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Zen in Hunting: Part 3


Zen in Hunting Part 3

By now you probably have a pretty good understand of what Zen is. But how does a person go about achieving Zen enlightenment? What is the process?

Students in traditional Eastern Zen often spend many years in painstaking study to achieve Zen enlightenment. Since most of us don’t have the wherewithal to travel to Japan for formal study, my aim is to guide you through the basic process. The following steps show how to achieve Zen through archery.

  1. Concentrate on your breathing.Whatever activity you are doing, Zen begins with meditation, and meditation begins with conscious breathing. When you concentrate solely only on breathing you are brought into the present moment. I’m talking about deep, slow breaths from the bottom of your stomach. Here’s a simple exercise: Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold it for two, exhale through your nose for four seconds, count to two, and repeat. Since breathing happens in real time, mindful breathing will bring your focus into the present moment. Zen is all about increased awareness by keeping the mind present. To make way for Zen you must not let your mind wander into the future or the past. Consciously acknowledge any thought that enters your mind, and say to yourself, “I release you.”
  2. Make archery a ritual.Whatever you are doing–whether sitting down to play the piano or shooting archery—take your time and make each step—each movement—deliberate. Break the process down into multiple small steps and focus intently on each step individually. Do not anticipate the shot, rather stay present throughout the process. Turning your activity into a meditative ritual will pave the way to higher awareness, or Zen.
  3. Practice makes perfect.Practice shooting in a quiet, calm, yet focused manner. Release all expectations, all physical and mental stress. Begin by shooting at nothing; just a blank backstop. Let the shot come by surprise. Let the bow shoot itself. Do not judge any shot as a hit or a miss. Blank bale shooting removes your self from the process. The arrow will hit the bullseye every time as long as you don’t let your self get in the way of the arrow. Practice in this manner until the basic fundamentals of archery are set firmly in your consciousness. Shooting with a Zen-mind is like playing music. The first time you sit down at the piano you can’t expect to play a symphony, but just a single note. Zen only happens after countless hours of mindful practice. Suddenly the piano plays itself. You are able to conduct pure, enlightened inspiration by letting the process happen through you, not from you.
  4. Let go.Whatever you are doing, don’t force it. Zen happens by letting go of expectations and dissolving your ego. Only then can a greater force work through you. In Zen you become as a “hollow bamboo.”The Zen-master encourages his student to stop trying so hard. When you finally master Zen in archery—following countless hours of shooting—you will hit the bullseye every time with little to no effort. You only miss when your ego takes over and you begin to over-think the shot. As your skill increase, your ego tries to take credit for success. More and more you believe you are in control. You seek praise. That’s just human nature. And that’s where things fall apart. Progress stifles and you fall into ruts. Instead, let go of your self and let the bow—in it’s perfect, precise form—shoot itself.

Is that it? Did I miss something? Like I said from the start, Zen isn’t something to be explained, but experienced. Practical Zen doesn’t always require you to go through a specific ritual or meditation. These are just guidelines to help you learn the process.

Zen is actually more common than you might think. In fact, I am certain that just about everyone has experienced Zen at one time or another. Have you ever hears someone say, “Man, I’m really in the zone today?” What they mean is, they’re really in the Zen today. For some unknown reason you just feel unconquerable, like you can do anything. The problem is that it’s fleeting; we can’t repeat it. Why?

Most of the time we don’t reflect back on what factors led up to that fleeting moment of enlightenment. Other times we call it luck; and since luck can’t be repeated, it’s dismissed.

The goal of Zen enlightenment is to summon those powers at will and use them to your benefit. The famous virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai explained it like this (and I paraphrase): Every once in a while a person latches onto a fleeting moment of inspiration. For some mysterious reason he can suddenly play beyond his normal abilities—beyond anything he’s ever experienced. But then, a moment later it’s gone. Vai goes on to explain that his unwieldy virtuosity is the result of learning how to hold onto that moment—to summon it at will. Incidentally, Vai is an adamant student of Eastern philosophies. He is speaking specifically of Zen.

Zen isn’t a religion per se, nor does it conflict with any religion. It is simply a heightened state of being and awareness. It brings clarity through meditation and focus.

At its peak, Zen enlightenment channels energy so that God can work through you. In other words, you are able to achieve great feats because you’ve removed yourself as a stumbling block to the great flow of energy.  As the late, great Zen-master Alan Watts once wrote, “What the culture of Zen proposes is that one might become the kind of person who, without intending it, is a source of marvelous accidents.”

Best of all, Zen is universally available to everyone. It’s your birthright. It comes with the gift of consciousness. Personally, I’m only at the beginning of Zen understanding. But lately I find myself making more frequent, conscious, ritualistic efforts to channel those forces. I can also recognize when it happens and hold onto it longer.

What I’m attempting to do here is share this understanding with you. Through Zen practices one can achieve greater success in whatever aspects of life he wishes to pursue.

Zen in Hunting: Part 1

Zen in Hunting: Part 2

Zen in Hunting: Part 2


Zen in Hunting Part 2

Trying to explain Zen to people has been difficult, not just for me, but for all Zen teachers, even the Japanese Zen-masters themselves. Reason being, the meaning of Zen is not something you can just tell someone, but rather something that must experienced.

In Western culture we expect things to be tangible and definable. But in Eastern culture some aren’t explained with words, but  through experiences. If you were to ask a Zen-master to explain Zen, he’d likely turn his back on you. Zen is a sacred art, and not something to be handed out like candy. Its power is beyond mere words, even beyond the teacher’s full range of understanding. It is  also something that should be earned through hard work, humility, and sacrifice.

If you haven’t read the epic novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, you should probably be deported. It’s an important and powerful Western perspective of Zen. It also predicts the downfall of Western civilization via our own greed and self-centered worldly perspective. He goes on to explain that the Western business model will increasingly dictate our values in the near future. The fallacy of the Western business model is this:  If a thing or idea cannot be quantified, monetized, or assigned a tangible value, then it must be dismissed. Why do you think society hates religion now more than ever before?

Like it or not, this bias is the driving force behind all decisions regarding Western business, values, morality, emotions, decisions, relationships, the stock market, the government, etc. Have you ever noticed that every elected official is a living pile of crap, and the “good guy” politician always loses and no one knows why? He loses because his truth and his goodness can’t be quantified. The dirt bag politician, on the other hand, wins because he tells so many lies, and lies are data which can be added up and quantified. So he wins by numbers. But I digress.

Pirsig was a great prognosticator. He understood that the Western business model would inevitably lead to our destruction. He foresaw it very clearly, but felt so helpless in preventing it that it drove him certifiably insane.

What proved Pirsig’s theory was simple: The word QUALITY is indefinable in Western culture. Everyone he asked seemed to have  only  some vague idea of what Quality is, but they couldn’t really define it. That’s because Quality can’t be defined. Quality can’t stand on its own. Quality is only useful for comparing two objects. For example, this toothbrush is better than that toothbrush, so this  one is a quality toothbrush.

Quality is very similar to Zen insomuch as it’s something to be experienced, not explained. You know when you have a quality experience–like shooting a giant buck or watching your son being born–but trying to explain why it’s a quality experience is impossible without comparing it to something lesser. And since it can’t be defined, it’s often discarded by our culture. Now, more than ever, it’s easy to see what Pirsig predicted 40 years ago is coming true: quantity over quality in all things. Don’t believe me? Just look at Walmart!

Before we continue, I want to make it clear that I am not a Zen-master; not even close! I’m only a traveler along the Great Path. I only happened upon Zen because of the meditative rituals that I experienced while hunting. At the same time, I believe that the purpose of life is to follow the one true path, and that is the path leading to enlightenment. If I have any understanding of Zen, it’s only because I’ve traveled farther along the path than most. And if this is true, then I can help others.

Are you seeking Zen in your life, or are other forces (dogmas, hope, ignorance, etc.) guiding you? Can the ancient art of Zen really be used for hunting? Is God and Zen really the same thing? These are all questions that I ponder every day and hope to answer in future posts.

As of now, we’ve only scratched the surface. For the final piece of the puzzle, see…

Zen in Hunting: Part 3

Zen in Hunting: Part 1