[DFT] Fw: [ChivalryToday] Zen in Chivalry

seanan seanan at elfsea.net
Sat Jul 12 23:29:46 PDT 2003

Zen in the Art of Chivalry
By Scott Farrell
©2003 Shining Armor Enterprises

Scholars of both literature and social history often dismiss the Code
of Chivalry as "simplistic," saying that the knightly legends of the
Middle Ages lack the complexity and nuance that makes other cultures
rich and fascinating. Arthurian legends and the historical knights who
admired them have even been referred to in academic circles as

Such criticism makes some people wonder why these legends have endured
for so long. If knights in shining armor are so bland, why do they
still live on in books and movies today?

Perhaps chivalry is a bit more complex than it's given credit for - a
premise which can be demonstrated in a comparison of two literary
passages. The first comes from Eugen Herrigel's book, "Zen in the Art
of Archery." Herrigel was a German philosopher who went to Japan in the
first half of the 20th century to study the principles of Zen through
the practice of Kyudo, the archery techniques of the samurai. His book,
published in 1953, was one of the first serious attempts to help
Western readers understand Eastern philosophy.

After months of work with the bow, Herrigel reports that he was pleased
with his improving marksmanship. His teacher, however, wasn't concerned
with accuracy; he was concerned with tranquility. Herrigel says, "If
ever the least flicker of satisfaction showed in my face the Master
turned on me with unwonted fierceness. 'What are you thinking of?' he
would cry. 'You know already that you should not grieve over bad shots;
learn now not to rejoice over the good ones. You must free yourself
from the buffetings of pleasure and pain, and learn to rise above them
in easy equanimity.'"

Not long before Herrigel went to Japan, Howard Pyle wrote, "The Story
of King Arthur and His Knights." The book was published in 1902, and
has long been regarded as children's literature - a fun way to
introduce kids to the romance and adventure of chivalry. Yet amid that
bedtime reading, Pyle concealed some profound philosophical gems.
Consider this passage about the principles of chivalry and duty:

"When a man is a king among men, as was King Arthur, then is he of such
a calm and equal temper that neither victory nor defeat may cause him
to become either unduly exalted in his own opinion or so troubled in
spirit as to become altogether cast down into despair. So if you would
become like to King Arthur, then you shall take all your triumphs as he
took victory, for you will not be turned aside from your final purpose
by the great applause that many men may give you ... He who is a true
king of men, will not say to himself, 'Lo! I am worthy to be crowned
with laurels;' but rather will he say to himself, 'What more is there
that I may do to make the world the better because of my endeavors?'"

These are two observations from two cultures that reach a nearly
identical conclusion: Satisfaction and doubt alike can be destructive
if they distract us from our goals. It's an elegant thought that can
take a lifetime to really understand.

Zen philosophy is famous for concealing rich and deep truths behind a
façade that is sparse and simplistic. In a similar but unique manner,
chivalry conceals complex and rewarding truths behind a façade that is
simple and idealistic. But Zen and the Code of Chivalry alike serve as
reminders that simplicity is very different from "meaninglessness," and
that the most profound wisdoms in the universe are best viewed through
the eyes of a child.

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Did you know Chivalry Today received the 2003 Golden Web award? (Click
the Golden Web Award button on the CT website's welcome page to find
out more.) We want to thank all of our visitors and subscribers for
their suggestions and input as recognition of the Code of Chivalry in
the modern world continues to grow. This week, be sure to check out the
new stories of real-life chivalry in the "Portraits in Chivalry"
section at our award-winning website!

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Readers are permitted and encouraged to share this article with
friends, family, students and co-workers as a way of bringing the Code
of Chivalry to the modern world. Please include all copyright
statements and attributions when sharing Chivalry Today articles.
Copyright 2003 Scott Farrell and Shining Armor Enterprises. Visit our
website at www.ChivalryToday.com .

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