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 God. Without some glimpse of it, he is never free from an inner anxiety, however much he may conceal it from others, or even from himself, by bold gestures. While he has the anxiety, he can make little progress. Carefully practised physical relaxation exercises do not remove it, though they …

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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 it and think, “Yes that is a good job, that is what I should have done if I had been doing it/’ But if it has been done very well, they may have doubts whether they could have reached that level. Then some of them may try to find something …

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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 hare’s story – a loser always has an excuse. The tortoise, at first, used to deny that he had any special powers, but they said so often, ‘Oh, that’s your modesty’, that in the end he began to believe in them himself. His friends made him a Victory Medal, which …

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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, and of ill omen. Therefore as the Heavenly Way is a way of giving life, and these are the contrary, being means of killing, they really are instruments of ill omen. They can be said to participate in transgression of the Way of Heaven. And yet, when it is unavoidable, …

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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 on their way home, under the hot sun. The junior felt he would like to stop for a drink at one of the little tea-houses by the side of the road, but the other hurried past. Finally when they were both sweating, the senior paused at a little restaurant and …

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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 him to watch over her. When they were outside, the aunt said: ‘If you feel you have done something wrong, which would make the Buddha angry, at once try to do something good to show your repentance; run and help someone, or do a little bit of cleaning or tidying …

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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 taking things off their hands to do them better.) Reason-in-the-service-of-the-ego, or Mephistopheles, argues that it must be best to offer one’s service in a field where one can make a really significant contribution. But while there is a feeling T am making a really significant contribution’, training has not begun. …

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