Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mindlessness, Mushin, and Mindfulness

Before I attempt to briefly define what I understand these things to be, allow me to preempt myself by saying, volumes of books can be read or written on these topics. People can (and have!) dedicated their entire lives understanding and mastering these – topics? Precepts?.
I'm attempting to define these things in a few short paragraphs. It should be obvious they will be lacking.


Most of the time, our minds function by generating a constant swirl of remarks and judgements that create a barrier of words and images that separate us from our own lives. This mental condition is called mindlessness and makes it difficult to be mindful, or attentive, to the experiences of our lives.

Most of the time, most of us exist in mindlessness, a state of semi awareness governed by habit and inattention. Most of our daily lives are essentially governed by routine.
Have you ever driven home from work, for example, only to arrive at home, not remembering the actual drive home?

The great value of these habits is that they free our minds to do other things; we do these things without having to expend precious energy trying to make up our minds. The bad thing is what we ultimately do with our minds during this time. (This could potentially be the point in which mushin should come into 'play') Unfortunately, the freedom such routines afford the mind is not well used. If they find a moment when complete attentiveness to the present is not demanded, our minds tend to gravitate to one of two places: the past or the future. Your thoughts may alternate between past and future, but they will tend to avoid the present as much as possible. If you pay attention to your ordinary thought processes, you will discover that you probably spend very little time living in the present.


Mindfulness is moment-by-moment awareness; it is the process of attentively observing your experience as it unfolds. Mindfulness allows us to become keep observers of ourselves and gradually transform the way our minds operate. With sustained practice, mindfulness can make us more attentive to our experience and less captive to the whims that drive our minds.


“No mind” in Japanese.
When you do something, you have to concentrate to do it the first time, and the 2nd time; 3rd time, 4th time, and the 10th time, but eventually you can perform the activity without thought; the same way you would dial a telephone number you've dialed a thousand times. Ultimately, the goal is not to have to concentrate, to be able to perform the task with “no mind”. This is how the mind is cleared and readied for enlightenment. This is Mushin.

~  ~  ~

How does Mushin relate to and interact with Mindfulness?
The example (of Mindlessness given of driving you car home without any memory of doing so could very much sound like mushin). What makes the difference between this act being an act of Mindlessness or a state of mushin?

Are the practices and/or goals of Mushin and Mindfulness compatible?
Are Mushin and Mindfulness opposites; or are Mushin and Mindlessness opposites?
Are they different paths to the same place; is one a path to enlightenment and the other a path to well-being?

Mindlessness would seem to be incidental, maybe even a poor default position, whereas Mushin and Mindfulness are deliberate, or strived for 'states'. (But even having said that, it's possible to find oneself in either Mushin or Mindfulness states). Maybe it's better to describe them as a higher state of mind.

Are Mushin and Mindfulness in conflict with one another. By some definitions what Mindfulness describes as Mindlessness also fits Mushin.


Anonymous said...

Hi Seph; haven't read any of your posts for awhile but glad I came back to see this one.
I've never heard of this Mushin, but from your definition it sounds quite distinct from either mindlessness or mindfulness. It seems like Mushin is an action that no longer needs thought to perform but unlike mindlessness the mind remains 'present' without randomly roaming through the past or future. And unlike mindfulness, no thought needs to be given to the action being performed. An example that comes to mind - imperfect perhaps - would be reciting the rosary. Performed without thought, yet maintaining the mind in a state of presence....clarity...readiness?

'Seph Sayers said...

I think your example is a very good one. Namely, reciting the rosary - performed without thought, yet maintaining a mindful state.