True practice is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

– Dhwani Shah

Master Archer

In China there is an ancient story. A man declared himself to be the greatest archer, and he went to the king and said, “I am ready to accept anybody’s challenge. I have practiced archery for thirty years, and I know that there is nobody in the whole empire who can be a competitor to me. It should be declared…a time should be given and within this time, if there is somebody who wants to compete with me, I am ready; otherwise you have to declare me the champion of the whole empire, the master archer.”

The king knew that he was the greatest archer he had seen and what he was saying was not boasting, it was really true. There was nobody in the whole empire even close to him; he had gone into the art so deeply. But an old man who was the constant companion of the king…he was a servant, but he was very respected by the king because the king’s father had died early and this servant had been almost a father to him; he had protected him, he had disciplined him, he had trained him to be a king, and he managed to put him on the throne, to make him the emperor. He was sitting by his side on the ground, and he laughed.

The king said, “Why are you laughing? What he is saying is true. I know this man, I know his archery. Even with closed eyes he never misses his target; with closed eyes he can kill a flying bird. There is nobody who is in any way comparable to him.”

The old man said, “You are too young. I know a man before whom this man is just an amateur. He is very ancient, very old – older than me. He lives deep in the mountains. Before you declare this man the champion, he has to meet that old man. Just meeting him will be enough – competition is out of the question.”

This was a great challenge…just meeting him will be enough, competition is out of the question. You cannot compete with that man. He is a master. And he showed him the way to the place where he could be found, the cave where he lived. The archer went miles into the mountains, finally found the cave and laughed, because there was the old man sitting, not even with a bow in the cave anywhere, no arrows – what kind of master archer is he? And he was so old, maybe ninety, ninety-five or more. He could not hit the target, his hands would tremble; he was so old! But the man said, “I have been sent by the king to meet you.”

The old man said, “I have received the message of the king, but before I meet you I will give a little test. I don’t meet each and everybody! At least you must be capable of being an archer; you will have to do for me a little test.” To be a master archer is out of question… he wanted to check whether he had any capacity for archery, any talent, any genius.

The old man came out of his cave, took the young man with him and he said, “The moment I saw you coming with your bow and with your arrows, I knew that you were an amateur, because the real master does not need these things. Have you not heard the ancient saying: when a master reaches to his ultimate genius, if he is an archer he throws away his bow and his arrows; if he is a musician he throws away his musical instruments; if he is a painter he throws away his brushes, his canvases.”

He said, “I have heard it but I have never understood it.”

The old man said, “Now you have come to the place where you will understand it. Come with me.” There was a rock protruding into the valley, and the valley was thousands of feet deep. If you fell from the rock there was no possibility of your being alive; in fact you could not even be found as a whole body, you would be scattered. It was a dangerous valley.

The old man went onto the protruding rock; the young man was standing there trembling – he was not going onto the rock. The old man was going and the young man was trembling. The old man said, “Stop that trembling. That is not the sign of a master archer.” And the old man went to the very end of the rock, standing with half of his feet off the edge of the rock. He was standing there and he said to the young man, “Now you come and stand by my side.”

The young man took one step, two steps – and then fell flat, trembling, everything whirling. He said, “You have to forgive me. I cannot come where you are standing. Just a little mistake, a little breeze of wind, a little forgetfulness and you are gone forever! I have come here to meet you, not to commit suicide. I cannot believe how you are standing there.”

The old man said, “That’s what archery brings to a man – an untrembling heart, a non-moving mind. Now I do not need the bow and the arrows. I know that you have looked around in my cave and I have seen your subtle smile, `How can this man be an archer?’ Now I will show you my archery.”

He looked up and there were nine birds flying – and as he looked up all the nine birds fell down on the earth. He said, “If you are absolutely immobile inside, even your eyes are enough; arrows are not needed. So go back, practice archery. Championship is far away. While I am alive, never think again of championship – although I am not a competitor. Even if you were declared champion I would not have bothered to object – who cares? Your championships, your titles are children’s games.

“But the old man in the palace knows me. Now as long as I am living you cannot be a champion; you can be a champion if you really go deeper into archery, practice. And only I can make you a champion, not the king. What does he know about archery? So tell him, `You don’t have any authority.’ I will come in the right time if I am alive. Or I will send somebody, or I will make some arrangement, even if I am dead.”

Ten years passed and the old man was dying. He called his son from the village down in the plains and told him – he was also very old – “Go to this certain archer and just report to me the situation.”

He went there. The archer was very loving, very happy that the old man still remembered him and had sent his son. The son saw the big bow hanging on the wall. He asked, “What is it?”

And the archer said, “I used to know what it is… Now I don’t know. I will have to ask; somebody must know.”

But the son said, “I have heard you are an archer.”

He said, “I used to be in my youth, and in youth everybody is foolish. I used to be, but your father brought me to my senses.”

This was reported to the old man, that he had forgotten the name of the bow. The old man said, “That means he has proved his mettle. I will have to go down before I die to declare him the champion, the master archer.”

Now he was also capable – just looking at a bird was enough to kill it. Just those two rays going from the eyes were enough, because his inner being was so solidly immobile that those two rays became like arrows. He said, “Now I understand the meaning of the old saying: The musician breaks down his musical instruments when he really becomes a master. Then what is the use of those instruments? because they are still part of the world of sound and the real music is silence.”

Even when you are listening to music, what really touches your heart is not the sound but the gap between two sounds. How to bring that gap to your heart is the whole art of music. But if a man can bring that gap just by his presence, and you fall into deep silence, you will know the real music. Then you will know that what you used to think of as music was only a preliminary training. And the same is true about dancing, the same is true about every creative art. What it appears to be is not the reality; it is just a device so that you can become aware of something intangible, hidden, beyond.

But to love music is good, to love dance is good, to play music is good, to dance is good – but remember, that is not the end. You have to go far – away from music, away from dance – to understand the real beauty of any creative art. Every creative art brings you to your innermost being where there is just calmness, utter quietness, absolute silence.

Then you can say, “I have heard that which cannot be heard. And I have seen that which cannot be seen.”

Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.

– Joseph Campbell


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