With his archer’s
skill, the archer hits the mark at a hundred paces,
But when arrow points
meet head-on, how could it be a matter of skill.
Continuing to discuss effort and effortlessness, I like to
use this example from the Jewel Mirror Samadhi.
Japanese archery is considered an Art, a way of life, and a
spiritual practice. The archers
study for many years. I suppose we
could call that great effort.
Practicing over and over.
Through personal effort, through practicing, they can fairly easily
learn to hit the target at a hundred paces. Anyone can do that, if they practice very hard.
But for two archers to aim at the sky, and for the arrows to
meet head-on, that is something that is way beyond skill. It is beyond the mind of
discrimination. It is beyond the
body of practice. I think this
might be congruent with the idea of forgetting the self. In letting go of “trying”, in letting
go of any intellectual idea of how archery should be done, these archers are
simply totally, wholeheartedly merged with their activity. The years of practice in a very easy
way, in a relaxed way, comes through.
The archer, the arrow, the other archer are all one movement and one
whole. Subject and object
merged. This is what one might
call effortless effort.
From Reb Anderson’s book, Being Upright, page
The famous Zen example for developing the
practice of renunciation is pulling a bow, practicing archery. One of the first books I read about Zen
Buddhism was Zen in the Art of Archery, by
the German writer Eugen Herrigel.
His archery teacher explained that you take the bow, pull the bowstring
back, and just hold it. This is
like normal human life: you’re holding on to something and it’s a strain. His teacher told him to hold the string
until it was released, but not to release it.
Herrigel held the bow for many hours of
practice, and he got really tired of holding it – just like we get tired of
holding on to body and mind. Then
he got the idea that he could let go of the string without letting go of it by just
holding it half as tightly. So he
held it half as tightly, and half as tightly again, and kept halving his grip
until, finally, the string went without him letting it go. He had figured out a way to let it go
while he was still holding on.
The teacher saw his clever trick and kicked
him out of the school. Herrigel
begged for years to come back, until finally the teacher agreed. He went back to the practice of pulling
the string and just holding it. No
more tricks. He just patiently
experienced the suffering of being a human who thinks he’s holding
something. One day the string
released, and it was as if it passed right through his fingers, just as his
teacher had described it. He
didn’t let go of the string: it went.
The string is already released, but we don’t
generally understand that. You
have to pull the string as a metaphor for your delusion until you understand
that the string is already released.
You have to sit with your life and feel how you hold it, and be willing
for the release to happen. It will
happen spontaneously, because it’s already so.
This is an aspiration for my practice- that I can be open
and relaxed and the years of practice will just come through. In the Fukanzazengi, it says that we
should look for a teacher that is beyond effort. What does that mean?
I think that means that the goal and the cause have merged, that our
minds are calm enough to receive the moment as it is, and our reaction of
generosity, patience, acceptance, integrity are so practiced that they have
become our norm.
It is no longer a strain to receive the moment. We no longer have to try to practice. We can surrender to the life force of
the moment and let it bloom.
Labels: Being Upright, effort, effortlessness, Jewel Mirror Samadhi, Reb Anderson, Rt. Effort, Zen and the Art of Archery, Zen archery