The experience of emptiness and meditation with the whole body

The experience of emptiness ‘So in Emptiness there is neither form nor sensation, thinking, impulse nor consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body nor mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch nor object of mind; no element of eye, nor any of the other elements, including that of mind-consciousness. ’ Meditation with the whole body This is the Emptiness of actual experience, the Emptiness of entering faith and attaining realization, not something just thought about in the head. It is not a concept; the meaning is Emptiness of actual experience. Master Dogen says in his Bendowa classic: ‘All are fully endowed with it, but while there is no practice it is not manifest and while it is not realized there is no attainment.’ All have the potentiality but the fact is that, unless it is practised and realized, it does not become real. Now I set forth the essential points …

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Categories Zen

The world without increase or lessening

If as the Sutra says it is neither increased nor lessened, then we may suppose that it must be an amount. In such case, is it large or small? But no. Long and short, square and round, these are the qualities of relative size, but the world of Emptiness transcends the relational amounts. So Zen master Dogen says: ‘Turning in the fingers a vegetable stalk, he establishes the temple of the Lord of Dharma; in every grain of dust entering, he revolves the wheel of the Law.’ In the monastery there is the Tenzo or one who is in charge of the food, and this is in the instructions for the Tenzo. Those in charge of the food, when they pick up the stalks in their fingers, must do it with the same firmness as establishing the temple of the Dharma-Lord, who is the Buddha. When the cook takes up …

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The world transcending values

In one of his sermons, Zen master Dogen speaks of realization as knowing that the eyes are at each side with the nose straight down in the middle. No longer deceived by others, he returns with nothing in the hands, without one hair of Buddhism ‘Realizing the eyes at the sides and the nose straight down, I was not deceived by others.’ Though a hundred, a thousand people come to cheat him, this sort of life is one which is not taken in. With us it is not so; when they whisper behind my back: ‘What nonsense the abbot is talking!’ I get the disturbing thought: ‘Am I?’ But Dogen, who has realized the eyes on each side and the nose in the middle, is never deceived by them The state of experience is expressed by the phrase ‘returning empty-handed’. I came back from China without anything in my hands, …

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Living hand-to-mouth

‘Neither defiled nor pure.’ These are clearcut words. In the world of Emptiness there is neither the so-called impure ordinary man nor what is called the pure Buddha. It transcends values, goes beyond price-setting. When we say ordinary man and sage, we are in the world of values where there are ordinary men and there are sages. Our life is all comparative values. What is his standing? What is he worth?—always on the basis of status. People are accorded standing on the basis of their value. That one has the standing of cabinet minister, that one of prefectural governor. This is the world of values. Zen master Dogen warns us: ‘He who is truly called a teacher must not lack the power to stand apart from rank, and must have the spirit of transcending distinctions.’ He must abandon considerations of rank and distinction, and unless he has the power and …

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The world beyond birth-and-death

When Bodhidharma first saw the Emperor Bu of the Ryo dynasty, the latter was such a devout Buddhist that he was called the Buddha-heart Emperor, who would surely be the one to hear the true tradition. The Emperor asked: ‘Since ascending the throne I have built and endowed temples, distributed the sutras and supported monks and nuns; what has been the merit?’ He inquires what merit there is in these things. Bodhidharrna answered: ‘No merit.’ There is no merit in them—what a bleak reply! Buddhist priests nowadays don’t say such things. When the people contribute their tiny coins and ask: ‘Your Reverence, is it meritorious?’ we only say: ‘Merit without end!’ But Bodhidharma did not say that. No merit, was his reply, and the Emperor now asked: ‘How so, no merit!’ The great teacher, feeling the pathos of the question, told him that there was a little something—‘There are small …

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All these things, Shariputra, have the character of Emptiness, neither born nor dying, neither defiled nor pure, neither increased nor lesssened. ’ These phrases addressed to Shariputra teach the character of Emptiness. As Emptiness, it have no characteristic form. We may that even in Emptiness some form must remain, but there is no need for it to be so. The form is no-form The form of the true Suchness is the form which is negation. True form is spoken of as the form of no-form, and only so it be expressed. That form is nothing visible to the eye. It is the life of truth. The whole spirit of the Heart Sutra is that the real form, the form of Suchness, is no-form, and so it is said here. ‘All these things’ means the five skandha-aggregates. We are to discover the satori of Emptiness in these illusory forms, to awaken …

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Categories Zen

Power to condemn, power to condone

The world of Emptiness is not some world without crying and without laughing. Emptiness in the tears themselves, Emptiness in the smiles themselves—this is the real Emptiness. Then the phrase is turned round: ‘Emptiness is not different from form’ When with all my might I plunge what is called my self into the heart of Kannon Bodhisattva and in that heart become completely naughted, then the laughter and weeping called form can for the first time have a meaning. Only as Emptiness have the forms their great meaning. ‘Now, just for today let me try.’ And then at the time when I wanted to burst forth like a thunderstorm, when I wanted to rage with the anger erupting in me, ‘just for today’ —and somehow I realized this blazing up for what it is, something which is blazing up, and then there was a taste of the state of liberation. …

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The world of liberation

To be brought to the full realization that this form of clay is the form of what I call my self, is a great blessing. My tears are born of sticking attachment to self, my laughter is based on sticking attachment to self, all my passions are on the same basis. This form is of clay. I have accepted the burden of taking that form as my true form, but then there dimly comes the perception of dropping of self, a sense of the grace of the Kannon of self-submergence, a state of emptiness with no burdens. The joy of it is not that a lotus has grown out of the mud, but that the mud as it stands has become a lotus. From the mud of sticking attachment there is experienced indescribable bliss; from the five skandhas of illusion arises the state of awakening called Emptiness, where there is …

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Categories Zen

The non-egoity of the child

Someone has said: ‘The heart of God is the heart of a child.’ In a way it is true that a child’s heart is pure and free from malice, and we can also call him Mu-ga or without-I. But we cannot say that this no-I of the child is the Mu-ga of the Buddha; it has to be admitted that it is not the non-egoity and freedom from malice of the Buddha. We must be clear on the point. Take for instance this poem: The infant step by step is attaining wisdom: Alas that he is also moving away from the Buddha! The child is indeed free from malice and he seems pure, but gradually with the years he advances in the wisdom of all the goods and bads and rights and wrongs. Sad it is that through this he becomes estranged from the Buddha. And so—he must return to …

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The concept monster

The so-called no-I of people like this, which is built on concepts, is no more than the no-I of a child. In an ironical sense one could call them good quiet people. Happy people! It is a widespread aberration in our thought today that many think self-completion is attained by concept-building, and fail to make any efforts towards the ideal. Even among Zen aspirants are numbers who fall into the same error. ‘Lying on the face or sleeping on the side, I have freedom . . .’ they quote, and think that getting up just when one likes is enlightenment there and then, and that the state of satori is to express everything just as it comes. ‘Oneself a Buddha and all others Buddhas’; so thinking, he is sure he is already a Buddha. There are some middle schools which profess adherence to the sect of Buddhism of which I …

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Categories Zen

Passions are the bodhi

In his Discourses at Eihei Temple, Zen master Dogen says: ‘When the clay is plentiful the Buddha is big.’ By clay he means the raw passions. The mental operations in the mind within us which seethe and rage unbridled—these are the clay. And the more abundant it is, the greater the Buddha into which it comes to be moulded. The stronger the force of attachment, the greater the Buddha which is made. ‘Do you ever get angry?’ ‘No, I’m never angry’—such people have nothing to them. When the time of anger comes, when the whole body is ablaze with it, then it is that the form of the Buddha must be seen. By coming to the taste of Emptiness in the midst of illusion of the five skandhas, we really grasp the meaning of what Emptiness is. In the Vimalakirti Sutra is the phrase: In the soil of the high …

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The true character of the human Self

The Buddha did not have the loneliness of being deserted; he knew the loneliness of having a million friends. It is said that he renounced his home when he was twenty-nine—in one tradition, nineteen. Before that he rejoiced in his beautiful queen and his lovely child. He excelled in learning and wisdom and was a master of all the sciences and arts. As the heir to the throne of the emperor, he was held in great honour. At no time were the circumstances ever lonely. He was one who had satisfaction in all the desires of human life. There was no outward isolation. Inwardly it was that he felt extreme loneliness. In spite of all the wealth and talents and accomplishments, when he considered that the self could rely on none of these things, he was overwhelmed by unspeakable loneliness, and this was the loneliness of the Buddha. So his …

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The inward lonliness

THE INWARD LONELINESS My prayer is for no great thing. I always pray just that, with the hundred-and-fifty-odd families to which I minister, I should live in peace in a state of no-I. But it does not turn out so. One family who were very hospitable to me—I say hospitable, but this is the country so it means a radish or a carrot from time to time—well, they were hospitable … Then the grandfather died and they asked me to perform the funeral rites. When the day came the rain was falling in torrents and the roads were flooded. A coolie came and told me he had been sent to take my things, including the ceremonial chair and the umbrella which are used in the rite. With kindly intention (and make a note of the kindliness of my intention) I said: ‘On a day like this they surely won’t have …

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Categories Zen

The five skandhas have no fixed real nature

Delusive attachment to Self Consider for example a madman. He does not know he is mad: when he realizes it is madness, soon he recovers. These days there is an increase of the madness which affirms its own sanity. To be saying one is sane is already madness. He who says ‘I am mad’ is indeed the real man. I knew an abbot, extremely straightforward by nature, who, as it chanced from his karma, went out of his mind. He was so honest, it seemed that his very honesty drove him out of his mind. He was in a country temple in Mino, and the monks were anxious about him and came with him to Tokyo. I was at that time in charge of a school and they came to ask my help. I put him up in a little room in a small temple, and then took him to …

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Awakening to the character of our individuality

He saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. This is illumined vision, seeing things as they really are. Satori is when the real character of everything is seen. When renunciation of self is complete, the absolute, the state free from all conditions, in which at present we are putting our faith, will actually be realized. The world of faith is to act entrusting all to Kannon. Religion is not logic and all that. To entrust all to Kannon means to have merged self in the state of Kannon. By the power of my self I can do nothing, not even check one tear or one impulse to anger, but when I have pierced to the truth at the bottom of that self, the holy form of the Bodhisattva Kannon appears, which rescues the I into the absolute unconditioned. Surely this is the true world of …

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Human life is always quivering with uncertainty

The true character of the Self What then is our life of endless circling? It may be the mind arising beautiful as heaven, it may be the mind springing up as a hungry ghost; but both equally uncertain, because we have still to circle in the worlds of good and evil. I am asked to speak before a congregation. I make my address just like a Jizo Bodhisattva, with the feeling that there is nothing in my hears. By the power of the knowledge of ultimate Emptiness, I speak in the Nirvana state, with nothing in the heart. And those who listen also are in the Nirvana state with noting in the heart. They are like Kannon Bodhisattvas. And yet—this Jizo of mine, and those Kannons of theirs, are surprisingly unreliable. One day, when roused by some association, this Jizo becomes furious and looks like a hell-mask, and those Kannons …

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Categories Zen

The spirit of Mahayana Buddhism is to discover life’s real meaning

The real meaning of negation The Heart Sutra teaches us the method of training by which we can see Emptiness in each one of the steps which, whatever our attitude to life, we are being forced to make. At present we keep doing the same things over and over again in the endless round of mundane good and bad, built up on the ego illusion. We may happen to do good, we may happen to do evil. How could such a great man do something so strange, how could such a man do something so wrong! … This is all part of the round. Step by step retreading the same paths, impelled by the deep-rooted karma, such is our life. The spirit of Mahayana Buddhism is to discover life’s real meaning. Against our anger rises. To discover in the very midst of it the world of light is the meaning …

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Categories Zen

The true world of Nirvana in the midst of life

The Life-Wheel The Bodhisattva Kannon, having practised the profound Prajna Paramita, penetrated to the true world of Nirvana in the midst of life, the life which cannot be evaded however we try. In Buddhism another word for life is the wheel of birth-and-death. A wheel once set going continues to turn, so it is a symbol of life. ‘Turning’ is an important idea in Buddhism, and there is no Sutra which does not refer to it. Our heart turns, impelled by some force, and that impelling force is very mighty. In a great flood, bridges, houses and everything are carried away, and the vaunted human strength becomes a tiny thing in the face of the power of nature. Admittedly in a certain sense man does conquer nature, but really the word ‘conquer’ is a complete misnomer. Man boasts that he conquers a mountain or something by his human strength, but …

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Categories Zen

He saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE When the Bodhisattva Kannon was practising the profound Prajna Paramita wisdom, he saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. Now we begin the text. The Bodhisattva mentioned is generally known as Kannon, though sometimes as Kanjizai. In either case the first character of the name, Kan, is seeing, and it means to see things as they really are. To see things as they are gives freedom, and so the Bodhisattva is called Kanjizai, the one whose sight is freedom If asked what Buddhism is, I say: ‘Buddhism is seeing everything as it really is.’ Seeing the real form of everything is Buddhism We don’t see the real forms; we think we do, but in fact we don’t. When we consider the I, whether it is something lasting or not, outside Buddhism they always presume that the self must have a form …

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Categories Zen

Introduction on the Heart Sutra

  The load of ignorance makes footsteps of evil When the Bodhisattva Kannon was practising the profound Prajna Paramita wisdom he saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. ‘O disciple Shariputra, form is not different from Emptiness, Emptiness is not different from form; form is Emptiness and Emptiness is form; and so also with sensation, thinking, impulse and consciousness. All these things, Shariputra, have the character of Emptiness, neither born nor dying, neither defiled nor pure, neither increased nor lessened. ‘So in Emptiness there is neither form nor sensation, thinking, impulse nor consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body nor mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch nor object of mind; no element of eye, nor any of the other elements, including that of mind-consciousness; no ignorance and no extinction of ignorance, nor any of the rest, including age-and-death and extinction of age-and-death; no suffering, …

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Categories Zen

Zen is a Japanese approximation to the Sanskrit dhyana

Zen is a Japanese approximation to the Sanskrit dhyana, which has in Yoga the technical meaning of stilling and focussing the mind. When after long practice all associations have dropped away and the mind is identified with the subtle constituents of the object, the state is called Samadhi of a particular kind. In that Samadhi there finally comes a flash of intuitive knowledge or Prajna, which reveals the truth of the object of meditation. Prajna is knowledge not coming by the routes of sense-perception, inference or authority: it is immediate and invariably correct. Buddhism adopted Yoga methods, and dhyana discipline was the final step before realization. The Zen sect, founded in China by the Indian patriarch Bodhidharma, lays special emphasis on meditation practice, and claims a special tradition handed down ‘from heart to heart’ from the Buddha himself. The main tenets of Buddhism and of Zen be found in Abbot …

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Sake Wine and Samadhi

Gudo was the Master at the Myoshinji Zen temple in Kyoto. He was famous as the teacher of the 17th century many-talented Emperor Gomizu-no-o, who was also a devout Buddhist. Gudo occasionally had cause to visit Yedo, the capital, about 300 miles from Kyoto along the great Nakasendo highway. Gudo sometimes walked the whole way incognito as a humble travelling monk with nothing but his staff and his bundle of things. On a long journey the custom was for the monk to ask for lodging for the night in some village, and it was an act of Buddhist merit to give it. On one occasion Gudo made such a request at an unpretentious house, and the wife and grandmother welcomed him in, saying that the husband would be back soon from the shop. He noticed a certain anxiety in them, however, and in conversation learned that the husband had become …

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The Third Don’t Know

Uesugi Kenshin was the Galahad of mediaeval Japanese chivalry, and like the Galahad of the Western Arthurian legend was somewhat tactless and even arrogant in his youth. Kenshin was keenly interested in Buddhism and came to hear of the discourses on Zen given at a certain temple by a great Zen abbot, also as it happened with the same Buddhist name Kenshin. The young Uesugi decided to go to one of the sermons and engage the abbot in debate afterward, so he rode up one day without announcing his coming and went in to hear the sermon. That day the abbot was speaking on a case from the Zen classic Hekiganroku: Bodhidharma’s “Vastness, No Holiness!” The Ryo Emperor Bu asked the teacher Bodhidharma: “What is the first principle of the holy truth?” Bodhidharma said: “Vastness, no holiness!” Quoth the emperor: “Who is it that confronts Us?” Bodhidharma said: “Don’t know.” …

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Thrust From The Classics

‘If you think I know it well, then little indeed you know.’ (Kena Upanishad) With these words, the teacher gives the mind of a pupil a shake. The words are a thrust at self-satisfaction. The pupil has an intellectual grasp of Brahman, Truth, and some experience of it, but he thinks that this shining intellectual experience is the true Knowledge which gives liberation from confinement in body-mind individuality – a succession of birth and death. The teacher gives a thrust: ‘If you think that this is knowing it, you know almost nothing about it.’ Badly shaken, the pupil leaves the group of disciples and goes to a solitary place. There he sits down in the deep meditation that leads to samadhi, and takes the needle-point of his ‘I’ consciousness beyond associations and memories. In the Zen phrase, the bottom falls out of the bucket. He comes back, and the teacher …

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Quite often in our lives we are going to meet Satan, either in other people or in ourselves. We don’t realize it because we often fail to recognise him. Here is an example from a time when smoking was just a social habit and not yet known to be a killer: A certain heavy smoker did find some adverse symptoms and he recognised quickly that it was due to smoking. He resolved to give it up and managed to maintain this for several months. His cigarette-smoking colleagues at first tried to break his resolution; failing to do so they began to respect him. But then he made the fatal mistake of beginning to preach to them. “Why can’t you give up the filthy habit, you know it is bad for you, it’s disgusting and it only wants a strong will, haven’t you got the will-power to give it up?” His …

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He was regarded as the embodiment of justice

One wing of the palace abutted on a rubbish heap; there was the outline of a door faintly to be seen on the wall. It was rumoured that each year the King stood for an hour behind the door, and if anyone asked for admittance, he took him in. It was not said what the king would do then. A merchant was wronged by a minister, but could not prove his case. He abandoned the rest of his property, and stood day and night in front of the outline of the door, every hour asking for admission in the hope that some time the King would be there. At first he nearly died of hardship. Then a passing horseman threw him an old straw coat, and a beggar brought him some scraps. The city people heard of him, and came to see the man standing in front of the wall. …

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Judo is not football.

When we are young, we play football, and we are told, Try and win, try and win’. But the main purpose is to develop our physique. It’s not for most schoolboys to become professional footballers. In the same way, judo is to give you something for life, and for most of us it is not to become contest leaders. Dr Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, regarded judo as a training for life. He thought it was much better for this than ball games which are not natural activities. But fighting is a natural activity and if the natural activity can be spiritualised and made rational, so that instead of making enemies, you are making friends, then it will give you something for life. Imagination and Open Judo But it is much more than that. In order to safeguard the health of competitors, contest judo has become narrower and narrower. …

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Truce and Peace

In some traditions, the spiritual stages are presented in terms of warfare. In a remote province of a kingdom well and justly governed, there is a local warlord who from his walled city makes continual raids. The kings small standing forces goes out to meet the raiders. They are professional soldiers, and though few in number can nearly always defeat the raiders quickly so that they run back to their remote stronghold. But the raids have generally done a certain amount of damage to local towns and villages before they are repulsed. This situation is compared to the ordinary life of a yogi. Periodically, it is broken up by raids from the instinctive desires located below the surface of the mind. The yogi may have quite a battle with them but by the yogic means of devotion, analysis and meditation he can finally repulse the attacks, though often not before …

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Two Hooks

Man’s bondage to circumstances and his dependence on them can be thought of in terms of two interlocking hooks. One is within his own personality and one is the form of external objects or the ideas of external objects. When the internal hook, so as to speak, catches the external hook man is drawn outwards; or perhaps he tries to use the connection to draw the outer thing into himself. In either case he is bound and in the end he is drawn outwards. The external hook is conceived of in the form of objects or of events and so on. The internal hook is what is called the yogya vasana, the desire associated with that external object or that mental fixed conception. And it is the interlocking of the two which creates the bondage. Suppose for instance one sees an attractive meal full of sugar and fat; the mind …

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Cutting off the bull’s horns in Judo

In judo, when the teacher tells us (and he says this only to people who are determined to improve), ‘You’ve mastered that technique. Now give it up for six months,’ we think, ‘What? I’m not allowed to do that? I go on the mat and I’m not allowed to do my big throw? I’ve got to try and do other things that I can’t do? I’ll get countered, I’ll look an absolute fool!’ Now many of us fail this test. We think, ‘Oh no! I’m not going to do this.’ And we go back to what we can do, and we get some success. But those who have faith in the teacher and who realise the teacher has got faith in them, follow his advice and give up their favourite technique for a while. They begin to develop a free movement, not fixed on one point. They can move freely. …

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Word Clouds and Realities

Illusions are of two kinds, and it is quite important to remember the distinction between them. One of them has no actual basis and the other has a basis of substratum. For no actual basis, think of Father Christmas. This is a concept, an idea, which we teach to very small

First order or last order

In armies, the chains of command have to be settled. One problems is: conflict of orders. Suppose a soldier is ordered by an officer to take a small box to HQ, and on the way officer asks where he is going, and then says: `Oh, so you can take this packet and hand it in at the radio station – it’s almost on your way.’ Now should the soldier take the packet, or should he refuse and say: `Sir, I’ve got to deliver this box straight away’? In history, some armies have opted for the First Order, and some for the Second Order. But let us look at the application in inner spiritual training. The rule for here is: First Order. When even a little inner practice is being done, the buddhi – the fraction of the cosmic mind which is located in the personality – is beginning to waken. …

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Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras gives six main means of practice

There are not many people who can simply practise meditation on the Self, or on the Lord, aiming all the time at liberation, without becoming bored, or else being overwhelmed by waves of distraction, lassitude or fear. It is found that for most people there must be some encouragement, something tangible in everyday experience. So Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras gives six main means of practice for first purifying and then steadying the mind as it is, and for some of them he gives results by which progress can be checked. These results, however wonderful some of them may seem, are not liberation. But they mean a lightening of the present burden of living with nothing but a distant hope. They are ways of confirming at least something that the teacher and the tradition say. If some one thing, however little it may be, is confirmed, there is a surge …

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