Sunday, December 19, 2010


After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. “There,” he said to the old man, “see if you can match that!”

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. “Now it is your turn,” he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.

Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.

“You have much skill with your bow,” the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, “but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot.”

There are many ways to look at this parable. This simplest way is to simply say that the Zen master removed the braggart from his comfort zone in order to defeat him.

A deeper look at this parable can also tell us that it is as important to have a strong mind as it is to have a strong body. The point is not to hit the target. The point is to master your mind so that your mind is in control of your body.

There is saying, “The mind commands the body and the body obeys. The mind commands itself and finds resistance. —Saint Augustine (354-430) ” In addition, tai chi teaches us that “Yi leads Li”, or “intent leads external strength”. Both of these sayings talk about developing the mind and will.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

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