A Summer School talk by Trevor Leggett 7 August 1985

The judo teacher. He says, “You may get technical excellence, but it will be of no use to you as a training for life” .
When we move from judo to life we have to be able to extend this. In a judo club it’s very important for all the members to take part. Not to have the accounts done by a chartered accountant who is a member, so that he takes over and does them marvellously and the ordinary members don’t do anything.

No. The ordinary members too must take part in that, under his supervision, but they must take part in that. And you’ll get somebody who’s more or less fearless. For when it comes to accounts he says, “Oh I’ve never done that. Oh no I don’t think I could do that ! ” You say, “Come on, where’s that fighting spirit you’re always talking about?”
Oh I’ve never done anything like that!” In these ways we are expected to extend the special training beyond the narrow field and go out into the whole of life.

One example that I remember of such a thing was in a performance of “The Ring” at Covent Garden when they decided to put the real dragon “Fafner” actually on the stage. (He’s often shown just as a shadow’). And they prepared this tremendous monster which in the rehearsals surged forth and then Siegfried finally dispatches it, but it was a very impressive thing. Very successful in the rehearsals, then it was put away. Well, when the night of the performance came, this thing began to surge out from the wings, but there was a terrible squeaking of wheels, they’d forgotten to oil the wheels Well this often happens with our virtuous actions. We do them but there’s a sort of squeaking of wheels as we do them. One teacher says, “Don’t cough when you do a right action”. When you put a gold coin… , cough’ “learn to do your right actions without coughing”, and in that one phrase it can be very useful.

A man went to a Buddhist teacher and he said, “All this talk of detachment you know. It means you’re separated from human life. There is grief in human life and It should be expressed. There is a righteous indignation when something vicious and venomous and spiteful is being done and ought to be stopped. And these things should be expressed by people in the world as I am.” And the teacher said, “Yes. The doctrine doesn’t deny that there are roles to be played. To rejoice when people are rejoicing at the birth of a new child. To mourn with people who are sad at a bereavement.” “But” he said, “a first class actor performs these roles with a minimum of movement. Why ‘ham’ them?” And this can be very useful to us. We may have a genuine role to play, but we’re not to become ‘ham’ actors indulging in our emotions.

A man was worried about egoism and he said to his wife, (they were small shopkeepers) “The food we have is too good. It’s pampering to our egoism and I’m going to have simpler food. You can go on of course.” She said, “Oh no, I’ll eat what you eat.” So they reduced the food to the very simplest form. Well then after a little bit he said, “My clothes are too good.
You of course wear what you like but I’m going to wear…” She said, “Oh no. I’ll wear much simpler clothes.” Well then after a little bit of that he said, “You know, the fact is, you’re in the way of my spiritual development. The Buddha left home, child, you see, and that’s what you’re stopping me doing, and I’m going to live by begging.” So the wife said, “Oh. Very well.” And he went to ask the teacher about it and the teacher said, “Oh no.” But he felt that as a test, so he went begging and he caught pneumonia, and I knew this case’, and he caught pneumonia and then he was shipped back into hospital. He wife was running the shop and bringing up the children. And finally, much worse for wear, he got back home. Well then he explained to the teacher. He said, “I’ve tried to get rid of this egoism but the fact is I’m beginning to see that my efforts to get rid of it are themselves assertions of egoism” . And the teacher said, “Yes. There is a traditional Chinese story that the turtle has its enemies who follow the tracks the turtle makes. So the turtle wipes out the tracks of its feet with its tail. But the enemies follow the marks of the tail. And by trying to wipe out egoism with egoism, like the turtle.”

So the man said, “Well, what can one do?” So the friend said, “So you do what the teacher says, except what he actually does say” . “Oh well, all right.” So he went to his wife and he explained the turtle situation to her and he said, “Well now, what can the turtle do?” And she said, “Oh I don’t really know, I suppose the only thing he could possibly do would be to give up being a turtle” . And he went away and he thought about that.

From the giving up being a turtle the teacher says we shall see a beauty and an art in everyday things. When we wash up, bubbles come up. Children find those bubbles wonderful and beautiful, they blow bubbles. Well, we don’t see them as beautiful, it’s just ‘I’ve got to get this blasted washing up !‘ We don’t see the beauty. What’s happened? The beauty’s there. Something’s happened. The teacher says you will find a beauty and an art in everyday things.

I’m a typist, what beauty and art is there in the white of the paper as it comes up? The miracle that when you press the key, the black on the paper. When you first see this, oh it’s wonderful. But after a few weeks you think, “Oh this blasted typewriter.I don’t like the touch” . What’s happened? We miss, something’s gone, we miss something. We think ‘well yes all right perhaps we’ve missed a bit of beauty, but what art is there in typing?’ There is an art. Typists can be artists. Before the days of Xerox’s, in a lawyer’s office sometimes it was necessary to make a copy of a carbon copy .An extra copy of a letter. And it had to be absolutely accurate in a lawyer’s office so every letter when it’s copied is then checked over verbally by two people. But one of the typists in the lawyer’s office, she had a little room.

She insisted on a good machine and a good light, but she would take one of these documents in, type it very fast and then bring it out and say, “There you are” . And they would say, “Well, have you checked it?” She said, “There it is” . So then they would check it and they never found a mistake. And finally it occurred to the office manager to ask her how it was that there was never a mistake. How could she check, reading this, and this, and this, and this, so quickly? Well, she was an artist. She would look at the letter. She would see where the margins came, where the date came, and then she would copy that letter from the same margins, same date, same length of line, same spacing, so that it was identical. Then she would hold the two up to the light. If it looks like one letter then the copy is absolutely perfect. If there’s any discrepancy, it will show up as a blur.

She was an artist and she’d found inspiration in an everyday thing in life and her letters created beauty. And we think, “Oh you can’t live like that. You can’t do that. You can whip yourself up bubbles oh yes, beautiful, and so on. The wood, yes, oh look at the gleam”.

You can keep it up about ten minutes. But the fact is when you’re dealing with a tradesman, you’re answering the telephone, you’ve got important business to do, there are crises and so on, you can’t remember all this stuff because the mind won’t be able to keep up that train of thought and the train of thought of ordinary business.

How can it? How can the mind keep up two trains of thought like that? This point was put to a teacher. And he said, “You know from your personal experience that it can “

“What?” He said, “Yes. In your ordinary life yes, you do the business, you deal with the tradesmen, you cook and you have your office work or your factory work, and all the time you’ve got another train of thought: a series of complaints. That goes on all the time. No difficulty about keeping that up. Washing up, “yes, I’ve got this blasted stuff to do. Sink and stove all the time” you think. All this goes on while you’re washing up. No difficulty in keeping that up. So he said to the housewife, “You can have these two trains of thought. And you can have a train of thought of beauty, and you can have a train of thoughts of complaints, and the people in this country as they said last year, “They’re living in heaven aren’t they” and I said to him, “Yes, and you know we’re all complaining about the crumpled leaves in the bed of roses” . We have this wonderful life, this wonderful choice, and all the time we’re thinking “Oh yes a bed of roses, but I don’t like pink !” Well, some of the teachers tell us this. They say naturally, there is something natural in you which will see beauty and express it. And will see the and express it. It’s something natural in you.

A famous teacher whom I know, he wrote that he visited a, what’s called a “hippy” community I believe, I’ve never been to one, but he was invited to go to Hawaii. And they met him. Well now Japanese and Zen priests, and Zen people generally, however poor they are the things are neat and, as far as possible, they are clean. So he came there in his neat robe and he said they were lined up to meet him. And one of the first things he noticed was that all the men had frayed trouser-legs, and that always one leg, one trouser-leg, was shorter than the other. They weren’t cut off, but one had frayed shorter than the other. Both men and women had their hair in a tremendous tangle, and nothing was very clean. And he gave his instruction, and then one of them asked him over tea: he said, “Teacher, you have mentioned in your address about neatness and so on don’t you think this obsessive concern for cleanliness and so on is really a bit irrelevant. It’s not one of the important things of life and it’s unnatural isn’t it ?“  So the teacher said, (by good fortune the community cat was passing and he put down a bit of cream and the cat came up and had the cream and then sat down, and then began to lick himself), and the teacher said “You see, he likes doing that.
Cleanliness and neatness is natural, that’s his natural desire. And untidiness can be an artificial defiance which is unnatural and which impedes the really important things of life.”

Another example that he gives is of the magnet which is, as you will know, the bar magnet consists of the atoms and they’re all pointing in one direction when it’s magnetised. And a bar of iron which is not magnetised, it has the same atoms with the electrons rotating round their little selves and revolving around their little atom, but all pointing in various directions, and so the thing is not magnetised. One’s pointing out here, another’s here, another one’s up there, another one’s here, so it’s not magnetised. Although each of these is a little magnet, but they’re not working together. And he says that in our personality, we have so to say, these atoms. But they’re not pointing in the same direction.

They conflict with each other. And the sort of example he gives is, well, putting it in English terms: supposing I want to learn French. Right. I find a teacher, but, I don’t like him. “Oh. Well, or, we’ll find you another teacher. Yes, we’ve found a very good one. Now, he could give you an hour on Tuesday, and another one on Thursday.””Ah. But we always go round to the Grimsdalls on Tuesday and they come round to us on Thursday.” “Well, we’ll find you another teacher.”
“Oh yes, I like him and we’ve got a free day. But he’s much too expensive’.” And in that way it all cancels itself out. But when the personality is brought together, those different elements will fit in. “Yes, a teacher I don’t like. Great mistake to think I can’t learn from a teacher I don’t like. Why not? And I’ll change my appointment on Tuesday and I’ll saw up a bit of my money that I waste on my luxuries, and I’ll pay for a good teacher.” And then they begin to line up, and then it becomes a powerful force.

A group of Western people found in discussion that they all had the same experience. When they were given a new practise, they would try it enthusiastically and they would get a sort of exhaltation, and that would last for quite a time and they would feel ‘yes we’re getting somewhere with this’. And some of them would realty feel a great sense of progress. And then it would go off, and then there would be a depression, and then there’d be a dull sense of ‘keep on keeping on’. So they all had this experience and they went to the teacher and asked him. And he was one who knew as many of the Buddhist teachers do, who knew the western scriptures to some extent, and he said, “In your Bible I understand, you have a section called, “Jubilees”, “Rejoicing” . And you’ve got another section called “Lamentations” , haven’t ‘you, the book of Jeremiah. And the “Lamentations” is much longer than the book of “Jubilees” . But you tend to see everything in terms of ‘triumph’ and ‘disaster’ . He said, “Your gardens are the same. Your famous gardens that I’ve seen: in summer they’re a riot of flowers, it’s marvellous, but in the winter they’re very sad and dejected aren’t they, there’s nothing doing.” And he’d seen and read a commentary on Sissinghurst and the commentator had said, “Sissinghurst is rather sad in the winter.”

He said, ” You tend to see things in those terms, and you expect exhaltation and then you feel you’re making great progress. Then you have depression and you feel you’re making no progress or you’re going backwards. But the Japanese garden is quite different. The purpose is not to produce exhaltation with the corresponding, of course reaction in the winter when there are no flowers. Flowers play very little part in a traditional Japanese garden. It consists of rocks, and sand, and water. And the effect is not to produce joy, it’s to produce peace. And in the winter, und- r the snow, the rocks still keep their proportions and the garden looks as peaceful and as beautiful in the winter as it does in the summer. Now your practises are not meant to produce exhaltation. They are meant to produce peace. Go into the peace of your practises.”

The same teacher was asked by an anxious man who ‘aid, well no, he was always planning what he would do in such and such circumstances. What would be the proper thing to do, and whether he’d be able to do it. And he became more and more anxious about this. He would visualise situations and think how he ought to behave and then wonder how he would behave, and think, “Well I must try and improve on that” , and so on. And finally this came to the awareness of the teacher in some way. And this man happened to be an expert swimmer, so the teacher said to him when they were in town together, “There are swimming baths near here. Can you show me the racing dive of which I’ve heard?” and, “Oh yes, yes” he said, “I can show you that. Yes it’s quite different from the ordinary diving.” And the teacher said, “Oh I’d like to see that.” So they went in and the swimmer changed and they walked towards the end of the bath and suddenly the teacher pushed him in the water .He came up very quickly, pulled himself out and the teacher said, “Have you ever been in like that before?” So the man said, ” well whoever would go in like that I (Unless he was pushed of course I)” So the teacher said, “Well, how did you know what to do? What did you do?” He said, “Well, ! don’t know but of course I came up,, I’m a swimmer. I don’t know exactly what I did, but I would do the thing that would bring me up immediately, because I’m a swimmer.” And the teacher said, “Well, in the same way you’ve no need to plan what you’ll do in given circumstances. If you practice, you will do the right thing which will bring you up, because you’re a practiser. You’re a practiser.”

In a Chinese family, the small boys, when they meet Grandpa, stand like this,  in front of him for his inspection. And one of the traditional things about a Chinese Grandfather is he, well some, a small boy comes up and stands like that, and the Grandfather gives him a piercing look, then he clouts him! A Westerner who saw this, he says that he said, “What’s he done?” So the Grandfather said, “I don’t know” . So the Westerner said, “What? You hit him and you don’t know what he’s done?” The Grandfather said, “No. I don’t know. But he knows.”

Well, in the same way, some things happen to us in the world, absolutely unjustified. Our friends turn against us. Things that we’ve built up with great unselfishness and devotion are viciously kicked to pieces out of sheer jealousy and spite. Why has this happened? “I did it with the best of motives, with no selfishness at all. I did this and now this has happened.” You have defenders of course. They say, “Yes this is absolutely disgraceful. Poor old Trevor, he did all that and then look what he gets back. “Mind you , they say, and defenders are objective – they say, “of course he wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t felt like it. Kindness or sympathy or helping hand, that means nothing to Trevor – but if he happens to feel like it , yes, he’ll do quite a lot. And now he’s had this back. It’s disgraceful !” Well, they don’t know what I’ve done. But I know. I’ve done things in the past which, when I think of them, then these various disasters that come down on me, I think, “I’m getting off lightly.” The teacher says, “The Mountains attract storms, and spiritual endeavours attract malice and obstacles. The mountains attract the storms, the lightning and the thunder. The peak of the mountain is above them but on the slopes of the mountain, on the trees, deluged.” But it means the slopes of the mountain are very fertile, and the streams from the mountain water the land for a long way around. In the same way a man of virtue attracts this opposition, but in the end that opposition unwillingly leads to great good.

Bodhidharma went to China and the records say the people who were spiritually advanced welcomed him, and those who were not, they hated him, were jealous of him. Six times they tried to poison him. And he stopped eating. He became aware of it. They bribed the cook, or perhaps threatened him and then the monastery would realise something was wrong and change the cook, and he would start eating again. He lived to 120. The poisoners all died of old age. He outlived them all. Like a mountain. Outlived the storms and the persecution.

A pupil said to a teacher, “I Can’t remember the Holy Texts.
” Now she was asked, in that school, to remember certain ones, learn them by heart. She said, “No I can’t do it. They’re principles of truth no doubt. Kanjizai said to Sharishi,”there are no ears , no eyes, and so on … the Heart Sutra, but I can’t remember it by heart. “I’ve never been able to.” And finally the teacher blazed up and shouted, “The world’ full of lazy people deliberately pretending to be idiots- in order to get special treatment!”, and she fled. She finally he came back a few days later, very hushed and the teacher said aid, “Oh. Come in.” And he saw how subdued she was and he said, “Is anything wrong?” And she said, “Well, only what you said to me the other day, “The world’s full of lazy people deliberately pretending to be idiots, in order to get special treatment!”  And he said “Well, you remember that, don’t you1.” So finally she said, “Yes, it applied to me.” He said, “That’s it. Now apply the Holy Text to yourself and you will remember them.”

One of the great teachers , when he was a boy, he learnt the Sutra which says, “No ears, no eyes .. .” and he came up after the lesson where they were it by heart and he said to the teacher, “Why does the sutra say we have no ears when we have them?” And the teacher said, “you‘re the first one that’s asked that question. You’re going to go a long way” he said, “!’I will send you to a good teacher.” He applied it to himself. “

Emptiness is form.” Well, how can we apply that to ourselves.? The word for ‘form’ can be ‘colour’ . ‘Emptiness is colour’ . How can it be applied? What does it mean? We can take an example from history. A great Chinese scholar, I haven’t checked this, but he told me that before the ‘doctrine of the void’ went to China the Chinese had no use for flowers. Now they have a marvellous culture of flowers and have had for fifteen hundred years. But before Buddhism, before the doctrine of the void’ went to China, “We Chinese,” he said, “used to spit on flowers (he used another word which rhymes with ‘spit’ which ! don’t want to use here !’ but he said, “Buddhism, the doctrine of the void, changed us, and Chinese culture of flowers is wonderful. The poetry and the painting – and in Japan it was developed even further. ‘From ‘emptiness came forth colour. This empty doctrine. Nothing. Came forth colour, unrivalled and unmatched in inspiration.

© Trevor Leggett

 Evening talk 07.08.1985





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