More and more for me these days the question comes down to a matter of effort. Or not just effort, but right effort, which is perhaps not coincidentally one of the eight facets of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. In kyudo practice this seems to have many layers. Clearly the first is correct physical effort, which is hard enough, but then there are also many gradations of mental/emotional/spiritual efforts involved in letting go of attachments and concerns, most obviously about hitting, but ultimately regarding the self.
Yesterday I worked mostly on the physical part. I mentioned being scolded the other day. It wasn’t so much a scolding as a wake-up. Something similar happened again yesterday as my teacher pushed me to put more and more into each shot. 大きく！大きく！残心！残心！It was exhilirating. In some ways the pressure is almost an excuse not to hold back. I wonder where that reticence comes from? But the farther you go the more you discover, and at this point I’m not sure where the limit is, or if there is one.
I think about that in connection to Buddhist practice. For many of us it’s a part-time thing, not just in the sense of not being full-time monks and nuns, but just that the effort is limited. Kyudo has made me think a lot about cause and effect, which is, of course, one of the Buddha’s main themes, and one of the central lessons of kyudo practice for a Buddhist (or at least this one) is the nature of just that cause and effect. I’ve mentioned it before, but what occurs to me in this context is that integral to setting up causes and creating effects is effort. I recall a story once by a Western practitioner of Zen. During one session she was jikijitsu, the one with the big stick and no carrots. When she came around to the teacher her first thought was perhaps a kind of envy at how easily he was able to sit in the lotus position, how his body just seemed to naturally fold up in that position, while she and others had to struggle and work at it. But then as she came closer she saw beads of sweat were popping out on his forehead. From meditating. From the effort.
I think I need to scold myself a bit, therefore, and put at least as much effort as I put into an arrow into my meditation, and other practices as well. Maybe all of life. Awa Kenzo said, “Be in the dojo wherever you are. It is your choice — live like a sage or exist like a fool.”
I’m not sure how to sustain that kind of effort, but I wonder if anything less can succeed?