Spiritual Archery

“That which is bright and is subtler than the subtle, and that on which are fixed all the worlds as well as the dwellers of the worlds, is this immutable Brahman; it is this vital force; it, again, is speech and mind. This that is such, is true, it is immortal. It is to be shot at; O disciple, shoot at it.
Taking up the bow, the great weapon of the Upanishads, one should fix on it an arrow sharpened with meditation. Drawing it with a mind fixed on Brahman, hit, O disciple, that target, the Immutable.
OM is the bow; individual self is the arrow, and Brahman is said to be the mark. It is to be hit by one who is steady. One should become one with it as an arrow is one with the mark.”
Mundak Upanishad

In these famous verses God-realization is described by the analogy of shooting an arrow. By means of repetition of OM and meditation on its meaning, the individual self is shot from identification with body, mind and karma into identification with Brahman. The soul (explains Shankara) is the supreme Self seemingly conditioned, having entered here into the body as witness of senses, mind and intellect, like the sun seemingly entering a pool of water as a reflection. It is to be shot out of feelings of limitation into the true Self, Brahman, the Immutable.

In some Zen schools, a riddle or koan is given to a keen student who is already practised in meditation. When the koan ripens, it is said to shoot him into the Dharma-kaya, the all-pervading universal body of Buddha. A Japanese Zen master early in this century lived in a village, and one of his pupils was the greengrocer’s wife. But he was so famous that a Cabinet Minister also used to visit him once a week, and in spite of great pain in the legs sit in meditation two hours in his room. A journalist once visited the master and remarked, “Surely you are wasting yourself in this village. Instead of the greengrocer’s wife, wouldn’t it be better to come to the capital and collect pupils of influence like the Minister?”

In his article, the reporter described how the master scolded him for his thoughtless remark. “It is not a question of being the greengrocer’s wife or of being a Cabinet Minister,” he said, “but of not being the greengrocer’s wife and not being a Cabinet Minister. She has to shoot herself out of being the greengrocer’s wife into the Buddha-nature which she really is, and he has to shoot himself out of being a Cabinet Minister into the Buddha-nature which he really is. And it may very well be,” he concluded, “that it will be easier for her to shoot herself out of being `only the greengrocer’s wife’ than it will be for him to shoot himself out of being `His Excellency the Cabinet Minister’.”

The great mathematician-yogi Swami Rama Tirtha laid stress on the necessity for some definite technique to produce realization. He writes in his notebook: “You in the West say `O God, O God!’ but you have no definite knowledge or methods by which you can attain to see God. Butter pervades milk, but has to be got by a definite method. So there is a definite method by which the divine consciousness can be educed from the soul.” The traditional method in India is with the help of OM, by which consciousness is shifted from obsession with sense perception, first to the most refined layers of Maya, and then beyond Maya altogether into identity with Brahman, the supreme reality. OM is made up of the syllables A, U and M, representing the extrovertive, extrovertive and causal states of consciousness respectively.

Swami Rama Tirtha explains meditation as giving the lower centres rest, during which time the karana or causal centres become most active. The lower centres he explains as jagrat (waking) centres, defined as occupation with objects of the world through sense experience in the waking state. The karana centres are realms of “seeds”, dynamic impressions left by waking actions of thought, word and deed; these karana or causal centres are nearer the state of pure consciousness, because in them there is only ignorance of the Lord. In the waking state of sense experience, there is not only this basic ignorance of the Lord, but also projection on it of experiences which are partly or wholly unreal. Unreality is a source of suffering, so the causal state is a state of relative bliss only.

The causal state is entered at the time of deep sleep, but in the case of the ordinary man he comes back from this sleep refreshed but generally as ignorant as when he entered it. The seed impressions were too thick to allow him any experience to bring back.

However, the causal state, when the seed-layers become refined by meditation and devotion, can register inspirations from the cosmic mind of which it is an aspect. A scientist or artist or a man devoted to some unselfish ideal, by meditation on the object of concentrating during the waking state affects the causal layers; then, when arising from deep sleep, it is often found that the problem concentrated upon is blossoming into solution. Such experiences are not, however, aimed at by the Yoga of God-realization, because they are directed at discovering some truth or beauty within maya.

Swami Rama Tirtha explains that the karana (causal) layer is roughly what is called the sub-conscious self, though it includes also a super-conscious. “Keep the karana imbued with holy, pure and sublime feelings, and original thoughts are sure to flow out of you.” “The night-time of the body is the daytime of the soul.” “A reason more perfect than reason, and uninfluenced by its partialities, is at work in us when we sleep.” “Only in our sleep are the weapons forged with which we can contend the evil.”

The karana layer is changed slowly by altering the main currents of interest in our waking life. But Rama also says that the psychology of the karana layer is changeable through a special meditation state, comparable to the junction of waking and sleeping. This is a state in which both waking and causal states are surveyed as if from a height on their border line.

But for a time the yogic student only knows about the changes in the causal layer by the changes in his reactions to things while waking, and also in some cases through changes in his dreams. In Zen discipline, this fact is made use of. For instance a man approaching a crisis in his life may not know whether he will manage to face it, and goes to a Zen teacher for advice. The teacher tells him to make certain changes in his life in the direction of unselfishness and independence, and then gives him an evening meditation. “Every night before you go to bed, sit on a cushion in the meditation posture.

Count your breaths up to a hundred, feeling your nerves relaxing with each breath. Now picture yourself as you are, in your sleeping robe, and visualize a tiger at the end of the room. Feel yourself jumping up and running towards it as it roars and opens its mouth. It is essential that you run-feel your sleeves fluttering as you rush at it. Without any hesitation thrust your head right into its mouth. It bites your head off and that is the end of you. Make this visualization several times, then lie down and go to sleep. After six weeks come and see me.”

After the stated period he has an interview with the teacher, who says, “Have you had any dreams lately?” The man thinks and says, “Yes, I had a nightmare which I often have. A murderer is chasing me, his sword is dripping blood. But this time as I was running away I suddenly found myself stopping and turning on him. As I came up to him he began talking quickly, but I charged right at him and he vanished. Then I woke up.”

The teacher says, “Now you are all right. You have no need to worry any more-you will be able to face whatever happens.” The causal layer, which is the source of dream significances, had been changed.

The aim of the yogi is to project his actual experiencing consciousness beyond all limited identifications, whether with the physical body, the mental body or the causal body. But he will not be able to do this until all the identifications have been refined and thinned. His life in the physical world must become less selfish and more devoted to an ideal, his mental life must be more concerned with truth and creative love. The causal body consists of the basic conviction that the universe runs as a fixed system of cause and effect, and thinning of the causal body means seeing the regularities not as cause and effect but as each one a spontaneous expression of divine consciousness. The regularities are not denied, but the earlier ones are not seen as causing the later ones, any more than earlier notes of a song cause the later ones. All of them are a direct expression of the singer. As the causal layer becomes thinned, its dynamic seeds are seen as luminous with beams from the Lord beyond, which shine more and more as it becomes attenuated.

Swami Rama discusses the passages in the Upanishads which describe a path of luminous experiences before Brahman is finally realized. He adds that descriptions of the path of the soul after “dropping the body” (usually taken to mean death) apply to meditation experiences. Dropping the body can mean rising above body-consciousness in meditation. Two paths are mentioned in the Upanishads-the path of smoke and the path of light. The path of smoke-described in the Gita in the terms “smoke, night, darkening moon, winter”-means dropping of the body by an ignorant man, as he drops it every night in sleep, going to a causal body opaque with doubts and returning as it were from utter darkness.

The path of light is traversed by a yogi. He drops the body in his meditation practice as he loses consciousness of time and place. Because he has purified the causal layer to a greater or lesser degree, his experiences are described as “fire, light, day, the brightening moon, summer.” These (says Swami Rama) are different degrees of clearness in self-realization even in this life to the person rising above body-consciousness in meditation.

He quotes fron an Upanishad: “The god will come to receive the soul to Brahman”. This means that nature will prepare the way. Everything, he explains, will be straightened by the powers that be.

Particular details should not be the concern of the yogi, any more than the details of his digestion. A man who concentrates on his digestion may upset it; his concern should be to live a healthy life, digestion being then carried on perfectly by nature.

The yogi is expected to draw the bow with his concentration fixed on Brahman, and not on some experience which he has imagined from reading the scriptures. One reason is that our imagination of what an experience should be like is often rather different from the actual thing. He repeats OM slowly and he is told to feel that this syllable is the word of glory, the expression of the Lord. After a few minutes, if he has practised a few weeks, his perceptions of the outer world begin to lose their vividness. He becomes more and more aware of the OM sound felt as a vibration of the issues of the body. OM occupies more and more of the field of attention. It is still the “A” state.

As he persists, he has an inner perception of himself as light, and his breathing spontaneously becomes slow and is heard as a faint OM sound. The physical verbalization of OM may remain as a trace, or cease altogether, but an OM sound as an inner perception remains and becomes clearer. Even though there is an interruption from outside which breaks the meditation, the yogi finds that an inner OM at once re-asserts. Later on it persists as a background even while attention is deflected by some interruption external or internal. This is the “U” state.

Transition to the “M” state cannot take place by a mentalĀ  effort, in the ordinary sense, because such a mental effort would re-energize the mental functions. It would be assertion, and not transcendence, of the mind. It can happen that many times a yogi feels something pulling towards transcendence, and this very pull rouses a sort of spasm in his mind-sometimes of fear, so that it is called in some schools “clutching at the cliff-edge” and in others “a ship sinking”. In terms of reasoning the problem presents itself in the form, “How can there be a deliberate passing from the U state into the M state, if all decision, all deliberation, is itself an assertion of the U state?”

The Upanishad makes use of the analogy of archery, in which a very similar problem presents itself with a material bow and arrow. It has been studied elaborately in feudal Japan, where the archers were aware that the same principle is involved as in meditation practice.

When the bow is fully drawn and the aim perfectly taken, the archer’s body is motionless. Release must be simply a relaxation of the tension of the fingers of the right handany other movement will disturb the aim. And this relaxation is not really a deliberate movement-the muscles are relaxed and then the bow’s tension snaps the string from the slack fingers. Experience has shown that if the fingers are deliberately straightened, there is a disturbance of the whole hand and the aim is deflected.

Archers always find it difficult simply to relax the hand by a decision-the mere taking of a decision seems to involve some positive movement. In the same way in meditation, the perfect one-pointedness of the U state will be disturbed if the thought comes, “Now let me pass into the M state”. The presentation of OM practice along with archery in the Upanishad suggests that the sages were aware of the parallel.

Many archery schools in Japan were connected with a Buddhist meditation tradition. This was not a casual connection; archers often depended for their lives on their skill and it was essential that they should develop it and be able to manifest it even in a great crisis. They found that the Buddhist meditation could help them. Some of the secrets connected with mental training were recorded in “secret scrolls”, handed on to advanced pupils only. Even these had to be supplemented by oral instruction, but some parts of them can be understood by anyone who has done some subjective training.

Nearly all the scrolls have something interesting to say about the problem of release of the arrow. The paradox is, that a mental decision will disturb the aim, yet if there is no mental decision to release it, how will the arrow fly at all?

The schools agree that there is a state in which the arrow flies “of itself”. They also agree that a fundamental means of coming to a first experience of this phenomenon is by controlling the breathing and sinking the attention into it, hearing the breath making the sounds A and UM (the Japanese also render it UN-in any case it is a long-drawn-out nasalization of the vowel). Inbreath is listened to and found to make the sound A; the sound of the outbreath is UM. With the aim fixed, body fully stretched as the bow is stretched, let the archer fix his mind on breath-the arrow will fly off on the UM without his conscious volition. “The action of releasing the arrow is not an action of the individual, but an action of the universe…. Then the arrow will not be deflected even a fraction from the aim, since I myself am unconscious of its release.”

The secret transmission of the Yoshida school says: “Release of the arrow is as if the string snapped. The bow does not know; I also do not know-this is the important thing. At the beginning one seeks to attain this state by making the preparation with the A breath, and release with the UN sound of the breath. Beginners find the problem of release specially difficult, and until the archer is a master it is best to use concentration on the breath. At first breathing tends to go fast or to be held, or to come and go in gasps and jerks, and all this has to be overcome by training. The same point applies to all arts: unless this is mastered, the art is not mastered. Though a man may shoot successfully, if his breath is uneven he cannot be called a master.” The text later explains that if breath is uncontrolled, mere technical skill is liable to fail in a crisis. “Release of the arrow is without thought, without idea; like a dew-drop falling (from a leaf) under the sun, or a fruit falling when the time is ripe.”

Some pseudo-yogis have jumped to the conclusion that because release is the precursor to the flight of the arrow, release is all that is necessary. They forget that the bow has to be drawn to the fullest extent, by repetition of OM with concentration on Brahman, and that the arrow has to be “sharpened by meditation”. If a bow is drawn only a little, and the arrow released without taking aim, it will indeed leave the bow but simply fall to the ground. Where it falls will be largely chance.

In his commentary on the OM practice in the Prashna Upanishad, Shankara says that concentration on any one of the syllables alone will give advantages in the world of maya, but the yogi remains within the. “grip of death”. He explains that meditation on one of the states, and identification with it, does not set one free. The yogi identified with the A state sees the Lord manifest as the whole physical world-“the valley streams His great tongues, the colours of the mountains His mighty body” says the Chinese poem.

There is a long description to the experience in the Eleventh Chapter of the Gita.
To a yogi identified with the U state, this physical world is but a shadow of the thought of a great thinker-a scientist may express it by saying that God is a mathematician, an artist expresses it by seeing Him as painter and sculptor.

To a yogi who meditates on the truth as the M state, this world of sense-experience, and the world of the mind, are both merely provisional. He finds inspiration by passing beyond them. Such a yogi, when he is confronted with a problem in life, withdraws into meditation, from which he draws the inspiration to solve it. He does not have the inspiration in the ordinary waking state.

Shankara explains that the technique for liberation is to pass through all the states in the course of a single meditation, retaining witnesshood and not being identified with any of them.

Here is a description of an OM practice associated with the dawn sun, given by Swami Rama Tirtha:

“Look at the first sun as at a looking-glass, in no state of dualism. The highest is my own Self. I am He. Indian women wear small looking-glasses on their thumbs, and looking into them do not see the glass but their own faces outside themselves. But they realize it is their own faces though seen outside. So does the Vedantin realize that the Sun is his own Self. I am the Sun of suns! That sun is only my shadow!

The meaning of OM is “I am”; say so through language, lips, feeling, action. Speaking through every nerve, every hairthis is the language of the feeling. Chant OM with every fibre of your body. Begin with little force; sound first comes from the throat, then chest, lower and lower down until from base of spine; then electric shock, opening of Sushumna, your breathing becomes rhythmical, all germs of disease leave you. A Vedantin looks on the sun as related to himself in the same way as is the moon to the sun. She appears to shine by herself, but all lustre comes from the sun. So the sun appears to shine from his own grandeur, but that grandeur comes from Me.”


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