Monday, December 9, 2013

Our Goals and a New Book: "Illuminated Spirit: Conversations with a Kyudo Master"

We make these goals and call them God's decree. These goals construct our fate which becomes painful chains. Over our hearts, our minds, our eyes ... all of the world's phenomenon becomes filtered through the domineering vigilance of our goals, our fate. They are both synonymous with decay, as well as success. In such fine lines, like clouds or the wind across sand, Form appears in the world, revealing its existence. We are captivated by this contradiction to chaos, but it is not such a thing. In fact, the goals we make are no different than that "chaos". Though, Form isn't nearly the same as our "goals", our plots. Upon the lines of thought we can measure and we can see a chance to graduate from our stations. We manipulate the lines to make a ladder with which we can crawl over the pile of life we deem waste. Waste. Does such a thing exist? Our goals, what should we do with them? Perhaps we can't live without them, and so perhaps we are cursed. Or perhaps we can hold them at a distance. Maybe we can live in honor of the world and all of its beauty, holding such filtered lies apart, but still confidently approaching an imminent death. The goal is a tool, and without that tool I still live. I, live.

I've got a new book about Kyudo, "Illuminated Spirit: Conversations with a Kyudo Master" by Dan and Jackie Deprospero. I've read only the first ten pages and I'm already brimming with reflections. I think it's going to be good. It already is. Of the other books on Kyudo I've read, it was another written by Dan and Jackie Deprospero that I consider the most interesting, "Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery." These books are written with a respect for the tradition that kyudo is, and the life it mirrors, while also writing from an experience rooted in long practice and skill. Or at least that's what I feel. But anyway, without further ado, I'll just get to the point and quote a section that discusses the idea of having a goal, while also discussing another topic that's been on my mind (and on the blog) recently, the balance of learning from a teacher and learning on your own:

"Kyudo, perhaps more than any other martial art, is considered to be an excellent spritual discipline when practiced under the tutelage of an inspirational teacher. It would be hard to imagine a teacher more inspirational than Onuma Sensei. He repeatedly told us that if we practiced diligently and made a real effort, kyudo could help us change our lives for the better. We once asked him if the practice of kyudo could also help rid the world of evil, or at least change it for the better. As silly and naive as our question must have sounded, he did take the time to answer that great philosophers have tried, for thousands of years, to address the question of good and evil, and that human beings have been trying to change the world from the first day of their existence - and yet humanity still struggles with the same questions.

"Many people, deep down, are waiting for someone else to take charge of their lives and hand over a prescription for what to do or say in a given situation. Onuma Sensei always stressed that his intention was simply to teach us kyudo, not to teach us how to change the world. He also made it quite clear that neither was he trying to change us, adding that on one has the power to effect real change in others.

"For Onuma Sensei, kyudo was a means of observing, understanding and changing his own life. He worked only on himself, believing that each of us is totally and completely responsible for improving his own character. Sensei had faith that if every human being were to approach life this way, the result would be smoother relationships, a more caring society and, ultimately, a better world to live in.

"Can it really be so simple? The cynic will say that Onuma Sensei sounds like a man who would have students isolate themselves from other people's problems in order to better themselves. But this is far from what he meant, as can be seen in one of his favorite analogies, of two people climbing a mountain:

"The mountain looms equally high before us all. And the goal and the struggle we face is the same. The only difference between us lies in the fact that I started climbing long before you. Now when you look ahead you see me in a place where you, too, would like to be. If I allow myself to look back then I can see that in comparison with you I have came a long way. But I don't like to look back because that hinders my own progress. Just like you, I'm always looking ahead toward the top of the mountain. But this doesn't mean that I ignore others as I climb. I must always be ready to help those who follow. There is a great difference between looking back to compare yourself with the progress of others and looking back to guide others as they climb.

"The point he is making is that one should follow a virtuous path simply because it is a good and proper thing to do, not from any expectation of compensation, glory or praise for our efforts. The reward lies in the act itself, and in the knowledge that having traveled that path we can then act as a guide to the others who will surely follow."

-Dan and Jackie Deprospero, "Illuminated Spirit: Conversations with a Kyudo Master", pgs 1-3.

What do you think?

I think it's an excellent story about the challenges in finding the right balance of goals and interaction with others.

In kyudo we set goals to enhance our technique, not change the world.

We seek to answer the questions, and so that answer is a goal, but though humans have endeavored such since our first moments, we still question for that answer.

We proceed under the tutelage of a teacher, but it is not that teacher's sole occupation to enlighten us, just as it is not our job to be such for others.

We should not look to others for the answers to our own personal hidden questions.

We exist in this world, and talk about bow techniques, and climb mountains ... all else, is well something else indeed.


It's natural that we feel we stray from the path. We start doing things we're not supposed to, believed we never would before, and things that hinder our virtuous growth. Perhaps that is a helpful part to our growth as well. Maybe not. I don't know. But I've sown malicious plots in kyudo and reaped no desirable fruits. Twisted up, I move to untangle the knots, and daily replan my approach to my life and my experience with budo. I've begun a new journey with iaido and jodo. This will affect my relationship to kyudo. I think it will improve my experience. Taking my mind away from goals of success, I'll introduce new characters to change my relationships to the ones that have been here before.

In kyudo I make things harder than they are. I regress to past fumbles when there isn't much of a problem at all. I create demons that pull the bow instead of me.

I have one specific problem that may fix all else: I grip the bow too tightly. I grab the bow and demand my success trying to push and pull it to where I want. I only injure myself and stray from good technique.

I can see this now.

My hand is almost healed and I'm ready to go back to kyudo, and relax. I'll use my hand as a tool to work together with the bow and experience the world that is kyudo instead of demanding deadlines.

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