Even a little of this Dharma relieves from anxiety

Using jewels to stone the crows Our teacher used to quote verse 40 of Chapter II of the Gita. “Even a little of this Dharma relieves from anxiety”. Here the word dharma refers to the practice of karma yoga and the word translated here as anxiety is bhaya, fear.   But he said that little bits of yoga must not be practised merely for some worldly gain.   One example he gave was of a man who used to use the rosary while lying in bed.   He seemed a pious person but when he was asked ‘why do it in such an unusual position, why not sitting up like everyone else does?’ he answered, ‘I have found it helps me to get to sleep.’   This is misusing a yoga technique for a purely personal benefit. There is a Chinese proverb. When the crows come down to pick up the seed you throw …

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When the archer misses the target he doesn’t blame the target

Self deception    The teacher again used often to cite Confucius, who said ‘when the archer misses the target he doesn’t blame the target, he blames himself’.   A humorous extension of this is the idea, ‘Yes, I did miss the target, but the target was not worthy of my arrow.’   It can be even further extended: the bad archer whose arrow does not get into the target but sticks into the ground half way there, rushes up to the target, pulls it off, makes a hole in it and drapes it round the arrow.   Then he says triumphantly:  “Look, I’ve hit the bulls-eye.” These caricatures illustrate the human weakness of trying to cover up failure by pretending that it has not been failure after all.   Instead of striving to attain the goal the self-deceivers adapt the goal to their own half-hearted efforts.   It is a parallel process to a religious fatalist’s: …

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Fatalism – Apathetics Anonymous

 My teacher, Hari Prasad Shastri, brought out particularly strongly that we must not be fatalists.   Some holy text can be used to support fatalism, to make people members of apathetics anonymous. “Whatever will be, will be”, they echo the rich gentry and aristocrats in the last act of the Viennese Opera Die Fledermaus. These are people with the false serenity of the rich who feel that whatever will be, they will have the financial resources to meet it. “If God is busy, I have my cheque book”.   They feel, too, that they are especially worthy of their favourable circumstances: “Call me a philosopher if you will, but what I say is, if we didn’t belong on top, we wouldn’t be on top.” These fatalists twist the doctrine of karma to excuse themselves from making efforts.   In the famous case presented by Jesus, a Jew coming down from worshipping at the …

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Famous magistrate Ōoka Tadasuke

A case came up in eighteenth century Japan before a famous magistrate, Ōoka Izen-no-kami (Ōoka Tadasuke), where the circumstances were similar to the judgement of Solomon in the Old Testament. Two women were disputing which was the mother of the infant, and Ōoka directed them each to take one arm and one leg of the baby. Then he told them to begin to pull slowly. “The one who wins the tug-of-war, wins the baby,” he added. At the first pull the baby cried and one of the women at once let go. “That is the mother,” said the magistrate and awarded the child to her. One of Ōoka’s friends however remarked to another that this was not actual proof which was the mother of the child. “It is there that we see the wisdom of our magistrate,” was the reply. “Even if she actually bore the child, a woman who …

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The limit of endurance

Some Judo training exercises are taken to the limit of endurance. In classes performing them – e.g. dragging the body round the dojo face down by the arms – the instructor has to watch carefully. While a participant has the energy to grunt Whew! or some such, he is not exhausted. But when one who is silent begins to turn pale, the instructor knows he should stop. If the class is going well, the instructor does not want to stop them. However, the atmosphere at such times is very delicate: if one is taken out, the whole energy tends to collapse; everyone feels that he too should stop. So the teacher may have to resort to subtle methods. He suddenly pounces on the silent one, picks him up by collar and belt, and brings him into the middle. He shouts: ‘How do you expect to keep going when you’re doing …

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Future champions

A Japanese boxing trainer, who had produced several champions, was asked by a reporter how he selected suitable trainees. “When a young lad comes here with his father, I know he’s not going to be champion material. I give him the lessons they pay for, and get him up to the level of ability they want. Then he goes. But when a boy comes here by himself, quite scared but determined, I know he’s had a row with his father. Then he’s going to take ME as his father, and then he’ll really train. He might turn out a champion.” © Trevor Pryce Leggett  


There is no need to practise humility as it is usually understood – that is to say, pretending one hasn’t got a skill or knowledge that one really does have. There are superiorities, and they should not be falsely concealed, any more than they should be boasted about. Because the superiorities, whatever they are, are still only little; once we raise our eyes from the immediate surroundings, we see we are like children who think that the hill at the back of their village is higher than the Himalayas. A saying in all the martial arts is this: “When you find yourself becoming an expert, and feel yourself puffing up like big frog, just go to the next pond, and you’ll find you’re only a little tadpole.” One famous Judo teacher whom I knew insisted that all his students should practise the flute; the shrieks and wails that proceeded from …

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Cutting off the bull’s horns (longer version)

Most keen Judo students come to develop special skill in one or perhaps two throws. These are not necessarily the throws which they took up naturally at the beginning, but throws recommended to them by the teacher on the basis of his long experience of physiques and facility of movements of particular kinds. As skill increases, the student gets more and more of his successes – such as they are – from these techniques. All such special techniques, however, have their limitations, and furthermore to concentrate on refining them leads to a failure to develop evenly. So there comes a point when the teacher tells him: “Now for at least three months give up those techniques which you have developed, and learn to use other ones.” One teacher used to call this “cutting off the bull’s horns”. And as a matter of fact, if the student is strong-willed enough, and …

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The meaning of Vairagya or non-attachment

He makes a picture of things as he would like them to be, however unlikely, and then says: “This is what I am asked to give up.” But no. He is giving up pangs of jealousy, of being thrown over, pangs of failure in ambitions etc. Why think: “I am giving up being a superman” when one would simply turn out to be very ordinary if one went to the world? Cats are not giving up being lions when they give up worldly life as an animal.

Jan Smuts and the stoep

Sir Douglas Busk told me that when he was a young diplomat in S. Africa he had to deliver by hand top secret documents from Churchill to Smuts on the latter’s farm Smuts did not trust some of his Cabinet, who were pro-German. Busk said that he was warned not to put even a foot on the stoep surrounding the house of the farmstead, as by the laws of Boer hospitality Lady Smuts would be bound to invite him for a meal. She would be absolutely charming to the British guest, but it would be a great torture to her. So to spare her this, Busk always kept away from the edge of the stoep that went round the house. Then Lady Smuts could just greet him as he waited for the reply; she did not have to invite him in, and it was understood that if he did not …

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