Old people have a significant role to play, and some of them find it.

The problem for old people in the West is not that they are regarded as junk, but they regard themselves as junk. In many countries of the East, there are not so many old people, but those there are, are often better off, not materially but in quality of life. They have a significant role to play, and some of them find it. In the East, it is expected that older people will turn to religion, which traditionally provides means to inner development. But this is not generally accepted in the West, which prides itself in its sceptical – though in fact deeply fearful – free thinking. So let us adopt provisionally some of the dogmas of this so-called free thinking. Even the doctrine of evolution at its most materialistic can give an indication to old people what to do. First, let them ask themselves, or be asked, Why do …

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The Lord says, he thinks more of his beard than of Me

The Sufi Attar relates that a certain religious man used to perfume and comb his beard for some time every day before his devotions, in order that he might appear before the Lord at his best. A saint of God had a revelation which he was to convey to that devotee: “The Lord says, he thinks more of his beard than of Me”. When that man received the message he gave a great cry of remorse. Thereafter every evening before prayer, he tore out one handful of the beard, leaving his face bleeding, that it might bear witness to his repentance. Another revelation came to the saint: “He is still thinking more about his beard than of Me”. In his Mathnavi, the Sufi poet Rumi declares that if mystical truths are investigated too methodically, so that the dialectic of question and answer becomes lengthy, then the savour of Love’s mystery …

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Adhyatma Yoga is very little physical

The physical side includes menial service of the teacher and the yoga, but in yoga, the central drive must be for transcendence. Without that, it is not yoga but a personal or social activity of some kind. There are those who believe that there is a sort of side entrance: for instance that they can somehow attain by slavish service.

Yoga is very much psychological

There is an external physical side to three yoga procedures: sitting-in-meditation, controlling the vital forces by breathing, and repeating a mantram. But the physical is to make the mental process easier, not to distract from it. We know this in daily life, when we find we are tired and suddenly determine to go to bed.

Spiritual aspirants acquire defects of character

Till the depths of the mind have been partially pacified, attempts to force them to be calm, by a more or less complete long isolation, will energize them, as Saint Anthony found. Humankind is naturally gregarious; Dr. Shastri said that one who likes to live alone is either a superman or less than human. The Gita makes one of the conditions for acquiring knowledge: ‘resort to solitary places and no liking for the society of men’.

Symbolic illusion will disappear one day

The whole world is gradually to be realized as an illusion, but it is not an illusion projected by the Cosmic Self, full of beauty and meaning.That Self is seen at first more clearly in certain forms. When meditated upon with devotion, and finally felt as the inner life, they become radiant, then gradually dissolve as the Self shines more and more through them.

Yoga practice is a way through the world-illusion

Yoga practice is a way through the world-illusion; though the path itself is part of the illusion, it contains indications of how to get out. In the same way, when an official, say a Mayor, is going to resign from his onerous position after long years of service, he signs the various documents and goes through the formalities.. These are still actions as Mayor. But they are actions, which free him from Mayoral status. They are actions which end action.

To be a realist, overcome realism

In ordinary speech, realism is opposed to idealism; objects truly exist – they are not mental creations. But as a matter of fact, scientific experiments done on the basis of realism, become self-contradictory.Bertrand Russell pointed out, in a remark which impressed Einstein: ‘Naive realism, if true, is false; therefore it is false.’ But find it difficult to live up to this conclusion. When it was put to this same Russell that consciousness has to be taken as ever-present, he replied: No. I find no difficulty in imagining a time when the earth was a mass of blazing rocks, with no consciousness present whatever.’ He did not realize that in using terms like ‘blazing’ and ‘rocks’, he was assuming the presence of consciousness, and moreover human consciousness equipped with sense organs.

Merit can be a binding force

From the high point of view, merit is a binding force if it localizes the great Self to a conviction of individuality.As an example: if he founds a school or hospital, and puts his name to it, he is a good man but not yet a yogin; if he does it anonymously, he has made a step in yoga; if he soon forgets that he has done so, he is a jnanin or truth-Knower; if it all took place without any sense of an ‘I’, that is direct action of the supreme Self.

Goodness is the inner side of spiritual merit

While it goodness is a conscious process, it is still a binding force. It can be compared to breathing. Most people breathe badly, but they can be taught to breathe with the whole lung. For a time the correct breathing has to be practised consciously, and to some extent this means taking the attention away from normal activity. But when it is established, it is forgotten. The benefits in the form of improved health and vigour continue, but the process is natural.

Evil is a tight form of bondage

The evil man naturally assumes that most others are like himself, so he suspects everybody.Then he tries to strike first, to double-cross even kill his allies before they can double-cross him.In the end he cannot even trust himself; he sees that in some obscure way he is destroying himself but he cannot find out how this happens.Both Hitler and Stalin massacred former close associates.

Dharma is realised by performance of one’s moral and spiritual duty, without desire

The word which our teacher here translates as ‘duty’ is dharma, which means what-is-to-be-done according-to-tradition. We cannot extract moral principles by reasoning about them, because ultimate goals are indefinite. In his persistent attempts to do this during his long life, Russell changed his position repeatedly. In fact he held, one after another, all the main positions except religious revelation. His last conclusion was, that right action was that which leads to ‘the maximum possible satisfaction of desire’

Fly spiritually shut your eyes and grow wings

The wings are the powers of steadying and concentrating the purified mind; flying is rising above the body-consciousness, and consciousness of time and space, in samadhi meditation. Gita IV… on meditation: sarvaani indriya karmaani praana-karmaani ca-apare aatma samyama yoga-agnau juhvati – jnaana-diipite.All the activities of the senses, and activities of prana (vital currents), Others pour as a sacrifice into the yoga fire of self-control, which has been lit by Knowledge.

I have felt a strength holding me, and peace within.

An old lady in a country village brought up her little grandson, both of whose parents had died. She had little money and had a hard time doing it; the village were made aware of the extent of her sacrifices, and she did not have many friends. Living near by was a retired master of calligraphy, a man far advanced on the Way. He took an interest in the education of the village children, and told the old lady that her grandson was bright and should go on to a university. When the time came he said, ‘If you and he are willing, I will give you an introduction to the head of a university in the capital whom I know well, where they have a hostel for country students.’ The grandmother told him, ‘Of course I shall be very lonely, but for the boy’s sake I agree.’ As the …

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Categories Zen

First Principle was brushed by the great priest Ingen

The two main Zen sects in Japan are the Soto, which has many temples in the country, and the Rinzai which is more associated with towns. There is a third sect, much smaller and a late comer, which derives from the Chinese patriarch Obaku with its main temple at Uji. This sect incorporated some Pure Land devotional practices. Above the entrance gate to most Buddhist temples in Japan there is a massive piece of calligraphy embodying some central tenet, and at the Obaku main temple it says: THE FIRST PRINCIPLE. There is a story about how this was brushed by the great priest Ingen who was the first master there. The patron who had the temple built for him was a fine calligrapher himself and when the time came he turned up with sheets of paper to ask the priest (also a noted calligrapher) to brush something appropriate. The usual …

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As Gladstone Did Not Say

William Gladstone (1809-1898) was four times British Prime Minister, and arguably the greatest statesman of the century. His policies played a big part in preventing the revolution that Marx had foreseen. Gladstone coined many memorable phrases which were in constant use; in 1888: ‘I will back the masses against the classes.’ The interest for yoga is the extraordinary control that Gladstone exercised over his own mind. There is a striking example towards the end of his life when, as an old man, he saw his progressive programme voted down in Parliament for very dubious reasons, so that his government fell. How did he spend his weekend? Not in bitter recriminations against opponents: that artful, scheming Disraeli; not in foreseeing the country going to the dogs. In other words, not an angry old man’s typical outbursts when fate has turned against him. No. He wrote a six thousand-word paper, in beautiful …

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Life Rage

There is ‘road rage’ on being passed or obstructed, on a highway. But life itself is a series of obstructions and overtaking in every field and there is a smouldering life rage in the heart of nearly everyone. We live by artificial standards which themselves are constantly changing. Emerson once wrote that for most people one of the highest pleasures is the consciousness of being really well dressed. But if someone appeared today in that well dressed look of his time, people would simply laugh. The same is true of more central things: it was rightly said that reputation lies in the breath of the people. We have to develop inner balance and inner firm footing, and become independent of outer supports. This does mean in the end an independence of life and death. When Socrates remarked that he need not pay attention to spiteful words, he was challenged: “But …

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Learning by Heart

It should be mentioned at the beginning that in Britain at least, the concept of education has been bedevilled by a false etymology. Education is thought to come from the Latin prefix e- meaning ‘out’ and the verb ducere, ‘to lead’. So it is supposed that the desire for knowledge is inherent in the child, and needs only to be ‘led out’. Give children the facilities, said Bertrand Russell, following Morris and others, and they will learn all they need spontaneously. They will learn to read naturally, because they are surrounded by writings, and will be curious to know what these say. It is further assumed that the process must be made agreeable, interesting, and amusing. If it is not, that is a failure to provide “what the child needs”. This is not borne out by experience. Westerners in the Far East, for instance, surrounded by Chinese writings, very rarely …

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Paper Belief

In one of Barrie’s plays, there is a shipwreck, and for the first night the old Earl is separated from the others. When they meet up the next day, he complains how cold he has been, and his daughter says: “But Daddy, why didn’t you make a fire by rubbing two sticks together?” He replied irritably: “Have you ever tried to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together?” She says no more. She had read and believed, like so many others, that Indians and Polynesians and perhaps Boy Scouts could make a fire by friction, but this belief would hold only so long as no weight was put on it. In the same way, exalting texts can be read and believed, but only so long as there is no risk of having to depend on them. Teachers have called this ‘paper belief’; some rate it even thinner than paper, …

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Movement, No Movement

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 …

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Limitations on the Avatar

Children’s questions can embarrass even theologians: “Could Jesus have got down off the cross if he wanted to?” Or in the Old Testament: “Why does it say it say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart every night, and then sent another plague in the morning to make him change his mind?” Similarly, in the Indian epic Ramayana, the Avatar Rama who is God incarnate lay unconscious and paralysed on the battle field, in the grip of magic snakes projected by the villainous enemy. Rama’s allies are bewildered; how can this happen, how can the incarnation of omnipotent God lie there helpless. Some of them say: “It is not for us to have doubts and questionings. This must be a voluntary act, so we should simply wait till the Lord chooses to recover, throw off the snakes, and get up in his own good time.” But this is not at all the …

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The Cure

Some people find that when they begin a yogic discipline their mind is not calmed but more agitated and distracted than before. They complain to the teacher about this and ask for some remedy. Let us suppose that patients go to a skilful doctor to cure an ailment caused by a common mistake in lifestyle. He gives each of them the same remedy with the warning some of them might experience a few untoward side effects. Suppose further that one of them comes to the doctor and says, I have been following the treatment, but my health seems to be getting worse. I now have this and this and this as well. Can you give me something more to cure the new symptoms. The doctor replies, “What you call new symptoms show that the cure is working, in a way they are the cure, and you can’t ask me for …

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The Cave

The Japanese Zen Master Fugai, though a talented artist and poet, often took to living in some cave, unknown to anyone. It has been thought that he did this partly to avoid fame and reputation which can easily gather round a noted teacher in a monastery. He once remarked, however, “Perhaps it is easy to give something up – after all it must be easier than chasing after it or vigilantly guarding it. Perhaps it’s easy to give the world up as a monk. But what is difficult to give up is the thought ‘I’ve given these things up’. Until that has been given up and forgotten there is no true renunciation.” In yoga too there is a parallel: people sometimes say a bit arrogantly that the true yoga is not “running away from the world to the peace of a cave in the Himalayas but practising yoga here and …

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Pioneers and Scavengers

‘If you associate with dogs you have to be prepared for quite a lot of barking.’ A genuine thirteenth century Chinese saying: ‘A furious tiger rises up but is killed and then a tiny kitten comes up and laps the blood.’ This exemplifies third rate thinkers who try to sit on the body, so to speak, of the dead master and get a little of his prestige and strength. Compare the Western saying about pioneers and scavengers. Pioneers find the new tracks in the forest but sooner or later they are struck down by some wild beast and they die. Then the scavengers come afterwards and pick over the bones. In the same way great innovative thinkers or scholars die, and the scavengers come and pick holes where they can find any little scraps. But they contribute nothing original themselves. Compare Patanjali IV.3 Sutra: That cause (Samadhi) is not the …

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Mist and Rain

The great Zen teacher, who was one of the first to bring Zen from China to Japan, in the 13th century, was asked at the end of a public ceremony: ‘Now you have come from China to Japan, how does your teaching differ?’ Bukko replied: ‘It does not. It is all the same. It is the same teaching.’ And the questioner said: ‘But you do, in fact, teach differently here. For instance, you teach through an interpreter.’ The Master replied: ‘Well, I suppose we can say there is some difference between mist and rain.’ © 1998 Trevor Leggett

Final Penalty

My father was a soldier in World War I. He joined up immediately the war broke out in 1914 (just as I was born) and came home after the Armistice in November 1918. He was one of the lucky few who passed through the whole war without a scratch. Like most of the soldiers in that terrible conflict, he never spoke of the actual fighting, but I remember one or two interesting comments about the Army. He said that they were all more or less bullied into fitness and compliance; fitness came almost automatically with the training, but compliance varied. He remarked that labourers and factory workers and clerks were used to taking orders, and soon adapted to the routines. But small street traders, who were fiercely independent and always fighting among themselves in ordinary life, often could not control their insubordination. They were, of course, punished by being given …

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Falling In Love

Falling In Love In music, don’t fall in love with a particular note, however perfectly played. Don’t fall in love with any particular piece, however beautiful, with the feeling that this is enough. Don’t fall in love with a musician, however skilful. Don’t fall in love with a particular composer or composers, however wonderful. Fall in love with the source of the inspiration that is struggling to express itself through the imperfect channel; it is imperfect, however technically adept the musician or the composer may be. John Lill, the virtuoso pianist, remarked in a BBC interview in 1999: ‘After a concert, if people come to me and say: ‘What a wonderful pianist you are,’ I say: ‘Thank you very much,’ but I reckon I have failed.’ But, if they say to me: ‘What wonderful music that was – what wonderful pieces,’ then I reckon I have at least partially fulfilled …

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Samurai Poetry

When the Samurai class was established as the ruling caste in Japan at the beginning of the 18th century the warriors were required to educate themselves in practical administration. This included literary skills, culture in general and some familiarity with law. The Samurai had been, even in the early days of the 13th century, relatively literate, compared to the often unlettered Knights and even Kings of the West. It was traditional for some of them to take part in poetry competitions, though of a rather special kind. In an ordinary poetry contest there are two or three winners so to say, and some in the second rank, as judged by the expert arbiters. These last were often famous poets, but in any case critics of some standing. However, such a result would not perhaps be satisfactory in the case of Warriors intensely conscious of what they call their ‘Honour’. The …

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One Dharma A Thousand Words

Priest Horin, mediaeval Master of Kenchoji temple was asked by one of the Kenchoji gardeners who worked on the lands there, “Is there any virtue in the recitation, or listening to the recitation, of the sutras if you don’t understand the real meaning?” The priest said: “If someone takes a medicine, even though he may not know its virtues, still when he takes it there will be a good effect. And in the case of a poisonous drug, then though he may not know from the taste that it is harmful if he takes it that drug may kill him. Again it is like taking passage on a ship. You may not know anything of the rigging and fittings of the ship but still if you board it, it will take you to a far destination. And so, recitation of the sutras is like that. Their spiritual meaning may not …

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Free Fall

A rock, or a human being, falling from a cliff is said to be in free fall. But they are not free, because they have no choice. Similarly, those dominated by instinctive impulses often claim to be freely enjoying them, but in fact they are no more free than a falling rock. They are not free to check themselves. Freedom can be a sort of verbal trick. When Henry Ford first introduced mass production, his famous Model T was always painted black. A reporter from abroad asked him whether customers could choose other colours. `They are free to choose any colour they like,’ replied Ford, `as long as they like black.’ Another instance, which provided a good deal of entertainment in its own way, came about when a successful English abstract painter was being interviewed (of course through an interpreter) on the French radio. The interviewer asked: `Would you explain …

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