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Thread: Mushin While Working

  1. #1

    Mushin While Working

    Hi All,

    I'm new here and am a lay zen practitioner. I've been more interested in the practical side of zen and have been trying to apply it to daily activities.

    Essentially I'm in a point of doubt in my practice after reading Takuan's "Unfettered Mind" wherein he described the state of Mushin is when you put your mind nowhere (which is everywhere). As I understood this, this is like using peripheral vision instead of focused vision (but applied to all senses). Hence you are one with everything, and would confirm Lieh Tzu's account of "Riding on the Wind".

    So great, but does this mean focus and concentration is essentially the wrong way to practice? Like focusing on the breadth, or focusing on the task at hand?

    Essentially what I have been experiencing is I can sit and be in mushin. Well and good, but the problem is when I get up and live everyday life. I can only be in the state of mushin during simple activities (like walking, standing, doing simple manual chores). I lose it when I start using my mind (like work - I'm an IT guy). Also its hard not to focus when doing work, talking to someone or anything that involves high mental activity.

    Any advice is appreciated.

    Thanks All.

  2. #2
    I'm going to give a wide berth to the "wrong way to practice" part, but I'm a data monkey during business hours. And I've wrangled with integrating practice and work requiring a lot of concentration.

    It's basically impossible to super attentively navigate every keystroke and mouse movement without killing productivity below the threshold I think my employer would accept. And then there's all the concentration required to write programs to solve tasks, perform quality control, etc. But I've seen footage of guys in monasteries cleaning hallway floors faster than I drive my truck in town, and I don't believe for one second that they're deep in contemplation the way one might be in zazen. It's just a different activity.

    But when I'm practicing consistently (say, half an hour before and after work), over time the practice seems to bear fruit in my work. During the work day/week many ethical decisions, interactions with co-workers, etc. are Zen™ in a way that I don't really have handy words for. I don't think of this as mushin, but it may not be a bad way of framing it.

    Not sure if I directly addressed your question at all.
    Diligently attain nothing. Sort of. Best not to over-think it.

  3. #3
    Hmmm. I am not a Priest or an Unsui, so I am likely unqualified to address the more esoteric aspects of your questions. But, as I recall, Takuan was a Rinzai Zen monk. We practice here in the Soto Zen tradition, and focus on the practice of Shikantaza, or just sitting.

    As I recall, Mushin is equated to the " mind of no mind." To me, that would not be some exalted enlightened state that one was trying to reach, or some sort of transcendental state where you only use your peripheral vision as you describe it. (What good does it do to not see that which is right in front of you?). I see Mushin much like what Shunryu Suzuki described as "Beginners Mind," a mind that is not caught by thought but that is open to everything.

    we sit Shikantaza. We watch our thoughts arise and try not to be caught by them. Dogen wrote of the dropping away of the body mind. Jundo and Taigu remind us that all of life is our practice. For me, this means that when I am sitting, I just sit. When I am doing yoga, I just do yoga. When I am working, I just work. I try not to be captured by thoughts that distract me from that which is right in front of me in that moment. I believe this is indeed "focusing on the task at hand," as you put it. But just the task at hand, with no motives or thoughts of achieving a certain mental state.

    That probably made no sense at all. If that's the case, I apologize.

    Last edited by Juki; 04-02-2014 at 07:40 PM.
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  4. #4
    Not sure what it means. Maybe when working or doing something, do it right with 100% of might. No where for mind to go except now. Now is all inclusive. Nothing missing in front of you or in the peripheral.

    Gassho, Jishin

  5. #5
    Hi Dante!

    As my last teacher used to say, concentration is for oranges. As Juki said, here we don't focus on the breath but sit with things just as they are, letting body and mind drop away. Is this dropping away of body and mind equivalent to mushin? I don't know and am wary of getting attached to labelling states of consciousness.

    Something I find helpful in practice is the idea of 'nothing extra'. If you have to focus like Sydney does at work, just do that. If other simpler activities are best done with a more relaxed mind, just do that. Trying to fit one way of being into every situation seems rather false and full of effort. Instead, why not just let activities be just as they are and let everything else drop away including achieving mushin?

    The same caveat applies to my reply as given by the other two. I am only a student of Zen and prone to much delusion. Doubtless Jundo, Taigu or one of the unsui will be along give you a more reliable answer. In any case, welcome to Treeleaf!


  6. #6
    No worries, all opinions are welcome. I'm in doubt too. And this Mushin concept is what's blocking me from my practice.

    I guess I would put it this way. As I understood Mushin is like being totally aware of everything including yourself, hence you are one with everything. If for example your driving, you are looking at the road but you are aware of the traffic, signs, pedestrians, your next turn, including your thoughts, worries etc.

    But to be more exact still ... you are driving and aware of all these but you are also aware of yourself as part of the general environment.

    Its not exactly no concentration or no focus - but since you don't concentrate on any particular thing you get total concentration and focus on everything. It's like looking at a tree as a whole instead of just one leaf. Because if you concentrate on one thing you are creating a separation like me and my object of concentration.

    So I guess instead of concentrating on the breath, on the task at hand, on your feet when you walk, on certain sounds, etc ... Takuan would say don't put your mind on any of those but put it everywhere. If you put your mind everywhere then you get oneness of you and everything.

  7. #7

    Yes you're right, I'm probably overthinking this. It just seems very possible that the state of mind you have when you are sitting can be applied to all situations. Because after-all I am able to do it now when I'm doing simple activities, like manual work and stuff, even sometimes when I'm talking to someone. I seem me, the other person, the words exchanged, the thoughts that are popping up, the surroundings, etc ...

    Anyway, maybe this is wrong and not the way to go. We'll see.

    Thanks all.

  8. #8
    The problem maybe grasping. If one is trying to grasp for Mushin then the whole activity is messed up from the beginning. I feel like my awareness is not clear when I try to be in the state of Mushin. Like there's at certain times a second "self" asking "am I doing this right?", or "am I in Mushin now?"

    It seems to be better to just watch everything without comment or judgement - whether if you are in Mushin or not. Even if the mind is messed up and thinking of all kinds of thoughts. To attempt to have no thought and clear minded at all times seems to be a vicious circle because there is a feeling of "forcing" the mind to have no thought.

    It might be the same as trying to concentrate on certain things to have a calm mind (like concentrating on the breadth, a task, an activity, etc.). The mind is forced in a certain place. And as a result a certain resistance develops. This maybe because all this is an artificial discipline.

    I think the best way to practice is to just watch - everything. Watch yourself, environment, thoughts, emotions. Without comment or judgement, or trying to change anything but simply to take note of it. You let the mind go and do whatever it wants because thinking is what it naturally does best. Eventually it should come to silence when it is not being forced to silence. Forcing it to silence seem to be stirring up more thoughts. Like damming a river. The pressure just builds up.

    In this way I believe the mind will take care of whatever comes in and will concentrate if it has too - without the "me" making a conscious decision to do so. I can just trust the mind to take care of things for me. So here there is no intention and no forcing of the mind to a certain direction. I just let everything come and go and sit back. I can let the state of Mushin come to me instead of trying to get it. I can let everything come to me instead of trying to be one with everything.

    Mushin might be not to have no thought or sensation and all that fantastic thing of being pure and clear headed. It might be to have all these thoughts and emotions but not to be dragged away by them from the present moment. Not to lose yourself in thought trains and emotional fires. One can have all those going on like everything is going on physically on the physical environment. You can regard thoughts and emotions like cars, clouds, people that come and go.

    So yeah, I think that's all that might be needed - just see.

  9. #9

    First, for those who do not know what the traditional Zen word "Mushin" (No Mind, or Emptiness Mind) means, this description is about as good as any...

    Mushin is a state of mind where mind is not fixed on or occupied by any thought or emotion, and thus flows.

    Mushin is not something to think about, but what one realizes as on sits Shikantaza dropping all grip on thoughts and emotions, just flowing as the flow. Rising form the cushion, one can also know this freedom in all actions in life. There are times too ... in bowing, Oryoki eating, dancing or gardening or running ... when one can find such, all body and mind absorbed into the action. It is very much like "being in the Zone". In our Shikantaza way, we come to know that we are always "In the Zone" even when we don't feel so. However, at certain times ... for a swordsman, a calligrapher, a professional dancer or athlete ... there may be times when we need to really feel so in the moment (It is not necessary to feel "Mushin" every moment in life, however. When one stops dancing, puts down the calligraphy brush or sword, one can put down the "Mushin" too).

    But for martial arts, I will defer to experienced martial artists to advise you there. I am not one. You may want to write to this fellow, who is both an experienced Rinzai teacher and martial artist ... Meido Moore. You can write him here ...!about2/cp7o

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-04-2014 at 07:55 AM.

  10. #10
    First, for those who do not know what the traditional Zen word "Mushin" (No Mind, or Emptiness Mind) means, this description is about as good as any...

    Mushin is a state of mind where mind is not fixed on or occupied by any thought or emotion, and thus flows.

    That sounds very much like what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the 'flow' state which tends to happen when undertaking an activity of great concentration like sport or art. I have definitely had it happen while working on calligraphy but it feels different to the dropping away state that occurs during shikantaza. One thing in common with both is that they seem to arise naturally rather than being forced.

    Last edited by Jundo; 04-04-2014 at 07:56 AM.

  11. #11
    Thanks Jundo,

    Now I know what Mushin means. :-)

    Gassho, Jishin

  12. #12

    Thanks for the tip and I've sent Meido Roshi a message for advice.


    That's where I'm getting confused. Because Takuan seem to be saying that concentration is not the way for Mushin. Its like shikantaza in action. Or maybe there maybe two sides of Mushin, active and passive. The active one is being in the zone (I think I can relate to this as I'm a blues guitar player to some extent, when I play solos I lose myself in it) the passive one would be sitting quietly and being one with everything.

    That's all good - maybe a third one? Being in the activity your doing but also being aware of your surroundings in the periphery of your awareness.

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