At its heart, Zen wishes to step back from the world as it is and meditate on the one-ness of the universe. For some, Zen offers a respite from the difficulties and problems of the modern world, for others…
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He talks about how one cannot be detached from Zen and think about it in a rational or detached manner. It is a way of being in the world. As an example of this, Highlet talks about a Zen Master teaching a pupil archery.
A Zen master who was a teacher of archery agreed to take him as a pupil. The lessons lasted six years, during which he practiced every single day. There are many difficult courses of instruction in the world: the Jesuits, violin virtuosi, Talmudic scholars, all have long and hard training, which in one sense never comes to an end; but Herrigel’s training in archery equaled them all in intensity. If I were trying to learn archery, I should expect to begin by looking at a target and shooting arrows at it. He was not even allowed to aim at a target for the first four years. He had to begin by learning how to hold the bow and arrow, and then how to release the arrow; this took ages. The Japanese bow is not like our sporting bow, and the stance of the archer in japan is different from ours (Highlet).
For Highlet, this helps illustrate his opinion that Zen is actually a religion. I strongly disagree with Highlet about this. This story may not be true: it is more of an anecdote which shows us that we need to reflect more on our position in the world than our immediate goals. This is more of a philosophical issue than a religious one. Highlet is wrong about this.
Religion and philosophy are too different things. Religion is a systematic and ordered thing which has its special doctrines. Philosophy is a series of approaches to various problems. Highlet tries to make an argument that Zen is a religion but it is simply not ordered enough. His conclusion does not stand. He leads us through a number of anecdotes. But the sum of a series of anecdotes is not a religion. It is a series of ways of looking at problems—more of a philosophy.
Highlet is an interesting writer and Zen is a strange
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