Munen: No Thought | Zen Explained Simply

I had a friend a good many years ago, who suffered a great deal when making the most trivial decisions.

You would invite him to a party and watch him slowly unravel, spouting endless procrastinations and second guessing himself to the point where he was unable to make any decision at all.

When the mind stops and worries about which decision to make, we call that thinking. When the mind worries about it’s own worrying, we call that anxiety. When the mind worries about its own worrying about its own worrying, we call that ridiculous. When a decision is made without any stopping to choose or worry, we call that Zen.

The problem we’re faced with is that when we need to make a decision, our addiction to thinking tends to spiral into ridiculousness.

Say for example when you’re going to buy some ice cream. You’re now met with the terrible dilemma of whether to go with chocolate or strawberry. So, you attempt to call forth as much knowledge as you can about the situation:

“Well, chocolate always has been my favourite, but maybe I should mix it up a little and go for strawberry. Though, what if I choose strawberry and then regret it? Maybe I should choose chocolate just to be safe. But then again, strawberry is probably healthier, so I might regret that less if I do end up regretting whatever choice I do make”

And then, when the sarcastic man at the counter says, “Are you just going to stare at the ice cream, or buy some?” You make a snap judgement and choose vanilla.

The problem is entirely down to the fact that people tend to proritize knowledge over intuition. That is to say, we trust more the voice our heads saying “chocolate is my favourite” than the feeling that led to that cognition.

Think about it. Whatever you feel, you already feel without verbally telling yourself in your own head. The only person you’re talking to here is yourself, and so the amount of information that you gain from this communication is exactly zero.

It’s like paying yourself with your own money. It’s a useless loop that can be just cut out, and that is why it is Zen’s position to go ahead without hesitation and with no second thought. This is called munen, in Japanese, or wu-nian, in Middle Chinese.

Now, I’m not saying that you should disregard thinking altogether – logic can be an excellent tool – but the point I’m making here is as Zen master Yunmen said,

In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.