Tanren – use the body to elevate the spirit

The following passage is from a lecture given by Yamaoka Tesshu to his students. In it he tries to explain the process of Shugyo.
There are three methods the carpenter adopts when using his plane. They are rough planing, medium planing and finish planing.

To practice rough planing make your body firm, stretch out the stomach and brace the lower trunk then with equal strength in both arms plane to a rough finish. In other words use the strength of your whole body without relaxing it. If you do not use sufficient effort you will not manage to rough plane.

Next there is medium planing. With medium planing it is not merely a question of using all your strength. You must plane the surface flat by adopting a natural modulation of strength in the hands. This is to prepare it for the finish plane. However without the experience gained from rough planing it will not be possible to succeed with medium planing.

Finally there is finish planing. This time the wood that was prepared by earlier medium planing is made even smoother and free of flaws. To do this you must plane with one single stroke at a time, from one end of the timber to the other. If your heart is not calm when you make this single stroke, you will score many flaws and faults into the wood and if there are flaws then the timber has not yet been finished. For the carpenter in his use of the plane this is the most important stage.

First of all you must be in possession of mind, body and technique. For the carpenter mind, body and technique equals plane man and timber. If the man thinks to plane the plane will catch; if the plane is thought to plane it will rise off the timber. To possess mind, body and technique is represented here in the action of one place of plane, man and timber. If this is not mastered thoroughly then however much you train to be a carpenter you will never plane timber well.

In order to become proficient at planing timber the most effective way is to begin training in the way of rough planing. If you can do this well then you can also manage medium planing and finish planing.

However, in order to finish plane well there is a secret. Although I say it is a secret, actually it is nothing so special. Just put mind, body and technique out of your head and plane away. It is by doing it in this way that you do a good job. And here, without being aware of it, you will have mastered the secret of finish planing. There is something quite interesting about this secret, I think.

Before you have mastered this for yourself, nothing that has been taught you will be of any real use. Thus, there is no other way than to try to discover it for yourself. No matter what you do, there is no way that anyone can communicate this to you.



While many run around seeking the fast way to technical invincibility, Tesshu would argue that if you haven’t found it within yourself, it can never really be yours. Train the body hard, overcome fears and narrow mindedness  remove opinion and ego – Always seek the truth within the basic movements, destroy the ego, uncover the truth. When you listen carefully to body mind and spirit, the true potential as a human being can be discovered.