Friday, August 01, 2008

Zen in the Art of Anything

Raymond Davidson also introduced me to Eugen Herrigel, who wrote Zen in the Art of Archery, which, I learned, predated the popular Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

I remember copying quotations from Herrigel's little gem, and they helped me to get through stressful days soberly and sanely.

Some say Herrigel's stuff is more archery lesson than zen. I say, who cares?

One of the quotations, which I can't find precisely, went something like this: "You can't be a master archer if you worry too much where the arrow will go. You can be a master archer even if you miss the target every time."

I guess I'll have to go buy another copy of the book (can't find it) or rely on all of you to get the quote right.

Here are some Eugen Herrigel tidbits I've rounded up:

The more a human being feels himself a self, tries to intensify this self and reach a never-attainable perfection, the more drastically he steps out of the center of being.

The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede.

If everything depends on the archer's becoming purposeless and effacing himself in the event, then its outward realization must occur automatically, in no further need of the controlling or reflecting intelligence.

This state, in which nothing definite is thought, planned, striven for, desired or expected, which aims in no particular direction and yet knows itself capable alike of the possible and the impossible, so unswerving is its power - this state, which is at bottom purposeless and egoless, was called by the Masters truly "spiritual."

"Assuming that his talent can survive the increasing strain, there is one scarcely avoidable danger that lies ahead of the pupil on his road to mastery. Not the danger of wasting himself in idle self-gratification - for the East has no aptitude for this cult of the ego - but rather of getting stuck in his achievement, which is confirmed by his success and magnified by his renown: in other words, of behaving as if the artistic existence were a form of life that bore witness to its own validity.
"The teacher foresees this danger. Carefully and with the adroitness of a psychopomp he seeks to head the pupil off in time and to detach him from himself. This he does by pointing out, casually and as though it were scarcely worth a mention in view of all that the pupil has already learned, that all right doing is accomplished only in a state of true selflessness, in which the doer cannot be present any longer as "himself". Only the spirit is present, a kind of awareness which shows no trace of egohood and for that reason ranges without limit through all distances and depths, with "eyes that hear and with ears that see."

When I asked the Master how we could get on without him on our return to Europe, he said: "Your question is already answered by the fact that I made you take a test. You have now reached a stage where teacher and pupil are no longer two persons, but one. You can separate from me any time you wish. Even if broad seas lie between us, I shall always be with you when you practice what you have learned. I need not ask you to keep up your regular practicing, not to discontinue it on any pretext whatsoever, and to let no day go by without your performing the ceremony, even without bow and arrow, or at least without having breathed properly. I need not ask you because I know that you can never give up this spiritual archery. Do not ever write to me about it, but send me photographs from time to time so that I can see how you draw the bow. Then I shall know everything I need to know.

Broad seas now separate Raymond and me, alas, but this quote gives me solace and connection. But I draw the bow as a novice.


Patti said...

Pawlie, as I was reading this, our daughter's boyfriend, already an accomplished clarinetist at 19, started playing for us.

It was a truly interesting accompaniment to my reading.

Teacher-pupil, losing oneself in one's art, practicing what one has learned, it all seemed to go together in a way I clearly cannot articulate.

Interesting post.

Father Luke said...

If you have no goal in mind,
then everything you do will be
a success. . .

- -
Father Luke