Note that this is a very old theme in the Far East. In the ancient Chinese classic Chuang Tzu, there is a section where the Yellow Emperor goes on a pleasure trip. He climbs the great mountain and surveys the Red Plain. He comes back, and finds that he has lost his black pearl. Well, this is a symbol. So he sets Knowledge-by-Reasoning to find it, but Reasoning cannot find it. Then he sets Precise Analysis to find it, but Precise Analysis cannot find it. Then he sets Big Words to find it, but Big Words cannot find it. Then he asks No-Idea. And No-Idea finds it. ‘Strange’, said the great Emperor, ‘that No-Idea should have been the one to find it!’
The interpretation of the Chinese characters is quite involved, but ‘No-Idea’ is from the meaning ‘no symbol’, ‘no form’. The second element of the character is literally an elephant, and the tradition is that the Chinese came across the bones of an elephant before they had ever seen one. They pieced together the bones and tried to construct the form of the elephant; hence the character for elephant came also to mean an abstract form, or a symbol. One point of the story is that inspiration will flash only when mind is cleared of laying traps and clever counters, and winning and losing generally. It is No-Idea who finds the black pearl of inspiration.
How is this state to be reached? By inner practices. One of them, which Kendo men do (or used to do), is this (You might like to try it now briefly):
Sit reasonably upright, the head balanced on the spine. Feel that you are on a hill-top, facing the blue sky. Feel that in your lap you have a cloth filled with pebbles. You sit there, and a thought comes up in your mind. Mentally pick up a pebble, and throw it, with the thought, away down the hill. ‘Not wanted. ‘Another thought comes up – that row I had yesterday. ‘I could have said …’ Throw it away with a pebble. Another thought, ‘What am I going to do about ….’ Throw it away. ‘Not wanted.’ Another thought: chuck it away in the same way. (I discussed this translation with a teacher, and he liked the word ‘chuck’ when it was explained to him. It is contemptuous. To chuck away is not just to throw away, but to throw away something worthless. Well, if you go on doing this, finally thoughts will become less. They cannot exist without your support. You sit and chuck them away with the pebbles. There is a sort of satisfaction as the thought and pebble go rolling away down the hill. Then just sit under the blue sky with no more thoughts coming up. So try it now for a few minutes. Visualise it.
That was one practice which Kendo men, and others too, used to do. It’s a good thing to get physical experience of it a few times. Get up early on a fine day in summer and go to a hill, and actually do it with real pebbles. To have done that, makes the mental practice more vivid. Some of them used to do it in the mountains, till there was an inner clearing and pacification. Then they could face opponents, and events, and illness, bad luck, and good fortune, equally, without becoming upset or excited. And it is then, Tokusai says, when there is freedom from reactions and from endless planning and making thoughts, that inspiration will show itself clearly.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Sword and Mind
Part 2: Give up all idea of winning
Part 3: Get people to practise
Part 5: The Lohan figure
Part 6: Make the mind empty
Part 7: Cut off before and after