How can books do anything for spiritual hunger?

Question:  How can books do anything for spiritual hunger? Words cannot fill the empty stomach. Answer: True. But words correspond to the smell of cooking which tells us that there is food available and if we follow the smell we shall come to the actual food, which will fill the stomach.

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Our daily bread

Question:  The worship of God, and of his saints, is liable to degenerate into a sickly sentimental worship of relics, or just pictures and charms. It is true that many people are attracted to this sort of thing, but it is often because they have quite unreal expectations of getting miraculous favours in return for a small investment of time or money. Is there any evidence that they will generally move beyond it? And in any case, surely a spiritual movement ought to dissociate itself from all such things. Answer:  There is some difference of practice among religious traditions. Some, such as the Puritans and the Quakers in Britain, and the Zen sect in Japan, have never permitted giving charms or amulets to their followers. Others allow it, on the ground that anything that leads to centring of attention onto spiritual things, even in a very crude way, will help …

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Why have all these Sanskrit words?

Question:  Why have all these Sanskrit words such as dharma and guru? Why not translate them into English, which is more easy to follow? The constant Sanskrit words could put an inquirer off, perhaps for ever. Answer:  Some of these words – for instance dharma and guru – are already in the English dictionaries. One soon masters the small technical vocabulary, as we do in music, where technical terms are in Italian, but understood all over the world. Wagner who was, or thought he was, a fanatical representative of German culture, refused to use the Italian words. So to read a Wagner score, you have to know some German: for instance that Wagner’s Lebhaft means the internationally recognized Vivace, or in English ‘lively’. Similarly, if you take up gardening, you expect to meet some specialized words such as mulch; it is not thought to be off-putting.

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Kalpas

Question:  In the traditional Indian Scriptures there are given some dates for the creation of the universe, and these dates conflict. For instance, there is one view that the life of the universe is 8,640 million years, but there are other calculations which make it much older than that. These are clearly simply speculations, in contrast to science, which gives us exact knowledge. But it is the same voice in the Indian scriptures which also tells us of spiritual truths as they are called. Does not the fantastic and self-contradictory nature of the cosmology discredit what the same authority tells us about all other matters? Answer:  First let us dismiss the rhetoric which claims that science here gives us exact knowledge. The estimate of the age of the oldest globular clusters is put at between 10,000 million and 20,000 million years. Some astronomers try to be more exact and put …

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Limits

Question:  Some of the yogic meditations on detachment seem to me ridiculous; they are quite unreal, and nothing to do with life. We are told, for instance, to meditate that we set fire to our home and sit in the middle of the fire, watching everything burn, and finally ourselves too. Well, that situation simply doesn’t arise in life. I can see the value of learning to be detached, but wouldn’t it be better to take some definite object of attachment which one might in practice lose, and then try to be detached from that. The other simply has no relation to life. Answer:  In one of the eastern traditional systems for promoting vitality, there is an exercise which could be translated as Tall-As-You-Can. You all stand up and stretch your arms up, up and up until, as the instructor says, “You are putting them through the roof”. He can …

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Reflections

Question:  Pride and Egoism are supposed to be the biggest obstacles in yoga, but then, directions are given for doing things that are right, and not doing things that are wrong. If these instructions are faithfully carried out, there is bound to be the feeling of self-satisfaction, leading to pride. So it is best not to be a do-gooder.   Answer:  First of all, there are sins much worse than Pride. There is Envy, Jealousy and Despair, or giving up. Pride, at least sometimes, produces something, but these others are negative, and they poison the inner atmosphere. The punishment of the liar is that he sees himself reflected in everyone else, so that the whole world becomes full of liars and he can never believe anyone else. Stalin was warned by British Intelligence that Hitler was going to attack, but he did not believe it. Then he was warned later …

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Numbers

Question:  I get irritated by the differing numbers given in the instructions. They tell you: do this six times, do this nine times, do this 21 times and so on. There are bigger numbers such as 108 beads on a rudraksha rosary, which makes me think, Why not just 100, a natural number? Answer:  There is nothing natural about the decimal system, which is most inconvenient: one cannot divide 10 by 3 for example. On the general point, there has to be a number. If when you are directed to do something 9 times, you at once think Why not 8 or 10?, then consider that if it were 10, you would be thinking, Why not 9? When in a Keep Fit class you are told to do something 12 times, you do not at once think Why not ll or 13? Question: Well, allowing that point, why not have …

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Is Yoga dangerous?

Question:  Is it dangerous to practice Yoga? Answer:  Yes, but not nearly so dangerous as not to practice Yoga. Disappointment, disaster, disease, and death are rushing towards us like an express train. Yoga is the means of getting out of the way. And if we get an inner bruise or two while practising it, that is of little account. © Trevor Leggett

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Hit back

Question:  We are told sometimes to accept the events of our lives whether as karmic consequence, or perhaps the will of God. Now, I find that very often I cannot do this. An illness or an accident – yes, perhaps with a struggle I can try to accept these things; but when it is a vicious unmotivated attack, and especially by someone whom I have helped, I cannot find it in myself to accept that calmly as karma or as the divine will. I suppose I have a combative nature, and I don’t agree with just being trampled on. Answer:  Then let us find a response suited to your combative nature. Take it that cosmic Ignorance has motivated these attacks on you. Then immediately hit back at that Ignorance where you can most easily reach it, namely within yourself. When one of these things happens, use the energy of the …

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Blue Cloud

Question:  Why worship a God who is simply a projection of the parental image by people who cannot grow up? Answer:  The bible statement that God made man in his own image is ridiculed and reversed by so-called rationalists who say: On the contrary, man made God in man’s own image, projecting a domineering and irritable deity above the clouds. What they mean is that man has stained one of the cloud-concepts of his imagination, and, so to speak, painted it blue. Then gullible people worship this blue cloud as if it were the blue sky of infinity. But the truth is that the little patch of blue seen between the clouds, sometimes larger and sometimes smaller, and sometimes vanishing altogether, is not a painted blue cloud. It is a partial glimpse of an endless blue sky, beyond all the clouds, which can never be annihilated by them. © Trevor …

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Interpreting old texts for modern times

Question:  Surely the old texts, and the comments of the later masters on them, have to be interpreted to suit modern people and condition? After all, instructions given to Indians or Chinese centuries ago are inevitably out of date; they were doubtless appropriate for the conditions of their times, but not now. For instance, the recommended cross-legged meditation positions, with one or both feet up on the opposite thigh, were easily attainable for people who sat on the floor. But they are torture to Westerners today. And it is the same with some of the recommendations for conduct. We now know that a rigid celibacy is unhealthy, and leads often to a sort of inner sterility also. These things have to be interpreted to make them suitable for modern aspirants on a spiritual path. Answer:  And who is to make the interpretations? Questions on these lines seem to be made …

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On no basis

Question: I get dissatisfied when I’m told that at the beginning of the training one has to have faith. It seems to me that one is being asked to believe something at the beginning that they admit is only proved at the end. If indeed, it is going to be proved at all, I can’t help thinking. My feeling is that the instructions have got to pass the test of my reason before I can follow them whole-heartedly. And some of them, as a matter of fact, seem to be in conflict with my reason. Answer:  This sounds all right, but the question is, On what basis is this beginner’s reason going to work? By definition the beginner has no experience of the field. So his judgement is based on what he imagines rather than on any facts. Take the case of learning a system of shorthand. In the British Pitman, …

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Incredible

Question: Yoga claims to be based on experiments on consciousness over thousands of years, but the claimed results of the experiments are not believable. It is said, for instance, that the inmost consciousness of man is experienced directly to be the universal consciousness, which presumably includes electrons at the other end of the universe. How can anyone believe that? It is too absurd. The experiments of science on the other hand produce results which are rational and believable. Answer: Yes the Yogic results do seem incredible but let us look at some of those in physics. “A quantum entity such as an electron is affected … by events which in principle could be at the other end of the universe. These non-local influences occur instantaneously, as if some form of communication, which Albert Einstein called a ‘spooky action at a distance’, operates not just faster than the speed of light …

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Causality

Question: There are ridiculous things in some of the ecstatic utterances of Mahatmas, which we have to assume are somehow metaphorical or maybe just poetic fancies. After a bit, they no longer make an impression; they get shifted onto a siding, well away from the main tracks of life. For instance, Swami Rama Tirtha (a one-time professor of mathematics at the university of Lahore who became a Mahatma in the high Himalayas) said: “Do not see causality in the events of the world. When you see causality you fall spiritually.” Now what can this possibly mean? Without using causality, life would collapse. We put food over a fire to cook it: that is causality. We dress and wear shoes to protect ourselves: that is causality. Swami Rama’s maxim which he repeated many times in his various writings and lectures dwindles to some vague idea of a presiding deity who will …

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In the background of Yoga is the idea of transmigration

Question: In the background of Yoga is the idea of transmigration, the belief that some element of the personality survives the death of the body, and takes up another one. In the new body it is supposed to experience the results, good or bad, of its voluntary actions in the previous life, and to be able to make new karma, hopefully of the better kind. What evidence is there for this belief? No one comes back from the grave to confirm it. Answer: There is a merely persuasive argument from general principles, and a strong one from experiment. The conservation principle tells us that when wood is burnt, it is not annihilated as at seems to be, but its atoms continue to exist in another form invisible to the eye. Similarly the stream of vitality and mind is not annihilated in sleep or even at death, but continues in new …

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Why are we expected to study philosophy of yoga?

Question: Why are we expected to study philosophy of yoga as well as doing the practices? Surely philosophy will be a distraction and it would be better just to practice without bothering about the theoretical background?  Answer: Experience over the centuries has shown that those who do not study the traditional philosophy, which gives the basis to their yoga practice, find it difficult to keep up the practice without having some philosophy behind it. So what often happens is, that they begin to develop their own philosophy. And because this new philosophy has no foundation in experience it is often self-defeating. The advantage of the traditional philosophy is that it is clear and geared to meet the difficulties of the path as they have been mapped by many generations of yogis of the past. No-one can expect to be able to generate, in just a few years, a system of …

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Hypnotised Virtue

Question: If there is a benevolent God or a Vairochana Buddha endowed with compassion and skillful means, how is it that we human beings have not been simply converted to good thinking and behaviour? Answer: If these transcendent powers symbolised with the various titles were to bring this about by their omnipotence, it would convert human beings into mere machines, where someone presses a button marked Spirituality, and the result follows.   But the cosmic process is that the human beings are in their deepest consciousness, themselves God or Vairochana Buddha, and they are steadily freeing themselves and others from illusion of individual separateness and limitation.  The course of the process cannot be fully understood or accepted by the sleeping Buddha or even the partially awakened Buddha. The latter has the Bodhisattva impulse to free himself and others, but in a sense the freedom cannot be imposed. In a remarkable 19th century novel, a …

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Sufferings are an opportunity for us to make good karma ourselves

Question: We are daily confronted with stories and pictures of horrific sufferings in various parts of the world. We can do little to help physically, and the karma doctrine that these who are now tortured and killed have themselves been torturers and killers in past lives does not bring much relief either. Has Yoga anything to add? Answer: The doctrine of karma is not meant to be used to diagnose the causes of the sufferings of others. Those sufferings are an opportunity for us to make good karma ourselves, by doing something positive to help. As you say, physical and material help doesn’t solve the problem because the cause of most of the world suffering is not due to physical natural disasters like earthquakes. It comes from aggressive fury of human groups, from family feuds, local gang fights, up to inter-state wars. These arise from what is technically called causal …

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The self ought to be more apparent

Question: If the universal Atman Self were the natural form of the Self, and the localized individual egoistic self were something superimposed, then the natural form ought to be more apparent. In Nature, the basic form is frequently seen, and the unusual form, being relatively unnatural, is rare. For instance carbon does not often appear as diamond but is seen everywhere as charcoal and graphite. Atman would correspond to the diamond, as it were, an exceptional crystal structure, and therefore rarely seen. Is it not the case that Atman too is rarely experienced because it is an exceptional form? Answer:  The assumption that the basic form is the one commonly experienced is unjustified. Consider the case of one of the commonest substances, seen everywhere: water. Its structure is two hydrogen atoms in a boomerang shape, with an oxygen atom at the angle. Now why is it not a gas? Much heavier …

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Does some element of the personality survive the death of the body?

Question: In the background of Yoga is the idea of transmigration, the belief that some element of the personality survives the death of the body, and takes up another one. In the new body it is supposed to experience the results, good or bad, of its voluntary actions in the previous life, and to be able to make new karma, hopefully of the better kind. What evidence is there for this belief? No one comes back from the grave to confirm it. Answer: There is a merely persuasive argument from general principles, and a strong one from experiment. The conservation principle tells us that when wood is burnt, it is not annihilated as at seems to be, but its atoms continue to exist in another form invisible to the eye. Similarly the stream of vitality and mind is not annihilated in sleep or even at death, but continues in new …

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When desire is not subject to control it is an obstacle

Question: When is it wrong to desire – how does one know? To desire a scarf in the cold, a meal when hungry, a place to rest when tired – what is wrong with these? Answer: It is when the desire is not subject to control that it is an obstacle. When it is cold, there is a desire for a scarf; but if there is no scarf, the yogin must be able to dismiss the desire, not let it keep nagging at him. Again, the desire for food becomes gluttony when it is not subject to control, and keeps recurring at other times than meal times. Tapas (voluntarily austerity) includes deliberately setting up situations where there is a natural desire and then controlling it – not by gritting the teeth and cursing, but by turning the mind away. Someone who practises this is not easily disconcerted by minor imperfections …

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Is not Yoga unnatural? It tries to restrain instincts such as eating and sex

Question:  Is not Yoga unnatural?  It tries to restrain instincts such as eating and sex.  As contrary to human nature,  such enforced control will always be fragile, and in fact fruitless. Answer:  This question comes up again and again in slightly different forms, like the Chinese dragon which appears now as blue, now as red, or again as white, green or other colour, but with the same claws and tail.  The questioner has assumed that what is natural to animals is also right for man.  A moment’s reflection shows that this is not so.  It is natural for cats, for instance, to hunt for sport, and to postpone killing the prey.  This so-called instinct is found in small boys who amuse themselves by pulling the legs off beetles.  This is an animal inheritance, and it can be transformed.  There is a deeper nature, which seeks to express itself as fellow-feeling …

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The words in the old texts are not simply old things

Question: The words in the old texts are simply old things. Even supposing they once had a living meaning for those who heard them, today they are empty. So why should I study them? Answer: Because you yourself as a separate individuality are equally empty. The empty words are suitable for sweeping away the empty illusions of the world and individual self. You don’t need a club to dispatch a ghost; words are the right means for that. © Trevor Leggett

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Is Buddhism against life?

Question: Buddhism, and especially Zen Buddhism is against life. If we look at the recent English translation autobiography of the great 17th century Zen Master Hakuin we find that he was not often with other people. Nearly all his serious practice was done alone, on pilgrimages sometimes, but in the main in hermitages. He was never long the member of a sangha group. Even the teacher under whom he attained final enlightenment had only one other pupil, and anyway Hakuin was with him for less than two years. All this is against life, Life. Answer: There are general answers, but let us take the specific point. After his final realisation Hakuin became one of the most famous poets, painters and calligraphers in Japan, and his example has inspired many others right up to the present. He founded, and revived, temples which were then main centres of culture. Even in mathematics, the explosion …

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After a year practising on one line isn’t there a danger of getting stale?

Question: After a year practising on one line isn’t there a danger of getting stale? Surely it’s best to make a change in the practice and try on a different line so the mind gets some fresh stimulation. Answer: There was a training centre in mediaeval China near the top of a mountain that had two small peaks. There was a small temple and meditation hall on each peak but they belonged to the same centre. The teacher once remarked: “Students are generally assigned to one of the two for their basic training period, which in most cases lasts several years. I find that some students in the East Peak temple come to me after a couple of years and say that they don’t feel they are getting on well enough there. They think there is something lacking in the atmosphere of the East Peak and that it would be …

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A holy text leads us on the way

Question: Sometimes a single phrase, such as the saying of Jesus: “Neither do I condemn thee” can bring a great relief and peace. It is repeated for days and months, but the effect gradually falls off, till they are mere words. What goes wrong? Why does it not still have the original effect? Answer: A holy text leads us on the way. But when it has had its effect in leading us on, and we try to stop there, then it is not on the way, but in the way. The text was like the usher of a royal court, magnificent in his court uniform. But if when we come up to him, we stop in admiration, he will stand aside and wave us past. He may be impressive, but he is not the monarch. The text “Neither do I condemn thee” gives relief from obsessive guilt about past sins. …

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The depths of the mind are not changed by what we do on the surface

QUESTION ONE:   The practice. May I ask about the practice? The practice seems to me to be layered. You get rid of the thoughts that are immediately close to your consciousness but you are aware that there are there’s another layer of thoughts going on below the surface. I mean it didn’t seem to me to be quite as simple as you described it. I seemed to be going through layers of thoughts getting more remote in my consciousness but I was still aware of movement in the mind. TPL:  Yes. These things take quite a long time. The depths of the mind are not changed by what we do on the surface. And we can indeed … as you say, calm the surface of the mind but there can still be turmoil below. But by habitual practice the impressions of calm begin to descend too and then they begin …

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The main distinctions between Vedanta and Zen in the form of questions and answers

Question: Mr Leggett, could you just fairly briefly tell what you feel to be the main distinctions between Vedanta and  Zen training? TPL: All right, well, we have to remember two distinct things.  One, the methods of training and the other is the objective –  and they are very distinct in methods of training.  Zen and Vedanta.  It is not much use giving generalisations.  It is better to take a concrete instance.  When your life is fairly easy and it doesn’t matter, well then you can do whichever you like and it doesn’t matter.  But the time comes when we have to put our weight on something.  Now, as an example.  Suppose you have an accident or severe illness.  You go to a Zen teacher.  The doctor tells you are probably going to die.  You go to a Zen teacher and I give you a case… I knew the daughter …

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The place of emotion in Yoga and Zen in the form of questions and answers

Question: What is the place of emotion in Yoga and Zen? TPL: In Zen they turn it into austerity, enquiry and will. Question: Are they happy with what they find, is it a sort of fascination with enquiry?  Is it emotional satisfaction? TPL: In Zen, you have to produce an answer to the teacher twice a day. You have got to produce an answer and he has got a big stick. In Yoga the emotions are made universal but in Zen they are sort of re-canalised, they are forced into this enquiry and will.  They all practise some art.  With Zen monks it is calligraphy, they are good calligraphers and they nearly all paint a bit. From the Zen point of view if you are really keen on music, you should all play something yourself. Not necessarily well but you should create some beauty, not passively, just listening.  Don’t passively …

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