The way to the goal is not to be measured
«” You see what comes of not being able to wait without purpose in the state of highest tension. You cannot even learn to do this without continually asking yourself: Shall I be able to manage it? Wait patiently, and see what comes ̇and how it comes! ”
I pointed out to the Master that I was already in my fourth year and that my stay in Japan was limited.
” The way to the goal is not to be measured! Of what importance are weeks, months, years? ”
” But what if I have to break off half way? ” I asked.” Once you have grown truly egoless you can break off at any time. Keep on practising that. ”
And so we began again from the very beginning, as if everything I had learned hitherto had become useless. But the waiting at the point of highest tension was no more successful
than before, as if itwere impossible for me to get out of the rut.
One day I asked the Master: ” How can the shot be loosed if
” I ” do not do it? ”
“” It ” shoots, ” he replied.
” I have heard you say that several times before, so let me put it another way: How can I wait self− obliviously for the shot if
” I ” am no longer there? ”
” ” It ” waits at the highest tension. ”
” And who or what is this ” It ” ? ”
” Once you have understood that, you will have no further need of me. And if I tried to give you a clue at the cost of your own experience, I should be the worst of teachers and should deserve to be sacked! So let’s stop talking about it and go on practising. ”
Weeks went by without my advancing a step. At the same time I discovered that this did not disturb me in the least. Had I grown tired of the whole business? Whether I learned the art or not, whether I experienced what the Master meant by ” It ” or not, whether I found the way to Zen or not ̇ all this suddenly seemed to have become so remote, so indifferent, that it no longer troubled me. Several times I made up my mind to confide in the Master, but when I stood before him I lost courage; I was convinced that I should never hear anything but the monotonous answer: ” Don’t ask, practise! ” So I stopped asking, and would have liked to stop practising, too, had not the Master held me inexorably in his grip. I lived from one day to the next, did my professional work as best I might, and in the end ceased to
bemoan the fact that all my efforts of the last few years had become meaningless.
Then, one day, after a shot, the Master made a deep bow and broke off the lesson, ” Just then ˆ It ̃ shot! ” he cried, as I stared at him bewildered. And when I at last understood what he meant I couldn’t suppress a sudden whoop of delight.
” What I have said “, the Master told me severely, ” was notpraise, only a statement that ought not to touch you. Nor was my bow meant for you, for you are entirely innocent of this shot. You remained this time absolutely self−oblivious and without purpose in the highest tension, so that the shot fell from you like a ripe fruit. Now go on practising as if nothing had happened.”
Only after a considerable time did more right shots occasionally come off, which the Master signalled by a deep bow. How it happened that they loosed themselves without my doing anything, how it came about that my tightly closed right hand suddenly flew back wide open, I could not explain then and I cannot explain to−day. The fact remains that it did happen, and that alone is important. But at least I got to the point of being able to distinguish, on my own, the right shots from the failures. The qualitative difference is so great that it cannot be overlooked once it has been experienced. Outwardly, for the observer, the right shot is distinguished by the cushioning of the right hand as it is jerked back, so that no tremor runs through the body. Again, after wrong shots the pent−up breath is expelled explosively, and the next breath cannot be drawn quickly enough. After right shots the breath glides effortlessly to its end, whereupon air is unhurriedly breathed in again. The heart continues to beat evenly and quietly, and with concentration undisturbed one can go straight on to the next shot. But inwardly, for the archer himself, right shots have the effect of making him feel that the day has just begun. He feels in the mood for all right doing, and, what is perhaps even more important, for all right not − doing. Delectable indeed is this state. But he who has it, said the Master with a subtle smile, would do well to have it as though he did not have it. Only unbroken equanimity can accept it in such a way that it is not afraid to come back.»
Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the art of archery