Welcoming the Teacher

A noted teacher’s upcoming July 2019 workshop in Kyudo inspires a personal reflection on the long, braiding path

by Brad Warren

I learned early that a truly qualified teacher is precious. As a boy, during a turbulent time in life, I found refuge in a rigorous daily practice of archery. A small 12-year-old could gather equipment and step into a shady yard where a bale of hay patiently absorbed each arrow with a satisfying “thwump.”  The practice became a form, the form grew more consistent, and the act of focus allowed a troubled young mind to pour itself into breath, arrow, wind, and target.

It was an elemental, uneducated practice, yet at times it transformed breath and body into instruments for abiding and observing. In retrospect, this experience may have been my first glimpse into the birthright of basic goodness that Shambhala seeks to open for us all.

Much of this wisdom is as available as sunlight. But as a boy I heard that a good teacher could hasten my progress into the deeper realms of this practice. So I went looking for one. When a man offered to teach me both archery and meditation, I eagerly agreed. To put it charitably, he soon showed himself to be no trustworthy guide. I turned away and kept practicing, but a disorienting collapse of trust dissolved all form and focus. I could no longer find the way. I knew of no reliable teacher within thousands of miles. I stopped practicing.

Nearly 46 years have passed since I sold my bow. After that, it took me a very long time to learn to recognize genuine teachers, or even the possibility that they might exist. Eventually I met a handful of humble, kind, disciplined students of Shambhala. They were carefully cupping the teachings through a different turbulent time. They did not pretend to anything, and I trusted them. I still do. Gradually I became a white-haired student and meditator, slowly learning the forms and gifts of this tradition. I have not picked up a bow in decades. But I remember the refuge that a bow once provided.

In this light, I am deeply grateful that Seattle Shambhala Center is hosting  a workshop led by Toby Bernal, a truly qualified teacher of the Japanese archery practice of Kyudo, a dharma art that has been entwined with Shambhala for decades.

Toby Bernal

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche recognized and encouraged Kyudo practice in the early years of Shambhala. To teach it, he turned to Kanjuro Shibata XX, the noted sensei who had transplanted Japan’s spiritual school of Kyudo to America. It is said that Shibata Sensei admired and placed himself in service to Trungpa. Perhaps fortuitously, Toby Bernal is a student and close associate of Kanjuro Shibata XXI, Sensei, the son of Chogyam Trungpa’s friend and the current leader of this school of Kyudo. Toby is himself a Shambhala practitioner in Austin, where he leads one of the few recognized American dojos in the tradition established by Kanjuro Shibata XX.

Toby will offer a talk and demonstration on Friday July 19, followed by a weekend workshop July 20-21 entitled “Kyudo: The Way of the Bow.” Assisting will be Dr. Claudelle Glasgow, a psychologist, meditator and Kyudo practitioner from Portland.

Known as a Senpai (a recognized teacher), Toby was kind enough to speak to me about the practice of Kyudo, the braided threads of Shambhala and the Shibata lineage in Kyudo, and their shared focus on training the mind and heart to benefit all beings, not merely to rack up bullseyes and spiritual credentials. A few selected remarks from this interview follow shortly.

For me, Toby’s workshop is an auspicious chance to revisit a tradition that I had hoped to enter long ago. I have wondered if the pain of leaving the path may one day emerge in a new light: could it be simply the braiding of the long trail? If anyone would know, it would be Shibata and Trungpa.

Both Kanjuro Shibata XX and Chogyam Trungpa were exiles, who departed their homelands and worked to preserve their endangered wisdom traditions by planting them in new soil. I am no expert on this history, but from what I have heard, both men worked to counter the distortion of their traditions, the twisting of dharma into a series of acquisitions, trophies, and credentials. They sought to restore a deeper purpose: service to all beings. Perhaps the capacity to nourish and sustain that service begins with the awareness of breath, mind, body and environment that these two traditions have helped to cultivate.

Long ago I heard a story about a visit that Chogyam Trungpa received from a Japanese master, whom I believed to be Kanjuro Shibata XX. I am no longer sure who told the tale, and its main figures are no longer alive. For that reason verification has proved difficult, and perhaps the story is apocryphal, or simply tattered beyond all certainty. But in the big house of impermanence and emptiness, I wonder if these elliptical yarns may occasionally be woven into the messages we need.

So to the story: Followed closely by attendants, the two masters paused in front of a grove of trees. No words were spoken, and none were needed. The breeze lifted the leaves around them, the sun and the trees and the mountains shone, and they began to laugh. They laughed joyously, taking it all in. They laughed a long time.

Toby Bernal on dharma, meditation and Kyudo as paths of awareness:

“I think Chogyam Trungpa was trying to introduce students to a different way of reaching the dharma without having to sit on a cushion.”

Kyudo makes you aware that your shoulders are down, or that your shoulders are up around your ears. You are pacifying your energy, and that allows you to be in the moment and safe, and non-judged. You’re not judged. There’s no right, there’s no wrong. You hit the target great, if you don’t hit the target great, so there’s kind of an equanimity in the idea of Kyudo.”

“The form doesn’t just start when we put a glove on and start drawing a bow. It starts from the moment that you wake up and you know that you’re going to practice. And you get your things together. Everything’s in its place. You go, you put on your uniform, you tie your knots, … so it’s a mindful practice throughout the whole action. Things don’t happen to us, they happen because of us.”

 

WORKSHOP DETAILS

The Friday evening talk is open to all. The weekend workshop “Kyudo: The Way of the Bow” is open to anyone above age 16 (the age limit is for safety). Participants will explore the links between meditation and kyudo, and will learn enough about Kyudo to be able to begin practice.

Registration is limited due to available equipment. 

 

Location: Seattle Shambhala Center, 3107 E Harrison St, Seattle.

Contact? For more information please contact Robin Willett robinwillett@comcast.net or Linda Murphy lsmurphy48@gmail.com 

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