Before I begin, I would like to mention that I have been a student of Zen Buddhism for some years and have also been a kyudo practitioner for some time. Thus, I think I can speak a little from both sides. I shall first state that this book is truly an inspirational account of Mr.Herrigel's own personal, spiritual journey and should be recognized as a good read. It is also a good starting point for a Western beginner of Zen Buddhism as it gives him/her a glimpse from a Westerner's perspective. Having said that, Zen in the Art of Archery has some fundamental problems and errors that misrepresents both Zen Buddhism and kyudo.It might surprise some readers to learn that it has been severely criticized by modern teachers and practitioners of kyudo. To start with, as stated in the book, Herrigel has only one intention of learning kyudo-to become a Zen mystic. Thus his heart is not in kyudo at all. Just as one should do zazen for the sake of zazen one should also do kyudo for the sake of kyudo. Herrigel came to study kyudo with his cup half-full. Next, one must also know that Awa, Herrigel's teacher himself has never been a Zen practitioner and has never done a formal Zen training at all, which is all-important for someone who wishes to understand Zen. Awa, while a fantastic archer, has also been regarded as highly unorthodox in his teaching and views and one should thus not equate his teachings to be the norm of kyudo and Zen. Another glaring problem is that Mr. Herrigel himself does not understand Japanese and relies on an interpreter, Mr. Komachiya. Mr. Komachiya has himself wrote that he has taken liberty in explaining some of Awa's words to Herrigel. One of the most important part of the book, the Target in the Dark, highlights this problem. The careful reader will realize that in the entire episode, Herrigel is trying to understand Awa without an interpreter at all. One can easily speculate the misinterpretations that might have taken place. Another famous incident is where Awa supposedly says, "It Shoots". Scholars of both Japanese and German have speculated that what Awa meant was that "It just happened." Meaning that he was lucky. For those looking for a more detailed criticism, one should read Yamada Shoji's excellent essay, The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery. My contention in this review is not to debase Zen's relationship with Kyudo. Indeed Kyudo is heavily influenced by Zen and one can absorb traces of Zen in the practice of Kyudo. But one should also try to read this book with an open eye and should not treat this book as a reliable, definitive account of both Zen and Kyudo.
A good explanation of Zen, about letting the unconscious mind override the conscious mind. I sympathize with the author complaining to the teacher, "But it's taking so long!" It took years for him to become a Zen master in archery. I think a good, if oblique, companion piece to this book is THE USER ILLUSION, that explains how the mind works in a conciousness-vs.-unconsciousness way. We have tens of thousand of bytes of information entering our brains every second, but our consciousness only registers up to only 30 bytes! That's a lot of information being absorbed by our subconscious! What the Zen discipline does is try to open up the mind to working with all those subconscious bytes. The week I write this (Aug. 23, 2000) the "New Yorker" has a good article by Malcolm Gladwell about when pro athletes choke. Basically their conscious minds take over too much. I'd read that article, too. Anyway, this book is very readable, very accessible, and makes me feel like a spiritual wienie since I'm so far beneath such mastery of my own mind!