Meeting Sensei Bodhihanna: A modern-day woman warrior in the Art of Zen Archery

On the Go

Terry Hodgkinson meets archer Bodhihanna at the Osho Meditation Resort Pune.

Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya

It was the fall of 2012 and after a 12 year hiatus from India I returned. I wandered though picturesque Darjeeling in the northeast of India and then went further north to meditate in the restricted area called Sikkim. ( I wrote a number of articles on these places in past blog posts.) I then headed down to Bodh Gaya, where Siddhartha Gautama sat under the now-famous Bodhi tree, and is said to have achieved enlightenment. He then was called the Buddha, or the awakened one.

Terry Hodgkinson meditating under the Bodhi Tree, in Bodh Gaya

I spent a week around the Bodhi Tree with a thousand others from countless Buddhist countries. After a week of walking and Vipassana meditation, it was time to continue my journey to Pune. Yes, that’s partly how I got my nickname, ‘Wandering Ninja’: I like to wander from place to place, when I’m intuitively drawn to.

Meeting Sufi Sam again

My plane arrived in Pune and I was happily thinking that soon, now after many, many years, I would be back to see my friends at the Osho International Meditation Resort – and to meet new ones!

I awoke early and got all the necessary fundamentals taken care of at Osho Meditation Welcome Center. Hard to believe the AIDS test is still a requirement on entrance: it just seems to me like such an 80’s thing! On the other hand, at least I knew within a few minutes that I don’t have it: no surprise there! So, here I was again, in this peaceful sanctuary within the larger hectic and somewhat grimy city of Pune. I just love the expansive grounds, the meditation buildings, and the amazing lush gardens here. I looked at the schedule and I saw something new was being offered as part of the curriculum: Zen Archery, as well as Chi Kung/Tai Chi. I knew I would be up early the next morning to check out these classes.

Now it was time to find someone I had met 12 years ago, who led the No Dimensions and Whirling meditations here. It would be later that evening when I would bump into Sam at dinner. His name was Sam Okonski, but most people either referred to him as Samvado or as I called him, Sufi Sam. A few years back I wrote an article about the first time I met him 12 years ago. I posted it on Facebook and someone from the Osho News online magazine published it.

Sam Okonski

Not too long after that, Sam contacted me and said that I was making him famous. I didn’t think so, or at least that wasn’t my reason for writing it. I simply wanted to let others know about my experience when I first took classes with him at the Meditation Resort in India. After dinner we talked a lot, and it felt as if no time had passed since our first visit together a long time ago. Later that week, Sam let me film an interview with him for my WiseTalks video series, and I published it on my YouTube channel. It was good to hang out with Sufi Sam again, and at the young age of 83, even though he had retired from leading the meditations at the Resort, it was great to see he was still going strong!

Zen Archery in Buddha Grove

The next day I was up before the birds, and headed to the Buddha Grove. This is where the Zen Archery classes were being held, and it was now uncovered and totally set outside. The last time I was here, it was the main spot, netted-in around a huge marble floor, surrounded by hundreds of bamboo trees, and was used for most Osho meditations, before they had finished the construction of the huge Osho Pyramid Auditorium, the following year. With the net gone, it made for an totally amazing and very exquisite outdoor marble training floor! I meditated and practiced my martial art forms (katas) here everyday, when there were no classes.

Archery in Buddha Grove

I have always been interested in Zen archery, read many articles on its tradition, but never had the opportunity to take classes, until that day. Having a history in traditional martial arts, I figured there would be some similarities, so I was looking forward to joining in. Our teacher was a German lady who went by the name of Bodhihanna. She was calm, methodical, and stern in her teaching. She wouldn’t hesitate to bluntly tell you if you were doing something wrong with your form. I thought her teaching method was perhaps modeled from the Japanese Senseis she trained under, in the temples of Japan.

However, I later found out this wasn’t so. For the week I was at the Meditation Resort I was able to spend a good amount of time, after classes, with Bodhihanna,
where we became friends and shared a great deal of conversation. She told me that the teaching style in the temples of Japan was very strict and non-negotiable.
The Sensei would show you how it was done once – often not even giving any verbal instructions – and then you were expected to get it right, or practice until you did. You could show the Sensei what you had and, if it wasn’t right, he would simply walk away, which indicated that you were to keep practicing. Questions to the sensei were rarely an option; you were simply expected to learn from his demonstration.

If I recall correctly, Bodhihanna had also mentioned that they were a little harder on women than men. Knowing a little about the culture of Japan, where much of the population is still quite chauvinistic, what she said didn’t surprise me. What she told me next certainly did. The highest-ranking Zen archery contestant in all of Japan at the time we spoke was a woman: well, not only a woman, but one who was 96 years of age! Furthermore, in contests in Japan, she had beat a lot of self-proclaimed, righteous men to earn that honour and title. As that was two years ago – when Bodhihanna and I first spoke about this incredible elder. When I started to write this article, I recently asked Bodhihanna again about the elder, and she emailed me to say,

This archery lady is now 98, and still doing archery. It means to me that age doesn’t matter and this lady is a great inspiration for me! In other words it means that I am still young and this feels so good!”

I was indeed impressed with Bodhihanna’s attitude, and that only grew stronger as I got to know her more during training and our conversations throughout the week. I was able to continue my classes and conversation with her on a return trip the following year, as well.

Bodhihanna has a definite way of teaching that I believe embodies the spirit of a woman warrior. She is neither distracted nor rushed by anyone. If you want to learn at a faster pace then you will need to master the basics she teaches first. No one rushes her! This was fine with me, and I actually welcomed it. After all, this was exactly how I trained in my own traditional martial art.

Pool at the Osho International Meditation Resort

One day after class we went to Meera Buffet to have lunch together. By the way, this is one of my favourite places to hang out in the Meditation Resort. Here you will find an Olympic size pool where, while having lunch, you can watch various birds skim across the water catching insects for their own lunch. The dining tables are surrounded by really beautiful greenery, and in the evening, at the same location, as the sun begins to set, you can sit and do a bat meditation. Yes you heard me correctly, meditating on the observation of bats! This is where you relax and watch as hundreds of fruit bats leave their sleeping grounds, flying fairly high over the pool, heading in a direct path to wherever it is they feed. It’s quite amazing to observe so many different sizes, ranging from that of a mouse to that of a large cat with a huge wingspan. I know this kind of observation (of flying bats) meditation is not for everyone, but there is something that I really enjoy about it.

Bodhihanna remembers…

That day at lunch, Bodhihanna told me about growing up in Nazi Germany. She talked to me about her family, and how her father was a doctor who had no love for Hitler and his evil band of SS. Of course, that was a secret because any opposition back then would more than likely have gotten the dissenting parties killed or, at the least, separated from their families and relocated to a labour camp. Bodhihanna shared an experience with me. One day at school, some officials came in to tell the young ladies (students) that there was a special program being initiated by Hitler, which called for young German ladies to propagate with young German men, so that the Master Arian race could be expanded. While many of the other young ladies at school were enthusiastic to do their part for the state, young Bodhihanna was not interested in the least. These babies would become property of the Nazi government and raised as the government wanted them to be; the biological parents would have no further contact with their own children. I remember Bodhihanna telling me that she was incredibly revolted by the whole idea of it!

As the fighting against Germany intensified, Bodhihanna remarked that she never really knew if she would live to see the next morning. When the planes dropped bombs on her city, almost every night for months on end, there was no way to know in advance whose place would be hit. Luckily for Bodhihanna, but sadly for others, it was all too often somewhere else in the neighbourhood or even on the same street that a falling bomb would strike. Often, after the bombing had ceased, she would hear whose family had perished the night before. When the war was finally over, and Hitler’s fascist idealism and aggression had been defeated, she described to me the hardship of living in a war-torn Germany. The infrastructure of her city had been utterly devastated. There wasn’t any running water or electricity, there were poor sanitary conditions, and very little food to go around, for quite some time. She learned early on in life what it was like to live with very little. While her family made it through those trying times, she remarked to me that what made it all the worse was living with the stigma – at that time – of being German. It seemed like the whole world despised them. What made it even harder was that her family hadn’t agreed with Hitler’s imposed set of beliefs and actions, and just as was the case for many other German people, they were simply trapped inside a madman’s dream… or better said: his nightmare, bestowed upon them.

Last year, after spending time at the Meditation Resort in India, I flew back home to Canada. Shortly after arriving, I saw a movie at the cinema called, ‘The Book Thief‘. I was astonished at how similar it was to what Bodhihanna shared with me. I was so taken by the movie that I had to email her right away and recommend that she see it. I don’t know if she ever watched it or not, and I would fully understand if she had no interest in seeing something that hits so close to home, dredging up memories of times gone by, which are perhaps best let go of.

Learning how to hold the bow

Each morning when Zen archery class was about to begin, I would see Bodhihanna and her apprentices setting up the large rolling mirrors used to help the students check (see) their form. Specifics including: how to stand, start, hold, step, lift, feet positioning, shoulder positioning, head turning and exact positioning, hand placement on the bow, elbow positioning, right down to proper breathing. The bull’s-eye targets would be uncovered, not that anyone would be shooting arrows into them immediately as a novice, however. Beginners would be given a piece of wood with elastic attached to the ends: this, of course, was their (mine too for a while) practice equipment for learning the basics. If students stuck it out long enough, they would eventually graduate to handling a real bow.

Sensei Bodhihanna giving instruction with the large roll out mirror behind

I was looking forward to holding a real bow but had no idea how to even string it properly. That’s okay: there was an instructed technique for this too. Let’s just say it took me a few tries under sensei Bodhihanna’s seemingly omnipotent gaze. After getting the bow strung, it was time to stand properly, and hold the bow in its starting position. Next, it was time to move. Following Bodhihanna’s instructions down to the letter, I moved and she reminded me of how the bow was to be placed before moving. I moved and she reminded me of how the bow was to be held while moving. I finished moving and she reminded me of how the bow was to be positioned after coming to a stop. To be mindful of all of these details is a meditation indeed! Or, as she remarked to me once in conversation,

When you practice Zen archery ongoing, it will bring you to another shore of consciousness.”

Loosing the stigma of being German thanks to Osho

I remember Bodihanna telling me an experience she had when she first came to the Osho Ashram many years ago, when Osho was still in the body. She witnessed Osho giving energy Darshan to anyone who was open to it. She was amazed to see this energy transmission and the blissful effects it had on people. After witnessing this, she knew that Osho would be her teacher, and she never looked back.

One thing that persisted with her over the years had been that stigma of growing up German during World War Two; she always felt a little uncomfortable when the war or Hitler’s name was brought up in conversation. One day, she heard something that Osho had said regarding the war and Hitler. I don’t remember what it was, but she said for the first time, after hearing Osho speak on it, she felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders: she felt relieved. Never again would she be trapped in that old, outdated mental prison. At last she had retired that stigma and was now free!

Over the years Bodhihanna continued to train in Zen archery, and perfected her practice. Osho thought it was a good idea to offer classes at the Meditation Resort: after all, it is a form of meditation, and Osho liked anything Zen.

In my published book, Memoirs of a Wandering Ninja – Walking the Path of Enlightenment, I describe three legendary warrior groups: Shaolin monks, samurai and ninja. Bodhihanna is a lot like the samurai, known far and wide throughout Japan for their courage and honour.


If you are fortunate enough to partake in general conversation with Bodhihanna, you will notice her easygoing, unassuming attitude. If you train with her in Zen archery, you will notice the strength in her effortless focus, as well as the graceful manner in which her discipline manifests in the art. She said that,

A warrior is not just a person who goes out to do battle, to defeat his or her adversaries. A warrior might not be what you think a warrior is, and truthfully is different than most people perceive. A warrior is one (man or woman) who is gentle and looks within to be with the truth. When this happens and the warrior is one with the truth, then all movement comes from his inner being, rather than his outer doing.

In other words, the warrior does not act from his mind but moves in harmony with the essence (truth) of his own being, and therefore remains centered in the moment. Thus the arrow leaves the bow propelled by the power of truth itself. The warrior has feelings and emotions, but does not allow them to cloud or obstruct his view of the target. This is the game of the Zen, the game of playful discipline and of knowing one’s self. When you know your True Self and are in harmony with it, then you have reached another shore of consciousness. Here you will know absolute freedom!”

At 86 years of age, Bodhihanna shows no signs of slowing down. She is still traveling the world, teaching Zen archery, and having fun dancing. Yes, she dances too! I danced with her one evening, as well as many others, at a scheduled “Dance and Be Divine” in the Multiversity Plaza at the Resort. As she says,

It doesn’t matter how old you are, how many problems you have, or how you have created your own unhappiness. Simply start to play, and you will be playful and know the truth; then you will see all things much more clearly. Soon, any problems you thought you had will melt away like snow under a hot day’s sun. Really, this is not so difficult. Begin by having the courage to say YES to yourself!”

A spiritual warrior has never spoken truer words.

Sensei Bodhihanna & Sifu Terry Hodgkinson

People often ask me: “How do you meet such interesting people on your travels?” I say to them that I simply begin my travels knowing that – somewhere along the way – I will meet the people I’m supposed to meet. Like the time I met the Dalai Lama, by surprise, when I wandered through Dharamsala. It just happens when I’m open to it. Like Eurgen Herrigel said in his book, Zen in the Art of Archery:

Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.”

I believe that throughout the journey of life, we are all destined to encounter certain people who – perhaps – we have a deeper connection to, or ties to from another time. I’m grateful that I, too, have crossed paths with Bodhihanna, not only because she is a wise Sensei in Zen archery, but also because I consider her a kindred spirit and a good friend. I look forward to sitting with her more in this life, on that other shore of consciousness, where we will continue our intimate chats on Zen in the art of life.

Zen follows the principle of anima: sitting silently, the spring comes and the grass grows by itself. Zen does not believe in exploring; there is no need to go. Buddhism basically is rooted in the feminine principle, hence Buddha looks so feminine, so graceful, so round.”

– Osho

Written by Terry Hodgkinson aka Wandering Ninja – September 2014 – first published in Terry’s blog.

Terry HodgkinsonTerry Hodgkinson teaches martial arts and meditation. He is also a personal coach, hypnotherapist, inspirational speaker and the author of the book ‘Memoirs of a Wandering Ninja, Walking the Path of Enlightenment’. In addition to his book Terry has created 8 nature inspired guided audio meditations. Terry has owned and run a lifestyles improvement centre in Toronto, Canada for 12 years, helping people create positive changes.

Related Osho discourse (excerpt): The Art of Archery

Note: All images taken inside the Osho International Meditation Resort in Pune are the property of the Resort and used in Terry’s blog post by permission.

Update: Bodhihanna left her body on 7 June 2017

BodhihannaBodhihanna is visiting three continents, every year, and doing her favourite thing: Japanese Zen Archery. From November to the end of March you can find her teaching at the Osho International Meditation Resort in Pune, India. In April you can find her teaching in Pasadena, California. From May to September you can find her teaching on Maui in Hawaii.

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