Self-deception

My teacher 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-hearted efforts.   It is a parallel process to a religious fatalist’s: “We are not meant to …

Read moreSelf-deception

Freedom

Free, free! If only we were all free, all problems would be solved and everything would go well. So runs the slogan, and it is felt that by destroying all barriers and restraints, it will come about. But as a matter of fact, when we try it in a small way, we soon find out that our freedoms clash with each other. I want to be free to take a good place for the concert, but others want to be free to take that same place. The freedoms clash within our very selves: wise old head wants to control diet so as to be radiantly healthy, but greedy tum wants to be free to stuff himself and get drunk every week-end. So one of them is going to be over-ridden and frustrated. Either I have to give up the freedom to have a lot of alcohol and have the freedom …

Read moreFreedom

God will not do by miracles what we can do for ourselves

God will not do by miracles what we can do for ourselves. And we can see this in ordinary life. A Japanese student whom I knew well was a wonderful Judo man and was the captain of his university. In Japan at that time, not now of course, the athletics champions were pushed through the exams fairly easily. He told me, that his English had been weak. In his exam, there would be a question from the sixty page English reader. The examiners would choose one paragraph and this would have to be translated into Japanese. That was the main test; it was a sizeable book which had to be studied. Now which paragraph would come? The book was about foreign countries and one of these was Britain. One day, as he was gloomily leafing through this book, one of the professors came up and put his hand on his …

Read moreGod will not do by miracles what we can do for ourselves

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  

Humility

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 …

Read moreHumility

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.

The Seller of Pears

An Abbot of the Buddha-Heart sect was preaching in the open air to a large crowd. The Abbot spoke of making life harmonious by mutual aid and concession, but added that the aim of life is to realize the Buddha-Heart within man, without which life has no real meaning. A seller of pears,` pushing his cart by its two long wooden handles, drew near and interrupted: `What will it bring us? These are only words!’ The Abbot explained that realization would bring an end of all sufferings and a new life beyond life-and-death, but the pearseller shouted: `Big talk! Big talk! But you have to show us something!’ The Abbot said that gains in the world of dreams were themselves illusory; they were no true gains but had to be paid for somehow. The pear-seller only shouted again and again: `Show us something! You have to show us something!’ Others …

Read moreThe Seller of Pears

He spent hours in devotion and prayer but there was never any response

A disciple came to a teacher and complained that though he spent hours in devotion and prayer, there was never any response. ‘When my daughter was ill I prayed the whole night that she would recover well, and, as a matter of fact, she did recover. How do I know that she would not have recovered anyway?’ This disciple was a minor official in the local administration and had a good knowledge of all the by-laws and regulations. The teacher made no reply to his question but said: ‘I want your advice on some things here, to do with this little temple. The fact is that there is supposed to be a right of way, across one corner of the temple garden here, and of course I have no objection to people using it. But when whole parties of them come, drunk and singing bawdy songs in the middle of …

Read moreHe spent hours in devotion and prayer but there was never any response

Doctrines of meditation and realisation in words

One of the dangers of presenting doctrines of meditation and realisation in words is that they become identified with the words. When they are translated the new words do not correspond exactly to the translated words. There is a gradual dilution and a spreading vagueness. There is however a language not in words which can convey the meanings exactly. One may wonder how this can be and an example may make it clearer. First of all, in a limited field. The digits 2,4 and 8 have no actual pronunciation; they are read by a speaker in his own language which is not comprehensible to a foreigner who does not know it. The line 2 x 4 = 8 could be read by a German zweimal vier ist acht; the words will not be understood by those who do not know German. But the digits convey and exact meaning all over …

Read moreDoctrines of meditation and realisation in words

We are often impressed by things we don’t fully understand

It can sometimes be doubted whether there is really anyone at all inside a set of magnificent ceremonial robes; all their stiff embroidery and the wonderful effect on those that see them can be at the expense of the true point of the ceremony: we may all know this but then we are often impressed by things we don’t fully understand. I had an early experience of this as a small boy. At the end of term, the clergyman headmaster used to read in a deep voice a short chapter from the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament. The words were sonorous and they seemed to reverberate in the head. I thought, how wonderful, it’s all in the Bible, it must be true. But as to what it actually meant ‑ wen, it’s holy, I thought, I don’t suppose one can expect to understand. This is the main part …

Read moreWe are often impressed by things we don’t fully understand

When you find that you are becoming respected and honoured, that’s the time to leave’

One Indian teacher, echoing his whole tradition, used to say: ‘When you find that you are becoming respected and honoured, that’s the time to leave’. Echoing this view, the Chinese tell an account of the Taoist master who has a very promising pupil who finally attains enlightenment. The enlightened pupil becomes a teacher, and a very famous one: often on the veranda out­side the entrance to his house there are many shoes to be seen deposited by pupils. One day his own old teacher happens ‑to pass that way and he sees all the shoes. He waits, and when they have all gone he goes in to visit his pupil. He tells him: ‘Get away at once; don’t hang about here a moment longer.’ Well, this is one tradition; it may not be the same in all traditions but it is worth remembering. Do what you are to do, and …

Read moreWhen you find that you are becoming respected and honoured, that’s the time to leave’

It is best not to be on the heights, but to be down below where you can have things and keep them.

Bukko, who was one of the great Zen masters, said that if you get to the heights of anything, you are like a man who is on top of a mountain with all his possessions. When you and your things are on the top of a mountain you have to keep hanging on to everything for dear life to prevent your posses­sions rolling down into the valley. It is therefore, he says, best not to be on the heights, but to be down below where you can have the things and keep them. Bukko warns against staying or trying to get on the heights, for once you are up there you won’t be able to maintain yourself there: the things will gradually ‑ or even suddenly ‑ fall away from you because you won’t be able to hang on to them. When we can’t wait for other people to honour …

Read moreIt is best not to be on the heights, but to be down below where you can have things and keep them.

Many of the so‑called honours in fact are false

At one of the biggest Zen training temples in Japan situated not in some great city but in rather a remote place ‑ in spite of which they get quite a lot of pilgrims and have about 200 monks ‑ they insist that pilgrims stay overnight and attend the 3.30am service which goes on sometimes for a couple of hours. Those who preside and take these great ceremonies wear magnificent gold and silver embroidered robes ‑ masterpieces of the art On one occasion the head monk, whom I had come to know, was conducting the service. I was sitting in the front row of what one might call the ‘resident guests’. In fine presence and making a splendid spectacle he passed before us in this gorgeous robe ‑ catching my eye as he went. But of course he gave no sign of recognition. Two or three days afterwards I was …

Read moreMany of the so‑called honours in fact are false

Eastern doctrines reject the absolute reality of the world

We are familiar with reports in the press of how fans of some TV serial begin to take the events as somehow real. They have even written to the broadcasting stations to ask them to change the script for the sake of suffering children whom they have seen in some program. These effects are nothing new. In Victorian melodrama, when the villain was stealing up behind the unsuspecting hero, it was not so uncommon for someone in the audience to shout “Look out! Look behind you!” Requests to change the script were not unknown even among the most highly educated. Lord Melbourne, then Prime Minister, wrote to Dickens in about the expected concluding chapter of the novel The Old Curiosity Shop : “Do not let little Nell die.” When this same concluding number of the serial was taken by ship across the Atlantic the quay at Boston harbour was packed …

Read moreEastern doctrines reject the absolute reality of the world

They were outwitted through their impulsive greed for the food.

Hardware, more properly Haridwar, is one of the most sacred places in India. The Ganges has come out of the Himalayas and to bath in it at Haridwar is to wash away sins. James Young, the high ranking British officer who was in charge of the government force which finally defeated and captured the Thag (the word has been imported into English with a slightly different meaning) criminal tribes which infested the area, was appealed to by the local Brahmins to immerse himself completely in the Ganges to cleanse the area of the blood shed. This he did, receiving in return their gratitude and blessings. The British land surveyors recommended building a bridge with a dam across the Ganges at Haridwar for purpose of irrigation. The Brahmins all over India objected that the sacred river must not be “bound”. After some discussion it was agreed that the dam should be …

Read moreThey were outwitted through their impulsive greed for the food.

Illumined teachers communicate the cosmic purpose

If the mind of an aged saint to deteriorates, disciples and other devotees may be distressed. They cannot help feeling that the Buddha-light or the Yoga-jnana is weakening. Their convictions may even be shaken. They have to realise that there the basic enlightenment is quite distinct from it’s manifestation through instruments. Imperfections or deterioration in the body-mind instruments do not involve imperfections or deterioration in the source, whose light is never diminished anymore than the sun is diminished by clouds or by shutting the eyes. In the old army campaign telephones at first the voice was clear but as the microphones deteriorated there were miss hearings and messages had to be slow and  repeated several times. Finally in the last stages communication could still be continued by buzzing in Morse code. When it got this far Headquarters would set up another link. Illumined teachers are animated instruments communicating the cosmic …

Read moreIllumined teachers communicate the cosmic purpose

A life which has been shaped and polished so that it’s true nature begins to appear

A life with a purpose has been compared to making an elaborate wooden piece of furniture, as for instance a cabinet with many shelves and draws. The pieces of wood are given to us in the shape of certain talents and abilities and events which happen to us. We are expected to cut and shape these according to the chosen traditional life plan and then polish them. Finally they are carefully fitted together. The comparison brings out an almost universal fault: as we handle the pieces, we paint them with harsh and jarring colours of our likes and dislikes, fears and hopes. The ones with the unpleasant colours we are reluctant to handle and so they don’t get properly shaped or polished. The one’s with bright colours we hang on to and do not want to give them up to the unity of the whole. So the cabinet ends up …

Read moreA life which has been shaped and polished so that it’s true nature begins to appear

Note of Hand

A law student in one of the old records had to go to Bristol and to stay longer than expected. So he could not pay the innkeepers bill. This was a woman who was illiterate. So he put on his law robes in which he attended court, and took an impressive looking piece of parchment on which he wrote: “Debita quinque libre”. He passed this to her telling her it was worth five pounds. She accepted it and he left, promising however that he would be back in the future and would stay with her again. © Trevor Leggett Please see:The outcome of this

The aged dictator of Spain was dying

When the aged dictator of Spain was dying in his presidential palace overlooking a central square of Madrid, large numbers of his supporters came in relays to stand in front of the palace and chant their farewells: “Goodbye, Franco. Goodbye!” The sound of the voices could be heard from the sick bed in the palace. It is said that the 83-year old General beckoned to the doctor who was attending him and said feebly: “Where are all these people going?” © Trevor Leggett Please see: One point here

There is another kind of long life

Trees may live for hundreds of years, but though they add to the beauty of nature they do not as such enter into human life. Though the life may have been long, finally they die and nothing is left. This is sometimes taken as a representation of human existence when it has no real purpose outside itself. There is another kind of long life, where the tree is cut down and reduced to sections of wood. These are meticulously shaped to form furniture in patterns both useful and beautiful. Polished and polished for generations these can become treasured possessions. In some countries such as Japan the beauties of the grain are studied and those who can afford it have the ceilings made of thin planks specially chosen and matched for there exquisite grain. (This was not always understood by the troops of the occupying forces during the years after Japan’s …

Read moreThere is another kind of long life

The third stage of ingratitude is a couplet by the 13th century Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz

It is a pleasant feeling to make a gift to someone who is in need. It is the superior position, generally one doesn’t make oneself too short, and it is depositing a credit for the Last Judgement. It is harder to receive the gift from condescending hands. St Vincent de Paul told his charitable followers: “When you give to the poor, give as humbly as you can manage. And then – perhaps – they will forgive you.” The second stage of ingratitude is Shaw’s remark: “I can’t think why he dislikes me so. It’s not as if I had ever done anything for him.” The third stage of ingratitude is a couplet by the 13th century Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz: “I never taught archery to anyone, who did not end up shooting at me.” The point of noting these stages is not to analyse others, but to find which …

Read moreThe third stage of ingratitude is a couplet by the 13th century Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz

Ikkyu was a famous Zen priest and poet , who was sometimes overwhelmed by sexual desire

Ikkyu was a famous Zen priest and poet of the 15th century, who was however on more than one occasion overwhelmed by sexual desire. He finally caught a sexually transmitted disease. When he was dying a knowledgeable friend brought him some of the remedies of the time. However he refused to take them with the words: “No, I don’t to take them, I feel ashamed.” The friend said: “Well, you had a love affair. Tell me, who was it?” Ikkyu got up, took some paper and picked a brush. Then he wrote in his beautiful calligraphy: “O true original face, it was for love of you that I demeaned myself. And I have not been the only one. Shakyamuni and Bodhidharma too gave up royal status for a mean one in their search for you. And I was searching for you.”  

Dogen brought Soto Zen from China to Japan

Dogen was the great patriarch he brought the Soto line of Zen from China to Japan in the 13th century. He established it on a very firm ethical basis in Japan, and his great work Shobo-genzo (Treasury of the true law) carries enormous prestige even outside the Soto sect. Buddhist teachers of other sects quoted either directly or by allusion. On such echo is the following. There are two ways: either you invite the Buddha into your house, or you leave your house and throw yourself down on the doorstep of the Buddha’s house. To invite the Buddha to your house, you have to make it spotlessly clean. With reverent devotion you dust and polish your furniture, and every nook and corner. Poor as you now it to be you make it as best you can fit to receive the World Honoured One. In the second case you get up …

Read moreDogen brought Soto Zen from China to Japan

In the mind when there is no control, two or three obstinate thought-feelings can become locked in a struggle

Before traffic lights were introduced, two or three strong-willed car drivers could get locked in a crossing, because no one would give way. The traffic piled up behind them, and often it was impossible to relieve the tangle by driving on to the pavement. In a busy part of the town, at a busy time, the block could extend for a quarter of a mile. Finally the police had to divert all traffic and slowly get the locked cars free. In the mind when there is no control, two or three obstinate thought-feelings can become locked in a struggle, and paralyse all sensible activity. New traffic of ideas has to be stopped, in meditation or devotion, and slowly the block can be resolved. But with traffic lights, these things happen only rarely. It is essential that we become able to control one line of ideas: check it when necessary, and …

Read moreIn the mind when there is no control, two or three obstinate thought-feelings can become locked in a struggle

Here is a battle unsought; completely unselfish, for a warrior that is an open door to heaven

Full pacifism is for monks. Lay people practice limited pacifism; they do not seek conflict but they may defend justice as they see it. Krishna says to the warrior- “Here is a battle unsought; completely unselfish, for a warrior that is an open door to heaven.” The limited Ahimsa means that the warrior or the policeman must not use force or bullying for personal ends outside duty. No-one can expect nations to be pacifist. A community that is pacifist may be annihilated as were the early undefended Christian monasteries or the great Buddhist Narlanda University in the 16th century India

Repeat OM slowly, meditating that it means the universal self

A man vaguely interested in yoga, but who could not bring himself to go under a teacher, used sometimes to repeat the sacred word ‘Om’ when he was drunk. A friend who did actually practise yoga told him it was a mistake to do this. ‘Why?’ he said defiantly, ‘Surely it is better to say the sacred Name, even if one is a bit drunk, than not to say it at all.’ No, his friend told him. You would be like a man who has been told that to cure his diabetes he should avoid sweet things, and take some insulin every day. Now if he takes the insulin, and at the same time eats a sweet to take his mind off the initial discomfort of the little prick of the needle, then he is nullifying the effect of the medicine he needs. A doctor friend of mine told me …

Read moreRepeat OM slowly, meditating that it means the universal self

The eye races over the well-known phrases, and much is missed

“A hundred hearings are not like one seeing” is a classical Chinese saying, but it applies to what can be seen, not to abstractions or other things beyond the senses. There the hearings are worth a hundred readings, for reading is often too fast and superficial. Especially when re-reading a revered text, the eye races over the well-known phrases, and much is missed. Today the tape recorder offers a new aid to study: record the main texts, and play them every morning. The reading will reveal new depths. Clara Schumann, the world famous pianist, played the Chopin study in C sharp minor every morning for eighteen years, and found new depths in it. It can be the same with the sacred texts. How many have read the Gospel of John with, as they thought, attention and reverence, and yet not noticed the apparent contradiction: in the last teachings of chapter …

Read moreThe eye races over the well-known phrases, and much is missed

The great Self takes on itself the illusion of the succession of bodies

II.22 As the wearer casts off worn-out clothes and puts on himself others which are new, Even so, casting off worn-out bodies, the body-wearer passes on to new ones. This great verse on reincarnation comes at the beginning of the teachings, and it refers to the great Self which takes on itself the illusion of the succession of bodies. A master of meditation remarked that the idea of reincarnation contains hints at wider truths than the bare idea of things wearing out and being replaced, which to many older people has a depressing ring. They find their bodies less and less reliable, and less competent to fulfil most of the purposes of life as they have understood them. He said: ‘Take the case of furniture. If a chair is reasonably well made, at the beginning it sparkles with the fresh varnish laid evenly all over it. It has an unyielding …

Read moreThe great Self takes on itself the illusion of the succession of bodies

Share the beauty of your treasures and you will not regret them if they go

A rich disciple had a fine collection of Chinese jades. Then there was a financial crisis in his affairs, and it turned out that he would lose a good deal of his wealth, even perhaps all of it. The teacher mentioned this fact in conversation with a younger disciple who had, like the teacher himself, lived in the Far East. The teacher added unexpectedly: “I have no sympathy with him in his loss. What did he do with wealth? He knows that you have been in the East and would appreciate those jades. But did he ever invite you to see them?” “Well, no,” was the reply, “I didn’t know him so well….” The teacher looked at him and remarked: “If he had done something to share the beauty of those treasures, he would not now regret them if they go. I have no sympathy with him at all.” In …

Read moreShare the beauty of your treasures and you will not regret them if they go

Sense experiences during meditation

Sense experiences during meditation are not what the yogi may imagine beforehand; all the accounts show a sort of surprise when the experiences first come. They are more beautiful than anything in the world, and are quite different from hallucinations or dreams. The commentators say that they are genuine perceptions, but of objects not normally accessible to perception. If they produce attachment to their delight, it blocks further progress in yoga, because independence is lost. After a few such experiences, the teacher always directs the pupil to meditations on truth. Attachment to these higher sense experiences, like any attachment, darkens and restricts the mind, which loses its purity and strength. They come and go. They are self-terminating, because the excitement they arouse interferes with the necessary concentration, which becomes split between the meditation, and what he expects to get as a result. The same applies to drug experiences. When meditation …

Read moreSense experiences during meditation

To have inner voices is regarded as a symptom of dysfunction

To have inner voices telling one something is regarded as a symptom of dysfunction. There have been some notable exceptions, however. In the 1920’s there was a case where a woman went to her doctor complaining of voices in her head – voices and other noises, even including music. He referred her to what was then called a mental specialist, who asked her about the voices: “What sort of things are they saying?” She said, “Oh, all sorts of things. Sometimes bits of news, sometimes quite long bits of music.” “No, no, no, I mean what are they saying to you, what are they telling you?” “They don’t say anything to me personally. Right now they say they’re just going to start up a concert, and they say that it’s Beethoven, Leonora No. 3.” “Ah, dear lady, the No. 3, yes. One of Beethoven’s rare miscalculations. If only he had …

Read moreTo have inner voices is regarded as a symptom of dysfunction

The ultimate independence of Self-realization

In armies, the chains of command have to be settled. One problem is: conflict of orders. Suppose a soldier is ordered by an officer to take a small box to HQ, and on the way an officer asks where he is going, and then says: “Oh, so you can take this packet and hand it in at the radio station – it’s not far out of your way.” Now should the soldier take the packet which will inevitably delay him or should he refuse and say. “Sir, I’ve got to deliver this box straight away”? In history, some armies have opted for the First Order, and some for the Second Order. But let us look at the application in inner spiritual training. The rule here is: First Order. When even a little inner practice is being done, the buddhi – the fraction of the cosmic mind which is located in …

Read moreThe ultimate independence of Self-realization

The mind can be taken as the bucket of water

There is a bucket to be cleaned, which is now nearly full of putrid water. It has been left alone for a good time. There may be various ways to go about it. One of them is to put it under a tap of running water, and just leave the tap to run unsupervised. At first, the jet from the tap carries some of the top layers of dirty water out with itself. But after a little time, the upper part of the bucket consists mainly of fresh water, which just comes in from the tap and directly spills out over the sides. The deeper layers may be relatively undisturbed for a very long time. The second main way is to empty the whole bucket of dirty water down the drain, then scrub the inside of the bucket, and then rinse it with the pure water. That gets it really …

Read moreThe mind can be taken as the bucket of water

When we are young we often have a keen sense of right and wrong

There are many habitual actions in life like driving a car or writing which become habitual and drop away from the surface of consciousness; we can do them without much effort and become at ease with them. Because we are at ease with them we have the illusion that they get better. We see this clearly in the case of handwriting, which steadily degenerates from the carefully formed letters we make at school through to the scrawls of student days, and then to the almost incomprehensible jottings later on in life, when we no longer form many of the letters properly. These are often difficult to read except by someone who is quite familiar with the writing. Without conscious practice towards a definite model, the edges of precision gradually become blunt, and, moreover, the monitoring function is not used and thus becomes dull. This can apply in the moral field …

Read moreWhen we are young we often have a keen sense of right and wrong

Some scholars study texts in which they have no interest whatever in the real meaning

In the early days of Hi-fi, one would be invited, sometimes, to a little concert in a room surrounded by speakers of various kinds. Listening to the music, the host would be constantly jumping up and making some adjustment, and then sitting down and listening intently. He was disturbing the enjoyment of the music, but in fact he himself was not listening to it at all: he was listening to the hi-fi. In the same way, some scholars study texts in which they have no interest whatever in the real meaning; they simply compare the vocabulary, syntax and themes with those of other texts in the same field, and record borrowings and conflicts: ‘Here he is making a concession to the vijnana-vadin Buddhist, a possible influence from his presumable early study of gaudapada.’ He is not interested in the texts themselves except for cross-cataloguing the themes. There is an unspoken …

Read moreSome scholars study texts in which they have no interest whatever in the real meaning

Prepare oneself to throw away gain and loss, life and death

In training for some desired result, especially when it involves an expansion of some faculty, there is a sense of joy. It is leading to what is felt to be an achievement, and so it is a sort of fulfilment in itself. Mistakes have to be avoided as much as possible, but when they happen, they are corrected without any feeling of guilt – they do not really matter. However strong the efforts that have to be made, there is at the basis a sort of carefree lightness, and this we can call “light joy”. But when it comes to the actual occasion, the arena where we have to try out the actions we have been rehearsing, how is it then? A mistake does matter now – it might be fatal to the whole enterprise. For many, what had been an interesting challenge now becomes a frightening necessity, and the …

Read morePrepare oneself to throw away gain and loss, life and death

Bird-man and Earth-man

Short passages from the inspired scriptures are at first reading often skated over as simply details filling in the main outline of the point or story. And this is liable to go on during subsequent readings; with many readers, what they do not see at once, they never see at all. The parable of the Sower is one of the best known, but though most modern Christians take the meaning to be rather obvious, it was this very parable which the disciples asked Jesus to explain to them. He reprimanded them for their dullness: ‘You do not understand this parable?’ he said, ‘then how will you understand any parable?’ The parable is found in three Gospels: Matthew 13.4, Mark 4.3 and Luke 8.5. The accounts are fairly close; let us look here just at the beginning: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along …

Read moreBird-man and Earth-man

There is no response from the True Face within

Some people say that though I meditate and do practice, there is no response from the True Face within. A teacher said for example think you are an electrician and are rung up to go around at once for some urgent repair but then came back home again complaining that there was no one in. You then telephone the place and are told, ‘I have been in all the time waiting for the electrician! Why don’t you come?’ ‘But I rang the bell and rang and rang and there was no answer!’ The teacher said that if in the same way repairing the bell is our immediate task when we practice, then there will be a response. Theoretically we know that the air is full of radio waves, we are familiar with it theoretically. But people might ask, ‘Where are these waves? They are not here.’ And we say, ‘Oh, …

Read moreThere is no response from the True Face within

The Power of Formlessness

There is a story in many forms, in different cultures and traditions. It is a very old one in India, possibly from before the Buddha. The Gods do battle with the Titans and the Gods win. There is something strange about the victory but anyway, the Gods take all the credit to themselves. While they celebrate, a report comes that something mysterious has been seen in a particular place in the Himalayas, something the form of which cannot be made out, which seems to have no form and yet it is there! So Indra, King of the Gods, sends the God of Fire – who symbolises various things including speech – to find out what this mysterious something is. He, too, cannot make it out: there is no actual form and yet there is something. And that mysterious something asks, ‘Who are you?’ He answers, ‘I am the God of …

Read moreThe Power of Formlessness

Speaking with no artificiality or insincerity

In some traditions pupils of 2 or 3 years standing are asked to give a brief talk to the public on some aspect of the teaching. Most are reluctant: they feel their progress does not merit it. However, when told this is part of training they are ready to try. Once such pupil was told to prepare by taking lessons in public speaking for 3 months. The instruction jarred on him and he complained to a senior: “To take lessons like that would make me feel like a ham actor, unnatural and insincere.” The senior looked at the vigorous young man before him and said: ” I’ve seen you once or twice working out at the gym. He ordered Tall-as-you-can and you all stood on tiptoe and stretched your fingers towards the roof. Then he shouted for Small-as-you-can and you squatted down with your head between your knees, hugging your …

Read moreSpeaking with no artificiality or insincerity

Meditation itself will take over and then it will begin to shine forth

A Japanese poem – Shizukasa ya Iwa ni shimiiru Semi no koe The translation could be – ‘Oh, the quietness. The shrill voice of the cicada Is soaked up by the stones.’ This is a temple scene. Suddenly in the quiet there is the bursting force of the shrill note of the cicada. It’s ear piercing while it lasts then it stops, and there is the moment when that shrillness is soaked up, soaks away into the stillness of the rocks, the stones, of the temple. We can find some hints for yoga practice in certain arts which require a clear discipline, especially music. In music the execution has to be not merely perfect, but often in a very short space of time, and musicians have to practise everyday. One virtuoso used to say “If I miss my practise for one day, next day I notice a deterioration in performance; …

Read moreMeditation itself will take over and then it will begin to shine forth

His mind had not yet been loosened to recognise the cosmic plane

Learning a Language When we begin to learn a foreign language, we may learn a few words by the so-called Direct Method. But for anything more than simple meanings, we have to construct an English sentence in our heads, and then search for equivalents and structures in the foreign language. This can go on for a very long time, even when there is a good knowledge of the new language. It takes courage to bring out a foreign sentence without checking it first. Shaw’s remark, that it is impossible to learn to skate without looking ridiculous, can be useful here. If the grip of fear can be loosened, the time comes when in some little emergency, the speaker finds himself producing a foreign sentence without the previous English draft. He has begun to think in the new language. This is generally a decisive moment, and from then the ideas take …

Read moreHis mind had not yet been loosened to recognise the cosmic plane

Bristles of egoism and pride and self-satisfaction and conceit and ambition

When someone who has a hope of getting some advantage lavishes praise and compliments on us, we feel quite unaffected, because we know that it’s simply turned on like a tap, to get something from us. It might as well be a tape recording. We think “Words, words, what do words matter? Nothing at all.” But then when his request is refused perhaps he becomes furious. He begins calling us all the bad names he can think of, and we know that all of this abuse is just out of his disappointment and anger. Nothing in it – turned on like a tap or a tape recorder. And yet this time it’s quite difficult not to be affected by it, though it is known to be completely false. These are little hints for meeting attractions and repulses from the world. A great Indian teacher used to say that adverse criticism …

Read moreBristles of egoism and pride and self-satisfaction and conceit and ambition

The Anti-Sermon of No Words

In Mahayana Buddhism, emphasis is laid on what is called the Sermon of No Words. This is a sermon preached by mere behaviour, by demonstration of one pointed spiritual effort in calmness, by the absence of instinctive reactions to events, and by what is called a spiritual atmosphere generated by the presence. It is a sermon not by exhortation, reasoning or threats but by example. There is also the reverse of The Sermon of No Words: one might call it the Anti-Sermon of No Words. People become irritated when warned about the evils of drugs, of promiscuous sex or malicious gossip by those who have heavily indulged in them. Perhaps they are speaking of vices they’re tired of and often the words go unheeded. But in fact they are putting out something else as well: an Anti-Sermon of no Words. We can see that their behaviour, reactions, sometimes even the …

Read moreThe Anti-Sermon of No Words

Passing moods are to be treated like clothes

We are asked not to become identified with passing moods, which are to be treated like clothes. Whether we are wearing bright clothes or dark clothes we have still to do what is before us, unaffected by the clothes we happen to be wearing at the time. In the same way, we must become independent of moods; although moods of depression or elation may come over us from time to time the important thing is to be entirely independent of them. We can help ourselves to do so by realising their artificial character, using the same example of clothes. The American sage Emerson is supposed to have remarked that for most people there are a few joys to rival the consciousness of being really well dressed. But if today we look at a photograph of this somewhat aristocratic New Englander in his best clothes we shall find it slightly comical. …

Read morePassing moods are to be treated like clothes

A vigorous spiritual vitality is the spring that waters all the fields

In Judo there are hundreds of different throwing techniques and manoeuvres and students in the early months of training hope to learn a new one every week or so. Some teachers refuse, and tell then to keep practising away at just a couple. Other teachers do in fact demonstrate many different tricks. The fact is that however many tricks a student may have in his repertoire, he will not be able to do any of them, because he has no balance. While he is making the moves which are designed to upset the opponent he begins to be upset himself. Sometimes he loses his balance so completely when trying to do a complicated movement at speed that he even falls over. In both cases the student thinks he is learning technique but in fact he is learning balance. The teacher has to calculate how many new tricks he has to …

Read moreA vigorous spiritual vitality is the spring that waters all the fields

Many ideas are absorbed into the cosmic purpose

In the great house of the personality, with it’s attics and lofts and cellars there are some rooms which are habitually used, some which are seldom used, some which are avoided, and some which are locked with no access at all. Yoga training at first includes getting used to some of the less frequented rooms and learning to use what is in them. As it progresses the house owner finds he is able to go somewhere that he has avoided, and he will occasionally find some little treasure there. As enlightenment is approached keys to the locked rooms become available. At first it may take a good deal of courage to use even the smallest of them. Because the room has been locked we do not know what is in it and the mere fact that it has been locked seems to imply that what is in it, is terrible. …

Read moreMany ideas are absorbed into the cosmic purpose

Knowing the Future

Sometimes we persist in a course of action although it ought to be perfectly clear that it will lead to a disaster. Afterwards in the memory of the event we unconsciously persuade ourselves that our action was not really so stupid. There are situations where both cause and effect are visible at the same time which brings out the idiocy before our very eyes. One instance would be in an aircraft where a film is being shown to passengers in one section and another copy of the same film is projected to passengers in another section. In a seat from which both screens are visible one can see the same film being run at the same time. The two films are about a minute out of sync with each other and result in us seeing the actors in one scene vigorously playing their part whilst on the other we see …

Read moreKnowing the Future

Can mere silence can be a lie?

Lying is forbidden in the classical ethics of Buddhism, and in the Indian spiritual traditions generally. There are subtle discussions on whether mere silence can be a lie, and also whether a formally correct statement is a lie when it is known that it will be misunderstood. There is an historical incident from the period of the wars in Japan, which highlights some of these points. After a battle a fugitive fled into a Zen temple and the priest hid him under the floor boards of one of the buildings. A little later, three pursuers arrived and demanded of the priest: “Has anyone taken refuge in this temple?” Sitting in the reception room the priest answered calmly “No-one here.” “Are you lying to us? We think you are. We’ll cut off your head if you don’t tell us where he is.” “Well,” said the priest, “if I am to go, …

Read moreCan mere silence can be a lie?

The central purpose of a directed life

In the inner training, we can think of our actions as preparing and fitting together hundreds of pieces to make an elaborate cabinet, which symbolises the central purpose of a directed life. They have to be carefully shaped and fitted together, then they make a beautiful cabinet. We often do not realise clearly that all our actions are of the same nature: they are bits for the ‘cabinet’ which is being made. One piece is as important as the other; some are bigger, some are smaller, but they are all important. But what we tend to do is to paint each piece, as we take it up, with likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, so that some bits we do not like to touch, some bits we stickily hang on to, some bits we are reluctant to use at all. If we have done this, when they are put together …

Read moreThe central purpose of a directed life

They finally react to imaginary slights and so on.

The skin loses the power of adaptation to changes in temperature, humidity etc. Practising austerity, going without a scarf sometimes, keeps these faculties in good order, and the skin healthy. So with the mind. Those who are always protecting themselves against looking foolish or against little insults, by leading very sheltered lives, become more and more sensitive, and finally react to imaginary slights and so on. One cannot learn to skate, or to speak in public, or a foreign language, or any new skill, without looking ridiculous occasionally. But it does no harm to look ridiculous, and it is a ladder to mastery. © Trevor Leggett

Old people have a significant role to play, and some of them find it.

The problem for old people in the West is not that they are regarded as junk, but they regard themselves as junk. In many countries of the East, there are not so many old people, but those there are, are often better off, not materially but in quality of life. They have a significant role to play, and some of them find it. In the East, it is expected that older people will turn to religion, which traditionally provides means to inner development. But this is not generally accepted in the West, which prides itself in its sceptical – though in fact deeply fearful – free thinking. So let us adopt provisionally some of the dogmas of this so-called free thinking. Even the doctrine of evolution at its most materialistic can give an indication to old people what to do. First, let them ask themselves, or be asked, Why do …

Read moreOld people have a significant role to play, and some of them find it.

The Lord says, he thinks more of his beard than of Me

The Sufi Attar relates that a certain religious man used to perfume and comb his beard for some time every day before his devotions, in order that he might appear before the Lord at his best. A saint of God had a revelation which he was to convey to that devotee: “The Lord says, he thinks more of his beard than of Me”. When that man received the message he gave a great cry of remorse. Thereafter every evening before prayer, he tore out one handful of the beard, leaving his face bleeding, that it might bear witness to his repentance. Another revelation came to the saint: “He is still thinking more about his beard than of Me”. In his Mathnavi, the Sufi poet Rumi declares that if mystical truths are investigated too methodically, so that the dialectic of question and answer becomes lengthy, then the savour of Love’s mystery …

Read moreThe Lord says, he thinks more of his beard than of Me

As Gladstone Did Not Say

William Gladstone (1809-1898) was four times British Prime Minister, and arguably the greatest statesman of the century. His policies played a big part in preventing the revolution that Marx had foreseen. Gladstone coined many memorable phrases which were in constant use; in 1888: ‘I will back the masses against the classes.’ The interest for yoga is the extraordinary control that Gladstone exercised over his own mind. There is a striking example towards the end of his life when, as an old man, he saw his progressive programme voted down in Parliament for very dubious reasons, so that his government fell. How did he spend his weekend? Not in bitter recriminations against opponents: that artful, scheming Disraeli; not in foreseeing the country going to the dogs. In other words, not an angry old man’s typical outbursts when fate has turned against him. No. He wrote a six thousand-word paper, in beautiful …

Read moreAs Gladstone Did Not Say

Life Rage

There is ‘road rage’ on being passed or obstructed, on a highway. But life itself is a series of obstructions and overtaking in every field and there is a smouldering life rage in the heart of nearly everyone. We live by artificial standards which themselves are constantly changing. Emerson once wrote that for most people one of the highest pleasures is the consciousness of being really well dressed. But if someone appeared today in that well dressed look of his time, people would simply laugh. The same is true of more central things: it was rightly said that reputation lies in the breath of the people. We have to develop inner balance and inner firm footing, and become independent of outer supports. This does mean in the end an independence of life and death. When Socrates remarked that he need not pay attention to spiteful words, he was challenged: “But …

Read moreLife Rage

Learning by Heart

It should be mentioned at the beginning that in Britain at least, the concept of education has been bedevilled by a false etymology. Education is thought to come from the Latin prefix e- meaning ‘out’ and the verb ducere, ‘to lead’. So it is supposed that the desire for knowledge is inherent in the child, and needs only to be ‘led out’. Give children the facilities, said Bertrand Russell, following Morris and others, and they will learn all they need spontaneously. They will learn to read naturally, because they are surrounded by writings, and will be curious to know what these say. It is further assumed that the process must be made agreeable, interesting, and amusing. If it is not, that is a failure to provide “what the child needs”. This is not borne out by experience. Westerners in the Far East, for instance, surrounded by Chinese writings, very rarely …

Read moreLearning by Heart

Paper Belief

In one of Barrie’s plays, there is a shipwreck, and for the first night the old Earl is separated from the others. When they meet up the next day, he complains how cold he has been, and his daughter says: “But Daddy, why didn’t you make a fire by rubbing two sticks together?” He replied irritably: “Have you ever tried to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together?” She says no more. She had read and believed, like so many others, that Indians and Polynesians and perhaps Boy Scouts could make a fire by friction, but this belief would hold only so long as no weight was put on it. In the same way, exalting texts can be read and believed, but only so long as there is no risk of having to depend on them. Teachers have called this ‘paper belief’; some rate it even thinner than paper, …

Read morePaper Belief

Movement, No Movement

There is an oral tradition in some schools of yoga that persistent application to a spiritual practice creates a disturbance in the higher regions where live the beings sometimes called bodhisattvas. A modern teacher remarked to a pupil that sustained sincere effort at a practice would make a sort of ripple there, and one of the great bodhisattvas would turn to look at it: “There is a movement here. Let me see whether there is an opening being created through which I can pour help and blessings.” This same teacher said, when one pupil went and asked for help for another pupil who was feeling depressed and cast aside: “Oh, there’s no movement there. It’s a sort of enjoyment of despair. There’s no real movement.” That teacher used to say, when asked about a particular project or practice undertaken by a pupil: “Does something come out of it?” Her students …

Read moreMovement, No Movement

Limitations on the Avatar

Children’s questions can embarrass even theologians: “Could Jesus have got down off the cross if he wanted to?” Or in the Old Testament: “Why does it say it say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart every night, and then sent another plague in the morning to make him change his mind?” Similarly, in the Indian epic Ramayana, the Avatar Rama who is God incarnate lay unconscious and paralysed on the battle field, in the grip of magic snakes projected by the villainous enemy. Rama’s allies are bewildered; how can this happen, how can the incarnation of omnipotent God lie there helpless. Some of them say: “It is not for us to have doubts and questionings. This must be a voluntary act, so we should simply wait till the Lord chooses to recover, throw off the snakes, and get up in his own good time.” But this is not at all the …

Read moreLimitations on the Avatar

The Cure

Some people find that when they begin a yogic discipline their mind is not calmed but more agitated and distracted than before. They complain to the teacher about this and ask for some remedy. Let us suppose that patients go to a skilful doctor to cure an ailment caused by a common mistake in lifestyle. He gives each of them the same remedy with the warning some of them might experience a few untoward side effects. Suppose further that one of them comes to the doctor and says, I have been following the treatment, but my health seems to be getting worse. I now have this and this and this as well. Can you give me something more to cure the new symptoms. The doctor replies, “What you call new symptoms show that the cure is working, in a way they are the cure, and you can’t ask me for …

Read moreThe Cure

The Cave

The Japanese Zen Master Fugai, though a talented artist and poet, often took to living in some cave, unknown to anyone. It has been thought that he did this partly to avoid fame and reputation which can easily gather round a noted teacher in a monastery. He once remarked, however, “Perhaps it is easy to give something up – after all it must be easier than chasing after it or vigilantly guarding it. Perhaps it’s easy to give the world up as a monk. But what is difficult to give up is the thought ‘I’ve given these things up’. Until that has been given up and forgotten there is no true renunciation.” In yoga too there is a parallel: people sometimes say a bit arrogantly that the true yoga is not “running away from the world to the peace of a cave in the Himalayas but practising yoga here and …

Read moreThe Cave

Pioneers and Scavengers

‘If you associate with dogs you have to be prepared for quite a lot of barking.’ A genuine thirteenth century Chinese saying: ‘A furious tiger rises up but is killed and then a tiny kitten comes up and laps the blood.’ This exemplifies third rate thinkers who try to sit on the body, so to speak, of the dead master and get a little of his prestige and strength. Compare the Western saying about pioneers and scavengers. Pioneers find the new tracks in the forest but sooner or later they are struck down by some wild beast and they die. Then the scavengers come afterwards and pick over the bones. In the same way great innovative thinkers or scholars die, and the scavengers come and pick holes where they can find any little scraps. But they contribute nothing original themselves. Compare Patanjali IV.3 Sutra: That cause (Samadhi) is not the …

Read morePioneers and Scavengers

Falling In Love

Falling In Love In music, don’t fall in love with a particular note, however perfectly played. Don’t fall in love with any particular piece, however beautiful, with the feeling that this is enough. Don’t fall in love with a musician, however skilful. Don’t fall in love with a particular composer or composers, however wonderful. Fall in love with the source of the inspiration that is struggling to express itself through the imperfect channel; it is imperfect, however technically adept the musician or the composer may be. John Lill, the virtuoso pianist, remarked in a BBC interview in 1999: ‘After a concert, if people come to me and say: ‘What a wonderful pianist you are,’ I say: ‘Thank you very much,’ but I reckon I have failed.’ But, if they say to me: ‘What wonderful music that was – what wonderful pieces,’ then I reckon I have at least partially fulfilled …

Read moreFalling In Love

Samurai Poetry

When the Samurai class was established as the ruling caste in Japan at the beginning of the 18th century the warriors were required to educate themselves in practical administration. This included literary skills, culture in general and some familiarity with law. The Samurai had been, even in the early days of the 13th century, relatively literate, compared to the often unlettered Knights and even Kings of the West. It was traditional for some of them to take part in poetry competitions, though of a rather special kind. In an ordinary poetry contest there are two or three winners so to say, and some in the second rank, as judged by the expert arbiters. These last were often famous poets, but in any case critics of some standing. However, such a result would not perhaps be satisfactory in the case of Warriors intensely conscious of what they call their ‘Honour’. The …

Read moreSamurai Poetry

Free Fall

A rock, or a human being, falling from a cliff is said to be in free fall. But they are not free, because they have no choice. Similarly, those dominated by instinctive impulses often claim to be freely enjoying them, but in fact they are no more free than a falling rock. They are not free to check themselves. Freedom can be a sort of verbal trick. When Henry Ford first introduced mass production, his famous Model T was always painted black. A reporter from abroad asked him whether customers could choose other colours. `They are free to choose any colour they like,’ replied Ford, `as long as they like black.’ Another instance, which provided a good deal of entertainment in its own way, came about when a successful English abstract painter was being interviewed (of course through an interpreter) on the French radio. The interviewer asked: `Would you explain …

Read moreFree Fall

Competition

The bad loser, the mentally agitated man, is always saying: ‘I am off my game today.’ I once made an enemy for life, when I was young, and even more tactless than I am today, by answering a man who said this: ‘No, this is your game. You nearly always play like this.’ And so he did. He knew from experience that he could play well, but he hardly ever did, and his idea was that he was somehow off his game that day. The fact was that his game was the same almost every time; the occasional fine performance only occurred when his mind was calm. We have a sort of myth, in competitive sports, that you have to be in a rage in order to get the necessary adrenaline going. But that is not so – people in a rage lose their judgement. In a fairly limited sphere …

Read moreCompetition

A Prince Reprimanded

After Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mogul Empire began to decay and India was effectively split into independent states. Their authority was often weak, and much of the country was at the mercy of brigands and freebooters. After the British were more or less invited in to restore order, many of the states retained semi-autonomy, though protected by the central government. Some of the rulers used to send their sons to be educated at a private school for princes run on English lines. This had many advantages besides learning the language of the sovereign power: the youngsters could meet each other without the constraining, and distancing, punctilio of formal court etiquette. They met, and often made lasting friendships, on so to say neutral ground. The school was widely respected till Independence in 1947, when the princes ceased to exist as such. The successive English headmasters had some interesting experiences with …

Read moreA Prince Reprimanded

Wisdom for Kings from the Vishnu Purana

Shri Parashara said :— Being infatuated by their attachment to their mortal bodies, how many kings have lived blindly, thinking of conquest only ! They never pause to think that this world belongs to no human being, and that God alone is the Lord of all. They have all died in despair, filled with anxiety and often assailed by ingratitude. How many of them have come and gone, how many are dying every year, and yet the present ones do not give up their greed for conquest. O Maitreya, listen to the following verses spoken by the Earth, which in ancient times the Muni Asit gave to King Janaka :— “ These kings think they are wise and yet they are blind to Truth ! They are convinced of the immortality of their body and the permanence of their power and glory, which is comparable to the bubbles on the …

Read moreWisdom for Kings from the Vishnu Purana

Have mercy on yourself

Whenever you are discovering the mote in your brother’s eye, you are putting the beam in your own. In order to have mercy on yourself, you must give up this fault-finding and this denouncing of others. —Swami Rama Tirtha The kingdom of heaven is within you : and whosoever knoweth himself shall find it,—A saying of Jesus, from a Greek papyrus, discovered in 1903

Saubhari and Samnada from the Vishnu Purana

A Sage by the name of Saubhari meditated for twelve years in the water. There lived a big fish by the name of Samnada who had a large number of children and grandchildren, all obedient and affectionate to him. This fish was the sovereign of the water. Accompanied by his progeny, the king fish sported in the water of his own free will, in perfect freedom and delight. The attention of the Sage was attracted by the king fish and he began to envy his delight, freedom and sovereignty. Hegaveuphisww^A/ and began to contemplate the sportive movements of the happy fish. One day he said to himself :—“ Blessed, blessed is this king fish ! He has so many children and grandchildren, and moves about freely in complete happiness. Why should I not be like him ? ” He came forth from the water and applied to the great King …

Read moreSaubhari and Samnada from the Vishnu Purana

The Third Don’t Know

Uesugi Kenshin was the Galahad of mediaeval Japanese chivalry, and like the Galahad of the Western Arthurian legend was somewhat tactless and even arrogant in his youth. Kenshin was keenly interested in Buddhism and came to hear of the discourses on Zen given at a certain temple by a great Zen abbot, also as it happened with the same Buddhist name Kenshin. The young Uesugi decided to go to one of the sermons and engage the abbot in debate afterward, so he rode up one day without announcing his coming and went in to hear the sermon. That day the abbot was speaking on a case from the Zen classic Hekiganroku: Bodhidharma’s “Vastness, No Holiness!” The Ryo Emperor Bu asked the teacher Bodhidharma: “What is the first principle of the holy truth?” Bodhidharma said: “Vastness, no holiness!” Quoth the emperor: “Who is it that confronts Us?” Bodhidharma said: “Don’t know.” …

Read moreThe Third Don’t Know

Thrust From The Classics

‘If you think I know it well, then little indeed you know.’ (Kena Upanishad) With these words, the teacher gives the mind of a pupil a shake. The words are a thrust at self-satisfaction. The pupil has an intellectual grasp of Brahman, Truth, and some experience of it, but he thinks that this shining intellectual experience is the true Knowledge which gives liberation from confinement in body-mind individuality – a succession of birth and death. The teacher gives a thrust: ‘If you think that this is knowing it, you know almost nothing about it.’ Badly shaken, the pupil leaves the group of disciples and goes to a solitary place. There he sits down in the deep meditation that leads to samadhi, and takes the needle-point of his ‘I’ consciousness beyond associations and memories. In the Zen phrase, the bottom falls out of the bucket. He comes back, and the teacher …

Read moreThrust From The Classics

He was regarded as the embodiment of justice

One wing of the palace abutted on a rubbish heap; there was the outline of a door faintly to be seen on the wall. It was rumoured that each year the King stood for an hour behind the door, and if anyone asked for admittance, he took him in. It was not said what the king would do then. A merchant was wronged by a minister, but could not prove his case. He abandoned the rest of his property, and stood day and night in front of the outline of the door, every hour asking for admission in the hope that some time the King would be there. At first he nearly died of hardship. Then a passing horseman threw him an old straw coat, and a beggar brought him some scraps. The city people heard of him, and came to see the man standing in front of the wall. …

Read moreHe was regarded as the embodiment of justice

Truce and Peace

In some traditions, the spiritual stages are presented in terms of warfare. In a remote province of a kingdom well and justly governed, there is a local warlord who from his walled city makes continual raids. The kings small standing forces goes out to meet the raiders. They are professional soldiers, and though few in number can nearly always defeat the raiders quickly so that they run back to their remote stronghold. But the raids have generally done a certain amount of damage to local towns and villages before they are repulsed. This situation is compared to the ordinary life of a yogi. Periodically, it is broken up by raids from the instinctive desires located below the surface of the mind. The yogi may have quite a battle with them but by the yogic means of devotion, analysis and meditation he can finally repulse the attacks, though often not before …

Read moreTruce and Peace

Two Hooks

Man’s bondage to circumstances and his dependence on them can be thought of in terms of two interlocking hooks. One is within his own personality and one is the form of external objects or the ideas of external objects. When the internal hook, so as to speak, catches the external hook man is drawn outwards; or perhaps he tries to use the connection to draw the outer thing into himself. In either case he is bound and in the end he is drawn outwards. The external hook is conceived of in the form of objects or of events and so on. The internal hook is what is called the yogya vasana, the desire associated with that external object or that mental fixed conception. And it is the interlocking of the two which creates the bondage. Suppose for instance one sees an attractive meal full of sugar and fat; the mind …

Read moreTwo Hooks

First order or last order

In armies, the chains of command have to be settled. One problems is: conflict of orders. Suppose a soldier is ordered by an officer to take a small box to HQ, and on the way officer asks where he is going, and then says: `Oh, so you can take this packet and hand it in at the radio station – it’s almost on your way.’ Now should the soldier take the packet, or should he refuse and say: `Sir, I’ve got to deliver this box straight away’? In history, some armies have opted for the First Order, and some for the Second Order. But let us look at the application in inner spiritual training. The rule for here is: First Order. When even a little inner practice is being done, the buddhi – the fraction of the cosmic mind which is located in the personality – is beginning to waken. …

Read moreFirst order or last order

Money and fame

Real virtue is to feel  from the heart at all right actions. And the sin is not just a question of not doing right actions oneself, but being envious of them in others and wanting to spoil them, ending up as a mere tool of the passions arising from narrow selfishness, a mere slave to name and profit. The illustrious Emperor Kiso of the T‘ang Dynasty in China once made a visit to the Kinzanji temple on the Yangtze River. At the temple the scenery is exceptionally fme, and the throne was set at the top of the temple tower, giving the best view of the river. The emperor was conducted to his seat. He saw on the great river countless boats, some going up and some going down, some to the right and some to the left, so that it might almost have been mistaken for the sea. He …

Read moreMoney and fame

Memory: exercise not burden

It is thought to be axiomatic today that to require students to memorise many things will produce robots and “stifle creativity”. No evidence is usually produced for this assumption; it is somehow regarded as self-evident. Let us look at a definite case. In the English educational system we have to learn 26 letters of the alphabet, some of which have differing block capital forms. But in addition we have to learn the number digits 1-9, and how to read them. The digits are international, on the page but sound quite different when spoken in the various languages. For instance, 92 is read by us as ninety-two, but in French it is read quartre-vingt-douze. Then we have symbols such as ‘=’ equals, ‘=’ is-not–equal-to and so on. There are 30 or 40 of these that have to be learnt. Furthermore some of the digits 1,2,3…, are read differently when they are …

Read moreMemory: exercise not burden

Cured but not Healed

It is often supposed that good health means never to be ill. But in fact no-one can be always in good condition. There are little accidents, if nothing worse. Good health is simply a vigorous response to an adverse condition. Again, some people think health is manifested by ceaseless activity, like lambs frisking. But this sort of energy is not useful, because it is not available for any definite purpose as the occasion arises; to implement a purpose also requires that the body can be alert in relaxation at certain times. Good health means to be able to organise the available energy, not simply having plenty of it. The Yogic view of illness and health differs considerably from the commonplace idea of individual health as an absolute good in itself. It looks much wider: the health of a tiger is bad news for sheep, as the return to health of …

Read moreCured but not Healed

Reduce your mistakes

Mistakes A pupil who lived rather carelessly remarked: ‘Mistakes are a necessary part of the path of training. If you read the biographies of even the greatest, they all say that they made many mistakes. Some of them say that mistakes are necessary – one learns from them. So I don’t worry about my own conduct: let the mistakes come, I think, let ’em all come. I’ll go through them and come out the other side. It is all part of the path.’ This was put to a senior pupil, a business woman, for her opinion. She remarked: ‘You need not tell him I said this, but I don’t think our teacher would rate the idea very high in terms of clear thinking. It’s easy to get woolly about spiritual things. I remember when I learnt to type. It was in a class. Of course we made mistakes, but the …

Read moreReduce your mistakes

A Zen Story

Why does Christ provoke the authorities to make away with him, and utter on the cross the first line of Psalm 22, “Lord, Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me”? (This becomes a song of triumph only at the end.) Why does Krishna, an earlier incarnation, born as a warrior and a matchlessly skilled fighter, take on himself the role of an unarmed charioteer in the great battle, so that his body is riddled with arrows? Why did Buddha, born to inherit the leadership of his people, become a wandering beggar to spread his teaching? One answer is that many of those who come for spiritual teaching are in suffering, and it has to be demonstrated by example that spiritual realization can be tried for, and attained, in states of suffering. Instruction from someone who has the same difficulties and overcomes them is more effective than that given from the heights. …

Read moreA Zen Story

Last Words

A teacher of the Gita Yoga had as a disciple an Englishman brought up to restrain expression of feeling. The teacher approved of this as a basis, but got him to take part in amateur theatricals and public speaking so that there should be some creative expression. The Englishman’s mother was sceptical, (though she had been baptized) and often sarcastic about religion. They lived far apart, and when they did meet he never talked about his beliefs and practice. She had a vague idea that he was inclined to some strange Oriental cult, but she would dismiss the subject of religion in a few sharp words if ever it appeared on the conversational horizon. She recognised that he was a good son to her. When finally she fell very ill, he took her into his home to look after her in the final stages. Now the teacher had told this …

Read moreLast Words

Gift No Gift

All spiritual schools lay stress on giving. But to know how to give is a great spiritual virtue, and there are many gifts which are no gifts at all. A grandfather came to visit his son’s family in another part of the country` and when he left` gave to the little grandson some special sweet cakes. That evening the manager of the company where the father worked came to see him for an emergency business consultation. It was the custom to put a display of cakes in front of a guest` who however by the same custom never took more than one. The mother had no cakes in the house, and asked the child to give his cakes to entertain the ” uncle “. The boy refused` but the mother pointed out that though the cakes must be given` the visitor would only take one and leave the rest. ” …

Read moreGift No Gift

The Blue Cloth

When the teacher first founded the group they were poor, and had only a cheap undyed 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: “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 not noticed at the time because they were so poor. Then it was forgotten. Many years later, a new member reading over the old records came across it. He bought a blue silk cloth, and had it beautifully embroidered with the …

Read moreThe Blue Cloth

The Magistrate

A TEACHER of the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita came to the district and set up a school in a village there. When this was reported to the local magistrate (the chief administrative officer for the district), he was displeased. He was a follower of a Western philosopher who held that traditional religion and its compulsive morality was the cause of many of the ills of man. The magistrate had a great love for the people of the district, and worked night and day to bring them to what he saw as modern and progressive views. He therefore put many obstacles in the way of the Yoga teacher, and for a time was successful in turning public opinion against him. When he heard that the school was also teaching secular subjects to the local children (admittedly poorly served by the present arrangements, because of the poverty of the district) he …

Read moreThe Magistrate

One Step, Twenty Steps

WHEN someone takes one step towards the Lord, the Lord takes twenty steps towards him.’ It is a striking phrase which has vivified and energized the devotion of many yogis. Nevertheless, it can be interpreted, disregarding the plain meaning of the words, into something quite different. In an off-guard period, one who believes himself a devotee can reason something like this: `What this says is, that when I take a step towards Him, the Lord takes twenty steps towards me. In fact He is doing the same as I do, and then He is adding nineteen more steps of his own. So if I take no step at all, then admittedly the Lord will not take that step either; but then He will add nineteen steps of his own to it. He won’t arrive quite so quickly, perhaps, but the difference will soon be made up.’ Someone who heard of …

Read moreOne Step, Twenty Steps

The Swimmer

An anxious man, always trying to foresee every possible eventuality so that he could prepare counter – measures, came to a yoga group. There he took up to reading historical and legendary incidents in the scriptures, so that he would get to know how spiritual people behave. ‘You’ve no need to do that,’ an experienced disciple told him. ‘Our teacher tells us to try to become enlightened ourselves, rather than just reading about the enlightenment and enlightened actions of others.’ ‘But how is one to know what to do?’ replied the new disciple, and he went on as before. He happened to be an expert swimmer, and the senior one day asked him whether he could demonstrate the racing dive he had heard about. The swimmer readily agreed, pleased to be able to show his skill, and they went together to the swimming baths. The expert changed into swimming trunks, …

Read moreThe Swimmer

Emptying

A teacher used to point out to his pupils that what is already full cannot take in any more. This well – known Zen principle is often illustrated by pouring tea into a filled cup so that it overflows on to the table and floor. This teacher went on to say that when there is a vacuum in the mind, illumination can come to fill it. The pupils did not understand this but let it go, except for one who persistently asked him what he meant exactly. ‘How can we make a vacuum in the mind?’ he would say, to which the teacher made no reply but sat silent. After some repetitions of this, the teacher told him: ‘Well, as you are so keen, I’ll give you some private instruction on it, if you’re willing to prepare by purifying yourself,’ and he gave him elaborate directions for a daily ritual …

Read moreEmptying

A Friend in Need

(The word buddhi, which is used in this piece, is the spiritually discerning aspect of the mind. The training of buddhi is one of the major purposes of yoga practice. In yoga it has the general sense of being awake in a directed manner and, when purified, is the repository of the higher powers of spiritual inspiration. It can also be a force for ill when turned to darkness. Editor) The Dilemma What is the difference between action on the individual and on the cosmic plane? Suppose an obsessive gambler once more approaches a better-off friend `for a small loan’, perhaps of Forty Pounds and perhaps of Four Hundred.  He promises it will not be spent on betting, a promise he has made, and broken, many times before.  The friend knows what will happen, but often he cannot refuse the bedraggled figure. Now if he has done some meditation, the …

Read moreA Friend in Need

Illusion has no Rules

It may seem that an illusion gets thinner and finally fades away after quite some time. But in fact it is the reaction that gets thinner; the illusion as such goes all at once. It can take quite some time to get over the idea that every man in uniform is ipso facto a bully and tyrant, or that every Armenian or Jew or Parsee is by his very nature a subtle business man. Dispelling big illusions, too, usually takes quite some time. But in all these cases some striking counter‑example can bring the whole belief‑system down like a pack of cards. Because it is an illusion, it can go suddenly at any moment. In a Tibetan version of the Life of the Buddha, there is an interesting passage, on which a great Indian teacher made a striking comment. The original passage describes how Mara, king of the demons, set …

Read moreIllusion has no Rules

Only One Way

It is worth knowing that one can get hypnotized into thinking that there’s only one way to do a thing correctly. It’s the Right Way, and there are no other ways. At All‑India Radio, where I worked for a time, I used to see Indian violinists. My father was a professional violinist, one of the best of his generation. He led at the Covent Garden Opera for several years, and for a good time after that for Sir Thomas Beecham. So I felt I knew something about violin playing. I was watching an Indian violinist in an AIR studio, playing in the orthodox way with the violin tucked under his left chin. It is axiomatic that the instrument must be held firmly in that way; at the very beginning, a pupil is made to hold the instrument like this, and then take away the supporting left hand. The instrument has …

Read moreOnly One Way

Practice

We can have ideas and then practise, but prac­tice has to be done till it goes past practice, until it is no longer practice. Here is an example I heard from a master I knew. It was around the turn of the century, and the master happened to be in the place where the maids were doing the laundry. They were doing it as they did in Japan then: they soak the washing in the suds and then put it on a board and hit it with their fists. That knocks the dirt out. (In India they used to swing a garment high and smash it down on a stone; effective but not so good for the garment in the long run.) He saw the maids doing this, and he stopped them and gave them a lesson in using the edge of the hand instead of the fists, and showed …

Read morePractice

Doing Good as against Not Doing Harm

My impression is that there is a difference between typical Eastern and Far Eastern attitudes, and typical Western ones. Take a case given by the Chinese Zen master Tozan. You see a hungry snake pursuing a frog. What do you do? Not liking snakes, you get a stick and beat off or maybe kill it. You save the frog, and the frog immediately goes on to catch flies on its long sticky tongue. On the other hand, suppose you don’t interfere. Then the snake will eat the frog, and the flies will be safe, at least from that frog. So if you interfere, the snake loses, the frog does well, the flies lose. If you don’t interfere, the snake does well, the frog loses, and the flies do well. That is two to one! So you do better not interfering. My impression is that most of the rules in the …

Read moreDoing Good as against Not Doing Harm

Words of Love

This little piece is a bit pedantic; it’s on education, from the British end. I heard a lady on the radio talking rather sensibly about it, but she said at one point: ‘I had an education myself, so I knew that the word education comes from the Latin e out and ducere to lead. So education should be leading out, drawing out, what is in the‑child already.’ This derivation from the Latin e‑ducere is quite a common idea. But it was answered irritably by a scholar: ‘Madam. I regret to tell you that our word education does not come from the Latin e‑ducere, to lead out. The English word from e‑ducere is education, which does indeed mean leading out. But education comes from the Latin educare, meaning to educate or train. On this point, we can consid­er a remark by Iida: ‘The words of love are not always kindly words.’ …

Read moreWords of Love

Unsteadiness

IN HER last work, Interior Castle, St. Teresa remarks that instability of spiritual states is often a cause of bewilderment to spiritual aspirants. They felt sure that what they experienced at times of devotion in favourable circumstances would be with them for ever; when they found later that somehow it had gone, they were liable to lose confidence and give up. A Zen master, discussing the same point, compares the spiritual path to a journey in a rowing boat along a coast where there is a strong tide. Half the time it helps, and half the time the tide is against. Beginners usually enter on the practice when things are favourable, and they make rapid progress up to a point, but when they find the “tide” has changed, many of them become discouraged because they find they can hardly advance any further, and they stop trying. So the contrary tide …

Read moreUnsteadiness

If you’re going to die, die quick!

I knew a Japanese woman, who was a Christian, whose mother had trained in Zen under a great teacher, at the end of the last century. The daughter told me a story about her mother (which the mother had related to her once, very privately). She became very ill, and she went to her Zen teacher and told him that the doctors had hinted to her that she was going to die, that the illness was fatal. The teacher said, “After three years nobody will miss you.” She said, I’m going to die. Can’t you’ help me?” He shouted, ‑If you’re going to die, die quick!” ‑ pushed her out of the room and slammed the sliding doors behind her. So she went into the mountains to die quick.  She went to a cave. On the second night she had a vision of Bodhisattvas, standing in a vast space. Something …

Read moreIf you’re going to die, die quick!

Spiritual Schools

” Whoever always meditates on Him, whether from desire, anger, fear, affection, friendship, or reverence, surely becomes one with Him.”-Shrimad Bhagavat. ” He worships Me with his whole being.”-Gita. The tradition in all great mystical schools is that to have Enlightenment it is necessary to study under a teacher. The teacher is one who knows the Scriptures, who has woken up from the illusion of the passing world, and who has realized in his own experience the identity of the individual soul with the all-pervading Spirit. The teacher does not speak as an individual ; his voice is the voice of Reality, though heard from the mouth of a man. To grasp this point, take the case of a dream.  It is a fact, established by Freud among others, that a dream tries to protect its existence against the incursions of reality. If a bell rings in the sleeper’s room, …

Read moreSpiritual Schools

Notes

“Our teacher,” said a disciple to a friend of his, “won’t let us take notes when he gives his sermons. Still, he always speaks on one of the classical texts, so as soon as possible afterwards, a group of us meet together and recover as much as we can from memory. With the basic text to consult, we can between us recall nearly everything that he’s said, and then we can get it down. ” “But why won’t he allow notes while he’s speaking?” asked the friend. “‘Yes, we’d always wondered that”, went on the disciple. “He just says at the beginning of every year that he doesn’t want us to take notes. None of us felt we had the right to ask him; I mean, a teacher’s decision mustn’t be questioned, must it? But we thought we’d like to know. “Well, one day, when we knew that some outsiders …

Read moreNotes

Lions and Tigers

LIONS AND TIGERS “All living beings have been Buddhas from the very beginning. It is like ice and water : apart from water no ice can exist.” Hakuin’s Meditation Song. The most troublesome problem for human nature in any age is the question of reputation and profit. Its solution means the difference between ignorance and enlightenment, between sinking and swimming. There are only two paths : to make use of reputation and profit as their master, or to be driven by them as their slave. Generally people take the second. On this point there is an amusing story. A great tiger, the pride of a certain Zoo, died. The proprietor was greatly worried about the effect on the Zoo’s popularity, and finally evolved a plan to have the dead tiger stuffed and hire someone to get inside it and imitate a living tiger. It was difficult to find a man, …

Read moreLions and Tigers

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!