The book Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel discusses the spirituality connected with the art form in the sport of archery. In this book Herrigel describes many aspects of how archery is in fact not a sport but an art form and is very spiritual to those in the east. As an actor this book helps you to use your spirituality in your acting.
Archery in this book was the way that the author found his way into Zen Buddhism. He studied this art which is referred to as the “artless art ” to gain experience in the field of Zen Buddhism. At first one might think that archery has no place in Zen but through discussion and explanation it is revealed that archery is quite a large part of Zen. It is not through the actual physical aspect of shooting arrows at targets that archery is Zen but through the art and spirituality through which it is performed. It is not merely shooting an arrow to hit a target but becoming yourself the target and then in turn hitting yourself of course not literally but spiritually and by meeting the spiritual goal you will then meet the physical goal. The contest is therefore not with the arrow or the target but with oneself. The whole art of archery is internal within oneself and not external with the bow and arrows. The learning process for the Zen in archery is a long process focusing at first on drawing the bow “spiritually ” then moving on to holding the arrow and finally to “‘loosing’ the arrow.” Archery is in the sense of Zen is described as a ceremony with the main goal being to be able to perform it “effortlessly.” The idea is to as said by Herrigel’s teacher “stop thinking about the shot.” Once you stop thinking about the shot it will happen but until then it will not. To really be able to not think about the shot is to have to “let go of yourself ” as said by the master. The first test of sorts taken by Herrigel in the area of archery was five years into his studies. This test consisted not solely of skills but also of the spiritual aspect of archery. After that test which was passed by all with flying colors the training was over. Herrigel after asking his master how they group would get on without him was answered that they had changed and that it was not necessary for him to lead them anymore. When addressing the idea that Zen had only been involved in the art of archery in recent history Herrigel stated that archery just as all other Japanese art forms had been related to Zen from the beginning and that it was not a new occurrence at all.
In relation to what is going on in Acting I this book may at first seem irrelevant. By the title even one may think that well this is only about archery and that this has nothing to do with acting but that s not the case. This book relates to acting not by talking about acting but through the discussion of spirituality. This book is in fact a great resource for actors for that specific reason. It doesn t tell you how to act in the physical sense but it tells you how to act in the spiritual sense. Although the book is directly about archery it can be applied to almost anything. The idea of Zen is not just to be applied to what it is already used for but for everything that you do. You can use Zen in everything you do to make it more spiritual. In acting you can use it to become more connected to your character and to the situations you are working with. Being spiritually connected to the acting makes it better and easier. The same concepts that make archery better when using Zen make acting better. If an actor is not spiritually in tune with what he is doing he will not properly get his point across and his acting will not be very good. By using Zen he will be connected to the piece and then he will be able to show what is supposed to be shown and he will get his point across with ease.
Zen is not only used for the Japanese arts. It can be incorporated into everyday actions to make them easier and better. Zen although in this book was only discussed with respect to archery is very versatile. The art of archery is much like acting because it is only thought of as physical where acting is thought of as fake while through Zen they are both spiritual rather than just physical. After reading this book any preconceptions I had about archery being solely physical are gone and I now know that most anything can be spiritual using Zen.