Zen in the Art of Archery

I just finished a little book called Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel, and it was good enough to post about it.  That’s saying a lot! OK, not really, but it was a neat, short book you could read in one sitting if you’re a speedy reader (I am not).  It is now considered a classic since it was published in 1953 and was one of the first to delve deeply into the mysterious world of Zen and Eastern philosophy.

Archery has been a part of Japanese culture and their way of life for thousands of years.  Initially it was developed by the Samurai as a weapon, but over the years it’s purpose has changed dramatically.  It is no longer used in order to defend and protect, but now it is a form of expression.  It’s an art.  This ancient Japanese art is known as Kyudo.

The book goes through Eugen’s 6 year experience with Kyudo from a Westerner’s view.   Kyudo is indeed interesting because they use these very long (about 6 feet), strong bows, and although they are difficult to pull back and hold, you train yourself to pull them back while being in a state of complete relaxation.   There are 8 steps, and pulling back the bow is just the beginning.   The release seems to be the tricky part.   The goal isn’t to hit the target.   It is to be in a state of thoughtlessness and let the bow shoot when it is ready (a good analogy in the book is like when the water falls from a leaf – it happens when it is meant to happen).

Shooting the bow is supposed to be effortless when you reach that state.   I’m not explaining it nearly as elegantly as the book, but to sum it up, once you can put yourself in a state of nothing expected or striven for, nothing planned or desired, a state of thoughtlessness and without ego, IT (the bow, the target, and you) can make IT shoot.   This is a state of non-attachment and of being completely aware and in the present.  It is quite a lot like meditation, but it is more of an active meditation.   In Kyudo, you are the whole happening and not one particular part (the man pulling apart the bow) of the whole.  As Alan Watts would probably put it, “You are what the whole thing is doing”.   You are being it, all of IT.

If that is just too Zenny (that’s not a word) for you, then you could look at the book from another perspective.  Patience pays off!   This man spent 6 years learning to master this skill which had no practical purpose.   Note – Some could argue he hadn’t even mastered it yet as some spend their whole life trying to master it.  Patience is a virtue and when we want to dedicate ourselves to something, we shouldn’t half ass it or give up after a few weeks.  Keep at it and don’t give up.  If you have the will power, you can learn to do anything you desire.  Take the time to learn the skill, work hard at it, and do it because that is what YOU want to do.   If your heart is not in it, then forget about it.

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