Friday, February 26, 2016

Launching to the Highest Goal

"Take the Upanishad as the bow, the great weapon and place
upon it the arrow sharpened by meditation.
Then, having drawn it back with a mind directed to the thought
of Brahman, strike that mark, O my good friend —
to that which is the Imperishable." ...........................Mundaka Upanishad : 2.2.3

In the mythological purana "Mahabharata", the special devotee of Lord Krishna and a suitor of princess Draupathi, has to win a contest involving archery. The target in this contest is a complex mechanism of a mechanical bird in a rotating cage. After studying the target for some time, Arjuna closes his eyes and releases the arrow which brings down the bird. In some versions Arjuna's target is a rotating fish and he has to hit the eye of the fish. These variation do not matter. It only indicates the near impossibility of achieving the desired result if one relies on one's senses and mind.

The deeper meaning of this episode is that your sense perceptions alone tend to diminish the accuracy of the process as this is a partial input and there is no integration of the perceived object and the self in accomplishing the task. This is the shortcoming that plagues us when we are rooted in objective analysis rather than in subjective integration. This episode in Mahabharata positions the characters to evoke  the deeper spiritual meaning that is being taught. Arjuna is the seeker of higher wisdom and this is symbolized by the difficult target and it is not the immediate target that is relevant but the ultimate target of the union with Draupathi who is the epitome of wisdom possessing all attributes. The episode says that the Pandavas, who were Kshatriyas, came disguised as Brahmins. This is to indicate that though by birth you are typecast into a particular caste, in seeking highest goal, irrespective of your worldly status in life, you have to transform into a Brahmana or one who is immersed in Brahman or the true Self. This will enable the seeker to conquer the hand of the unblemished wisdom, symbolized by Draupathi. This wisdom is imperishable and enables Arjuna to be steered and instructed by Lord Krishna, who represents the imperishable Divine consciousness in his fight against  forces that assail our journey in this life.

The symbol of the Bow and Arrow can be encountered in other spiritual traditions.
In Japan the equestrian archery preceded kyūdō. Even equestrian archery required a degree of skill which lies beyond the mind. In modern sports like tennis, basketball, baseball and cricket, the response time needed from the player is far smaller than the response of the neural network in the visual and motor functional area of the neo cortex. Very accomplished players. through extreme focus, highly integrate the target, the trajectory and the resulting response obtaining an assured end result.

kyūdō is practiced in Zen tradition in Japan. Eugen Herrigel (1884–1955) was a German professor of philosophy, who studied Kyūdō (the art of the Japanese bow) under a master named Awa Kenzô. Awa taught kyūdō in a way that was regarded by some as a mystical religion, called Daishadokyo. Daishadokyo was an approach to kyūdō that placed great emphasis on the spiritual aspect and differed from much of the mainstream practice at the time

Herrigel describes Zen in archery as follows:
"(...) The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art (...)" [1]

This same process that we employ in temporal pursuits has to be extended to our pursuit of the highest goal, namely "attainment of the imperishable".

This is the message of the Upanishad

Love to you all.



  1. Have learnt something from this article, which I have, been pondering upon. Thank you

  2. Thank you for your comment. Glad to know that I have been useful through my thoughts.