Mushin – art of the empty mind / mind without mind

mushin

Although cultural differences around the world seem to be gradually diminishing thanks to the media, social networks and massive travel, they are certainly not being completely erased. Fortunately for us – a few decades of the Internet and the subsequent expansion of social networks cannot erase centuries to millennia of ancient different traditions, customs and philosophies. Although we see many young people in Asia comparing themselves to our Western culture, we Westerners still have a lot to inspire and learn from ancient Eastern philosophies.Buddha statue

Mushin

One of these inspirational concepts is the Japanese term “mushin” – a fascinating form of meditation and mental state that can significantly affect the way a person lives and leads his life.

The word “mushin” consists of two kanji characters: 無 (mu), which means “emptiness,” and 心 (shin), which means “heart,” “spirit,” or in this case, “mind.” Mushin can be roughly translated to “nothing on the mind” or “no mind.” It comes from a longer phrase used in Zen Buddhism, “無心 の 心” (mushin no shin), or “mind without thinking.”

What is mushin?

Mushin is a state of mind where your mind is empty of all thoughts, desires, ideas and assumptions. When your mind is clear, you are free from your ego and you are able to act spontaneously and fluently without emotion or hesitation. That way, your mind is opened to everything.

It is a concept that is important in many traditional Japanese arts such as ikebana flower arranging, a beautiful style of shodo calligraphy or sumi-e ink painting, but especially for Asian martial arts such as aikido.

The discipline and awareness of the present moment are very important for these arts. Through mushin, artists or fighters achieve great concentration and sensitivity. When their mind is clear, their work is intuitive and flows from the subconscious.

History

The first mention of mushin comes from the famous Zen Buddhist monk of the 17th century (but also a prominent Japanese poet, painter, calligrapher, expert in the tea ceremony) and, among other things, the excellent swordsman Takuan Soho (1573-1645) in The Unleashed Mind. In this work he combines aspects of Zen Buddhism with martial arts. The following paragraph provides an excellent explanation of what happens in the mind when in the mushin state:

“When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man`s subconscious that strikes.”

Such a pure state of mind, pure mental clarity, means that the mind is not firm, busy with thoughts or emotions, and therefore open to everything. Present, conscious and free.

This state is attained when the mind is freed from anger, fear, distracting thoughts, ego, and judgments. One is absolutely free to act and respond to situations without fear and without being disturbed by external factors. At this point, he doesn’t rely on what he thinks the next move should be, but what his naturally trained reactions are, or what he feels intuitive. However, it is not a state of relaxation close to sleep. We can say that the mind works very fast, but without intention, plan or direction.

Mushin in the western world

Mushin is a Japanese concept rooted in Zen Buddhism. But a certain version of mushin can be found in many different arts and disciplines around the world. For example, an athlete on the track also experiences some form of mushin. He must free himself from conscious thinking in order to “only” run. Although, for example, their extreme sharpness of concentration is called something else. The same can be said about actors whenever they improvise or get lost in a character. They must absolutely clear their minds of their ego so that they can respond quickly and appropriately to situations.

Why could it be useful for us?

Mushin is a very useful concept that we can be inspired by in many different life situations. Whatever your field, if you try to free your mind from the inner hustle and bustle of premature judgments and assumptions, you will stop evaluating possible failures in advance, but you will perceive only the present moment and immerse yourself only in the task, then maybe you can also experience mushin. It could even help you with your efforts, whether you’re an athlete, a creative person, or just need to focus better. It’s something worth thinking about.

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Golden joinery of Kintsugi

How many times in your life have you smashed one of your favourite mugs, plates or bowls? Sometimes it just slips out of your hands, other times time works its magic and one day a crack appears, the ear remains in your hand …If it is a very precious or favourite piece of yours and it has not cracked to too many shards, you might want to try to fix it so that it would not be visible repair. Then you can use such a mug, for example, for pencils, plate or bowl under the flower. But only if you can get it together in such way that it is not at first sight recognizable. Otherwise, you just throw it away.

zdroj: kinarino.jp
source: kinarino.jp

But it can be done differently. You can on the contrary repair such a piece so its repair stands out, it is shining in the distance and making so a new original piece in its way.

In Japanese culture, you can find Kintsugi art (translated to “golden joinery”) or Kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) – which can be briefly described as an art of repairing broken ceramics with a lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver or even platinum powder. It is believed that sometimes the repair of broken things can make them even better and more beautiful than if they were new.

kintsugi

This way of repair celebrates the unique history of each artefact by emphasizing its breakages, cracks or even missing parts instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, reviving it with a new life.

History

The art of Kintsugi dates back to the end of the 15th century. According to one legend, this art came into being when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked Chinese chawan (a tea bowl) back to China for a repair. After its return, Yoshimasa was disappointed to find that this was corrected by unsightly metal staples. This motivated his craftsmen to find an alternative, aesthetically pleasing method of repair. And so Kintsugi was born.

Collectors were so enchanted by this new art that some were accused of deliberately breaking valuable pottery to repair it with the golden Kintsugi seams. Kintsugi became closely associated with the ceramic vessels used for the Japanese tea ceremony – the chanoyu. However, over time, this technique has also been applied to ceramic pieces of non-Japanese origin, including China, Vietnam and Korea.

Philosophy

Since its inception, Kintsugi technique has been connected and influenced by various philosophical thoughts. Specifically, with Japanese philosophy wabi-sabi, which calls for beauty to be seen in flawed or imperfections. This way of repair is also associated with the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is useless or thrown away, as well as mushin – freedom from premature trials and presumptions.

Basic methods

There are three predominant Kintsugi styles: crack repair, piece recovery method, and joint-call method. While, in any case, gold-dusted compound/epoxide is used to repair the broken ceramics, the remedies themselves differ a little from each other.

Crack repair methodCrack repair method – use of gold dust and resin or lacquer to fix broken pieces with minimal overlapping or filling of missing pieces

The piece recovery methodThe piece recovery method – if a ceramic fragment is not available, it is produced and supplemented exclusively by epoxy resin – golden mixtures

Joint call methodJoint call method – the missing piece of ceramics is replaced by a similarly shaped but inconsistent fragment of aesthetically different ceramics. It combines two visually different works into one unique piece. It is a method reminiscent of the well-known patchwork.

Present time

Kintsugi inspires many artists and craftsmen all over the world even today. And it does keep this ancient tradition alive. Works inspired by this technique can be found in many world museums and galleries.Kintsugi

But it can also inspire us. The next time we will not want to throw away a crackled saucer from a grandmother’s set, a broken cup we liked, or just an old flower pot … We can also take the breaks and subsequent repair as part of the history of the object, rather than something that should be disguised.

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The success of wabi-sabi in the Western world

At the beginning of the 17th century, Japan, in an effort to stem the flow of Christianity, closed itself off to the world. And it was like that until the early 20th century. During this period, Japan – voluntarily isolated from the rest of the world – developed and perfected the typical local culture, such as the tea ceremony, haiku, ikebana, calligraphy and painting on parchment. But also martial arts and medicine.

When finally in the middle of the last century, Japanese culture became known to Western civilization, so its individual aspects, along with elements of other eastern teachings such as yoga, Tai Chi, Judo, shiatsu or meditation, and later also wabi-sabi, became very popular. In fact, it is said that today there are more people practising it in Western countries than in Japan itself.

 

When a thin little book named Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, from the American designer, artist and writer Leonard Korena came out in 1994 in the Berkeley Publishing House, it gained immediate attention, especially among artists. Shortly after its first edition, it has been translated into many world languages, including Japanese.

wabi sabi in world

Since then, countless books have been published in the Western world – especially in English – dealing with some angle of wabi-sabi. Yet Koren’s book is still considered as a fundamental and basic study on the topic of wabi-sabi.

wabi sabi in world

It has inspired many designers, architects and artists. The wabi-sabi style has become very popular in the Western world since the end of the last century, mainly in interior and garden architecture.

The success of wabi-sabi in the Western world is also achieved by the fact that it is a counterpart to the consumer hectic and impersonal lifestyle, to the massive production, to the world of exaggerated perfection and exaggerated ornamentation. Actually, it is very similar to the success of wabi-sabi in 15th-16th century when it was a reaction to the aesthetics of exaggerated opulence and ornamentalism.

 

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The legend of Sen no Rikyū

Although the first known account of a tea master of wabi-sabi is dated back to the end of the 15th century, a Zen monk by the name of Murata Jukō, but getting to grips with the art of wabi-sabi is generally attributed to the tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), under whom wabi-sabi reached its peak.

The legend of Sen no Rikyū

Frequently mentioned is the legend of Sen no Rikyū, which in its own simplicity describes the principle of wabi-sabi.

Sen no Rikyū was a young man who wanted to learn the art of the tea ceremony. So he went to the famous tea master Takeno Jōō, who instructed him to clean up and rake up a garden full of leaves as an entrance exam. After its thorough work, Rikyū checked the flawless and perfect appearance of the garden, but before he showed it to his master, he shook a tree – probably the Japanese Red Maple tree – and several beautifully coloured leaves fell on the ground.

According to another variant of the story, it was a blooming Sakura and Rikyū shook a tree to drop a couple of flowers. I don’t know, but we have a Japanese cherry tree in our garden. When it blooms, it’s really beautiful, but the flowers are falling in a big way by themselves without shaking the tree. However, this story to a certain extent essentially characterizes wabi-sabi – in the beauty of imperfection, transience and incompleteness.

There‘s a similar story about how Rikyū many years later rebuked his son – the future student of the art of the tea ceremony – for cleaning up a garden too perfectly.

Well, it’s a legend, and it sounds slightly made up. But this was in the 16th century. A century that wasn‘t very pretty. Neither in Asia nor in Europe. It was a time of constant war and cruelty, but also a period of the flowering of arts. Even the art of Japanese tea ceremonies.

Rikyū, the greatest of the tea masters

Rikyū became a tea master and one of the greatest at that. His approach to the aesthetics of simplicity has developed new forms of Japanese architecture, garden design, fine and applied arts.

But back to reality, Japan, 16th century. Rikyū became famous and respected in his lifetime. It worried his superior and patron, Hideyoshi, so much so that he ordered the seventy-year-old tea master Rikyū to commit ritual suicide (Harakiri).

Sen no RikyūHarmony, respect, purity and tranquillity are still the bases not only of the tea ceremony. Indeed, the Rikyū himself is even in these days revered by the Japanese and considered to be the first to understand the core of the cultural and philosophical direction of wabi-sabi – the art of finding beauty in imperfection, weighing every moment in its transience, honouring the authenticity. Wabi-sabi is interpreted as “the wisdom of natural simplicity“.

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Wabi-sabi history

When you search for information about wabi-sabi history or where it actually came from, you will almost always come across a link to 16th-century Japan and the legend of the tea master Sen no Rikyū. Rikyū is indeed honoured by the Japanese and considered to be maybe the first person to understand the core of this culturally-philosophical direction. And certainly, his approach to the aesthetics of natural simplicity greatly developed new forms of Japanese architecture, garden design, fine and applied arts. But he is definitely not someone who one day decided to create wabi-sabi from the ground up.

Buddha

Buddha

The complete beginning of the wabi-sabi nascency, of course, cannot be precisely dated. Wabi-sabi is based on Zen Buddhism, it is its specific expression. That is why it is sometimes stated that the primordial beginning dates back to 563 BC when Prince Siddhartha Gautama – later known to us as Buddha – found compassion for human suffering and gave up on the material world. Now, the history of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism should follow. But we’re going to abridge it and skip a few centuries later:

Tea ceremony

Tea ceremonyFrom the end of the 12th century, Zen Buddhism has begun to spread from China to Japan. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the art of the tea ceremony also developed in Japan, mainly thanks to Buddhist priests.

Over the following two centuries, the tea ceremony developed in the most typical way for practising Zen philosophy. But at the same time also in a social form that combines the skills needed in architecture, interior design, garden design, floral arrangements, painting, food preparation and acting. Plus the tea master had to handle incorporating the present guests into a peaceful art event.

The tea room in the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century was used for Japanese traders similar as recently in our world the golf courses. There were business contracts negotiated there. Consolidation and disruption of political alliances. Expensive materials, Chinese richly decorated ceramics, were used there. Overall, it was the aesthetics of opulence and exaggerated ornamentalism, mostly originating in China. Tea was actually taken as a sort of entertainment for the elite.

Murata Jukō

Murata JukōAlready at the end of the 15th century, the Zen monk Murata Jukō began to rebel against the existing rules of the tea ceremony. By, for example, opening access to the tea ceremony even for ordinary people. He ended this period of tea ceremony as a certain extravagance for the chosen ones. He also began to use ordinary unruly ceramics made by local people. This is also why is Jukō mentioned as the first known tea master of wabi-sabi.

Sen no Rikyū

Sen no RikyūA hundred years later – in the 16th century – we are already getting to the most famous figure of wabi-sabi – the tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), under which the wabi-sabi reached its peak. Frequently mentioned is the legend of Sen no Rikyū, which in its own simplicity describes the principle of wabi-sabi.

The legend of Sen no Rikyū

Sen no Rikyū was a young man who wanted to learn the art of the tea ceremony. So he went to the famous tea master Takeno Jōō, who instructed him to clean up and rake up a garden full of leaves as an entrance exam. After its thorough work, Rikyū checked the flawless and perfect appearance of the garden, but before he showed it to his master, he shook a tree – probably the Japanese Red Maple tree – and several beautifully coloured leaves fell on the ground.

According to another variant of the story, it was a blooming Sakura and Rikyū shook a tree to drop a couple of flowers. I don’t know, but we have a Japanese cherry tree in our garden. When it blooms, it’s really beautiful, but the flowers are falling in a big way by themselves without shaking the tree. However, this story to a certain extent essentially characterizes wabi-sabi – in the beauty of imperfection, transience and incompleteness.

There‘s a similar story about how Rikyū many years later rebuked his son – the future student of the art of the tea ceremony – for cleaning up a garden too perfectly.

Well, it’s a legend, and it sounds slightly made up. But this was in the 16th century. A century that wasn‘t very pretty. Neither in Asia nor in Europe. It was a time of constant war and cruelty, but also a period of the flowering of arts. Even the art of Japanese tea ceremonies.

Rikyū, the greatest of the tea masters

Rikyū became a tea master and one of the greatest at that. His approach to the aesthetics of simplicity has developed new forms of Japanese architecture, garden design, fine and applied arts.

But back to reality, Japan, 16th century. Rikyū became famous and respected in his lifetime. It worried his superior and patron, Hideyoshi, so much so that he ordered the seventy-year-old tea master Rikyū to commit ritual suicide (Harakiri).

wabi-sabi history Sen no Rikyū

Harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity are still the bases not only of the tea ceremony. Indeed, the Rikyū himself is even in these days revered by the Japanese and considered to be the first to understand the core of the cultural and philosophical direction of wabi-sabi – the art of finding beauty in imperfection, weighing every moment in its transience, honouring the authenticity. Wabi-sabi is interpreted as “the wisdom of natural simplicity“.

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What is the meaning of the words WABI and SABI?

translation of wabi sabiWhen I found out about wabi-sabi, I haven’t thought that much about what these words meant in a translation. I was ok with the abbreviated explanation of the principles of Japanese aesthetics. I perceived wabi-sabi as its name. I just liked the words and I liked their sound. Especially what they represent today.

However, it is true that these words had and do have some sort of original meaning in Japanese (not a single word and nor easily translatable), which has evolved and changed over the centuries.

The historical meaning of the words Wabi and Sabi

Once upon a long time ago the meaning of these words was very gloomy: “Wabi” indicated the misery of a lonely life in nature, sadness and dejection. “Sabi” meant cold, poor or even withered. At the end of 14th century, these words began to shift towards a somewhat more positive and poetic meaning – the voluntary loneliness and poverty of hermits and ascetics were taken as an opportunity for spiritual enrichment as a basis for new and pure beauty.

What do the words Wabi and Sabi mean today

 “Wabi” today means something like simple, non-materialistic, modest, humble of his own volition, in accordance with nature, perceptive. “Sabi” can be literally translated as “blossom of time”-or a nice patina, it’s something that has been going on for some time. At present, both these words are often perceived by many Japanese as having more or less the same meaning.

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What is wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is an ancient Japanese philosophy influenced by Zen Buddhism (a bit of history here). It is one of the basic concepts of Japanese culture. Still, if you asked the Japanese public for an explanation of wabi-sabi, if you were even able to get an answer, every person would answer differently. Wabi-sabi really has no clear definition. That actually broadens the possibilities for different perceptions for each individual.

What is wabi sabi?In a simplified way, wabi-sabi can be described as thinking of celebrating the natural imperfection of the world and seeing a certain beauty in that imperfection. It is finding some evaluation and grace that brings the influence of time, for the things around us as well as for ourselves. It also perceives eventual defects as a certain uniqueness, awareness of the impermanence time.

Wabi-sabi was originally used to create the ideal environment for meditation in tea ceremonies.
These were guided by tea masters, all of which had to manage a huge range of knowledge, among others in architecture, interior design, garden design, flower arranging, painting, food preparation and acting. But they were also often philosophers and they used to express their thoughtsWhat is wabi sabi? with the writing and citation of very short poems (unlike the very large books of Western philosophers).

 

This is probably why short poetic expressions are the best for your own understanding of this way of looking at the world. And it’s up to us how we want to perceive them.

So, what is wabi-sabi?

What is wabi sabi?

It is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of the acceptance of the natural cycle of growth, death and decay.

It is a celebration of the beauty of normality and the natural evolution of life on earth.

It is the wisdom of a natural simplicity, honouring authenticity above all, as well as liberation from any biases or prejudices.

It is the beauty of modest and simple things, as well as the beauty of the unusual.

What is wabi sabi?

It is a celebration of cracks and crevices, and any other marks that time, weather, and even loving use leave behind.

It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet. 

The ideas of wabi-sabi can be described only as follows:

What is wabi sabi?

Simplicity 

Nature

Acceptance of imperfection

Transient beauty

Intuition

Asymmetry

Incompleteness

Peace of mind                              

Life in the moment

Valuation

Humility, modesty, moderation and austerity

Emptiness (consciousness of openness)

Everything is constantly changing

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