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Mushin is a Zen expression meaning 'mind of no mind'. It entails being total absorbed in the event itself. This is not to be confused with concentration.
Concentration is a substitution process where one focus is highlighted at the exclusion of all else. Mushin is not focus. It is presence.
By being here and now, with no discursive thoughts, a person is free to move with what is happening.

Chop wood

Zen stories and mondos often feature statements encouraging the student to chop wood, wash the dishes and so on.
These everyday mundane activities are ready opportunities for you to achieve a condition of mushin.


Self-consciousness ruins mushin. To understand mushin you must lose your sense of self and be with the now. Be absorbed in the moment.


The mind is not fixed on anything. No planning, no anticipation, no fear. No aggression. No ego. You are composed and calm. Detached and aware. Receptive and flexible.
There is no doubt or hesitation. You are free and spontaneous. Instead of preparing, you feel. Instead of techniques, you respond. You adapt, change and improvise relative to the demands of the moment.
The student is one with every action.

Cultivating mushin

All of the partner work exercises in our syllabus cultivate mushin. It is not just the drill themselves. It is the way in which we explore the material. The how. The mind is present at all times.
It flows without stagnancy. We find stability in movement, not in holding to things. The subconscious mind is encouraged to become dominant.
That way, conscious thought/chattering does not interfere with spontaneity and immediacy.


The tai chi quality of shen requires the student to imbue their actions with spirit. This assumes the presence of mushin.


Sung also assumes mushin. Many people think that 'sung' means relax, but it is far more than this. True sung involves a condition whereby the body is no longer felt.
You simply move, and you are with the energy of the movement rather than in the mechanics of the body.

Finding mushin

If you can cultivate mushin, then your heightened awareness can extend to all aspects of your life. There is no division between combat and leisure. Your state of mind remains exactly the same.
Narratives concerning martial arts, tea ceremony, wabi sabi or tai chi merge together and you recognise messages and themes inherent in all things.


In order to find mushin you simply need to be here and now. Nowhere else. At any given time, nothing else in the universe matters more than what you are doing right now.
The cars outside, the neighbours, the music, the humming of the computer, the smell of food are all part of the moment, and you are nowhere but here.
It is all happening at once and you are totally immersed in it.

The prayer of the monk is not perfect until he no longer recognizes himself or the fact that he is praying.

(St Anthony)


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Page created 11 September 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023