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The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master

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So succinct are the author's insights that these writings have outlasted the dissolution of the samurai class to come down to the present and be read for guidance and inspiration by the captains of business and industry, as well as those devoted to the practice of the martial arts in their modern form. So succinct are the author's insights that these writings have outlasted the dissolution of the samurai class to come down to the present and be read for guidance and inspiration by the captains of business and industry, as well as those devoted to the practice of the martial arts in their modern form.


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So succinct are the author's insights that these writings have outlasted the dissolution of the samurai class to come down to the present and be read for guidance and inspiration by the captains of business and industry, as well as those devoted to the practice of the martial arts in their modern form. So succinct are the author's insights that these writings have outlasted the dissolution of the samurai class to come down to the present and be read for guidance and inspiration by the captains of business and industry, as well as those devoted to the practice of the martial arts in their modern form.

30 review for The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master

  1. 4 out of 5

    J.G. Keely

    Universally applicable statements are not instructive. They do not inspire thought or care, but enable the continuation of ignorance. A man may comment 'this is the worst review ever' (and in my experience, probably will), and achieve nothing more with by it than biting his own tongue. It is not applicable to any statement or idea, it does not continue any discussion, it is devoid of thought. It could be cut and pasted onto any review without gaining any meaning, and without shedding a single st Universally applicable statements are not instructive. They do not inspire thought or care, but enable the continuation of ignorance. A man may comment 'this is the worst review ever' (and in my experience, probably will), and achieve nothing more with by it than biting his own tongue. It is not applicable to any statement or idea, it does not continue any discussion, it is devoid of thought. It could be cut and pasted onto any review without gaining any meaning, and without shedding a single strand of its foolishness. Statements like this may be fundamentally self-serving, but they are bad servants. They are sycophantic, fawning on their master, comforting him through his doubts, telling him that all he does is right and good. If they speak, it is only to drown out the sound of his uncertainties, and shut the gate to all guests, that he may hear no dissenting voice. So it is troubling that there is a central tenet to many philosophies, both Eastern and Western, which can easily become a lazy servant, which would make its master deaf and blind, subservient to his weaknesses. Takuan often intones that a man must act without thought, that he must never doubt, but rely on his sense of rightness without pause. There is danger here. It is always tempting for a man to trust in his ignorance, to live not by action, but reaction only, moving from moment to moment without a second thought. One can read into this philosophy an invitation to give in to fear and weakness, and to let them rule, banishing all questions. We have all seen how desperately the inept will cling to their intuition, no matter how meager it may be, or how often it has failed them. I do not think this is what Takuan intends, for he often avails himself of careful thought and analysis throughout the text. He often skewers those who seem to act with honor, and without hesitation, but who act quickly not because they are decisive, but because they lack the self-control ever to be still. He speaks of those who would die at a moment's notice because it is their proper duty, contrasting them with men who throw their lives away in a quarrel, invoking the name of honor to hide the shame that drives them. It is clear that for Takuan, proper, decisive action and intuition are not things which a man can take for granted, but things which must be treasured, cultivated, and patiently questioned. As Socrates said: "The unexamined life is not worth living". Yet there is a further thing which troubles me: despite all the talk about things being proper, about honor and rightness of action, I did not get a sense of just what the basis of this philosophy was. There were odd contrasts and contradictions, seeming conflicts which pointed at what may have been a central coherence, but I was unable to define it. Likely Takuan was drawing from his own culture's concepts for these notions, the great tradition of budo, but I would have gotten more from the work if he had first defined his own view of budo before expanding upon the particulars. If a man is to develop his sense of correctness and then act without doubt or thought, we must agree upon some conceptual basis of what is correct, and why it is correct--otherwise we will have a world of men who are all certain of their own correct Way, the Way that they have built up since childhood, but who are in fundamental, incompatible conflict with every other man and his correct Way. Of course, some might say that is the very world which we have been gifted. Yet there are those who would try to bridge the gap, to create some coherent baseline of what is fundamental to the life of the individual, and of the society. So we sit, and we talk about what is good, and what is better, and what we share. Cultivate your awareness so that when a thinker speaks at great length about acting without thought, you know he must be a Zen master, and that you must pay more attention to what does than what he says.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Haru Kiyoka

    The Unfettered Mind is deceptively simple. It takes years of study to unravel it's true depth. This is because it's a collection of personal communications from one master to another, at the peak of their given practices. There is a lot the book doesn't explain because it didn't need to be explained in a dialog between these two men. So it wasn't written as an introduction to Bushido or Zazen or as instruction for the layperson. This book is more useful as practical mental instruction for someon The Unfettered Mind is deceptively simple. It takes years of study to unravel it's true depth. This is because it's a collection of personal communications from one master to another, at the peak of their given practices. There is a lot the book doesn't explain because it didn't need to be explained in a dialog between these two men. So it wasn't written as an introduction to Bushido or Zazen or as instruction for the layperson. This book is more useful as practical mental instruction for someone engaged at a higher level of a challenging or competitive pursuit than as an intellectual or philosophical exercise because this is precisely what Takuan intended in his writing. The section, Water Scorches Heaven, Fire Cleanses Clouds, is different than the others. It's more a personal letter to Yagyu Munenori, and ends with a Confucian admonishment to him. Yagyu was the head of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship, who were teachers to two generations of Shoguns. Because Takuan was close with the Emperor, the Shogun, and a very powerful Daimo, this could have been a warning given to Yagyu regarding his and his son's behavior from one of them using Takuan as an intermediary. So it shouldn't be viewed in the same context as the other sections of the book. I bring this up because while it may be a historically interesting communication between Takuan and Yagyu, it can be confusing to the reader because it's not part of the core instruction he was conveying.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Great book, but difficult reading from a Westerner's perspective. Have to read parts of it several times before I understand what was being said (at surface level). This is a book to come back to at a later date when I have more experience. One has to take into consideration that it was written by a Zen master to a sword master, two learned individuals. I am way below the experience level of the target audience. The book is nothing about sword fighting. It is about clearing your mind, and returnin Great book, but difficult reading from a Westerner's perspective. Have to read parts of it several times before I understand what was being said (at surface level). This is a book to come back to at a later date when I have more experience. One has to take into consideration that it was written by a Zen master to a sword master, two learned individuals. I am way below the experience level of the target audience. The book is nothing about sword fighting. It is about clearing your mind, and returning to as you were at the beginning. This can only be done successfully with diligent work until you can do an action without any thought. If you concentrate on anything during a fight you will become entangled in that aspect, you must concentrate on nothing, and that includes not thinking about doing nothing. The only way to do this is to become a master of your actions through hard work and through meditation and other Zen practices. This leads to enlightenment, when you reach the point that you are not driven by desires (like the desire to strike your opponent), no fear, no nothing. The sword master that has been enlightened can strike as lighting from the clouds. A defender would have not a hairs breadth to counter a strike. The sword master would not strike if it weren't absolutely necessary. No desire to strike. He/She is a master of life and death.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is a collection of three short works by a 17th century Abbot from northern Japan. Each of these works is different: the first is a discussion of the right mind required for both enlightenment and perfection of the craft of sword combat, the second is a discussion on the proper mindset for both political ruler and citizen (perhaps you could call it a Machiavellian essay for Easterners), and the final portion of the book is a discussion on some old poetry. The first part I found incredib This book is a collection of three short works by a 17th century Abbot from northern Japan. Each of these works is different: the first is a discussion of the right mind required for both enlightenment and perfection of the craft of sword combat, the second is a discussion on the proper mindset for both political ruler and citizen (perhaps you could call it a Machiavellian essay for Easterners), and the final portion of the book is a discussion on some old poetry. The first part I found incredibly interesting while the latter two I thought were boring. This book is my introduction to Zen philosophy so I'll admit I might not have the proper mindset or appreciation of context to successfully approach this genre, but it's just as possible this is either a mediocre English translation or the abbot himself didn't have much interesting to say on politics or much to contribute to poetry with his analyses. The poetry the author analyzes in the third work was quite beautiful on its own. It's absent of the labyrinths of intellectual cleverness or subtle egotistical arrogance you sometimes find among modern poets of the post-Renaissance era. This poetry was introspective, yet only lightly subtle, but certainly not needing much analysis or picking apart each line into a "this line means this . . ." paragraph. There were several of these "definitions" which weren't remotely related to the stanza and the author doesn't make a convincing argument for some of his proposed definitions. Some bits of his commentary were insightful though. The middle work again was of a political nature and perhaps suffered the most from being poorly translated or needing more context than was provided. In fact, the political concepts were the more readable parts of this section of the book. This part was written with a strange see-saw style that bounced between civic duty and random metaphors. It's an exhausting assemblage of metaphor after metaphor, simile after simile, and analogy after analogy, most of which seem randomly inserted between discussions of political concepts. I thought they seemed to show up when the political idea was unable to stand convincingly on its own two feet. You see this pattern used nowadays from the podium or pulpit whose speaker lacks the strong intellect or sharp rhetoric to convince the listener and must resort instead to juvenile antimetaboles or to analogies that prove themselves (and by implication the speaker's idea as well). Again, there may be context here I'm missing and would have benefited from understanding, however this portion of the book just isn't interesting enough to go seek it out now. The crowning jewel of this book though was the first portion, discussing the nature of an "unstopping" mind. The author does an excellent job of explaining his ideas, anticipating and clearing away potential confusion his readers/listeners may fall under. When discussing the meditative mind we are used to hearing teachers and authors discuss the obstacle of the racing thoughts and flood of emotion our minds are constantly engaged in, so it might sound odd to hear a Zen Buddhist speak of an "unstopping" mind. However, the type of mind he's discussing is not to be equated with the bewildered mind the Buddhists generally speak of as being an obstacle. A mind is able to force its attention onto a resting concept, idea, feeling, thought, etc., and when it does, the author says then the mind has "stopped" on that thing. So the idea then - whether in meditation, playing an instrument, participating in athletics or combat - is to never let the mind direct itself completely onto and stop on one "thing". No forced mustering of concentrating effort onto any one idea, concept or event (upcoming or current). This type of mind is free to be anywhere and nowhere at the same time, embodying a softness yet is at the same time profoundly alert and possessing an almost primal awareness. The abbot doesn't let the reader down either by speaking briefly on an esoteric idea and then speeding past it, leaving the gap between master and student ever more noticeable. Instead his rhetoric is direct and detailed, yet gracefully proves its point. I believe this portion of the book is a wonderful contribution to the subject of martial arts.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Doc

    I consider this to be essential reading. For everyone. The concepts can be a bit dense, but it's well worth the effort. Combined with A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi and The Art of War by Sun Tzu, this is part of a set that I frequently give to people. I consider this to be essential reading. For everyone. The concepts can be a bit dense, but it's well worth the effort. Combined with A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi and The Art of War by Sun Tzu, this is part of a set that I frequently give to people.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Abhi

    I gained a better understanding of the concepts of Zen as espoused by Monk Takuan because I recently read Old Path White Clouds, a biography of the Buddha. While Zen in itself can seem a little daunting to comprehend upfront, having some perspective on its background is really helpful. Overall, this is a wonderful book full of short essays in the form of letters which present Buddhist values as perceived in the Zen tradition. Despite the added flourish of Mahayana Buddhism (of which Zen is a par I gained a better understanding of the concepts of Zen as espoused by Monk Takuan because I recently read Old Path White Clouds, a biography of the Buddha. While Zen in itself can seem a little daunting to comprehend upfront, having some perspective on its background is really helpful. Overall, this is a wonderful book full of short essays in the form of letters which present Buddhist values as perceived in the Zen tradition. Despite the added flourish of Mahayana Buddhism (of which Zen is a part), the basic message remains the same: be present, be aware. I was introduced to Monk Takuan in an altogether different format through the wonderful manga series called Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue. I'm glad I landed here.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Arno Mosikyan

    some highlights Soho illuminates the difference between the right mind and the confused mind, the nature of right-mindedness, and what makes life precious. The sword and the spirit have long been closely associated by the Japanese. 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 mon some highlights Soho illuminates the difference between the right mind and the confused mind, the nature of right-mindedness, and what makes life precious. The sword and the spirit have long been closely associated by the Japanese. 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. 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.” When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its red leaves, you will not see all the others. When the eye is not set on any one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there. The ignorance and afflictions of the beginning, abiding place and the immovable wisdom that comes later become one. The function of the intellect disappears, and one ends in a state of No-Mind-No-Thought. If one reaches the deepest point, arms, legs, and body remember what to do, but the mind does not enter into this at all. In Zen, if asked, “What is the Buddha?” one should raise a clenched fist. If asked, “What is the ultimate meaning of the Buddhist Law?” before the words have died away, one should respond, “A single branch of the flowering plum” or “The cypress in the garden.” It is not a matter of selecting an answer either good or bad. We respect the mind that does not stop. The non-stopping mind is moved by neither color nor smell. Although the form of this unmoving mind is revered as a god, respected as a Buddha, and called the Mind of Zen or the Ultimate Meaning, if one thinks things through and afterwards speaks, even though he utter golden words and mysterious verses, it will be merely the affliction of the abiding place. When a person does not think, “Where shall I put it?”the mind will extend throughout the entire body and move about to any place at all. The effort not to stop the mind in just one place—this is discipline. Not stopping the mind is object and essence. Put nowhere, it will be everywhere. Even in moving the mind outside the body, if it is sent in one direction, it will be lacking in nine others. If the mind is not restricted to just one direction, it will be in all ten. In not remaining in one place, the Right Mind is like water. The Confused Mind is like ice, and ice is unable to wash hands or head. When ice is melted, it becomes water and flows everywhere, and it can wash the hands, the feet, or anything else. Completely forget about the mind and you will do all things well. SEEK THE LOST MIND This is a saying of Mencius’s. It means that one should seek out the lost mind and return it to himself. There is nothing dearer to us than life. Whether a man be rich or poor, if he does not live out a long life, he will not accomplish his true purpose. Even if one had to throw away thousands in wealth and valuables to do so, life is something he should buy. It is said that life is of small account compared with right-mindedness.1 In truth, it is right-mindedness that is most esteemed. “While wealth truly pleases our hearts, having life is the greatest wealth of all. So when it comes to the moment of reckoning, a man will throw away his wealth to keep his life intact. But when you think that a man will not hesitate to throw away the life he so values for the sake of right-mindedness, the value of right-mindedness is greater than life itself. Desire, life, and right-mindedness—among these three, isn’t the latter what man values most?” I said, “Dying because someone is vexed at being insulted resembles right-mindedness, but it is not that at all. This is forgetting oneself in the anger of the moment. It is not right-mindedness in the least. Its proper name is anger and nothing else. Before a person has even been insulted, he has already departed from right-mindedness. And for this reason, he suffers insult. If one’s right-mindedness is correct when he is associating with others, he will not be insulted by them. Being insulted by others, one should realize that he had lost his own right- mindedness prior to the offense.” What is called desire is not simply attaching oneself to wealth, or thinking only about one’s fancies for silver and gold. When the eye sees colors, this is desire. When the ear hears sounds, this is desire. When the nose smells fragrances, this is desire. When a single thought simply germinates, this is called desire. This body has been solidified and produced by desire, and it is in the nature of things that all men have a strong sense of it. Although there is a desireless nature confined within this desire-firmed and -produced body, it is always hidden by hot-bloodedness, and its virtue is difficult to sow. This nature is not protected easily. Because it reacts to the Ten Thousand Things in the external world, it is drawn back by the Six Desires, and submerges beneath them. This body is composed of the Five Skandhas: form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness. It is for this reason that the Way of Confucius is said to be that of sincerity and sympathy. Sincerity is the same as “the core of the mind.” Sympathy is the same as “like mind” or “oneness.” If the core of the mind and like- mindedness are achieved, not one in ten thousand affairs will ever turn out poorly. Presumably, as a martial artist, I do not fight for gain or loss, am not concerned with strength or weakness, and neither advance a step nor retreat a step. The enemy does not see me. I do not see the enemy. Penetrating to a place where heaven and earth have not yet divided, where Yin and Yang have not yet arrived, I quickly and necessarily gain effect. Not to fight for gain or loss, not to be concerned with strength or weakness means not vying for victory or worrying about defeat, and not being concerned with the functions of strength or weakness. Neither advance a step nor retreat a step means taking neither one step forward nor one step to the rear. Victory is gained without stirring from where you are. The me of “the enemy does not see me” refers to my True Self. It does not mean my perceived self. People can easily see the perceived self; it is rare for them to discern the True Self. Thus I say, “The enemy does not see me.” I do not see the enemy. Because I do not take the personal view of the perceived self, I do not see the martial art of the enemy’s perceived self.2 Although I say, “I do not see the enemy,” this does not mean I do not see the enemy right before my very eyes. To be able to see the one without seeing the other is a singular thing. Well then, the accomplished man uses the sword but does not kill others. He uses the sword and gives others life. When it is necessary to kill, he kills. When it is necessary to give life, he gives life. When killing, he kills in complete concentration; when giving life, he gives life in complete concentration. Without looking at right and wrong, he is able to see right and wrong; without attempting to discriminate, he is able to discriminate well. Treading on water is just like treading on land, and treading on land is just like treading on water. If he is able to gain this freedom, he will not be perplexed by anyone on earth. In all things, he will be beyond companions.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    The original author, the Zen monk Takuan Souhou from the era of the founding of the Shogunate at the end of the Warring States Period of Japan, addressed matters public and private, personal and formal, military and diplomatic, and others as well. He applied insight to these matters to advise swordmasters of his time -- particularly Yagyuu Munenori, swordsmanship instructor to more than one shogun. In at least one point, communicating with such a highly placed personage with the essays collected The original author, the Zen monk Takuan Souhou from the era of the founding of the Shogunate at the end of the Warring States Period of Japan, addressed matters public and private, personal and formal, military and diplomatic, and others as well. He applied insight to these matters to advise swordmasters of his time -- particularly Yagyuu Munenori, swordsmanship instructor to more than one shogun. In at least one point, communicating with such a highly placed personage with the essays collected in this book, he actually scolded the man. A shogun spent years and great resources seeking his favor and friendship. This was a person of influence, despite humility of lifestyle and eccentricity of ideas. Having not read this in full before, in any translation, I am not sure how much of its character is due to the original author or the translation. It gets overly wordy at times, and dwells on the prosaic and obvious when the subtle and profound lurk behind, as if he just doesn't get that people might miss important implications. Then again, maybe the culture of his time was influenced by bromides so pervasive that a simple restatement makes the metaphorical purpose obvious to his reader, or perhaps shared context allows him to make a joke of belaboring the blatantly superficial and expect his interlocutor to understand. Suffice to say that, if I wrote a similar tract for a general audience of warriors, I would likely have tried to lighten the verbosity load a bit and cut to the quick a bit more. I wouldn't call this an introductory bit of philosophizing, practical or theoretical, in large part because of the above. Having gotten some real insights out of works like Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, though, should prepare one for getting past the packing material to the precious cargo inside this book. I enjoyed it, and the next time I read it I'll probably go through all the end notes, too -- because it's brief and interesting enough for a second reading.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    A good translation of Takuan Soho's classic text on Buddhism. The book was written to bring understanding of "No Mind" to the samurai warrior. It's rather dense, and assumes familiarity with Zen Buddhism. Chances are you're interested in this because you a) read about it in a Japanese history/culture book, or b) you heard this referenced in a Japanese work of fiction, whether anime, literature, or film. It assumes a high amount of understanding of the context and does little to lead you through A good translation of Takuan Soho's classic text on Buddhism. The book was written to bring understanding of "No Mind" to the samurai warrior. It's rather dense, and assumes familiarity with Zen Buddhism. Chances are you're interested in this because you a) read about it in a Japanese history/culture book, or b) you heard this referenced in a Japanese work of fiction, whether anime, literature, or film. It assumes a high amount of understanding of the context and does little to lead you through the ideas. It was, after all, written for a specific person at a specific time. There are easier places to start. Try Secret Tactics for a general introduction, to get oriented.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Isen

    The book consists of three essays written by a Zen priest as advice to a martial artist. The first essay's input can be summarised as "don't focus on the opponent's sword". A valid point, to be sure, but one that could be stated much more succinctly. The other two, from what I can tell, have very little to do with martial arts at all, but just ruminations on Buddhism and Zen in particular. I can only assume that the arguments therein are very profound to a practitioner, as to a layman they are a The book consists of three essays written by a Zen priest as advice to a martial artist. The first essay's input can be summarised as "don't focus on the opponent's sword". A valid point, to be sure, but one that could be stated much more succinctly. The other two, from what I can tell, have very little to do with martial arts at all, but just ruminations on Buddhism and Zen in particular. I can only assume that the arguments therein are very profound to a practitioner, as to a layman they are at best vacuous, and more often meaningless.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Finbar

    I've been wanting to read this book for a while and I am glad I did. This selection of essays makes the tie between Zen meditation and the practice of the martial arts. It is a beautiful exploration of the spiritual side of budo and a must-read for anyone who practices its principles. I've been wanting to read this book for a while and I am glad I did. This selection of essays makes the tie between Zen meditation and the practice of the martial arts. It is a beautiful exploration of the spiritual side of budo and a must-read for anyone who practices its principles.

  12. 5 out of 5

    H

    A frequent reread. Practical and spiritual advice from the most renowned Zen master of feudal Japan.

  13. 5 out of 5

    No

    Classic text on tapping into 'no mind, no thought', or what many today call flow, the technical and philosophical aspects, as well as what is right and what is selfish. Takuan Soho also wanted to infuse the spirit of Zen into everything that he had a passion for, calligraphy, poetry, gardening, and the art of the sword. Don't just pick up your knife and clean it like a drone with no purpose, or pull on someone because they pissed you off. Constantly learn and practice to do both in a spiritual s Classic text on tapping into 'no mind, no thought', or what many today call flow, the technical and philosophical aspects, as well as what is right and what is selfish. Takuan Soho also wanted to infuse the spirit of Zen into everything that he had a passion for, calligraphy, poetry, gardening, and the art of the sword. Don't just pick up your knife and clean it like a drone with no purpose, or pull on someone because they pissed you off. Constantly learn and practice to do both in a spiritual state of mind and when the time is right. "Considering that the Thousand-Armed Kannon has one thousand arms on its one body, if the mind stops at the one holding a bow, the other nine hundred and ninety nine will be useless. It is because the mind is not detained at one place that all arms are useful." - Takuan Soho (The Unfettered Mind, Pg.32) "The function of the intellect disappears, and one ends in a state of No-Mind-No-Thought. If one reaches the deepest point, arms, legs and body remember what to do, but the mind does not enter into this at all." - Takuan Soho (The Unfettered Mind, Pg.35) "It is essential to lose the mind." - Shao K'ang-chieh "Be in possession of a mind that has been let go of." - Chung-fēng "If a number of mirrors are placed around a pedestal and a single lamp is placed in the center, the lamp will be seen in each of the mirrors. The lamp is only one, but is reflected in each of the mirrors. This exemplifies the Buddha-nature being only one, yet being received by all sentient beings of the Ten Worlds, even by the hungry and by animals. This is the example of the mirror and the lamp in The Flower Garland Sutra." - Takuan Soho (The Unfettered Mind, Pg.93) "As the sixth sense of Perception is consciousness, it has no form. But because it has the faculties of seeing and hearing, in the middle of a dream while the physical eyes and ears do not help out, a different form is produced and seeing and hearing take place. It is called Consciousness because, although such and such a form does not exist, its function does." - Takuan Soho (The Unfettered Mind, Pg.107) "They think deeply, adding inquiry to inquiry. In the end, they arrive at the place where even Buddhist doctrine and the Buddhist Law melt away, and are naturally able to see "This." - Takuan Soho (The Unfettered Mind, Pg.115)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    2020 seems a good year for taking stock of how we approach the world. I know the stoic tradition well, but I have been asking my wiser friends and colleagues for works that helped shape their thinking. This book is is aimed at a very specific historic audience. So while there's probably much I thus did not have the cultural fluency to grasp, I found several elements of Takuan Soho's writings engaging and applicable to today. In particular, the idea of a 'snagged mind' is one that has well, become 2020 seems a good year for taking stock of how we approach the world. I know the stoic tradition well, but I have been asking my wiser friends and colleagues for works that helped shape their thinking. This book is is aimed at a very specific historic audience. So while there's probably much I thus did not have the cultural fluency to grasp, I found several elements of Takuan Soho's writings engaging and applicable to today. In particular, the idea of a 'snagged mind' is one that has well, become snagged in my own thoughts. That is, being more aware of how we can get caught up replaying or re-litigating moments of tension or drama at the expense of concentrating on the moments you are in. The metaphor of a snagged mind is a good way of describing that sense of returning to a memory and thus losing focus on your current situation. That's an insight I have already taken with me and begun using in normal situations. One element of this broad philosophy (Alongside say Musashi's Five Rings which i read earlier this year) is an idea I struggle with: that the unfettered mind will make the right judgement, will intuit the right approach. Obviously a lifetime of training is expected to go into this process, but there's still a sense of the mind as a tabula rasa as if this is the ideal to get to. I find that hard to accept. Both in terms of biology (our mind is an evolutionary construct only partially adapted to the world we live in), and intellectually (the mind is built up and strengthened, not something that needs to be cleaned and emptied). My concern here is not so much to critique the view, as to say I see it in this type of philosophy yet do not really understand it. Overall, a short, sometimes historically-set text (I'm not sure advice about loyalty to my Lord's retainers is likely to come in handy), but there are a few real gems, such as the notion of a snagged mind and how to realise and address it. A useful tool for grappling with 2020 and beyond. But I feel I need to read much more deeply in this style to better understand the foundations on which it rests and the true basis of its wisdom.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    In a time of such hurry, meditative studying of stillness is a lost art. I’m not sure what place it has in the west in 2020, if any. To seek, distill, and quiet the mind is just that: an art. The process of doing so takes extreme diligence. To see such an art relayed between a zen master and a master swordsman is an invaluable relic. I cannot imagine two craftsmen better suited to discuss such a thing. What makes it interesting is the basic difference that men are trained in the same principle, In a time of such hurry, meditative studying of stillness is a lost art. I’m not sure what place it has in the west in 2020, if any. To seek, distill, and quiet the mind is just that: an art. The process of doing so takes extreme diligence. To see such an art relayed between a zen master and a master swordsman is an invaluable relic. I cannot imagine two craftsmen better suited to discuss such a thing. What makes it interesting is the basic difference that men are trained in the same principle, yet hone the same art in opposite practice. “Engendering the mind with no place to hide” was the most powerful idea I encountered in the book. To me it is its essence. This is what I was looking for when I read this book. I sought the stillness of consciousness I’d always wanted. As you can imagine, this journey shows the practitioner that finding this place is so much more than that. Striking without striking, seeing without the eyes, living beyond the body - to *be* is not about exertion like we in the west think it is. To these men, it is about less self; none of “us” at all. Instead: pure being, and eternal devotion to this path. This book puts the self-help and life hack books of the New York Times bestseller list in perspective. Herein lies the stillness if you choose to seek it. I will be revisiting this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    I have read a couple of other samurai books recently -- The Book of the Five Rings and Hagakure. This one spoke to me more than the others in some ways because it was less about fighting and honor and the relationship to the master than it was about Buddhism and the deep connection between the Samurai path and the Buddhist path. It's an odd combination on the surface because Buddhist values of pacificism and respecting all life seem very distant fron the martial world of the samurai and because I have read a couple of other samurai books recently -- The Book of the Five Rings and Hagakure. This one spoke to me more than the others in some ways because it was less about fighting and honor and the relationship to the master than it was about Buddhism and the deep connection between the Samurai path and the Buddhist path. It's an odd combination on the surface because Buddhist values of pacificism and respecting all life seem very distant fron the martial world of the samurai and because the ideal world of Buddhism puts little importance on rank and hierarchy which are an integral part of Samurai world. And yet I take the point of this book and agree that there is a connection between the way that the Buddhist mind must work to find peace and enlightenment and the way that the Samurai mind must work to achieve mastery in swordsmanship. Other connections are discussed here too. And given the universality of Buddhism I suppose that one could do the same analysis with any profession, maybe even mine.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark Mulvey

    This was good, and anything I didn’t fully grasp or appreciate was probably because of me and not the book. Books like this that deal with martial arts or war are valuable for everyone because what they’re really about is the art of confrontation—confronting others, yourself, your limits, your fears... And a big lesson is that self-mastery and presence of mind create such a formidable warrior that conflict often disappears altogether and progress can be made without struggle due to intimidation, This was good, and anything I didn’t fully grasp or appreciate was probably because of me and not the book. Books like this that deal with martial arts or war are valuable for everyone because what they’re really about is the art of confrontation—confronting others, yourself, your limits, your fears... And a big lesson is that self-mastery and presence of mind create such a formidable warrior that conflict often disappears altogether and progress can be made without struggle due to intimidation, respect, or both. A book about swordsmanship is not just about the sword. The sword is also a metaphor for your own abilities, which must be practiced, worked on, and wielded like a weapon. “He uses the sword, but not to kill others means that even he does not use the sword to cut others down, when others are confronted by this principle, they cower and become as dead men of their own accord. There is no need to kill them.”

  18. 5 out of 5

    Blindzider

    Another book of wisdom that requires study, time and experience to understand. When reading stuff like this, written in another time period, there's always a filtering and deciphering of the language used, trying to understand the environment and society in order to gather context. "The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom" had the clearest piece of advice, although it was repeated many times. And clearest doesn't mean it's easy to follow or understand, just that it was obvious what the intent o Another book of wisdom that requires study, time and experience to understand. When reading stuff like this, written in another time period, there's always a filtering and deciphering of the language used, trying to understand the environment and society in order to gather context. "The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom" had the clearest piece of advice, although it was repeated many times. And clearest doesn't mean it's easy to follow or understand, just that it was obvious what the intent of the piece was trying to convey. "The Clear Sound of Jewels" had a few nuggets, but I'll be chewing on those for awhile. "Annals of the Sword Taia" was interesting in that it contained small paragraphs, presumably from other writings. Each was followed by a breakdown of what each sentence meant, although sometimes the "meaning" didn't really add enlightenment. After a few years of experience I plan to revisit and look for new meaning.

  19. 5 out of 5

    John

    Three letters from a Zen master to a trio of swordmasters in Tokugawa-era Japan. The first letter was the most interesting - it provided some excellent context for Musashi's ideas from Go Rin No Sho, and tied Zen very nicely to what I've learned about Buddhist insight practices from Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and The Mind Illuminated (previously, my perception of Zen was that it was largely willful obscurantism). I couldn't make much sense of the second letter (whether due to its Three letters from a Zen master to a trio of swordmasters in Tokugawa-era Japan. The first letter was the most interesting - it provided some excellent context for Musashi's ideas from Go Rin No Sho, and tied Zen very nicely to what I've learned about Buddhist insight practices from Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and The Mind Illuminated (previously, my perception of Zen was that it was largely willful obscurantism). I couldn't make much sense of the second letter (whether due to its subject matter or sleep deprivation I'm not sure), and the third was interesting but less so than the first.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra Paiva

    How does one rate a book written in the 17th century Japan, for warriors who still wielded their swords truly, as weapons, and practiced swordmanship as the murderous art that it is, when one is as frail and flattened by comfort as only a 21th century Western Europe lifestyle can produce? Don't make the mistake of thinking your run, or your session at the dojo can reach through time to this tome, and yet: 'Although it does not mindfully keep guard, In the small mountain fields the scarecrow does How does one rate a book written in the 17th century Japan, for warriors who still wielded their swords truly, as weapons, and practiced swordmanship as the murderous art that it is, when one is as frail and flattened by comfort as only a 21th century Western Europe lifestyle can produce? Don't make the mistake of thinking your run, or your session at the dojo can reach through time to this tome, and yet: 'Although it does not mindfully keep guard, In the small mountain fields the scarecrow does not stand in vain.'

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is the first book I have read about Zen Masters and Japanese swordsmanship. In addition, this read gave me an overview about master Soho - someone who is described as legendary in the Zen world. I appreciated the stewardship and counsel coming from the Zen Master to the swordsman. Ultimately I am grateful to have read a book that carried a major influence in future swordsmanship training manuals/books. Ultimately this text was about refining the mind in ways that enhance the conduct of the This is the first book I have read about Zen Masters and Japanese swordsmanship. In addition, this read gave me an overview about master Soho - someone who is described as legendary in the Zen world. I appreciated the stewardship and counsel coming from the Zen Master to the swordsman. Ultimately I am grateful to have read a book that carried a major influence in future swordsmanship training manuals/books. Ultimately this text was about refining the mind in ways that enhance the conduct of the swordman.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marconi Lenza

    I liked the book. It has interesting insights on the sentience and immanence of beings. Takuan also talks about how the martial artist should always maintain a state of "flowing" or "no-mind", avoiding interruption or setting the mind on something, since this fraction of hesitation can cost his life in a bout. This is way easier said than done; for that reason, this is not a book to be read in a hurry. It takes a life of practicing these principles. Since they are writings from a zen master to a I liked the book. It has interesting insights on the sentience and immanence of beings. Takuan also talks about how the martial artist should always maintain a state of "flowing" or "no-mind", avoiding interruption or setting the mind on something, since this fraction of hesitation can cost his life in a bout. This is way easier said than done; for that reason, this is not a book to be read in a hurry. It takes a life of practicing these principles. Since they are writings from a zen master to a master swordsman (Yagyū Munenori), one cannot expect the teachings to be anything near practical.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nivedh Sreejit

    I think the source is good, and the translations are probably accurate. But much of what is being said is being lost to my ears. That being said, the line by line explanations of "Annals of the Sword Taia" was actually pretty useful in understanding that particular set of statements. I also liked the poetry sourced in the chapters and enjoyed reading this work that intersects two of my interests. I think the source is good, and the translations are probably accurate. But much of what is being said is being lost to my ears. That being said, the line by line explanations of "Annals of the Sword Taia" was actually pretty useful in understanding that particular set of statements. I also liked the poetry sourced in the chapters and enjoyed reading this work that intersects two of my interests.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Yun Rou

    Bill Wilson's translations of Japanese/Chinese classics for Tuttle/Kodansha have, over the years, proven to be elegant and satisfying works. Bill has a scholar's mind and a restrained and elegant hand in translation. He also has a great passion for Japan and all things Japanese, travels there often, and has made that country the focus of his life the way I have done with China. I recommend all the books in this series. Bill Wilson's translations of Japanese/Chinese classics for Tuttle/Kodansha have, over the years, proven to be elegant and satisfying works. Bill has a scholar's mind and a restrained and elegant hand in translation. He also has a great passion for Japan and all things Japanese, travels there often, and has made that country the focus of his life the way I have done with China. I recommend all the books in this series.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    I can't pretend like I totally understood it. I understood parts of it, and those parts I liked: the more someone knows the more they realize they don't know, the truest form is formlessness... Anyway, interesting and luckily very short. Not sure how applicable the philosophies are, but it made me think. I can't pretend like I totally understood it. I understood parts of it, and those parts I liked: the more someone knows the more they realize they don't know, the truest form is formlessness... Anyway, interesting and luckily very short. Not sure how applicable the philosophies are, but it made me think.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peter Carrier

    Simple. Beautiful. Brilliant. A ‘must read’ for those who would explore the concept of mindfulness, regardless of his/her profession, walk of life or spirituality. From a historical perspective, it was gratifying to see how the Zen philosophy was presented to and merged so seemlessly with the martial arts. Two thumbs up. At times rather dense (or perhaps it is the denseness of the reviewer at work), but very much worth it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karl Ziellenbach

    This is not light reading, but if you dig into it, there is a lot of uncommon wisdom in it. Because it was written for laymen, not Buddhist scholars, it reads somewhat like parables with an explanation following. While it was written to apply to the mastery of martial arts, the applications of the imparted knowledge to day-to-day decisions and actions are unmistakable.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mattheus Guttenberg

    The Unfettered Mind is a collection of letters from Takuan Soho, a 17th century Zen monk, to Yagyu Munenori, arguably the greatest swordsman of his day, on the nature of the Self and on cultivating right-mindedness in his swordsmanship and his daily life. As both a Zen and kendo practitioner, I found Soho's writings very clear and helpful in improving both of those disciplines. An inspiring read. The Unfettered Mind is a collection of letters from Takuan Soho, a 17th century Zen monk, to Yagyu Munenori, arguably the greatest swordsman of his day, on the nature of the Self and on cultivating right-mindedness in his swordsmanship and his daily life. As both a Zen and kendo practitioner, I found Soho's writings very clear and helpful in improving both of those disciplines. An inspiring read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    This book was recommended by Sifu Ian Sinclair in one of his youtube videos. I have always been interested in Japanese philosophy. This book is for me in the same league as The Art of War (Sun Tzu), The Book of Five Rings (Musashi), Meditations (Marcus Aurelius), The Prince (Macchiavelli). It is one that I will read over and over again to try and find understanding within.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Polito

    Worthwhile read for anyone interested in Buddhism, martial arts, or Japanese culture. While readers may agree or disagree with with the author's interpretations of Buddhist scripture and philosophy, this book nonetheless offers a fascinating synthesis and application of concepts from Buddhism, Chinese philosophy, and Japanese tradition. Worthwhile read for anyone interested in Buddhism, martial arts, or Japanese culture. While readers may agree or disagree with with the author's interpretations of Buddhist scripture and philosophy, this book nonetheless offers a fascinating synthesis and application of concepts from Buddhism, Chinese philosophy, and Japanese tradition.

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