Izushi, Tajima province, Japan
Takuan Sōhō was born into a family of farmers in the town of Izushi, in what was called Tajima province (present-day Hyōgo Prefecture). At the age of 8 in 1581, Takuan began his religious studies; two years later he entered a Buddhist monastery. By the age of 14 in 1587, Takuan started studying the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism under the tutelage of his sensei Shun-oku Soen.
By age 36 in 1608, Takuan was made abbot of the Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Takuan's appointment was shortened as he left for a prolonged period of traveling. Throughout his journeys, Takuan raised and collected funds for the renovation of Daitoku-ji Temple and other Zen temples.
In 1629, Takuan was banished to northern Japan by the Shogunate of Tokugawa Hidetada due to his protest of political interference in Buddhist temple matters pertaining to ecclesiastical appointments. By 1632, there was a general amnesty after the death of Tokugawa Hidetada, and Takuan’s period of banishment came to an end. Later, Takuan was invited by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604–51) to become the first abbot of Tokai-ji Temple in Edo, which was constructed especially for the Tokugawa family.
Takuan Sōhō died in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in December of 1645. At the moment before his death, Takuan painted the Chinese character 夢 ("dream"), laid down his brush and died. His tomb is in the Shinagawa area of Tokyo at Oyama Cemetery of Tokaiji Temple.
Takuan advised and befriended many people, from all social strata. Some of these include:
- Itō Ittōsai (Kenjutsu master, founder of the Ittō-ryū)
- Mikogami Tenzen (Kenjutsu master, successor of Itō Ittōsai)
- Yagyū Munenori (Daimyo and kenjutsu master, head of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū style of swordsmanship) - Takuan's writings to kenjutsu master, Lord Yagyū Munenori and Mikogami Tenzen, are commonly studied by contemporary martial artists.
- Miyamoto Musashi (Kenjutsu master, founder of the Niten Ichi-ryū)
- Matsudaira Dewa no Kami (Daimyo)
- Ishida Mitsunari (Daimyo)
- Kuroda Nagamasa (Christian Daimyo)
- Go-Mizunoo (abdicated Japanese Emperor)
- Tokugawa Iemitsu (Shogun)
Takuan remained largely unaffected by his popularity and famed reputation. Known for his acerbic wit and integrity of character, Takuan exerted himself to bring the spirit of Zen Buddhism to many and diverse aspects of Japanese culture, such as Japanese swordsmanship, gardening, Sumi-e, Shodo, and Sado. His collected writings total six volumes and over 100 published poems, including his best known treatise, The Unfettered Mind. His influence permeates the work of many present-day exponents of Zen Buddhism and martial arts. He has been credited with the invention of the yellow pickled daikon radish that carries the name "Takuan."
Of the three essays included in "The Unfettered Mind", two were letters: Fudochishinmyoroku, “The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom,” written to Yagyū Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship and teacher to two generations of shoguns; and Taiaki, “Annals of the Sword Taia,” written perhaps to Munenori or possibly to Ono Tadaaki, head of the Itto school of swordsmanship and also an official instructor to the shogun’s family and close retainers. 
In director Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy (Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple and Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island), Takuan is played by Kuroemon Onoe and is portrayed as the mentor of Miyamoto Musashi.
- Takuan Soho, translated by William Scott Wilson, "The Unfettered Mind - Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master", p. 3.