The Unfettered Mind, by Takuan Soho (17th Century CE)

If you’ve ever read the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) by Miyamoto Musashi, and most practitioners of Japanese martial arts styles have (or have been recommended to), and want to see how Zen Buddhism can apply to Martial Arts, then this is the book for you.  I highly encourage any reader to have a foundation in Zen (D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, Thich Nhat Hahn, or even a Complete Idiot’s Guide…) before reading this book, though, as the concepts within are mired in the era it was written.

Just a word of warning to all readers who aren’t literate in Japanese history, or the development of Zen and Buddhism – as with anything else that is based on worldview or subjective paradigms and how people see the world, there are quite a few concepts in the book that may appear to mean one thing when read with an occidental (Westernized) mindset, but mean something completely different in the face of an oriental one…

That being said, this is one of my favourite books – and that’s even after having it as required reading for University!

A little about the author, with more later: Takuan Soho, an Abbot of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in the 17th century CE, was extremely influential on many of the warriors of the day ranging from Miyamoto Musashi to Yagyu Munenori; he was even sought out by Tokugawa Iemitsu (the Shogun in the latter years of Soho’s life).

Although not a swordsman, he was highly sought after for his understanding… although, this was not always the case.  He was once banished by the Shogun before Iemitsu (Tokugawa Hidetada) for his refusal to allow the government to interfere with temple procedures.  Takuan was later pardoned during a general amnesty, became Abbot of the Edo temple built for the Tokogawa family, and eventually died in 1645.

Interestingly, Takuan died approximately 12 years after the Sakoku period began – when Japan basically closed its doors to any external country, essentially denying the existence of any other peoples than the Japanese. It is alleged that he wrote the Chinese symbol for “dream” just before he put the brush down and subsequently died… which is rather interesting considering two things – the mythos regarding Zen and Martial Arts masters seemingly knowing the exact moment they are to die, as well as the fact that he wrote this in a language that would have been banned at this time… a rebel until the end.

Although Takuan Soho wrote hundreds of poems and other works, he is best known for his writing “The Unfettered Mind”, a compilation of writings to Yagyu Munenori detailing how Zen applies to the Martial Arts.  This is a great translation of Soho’s work by well-known orientalist William Scott Wilson.

3.75 out of 4



Leave a Reply