A Decoy’s Mind

A decoy is an artificial bird made of wood. It is used for sport hunting to disturb other birds like ducks and hunt them. Just like a lure for fishing, it looks like a real creature to deceive other fish.

Traditionally, however, when we say a gamecock made of wood, there is a profound implication. In Chinese characters, 木鶏, it means a wooden rooster. Using the metaphor of training a gamecock, it represents a perfect state of mind.

This anecdote is from Zhuangzi 荘子 (circa third century BC.)

Ji Xingzi was training one gamecock for the king. After ten days, the king asked Ji Xingzi if this cock was ready for a fight. Ji Xingzi said, “Not yet. The cock is haughtily showing off his strength and relying on it.” Another ten days passed, the king asked Ji Xingzi again. He said, “Not yet. The cock is quickly responding to any noise and movement as if he tries to deaf them.” Another ten days passed, Ji Xingzi said, “Not yet. He looks calm at a glance and yet he is still looking around keenly.”

Another ten days, finally Ji Xingzi said, “He is almost ready. He is now genuinely calm. It seems he is made of wood transcending his fight.”

The story looks counterintuitive, even paradoxical. Once we align ourselves with nature, we would look like a decoy. We are perfectly unfettered.

Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645), one of the Rinzai school Zen monks, called such state the unfettered mind and taught one of the legendary samurai swordsmen, Yagyū Munenori (1571-1646). In his book, the Unfettered Mind (不動智神妙録), literally, the Mysterious Records of Immovable Wisdom, Takuan mentioned the secret why the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara (In Chinese 千手観音菩薩, in Sanskrit सहस्रभुज) was able to perfectly control her arms.

It represents the deep compassion of the Avalokiteshvara. To practice her compassion, however, all her arms should be controllable without being overwhelmed to reach out all people who suffer. If her mind does not attach any arms, but focuses on one arm at a time and moves on and on, then all of them are seamlessly controllable to manifest all kinds of her compassion to everyone and everything.

Ironically, with this metaphor, Takuan advised Yagyū Munenori about the mind of the ideal samurai swordsman who is facing many opponents. The mind of samurai should be like the mind of the Avalokiteshvara, and the mind of a decoy as Ji Xingzi mentioned.

Interestingly, Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) talked about it. He called it a free mind. Just like a mirror, it accepts everyone and everything and yet never attaches to anyone and anything.

A free mind is one which is untroubled and unfettered by anything, which has not bound its best part to any particular manner of being or devotion and which does not seek its own interest in anything but is always immersed in God’s most precious will, having gone out of what is its own. There is no work which men and women can perform, however small, which does not draw from this its power and its strength.

Meister Eckhart

Image by Sasin Tipchai;

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