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am 25. Mai 2000
If one desires to pursue the path of enlightenment under Zen, one must select as a vehicle one of the Zen arts - archery, swordsmanship, brush-and-ink, the tea ceremony or flower arranging. Eugen (pronounced OI-gen) chronicles his struggle to overcome his "much too willful will" and master the bow. This interesting story is very moving, educational and inspiring, while never becoming heavy as it easily could have under less skillful authorship.
The ultimate challenge Eugen faces ends up being the smooth release of the bowstring and arrow without conscious intent, "like the ripe fruit falls from the tree", "like a baby's hand releases one object to grasp another", "like the bamboo leaf slowly bends under the weight of the snow, then releases the clump of snow without thought". Eugen, during a summer sabbatical, develops a "technique" that he believes will solve this problem and nearly gets himself thrown out of the program for "offending the Spirit of Zen". There is also an interesting account of an after-hours meeting where his teacher gives an amazing demonstration of quiet mastery in order to raise Eugen's morale and level of understanding.
I had read the book several times and decided to get the tape to listen to while driving. Ralph Blum's sonorous voice is perfect for the reading and I enjoyed listening to the book as much or more than reading it. There is much that this presentation has to offer and its message will live in your heart for a long time.
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To those who already practice Zen Buddhism, this book will seem awkward. To those nonpractitioners who would like to understand how to practice Zen Buddhism, this book will be a delightful enlightenment -- especially valuable to those who live outside of Asia. Eugen Herrigel takes on the almost impossible task of describing in writing something that has to be experienced to be understood, and is remarkably effective.

The author spent six years in Japan just after World War II, and decided that he wanted to understand Zen Buddhism. He was correctly advised that Zen needed to be experienced as the path to achieving that understanding. Several possible areas were suggested, from sword fighting to flower arrangement to archery. Because he had experience with rifle target shooting, the author chose archery. He was fortunate to be taken on by a Zen master who normally refused to teach Westerners, because they are so difficult to teach.

As a typical high-achieving Westerner, Mr. Herrigel wanted to make rapid progress and to achieve conscious competence in archery. His instructor wanted him to achieve unconscious competence based on experience and build from there into spiritual awareness. This conflict in perceptions created quite a tension for both of them. This tension was ironic, because the purpose of Zen practice is to achieve the ability to be strong like the flexible water. Tension is the enemy of that state of being.

Mr. Herrigel also learned from attending flower arranging classes from his wife, who was studying Zen in this way. He also benefited from finding some wonderful commentaries on sword fighting as a path to Zen that are included in this book. These are more eloquent than Mr. Herrigel, and he chose wisely in saving them for the end.

I suspect that this wonderful book will mean the most to people who have regularly practiced either meditation or Eastern-style breathing. Having followed both kinds of practices for the past six years, I found it was easier to relate to the Zen concepts in that way than through trying to imagine myself performing the archery described here.

By the way, this archery is not at all like what you did in camp as a youngster. It is both much more stylized and difficult. Think of it as being more like a Japanese tea ceremony than like Western-style archery.

You will love the many descriptions of how Zen masters helped their students learn through experience rather than lecturing or demonstrating to them endlessly. Mr. Herrigel makes a good point concerning how Japanese teaching in these ancient arts has remained the same, while newer subjects are taught much differently.

Some of the most beautiful parts of the book are the explanations that employ natural metaphors. The concept of the Samurai is explained through the fragile cherry blossom, for example, in a way you will not soon forget. The metaphors used in the archery are also very compelling and vivid. They spoke very eloquently to me, especially about how the shot is "released."

I got a lot personally from this book in reconsidering how I could and should step back more often to "go with the flow" of the moment rather than trying to orchestrate everything very rationally. The book made me much more aware that I operate in both styles, probably too often in the totally preplanned rational one.

I am also reminded of books about golf that I have read that cite similar principles for becoming more competent. I also remembered how all of my best golf shots have come when I was totally egoless. That lesson was very profound for me. I wonder what will happen in other areas if I follow that lesson, as well.

If you have never tried meditation, I encourage you to experience this if you find this book interesting. That will probably be your best way to begin to explore what is described here. Naturally, if you can find someone to teach you one of the Japanese arts, that will further expand your soul.

A good Western-style book to help you rethink your approach to life that parallels this one in many ways is The Art of Imperfection. The title is a misnomer. What we often think of as perfection is really the height of imperfection, as the author discovered when he began substituting his own methods for those of his Zen master.

Aim straight for yourself!
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am 3. April 2000
This is an unpretentious,no-nonsense narrative about the author's initiation into the art of archery and, ultimately, into the concept of Zen Buddhism. It speaks in plain language and tries to avoid mystical jargon. Ironically, it is also a story of self-perfection - ironically because Zen Buddhism teaches the abandonment of the idea of a "self".
There are many ways one may go from this book: One of the main themes of Zen in the Art of Archery is "art becoming artless", which is also at the core of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's bestselling study of creativity in "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience".
Someone who is interested in the spiritual qualities that (sometimes) come with the practice of martial arts might like to read "Iron and Silk" by Mark Salzman - don't expect anything holy or warrior-like, though.
Zen-Buddhism is covered in countless books. One of my favorites is Alan Watts's "The Spirit of Zen". A rather unorthodox, funny, skeptic and disrespectful look at Zen Buddhism can be gained from Janwillem van de Wetering's trilogy "The Empty Mirror" (my favorite of the three), "A Glimpse of Nothingness", and "Afterzen".
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am 25. Mai 2000
If one desires to pursue the path of enlightenment under Zen, one must select as a vehicle one of the Zen arts - archery, swordsmanship, brush-and-ink, the tea ceremony or flower arranging. Eugen (pronounced OI-gen) chronicles his struggle to overcome his "much too willful will" and master the bow. This interesting story is very moving, educational and inspiring, while never becoming heavy as it easily could have under less skillful authorship.
The ultimate challenge Eugen faces ends up being the smooth release of the bowstring and arrow without conscious intent, "like the ripe fruit falls from the tree", "like a baby's hand releases one object to grasp another", "like the bamboo leaf slowly bends under the weight of the snow, then releases the clump of snow without thought". Eugen, during a summer sabbatical, develops a "technique" that he believes will solve this problem and nearly gets himself thrown out of the program for "offending the Spirit of Zen". There is also an interesting account of an after-hours meeting where his teacher gives an amazing demonstration of quiet mastery in order to raise Eugen's morale and level of understanding.
There is much that this little book has to offer and its message will live in your heart for a long time.
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am 8. März 1999
For my money, this short classic is the best explanation to the western reader of what Zen is about. Herrigel, a German, and his wife lived in Japan for five years and learned Zen through the practices of Archery and Flower Arranging, respectively. This fascinating account of Zen teaching at work (with a difficult learner) illumines the depths of the matter as well as any printed words can; plus, it's an entertaining true story. I especially like the part where the Master determines to try to see the westerner's point of view in order to help his pupil learn, so he gets a book of German philosophers, but gives up in disgust, noting that it's no wonder the man who concerns himself with such things can't shoot an arrow straight!
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am 3. November 1999
The most prolific book one could read to illume the mysticism of zen. The author clearly explains from a western perspective. This allows the reader to clearly understand what mystics have been trying to explain for centuries. Read the book and then listen to it on Tape as Ralph Blum is outstanding in reading the book for audio renniesance. My only complaint is that it is abridged but not by much...
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am 26. Juli 2011
Herrigel tells a beautiful tale about his journey to the Japanese arts. I should have done some research though. Would I have found out that he is a German philosopher *before* reading this book, then I would have bought it in its original language.
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am 28. Februar 1999
This is a book to everyone who wants to learn the real essence of Zen.The author shares with us the great legacy he got from his archery teacher while living in Japan.If you want to start learning about Zen, this is the book to begin with.
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am 6. Februar 2013
JUST in case you are looking to find your path, your LIFE, Just in case you feel this IS a UNIQUE opportunity that you have been given, read this book. IF you are disappointed, I OWE you a pizza. William D.
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am 17. September 1999
Unlike many other books, this one is truly great. Not that I know anything about archery. The concepts are greatly expressed and the narrative is good.
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