Archery has always been in vogue, whether in nations civilized or among people of barbarous manners. We find Arjuna, prince of India, the possessor of a wonderful bow called Gandiva, the gift of the gods. None but its owner could string it, and in war it spread terror in the ranks of the enemy. Arjuna was a wonderful archer too. He could use Gandiva as well with his right as with his left hand, and so was once addressed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita dialogue as "thou both-handed." The bow figures in the lives of Greek heroes, and just now the novelist Louis Stevenson is publishing a book in which he sings the praises of a bow, the bow of war possessed by Ulysses; when war was at hand it sang its own peculiar, shrill, clear song, and the arrows shot from it hit the mark.
Archery is a practice that symbolizes concentration. There is the archer, the arrow, the bow, and the target to be hit. To reach the mark it is necessary to concentrate the mind, the eye, and the body upon many points at once, while at the same time the string must be let go without disturbing the aim. The draw of the string with the arrow must be even and steady on the line of sight, and when grasp, draw, aim, and line are perfected, the arrow must be loosed smoothly at he moment of full draw, so that by the bow's recoil it may be carried straight to the mark. So those who truly seek wisdom are archers trying to hit the mark. This is spiritual archery, and it is to this sort that the verse from the Mundaka Upanishad refers.
In archery among men a firm position must be assumed, and in the pursuit of truth this firm position must be taken up and not relaxed, if the object in view is to be ever attained. The eye must not wander from the target, for, if it does, the arrow will fly wide or fall short of its goal. So if we start out to reach the goal of wisdom, the mind and heart must not be permitted to wander, for the path is narrow and the wanderings of a day may cause us years of effort to find the road again.
The quality of the bow makes a great difference in the results attained by the archer. If it is not a good bow of strong texture and with a good spring to it, the missiles will not fly straight or with sufficient force to do the work required; and so with the man himself who is his own bow, if he has not the sort of nature that enables him to meet all the requirements, his work as a spiritual archer will fall that much short. But even as the bow made of wood or steel is subject to alterations of state, so we are encouraged by the thought that the laws of karma and reincarnation show us that in other lives and new bodies we may do better work. The archer says too that the bow often seems to alter with the weather or other earthly changes, and will on some days do much better work than on others. The same thing is found by the observing theosophist, who comes to know that he too is subject from time to time to changes in his nature which enable him to accomplish more and to be nearer the spiritual condition. But the string of the bow must always be strung tight; and this, in spiritual archery, is the fixed determination to always strive for the goal.
When the arrow is aimed and loosed it must be slightly raised to allow for the trajectory, for if not it will fall short. This corresponds on its plane with one of the necessities of our human constitution, in that we must have a high mental and spiritual aim if we are to hit high. We cannot go quite as high as the aim, but have to thus allow for the trajectory that comes about from the limitations of our nature; the trajectory of the arrow is due to the force of gravity acting on it, and our aspirations have the same curve in consequence of the calls of the senses, hereditary defects, and wrong habits that never permit us to do as much as we would wish to do.
Let us hit the mark, O friend! and that mark is the indestructible, the highest spiritual life we are at any time capable of.
Path, September, 1890