Thursday, May 15, 2008

Zen in the Art of Archery

A very interesting read: www.kyudo.org.uk/zen_art_archery.pdf
To the extent that one can "learn" anything useful from reading something (which I seriously doubt is much!) this is very educational, here are some fascinating excerpts:

In the 1920’s the German academic, Eugen Herrigel went to Japan in search of the Zen experience. ...
He was advised that as a foreigner without any language ability in Japanese, he would be better of if he first of all studied an art form (geido) that was related to Zen and through that to gradually find a relationship to Zen Buddhism. On this recommendation he took up the practice of kyudo – the way of the Japanese bow – and wrote about his experiences in his now famous book, “Zen in the Art of Archery”. ...
Herrigel took up his kyudo training under the Master Kenzo Awa ...
Awa was considered as an expert and was well known for his accuracy ... But at a certain point in his kyudo career, he is purported to have had doubts about his shooting and about Japanese archery as just excellence in technique. He adopted the view nani mo iranu –nothing is needed – and that practice goes beyond technique and that there is a need for the deepest effort to create a “spiritual” release with absolute effort – issha zetsumei; one shot, one life. ...
Kyudo practitioners at the time considered Awa as unorthodox, if not eccentric. There may have even been some who thought he was mad. ...
For Herrigel in his own quest for insight through a “Zen practice”, Awa was custommade. He must have fitted completely Herrigel’s romantic notion of the mysterious and mystical master. ... It would seem that Herrigel constructed his own interpretation of his experiences with Awa to enforce his own romantic view of kyudo as a form of Zen practice. ...
In my experience of kyudo and my limited experience in Zen practice, they are treated in a very matter of fact way without mystification and yet still containing an unspoken reverence for the profound which is not seen as different from the ordinary. ...
... the romantic mystical notion of kyudo sometimes gives the idea that you do not need to hit the target, or implies that it is hit by some mysterious process that happens without the struggle or effort of proper training. ...
The target is there for a reason. It reflects your shooting in an uncompromising way. If the arrow does not go to the target then there is something lacking. ... The target also gives you the opportunity to meet desire. Everyone has the desire to hit the target, but in thinking about the result, we are already separated from the moment and the conditions of the full draw, which create a proper release. Desire is always an idea, a hope, or expectation that can lead us away from the real situation.
We have to work with desire, and the sense of frustration that we create from our expectation. This is a normal condition of the learning process. Those who want to do “spiritual” kyudo, and pretend to be unconcerned about the result, are deceiving
themselves. In many kyudo practice halls, you can find the calligraphy, “Mushin”, which is a state when the person is transcended and there is no separate conscious awareness. This is considered the highest state of shooting (a concept taken from Zen). Many kyudo students attempt to emulate this condition, but this is not possible intentionally. My own
teacher would always say that you must first of all have “Yushin” the heart full of desire if you are to find the transcended heart.

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