The Unification of Mind and Body
The following is an excerpt from Heaven’s Wind.
The name Nakamura gave to his practical philosophy is shin-shin tōitsu-dō (心身統一道), the “way” (道 dō) of “unity” or “integration” (統一 tōitsu) of “mind” (心 shin) and “body” (身 shin). The English translation of this name that has gained the most cultural traction outside of Japan is “mind-body unification,” especially as this is the rendering given it by Tōhei Kōichi when he introduced his “shin-shin tōitsu aikido,” a synthesis of Nakamura Tempū’s philosophy with Ueshiba Morihei’s martial discipline, aikido, into the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.
That translation, while not incorrect, can also be misleading; for, where unification implies a fusing of disparate parts into a new whole, shin-shin tōitsu-dō methodically points toward the discovery of the pre-existing and underlying unity of mind and body. Mind and body are united in much the same way that heads and tails are distinct in appearance but ultimately two faces of a single coin. Minds do not occur in the absence of bodies: every mind requires a body in which to be contained. Conversely, bodies, to the extent that they are living, are animated by an inherent intelligence, the functioning of which, at least on the human rung of evolution, we attribute with the quality of mind. Minds and bodies are already and necessarily integrated and united.
Not so, however, without qualification. Experience informs us that mind and body behave far more differently and with far more apparent autonomy than the heads and tails sides of a coin. Where mind imagines and often yearns for things or outcomes that are unattainable, the body does not always do what we want it to and reacts instead in ways that are irrational and unpleasant. We may conceive of mind as a higher function, but why, then, does that “higher” mind, against all better judgment, so often succumb to impulse and physical cravings? Furthermore, where the mind may allow itself to soar, free of the bonds of even time and space, the body is subject to real-world limitations: age, strength, environment, and so on. The body obeys many basic commands, but it is also insusceptible to many others: we exercise some measure of control over our breath, but considerably less over our heart rate or the functioning of the endocrine system.
The framing of the mind-body dichotomy as an existential problem is nothing new; it has perplexed and intrigued philosophers of all ages, from Socrates and the Buddha to Descartes and Kant. As these philosophers and others have noted, human suffering is usually the result of either wanting what we cannot have or having what we do not want. Why is it that our wants and desires are so at odds with conditions in the real world?
Tempū is less interested in the narrative history of this dichotomy than he is in its practical resolution. He describes his approach to answering this problem as follows:
So, how would I describe my outlook on life? That I can answer in a single sentence, so listen up. My outlook on life has nothing to do with endurance in the face of suffering or perseverance in the face of adversity, but rather—and this is what I want to say, so pay attention—it has everything to do with living as joyfully as possible. My purpose in life is to know the joy of living.…
Some of you are looking at me with skepticism written on your faces, so let me say it again. No matter what anyone says, for me, the key to living a meaningful life is not the cultivation of endurance and perseverance, but the cultivation of the ability to discover the joy of living under any set of circumstances.
Is that clear now? It should be obvious. What possible reason could there be for living if there is no joy to be had in it?
That said, there are academics and men of religion who will tell you that joy is a luxury. They will tell you that it is pointless to seek joy, because life is fundamentally hard; that the essence of living is the overcoming of hardships through perseverance. In fact, that more or less describes the predominant attitude toward life in the world at large, doesn’t it? It’s the kind of attitude with which you have been indoctrinated. Haven’t you been told, from since you were young—and haven’t you been led to believe, since before you can remember—things like “anyone can endure the endurable, but only when you have endured the unendurable can you say that you have endurance?” Or “you should never give up the good fight?”
Some of you are thinking, “What in the world is this Tempū guy talking about?” That’s alright. I’m not asking you to take me at my word. But I am asking that you continue to listen. And as you listen, to think about what I am saying.…
All of us have desires, and in the course of our daily lives we all go about the business of satisfying those desires: we use our bodies, we use our heads, we work and we toil—all to attain or materialize the objects of our desires.
Of course, not all of our desires are the same. Some of us may be after money. Some, after position. Or fame. Some of us may want, more than anything, to be consumed by the passion of love. Others may be more interested in owning jewels. Or a large house. Or expensive furniture. Or expensive clothes. Or all of the above? No, that’s going too far; that’s called greed.
The point is, we all want this or that or the other thing, but the reason we want these things is because we want to be happy. What we’re really after is happiness. This isn’t theory; just think about it in terms of your own experience.
In other words, human happiness is a product of the joy and satisfaction we experience in our lives. Happiness is the name we give to the experience of joy. “If you’re happy, clap your hands,” the song goes [a Japanese children’s song], but you can’t obtain happiness by clapping your hands.
In any event, rather than fabricating complicated theories about the meaning of life, I have concluded—I don’t know about you people; what you decide is up to you—but I have concluded that the cultivation of the ability to experience, whether mentally or physically, the joy of living in any situation or under any set of circumstances—especially given that sooner or later we are all going to die, and therefore it makes sense to make every moment count—is the whole point of being alive.
Usually, this is the kind of advise you would expect to hear from someone for whom death is imminent. But that’s only because most of you complacently assume that you are not going to die any time soon and therefore don’t need to think about these things. As the saying goes, “The cherry blossom that believes in tomorrow may be blown away by the evening breeze.” The reality is that death is always imminent, that “human is mortal.”
So one more time about my outlook on life. One more time because it’s worth repeating—twice, three times—how many times doesn’t matter to me. Life is not about endurance or perseverance. Life is about the experience of joy. The cultivation of the ability to discover joy under any circumstances is the most valuable of pursuits. I first came to this realization while I was in India, and it has been the guiding principle in my life ever since.[i]
The particular experience that produced this realization, he goes on to explain, was the discovery of how to listen for the voice of heaven.
This, then is the fundamental observation behind Tempū’s philosophy. Mind and body are brought into alignment when in service of a common purpose and seeking to realize a common goal, and the purpose best served and the goal best realized is the cultivation of the capacity to experience happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment, regardless of the circumstances within which we find ourselves. This is not to suggest that the purpose of his philosophy is to discard ambition and to be forever content with whatever circumstances are given to us. To the contrary, it is a philosophy that seeks to teach us how to meet the challenges of life head-on and how to overcome the obstacles, inevitably thrown before us, to the fulfillment of our dreams; for the best and most effective way to meet challenges and to overcome obstacles is to do so as an expression of our vitality and the joy of living. It is out of that vitality and joy that we discover faith and confidence in our abilities. And knowing what we really want in life is an essential first step to the experience of fulfillment.
The unity or integration implied by Tempū’s use of the term tōitsu—a literal reading of the characters with which tōitsu is written gives us “all one” or “of a single lineage”—is, thus, a product of neither mind nor body but of a commonality of purpose; how otherwise do you unify that which is physical with that which is mental? Mind and body are different in constitution and function, but they are both brought into play when taking action and seeking to achieve a result, and their different functions are most effective when united in purpose. With this understanding, shin-shin tōitsu might also be translated as “mind-body alignment” or “mind-body coordination.”
Whether unifying them or coordinating them, however, Tempū speaks of mind and body as one would of tools—of means to an end. His stated purpose is neither the cultivation of mind for mind’s sake nor the cultivation of body for body’s sake but the cultivation of both for the realization of joy and happiness. Therefore, that which is undertaking to coordinate mind and body in the fulfillment of a unified purpose is clearly neither mind nor body but a third constituent. That constituent is agency. It is the original face of spirit, the original identity, the listening wherein is heard the voice of heaven.
That life seldom works out the way that we want it to, and that we cannot simply will the world to be the way that we would like it to be, is part of the fundamental human conundrum. What separates Nakamura Tempū’s teachings, I believe, from those of either New Thought or New Age philosophers is the depth of his experience and his consequent willing acceptance of the hardness of reality: his is no fairy-tale formula for health, fame, and fortune—no prescription for the materialization of intentions—but, rather, the simple observation that life occurs now, in the moment, and that the life worth living is the one that meets all challenges, head-on, with confidence and equanimity.
While Nakamura had arrived at the principles of mind-body unification by the time he first rang his bell in Ueno Park, his articulation of shin-shin tōitsu-dō as a complete system came later. By Tempū’s account, the fundamentals of his mind-body unity doctrine were eight years in the making, and the fleshing out of that doctrine into a practical methodology, another eight years. Even then, it was never “finished,” for he continued to develop, refine, and elaborate his methodology right up until his death. But by simple arithmetic, eight years invested in developing the fundamentals plus eight years invested in developing the methodology puts the completion of shin-shin tōitsu-dō as a system in about 1935.
The years in between are busy ones. In 1922, he is introduced to Albert Einstein upon Einstein’s visit to Japan. In 1923, at the request of the minister of justice, he goes to Korea to assist, as he had done with the miners in Iwaki, in the settlement of a railway labor dispute that had spurned riots, and while there he is befriended by Saitō Makoto, governor-general of annexed Korea (later, to become Japan’s prime minister); under Saitō’s sponsorship he establishes a Korean chapter of the Society for Unity-based Philosophy and Medicine.
While he is away, the Great Kantō Earthquake devastates much of Tokyo; Nakamura’s house survives, but that of his mentor, Tōyama Mitsuru, is completely destroyed.
In 1924, he publishes the first issue of the periodical “Jikaku” (Self-realization). Publication will continue until 1941 wartime paper shortages force it into suspension.
In December of the same year, he delivers a series of talks to three of the five royal households directly descended from Emperor Meiji. In attendance on at least one of these occasions are Prince Regent Hirohito and Princess Nagako; twenty-four months later, destiny will crown them Emperor and Empress. Tempū presents the young prince with a poem, “Make the world yours by living just as you are and you will know neither fear nor regret.” Would that, in the light of later history, this singularly prescient advice had gone better heeded.
Also in attendance on this occasion is the prominent author and educator Nitobe Inazō. Nitobe’s classic work, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, written in English and first published in Philadelphia in 1900, is the first serious attempt by a Japanese writer to explain the ethics of Japan’s bygone warrior class; the book, still in print today, became an international best seller following the Russo-Japan War.
In February 1925, Nakamura lectures again in Seoul, Korea, this time at the invitation of the Keijō Nippō, an Asahi News-affiliated newspaper.
His lectures are drawing the attention of an increasing roster of nobles, generals, admirals, cabinet members, educators, and leaders of industry. Japan’s most celebrated navy admiral of all time, Tōgō Heihachirō, the commander who defeated the Russian Baltic Fleet at the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, comes to hear him speak and listens with great interest as Tempū explains kumbhaka. Ishikawa Sodō, head abbot of the Sōtō Zen sect of Buddhism, also attends and discovers in Tempū someone with whom he can converse about the heart of Zen.
In June, Tempū delivers a live talk over the airwaves of Osaka Broadcasting. This in turn leads to the publication of three vinyl recordings entitled “The Philosophy of Laughter,” “The Philosophy of Work,” and “The Key to Success.”
Construction of Tempū’s training headquarters, his hombu dojo, is completed in 1927. His mother, Teu, dies in 1928. The following year, his daughter Tsuruko is married to Yasutake Sadao; forty years later, Yasutake will succeed Tempū as the Tempūkai’s second chairman. Then, in 1930, the Nakamuras adopt a second daughter, Masako, age sixteen; her birth name is Kanno, and she has attended Tempū’s lectures since middle school.
Tempū’s success, as measured by the numbers of people he touched and influenced, both during his lifetime and after, was due, in large part, to his personal charisma. He was, in every way, the embodiment of the principles he preached, and he had a commanding presence that was capable of quickly putting almost any audience in the palm of his hand. And even as he berated these audiences for their shallow beliefs and misinformed habits, he also radiated a magnetic benevolence and love of humanity.
But charisma alone is insufficient cause for the persistence of his ideas. The better explanation is that they work. Given that Tempū had survived the ravages of tuberculosis in a day and age when such survival was almost unheard of, not surprisingly, many of the people attracted to his teachings were suffering from life-threatening illnesses. Tempū was not a doctor, and he did not dispense medical advice; but he did prescribe a method and a means by which those so willing could help themselves. As a result, miracles occurred. And they continue to occur among people taking up his teachings today. Persons afflicted by tuberculosis, cancer, polio, trauma, and other maladies have attributed either partial or complete recovery, as well as the ability to lead productive and fulfilling lives, to the teachings of Nakamura Tempū.
His teachings have also had a profound effect on people engaged in entrepreneurial, political, and artistic pursuits. For these people, the philosophy of mind-body coordination has provided spiritual sustenance and a beacon of light on the way to overcoming obstacles and producing results. Some of the notable people influence by Nakamura Tempū are profiled in chapter seventeen.
As stated in my introduction, a thorough and complete discussion of Tempū’s philosophy is beyond the scope of this book. Furthermore—and this point cannot be overstressed—his philosophy is a practical one, meaning that the practices are integral to its comprehension and understanding. And while some of those practices can be explained through the written medium, others require direct transmission from a qualified instructor.
Nevertheless, having brought you this far in his story, I would be remiss were I not to give at least an overview of his teachings. Because the territory covered by Tempū’s teachings is vast, I will inevitably be guilty of omitting more than I include, and my explanations cannot help but be colored by my personal perspective. With that understanding, let us begin by looking at the relationship between mind and body. (Continued.)
[i] Tempū’s explanation of his outlook on life is taken from the transcript, published in Seidai-na Jinsei, of a talk delivered on October 15, 1965.