Tuesday, November 3, 2015

States Of Mind: Heijoshin

Photo Copyright 2015 Grigoris Miliaresis



This one is for Scott Halls.

From the Kenkyusha Online Dictionary
へいじょうしん【平常心】 (heijshin)one's usual frame of mind; self-possession; composure; equanimity; an imperturbable [unperturbed] (frame of) mind.平常心保つ remain self-possessed [unperturbed]; preserve one's composure [equanimity];  keep one's cool平常心を失う lose one's composure [equanimity,  cool].
Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts   pg. 143
  1. BUDDHISM - an impartial mind and, by extension, a tranquil mind. Literally, a “normal” mind.  2. MARTIAL ARTS - The normal or tranquil state of mind which must be maintained when one is under attack. In other words, one must remain relaxed and self-confident.

Digital Dictionary Of Buddhism
The mind lacking artifice and mistaken discrimination, the natural condition of sentient beings


Heijoshin 平常心 can be a tough term to understand because it is often hidden behind complex Buddhist explanations.  The term is made up of 3 Chinese characters, but is really a combination of two words. The first two characters combine to make the common term “heijo” 平常, which simply means “normal.”  The last character is read “shin’ in this usage, but when it stands alone is read “kokoro” , which is the word for the mind, including the emotions and other parts that are usually labeled as “heart” in English.  The Japanese don’t make the mistake of separating the logical and emotional parts of the mind into separate entities.  They recognized long ago that the mind is all of the logical and rational bits mixed up with the emotional bits, rather like a plate of spaghetti with sauce on it after the noodles and sauce have been stirred together.  They can’t be separated.  It would be pointless to try.

In Buddhist terms it is the normal mind without any attachments clouding it. However, since this blog is about budo rather than Buddhism, we’re not going to get into that.  For me, heijoshin is something of a culmination of some of mental states I’ve talked about in the past. Mushin is often seen as limited, a state of mental flow that can be achieved from time to time, but doesn’t last, and certainly isn’t normal.

Fudoshin, the immovable, imperturbable mind described so eloquently and bafflingly by the Zen Buddhist monk Takuan Soho isn’t as remote and ephemeral as some flow state that we touch from time to time. An immovable mind isn’t disturbed by what happens, doesn’t get stuck on any one thing that comes along, and isn’t distracted by every shiny new idea or event.  
That’s a big part of heijoshin, the normal mind. The normal mind on a normal, boring day can move along with the activity of the day without getting caught up in any of it. Heijoshin includes more than just being imperturbable though. The normal mind in Buddhist theory, as I understand it, is one that also isn’t attached to any preconceptions. It is the normal mind we are born with, one that is not cluttered with preconceived notions, that doesn’t impose it’s own expectations on the world, and one that doesn’t color what it sees with prejudices and prior judgements.

Miyamoto Musashi wrote 常の心 which is often written 平常心in modern Japan (Musashi’s Japanese from the early 1600’s is much more difficult for 21st century Japanese to understand than Shakespeare’s English is for the average American high school student).  His phrase can be read toko no kokoro or tada no kokoro or  tsune no kokoro.  Toku means “constant, unchanging.” Tada is “ordinary, common, usual, unaffected.” Tsune is the “usual state of things.” All these together are are a good equivalent for heijoshin.

Heijoshin is the “normal mind.” Like mushin, the “normal mind” isn’t any more normal than the “no mind” of mushin is really the absence of the mind. In budo, heijoshin is the fully developed mind that isn’t disturbed or unbalanced by actions or events. It remains calm and unruffled regardless of what happens.  I don’t know about anyone else, but to me that is a very abnormal mind. All of the normal minds around me (and too frequently this includes mine) get upset and disturbed by the unexpected.
Heijoshin then, is a very unusual mind. A person with heijoshin mind maintains the same calm, balanced and unruffled manner regardless of whether she is slicing up vegetables with a knife or cutting down foes with a sword. It takes a well trained and highly experienced mind to maintain a calm and unruffled condition even in the heat of battle.

This is where all that training we do comes into play. It’s common to hear people criticize kata practice for being stiff and formal, and especially for not teaching people how to adjust and adapt to the unexpected. On the contrary, I’ve found kata training to be exceptionally good at developing students awareness, calmness and mental flexibility.  Precisely because so many factors are known in kata practice, students have the mental space to really learn to read their partner’s body and movements and learn to spontaneously adjust to differences in timing and spacing.

In koryu, you don’t get to be on the receiving end of the kata until you have significant experience on the doing side learning to read your partner.  This is important, because once you are on the receiving end of the kata working with beginners, anything can happen. Beginners mix up kata and do the unexpected with great frequency. Having a solid grounding in being able to read your partner’s stance and movement is the first step in developing a heijoshin mind. The senior is responsible for handling whatever the junior does, and quickly learns to do this causally. It’s just part of the training.

As the intensity of practice in kata increases, the student has to become more and more calm in the face of that pressure. Developing a heijoshin mind is one of the goals of classical budo practice. There are lots of stress and shocks built into budo practice. Over time, the student should gain greater and greater composure and equanimity. Certainly it is not unusual to see senior level students deal with a junior mistakenly switching from one kata to another part way through the first kata. Or getting accidentally banged with a stick during practice without acknowledging that anything untoward or painful happened until after the kata is finished.
 
http://www.budogu.com/Default.asp
Great Martial Arts Equipment, Clothing and Media

That is heijoshin in action. Even when startled, shocked or hurt, the student maintains composure and continues on with the appropriate action.  As students progress, the amount stress needed to disturb their heijoshin increases. Students are able to remain calm and unflustered.

In addition, students learn to recognize when they are trying to impose their preconceptions and expectations on a situation. This often happens when students decide when or how fast their partner will attack and then move at the wrong time. They have to learn to turn off their expectations and just respond to what their partner is really doing. Sometime these lessons hurt because if you decide what your partner is going to do, and she does something different, you end up catching a stick with the side of your head (this hurts and is to be avoided.  I have some experience with this form of learning).

Calm. Imperturbable. Relaxed. Without expectations. Tranquil. The Buddhists call this heijoshin, normal mind. For the rest of us it is an exceptional mind, and another goal of training.

7 comments:

Rick Matz said...

My Chinese martial arts friends would call this the "wuji" mind. Wuji being the state before yin and yang began to separate themselves from each other.

When I am practicing regularly, I find that when confronted (not surprised) with the unexpected, I have time to respond rather than react, if you take my meaning.

A glass gets knocked over. Time doesn't slow down, but I find that I have enough time to simply reach out, catch it and set it right.

Draven Olary said...

"I don’t know about anyone else, but to me that is a very abnormal mind. All of the normal minds around me (and too frequently this includes mine) get upset and disturbed by the unexpected."

We get upset and disturbed by unexpected AFTER it happened. In my opinion, Heijoshin is a state of mind that is anchored in present and nothing but present.

Draven Olary said...

PS Fear, doubt, surprise and confusion are the 4 elements that will ruin any result in a confrontation. Each of these elements have their counter in my opinion: doubt and fear - fudoshin, surprise - zanshin, confusion - mushin.
Mastering these will get us to Heijoshin.
I think we can't get to Heijoshin without passing through these learning stages. Or someone can, but in that case he is just an arrogant psychopath.

Jesse Nichols said...

A really great explanation heijoshin! I would to see more of your explanations of various Budo concepts. Again, kudos.

Unknown said...

Very articulate. Look forward to more.

Scott Halls said...

Every time I read this article, it presents new questions about heijoshin, my dojo & students - and why I do all this budo stuff.

Our dojo name came from an experience with my teacher in Japan where he discussed my level of heijoshin after an incident where I managed to keep it together and continue our practice together, despite a reasonable amount of pain. I'd like to think it was heijoshin, the ordinary (or extraordinary, as Peter says) mind, but in reality, I'm just a stubborn old goat who likes a fight. :-)

For me, heijoshin is everything. I tell my guys not to flap when it comes to shinza or embu - all the skill in the world is for naught if they allow themselves to fall into a state of fushin.

One of the most thought-provoking articles Peter has written, in my opinion. Especially so for me.

Thanks again, buddy.

The Budo Bum said...

Thank you. I'm always glad to know that someone finds something of worth in what I've written. Heijoshin is fundamental to what we are doing and what we are trying to become through our practice. I may have to come back to this as my understanding deepens.