styles of these men differed, but their conclusions weave together a lofty level of insight and understanding, whether it be expressed as the "freedom and spontaneity" of Musashi, the "ordinary mind that knows no rules" of Munenori or the "unfettered mind" of Takuan.

For Takuan, the culmination was not one of death and destruction, but rather of enlightenment and salvation. Confrontation, in the "right" mind, would not only give life, but give it more abundantly. eie

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2014

    Not ready

    I was in way over my head with this book--a Budhist's advice for a warrior. I don't have the background to dive into this book.

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  • Posted December 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    A short and wonderful read by Buddhist Takuan Soho, who assisted Musashi and Munenori in Feudal Japan. Great adages by him and very engrossing read. A min Buddhist bible, such as Five Rings and the Art of Peace. Carry them with you and read always.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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