There is an oral tradition in some schools of yoga that persistent application to a spiritual practice creates a disturbance in the higher regions where live the beings sometimes called bodhisattvas.

A modern teacher remarked to a pupil that sustained sincere effort at a practice would make a sort of ripple there, and one of the great bodhisattvas would turn to look at it: “There is a movement here. Let me see whether there is an opening being created through which I can pour help and blessings.”

This same teacher said, when one pupil went and asked for help for another pupil who was feeling depressed and cast aside: “Oh, there’s no movement there. It’s a sort of enjoyment of despair. There’s no real movement.”

That teacher used to say, when asked about a particular project or practice undertaken by a pupil: “Does something come out of it?” Her students gradually came to see that it is no use (in her words) undertaking something energetically and regularly for a time, and then dropping it, and going back to life just as before. Unless a course of study, or a daily practice, or regular attendance at meetings, produces some permanent inner change, it has very little meaning. To undertake a severe daily austerity for a month, and then drop it with the satisfied thought: “There, I’ve done it – now I can have a good holiday from all that”, is almost useless. As a matter of fact, the rebound can be harmful.

A practical example: There is a certain text which is difficult to master because it is short and tersely expressed. A group set themselves to master it in a week of isolation in the country, studying and discussing it for several hours a day. They completed the assignment and did get a good idea of the text.

Some time later, another group suggested to the teacher that they might attempt the same thing. She was dismissive.

“But they did master the text,” said the bewildered inquirer. “Surely that was very good, wasn’t it?”

“They learnt something of the text, yes. But what has come out of it? Nothing. None of them has written an article or given a talk to share what they learnt with others. Even in their conversation they never refer to the vital ideas of that text. They learnt it, and they are now busy forgetting it.”

Other teachers have used picturesque language to describe these situations where what is taken in has no lasting effect. “They stuff it into their heads every morning, and it leaks out of their heals every evening.

A Chinese teacher of the Sung dynasty compared this to a rat gnawing through wood to make a hole: “They gnaw away at it and fill their mouths with it, and then spit it all out, and begin on another piece.”

© 1998 Trevor Leggett

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