Zen and the Art of Archery

The Ultimate Zen Art!

One of my favorite martial arts books is Zen and the Art of Archery, by Eugene Herrigel. In this book, Mr, Herrigel goes to Japan in search of zen enlightenment. He is guided into the practice of archery in this seeking.

zen and archery

To Draw the Bow is to Put Aside the Mind


He is guided into archery because the people who teach zen say it is too difficult for him. He is not of the Japanese mindset, and so it would be to difficult for him to absorb some of the concepts. If he practices archery, however,  he is told that he might be able slide into some of these concepts from an oblique angle.

Mr. Herrigel practices archery diligently. He stands with a tall bow, calms his mind, and experiences nothing but frustration. Heck, he can’t even hit the target, let alone find his own soul.

Ultimately, the teacher takes pity on him, and invites him over to his house to help him out. The teacher is pleasant, humorous, offers all sorts of insights, but Mr. Herrigel, in a funk, can’t respond this most personal instruction. Finally, the teacher invites Mr. Herrigel out to his personal archery range in his back yard.

The range is a hundred feet long, and the sensei has Mr. Herrigel light a candle between the firing line and the target. He then has Mr. Herrigel turn out the lights. In the silence of the night, with not even any light to distract the teacher fires one arrow and puts out the candle.

Mr. Herrigel, standing in darkness, is astonished. Never has he seen such a magnificent display of archery, to put out a candle at fifty feet! Good Lord!

The teacher merely says to turn on the lights, and then has Mr. Herrigel retrieve his arrow. Mr. Herrigel runs down to the end of the range to look for the arrow. He finds it…in the center of the target.

To put out a candle and hit a target, using only the light of the candle. To master a martial art and plumb the depths of soul. To find the brilliance of yourself on a darkened night, this is zen, and this is what is the subject of Zen and the Art of Archery.

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