A Zen Story

Why does Christ provoke the authorities to make away with him, and utter on the cross the first line of Psalm 22, “Lord, Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me”? (This becomes a song of triumph only at the end.) Why does Krishna, an earlier incarnation, born as a warrior and a matchlessly skilled fighter, take on himself the role of an unarmed charioteer in the great battle, so that his body is riddled with arrows? Why did Buddha, born to inherit the leadership of his people, become a wandering beggar to spread his teaching? One answer is that many of those who come for spiritual teaching are in suffering, and it has to be demonstrated by example that spiritual realization can be tried for, and attained, in states of suffering. Instruction from someone who has the same difficulties and overcomes them is more effective than that given from the heights. …

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Last Words

A teacher of the Gita Yoga had as a disciple an Englishman brought up to restrain expression of feeling. The teacher approved of this as a basis, but got him to take part in amateur theatricals and public speaking so that there should be some creative expression. The Englishman’s mother was sceptical, (though she had been baptized) and often sarcastic about religion. They lived far apart, and when they did meet he never talked about his beliefs and practice. She had a vague idea that he was inclined to some strange Oriental cult, but she would dismiss the subject of religion in a few sharp words if ever it appeared on the conversational horizon. She recognised that he was a good son to her. When finally she fell very ill, he took her into his home to look after her in the final stages. Now the teacher had told this …

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Gift No Gift

All spiritual schools lay stress on giving. But to know how to give is a great spiritual virtue, and there are many gifts which are no gifts at all. A grandfather came to visit his son’s family in another part of the country` and when he left` gave to the little grandson some special sweet cakes. That evening the manager of the company where the father worked came to see him for an emergency business consultation. It was the custom to put a display of cakes in front of a guest` who however by the same custom never took more than one. The mother had no cakes in the house, and asked the child to give his cakes to entertain the ” uncle “. The boy refused` but the mother pointed out that though the cakes must be given` the visitor would only take one and leave the rest. ” …

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The Blue Cloth

When the teacher first founded the group they were poor, and had only a cheap undyed cloth over the altar on which was the form of the god. They worshipped with prayers and mantras for the first half of the meeting, and then when the minds were to some extent pacified, they meditated: “O holy divinity, I am what thou art, and thou, O holy divinity, art what I am.” The teacher had once mentioned that to see or meditate on the colour blue has a calming effect on the mind, and added that blue was the best colour for an altar cloth. This remark was taken down, but not noticed at the time because they were so poor. Then it was forgotten. Many years later, a new member reading over the old records came across it. He bought a blue silk cloth, and had it beautifully embroidered with the …

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Two Zen Stories

(1) TESSHU Tesshu was asked by a brilliant young fencer: “What is the inmost secret of the Way of Fencing?” He said: “Go to the Kannon temple at Asakusa and pray to be enlightened about it.” After a week the young man came back and said: “I went every day and prayed there a long time. Nothing came to me. On the last day as I was coming away disappointed, I noticed the inscription above the shrine: The Gift of Fearlessness. Was that what you meant?” “Yes,” repiled Tesshu. “Complete fearlessness is the secret of fencing. It must be complete. There are those who are not afraid when they face an enemy with a sword, but who are cowards when they confront the assaults of passions like greed, and delusions like fame. Complete fearlessness in the face of the inner as well as the outer enemies is the end of …

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The Magistrate

A TEACHER of the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita came to the district and set up a school in a village there. When this was reported to the local magistrate (the chief administrative officer for the district), he was displeased. He was a follower of a Western philosopher who held that traditional religion and its compulsive morality was the cause of many of the ills of man. The magistrate had a great love for the people of the district, and worked night and day to bring them to what he saw as modern and progressive views. He therefore put many obstacles in the way of the Yoga teacher, and for a time was successful in turning public opinion against him. When he heard that the school was also teaching secular subjects to the local children (admittedly poorly served by the present arrangements, because of the poverty of the district) he …

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The Stone Sermon

In the Lotus Sutra, one of the old ones, there is a sort of Buddhist prodigal son. The king recognises him, when he sees him from the palace, sends out a guard to bring him in, but the beggar, when he sees the guard, runs away.

One Step, Twenty Steps

WHEN someone takes one step towards the Lord, the Lord takes twenty steps towards him.’ It is a striking phrase which has vivified and energized the devotion of many yogis. Nevertheless, it can be interpreted, disregarding the plain meaning of the words, into something quite different. In an off-guard period, one who believes himself a devotee can reason something like this: `What this says is, that when I take a step towards Him, the Lord takes twenty steps towards me. In fact He is doing the same as I do, and then He is adding nineteen more steps of his own. So if I take no step at all, then admittedly the Lord will not take that step either; but then He will add nineteen steps of his own to it. He won’t arrive quite so quickly, perhaps, but the difference will soon be made up.’ Someone who heard of …

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The Seller of Pears

An Abbot of the Buddha-Heart sect was preaching in the open air to a large crowd. The Abbot spoke of making life harmonious by mutual aid and concession, but added that the aim of life is to realize the Buddha-Heart within man, without which life has no real meaning. A seller of pears, pushing his cart by its two long wooden handles, drew near and interrupted: `What will it bring us? These are only words!’ The Abbot explained that realization would bring an end of all sufferings and a new life beyond life-and-death, but the pearseller shouted: `Big talk! Big talk! But you have to show us something!’ The Abbot said that gains in the world of dreams were themselves illusory; they were no true gains but had to be paid for somehow. The pear-seller only shouted again and again: `Show us something! You have to show us something!’ Others …

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The case of the White Hare

AS Zen has a totally unrestricted and universal outlook, among the ` cases ‘, reputedly seventeen hundred in number, there are stories about kittens and puppies, about turtles and about water-buffaloes. The 56th Case of the Ju-Yo-Roku (of Wanshi) is the story called the White Hare of Mi-shi.    In such stories everything in the world, sun, moon and stars, the voice of the valley-stream and the colours of the mountain, the wind in the pines and the rain on the bamboos, all are pressed into service to teach.    The great truth of Zen manifests itself, filling the earth and filling the heaven. There was nothing which the ancients could not pick up and say:  ”This is it “. They made their Zen riddles out of anything that came to hand. The inmost spirit of Zen is that everything is treasure in our own home. Among the Zen ‘ cases ‘ there is …

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Categories Zen

The Essentials for Entering the Way

Extract from The Spur, by Torei, chief disciple of the Japanese Zen Master Hakuin (1685-1768). IN WHAT is called in Zen the ascent from the state of the ordinary vulgar man to the state of Buddha, there are five requirements. First is the principle that they have the same nature. Second is the teaching that they are dyed different colours. Third is furious effort. Fourth is the principle of training. Fifth is the principle of returning to the origin. These five are taught as the main elements of the path. 1. The principle of Same-nature The true nature with which the people are endowed, and the fundamental nature of the Buddhas of the three worlds, are not two. They are equal in their virtue and majesty; the same light and glory are there. The wisdom and wonderful powers are the same. It is like the radiance of the sun illumining …

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Categories Zen

Life in a Zen Training Temple

There are many thousands of Zen temples in Japan, where there is a priest who ministers to his parish, consisting of the local families which are registered as belonging to the Zen sect. It is families which are registered, not individuals, and this illustrates that in many cases his services are connected with social occasions. Some Buddhists say ruefully that Japanese only see the family Buddhist priest on the occasion of a funeral. Though there are so many local temples, there are only a score or so of training temples; these are places where would-be priests (and some mature priests also) go to take some training towards Zen realization. A young aspirant might stay in a training temple three to five years-he would not expect to have attained the final realization which is the end of the training, but he would have had some metal put into him, as the …

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Categories Zen

A Visit to a Zen Temple

HALF an hour from Tokyo, in the suburb of Tsurumi, is a wooded hill on which stands the Zen monastery of Sojiji.    It is the headquarters of the Soto branch of the Zen sect of Buddhism, and has numbered some famous Zen masters among its Abbots.    The Soto branch is some what larger than the other branch, the Rinzai.    The masters of Soto and Rinzai agree on fundamental principles, and both of them are lineal descendants of the Zen brought to China by Bodhidharma in the 7th century.    Both of them trace their spiritual pedigree back to Hui-neng, the famous Sixth Patriarch, and from him through Bodhidharma to Buddha himself.    The basis of the Zen instruction is the transmission ” from heart to heart ” of the spiritual realization of Reality. The basic tenet is: ” To know one’s real nature is to be Buddha.” The main difference between the …

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Categories Zen

The Swimmer

An anxious man, always trying to foresee every possible eventuality so that he could prepare counter – measures, came to a yoga group. There he took up to reading historical and legendary incidents in the scriptures, so that he would get to know how spiritual people behave. ‘You’ve no need to do that,’ an experienced disciple told him. ‘Our teacher tells us to try to become enlightened ourselves, rather than just reading about the enlightenment and enlightened actions of others.’ ‘But how is one to know what to do?’ replied the new disciple, and he went on as before. He happened to be an expert swimmer, and the senior one day asked him whether he could demonstrate the racing dive he had heard about. The swimmer readily agreed, pleased to be able to show his skill, and they went together to the swimming baths. The expert changed into swimming trunks, …

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A teacher used to point out to his pupils that what is already full cannot take in any more. This well – known Zen principle is often illustrated by pouring tea into a filled cup so that it overflows on to the table and floor. This teacher went on to say that when there is a vacuum in the mind, illumination can come to fill it. The pupils did not understand this but let it go, except for one who persistently asked him what he meant exactly. ‘How can we make a vacuum in the mind?’ he would say, to which the teacher made no reply but sat silent. After some repetitions of this, the teacher told him: ‘Well, as you are so keen, I’ll give you some private instruction on it, if you’re willing to prepare by purifying yourself,’ and he gave him elaborate directions for a daily ritual …

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A Friend in Need

(The word buddhi, which is used in this piece, is the spiritually discerning aspect of the mind. The training of buddhi is one of the major purposes of yoga practice. In yoga it has the general sense of being awake in a directed manner and, when purified, is the repository of the higher powers of spiritual inspiration. It can also be a force for ill when turned to darkness. Editor) The Dilemma What is the difference between action on the individual and on the cosmic plane? Suppose an obsessive gambler once more approaches a better-off friend `for a small loan’, perhaps of Forty Pounds and perhaps of Four Hundred.  He promises it will not be spent on betting, a promise he has made, and broken, many times before.  The friend knows what will happen, but often he cannot refuse the bedraggled figure. Now if he has done some meditation, the …

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Illusion has no Rules

It may seem that an illusion gets thinner and finally fades away after quite some time. But in fact it is the reaction that gets thinner; the illusion as such goes all at once. It can take quite some time to get over the idea that every man in uniform is ipso facto a bully and tyrant, or that every Armenian or Jew or Parsee is by his very nature a subtle business man. Dispelling big illusions, too, usually takes quite some time. But in all these cases some striking counter‑example can bring the whole belief‑system down like a pack of cards. Because it is an illusion, it can go suddenly at any moment. In a Tibetan version of the Life of the Buddha, there is an interesting passage, on which a great Indian teacher made a striking comment. The original passage describes how Mara, king of the demons, set …

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Only One Way

It is worth knowing that one can get hypnotized into thinking that there’s only one way to do a thing correctly. It’s the Right Way, and there are no other ways. At All‑India Radio, where I worked for a time, I used to see Indian violinists. My father was a professional violinist, one of the best of his generation. He led at the Covent Garden Opera for several years, and for a good time after that for Sir Thomas Beecham. So I felt I knew something about violin playing. I was watching an Indian violinist in an AIR studio, playing in the orthodox way with the violin tucked under his left chin. It is axiomatic that the instrument must be held firmly in that way; at the very beginning, a pupil is made to hold the instrument like this, and then take away the supporting left hand. The instrument has …

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We can have ideas and then practise, but prac­tice has to be done till it goes past practice, until it is no longer practice. Here is an example I heard from a master I knew. It was around the turn of the century, and the master happened to be in the place where the maids were doing the laundry. They were doing it as they did in Japan then: they soak the washing in the suds and then put it on a board and hit it with their fists. That knocks the dirt out. (In India they used to swing a garment high and smash it down on a stone; effective but not so good for the garment in the long run.) He saw the maids doing this, and he stopped them and gave them a lesson in using the edge of the hand instead of the fists, and showed …

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Doing Good as against Not Doing Harm

My impression is that there is a difference between typical Eastern and Far Eastern attitudes, and typical Western ones. Take a case given by the Chinese Zen master Tozan. You see a hungry snake pursuing a frog. What do you do? Not liking snakes, you get a stick and beat off or maybe kill it. You save the frog, and the frog immediately goes on to catch flies on its long sticky tongue. On the other hand, suppose you don’t interfere. Then the snake will eat the frog, and the flies will be safe, at least from that frog. So if you interfere, the snake loses, the frog does well, the flies lose. If you don’t interfere, the snake does well, the frog loses, and the flies do well. That is two to one! So you do better not interfering. My impression is that most of the rules in the …

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Words of Love

This little piece is a bit pedantic; it’s on education, from the British end. I heard a lady on the radio talking rather sensibly about it, but she said at one point: ‘I had an education myself, so I knew that the word education comes from the Latin e out and ducere to lead. So education should be leading out, drawing out, what is in the‑child already.’ This derivation from the Latin e‑ducere is quite a common idea. But it was answered irritably by a scholar: ‘Madam. I regret to tell you that our word education does not come from the Latin e‑ducere, to lead out. The English word from e‑ducere is education, which does indeed mean leading out. But education comes from the Latin educare, meaning to educate or train. On this point, we can consid­er a remark by Iida: ‘The words of love are not always kindly words.’ …

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