Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel describes the ritualistic arts of discipline and focus that the Zen religion focuses around. In this book, Herrigel describes many aspects of how archery is, in fact, not a sport, but an art form, and is very spiritual to those in the east. The process he describes shows how he overcame his initial inhibitions and began to look toward new ways of seeing and understanding. In the beginning of the book Herrigel tells us that he is writing about a ritual and religious practice, "whose aim consists in hitting a spiritual goal, so that fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself." (Herrigel p.
4) Through his studies, the author discovers that within the Zen ritual actions, archery in this case, there lies a deeper meaning. Herrigel explains throughout this book that it is not through the actual physical aspect of shooting arrows at targets that archery is Zen, but through the art and spirituality through which it is performed. It is not merely shooting an arrow to hit a target, but becoming the target yourself and then, in turn, hitting yourself spiritually. By meeting this spiritual goal, you will then meet the physical goal. The struggle then is, therefore not with the arrow or the target but within oneself.
Archery, in this book, was the way that the author found his way into Zen Buddhism. One of the most important lessons that Herrigel's master taught him was, to correctly master the art of archery you must do so without grasping. If all you do is focus on what you are doing you will not reach your target. Let go and enlightenment will come to you. This is the same underlying concept that Zen and Buddhism rely on.
If one focuses too much on meditation then he will never actually clear your head and reach the blissful goal of enlightenment. His master explains this as, "The right art is purposeless, aimless! 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." (Herrigel p. 31) So, for Herrigel to learn the art of archery he must cease to strive towards hitting the target and stop grasping at his goal. Instead he must focus only on the moment and let the goal come to him. As Herrigel spent more time with his master he learned more and more about the Zen ways of thinking. Throughout his time there, his master taught him time after time that it is important to be in the moment when the moment is happening.
To reach your goal you must allow yourself to become part of it and not focus on one individual aspect. "The right frame of mind for the artists is only reached when the preparing and the creating, the technical and the artistic, the material and the spiritual, the project and the object, flow together without breaks." (Herrigel p. 43) All of your actions up to reaching your goal should flow from you as if without effort and as part of your self. "Is it 'I' who draw the bow, or is it the bow that draws me into the state of highest tension? Do 'I' hit the goal, or does the goal hit me?" (Herrigel p. 61) Once you have ceased to grasp at your single goal you can instead open your mind to the entire moment. The main purpose of his continuous practice of archery is to perform it over and over again until it became second nature.
When one does something repeatedly day after day, week after week, they no longer need to focus on their actions. The author spent so much time repeating these actions that they were almost instinctive, or part of his true self. Herrigel describes reaching this moment when he wrote, "Bow, arrow, goal and ego, all melt into one another, so that I can no longer separate them. And even the need to separate has gone. For as soon as I take the bow and shoot, everything becomes so clear and straightforward and so ridiculously simple...
." (Herrigel p. 61) This is the point in which the author reached enlightenment. He no longer focused on the target or on the actions he was making because he had practiced them so much that they had become second nature and done without thought. Instead, he is simply living in the moment, which in Zen Buddhism is the true goal.
Eugen Herrigel's experience with his Zen master allowed him to understand and learn the religious rituals of Zen Buddhism. As he practiced his archery day after day he was being taught the necessary skills or mindset in order to understand Zen. As he learned to stop his grasping he became more aware of a connection between everything he was doing and his actual self. His target became himself as he became his target. By focusing on the actual moments at hand and not on his actions and his ultimate goal, Herrigel was able to release his inhibitions and find his true self..