Friday, 6 March 2009

Zen and the art of shooting rabbits?

A master archer hits a target at a hundred yards because he skill possesses,
But, to make to meet two arrows in mid air, head on,
goes far beyond the skill of ordinary man,

In this superior activity of no mind, see,
The wooden figure sings and the stone maiden dances,
This is far beyond all common consciousness,
Beyond all thinking.

I think this is by Tozan Ryokai, from The Most Excellent Mirror - Samadhi (one of the scriptures of the Soto Zen school of Mahayana Buddhism) .

Stalking, aiming and shooting are all actions, which is to say, these things aren't words as such and they aren't thoughts as such, either. Words and thoughts may take us into the field - they're certainly very handy if we wish to purchase second-hand air-rifles in a shop, of course - grunting and pointing can only go so far with this kind of thing - but, once we're there, holding the rifle steady, breathing out and then letting go of the shot - these are things that are done, rather than things which are thought or said. So, if there were such a thing as Zen and the Art of Shooting Rabbits then it might have as its baseline the observation that the more our conscious deliberations intrude into these matters, the more likely we are to cock them up. "He who hesitates," speaks forth the great well of my own wisdom, "does not eat rabbit for tea".

But I think it's fairly unlikely that you'd find a Zen Buddhist teacher in the U.K who'd pat you on the back and wish you well as regards your search for small, furry - as they might say - 'sentient beings' to shoot, cook and eat. Because Buddhists are mostly vegetarians and view the taking of animal life with abhorrence. So those looking for a meticulously tidy, silent Zendo from which fierce, shaven-headed adepts drop rabbits at a hundred yards with a BSA Lightning will look in vain.

A peculiar, watered-down version of the Buddhist ethic seems almost obligatory in the West at the moment: gleaming Buddhas sit on shelves in Marks and Spencer's and magazines are full of articles extolling the benefits of meditation for our 'personal development' (generally illustrated by a picture of a nice young lady in a leotard rather than, say, one of a 14 stone bloke in a field with rabbit gore on his boots). Contemporary Spirituality, we gather, surely dictates that it's tofu for tea, rather than jugged hare.

I've got some tofu in my fridge as it happens and I'll probably meditate a little bit later on - maybe after I've had a snooze. I was up at five this morning for a fruitless, but, in the end, pleasant walk over the frost-crunchy fields where I go shooting and am now - post breakfast kedgeree - rather pooped and droopy-eyed.

Maybe it was the kippers in my Kedgeree that got me to thinking about the end of the Gospel of John this morning, where Christ appears on the shore of lake Tiberias (the bereaved disciples having spent their own fruitless night in search of fish):

"When it was already light, there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out. 'Haven't you caught anything, friends?' And they answered, 'No,' he said, 'Throw the net out to starboard and you'll find something.' So they threw the net out and could not haul it in because of the quantity of fish."

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