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 old people exist at all? As the physical capacities decay the elderly do not produce food, yet they still consume it. So they are a burden on the community. Then why does not Nature arrange things so that when the children have grown up and have taken on the family …

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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 disappears and the form of mystical practice becomes deformed. “Sell intelligence and buy mystical bewilderment; intelligence is opinion, while bewilderment is immediate vision. Sacrifice your understanding in the presence of the Prophet; say, God sufficeth me”. Then he gives a parallel illustrating the fact that mystical bewilderment prevents investigation and …

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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 calligrapher sat down to his writing table, she thought, ‘Now I shall see something’, but instead of a brush he picked up an old blunt pencil stub. With a tiny knife he made a couple of cuts to take away a little of the wood but did not sharpen it. …

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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 practice is to write the same thing a number of times and then choose the best. So the priest wrote in huge Chinese characters: THE FIRST PRINCIPLE. But each time the patron said “Master, won’t you try again” and the record says that this went on forty-eight times until the …

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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 English, on the development of English church music during the 19th century, reaching the optimistic conclusion that it had improved, and was still improving. This episode, along with some others in his life, shows the yogic virtues of one-pointed work with intense application, while in the background a serene detachment …

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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 it may not stop at words Socrates. It may go to violence, to imprisonment, to castration.” Socrates replied “You are trying to frighten me but I am not one to be frightened” and he went on to mention the campaigns in which he had taken part as a soldier fighting …

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