So I find myself struggling lately, which is another reason I haven’t written much over the past few months. It’s hard to write something coherent when you can’t come to a conclusion! The other day my teacher mentioned something about how I shouldn’t want to hit the target, which is to say, I shouldn’t be focused on that. It’s a common sentiment, but this time it got me to thinking, you know, just what we are all doing here, coming to the dojo in the middle of a blizzard? What are we really seeking? If you asked any two people, I wonder if they would have the same answer? Or maybe in some cases, any answer at all?
Not that it’s necessary to have one. It’s perfectly valid to be feeling our way forward in the dark, going on a hunch, a sort of sixth sense that there is something out there. Maybe the important thing is just to have a sense of direction?
In the preface to the 1971 edition of the Kyudo Kyohon it states, 「日本の弓道は的中至上主義をとってはいない。弓道は調和の美がなけれ ばならない。」which O’Brien-sensei translates as “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). I’ve mused about the idea of beauty before (here and here), but today, I realized that, just as there’s a difference between hitting the target naturally and trying to hit it intentionally (a difference expressed quite succinctly in Japanese by the pair of verbs, ataru and ateru), there there is a difference between being beautiful and intentionally trying to appear beautiful. What they’re after in the quote is the unselfconscious beauty that comes from simply being, and that is something that is found (if that), rather than done.
How does that happen? Well, this morning what occurred to me was that it comes back to shin-gyou-sou, a progression that is mentioned, but not explained very clearly, in the Kyohon (Japanese, pg. 62, English, pg. 29). I wrote about that, too, a while back, and but now (unless I’m completely off track) I see it more clearly. We start, as we all must, with shin, with technique. Doing what we do in the correct manner. After we’ve mastered that, we maybe move on to gyou, still following the technique but now informed by a degree of spirit that makes the movement more fluid, more inspired. Then somewhere down the line, if we get that far, there is sou. Grass, of all things, if you take the kanji literally, but here what it means is that there is no longer a separation between technique and spirit, no separation between the doer and the done, and we end up on a very different plane…
But before the grass comes the fluidity (gyou) and before that comes the technique (shin). You can’t just jump to sou, and that, I think, is in some ways the hard part, especially for people who’ve read, say, Zen in the Art of Archery and forget that Herrigel spent years shooting at nothing but the makiwara. Still, even here, many people give up. Some get satisfied with hitting the target. Some just want a hobby… something to do on a snowy Saturday afternoon. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I think. But if I can be a bit pretentious, that’s not what I’m after. Not really. But I have to remind myself sometimes when my teacher seems to want nothing more than to correct the position of my elbow.
Still, this harks back to something Zen talked wrote about a while ago, too. He asked,
So what is this “spirit”, Spiritual side of Kyudo? How does one learn it, if no one teaches it? Is it just a following of the rules of etiquette? “proper behavior? Rei?
and that stuck with me for a couple of months. What occurs to me now is that maybe we don’t exactly learn it, but that it grows within us, like a plant. We’re growing it ourselves, right now, with help from our teachers, who (possibly taking the metaphor too far!) help to shape us, like a little bonsai tree, at least until it’s time for us to go our own way.
And so the struggle continues? As promised, I have no conclusion.