Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The positive presence of absence in the Japanese aesthetic extends to mind. In Zen, the term used is mushin [ 無心 ]: in English "no-nous." [A strict translation of the kanji is "vacant heart" - "heart" in this sense approximating nous in English: e.g. OED: Considered as the centre of vital functions: the seat of life; the vital part or principle; hence in some phrases = life."]
The following from Albert M. Craig's The Heritage of Japanese Civilisation (placed on Course reserve) is an excellent precis of the larger concept.

The Arts and Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism in Japan developed a theory of art that influenced every department of high medieval culture. Put simply, the theory is that intuitive action is better than conscious, purposive action. The best painter is one so skilled that he no longer needs to think of technique but paints as a natural act. Substitute a sword for a brush, and the same theory applies: a warrior who has to stop to consider his next move is at a
disadvantage in battle. To this emphasis on direct, intuitive action is added the Zen distinction between the deluded mind and the "original mind." The latter is also referred to as the "no mind," or the mind in the enlightened state. The highest intuitive action proceeds from such a state of being. This theory was applied, in time, to the performance of the actor, to the skill of the potter, to archery, to flower arrangement, and to the tea ceremony. Compare the following two passages, on by Seami (1363-1443), the author of many No plays, and the other by Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a famous Zen master of the early Tokugawa era.

1. Sometimes spectators of the No say: "The moments of 'no-action' are the most enjoyable." This is an art which the actor keeps secret. Dancing and singing, movements and the diffrent types of miming are all acts performed by the body. Moments of "no-action" occur in between. When we examine why such movements without actions are enjoyable, we find that it is due to the underlying spiritual strength of the actor which unremittingly holds the attention. He does not relax the tension when the dancing or singing come to an end or at intervals between the dialogue and the different types of miming, but maintains an unwavering inner strength. This feeling of inner strength will faintly reveal itself and bring enjoyment. However, it is undesirable for the actor to permit this inner strength to become obvious to the audience. If it is obvious, it becomes and act, and is no longer “no-action." The actions before and after an interval of “no-action” must be linked by entering the state of mindlessness in which one conceals even from oneself one’s intent, This, then, is the faculty of moving audiences, by linking all the artistic powers with one mind.

2. Where should a swordsman fix his mind? If he puts his mind on the physical movement of his opponent, it will be seized by the movement; if he places it on the sword of his opponent, it will be arrested by the sword; if he focuses his mind on the thought of striking his opponent, it will be carried away by the very thought; if the mind stays on his own sword, it will be captured by his sword; if he centers it on the thought of not being killed by his opponent, his mind will be overtaken by this very thought; if he keeps his mind firmly on his own or on his opponent’s posture, likewise, it will be blocked by them. Thus the mind should not be fixed anywhere.

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