Zen in the Art of Archery


Eugen Herrigel was a German philosopher who moved to Japan in order to teach and learn the ways of Zen. This book describes his six year path of learning Zen through archery

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  1. Eugen Herrigel was a German philosopher who moved to Japan in order to teach and learn the ways of Zen. This book describes his six year path of learning Zen through archery
Key Takeaways
  1. Herrigel describes the process and mentality required to truly master something – until it becomes an artless art with purposeless detachment
  2. The true experts are always humble as they realize how little they truly know
  3. Proper breathing is crucial and ties together any exercise as it provides rhythm and unity
  4. Must experience total failure before willing to give in, listen and accept teachings fully
  5. “You know already that you should not grieve over bad shots; learn now not to rejoice over the good ones. You must free yourself from the buffetings of pleasure and pain, and learn to rise above them in easy equanimity, to rejoice as though not you but another had shot well. This, too, you must practice unceasingly – you cannot conceive how important it is.”
  6. The master is as unselfconscious as the beginner
  7. Must get to the point where you trust yourself so completely that you know you do not need to think consciously about your art
  8. “He [the master] lives – and this is thoroughly characteristic of Zen – happily enough in the world, but ready at any time to quit it without being in the least disturbed by the thought of death.”
What I got out of it
  1. Beautiful book. The dedication and frame of mind one needs to become a true master of any art is daunting but admirable. Must read.

  • In Japan, arts are practiced for aesthetic enjoyment and not utilitarian purposes. They are meant to train the mind and bring it into contact with the ultimate reality
  • The mind must first be attuned to the Unconscious. Mus transcend technique so that art becomes an artless art, coming out of the Unconscious
  • Zen is “every day mind” – be completely present and “sleeping when tired, eating when hungry”
  • Zen gives no guidance on how to live a happy life
  • Eliminate all of “you” so that all that is left is “all-embracing truth”
  • Having a master and mentor to work with is absolutely vital
  • Must experience and learn Zen first hand, impossible t simply read about it and grasp it
  • The right art is purposeless, aimless
  • “The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. you do not wait for fulfillment, but brace yourself for failure.”
  • The masters are completely absorbed when performing their art and have a set routine to help them get into the right frame of mind
  • Total selflessness required to master any art
  • Master must turn pupil away at some point to pursue their own journey. However difficult, the pupil feels uncommon gratitude towards the master
  • “This exquisite state of unconcerned immersion in oneself is not, unfortunately of long duration. It is liable to be disturbed from inside…The only successful way of rendering this disturbance inoperative is to keep on breathing, quietly and unconcernedly, to enter into friendly relations with whatever appears on the scene, to accustom oneself to it, to look at it equably and at last grow weary of looking. In this way one gradually gets into a state which resembles the melting drowsiness on the verge of sleep.”
  • Expect the journey to be difficult and to question whether it is truly worth it
  • Get to the point where you have zero ego attached to the art as it is not really “you” who is performing it

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