Beginner's Mind


Zeami Motokiyo (世阿弥 元清 c.1363 – c.1443 Japanese aesthetician, actor and playwright) established noh as a stand-alone art form and his formulation continues to the present day. Zeami likens a noh actor to a flower. Zeami left the works ‘Fushikaden’ (The Treatise of the Flower through a Mastery of the Forms (noh theatre)), also called the ‘Kadenshyo’, and the ‘Kakyou’ which contain the aphorism ‘shyoshin wasureruru bekarazu’, ‘Never forget the beginner’s spirit’. This aphorism reveals a beautiful truth. To elucidate, the shoshin beginner’s mind is divided into three stages over a lifetime:


1. Forget not the the beginner’s mind of youth (zehi no shoshin o wasureruru bekarazu「是非の初心忘るるべからず」). When a teen or person of their 20s takes the noh stage for the first time, their wholehearted concentration is comparable to a blossoming flower. However, this impassioned concentration becomes stale at some point, and the performer matures to a point where the blossoming flower of impassioned youth withers and disappears from the stage. So what should one do? Zeami continues:


2. Forget not the beginner’s mind of maturity (tokidoki no shoshin o wasureruru bekarazu 「時々の初心忘るるべからず」).


Now one must tread the stage while cultivating their original expression, and successfully executing their original ideas. When a person of their 30s or 40s is on stage, their sincere heart is comparable to a flower, a flower they must bud and make bloom themselves through the execution of their own original creation. Zeami’s time was a time when an average life was but 50 years, and passing from the beginner’s mind of youth and beginner’s mind of maturity, there was one more beginner’s mind:


3. Forget not the beginner’s mind of old age (ro no shoshin wasureruru bekarazu 「老の初心忘るるべからず」).


In their 50s, even by moving but one metre over the stage, the beauty of the spirit of a noh performer is comparable to a flower blossoming on an ancient wood. This is a very beautiful metaphor. And this is the metaphor one must carry to death; the blossoming flower of the performance only withers and falls when the life-force has withered and left the ancient root.


Zeami’s aphorism embodies the repetition of Dogen, the thought that through repetition humans continue to blossom throughout all stages of their life.


Excerpt from:

Translation of NHK radio broadcast of Ueda Sokei’s lecture on 26 Feb 2011

Samurai Tea and Hiroshima Culture - The Spirit and Modernity

Speaker: Ueda Sōkei, 16th Grandmaster of the Ueda Sōko Tradition of Tea