Pravin, this is with reference to our conversation yesterday on Karmanye Vaadikarasthey…..


One German professor, Herrigel, was one of the first Western disciples of a Zen master in Japan. He was learning archery. He was already a great archer in Germany, because there values are different. He was a great archer because he was always right one hundred percent, his arrow reaching to the exact middle of the target, the bull’s-eye. In Germany your success will be counted by the percentage – a hundred percent, ninety percent, eighty percent. That is the way it is counted all around the world, except in Japan.

In Japan, when Herrigel had learned archery for years in Germany and had become the champion archer of Germany, he heard about a different valuation. He went to Japan and remained there for three years with a master. He could not understand why the master was always saying, ”You missed” – and his arrow was always reaching exactly to the bull’s- eye.

The master said, ”That is not the point, whether your arrow reaches the bull’s-eye or not. The point is that you should be spontaneous. Forget about the target. Remember that you should be spontaneous, you should not make an effort.”

Three years passed, but the German professor, Herrigel, could not understand what this man was talking about. Every day he would try, and the master would say, ”No!”

Finally he decided to go back: ”This is useless, wasting time!” He could not understand what this spontaneity is. He could not understand how you can be spontaneous when you are an archer. You have to take the bow in your hand, you have to aim, you have to be exact so that your arrow reaches to the point – how can you be without effort? Some effort is absolutely needed. And you will agree that he was not wrong.

But Zen will not agree. The Zen master continued working, without getting bored or fed up that three years have passed and this man cannot relax.

Herrigel told him after three years, ”Tomorrow I have to leave. I’m sorry that I could not understand. I still carry the idea that I am one hundred percent right, so how can you say that I don’t know archery at all?”

So the next day, early in the morning, he went to see the master for the last time. The master was teaching somebody else, so he sat there on the bench and just looked. For the first time he was not concerned; he was going, he had dropped the idea of learning archery through Zen, so he was totally relaxed and was watching, just watching how the master took the bow in his hand and how he totally relaxed as if not concerned at all whether the arrow reaches to the target or not, with no tension and with no desire, being just playful and relaxed.

He had been seeing the master for three years, but because he was full of desire he could not see that his archery was totally different: the value is not in the target, the value is in your gesture, in you. Are you relaxed? Are you total? Is your mind absolutely silent? A different orientation… because the archery is not important, the meditation is important. And a man of meditation, although he does not care about the target, simply reaches the target, with no mind, in utter clarity, in silence, relaxed.

Zen has brought a different valuation to everything. In China they have a saying that when a musician becomes perfect, he throws away his instruments; when an archer becomes perfect, he throws away his bows and arrows. Strange, because what is the point of becoming a perfect archer and now you are throwing away your bows and arrows?


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14 Responses to Archery.

  1. I do that a lot, but you’d better keep clear. My arrow not only misses the bulls eye, it often completely misses the target. Most people don’t understand the fun in that. 😀
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Chicanery

  2. Anita says:

    While I try to follow the ‘gesture without expectation’ notion in most aspects of my life and managed to gain joy (and peace) from it, it is more difficult in the practical world of business, where I have practised it (still do, actually, though in a more tempered way) and failed on several levels, for various reasons. You will be far more knowledgeable than I, I’m sure, but there’s a nice link to Karmanyevaadhikaaraste that I’d read a while ago. While the site is about Swami Vivekananada’s quotes and interpretations, this particular concept is discussed on its own merit.

    • Vivekananda’s take on karma yoga is about the best interpretation of II:47. When I discuss this personally, I carry the discussions right through up to II:50. And then, failure stops to bug you. Please read my next Friday LBC post.

  3. KRD Pravin says:

    Is being ambitious wrong? You know I have a target, however absurd it sounds currently and however, ill mannered (not doing anything to achieve that) I am for achieving that.

    I can understand that I have to be fully with what I do, but then why not be fully into the activity and yet reach the target?

    I know I sound capitalist! 😉 and I am running not knowing where exactly I will reach, but at times I feel that I shall ask that question after reaching the target 🙂
    Do I sound confusing or do I sound confused? 😀

    • No, being ambitious is not wrong. In the Indian system, material ambition takes a second place over spiritual ambition and sages point out and I am sure that you will come up with examples that when one is in the latter category, material benefits seem to follow too. By being fully in the activity, you will reach the target. But quite whether where you reach is exactly what you wanted is subject to some uncertainty and that is what this story addresses. By all means be capitalistic. Absolutely nothing wrong with it.

  4. I shot an arrow into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
    Could not follow it in its flight.

    I breathed a song into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For who has sight so keen and strong,
    That it can follow the flight of song?

    Long, long afterward, in an oak
    I found the arrow, still unbroke;
    And the song, from beginning to end,
    I found again in the heart of a friend.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Winning Isn’t Everything II

  5. Grannymar says:

    Sometimes, getting what we want is not good for us.
    Grannymar recently posted..Sunday One liners ~ 57 

  6. Anita says:

    I love this poem too 🙂

  7. Anita says:

    What’s COE? Actually, I didn’t read it in school. I read it somewhere and loved it 🙂

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