by Eri Takase
Note: This article first appeared in the January 1999 Issue of
When in Japan I will
visit temples for what is called Seishin Toitsu which my dictionary says
means "concentration". While this definition is true, it is also unsatisfactory.
By stepping through the temple gate, I am transported to a world of harmony and
tranquility. The temple will be, perhaps, covered in early autumn. Around me the
multi-colored leaves will fall like jewels to the dew covered ground. Here there is no
male and female. There is no age. There is no social standing.
It is this place and this state of mind I come to when my spirit (Seishin)
is gathered (Toitsu), when my mind (Seishin) is one
(Toitsu). Gone are the myriad distractions and all that remains is myself,
focused and attentive on the here and now. All is equal and in harmony and this transcends
I first met with Japanese Calligraphy when I was just six years old. I can say it did
not appeal to me then. Especially the part where I would have to tediously grind the sumi
ink against the ink stone for what seemed an eternity. And it helped not at all that my
instructor would say mysteriously that the essence of calligraphy can be found in the
grinding of the ink.
It is the grinding of the ink, a metaphor for the process and the form, that takes one
from the myriad distractions of life to that Zen temple in early autumn. To the state of
Seishin Toitsu. As the water takes the ink and as the color approaches the
subtle shade, I am possessed of a strong energy that is focused and flowing. There is no
hesitation and no doubt. When the ink is complete, my spirit (Seishin) is
focused (Toitsu) in the here and now. And my mind is one with the task. This
is Seishin Toitsu. This is the mindset that without which there would be no
Only when one is centered and focused can one can act.
In contrast, one might imagine someone arranging flowers by choosing one flower and
putting it this way. Then after some thought replacing it with another flower placed
another way. And continuing in this manner. Trying this and then trying that. Looking at
it from this angle and that. Perhaps even asking the opinion of someone nearby. While
flower arranging does not condone this style, one can certainly arrange flowers in this
manner and stumble upon a very lovely combination. The final arrangement does not reflect
every detail of the creation.
And despite all the fussing, one can still end up
with an exquisite end product. But with the calligraphy brush, as with the sword, one
cannot escape from the effects of indecisiveness and hesitation. One cannot start over.
One cannot change what has already been done. With calligraphy as with the tea ceremony as
with the Martial Arts, all movements are visible and an integral part of the art. The
speed with which the line is drawn. The pause. The fluidity of one movement into the next.
A powerful line. A gentle line. All visible. All an integral part of the art.
This is the nature of Japanese Calligraphy and the Martial Arts. It has been
this way in ancient times and it is this way today. The end result is not the point. The
end result will happen only by focusing on the process. Only when the mind
(Seishin) is one (Toitsu) will the end result flow from the act.
And so it is the process: the planning, the grinding of the ink, the mental preparation, the Seishin Toitsu that is all
And so it is not out of place for individuals to practice several of these arts.
Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), who authored "The Book of Five Rings" in the last
year of his life, is renowned today for not only his swordsmanship, but also for his
calligraphy and painting. Japan's most famous generals of the 16th century Toyotomi
Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were known both for the uniting of Japan and for their fine
skills in the Tea Ceremony. The common thread being Seishin Toitsu.