Thursday, 23 April 2015

Kenneth Kushner (1988) - One Arrow, One Life

Zen, Archery, and Daily Life

Much of our internal dialogue involves thoughts about ourselves.  In mushin one loses this sense of self-awareness and self-reflection.  If one is doing something, for example looking at a sunset, one loses the sense that it is 'I' who is looking at the sunset just as one loses the internal dialogue telling him how beautiful it is.  In mushin, one simply experiences the sunset.

The practice of zazen provides a context which facilitates the student's ability to notice when he is distracted by his internal dialogue.  Zazen is usually practiced in a quiet environment in which distracting external stimuli are kept to a minimum.  Yet, even without distractions from external sources, the student is easily distracted by the chain of associations going on in his mind.  The stillness of the setting makes it easier for him to identify when he becomes attached to delusions.  As the student sits, his mind will eventually dwell on extraneous thoughts.  At some point, however, he will notice that the thoughts are clouding his perception; they will stand out as unnecessary images on a larger screen of awareness.  The recognition that he is dwelling on these thoughts is the cue to adjust his breathing and posture and to focus his attention on counting his breath.  Eventually the student can concentrate fully on each breath, allowing him to treat each respiration as an entity in itself.  In that way, zazen becomes a vehicle to attain mushin.

The process of kyudo can also be seen as a method to attain mushin through the integration of breathing, posture and concentration.  In kyudo, attachment to delusive thoughts is a constant temptation.  Any number of delusive thoughts can distract us from full concentration in kyudo.  Events or problems in our lives - such as our jobs, financial situations, family lives - can all intrude on concentration.  However, the thoughts most difficult to keep from following when one is shooting are those relating to our performance in kyudo itself.  Each arrow should be shot without regard to one's past performance or to one's performance in the future, just as Tanzen was able to keep from being distracted by the vision of the girl.  To do so, one must adjust one's breathing and posture in order to regain one's concentration.
issha zetsumei = 一射絶命 = "one shot - end of life" - to put everything one has into an action
mushin = 無心 = no mind;
zazen = 座禅 = sitting meditation
kyudo = 弓道 = way of the bow / Japanese archery

'One shot - end of life' reminds me of Hagakure (as quoted in the film, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)):
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the present moment. 
Everyone lets the present moment slip by, then looks for it as though he thought it were somewhere else. No one seems to have noticed this fact. But grasping this firmly, one must pile experience upon experience. And once one has come to this understanding he will be a different person from that point on, though he may not always bear it in mind. 

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