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Wisdom Bite #14: The Art of Concentration

by Mark Ament on 23/07/2010

in Wisdom Bites

This story comes from the tradition of Zen Buddhist stories.  I’m sharing it here because of how clearly it demonstrates that the real goal of spiritual practice is not to dominate, control or master physical reality on Earth.

Instead, the goal is simply to rest in the fearlessness that comes from the peace of knowing that what you really are could never be threatened by the illusion of death.

Consider how the wise Zen Monk handles the challenge in the story below.   He is an example of one who has reached such a goal.

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.”

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