For all that I learned and experienced in Nagoya the conversation that remains with me most deeply and unexpectedly was with TSH, a friend from Taiwan who I met for the first time the day before the seminar began. After a hitotsu-mato sharei demonstration on the second day by three of the teachers, he asked me, “Who did you think was beautiful?”
I’m sure I stammered out some sort of answer but the honest truth is that I rarely think of shooting in that way. I’ve been impressed by a person’s shooting, by the precision and clarity with which they move and handle the bow, and on very rare occasions, while watching from the sidelines, the force of someone’s hanare would hit almost bodily, like a burst of electrical energy. But despite the fact that beauty is said to be one of the three ultimate goals of kyudo (真善美 shin-zen-bi), I suppose I’ve never really known what 美 meant, and in quiet moments I think back to that question, still wondering.
In the Kyudo Kyohon beauty is there from the start. The ANKF preface to the 1971 edition the text says, 「日本の弓道は的中至上主義をとってはいない。弓道には調和の美がなければならない。」which in the English translation is rendered, “Our goal in Kyudo is not the hitting of the target. On the contrary, the expression of harmonious beauty is the objective of the shooting.” [Japanese pp. 16-17, English pg. 9]. So it’s there from the very beginning, not just an incidental decoration. And then, in one of my all-time favourite lines, it appears in the English on page 20: “It [beauty] is the form of Truth expressed in the application of Good.” Thus it’s beauty that ties everything together. Truth (真) and Goodness (善) come together to create beauty (美). It’s like the final product, the ultimate aim.
I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and it harks back to an earlier post (心) but the question was like a spark. What is it that I want in Kyudo? What do I want to accomplish? The night after the conversation I woke up early thinking about it.
Every year at our end-of-year party my teacher has challenged me by asking, 「弓って何だろう」”Just what is Kyudo?” At first I would say that it’s a mirror, a way to see oneself, and these days I think, a way to confront and, if you have the strength, improve oneself. I’m sure that is partially right (it certainly does facilitate all of these), but beauty is, as they say, in the eye of a beholder: someone who is watching, and I remain unsure about that, in part because for most of my life I’ve tried hard to be invisible.
What is clear is that whatever I show people, it can’t be about me. Awa Kenzo told Herrigel, “[You must let] go of yourself, leaving yourself and everything yours so decisively that nothing more is left of you but a purposeless tension.” Maybe it sounds weird, but as I thought about it in bed in the early morning, I decided that what I wanted was for someone watching to feel, intuitively, that everything is OK. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to see that we live in a world of suffering, and that the vast majority of that suffering comes from our own minds. TSH, my friend from Taiwan, is an artist, and on the walk back after our conversation he showed me one of his pieces, a stainless steel cloud which, if approached, would use a laser beam to draw a horizontal line. He said it was his response to the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, and it was part of an exhibition that took place in Sendai, the largest of the directly affected cities. I’m wary of trying to interpret his work because this isn’t something I know how to do, but my impression from what he explained was that the steel conveyed the feeling of the unforgiving forces of nature, and perhaps the chaotic cloud shape likewise conveyed the feeling of uncontrollability. No logic to it, but it’s real, there, dynamic, unstoppable. Yet in the middle of it all, this horizontal line, which is the foundation for all building, all construction of order, emerges. In a word, I think what it conveys is hope.
And it occurred to me that this is very much like kyudo. We stand at the sha-i alone. Nobody can help us, nobody can hurt us. It all comes down to our minds, our bodies, our tools, our training. And I imagine most people who have stood in that position know that it’s our minds that are the greatest problem. We’re immersed, so to speak, in this steel cloud of emotions. Desire, pride, fear, competitiveness, maybe even anger or jealousy. But out of that, what can come (if all goes well!) is this laser precision: the vertical and horizontal lines (tateyokosen) that are the foundation of how we shoot.
“The full draw is, psychologically speaking, the continuation of an imperturbable spirit. Removing attachments, desire and worldly thoughts toward the target, at the full draw you must wipe away negativity like doubt, anxiety, faintheartedness, fear, and self-depreciation and make the effort to fulfil the spirit with self-control, composure, endurance and determination, founded on the right belief. This disciplining of oneself in this very precious way is connected to ‘Shasoku-Jinsei’ ‘Shooting is Life.” [Kyudo Kyohon, English, pg. 70]
So I wonder… if we can really do that… get past the cloud of emotions and build something through a kind of selflessness (selflessness is needed to truly be liberated from such emotions because (Buddhist speaking here) they are all rooted in an erroneous view of the self), maybe those watching will be able to see it, or intuit it, and realize that everything really is OK? And have hope? Or better, certainty, because they’ve seen it, the “form of Truth expressed in the application of Good.”
There is much more to say along these lines but I’ll stop for now because I have to get back to work. It’s amazing how much can pile up in a week. Meanwhile I think about how to take this to the next step. Also we have our regional shinsa this weekend, and I’ll be helping out there, so will keep an eye out for beauty.