Zen In The Art Of Archery

Hey everybody,

I read a little book this week called Zen in the Art of Archery, which I highly recommend reading if you're into learning about one of the classic, timeless ways of living a Zen life. The book is an elaboration of contradictory ideas that all come together into a unifying grand theory of Zen Buddhism.

The author Eugen Herrigel wants to learn about Zen, and as he realizes that Zen cannot be studied but only experienced, he sets on a six-year path of learning Zen through the seemingly mundane art of archery.

First, you might wonder why archery. Herrigel does a great job at explaining that archery is not just a mundane activity. It is a form of silent meditation in which "the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but are one reality." It is about transcending your limiting, ego-state and harnessing your true identity, and your spirituality.

The book is largely about the interplay between you, the "individual," and you, the "archer." The ego within wants to hit the target, but Herrigel writes, “Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.” So, when you're in that egoless, detached state and you're one with the arrow, the aim, and yourself, you will only be pleasantly surprised when the arrow does hit the target. And if it does not hit the target, your egoless state will prepare you better for the next shot.

Second, you might wonder how is archery a form of art. While Herrigel goes into this in detail, the basic idea is that more than archery being an outcome of complex calculations, it is instead the pursuit of gradual mastery of one's own self. It is a "religious ritual."

The fate of the arrow cannot be determined, so what really matters is whether the archer himself learns to master himself, aim at himself, and "succeed[s] in hitting himself." One quote from the book particularly struck me:

I learned to lose myself so effortlessly in the breathing that I sometimes had the feeling that I myself was not breathing but – strange as it may sound – being breathed.

As I continue on my running journey, this is something that I have started to experience. After a point, running becomes so effortless that I am not the one who is running. I am being ran. This idea is similar to Eckhart Tolle's idea of 'you are not thinking, you are being thought.'

Hopefully, if you've read up to here, I may have succeeded in arousing your curiosity to give this little book a quick read and take the rest of your life to imbibe its timeless wisdom.

Until next time,


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