Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for Fūrinkazan

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as a forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain." Fūrinkazan is a composite of the Chinese words for Wind, Forest, Fire, and Mountain and embraces this concept. Think of it as shorthand to remind commanders and troops the principles of conducting warfare.

One of my very favorite concepts in the Art of War, the principles outlined in "Wind, Forest, Fire, and Mountain," clearly speak to a place we can all find in our own paths. This place, which we'll adopt the term Fūrinkazan to describe, can be defined by two words - clarity and commitment.


Clarity is a concept that we badly misinterpret when it comes to ourselves and our paths. It doesn’t begin with seeing the challenge before us clearly. Clarity's origin is not even found with us being able to clearly see our own path. True clarity begins in one place and one place only - understanding yourself.

The crazy thing is, most of us don't know ourselves at all. Imagine that you stopped in a local coffee shop and were approached by an older person. As your eyes met, you instantly recognized them as an incredibly knowledgeable and enlightened spiritual teacher. In that same instant, you also suddenly realize that they have been waiting for you.

"What would you like to learn?" they ask you.

Most of us don't have an answer.

Those of us who can answer the first question are often stopped with the second question. "What is your biggest obstacle to learning this?"

The questions continue to flow. "How will learning this change you? What will the next lesson be for you once you have learned this? How will this better prepare you for your path? What is your path? What are you called to do on your path?"

These are essential questions for each of us to be able to answer and our personal clarity is intimately tied to our answers. We don't have to have details to have clarity. A clear and confident, "I don't know - but I'm at peace with not knowing," or a simple, "That's what I'm discovering each and every day," is clarity in its own right.


What we have to understand in Fūrinkazan is the complete commitment to each action. You don't simply move, you move "swift as a wind." You don't simply attack, you attack "fierce as fire." The concept isn't a tentative exploration of each concept, but a total giving of one's self to the moment.

In my own studies, I refer to the concept as "stillness and suddenness" and it's something that I've been consciously practicing for several years. When you are not engaged in a moment, you are mindful and aware, but your energy is relaxed. When you are engaged, you give yourself fully to the moment. When having fun, fully embrace the moment; when working, do the same. The instant that a new portion of yourself is called upon, for instance, when conflict arises, fully engage the moment with your entire being.

A perfect example of this concept is a parent visiting with friends while an infant sleeps in the next room.  Many of us are only partially present in the social interaction, our ears trained for any sound the child may make.  In this moment, our focus is divided between adult interaction (which every new parent needs) and being available for our child.  In Fūrinkazan, we would fully embrace the social interaction, setting aside our worries, concerns, and protectiveness in order to engage in the moment with our friends.  The instant that our child begins to stir and cry out, we completely shift our energy, moving quickly to the side of the now-awake and crying infant.  Most of us feel torn, either unable to engage with our friends or worried that we'll offend them if we interrupt the moment to engage elsewhere.  Much of that fear is directly related to a lack of clarity.  We are a parent visiting with friends.  When a parent is called upon, they move to the child's side and their friends understand.  That clarity provides us with the ability to fully engage in each moment and shift our focus as needed.

This may sound tremendously complicated, but the biggest challenge for most of us where commitment is concerned isn't the willingness to engage, but the ability to let go.  We can't embrace the loving welcome of a partner or spouse when we're still rooted in the frustration of our day.  We can't reach for our dreams when we're still held captive by our fears.  We can't go to our child's side when we're worried about interrupting our speaking friend.  The secret to this entire process is clarity - and clarity begins by knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and learning to love who you are with all of your strengths and weaknesses, quirks and gifts.

Commitment in Fūrinkazan is the ability to release one moment to fully embrace the next. When you "move swift as a wind," you shed the concepts of self and focus completely with every level of your being on the concept of swift movement. When you "stay as silent as a forest" you don't simply stop moving, you allow your spirit to settle and achieve a state of peace and stillness. The word commitment, in this context, is a complete and total surrender of the previous moment and fully embracing the moment at hand without reservation.

Through clarity, you gain a complete understanding of your core self and act only in accordance with who you are - your unencumbered spirit and your core values and ethics. Through commitment, your actions are swift, powerful, and decisive. Through experience you gain wisdom and through wisdom you choose the action to take that is most harmonious with your spirit. You literally become Wind, Forest, Fire, and Mountain - and any variation of these concepts that fits harmoniously with your true self and the path you have chosen for yourself.


  1. Wonderful insight. Thank you!

  2. Very interesting ideas that are well written. We all need to get more in touch with our spiritual side. Though I'll never be able to pronounce it, you chose an excellent topic for the letter "F." Julie

  3. Beautiful.
    Thank you.

  4. Fascinating post, I read a great number of spiritual texts, always searching.

  5. Hi,
    Is there an element here of humans, with all their associated baggage, having lost the ability to be completely 'in the moment' at any given time, unless they practise recognising a need to be so? Whereas animals have it, in their basic make up? E.g. they can instantly and unreservedly respond to triggers for fight or flight, and even make sudden transferences of affection/attention, without worrying about hurting anyone's feelings! They also let go, e.g. of a bad situation, and move on, the moment things get good again...
    Enjoyed the post and trying to get my head round it all :-) Thanks.
    Alll best

  6. Karla,

    We haven't lost the ability, but we tend to ignore it. The challenge - almost in its entirety - is that we move too fast. We race from one moment to another regardless of whether we're trying to get somewhere on time, meet a deadline, or simply engage in an activity. While it may not seem like it, even our leisure time tends to race by. We fill it up with things so we're not bored.

    The very first lesson I was given when I started studying with Nukah (the Native American woman who guided me in my initial steps as a shaman) was to sit quietly, outside, and do nothing. I had to do it twenty minutes a day for thirty days in a row. If I missed a day, I had to start the entire process over.

    While it may seem simple (and I initial thought it was simply a test for me to prove that I was willing to be trained as a shaman), the simple act of slowing down and being still was incredibly transformative. I don't think we've lost the ability at all - I think the big problem is that our culture moves as quickly as possible from one moment to the next. :)

  7. I have such a hard time with this. Ever since I have had children, I feel divided and "uncommitted" to whatever I am doing. Split in a million pieces. I started reading Buddhism for Young Mothers and it actually helped. I now try to practice the art of doing only one thing at a time as often as possible. Very hard. Nice post.

  8. I have read the Hagakure... but clearly I need to move The Art of War up on my TBR list.

    This is reminding me of concepts that I've ran across before, but for the life of me I cannot now remember what they were (I knew as I read though, lol).

    Thank you for this. :)

  9. Hi
    Thanks for the further note. I do see the distinction between losing the ability, and simply ignoring it (and I'm heartened by it). I also see that the twenty mins inactivity must have been the hardest thing ever to do!! I always consider my lifestyle to be without pressure (live in middle of nowhere; work for self; rarely travel and so on) but I guess what the world doesn't impose on me, I impose on myself (feed / exercise animals at certain times, set deadlines I struggle to meet...) The notion of really, truly doing nothing for a set period of time sounds beautiful, and I can easily see how transformative that experience was for you.
    Oops ... better go - late again :-)
    All best and thanks for this and your blog visit to me!

  10. Found you thru the a-z challenge and am so glad I did. What lovely concepts and writing here. So nice to "meet" you Jeffrey.

  11. Fasinating post, Jeffrey. I'm not sure I ever concentrate completey on the moment in hand. My mind is always darting of in different directions!