We are often impressed by things we don’t fully understand

It can sometimes be doubted whether there is really anyone at all inside a set of magnificent ceremonial robes; all their stiff embroidery and the wonderful effect on those that see them can be at the expense of the true point of the ceremony: we may all know this but then we are often impressed by things we don’t fully understand. I had an early experience of this as a small boy. At the end of term, the clergyman headmaster used to read in a deep voice a short chapter from the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament. The words were sonorous and they seemed to reverberate in the head. I thought, how wonderful, it’s all in the Bible, it must be true. But as to what it actually meant ‑ wen, it’s holy, I thought, I don’t suppose one can expect to understand. This is the main part …

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When you find that you are becoming respected and honoured, that’s the time to leave’

One Indian teacher, echoing his whole tradition, used to say: ‘When you find that you are becoming respected and honoured, that’s the time to leave’. Echoing this view, the Chinese tell an account of the Taoist master who has a very promising pupil who finally attains enlightenment. The enlightened pupil becomes a teacher, and a very famous one: often on the veranda out­side the entrance to his house there are many shoes to be seen deposited by pupils. One day his own old teacher happens ‑to pass that way and he sees all the shoes. He waits, and when they have all gone he goes in to visit his pupil. He tells him: ‘Get away at once; don’t hang about here a moment longer.’ Well, this is one tradition; it may not be the same in all traditions but it is worth remembering. Do what you are to do, and …

Read moreWhen you find that you are becoming respected and honoured, that’s the time to leave’

It is best not to be on the heights, but to be down below where you can have things and keep them.

Bukko, who was one of the great Zen masters, said that if you get to the heights of anything, you are like a man who is on top of a mountain with all his possessions. When you and your things are on the top of a mountain you have to keep hanging on to everything for dear life to prevent your posses­sions rolling down into the valley. It is therefore, he says, best not to be on the heights, but to be down below where you can have the things and keep them. Bukko warns against staying or trying to get on the heights, for once you are up there you won’t be able to maintain yourself there: the things will gradually ‑ or even suddenly ‑ fall away from you because you won’t be able to hang on to them. When we can’t wait for other people to honour …

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The British respect sincerity , but unless it brings something good we feel it is often wasted.

An Indian scholar whom I knew very well once told me a story about a typical Japanese born in Meiji. This Indian lived in Japan in the early part of this century and lectured on Indian philosophy at a few universities in Tokyo. He was a great friend of Prof. Junjiro Takakusu. When the late Emperor Hirohito was crown prince, it was arranged that he would have an hour’s lecture on each of the world’s great religions from some outstanding authority. Prof. Takakusu was asked to select the lecturer for Hinduism, and he chose this Indian professor. (He told me that the young Crown Prince had listened for an hour without moving, and that at the end he asked intelligent questions.) This Indian scholar believed that India should not seek independence from Britain too soon. He said that Britain could do much to organize India, and that India would give …

Read moreThe British respect sincerity , but unless it brings something good we feel it is often wasted.

Many of the so‑called honours in fact are false

At one of the biggest Zen training temples in Japan situated not in some great city but in rather a remote place ‑ in spite of which they get quite a lot of pilgrims and have about 200 monks ‑ they insist that pilgrims stay overnight and attend the 3.30am service which goes on sometimes for a couple of hours. Those who preside and take these great ceremonies wear magnificent gold and silver embroidered robes ‑ masterpieces of the art On one occasion the head monk, whom I had come to know, was conducting the service. I was sitting in the front row of what one might call the ‘resident guests’. In fine presence and making a splendid spectacle he passed before us in this gorgeous robe ‑ catching my eye as he went. But of course he gave no sign of recognition. Two or three days afterwards I was …

Read moreMany of the so‑called honours in fact are false

The Japanese have so much theoretical knowledge that sometimes they cannot easily make a decision

In fact, the Japanese have so much theoretical knowledge that sometimes they cannot easily make a decision. Of course, if a road branches into two, it is easy to make a decision: you go either right or left. But if it branches into five roads, it is far more difficult to choose. If it branches into 17, it may take a very long time to decide. Some Japanese feel that the safest thing to do is to choose a road which already has several people on it. But that is not really a decision: it is a sort of panic. How can the Budo spirit help to make us decisive? Let us first look at the causes of the indecisiveness. I believe that the main causes of the difficulty are lack of judgement, lack of confidence and lack of faith. Judgement cannot be developed by reading. Reading gives us only …

Read moreThe Japanese have so much theoretical knowledge that sometimes they cannot easily make a decision

Buddhist monks are in general far more educated than most samurai.

In a small book of introduction to Budo entitled Budo shoshin-shu, there is a section called ‘Shukke-shi,’ in which Daidoji Yuzan, the author, says that samurai should travel round and learn while they are young, as do the Zen monks. This book points out that Buddhist monks are in general far more educated than most samurai. It is because the monks ‘leave their homes: they leave their monasteries and make tours to visit other monasteries, where they study various other doctrines and also get to know other regions’. The author also says that many samurai just stay at home and draw their salary, without learning anything new except the place where they live. He recommends that samurai, like monks, should travel in order to learn and travel alone as the monks do. Really he is recommending something like a musha-shugyo errantry, not to study swordsmanship but to see new things …

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Life is the teacher: if we do not waste time in complaining, but try to learn from it

In the 1950’s it was difficult for Japanese to get the foreign currency to travel. Japanese travellers sometimes helped each other out, and sometimes they were helped by acquaintances in the foreign countries. I did a little service to the head of a big Tokyo hospital, who was a Judo man like myself. He himself on another occasion had done a similar service to the travelling Primate of the Soto Zen sect, the largest of the Japanese Zen sects, with well over 10,000 temples affiliated to it at that time. (There are now more.) The Tokyo doctor wanted a chance to re-pay my own little service, and similarly the Primate had told the doctor to ask freely if there was anything the Zen priest could do for him. When I was in Tokyo a bit later, I looked up the doctor who took me out to lunch. In the course …

Read moreLife is the teacher: if we do not waste time in complaining, but try to learn from it

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