Chapter 9: Look!
Chi Ch’ang aspired to be the greatest archer in the world, so he became the pupil of Wei Fei.
First Wei Fei ordered him to learn not to blink. Chi Ch’ang crept under his wife’s loom and lay there on his back staring without blinking at the treadle as it rushed up and down directly before his eyes. After two years he had reached the point of not blinking even if one of his eye-lashes was caught in the treadle.
“To know how not to blink is only the first step,” said Wei Fei, “next you must learn to look. Practice looking at things, and if the time comes when what is minute seems conspicuous, and what is small seems huge, visit me once more.”
Chi Ch’ang searched for a tiny insect hardly visible to the naked eye, placed it on a blade of grass and hung it by the window of his study. He then took up a position at the end of the room and sat there day after day staring at the insect. At first he could hardly see it, but after ten days he began to fancy that it was slightly bigger.
For three years he hardly left his study. Then one day he perceived that the insect by the window was as big as a horse. “I’ve done it!” he exclaimed.
This time the teacher was sufficiently impressed to say, “Well done!”
Chi Ch’ang soon became a master of archery, and no feat of bowmanship now seemed beyond his powers. He seemed close to the achievement of his ambition, but with an unpleasant jolt he realized that one obstacle remained: so long as the master Wei Fei lived, Chi Ch’ang could never call himself the greatest archer in the world.
Walking through the fields one day, Chi Ch’ang caught sight of Wei Fei far in the distance. Without a moment’s hesitation he raised his bow, fixed an arrow, and took aim. His old master, however, had sensed what was happening and in a flash had also notched an arrow. Both men fired at the same moment. Their arrows collided half way and fell together to the ground. The strange duel continued until the master’s quiver was empty but one arrow still remained with the pupil. “Now is my chance!” muttered Chi Ch’ang who immediately aimed the final arrow. Seeing this, Wei Fei broke off a twig from a thorn-bush beside him, and as the arrow sped towards his heart he flicked the point sharply with the tip of one of the thorns and brought it to the ground at his feet.
“My friend,” said Wei Fei, “I have now, as you realize, transmitted to you all the knowledge of archery that I possess. If you wish to delve further into these mysteries you must seek the aged master Kan Ying. Compared to his skill our bowmanship is as the puny fumbling of children.
After months of arduous climbing, Chi Ch’ang reached the cave where dwelt Kan Ying and announced to the old man, “I have come to find out if I am as great an archer as I believe.” And without waiting for a reply he notched an arrow, aimed at a flock of migrating birds, and brought down five birds all at once.
The old man smiled and said, “But this is mere shooting with bow and arrow. Have you not yet learned to shoot without shooting? Come with me.”
Chi Ch’ang followed him in silence to the edge of a great cliff. When he glanced down his eyes became blurred and his head began to spin. Meanwhile the master Kan Ying ran lightly on to a narrow ledge which jutted straight out over the precipice, and turning round said, “Now show me your real skill. Come here where I am standing and let me see your bowmanship.”
When Chi Ch’ang stepped on the ledge it began to sway slightly to and fro. He tried to notch an arrow, but soon he felt that he was going to lose his balance. He lay down on the ledge clutching its edges firmly with his fingers. His legs shook and the perspiration flowed from his whole body.
The old man laughed, reached out his hand and helped Chi Ch’ang down. Jumping on to it himself he said, “Allow me, sir, to show you what archery really is.”
“What about your bow?” asked Chi Ch’ang.
“My bow?” said the old man laughing. “So long as one requires bow and arrow one is still at the periphery of the art. Real archery dispenses with both bow and arrow.”
Directly above their heads a single kite was wheeling in the sky. The hermit looked up at it and Chi Ch’ang followed his gaze. So high was the bird that even to his sharp eyes it looked like a small sesame seed. Kan Ying notched an invisible arrow on an incorporeal bow, drew the string to its full extension, and released it. The next moment the kite stopped flapping its wings and fell like a stone to the ground.
For nine years Chi Ch’ang stayed in the mountains with the old hermit. What disciplines he underwent during this time none ever knew.
When in the tenth year he returned home, all were amazed at the change in him. His former resolute and arrogant countenance had disappeared; in its place had come the look of a simpleton.
His old teacher, Wei Fei, came to visit him and said after a single glance, “Now I see that you have indeed become an expert! Such as I are no longer worthy ever to touch your feet.”
The inhabitants of his city hailed Chi Ch’ang as the greatest archer in the world and impatiently awaited the wonderful feats which he would not doubt soon display. But Chi Ch’ang did nothing to satisfy their expectations. The great poplar bow which he had taken with him on his journey he evidently had left behind. When someone asked him to explain he answered in a languid tone, “The ultimate stage of activity is inactivity; the ultimate stage of speaking is to refrain from speech; the ultimate in shooting is not to shoot.”