The doctrine of karma teaches that all voluntary actions produce an effect on the doer in this or future lives

The teacher in his sermon was explaining the doctrine of karma, which teaches that all voluntary actions produce an effect on the doer in this or future lives. ‘If you want to know what you have done in the past he said, ‘look at your present circumstances, which are the result of what you did; if you want to know what your future will be, look at what you are doing now, which will shape it. In the Christian Bible too the same doctrine is hinted at in the words, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” ‘ Afterwards one of the pupils said to the teacher, ‘In the Christian Bible there is a story of the man who was attacked and left for dead by robbers. Two people passed by on the other side of the road, and then a third man picked him up and looked after him. …

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We named it and now it’s known and is correspondingly supposed to be understood

There is a mediaeval Japanese story about learning which is quite revealing. A man turns up at a mediaeval court, supposed to be about 13th century, and it is noteworthy that the local lords are, in the cheerful, democratic, traditional Japanese way, often presented as  fools. Anyway, the local lord is there and the man turns up at his court and asks for a job of employment. The local lord says, ‘What can you do?’ The man replies, ‘I know the unusual things that other people don’t know’. ‘Oh, oh, well, that might be useful, mightn’t it?’ so the lord takes him on. Well, the man’s at the court and periodically there are court crises when the accounts are miles behind and they ask him to lend a hand. He says, ‘No, no, the accountants can do the accounts, clerks can do the accounts. I do the things that no one else can …

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The old woman and the pencil stub

A Japanese master of calligraphy retired to the country and he took an interest in the schoolchildren in their education and there was one boy there who was being brought up by his grandmother because both his parents had died and the teacher of calligraphy saw this boy and saw his schoolwork and he told the grandmother, he said: ‘when the time comes he ought to go to college in the capital and sure enough the grandmother made great sacrifices for bringing up the boy and made it clear that she was making great sacrifices and that she did not have very many friends. People complain a lot if they don’t have many friends. When the time came, the teacher said: well now, he should go to the capital to study, and the president of one of the main universities is a friend of mine and I can write you …

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Meditation on the colour blue calms the mind

Sometimes in a spiritual group a dispute develops over practically nothing. Although it is so trivial, people feel strongly about it. No one seems to know the cause of what is happening, or what to do. When the teacher first founded the group they were poor, and had only a cheap brown cloth over the altar on which was the form of the god. They worshipped with prayers and mantras for the first half of the meeting, and then, when the minds were to some extent pacified, they meditated on the Upanishadic text: ‘O holy divinity, I am what thou art, and thou, O holy divinity, art what I am.’ The teacher had once mentioned that to see or meditate on the colour blue has a calming effect on the mind, and added that blue was the best colour for an altar cloth. This remark was taken down, but nothing …

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You can’t expect a man in chains to do anything

A man said to his teacher, ‘I have tried to break my habit of going to wine-shops and brothels, but I can’t do it. I am in chains to my nature. You can’t expect a man in chains to do anything.’ The teacher met him going to the town one evening. He was smartly dressed and walking briskly in anticipation. The teacher said, ‘You don’t look like a man in chains.’   © Trevor Leggett – Chains

These people will never understand the spirit of Tea

Not long ago, a Japanese Tea Ceremony master made a visit to a certain foreign country to give demonstrations. His hosts found a beautiful garden, with two pavilions in it. In one the guests were to assemble, and then a group of fifty would go to the other pavilion, where the master was to demonstrate the ceremony. After about forty minutes, the audience would change; those who had witnessed it went back, and a new group walked the hundred yards to the master’s pavilion to see a new performance. He commented when he returned to Japan, Tn that country the men shout and the women scream. When I heard the very first group coming across, shouting and screaming, I thought, “These people will never understand the spirit of Tea.” But to my amazement, they sat very still and attentive, and there was a good atmosphere. I thought, “They have understood …

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The doctrine of the will of God

Allied to the doctrine of the grace of God is the doctrine of the will of God, and this too can be a stumbling block to those who use it as an excuse. A famous judge in India, at the end of the last century, was well-known as a devotee of God, and once a thief who was brought before him tried to make use of the fact. The charge was completely proved and the thief made no attempt to deny it, but said instead, ‘Your Honour, I only wish to say this. When the opportunity came to steal that, I felt an irresistible impulse to do it, and I thought to myself that it must be the will of God that I should steal it. And it was the will of God, surely, Your Honour, because otherwise it couldn’t have happened.’ ‘Are you denying that you had any responsibility …

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There is no God other than the higher self of man

Some followers of Yoga tend to think that it is somehow ‘higher’ not to believe in any God. ‘There is no God other than the higher self of man they say, throwing their heads back proudly. This is fine as long as circumstances go quite well; it sounds all right to a young person, barefoot and more or less permanently camping, who is nevertheless sure of middle-class parents, or at any rate the Welfare State, to fall back on. It may sound all right in a comfortable flat surrounded by imported luxuries. But when in real difficulties, facing serious illness or imprisonment or even heavy responsibilities, it begins to ring hollow. Those who say it may find that they have promoted themselves to the sixth form without being able to tackle the sixth-form syllabus. The more his spiritual training progresses, the more a student comes to recognize the grace of …

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Do things well. But not very well.

If actions – even the best of actions – are accompanied with the thought ‘I am doing good’, the benevolent man may become depressed. For instance UN medical teams, working in primitive areas, have greatly reduced infant mortality by giving some simple instructions to the mid wives. Yet it was found later that the population of the villages had not increased. The reason was, that there was not enough food to support any more; so the babies saved at birth died a lingering death of starvation a little later. Even when actions are completely successful in actualizing their hoped-for results, there may be unforeseen and unwelcome effects. A saying of the Soto Zen sect is, ‘Eighty per cent is perfection’. They do not explain such phrases, but a parallel comment runs something like this: ‘Do things well. But not very well. If you do a thing well, others will see …

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No one listened to the hare’s story

After the tortoise had won the race against the hare, the other animals began to consult him about improving their running speeds. They had not seen what happened during the race: half of them had been at the start, and the other half at the finishing tape. The first group had seen the hare dashing off into the distance, and the other group had seen the tortoise crawl across the finishing line, and the hare running up second. No one had actually seen the tortoise moving fast, but they came to believe, as the only explanation, that he must have gone into some sort of over-drive during the main part of the race, slowing down when he had passed the hare and was leading by a huge margin. As the animals had no watches, none of them knew just how long the race had taken. No one listened to the …

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The Way of Heaven has no love for him

Traditionally and historically, the Chinese have not been fond of fighting. They have generally rated the warrior’s role as something undesirable though sometimes necessary. They could fight well when needed; Confucius remarked, I do not like to fight, but if I must fight, I win.’ But they do not think that a warrior, for instance, is specially suited for spiritual training, as was thought in India, where the Buddha came from a warrior line, and in Japan, where Zen first came in through the warriors of Kamakura. In the classic of Tao, one of the most ancient Chinese scriptures, it is said that the fighting man is an ill-omened instrument, and the Way of Heaven has no love for him. Yet sometimes it has to make use of him. A great Japanese warrior commented on this: ‘The bow and arrow, the swords short and long, are unblessed tools of fighting, …

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The heart of the giver must be pure

In the sermon, the preacher said that a gift must be not only proper in its time and place and recipient, but the heart of the giver must be pure. If there is a desire for recognition, or for a return of any kind, or even just a feeling of superiority, the gift will be tainted, and in the long run will not do the intended good. Afterwards one of the listeners said to an experienced senior, ‘I can’t see that. I can understand that something wrong in the heart of a giver might spoil the merit of the gift for him, but it won’t make any difference to the receiver. If a man’s hungry, it doesn’t matter to him whether he gets some food from a saint or from the greatest villain alive – he just wants the food.’ The senior made no reply, but began to walk faster …

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Meditation on the Dharma-world

  A buddhist nun in Japan, who by her strong character, farsightedness and sympathetic persuasion had a great influence in the community where she lived, was asked how she came to give her life to Buddhism. She said that she had lost her parents when a small child, and had been brought up by her aunt, a nun in charge of a temple. The aunt was very busy with charitable work, and could not give the child as much time as she would have liked. She took the little girl into the temple and they stood before the Buddha image, seated with the hands joined in the position called Meditation on the Dharma-world. The right hand is laid on the left one, both index-fingers are bent, and the thumb of each hand joins the index finger to form a rough circle. She presented the child to the Buddha and asked …

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A cross chosen is not a true cross

Sometimes a new idea can change the whole landscape of endeavour, so to speak; everything appears in quite a different light. This applies in most fields of human activity, but in the case of spiritual endeavours it has some special overtones. Take the case of doing certain jobs for the spiritual group. Naturally everyone would like to choose their job; someone good at adding would like to do the accounts, and someone good at gardening would like to help in the garden. But, as the Christian saying has it, a cross chosen is not a true cross. To do what one can do well where others can see it is an assertion of personality, and it has not much value as a discipline, though the group may get some benefit from it. (Even that benefit is usually offset by the unconscious arrogance of the expert, perpetually putting others right, or …

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Neither cast ye your pearls before swine

Sometimes from an unexpected quarter one can get a new light on a very familiar phrase, so that it shows a completely different meaning. One of the best-known texts in the Bible is the one about the pearls and swine: ‘Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.’ Now one can see that the pigs won’t value pearls, because they do not know what they are. But why should they turn on you and rend you? I’d always vaguely supposed this was a symbol of mindless malice towards what is felt to be spiritually superior, but that idea must be wrong; if they don’t know the pearls are valuable, they won’t know there’s anything superior to resent. In 1963-4 I used to take part in a weekly radio dialogue, with a Japanese Buddhist priest, in the studio of …

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Acquire freedom from strong reactions to the events of daily life

A group of devotees invited a master of meditation to the house of one of them to give them instruction. He told them that they must strive to acquire freedom from strong reactions to the events of daily life, an attitude of habitual reverence, and the regular practice of a method of meditation which he explained in detail. The object was to realize the one divine life pervading all things. ‘In the end you must come to this realization not only in the meditation period, but in daily life. The whole process is like filling a sieve with water.’ He bowed and left. The little group saw him off, and then one of them turned to the others, fuming. ‘That’s as good as telling us that we’ll never be able to do it. Filling a sieve with water, I ask you! That’s what happens now, isn’t it? At least, it …

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If a thing’s karma is to perish, it must perish

A young Brahmachari in India was very high-spirited and tended to be happy-go-lucky in carrying out tasks. The teacher warned him about it, but he found it difficult to change. One day he said to the teacher: ‘Master, in the sermon the other day on karma, you said that if the karma supporting his present life had exhausted itself, a man would die.’ ‘Yes, that is right’. ‘But suppose everyone took very great care of him, surely he could live just a little longer?’ ‘No; if his span of life has come to an end, it will come to an end.’ ‘And you said, teacher, that it applies not only to man but to everything.’ ‘Yes; if a thing’s karma is to perish, it must perish.’ ‘Well,’ said the boy, ‘I was dusting in the hall this morning, and that vase of Ganges water which you brought back from your …

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Is there a fourth truth, which you have not declared?

An enthusiast was explaining about Buddhism to a friend, and told him, ‘Perhaps I can best give the spirit of it by one of the traditional stories. The bodhisattva – that is, the Buddha-to-be – was walking past a mountain, pondering the great questions, when he heard a mighty voice crying, “All beings must die.” It seemed that heaven and earth were resounding with the words. ‘The Buddha-to-be had already realized this truth in his own meditations, and he looked round to see where the voice came from. As his gaze turned to the mountain, the same great voice cried, “This is the law of all existence.” ‘The Buddha-to-be perceived that the voice came from the top of the mountain; he climbed it, to find that it was an extinct volcano. At the bottom of the crater, deep like an abyss, was coiled a huge dragon. As the Buddha-to-be looked …

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The blind man and the bridge

A blind man lived in a village in the deep mountains. He was not afraid of the mountain paths, which he had known since childhood, and when spring came and the snows melted, he used to pride himself on the being the first to go to visit his brother in another village not far away, but separated by a deep gorge about twelve feet across. The state maintained a small footbridge across it, consisting of three wide planks driven into the earth on either side, with a small wooden handrail. One autumn, when the blind man made his last trip that year, he noticed that the planks were becoming shaky, because the earth was crumbling away. He mentioned this to the village headman, who saw the government inspector when he made his rounds. The latter promised that the bridge would be repaired for the next year. When spring came, however, …

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The Pure Land of Amitābha

In China and Japan many millions of Buddhists have been – and in Japan still are – devotees of the Pure Land doctrine. According to this a bodhisattva made a great vow which in time fulfilled itself as the manifestation of the Buddha Amitabha (infinite light), who created a Pure Land paradise in the West for those who would take his name with faith. From this Pure Land it was easy to attain final Nirvana. An old lady of this faith was walking along the road when she met a Zen master, who said to her, ‘On your way to the Pure Land, eh, Granny?’ She nodded. ‘Holy Amitabha’s there, waiting for you, I expect.’ She shook her head. ‘Not there ? The Buddha’s not in his Pure Land ? Where is he then ?’ She tapped twice over her heart, and went on her way. The Zen master opened …

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He knew a tremendous lot of Vedanta

A lecturer on Vedanta made a tour of the towns of northern India, dazzling the audiences with his erudition. He had a phenomenal memory, and his replies to questions were a revelation. The disciple of a traditional teacher went to one of these lectures, and was much impressed. On his return he asked his teacher about the lecturer: Ts he really as good as he seems? How much does he really know about Vedanta ?’ ‘Oh, a tremendous lot was the answer, ‘in fact, everything. And that’s all.’   © Trevor Leggett – A Tremendous Lot

The Buddha-nature in all is always perfect

‘You’ve often told us in your sermons that the Buddha-nature in all is always perfect, and their nature loses nothing even if the mind is disturbed, and gains nothing when the mind is calm. Why then do you tell people to control their passions and acquire peace of mind? On your own showing, nothing real is lost, for the true nature can never be lost or even diminished.’ ‘They think that they lose something, and that causes distress.’ ‘Then simply tell them nothing has been lost, It is wrong to treat it as if they did lose something by letting their mind run wild, and then tell them how to control it.’ ‘Let me tell you something that happened to me once. I was passing one of those fried eel shops; you know what a delicious smell there is when they are cooking. I didn’t want any eels, but without …

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Making amusing but biting comments at the expense of others

A teacher was having a meal with two pupils of some years standing, a man and a woman. The man knew that the woman, who had a witty tongue, occasionally used to make amusing but biting comments at the expense of others, and he suspected that she was not above inventing some details to give an extra edge to her little aggressions. Though generally likeable and kind-hearted, she could not resist taking an occasional opening which presented itself. During the meal, the teacher suddenly launched into a stream of vicious criticisms of someone well-known to all of them, producing wild slanders and accusations which they knew must be untrue. After a little, the two pupils cried out in protest, ‘Oh teacher, you can’t say that!’ The teacher’s flow stopped as if a tap had been turned off; after a little silence he began calmly to speak of something else. The …

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He never again lost his temper in public

A young and able businessman was hampered in his career by sudden outbursts of fury when he was contradicted in front of others – at a board meeting, for instance. He was making some attempts at spiritual training, and he consulted one of the senior members of the group. ‘I know you’re going to tell me to count backwards from twenty- nine or something like that, but the fact is that it’s so strong that all that just gets blown away. I see a sort of red mist coming in front of my eyes. Isn’t there something a bit more positive for people like me ?’ The senior looked at him, smartly dressed and clearly very careful about his appearance. ‘There might be, for someone like you as you say,’ he replied, ‘but you have to be willing to get a bit of a shock. Keep a little mirror in …

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And how do you think you have done?

A famous preacher of Vedanta had a pupil of sixteen years who, under his instruction, acquired a very fine knowledge of the philosophy. He did not teach him rhetoric, as he did not consider that the boy would make a good speaker. One day however the master suddenly became ill just before he had to address a gathering. On an impulse, he sent the boy to speak in his place, telling him to explain the circumstances, and then try to give a plain exposition of the fundamentals, as he had been taught. To his surprise, it was reported to him that the speech by his pupil had been a great success. A little later, kindly friends hinted that it had even been said that the pupil was a better speaker than his master. (‘Absurd, of course, but we felt you ought to know.’) The preacher pondered for a little while, …

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Samsara is Nirvana, the passions are enlightenment

The final word of Mahayana Buddhism, as expressed in the Garland Sutra of China, is that Samsara, this world of suffering, is Nirvana, and the passions are enlightenment, bodhi. It is only illusion that causes us to see differences between them. ‘Samsara is Nirvana, the passions are enlightenment.’ This formula has sometimes been taken as a sort of slogan, in isolation from the spirituality of the rest of the Sutra, like the remark of St Paul, ‘To the pure, all things are pure.’ A man who set himself up as a Buddhist teacher began preaching the slogan that passions are enlightenment, claiming to exemplify it by himself drinking heavily and frequenting brothels. This was reported to a real saint who remarked briefly, ‘No one who is a slave to passions can claim to see them as enlightenment.’ The teacher came storming round to the home of the saint and shouted, …

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