Shoshin

The famous duel between the swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi (left) and Sasaki Kojiro (Ganryu) at Ganryu-Jima island. Artist: Yoshifusa Utagawa (active ca. 1840–1860). Source: Wikimedia Commons

“It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet.” -Muhashi, The Book Of Five Rings

Bill:
Socrates – “The only true wisdom consists of knowing you know nothing.”

Ted:
That’s us, dude.

One of my favorite albums of 2021 is “A Beginner’s Mind” by Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine. (Great headphone album!) In an article here, the duo reveal their writing process…isolating themselves in a friend’s cabin, watching films at night and writing songs loosely inspired by the movies the following day.

“They wrote in tandem — one person writing a verse, the other a chorus, churning out chord progressions and lyrical tapestries willy-nilly, often finishing each other’s sentences in the process,” according to a statement. They channeled the Zen Buddhist concept of “shoshin” which means having an attitude of openness and a lack of preconceptions toward a subject regardless of expertise. One approaches all study like a beginner.

I’ll leave with you a story that perfectly encapsulates shoshin…

There once existed a scholar named Tokusan, who was full of opinions on philosophy.

One day, in search for debate, the scholar Tokusan knocked on the door of a famous Zen Master. The master’s name was Ryutan, and he bid the scholar welcome.

As per tradition, Ryutan served Tokusan tea before the conversation began. However, Ryutan did not stop pouring even when the cup was full. Piping hot tea begun to spill over its brim, falling on the saucer, the low desk and finally coming to rest on the robes of the scholar Tokusan himself.

In a panic, Tokusan yelled, “Stop! What are you doing? Can’t you see that the teacup is full?”

“Exactly.” Master Ryutan replied. “You are like this cup; filled to the brim with ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”

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