Dogen was the great patriarch he brought the Soto line of Zen from China to Japan in the 13th centu

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 and leave everything behind. Not merely your house and your possessions but your name and your very individuality itself are abandoned without a backward look you throw yourself down at the portal of the Buddha’s house. The teacher who was thus echoing Dogen’s thought remarked that the people who invite …

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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 wave it on when desirable. This can be practised during the day by periodically setting the body and mind to come to calmness, preferably in isolation. The ideas of the world that have been occupying the mind are cut short, and a yogic idea – say a picture of some …

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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 that there are even some diabetics – and not necessarily stupid people – who are given a diet to control their diabetes, which is carefully worked out by experts to be nourishing and tasty. Some of them fall into a sort of delusion that after they have done their duty, …

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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 14: “If I do not go, the Holy Spirit will not come to you” “The Father will send another, the Holy Spirit of Truth, to you” and “You know him: he is in you.” “The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything.” “If …

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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 firmness, and is perfectly adapted for its purpose. But it is not necessarily particularly attractive. Now suppose it has been in use for a hundred years. A good deal of the varnish will have been rubbed off the arms where the sitter has let himself down. For some years it …

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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 fact, the financial disaster was not total, but some of the treasures had to be sold. The teacher’s comment, however, made a deep impression on the younger disciple. After that, whenever he had a stroke of good fortune, he immediately gave away a little, anonymously if he could. At first …

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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 advances, there can be unusual happenings which are traditionally holy but the meditator is warned against becoming attached to them. Attachment will impair his meditation. A yogi who lived on top of a hill in a remote area used to meditate every day either inside his little hut or in …

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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 divided those two big chords among the strings, instead of that very awkward double stopping…” She reached up and pulled his head down beside her own. To his amazement, he heard the opening bars of Leonora No. 3, double stopping and all. It turned out that when broadcasting was just …

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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 the personality – is beginning to waken. In any situation, it gives a prompt: “Do this”. The deepest impulse is to obey, because this is the voice of one’s own true Self. But almost at once there is a modifying order from the surface self: “That might lead to a …

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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 clean. The mind can be taken as the bucket of water, dirty with traces of past impressions of almost pointless distractions and involvements. They often become putrid. If there is a realization of the pointless suffering that is caused, a repentance or even a dramatic conversion perhaps, then the usual …

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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 also. When we are young we often have a keen sense of right and wrong. Then we join a company, and we find that everybody is stealing some of the paper and the envelopes and so on, and because everybody is doing it, the edges of our moral sense become …

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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 assumption that it is all naïve speculation. It never occurs to him to wonder whether there might be a working reality there.   © 1999 Trevor Leggett

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 sense of joy departs. The yoga practice is, to prepare oneself to throw away gain and loss, life and death, “as a horse shakes off the loose hairs from his mane.” For a moment, we are to try to shake off the world and its concerns like those loose hairs. …

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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 the footpath, and the birds came and ate it up……’ and at the end: ‘And some of the seed fell into good soil, where it grew and bore fruit.’ As a matter of fact, there is a general question that needs to be asked, namely: What was this sower doing? …

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