Seek the lost mind

One of the fundamental idea of Eastern philosophy is self-transformation into a near-perfect human being: call it "enlightment" (satori 悟り) or "superior man" (kunshi 君子) or "man of the Way" (dousha 道者), - all the same. But there is a twist. This excellence should become an inherent, unchanging attribute of ours, not something that we maintain by constant care and effort.

This idea is expressed again and again in the classics, distinguishing self-control from real excellence that manifests itself even in spontaneity. The passage below is from Takuan Souhou 沢庵宗彭 (1573-1645), a Zen priest who was a spiritual teacher to Yagyuu Munenori, a famous swordman and founder of the Shinkageryuu (a school of swordfighting).

Takuan s chief work is titled 不動智神妙録 Fudouchi shinmyouroku, "The mysterious record of unmovable wisdom". It is the most prominent source of "samurai Zen" in the Tokugawa era, and I am going to cite it from time to time on this website.

The passage below contrasts a saying of Mencius (孟子), a Confucian scholar of ancient China, with a Chan precept. Mencius advocates self-discipline by controlling and focusing the mind ("seek the lost mind"), while the Chan priest Shao4 Kang1-jie2 (邵康節 shou kousetsu) aims at spontaneity, letting the mind be free of control, "losing the mind".

"Seek The Lost Mind"

This is a saying of Mencius. It means that one should seek out the lost mind and return it to himself.

If a dog, cat or cock has escaped and run off to some other place, one will look for it and return it to his house. Likewise, when the mind, the master of the body, has gone off on a wicked path, why do we not seek after it and restore it to ourselves? This is certainly most reasonable.

But there is also a saying of Shao K'ang-chieh's that goes, "It is essential to lose the mind.''l2 This is quite different. The general drift is that when the mind is tied down, it tires, and like the cat, is unable to function as it should. If the mind does not stop with things, it will not be stained by them and will be used well. Let it alone to run off wherever it will.

Because the mind is stained and stopped by things, we are warned against letting this happen, and are urged to seek after it and to return it to ourselves. This is the very first stage of training. We should be like the lotus which is unstained by the mud from which it rises. Even though the mud exists, we are not to be distressed by this. One makes his mind like the well-polished crystal which remains unstained even if put in the mud. He lets it go where it wishes.

The effect of tightening up on the mind is to make it unfree. Bringing the mind under control is a thing done only in the beginning. If one remains this way all through life, in the end he will never reach the highest level. In fact, he will not rise above the lowest.

When one is in training, it is good to keep Mencius' saying, "Seek the lost mind," in mind. The ultimate, however, is within Shao K'ang-chieh's, "It is essential to lose the mind."

(translated by William Scott Wilson)
求放心 と申すは孟子が申したるにて候 放れたる心を尋ね求めて 我身へ返せと申す心にて候

たとへば犬猫鶏など放れて余所 へ行けば 尋ね求めて我家に返す如くに 心は身の主なるを 悪敷道へ行く心が逃げるを 何とて求めて返さぬぞと也 尤も斯くあるべき義なり

然るに又邵康節と云ひしは 心要放と申し候 はらりと替り申し候

斯く申したる心持は 心を執らへつめて置いては労 (つか)れ 猫のやうにて身が働かれねば物 に心が止らず 染ぬやうに能く使ひなして捨置いて 何所へなりとも追放せと云ふ義なり

Here is the passage that Takuan was quoting from Mencius:
Mencius said, "Jen is the mind of human beings. Righteousness is their path. To abandon the path and not follow it, or to lose the mind and not know enough to seek it: this is a pity indeed!" "When people lose their chickens and dogs, they know enough to look for them, but when they lose their mind, they do not know enough to seek it. The way of study and inquiry is none other than the search for the lost mind."

Mencius 6A:11, transl. Charles Muller


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