A Hundred Hearings. Not Like One Seeing

This is a Chinese phrase: ‘A hundred hearings, not like one seeing. We are all familiar with the experience of a trip to some famous place, which we have heard and read quite a lot about. When we get there, it is different from what we expected.

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The hearings are not like one seeing. It is not that the hearings are wrong, necessarily, but they are incomplete. When we see, we understand what we have heard, sometimes for the first time.

Now, in this sort of rather free‑wheeling talk, (and it has to be free­wheeling), I am just trying to give a few hints which have helped me and which can be of help to others. They are like pepper and salt with a meal. They are not the nourishment themselves but sometimes they can make the nourishment easier to take and digest. You cannot live on pepper and salt! So nothing replaces the solid practice, study and devotion of the life. But sometimes a new slant, or a new angle, or a new illustration, especially if it is an unexpected one, can be a help in absorbing some of these things. What I will say comes from various sources; some from teachers I have heard; some I have read ‑ I take temple magazines and occasionally somebody will write a little memoir of his own teacher, which can contain something very useful.

Now one of the things they say is you can learn by instruction, by hearing. Or you can learn by seeing others, by observation. You can learn by inference. And finally you can learn by experience yourself. ‘And they say that you need all four for your final experience to be fruitful. If you take them separately, just one by one, saying for instance, ‘Oh, let people find out for themselves. ‘If you drive when you are drunk ‑ you can hear instruction that it is dangerous to do it. You can have observation, that is you see that other people do this and they have serious accidents. Again, you can infer that it is a generally dangerous practice. But if you are still so stupid, that you have to have experience.

You get drunk, you drive yourself, and you have a serious accident. The only point is that you may not be able to learn from the experience because you may be dead!

Now, on the other hand, if they are taken in turn, first the instruction which corresponds to the text or the words of a teacher, and then those are confirmed to some extent by our observation, and they are confirmed again by inference and finally, they are confirmed by direct experience. Then that direct experience is fruitful because it has been directed through the instruction which was given at the beginning, which is from a fruitful source.

People say, ‘Oh well, science has replaced all this, science begins with observation.’ Well it doesn’t begin with. observation! Long ago they had a cartoon in the American Army paper. The patrol gets lost so the sergeant says to one of them (who is appropriately named Zero), ‘Zero ‘ climb to the top of that tree and see what you can see.’ He hopes for a sighting of a river, or a mountain. So Zero, who is fairly athletic, goes to the top of the tree. ‘ The sergeant calls, ‘What can you see?” And Zero says, “Well, there is a bird’s nest here, but no eggs in it And there are a lot of little caterpillars eating the leaves.’ That is observation, but it is not directed observation. Science has to begin with an idea, and then to observe on the lines of that idea to confirm it, or to develop it or reject it.

Now to give the sort of example of how to apply observation. Examples are best when they are striking. One can hear and one can agree internally. Sometimes you have a spiritual fall, you have a great temptation and you fall. Or you have a wave of anger and you fall. Afterwards there is a regret, a repentance and a remorse. Well now, this is something I saw, which made an impression on me, and for you it is only something heard, but still it is very vivid and it may be unexpected and it can be a reinforcement

In the old days of Judo, we used to have the big contest area of mats and then some of the seniors who had graduated from the university, they weren’t in the teams but they came to support it. They would take off their shoes and they would just sit round the edge of the mats in their ordinary clothes but without shoes.

One of the things you are told in Judo is not to save a fall in a particular way, it is very risky. But, of course, we were perhaps risky fellows then. I saw a chap do it and the elbow was dislocated, as he went down. Well a man from the front row of the audience shot out, sat down on the mat beside this fellow and put one foot here in the armpit and one foot here on the side of the neck, then he caught the injured arm and pulled and it was reset.

The recovery was extremely quick! I knew the team, I used to practise there, and he recovered very quickly. Afterwards I enquired about this (the chap who did the job was, I think, a surgeon, but in any case some Judo men were skilled in Sei Kotsu or bone setting.) and one of the things they said was, ‘If the thing can be set in a few seconds, there is very little lasting damage and it will heal very, very quickly. ‘The next phase is, if it can be set within two hours, then still there will be a relatively quick recovery. But if it is more than two hours then it is going to take quite a time.”

This is applied to a spiritual fall. If we have a bad failure, we generally feel, ‘Oh, will I ever be any good? or ‘Blast it! Why do these things happen? Why do I do these things? Why do they do these things? and so it goes on. Now, if in a few seconds, this can be put straight, and the man can perform a spiritual practice, (one is to push the bunched fingers in just below the navel and growl), and if within a few seconds of the fall that can be done, then a disaster leaves almost no impression. But if remorse, or repentance, or regret or despair, or anger, go on longer, it will be much harder to recover.

If I want to hit something: the table and my fist is only half an inch from the table, then I can generate only a little force. But if I really want to smash it I have to take the time to raise my fist high, and then I can make a big blow.

Well, in the same way, the great obstacles of repentance and remorse, and the feeling of failure and despair, take time to mount. And if in those few early seconds he can quickly get away to a spiritual training practice, then by the time the blow comes down, he is no longer there! One teacher told us about this sort of fall: ‘Think that the consequences to your own mind take a little time to mount. When you feel yourself beginning to get angry, it cannot happen immediately. You feel it coming, and if you can quickly move, before the thing has marshalled its force, you are out of the way.’ Well, the instant resetting of the elbow was one vivid example which I saw and it made an impression, because it was so dramatically effective.

Now take another one. This is a poem. It is probably about the thirteenth to fourteenth century, from the School of the Spear. The men of the Spear especially developed the psychological side because the technique of the spear is very simple. There is very little technical excellence, it is mainly instantaneous response and anticipation. No gap between the opponents move and the response. As today, they used to be arranged in grades, and to me the Judo grades are familiar. And if you are, say, a third black belt and you are going to meet a fourth black belt, well you are going to lose, aren’t you? And the poem says ‑

To meet a superior in grade
The only way to go, is completely to forget
That a higher grade is bound to win

You may say, ‘Well, how can you forget that?’ But, it can be forgotten. The higher grade, that is all in the past. There is a lot of luck attached to attaining grades and a lot of luck attached to skills, and a man may be off that day. Completely forget all that, at the present moment, with no grades and no circumstances of any kind. Then the lower grade is no lower grade. Similarly, for the higher grade, if he thinks, ‘I am bound to win!’, that is the way he may lose, because he is not putting out his full alertness. ‘I am bound to win!’ He thinks that the other man thinks: …’Oh, I am absolutely terrified! Oh, I hope he doesn’t throw me too hard! ‘

But suppose the lower grade is not terrified, it is much easier for an expert to go on with somebody who has done it for a year, than it is for somebody who has never done it at all. If you go on against somebody who has done it for a year, you know what he will do, he will do the right things. But he won’t be good enough at it. But with somebody who has never done it at all, you have no idea what he will do! Most of it will be absolutely useless, of course. But it may be unexpected ‑ you don’t know. With the partly trained opponent, you know what he will do, and it won’t be good enough, you can handle it all easily.

There is a story all over the East about the merchant who gets drunk on top of a high city wall, and he falls off the wall thirty foot to the ground. He happens to fall on another merchant and kills him. By an extraordinary chance he himself is all right. The magistrate is brought in and says, ‘Of course it was an accident, but you were drunk and you have got to pay ‘Your compensation to the sons.’ The lucky merchant agrees, yes, yes. Yes, of course.’ And the sum is agreed. But the two sons now say, the law says a life for a life. Besides the compensation this man should give his life. He has killed our father, his life should go.’ The magistrate says, ‘Well, it is for the sake of murder, that the law says that.’ The sons persist ‘No! A life for a life. Justice!’ The magistrate says, ‘Don’t you think mercy would be better?’ And they say, ‘No! Justice, we are asking for justice.’ Then the magistrate says, ‘Then you will have the exact justice. My officers will put a rope around the man and stand him in that exact place, and the two of you can go on top of the wall and jump on him. The eldest first and if he misses, the second one!’

Well now, the whole event is absolutely inconceivable, but still it could happen. And when you are up against an absolute beginner, he might do things just as risky and crazy, so much so that you do not even consider them. Like jumping on you from the top of a wall! So the absolute beginner is much harder to handle than somebody who knows the rules and the ropes but isn’t too good at them, isn’t good enough at them ‑ he is much easier. The point is in such circumstances ‑ to forget differences of grade and think, ‘Oh, he is bound to win, he is bound to lose.’ These are the things which fix the result already, which need not be fixed at all.

In the poems of this school, they have the phrase, which very often comes; shin (intention) and ki (the initiated movement) ki‑itsu (coming to one) ‑ no gap between them. Normally I intend to do something and I think, “Supposing it goes wrong. All right yes, Ill do it.” I think of doing something and I think, ‘How are we doing?’ Then I do it. There is a gap.

They illustrate it sometimes by saying that your intentions and actions should be like a rope which goes smoothly over a pulley. But if the rope has got a knot in it there is a check when it comes to the pulley, and then it goes with a jerk. When it comes back again there is another check, and then it goes on jerkily. Well, in the same way, when the flow of action is going on, suddenly I think, “How are we doing. And that checks it. Or when I am doing something, somebody comes and watches me, and that checks it.

Well, they say the point is to undo the knot of that rope, so that it will run freely. There is no ‘I’ thinking, “How is it going? Will it come off. Will I get anything for this? Will I be penalised if it goes wrong?” All those things are like a knot in a rope and for some people it is useful to have this vivid picture when we are acting or doing something and then there is a check. It must flow. Not have the knot. Undo the knot in the meditation and the daily practice. The teacher says, “There is rubbish in the mind. There is no free space, the mind is full of rubbish!” Of course I don’t want to think; associations that I don’t want to have casual thoughts.

Another teacher says, It is not the great passions. it is not the great sins. It is the casual, silly little thoughts which prevent your spiritual progress.” So learn to abandon them, to give them up. It takes energy to hold them (we don’t realise that). Like somebody who is carrying a book under the arm. Now, when they have been carrying it for quite some time, twenty minutes or so, then if they trip and fall, they don’t let it go and take the fall but they hold on to it because it has become part of them! In the same way, all sorts of absolutely silly attitudes, which we recognize as silly attitudes, which we don’t need, are with us and we are holding them. We are unconscious of it, just as people get unconscious of holding the book. But then if we come to realise in experience, in meditation especially this is an effort, we come to be able to let it go. Take it up again, if necessary, and let it go, if necessary. Then the movements will become smoother and easier. ‘And then,” he says, “when your mind is cleared of rubbish, you can play!”

From playing, creativity comes, not from the chattering mind; creativity to assemble the material ‑ then to play. And from the playing, the inspiration will come. In the playing, the rules are given up. It is not a question of deliberately breaking the rules. People often think that if you break the rules, you will be setting yourself free. We can get drunk on words! We can say, “Oh, they threw off the restraints of tonal music and they sought for newer and freer methods of expressing their inspiration, beyond the constraints of tonal music. You get drunk on words. The question is: are these compositions any good? That is the real point ‑ not whether they are new.

But‑ with the false analogy of geography where the newer maps are generally better than old maps, we think that newer things must be better than the old things. Beethoven’s pupils thought they were better than Beethoven; they wouldn’t play his sonatas in public. Czerny never played Beethoven’s sonatas at a concert. They weren’t played in public for thirty years or so. Hallé was the first to play the full cycle of sonatas about forty years after Beethoven died. Before that, ‘most of them really weren’t suitable!’ Czerny wrote pieces for four pianos, with two pianists at each piano. Marvellous! Poor old Beethoven had written for only one piano, and one pianist.

We think by breaking the rules or having no rules we shall get inspiration and freedom. “Don’t teach the children by telling them what to do, they need to express their creativity”. Well, this is just getting drunk on words. Enormous assumptions are hidden under this and there is a Chinese phrase on this which perhaps ought to be put in gold on some of our classrooms. It says, “With the untrained, things of heaven, may take shape within their hearts but they do not take shape beneath their hands.” There may be inspiration and creativity there. It is arguable that there always is. But without some technique, without some restraints, without some forms, these things don’t take shape.

Now, I thought, as something different, to give a little translation here. There was a great teacher of kendo, who died in 1930 at the age of 66, and he had a great influence on the fencing and the spiritual atmosphere of the time, especially on layman’s Zen. And a book of his life was printed privately and a copy was given to me by a Zen master, Omori Sogen, who was himself also a fencing master. This book is a compilation of things which were written, sometimes long ago ‑ eighty or so years ‑ so it is in the old Japanese and is fiendishly difficult.

It was an enormous compliment to be given it from that Zen teacher. The trouble is you have to live up to these compliments, and it took me ages to decipher the first few paragraphs, but when you begin to understand the conventions and the context in which this was written, then it was not quite so difficult. The section I want to read was collected from some of his disciples and then they were put together. The whole work was printed privately in a small edition. I translated a few for you so that you could get an idea of the connection between zen and budo, especially Kendo, and the daily life as it was reflected in this man:


The Master used to say to children: ‘Money won’t stay with you.’ He never said what should stay.

In letters to children he wrote: Try not to become hoarders, and again, ‘Money is something which life deposits with you for a time, so if you have anything over from living your ordinary life in society, use it for the good of society.’

His own preference was for the simplest clothes and food, living in a shack and practising the strictest economy in everything for himself.

His letters to children read as if they were written to a noble family.

With new acquaintances, the Master kept his own dignity, but always showed great respect for them.

If, when he was talking to people, someone said something unworthy or abusive, the Master always took it and interpreted it in a worthy or refined sense. Often the speaker, becoming ashamed of what he had said, corrected his expression.

The Master was very modest. When he heard that disciples who had received from him a letter (brushed in his wonderful brush‑strokes) were having them mounted and kept as treasures, he took to writing to everyone with a pen instead.

In talking to someone, the Master never spoke of any faults of the other. For instance. if in a supporters’ party he encountered some noisy vulgar shouter, he would disregard it and say something like: ‘In the old days there was one style of giving silent support, wasn’t there…’ and follow this up with a further topic, and so lead the talk in another direction. If a doubt arose about some crucial point the Master used to express his assent by tapping sharply with his fan on his knee.

As to the degree of progress along the Way of training, namely the spiritual state attained, he used to say that if someone had not reached it himself, then however elaborately he tried to describe it in words, they would be useless. Whereas if he had himself attained it, then ordinary language would be quite sufficient.

The Master treated others with kindly tolerance, but himself with utmost severity. When he was thinking of accepting an offer to become the Kendo Shihan (head teacher) at the famous Shoka University, he went into the mountains at Myogi, performed spiritual practices, and conducted a self-examination as to whether he was inwardly qualified to be a Shihan teacher.

Tokusai (Yamada firo) famous as a fencing(Kendo) master of the 19th century (1866‑1930), and as a Buddhist. A book was compiled from his writings, and from memories of those who knew him: it was privately printed. This is a translation of the short chapter called Character and Conduct: Fragments.

One of his pupils, the late Seki Kozo, during his military career could shout at a soldier with such concentrated energy (ki) that the soldier fell unconscious. When the teacher heard of this incident, he gave a little smile. But when he heard that SekI, in a rough game with children, had again used his Ki‑ai shout to make one fall unconscious, he severely reprimanded him in a voice grown suddenly harsh.

Making a visit to the Master, it was never necessary to prepare anything beforehand. If someone went with a burning concern about what to do in the Way, he always profited immensely from the meeting. It happened again and again that someone went and came away without a single word uttered. Sometimes he could not help a rueful smile with the thought that he might as well never have gone. But then he found to his amazement that the anxieties or distress and so on, that had been filling his heart when he went, had cleared up, and his heart was now full of radiance and life.

He said to his pupils: ‘When you are reading an exalting book, have the same attitude as when facing a great man.’

One day when he came out of the training hall after practising with the pupils, he found that someone had tied a big dog to the gatepost, and it was trying to get free. He went straight up to the prisoner, and was patting its head, when the owner came running, white‑faced and calling: ‘Master, be careful, be careful!’ But seeing that the dog had become perfectly quiet he choked back his words. It seems that the dog was known as aggressive and vicious, and it had bitten people who had gone near it. ,

He often said however wild an animal might be, if one’s Own heart is pervaded by the idea of absolute harmlessness, then the animal will do no harm either. Moreover in front of the Teacher. even a raving madman became as gentle and compliant as a pet cat. Too many to list are the cases where sick people, given up by the doctors, were saved by the Master, and still today there are many who believe that he was somehow like a god. At a session of spiritual healing, he and the patient became one. And in fact, just after the healing, the two pulses were taken, and it was found that the two‑pulse beats were in unison.

 When the Master left the house, he was always on the lookout for books, but he never haggled over the price. Often a bookseller had got something for the Master, which however turned out to be no use for him. Still, he always asked to buy it As he often said: ‘If you don’t sometimes get caught into buying a bad book, you won’t pick up the. rare treasures either.’

He was thus demonstrating the truth of the saying: ‘There is usefulness even in uselessness’.

He often told us: ‘Every night, when I review the past day, from getting up to going to bed, I am really ashamed: full of failures, full of failings.’ Up to the day of his death, the Master never missed doing this spiritual practice of reflection.

Hanging in the teacher’s room was a scroll brushed by Katsu Kaishu himself, which read:

Be sincere and without show:
Never try to become great

The teacher often said that he would like to die while practising Kendo, or at any rate die in the practice hall.

The Master was hard on himself, but magnanimous towards others. If for instance he was warned by someone against some third party, he would listen to the accusation of wrong‑doing, and then say: ‘He’s just like me, isn’t he.., ‘or ‘We are all like that these days.’ and would not join in the condemnation on his own account.

When a certain disciple was leaving him to go on military service, he asked the Master if he would help him to select a sword to take with him. The Master went in, and from his own collection chose just one. This alone he brought back for him, remarking that the others should not be exposed (to choosing or refusing) but stay in the repository.

The Master was never sparing of formal manners. The Third Middle School converted part of the garden into a Kendo practice hall. When he came into the garden to pass into the hall, he always made a bow. Often, coming across students sweeping the ground or cleaning the hall, he paid a similar respect to them.

In middle age, the teacher brushed on a self‑portrait the phrase: Sincere as a clear mirror. He always kept this carefully with him.

The conversation which the Master liked most to take part in was about the art of Kendo swordsmanship. In a deep strong voice, level or animated according to the case, he would pursue the subject untiringly. At some of his unexpected illustrations, hearers would find themselves unconsciously drawn to him, and finally in complete accord with the Master. They recognized that what the teacher said. Was the very essence of Kendo. After hearing him even once, they seemed to become different people, not only in their understanding and practice of Kendo in the practice hall, but in their daily lives as well.

Like the sun, the teacher gave an energising life to those who faced him.

People felt something like a light, pure, strong, and overflowing with compassion, radiating from the Master. As to health, the Master used to say: ‘The great Ki‑energy holds in it’s essence quite enough to nourish the human body. So if a man can take in and absorb the breath of Ki, he will not need other nourishment‑ Though the ordinary man does not have to try like that still he must not cease to be aware of the possibility.’

About school education, the Master said: ‘School is a place for creating human beings. It is not for wearying the brains with things that do not really matter, but a one‑pointed training to lay down a foundation for the future.’

The Master had the greatest reverence for Yamaga Soko and Hirayama Shiryu. One of the Master’s treasures was a piece of brushwork by Shiryti. When showing it to children, he said: ‘Look at the manly strength of the brush‑strokes. To make them, there had to be the energy by which the ink swirls up to heaven.’ In these words he also indicated the highest peak of Kendo.

The master wrote on the Diploma of Proficiency awarded to one of his pupils, the single word: INFINITE (mu‑kyuu)

The Master had a very keen intuitive perception of right and wrong, good and bad. But when he thus recognised that one who faced him was a wrong­doer, he never had any expression of dislike, nor did his voice change. In fact, his behaviour became more and more cordial and earnest as he explained to him what to do to follow the Way.

A week before the Master died, his disciple Onishi got him to allow a photograph. It was taken in the garden, standing facing East, his hands quietly folded, enjoying the sunshine. His countenance was like a clear crystal, without a trace of passion or ambition. As he stood there, caressed by the kindly warmth of a gentle spring‑like breeze, the watchers felt there was a shining god‑like light radiating from his whole frame. When the Master himself saw the developed print, he said: ‘This is the first time I have come out in a photograph looking really human.’

These are about half of it, fragments which were collected, and I thought it gave some sort of picture of the teacher, even in these very short extracts. There are others, when he wrote to children; for instance, he wrote as if he was writing to the nobility, and some of them have a great charm of humility and modesty. But he was one of the Master Swordsmen of the time. So he had both what is called ‘The Death‑Dealing Sword’ and ‘The Life‑Giving Sword’, and we can see that beyond the sword, which normally is a weapon that can kill, there was the Swordless which gives Life.

I would like to just say something about the Case of Seki. There were those who practised austerities, and some of the austerities described which the Kendo men practised was to shout this ‘Kiai’ shout The effects were real: they were practised by people whose lives depended on them. But one man who was an expert in this told me that in the end it is a frustration that the range is very limited and in fact it does no good to anybody. And we can see that the Master strongly reprimanded Seki for showing off, especially in front of children, with this ability. I have taken part in a test of one of these things and the range was very, very small. The effect was real, but it led to no good. One teacher described it as fireworks. With fireworks you go, ‘Ooh’. But you can’t warm your hands with fireworks, you cannot write a letter by the light of fireworks; they are absolutely useless, except to amaze. ‘And furthermore, ‘he said, ‘there is an inherent, latent contradiction, at the very heart of these things.’ He left that for us to ponder over.

Well, this is one about triumph and success, and one teacher who said, ‘People in the world aim at triumph, but spiritual people aim at success. You can spend as much time and energy on securing your triumph beyond your success as you spent in getting the success. You want to achieve something and it is achieved. But beyond that I want acclamation, I want triumph, and the people who opposed, I want them humbled and humiliated ‑ that is triumph! You know the Roman triumph, where the captors were driven in front and the spoils were displayed. That was beyond the success at that triumph. And he said this spoils the action.

The action is no longer pure, it is polluted and corrupted by the desire for triumph. If this is lurking in the heart, then our actions will not be fruitful. They may seem to be effective, but in fact they are contaminated. A very good example is the life of the Emperor Nero. If you ask a scholar, he will say that probably the best ten years for people in the Roman Empire were the first eight or ten years of Nero’s reign. You think, ‘What!’

When Nero was young his tutor was Seneca, the first of the great Spanish thinkers, a Stoic philosopher, the country was ruled extremely well, Nero was a sensitive, artistic man. He wanted to replace the bloody Roman triumphs by triumphs of art and music. When he had to sign a death sentence, he said, ‘Oh, I wish I’d never learnt to write.’ Under Seneca’s influence, he passed a law which set slaves free from torture. If a slave was tortured by his master, the magistrate compulsorily had him sold to another buyer, so it was the best time of the Roman Empire, but it was this same Nero, this gentle, artistic, compassionate man, who, after ten or twelve years, was taking part in the tortures himself ‑ because the heart and the mind were not purified. These are elements in the mind ‑ we feel full of goodwill and compassion and kindness. Therefore if we are in the position of an emperor we can put these things into practice, and we do. But we have no defence against the corruption of the heart from within. There is a Japanese poem:

Alas, it is the flower of the heart which fades
Without any outward sign

We do not realise these things are happening to us. Without spiritual practice and discipline, gradually, even our best intentions and our good deeds change, and from success we turn into seeking triumph and consequently the humiliation of other people and conquest and glory.

The Doctrine is that things are not absolutely real, as we know. They have practical efficiency, and they have practical effects on us ‑ the things of the world ‑ they are not absolutely real in themselves. The things don’t have any permanent reality in them. And it always happens regularly, every few years, some clever dick comes along and he says, well, you know all these holy texts and sacred utterances, they are all unreal aren’t they.’And sure enough, you put this to a teacher. And the teacher says, ‘Yes. Yes,’ So the man says, ‘Well, why do you do it then?’ This is a modem teacher, so he says, ‘Well, I am throwing imitation pearls to people who have got the idea that they are swine. They are rooting about in the mud, looking for some gold coins that they think they have lost. Now, when I throw them these imitation pearls, the suddenly feel, ‘Oh, we are rich!’ and then they stop looking around in the mud, and then they look around, and then they realise that they are human beings! The imitation pearls make them feel better and it enables them to stop, to look around and to realise what they are.’

A man went to a group, he was a visitor from another group. He heard this text read at the group where he was visiting. He came back afterwards and the teacher said, ‘Well, did you benefit from the visit and he said, Well, it upset me a bit.’ So the teacher said, ‘Why was that?’ He said, ‘Well the texts were read, and they were intoned, and there was a very strong atmosphere. But it was done without any reverence and here we have always been taught reverence! So I don’t know.’

So the teacher said, ‘What was the effect on you?’ And he said, ‘Well, yes, I was put off by that but I must admit that the resonance of those texts has remained with me, has had an effect on me.’ And the teacher said, ‘Good!’ While we are separated from the texts, we revere them and reverence is of utmost importance. But if it should happen that people become one with the texts, then it is not a question of people uttering the texts with reverence. The texts are speaking the text and there is no question of reverence. The texts are declaring themselves to the world, and it is an expression of truth.

‘This is from an experience I had: A lot of the old temples have treasures, and periodically, sometimes once a year, the treasures are brought out and they are exposed and the public can come and see them. Then they are put in glass cases, and some monk learns by heart the description of what the figure or treasure is. It may be a rare manuscript by the founder of the sect or it may be a relic of some kind, or whatever it might be. We were in a little group trekking around and we stopped in front of one of these cases and he told us what it was and we looked, then we moved on to the next case. And he stood again in front of this case and explained what it was, and then he happened to 1ook at us and saw that we were looking at him! He looked around and he saw that the glass case was empty! And he said, ‘Oh, it has gone away!’ So we went on to the next case.

Now, this was used as an example of what can happen when the inner life of a movement begins to depart. You carry on as if it was still there and there is a sort of convention of not asking questions about it. And some of the people, like the emperor’s clothes business, say, ‘Oh, yes, yes, it’s quite…’ and then they move on. It can happen. And the teacher said, ‘Things can go on under their own momentum for quite a long time, long after the central experience has gone. And it has to be watched very carefully.’ Hakuin says this, that you can have a lot of trees with interlaced branches and the roots wither, but the trees support each other. So that it is like a table with many legs, but there is no actual ‘life’, because the roots have withered. But they don’t fall down because they are holding each other. Then, he said, when a storm comes, the whole thing comes down!

He says in the same way, people can support themselves on what they think is the reverence of other people. The others seem to be very full of devotion and reverence, so probably there is nothing there at all, although they don’t feel anything in themselves. And then the others see them behaving with apparent reverence and deference to these holy things and they think, ‘Oh well, they must be so!’ So nobody believes in it at all. So we are all supporting each other on the behaviour of the rest of the group. He says that that gives the illusion that there is still something living within it when this has long gone away.

© Trevor Leggett

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