The Immutable Scripture

A word on the full title of the Sutra, which is Maha-Prajna-Paramita Heart Sutra. The first three words are Sanskrit, Mahaliterally meaning great, Prajna meaning wisdom and Paramita meaning having reached the farther shore. Maha here has the sense of ultimate, and Prajna means wisdom in the Buddhist sense, namely negation of all things, not the little intellectual wisdom of the world. So Maha-Prajna means: by the knowledge of ultimate Emptiness to make all things Emptiness. Through the power of the great wisdom, which makes absolutely everything Emptiness, to cross over to the other shore—Param-ita. When it is said to make everything Emptiness, what is meant is human life, our actual life in society, with our crying and laughing, elation and sorrow. In Buddhism this life is called the world of birth-and-death. Buddhism is the desire to make this world Emptiness and to live, as far as it may be …

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We are told in the holy texts to speak the truth

We are told in the holy texts of Buddhism, as well as in other traditions, to speak the truth. And what we say should be beneficial, should be pleasantly uttered, and should not cause excitement. When I speak, I can decide whether to tell the truth, say something that simply doesn’t matter, or perhaps just utter vicious lies. It is my decision. As a matter of fact, I often decide to tell the truth, but there is something quite different from this. If I speak the truth, I am a good man while I am speaking it, but there is something higher than goodness. The Brahmins of India were not supposed to have executive power. They were to be men of piety and learning who taught the holy texts, and morality when it was needed. They would get a fee for this. They could even reprimand kings, but must speak …

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Zen calligraphy often brushes a circle to represent Perfection

Zen calligraphy often brushes a circle to represent Perfection. It is sometimes a massive ring, but in this piece by Bankei the circle is merely hinted at with two light strokes. The poem reads in free translation: Not the Buddha of the past, Nor the Buddha of the future— This is someone else. The poem refers to a phrase in the Mumonkan classic, which refers to some fellow who is not (the classical Buddha) Shakyamuni nor Maitreya (the Buddha to come). The calligrapher is the famous seventeenth-century Japanese Zen priest Bankei. who spread what he termed ‘Unborn Zen’, corresponding to the Indian doctrine of A-jata-vada, the teaching that nothing has ever been born. Perfection from the Old Zen Master © Trevor Leggett

Forty can help you. I know that it works

This is from my personal experience as a judo man. Although it is technical, the technical point itself is of no importance to the story which, perhaps, can help you. I know that it works. I will just sketch out the judo position. When you meet the opponent you can get a hold on the lapel with one hand on the inside, and you have to be content with the other hand holding the other lapel on the outside. This is because opponents do not face each other quite directly. It would be an advantage to have both hands inside, but your opponent won’t let you do that. Now, you may meet another opponent who insists on putting his second hand inside as well, which would give an advantage. It is quite easy to throw the second hand off, and you do it immediately. Then he comes and puts it …

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The Full Glory in Great Religions

The great religions of the world, if they are gone into, have a mystical side which is not far removed one from the other. It is also reasonable to say that in certain religions the full glory of some facet shows itself. For instance, in Christianity the full glory of service has shown itself. There is service in Buddhism, but not the great Orders of service, such as the Jesuit Order which has educated half the world (including many communists). Again, it had never struck me, before a foreigner pointed it out, that many of our hospitals are named after saints—St Mary’s, St Bartholomew’s—which shows that originally they were religious foundations. So we can say that, in Christianity, the glory of service has really shown itself. One of the glories that has shown itself in Buddhism is detachment in action, and another is the freedom, the transcendence of the limited …

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Envying something that didn’t exist

This is a recent story of two students in a provincial town in Iran: The new government of the Shah was looking for young talent to promote into government and sent a minister to the provincial towns in order to recruit the brightest. Two very promising students had done exceptionally well and the minister was going to interview both of them, but he had only a day in the town and one of the students suddenly went down with an acute illness. Only one of them was therefore interviewed, and that one was taken to the capital to begin his new life. For the one who went down with the illness, it was just bad luck. He was left behind. He wrote in his account many years later that he felt bitter, but made the best of it. He got on with his life and became a prominent man in …

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It is a common view that mindfulness is thinking

It is a common view that mindfulness is thinking—Now I’m walking. Now I’m talking. Now I’m not walking or talking, but just standing. Now I’m sitting down… It is just like a running BBC commentary. But, as a matter of fact, words cannot describe these things. Words can never describe what you do when you walk. There is only the actual living experience. If you say ‘walk’, does that mean the toe comes down first, the heel comes down first, or the foot comes down flat? The living experience is awareness of it all, but words can never describe it. Mindfulness in words—trying to make an internal commentary of what one is doing—is just a kind of illusion. It can be compared to putting into words something that cannot be put into words, and that is not at all what is meant by mindfulness. The best example that I know …

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Casual doubts can be a problem. The mind dithers

Casual doubts can be a problem. The mind dithers: Science does not believe in anything beyond the material effects to which everything can be reduced … Oh, but Einstein believed in a spiritual reality . . . Einstein lived a long time ago, you know. In 1970 Monod wrote Chance and Necessity—a very influential book, a very important book . . . But there are modern scientists like Paul Davis, for instance. They find a design in the universe … This goes on endlessly. A casual doubt comes up . . . then it is challenged, and down it goes, but it comes up again in a new form. This is not the way to meet doubts, one by one. Taking a few days, one could consider the following: 1. Buddhism is an ancient tradition and so it knows the sort of thing that can happen. 2. It has a …

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Taking Refuge in the Sangha

There is support from the sangha (community), but it is very easy to start relying on that support and not contributing yourself. There was a famine in India and the poor were badly off. So the local Brahmin placed a small tank in the middle of the village square and covered it with wet cloths to keep it cool. Then he asked all the well- off to bring a pot of milk during the day and pour it into the tank. In the evening he would then call the poor together and dispense it to them to ensure that they at least had a little milk. That was agreed. But in the evening, when the Brahmin called the poor together and uncovered the tank, he found that there was nothing in it but water. Each householder had thought, ‘The others will put in milk, so my pot of water won’t …

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Studying the Holy Texts

It is worth knowing that if you have a bad character, you have to do a lot of study. This does not mean that everyone who studies has a bad character, but if you have a bad character and try to do good, what you do will usually be disastrous—you will take over things, you will boss people around, you will hate and destroy people who stand against you; it will be awful. If you study the holy texts, it will at least keep you out of mischief, which is a great advantage for the world! But you have to study properly. As an example, most Christians know the parable of the sower. The sower went forth to sow and as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the wayside and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell among the stones, others among thistles, and some on …

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Moss is cultivated as a symbol of inner realization

In Some Japanese temples, moss is cultivated as a symbol of inner realization. Its progress cannot be forced, and the cultivation, in fact, amounts to removing the obstacles to the natural growth. If these are patiently and continuously got rid of, however, the moss makes a surprisingly rapid advance. Moss, like realization, has a great inner strength against even extremes of change in the environment. Under very warm or very dry conditions mosses can become dormant, and quickly revive and grow again when conditions improve. If they feel like it, some of them can keep on growing even on hot, dry and exposed rocks. Most of them, however, grow best in shady and moist environments. In the temple gardens where they are cultivated, small trees are therefore planted which shed their leaves at different times of year, thus providing a certain amount of shade for the moss almost all the …

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Reason in the service of the ego

Sometimes a new idea can change the whole landscape of endeavour, so that everything appears in quite a different light. This applies to most fields of human activity. But in the case of spiritual endeavours, it has some special overtones. Take the case of doing certain jobs for the spiritual group, for example. Naturally, everyone would like to choose the job that they are good at. Someone good at adding would like to do the accounts, and someone good at gardening would like to help in the garden. But as the Christian saying has it: A cross selected is no true cross. To do what one can do well where others can see it, is an assertion of personality, and it has not much value as a discipline, though the community may get some benefit from it. Even that benefit, however, is usually offset by the unconscious arrogance of the …

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There is a firm calmness at the root of the mind which can be cultivated

The poem reads: PATIENT ENDURANCE Winds may come that are not pleasant— The willow! This poem is not to be read as an indication that there are storms before which any resistance is useless, so that we must be prepared for hopeless suffering. The willow branches are indeed whirled about by the will of the wind, but its root remains firm. There is a firm calmness at the root of the mind which can be cultivated, and the poem is a hint. The lower of the two large Chinese characters represents a sword-blade across the heart, showing that the adverse winds are not merely outer circumstances. But they pass, and the willow-root remains, unshaken even by a tempest which can uproot a great oak. The Willow from the Old Zen Master © Trevor Leggett

Sukha-Duhkha, Pleasure-Pain

This is the first piece. We hear of two words a lot in Indian thought—sukha (pleasure and happiness), and dubkha (sorrow or pain). These are familiar words in Buddhism, but there is a secret in them. Sukha comes from su, meaning ‘good’ and kha meaning ‘space’. Duhkha comes from dus (or duh, dur, dush and so on, depending on the next syllable of the Sanskrit compound) meaning ‘bad’, and kha, ‘space’. The origin of the words, with their sense of happiness or pleasure and sorrow or distress, comes from the application to the axle of a chariot. As you know, the axle goes through the centre of the wheel as it turns. Now su-kha ‘good space’ is when there is space so that the wheel can turn freely on the axle, and duh-kha ‘bad space’ is when there is not enough space, or when the space is uneven or gritty, …

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Kannon with a Thousand Arms

Now the second piece concerns a nobleman in the feudal days of Japan who had a responsible position. He developed a great respect for a certain fencing master and thought he would like to take up fencing himself. The teacher accepted this keen pupil, and after some time the pupil became an expert. He entered the grading contests and won most of them. The teacher then told him, ‘You are now master of the sword, and I will give you the diploma of mastership.’ The pupil was delighted to receive the diploma, but after a while he came back to the teacher. He said, ‘There is something wrong. This is not what I expected.’ ‘You asked to learn fencing and you have the diploma and you are worth it,’ replied the teacher. ‘No. When I’m in the fencing hall facing an opponent, I have confidence, but outside the fencing hall …

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The world runs mainly on illusions

The third piece derives from Iida Toin, a Soto Zen master of the early twentieth century. He remarked that the world runs mainly on illusions. Now, high-level statements like this are frightfully interesting and sound wonderful, but as they stand they are of no use to you. There is a way of saying inwardly: ‘Yes, yes, that’s the transcendental truth of course,’ and then turning back to what you still regard as the real world! The way to make use of statements like this from Iida is to keep an eye open for how they work in daily life. He was not talking about transcendental truth, but of the business of this world before our eyes. Here is an example which I encountered some years ago: A Hungarian actor-director had managed to get out of Hungary before the roof fell in there, and came to Britain. He had a good …

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Words of love are not always kindly words

Iida remarked once: Words of love are not always kindly words. Let us look at a specific case. Suppose I’ve never been healthy, and my general physical condition is getting worse and worse. No serious illness yet, but I recognize that I have to do something about it; my life situation demands that I get well quickly. So I put myself in the hands of an expert who gives me a programme which includes an early morning run followed by a cold shower and all sorts of restrictions on diet and late nights. The body grumbles: Oh no! I can’t stand this! or, Oh, not that again! and Can’t we have just one day off? and so on. The programme has to be imposed on the body, imposed by force. The body finds it hateful. But the basis is love, and after a few months the body is grateful for …

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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, and 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 by not interfering. And I feel that most of the rules …

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Practice has to be done till it goes past practice

Now a word about 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. This is an example I heard from a master I knew. It was around the beginning of the twentieth century. 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. The master saw the maids doing this, and he stopped them and gave them a lesson in using the edge of the hand …

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Hypnotized into thinking that there is only one way to do a thing correctly

It is worth knowing that one can get hypnotized into thinking that there is 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 even to take away the supporting left hand. The instrument …

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Illusion Has No Parts

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 everyone in uniform is ipso facto a bully and tyrant, or that every Armenian, Jew, or Parsee is by nature a subtle businessman. Dispelling big illusions, too, usually takes quite some time. But in all these cases some striking counterexample 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 in one book in which a great Indian teacher made a striking comment. The original passage describes how Mara, king of the demons, set a …

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The Zen monk Chih-chang and the famous poet Chang Chi

This remarkable work, still preserved in Japan, is by an Indian priest who lived in fourteenth century China. His name was Indara, and he mastered the Chinese Zen painting, with its extreme economy of line. The picture represents the meeting between the Zen monk Chih-chang, who succeeded the Sixth Patriarch at his temple, and the famous poet Chang Chi who held high ministerial rank. A related poem reads: Loving the Buddha, saintly men go to the holy West; Averse to the Buddha, Bodhidharma turns his back and comes to the East. They met in the tea-house of Illusion, Dozing there, they lived through the dream. East and West from the Old Zen Master © Trevor Leggett

People in the world aim at triumph, but spiritual people aim at success

One teacher said that people in the world aim at triumph, but spiritual people aim at success. You can spend as much time and energy on securing your triumph beyond your success, as you spent in getting the success. You want to achieve something and it is achieved, but beyond that, you want acclamation, you want triumph, you want the people who opposed you to be humbled and humiliated, you want the Roman triumph where the captors were driven in front and the spoils were displayed—that is triumph! And the teacher said that this spoils the action. The action is no longer pure; it is polluted and corrupted by the desire for triumph. If this is lurking in the heart, then our actions will not be fruitful. They may seem to be effective, but in fact they are contaminated. A very good example of this is in the life of …

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The Reverence of Others

The doctrine is that the things of the world are not absolutely real, as we know. They have practical efficacy, and they have practical effects on us, but they are not absolutely real in themselves. And regularly, every few years, some clever dick comes along and says, ‘Well, you know, all these holy texts and sacred utterances—they’re all unreal, aren’t they?’And, sure enough, you put this to a teacher. And the teacher says, ‘Yes, yes.’ So the man says, ‘Well, why do you use them then?’ This is a modern teacher, so he says, ‘Well, I’m throwing imitation pearls to people who have got the idea that they are swine. They’re rooting about in the mud, looking for some gold coins that they think they’ve lost. Now, when I throw them these imitation pearls, they suddenly feel, “Oh, we’re rich!” and they stop looking around in the mud. Then they …

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A hundred hearings are not like one seeing

This is a Chinese phrase: A hundred hearings are not like one seeing. We are all familiar with the experience of a trip to some famous place which we have heard and read about quite a lot. When we get there, it is different from what we expected. The hearings are not like one seeing. It is not that the hearings are wrong, necessarily, but they are incomplete. When we see, we understand what we have heard, sometimes for the first time. Now, one of the things said is that you can learn by instruction, by hearing, or you can learn by seeing others, by observation, or you can learn by inference, or, finally, you can learn by experience yourself. And they say that you need all four for your final experience to be fruitful. If you take them separately, you may say, for instance, ‘Oh, let people find out …

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Ittokusai was famous as a kendo master, and as a Buddhist

Ittokusai (Yamada Jiro) (1866-1930) was famous as a fencing (kendo) master, and as a Buddhist. He had a great influence on the fencing and spiritual atmosphere of the time, especially on lay Zen. A book of his life was printed privately and a copy was given to me by a Zen master, Omori Sogen, who was himself also a fencing master. It is not easily available, and I was reluctant to take it, but he insisted. There was a sort of unspoken understanding that I would translate at least some extracts from it. This book is a compilation of things which were written some eighty or so years ago, so it is in the old Japanese and is fiendishly difficult to read. It was an enormous compliment to be given it from that Zen teacher. The trouble is you have to live up to these compliments, and it took me …

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Three Beautiful Things are: Tsuki, the moon; Yuki, snow; and Hana, flowers

In Chinese calligraphy as it developed to heights undreamed of in the West, there were three main styles: The Formal Style, the Running Style, described as waving grasses and running streams, and the ultimate loosening called the Grass Style, described in terms of Soaring Phoenixes and Fighting Dragons. This last style was highly developed in Japan, and especially by Zen masters. They used it to express experienced spiritual truth, not merely by the words but by the very brushwork itself. The accompanying poem is: LIKE THAT As in spring, the flowers, As in autumn, the moon. In Japanese aesthetics, the Three Beautiful Things are: Tsuki, the moon; Yuki, snow; and Hana, flowers. Only in the extended list do wine, women and song appear. The Five Beautiful Things are Tsuki, Yuki, Hana, and then Iro, colour, implying also love-making, and Sake, rice-wine (which has however a low alcohol content). The great …

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Sword and Mind

Ittokusai had a big influence in reviving the spiritual elements in the traditional training of the samurai in Japan. Zen Buddhism had played a great part in that spiritualization, much as chivalry had in the West. The latter succeeded partially in refining and ennobling people who were originally little more than gangsters. In Japan, similarly, the cult of force, the naked sword, was partially spiritualized by the efforts of a chain of masters of the so-called knightly arts— including what became judo—and by Zen teachers at Kamakura and elsewhere who influenced them. The so-called feudal Japan was not so very long ago. Fairly recently, there was a very senior Member of the Japanese Diet whose grandfather had committed hara-kiri because he had displeased the head of his clan. That was about 1860. So the memories were still alive. After the Meiji Restoration of that period, many of the samurai were …

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Zen Master Bukko

Bukko (Buddha-Light) was an honorific title bestowed posthumously by the Japanese Emperor on a Chinese monk, Tsu Yuen, one of the thirteenth- century Buddhist teachers who brought Zen to Japan. From childhood, Bukko had a fondness for temples and Buddhism. One day he heard a monk recite two lines from a famous Taoist classic: The shadow of the bamboo sweeps the steps, but the dust does not stir; The moon’s disc bores into the lake, but the water shows no scar. This inspired him to search, and finally he found a teacher who set him the koan riddle: No Buddha- nature in a dog. It took him six years to pass this one. He could now sit in meditation for long periods without tiring. Sometimes he passed into trance where breath stops. He said that the inner state was that of a bird escaping from a cage. After this, when …

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An Outline of Bukko’s Teachings

What follows is a brief note of some of Bukko’s main teachings as given in the Record of Bukko— the brief sermons preached by him in Japan and then circulated among his mainly warrior disciples at Enkakuji temple in Kamakura. They are hard to follow in isolation, so first a sort of outline of the teachings is given as a rough framework, then a very free rendering of a few of them as they stand, each supplemented with others taken from elsewhere in the Bukko Goroku, The Sayings of Bukko, and occasionally a few extra comments. The way out of life and death is not some special technique; the essential thing is to penetrate to the root of life and death. It is in the centre of everyone, and everything else is dependent on it. Zen is to pierce through to it. Zen sitting is not some sort of operation …

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If You’re Going to Die, Die Quick! from the Old Zen Master

A Japanese woman practised Zen at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her daughter told me about it. The mother was diagnosed as having a serious illness, and the medical science of the time gave her only a few months to live. When she was told, she went to see her Zen teacher in Yokohama. When he heard about it, he just remarked, ‘Well, you may be missed for up to three years after your death, but after that no one will remember you at all.’ She was taken aback, and pleaded, ‘I’m going to die. Can’t you help me?’ He jumped up, took her by the shoulders and pushed her out the door. ‘If you’re going to die, die quick!’ he said, and slammed the sliding doors together behind her. She went into one of the little caves in the small cliff at Yokohama, and stayed there to meditate …

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A master who trained Tsuji Somei was a prominent roshi

One of the biggest Zen training temples in Japan gets quite a lot of pilgrims and has about two hundred monks in spite of the fact that it is situated in rather a remote place. They insist that pilgrims stay overnight and attend the 3.30 a.m. service which sometimes goes on 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. Of course, he gave no sign of recognition. Two or three days afterwards I was talking to him in his room. He was …

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Sengai was a famous Zen priest

That side a learned man, But he isn’t good at chess; This side a stupid man, But he knows the tricks! Even at the point of mate He can find a way out, Wah-ha! Unconsciously The third man laughs. Sengai was a famous Zen priest who presided over a large and prosperous temple, and was still more famous for his drawings, paintings and poems. Though a master of traditional styles, his work has mostly an unconventional appearance, often with a refined humour. But underneath there is often a deep meaning for those interested in such things. Though he lived a long life of eighty-eight years, he showed no attachment to the favours and honours showered on him by influential aristocrats and men of power; in this era when fine distinctions of rank were strictly observed, he treated all the same. Sengai picture of chess from the Old Zen Master © …

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Governor of Tokyo Prefecture

A new Governor of Kyoto made a call on the Abbot of the ancient temple complex of Daitokuji, on the northern outskirts of Kyoto. According to custom, he was received by an attendant monk, who then held out to him a little circular tray on which to place his visiting card. This was to be taken to the Abbot so that he would know who was the visitor, and perhaps give any directions that might be necessary. The Governor laid on his card: Masami Takeda Governor of Tokyo Prefecture The attendant took the card but returned with it still on the tray, which he held out to the Governor. The visitor stared at it for a moment and then said, ‘Oh, I made a mistake.’ He took out his fountain pen and put a line through the words Governor of Tokyo Prefecture. The card now just read Masami Takeda and …

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