Auspicious words by the famous calligrapher, Priest Sengai

Priest Sengai was a famous calligrapher and one of the congregation asked him if he would write a scroll of four or six Chinese characters to hang in his house – something auspicious for the family. Sengai agreed and said, “I will write some words of blessing.” He took a new brush and inscribed six Chinese characters in a magnificent gold ink: The parents die, The children die, The grandchildren die   The recipient was bewildered and after some hesitation murmured that everybody dying was not exactly a blessing. Sangai said: “Everybody dies, but the blessing here is the order in which they die. If the children die before the parents the father and mother will be in grief for the rest of their lives. Again if the grandchildren die before the others then who will carry on the line. The family will become extinct. But if the parents die …

Read moreAuspicious words by the famous calligrapher, Priest Sengai

The business of the world is carried on by things which are unreal

A 17th century law student had to make a visit to Bristol and booked in with the landlady at a small inn. He had to stay rather longer than expected and ran out of money. The outstanding bill was five pounds, then a substantial sum. He took a piece of parchment and wrote in Latin a credit note for the sum; wearing his law robes he sealed this impressively and passed it to her saying that it was worth five pounds. He told her that he would be coming again to Bristol and would stay again at her inn. His intention was to retrieve the note then and give her actual money. After he had gone, it occurred to her that she could settle the cobbler’s bill, and buy some new shoes into the bargain, for five pounds. So she took the parchment sheet and showed it to the cobbler …

Read moreThe business of the world is carried on by things which are unreal

Unless roots of spiritual conviction have been put down, the whole structure is hollow and falls to pieces

INTERLACED BRANCHES When there is a grove of trees growing closely together, their branches can get interlaced, so that they seem to support one another. Because they are so close, their individual roots are often very shallow, but the whole thing looks like a stable structure, a sort of table with many legs. But when a big storm comes, it all collapses, because there are no deep roots anywhere. A society or group, says a Zen master, can be like this. The various elements support each other by a system of conventions accepted by all, for no other reason than that they have always been accepted. There may be no deep roots of conviction anywhere, but people act as if they had conviction. After all, the others seem to believe. Such a society can look very stable. It is, however, no longer creative, and it too collapses in a big …

Read moreUnless roots of spiritual conviction have been put down, the whole structure is hollow and falls to pieces

Reasons for quoting a verse in Sanskrit first, and then giving the English translation.

When I first went to Dr Shastri’s lectures on Vedanta and Yoga, one of the things that irritated me, as it puzzled me, was his habit of quoting a verse in Sanskrit first, and then giving the English translation. He would say, for instance: “The Gita says, in Chapter 13 Verse 30, Prakrityaiva ca karmani…..” and then a few more lines of incomprehensible Sanskrit. Then he would give the English: He sees, who see all actions Performed by Nature alone, And the Self not acting, Then he would go on to explain what this meant in living actuality. I used to think this was an incredibly pedantic habit. What was the point? He was speaking to Western people and none of them knew Sanskrit. So why quote Sanskrit? Why not simply give the English translation? I thought: suppose you wanted to study Relativity, you would not expect a lecturer or …

Read moreReasons for quoting a verse in Sanskrit first, and then giving the English translation.

The yogic methods do not seek to confront illusions, they dissolve them

It is easier to get rid of a burglar than a ghost. You hear a suspicious creak in the middle of the night, so you ring up your muscular neighbour, and with him make a thorough search of the house. You then know for sure that if there ever was a burglar he has made off and is not there now. But with a ghost it is different. You have been reading a well-written ghost story before you fell asleep. Then you hear the mysterious creak in the night and you get the idea that the ghost is there in the house with you. You call the neighbour and make the search, nothing there, and you go back to bed. But then you hear a board creak and you realize the ghost is still there walking about. You lie there in fear. The application of this to life is that …

Read moreThe yogic methods do not seek to confront illusions, they dissolve them

It is not a crime to be spiritually only two or three years old. But we are expected to grow up

A teenage disciple asked the advice of a senior in the Yoga group he had joined. ‘My parents don’t understand me at all – we are always having rows. Why shouldn’t I have pictures of nudes on the walls of my room, like my friends do? I wanted to put one up in the hall too, but they raised hell over that. Why should I have to listen to them? I think I’m a natural rebel, and I won’t just meekly conform.’ The senior said: ‘Do you really get that much pleasure from these pictures?’ The teenager considered. Then he said: ‘Well, as a matter of fact, no. I think that clothes are like the sauce with a meal; they increase the pleasure. I don’t care much for bare meat. But all my friends have them up, so I do too.’ ‘But isn’t that just meekly conforming?’ asked the senior. …

Read moreIt is not a crime to be spiritually only two or three years old. But we are expected to grow up

Put yourself vividly in the presence of the spiritual figure you are worshipping and hold yourself there.

Conscious tensions can be relaxed when attention is paid to them. But unconscious tensions are not so easily resolved, because to resolve them is itself attention. Over some fifty years ago there was a record by an American band, in which each line ended with the shouted chorus Relax, Relax, RELAX !!! and this against a background of what were then called screaming trumpets. It’s popularity did not last very long. Besides the physical tensions there are underlying mental tensions which can be relaxed to some extent by conscious distraction. But below these are deep unconscious tensions that cannot be easily located. When we cannot find them we cannot relieve them and they, from below the surface, produce mental, nervous and physical tensions of there own. Screaming trumpets, whether emotional or physical, have no effect. The relevance of all this to Yoga practice can be understood by looking first at …

Read morePut yourself vividly in the presence of the spiritual figure you are worshipping and hold yourself there.

Rational thinking cannot easily overturn unconscious attitudes

Freud and Adler and their followers were able to show that in some cases what we regard as rational decisions are in fact expressions of unconscious tendencies. A young man who went to join the Indian civil service found that he cold not sleep because of the howling of pariah dogs near his official residence. Others were undisturbed, but he was becoming ill from lack of sleep. A friend recommended that while he was lying awake he should try to recover early memories connected with dogs. That night after trying to dredge up everything he had seen or heard about dogs, he slept a little. The next night he found early childhood memories surfacing and on the third night he dozed into a dream that he was standing in front of two great white pillars, from between which a hideous monster charged out onto him. He woke up screaming, but …

Read moreRational thinking cannot easily overturn unconscious attitudes

Love must not be confused with exclusiveness

The teacher was speaking about love, and saying that it must not be confused with exclusiveness, for instance, love of country is supposed to be strengthened by hatred of other countries as possible enemies. But this is not really love of country, the real love of country tries to raise the quality of life and culture in it, and thinks of other countries with respect and with a view to learning something useful from them. Similarly love as personal attachment is often a hidden desire to possess. He said that love has to be universal and beyond limitations national or personal. It must not discriminate between persons, it must not be rationed. One of the pupils objected: “But teacher, you give much attention to some people whereas you seem to avoid talking to others. Isn’t that rationing love?” The teacher answered: “I don’t ration my love, but I do ration …

Read moreLove must not be confused with exclusiveness

My general rule has been to declare frankly my own self interest and then be prepared to negotiate

“If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.” “I think if you were me you would do that because if you were me you’d do as I’d do and I am going to do that.” “Oh well, I meant that if I were in your shoes, in your situation…” It sounds a fine thing to put oneself in the other person’s place to try to see their point of view. But one has nevertheless brought along, to stand in those shoes, impressions and feelings and attitudes of ones own. When we try to see the other person’s point of view, and sympathise with it we are really feeling for what we imagine to be their point of view. The trouble comes when they imagine what is our point of view and modify their own position in accordance with that. I used to go every year on a reading party, and …

Read moreMy general rule has been to declare frankly my own self interest and then be prepared to negotiate

Advice in the Extremity of Need

This is an old story from the West Country of England. A very rich man falls sick and on his deathbed tells his only son that he will get all the property. Then he passes to him a strong leather belt with a big metal buckle, and says, “Son, promise me that you will always keep this in memory of me and where it often. Replace the belt as it wears out but keep the buckle. If you are ever in dire distress, get iron smith to open the buckle and in it you will find a piece of advice for you in that extremity of need”. The son obediently makes the promise. He knows quite well what the advice will be: “This too will pass” or “I am the captain of my soul”, or something like that. When he inherits he lives sensibly for a time but then takes …

Read moreAdvice in the Extremity of Need

Most spiritual training schools stress the importance of a sangha or community

Most spiritual training schools stress the importance of a sangha or community.  In Buddhism there are the Three Refuges:  I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.  To many people, the Buddha and Dharma are somewhat abstract supports, and the physical association with a community gives a support which is immediate.  But reliance on the sangha is not without pitfalls. During a famine in India, a Brahmin went round the homes of the better-off, and asked them to contribute a pot of milk each to relieve the suffering of the poor.  Having received their promises, he set up an earthenware tank in the central square, and asked that during the day each household should bring a pot of milk and  pour it in through the small opening in the top.  He arranged that the tank be kept cool in the …

Read moreMost spiritual training schools stress the importance of a sangha or community

Should they do their first training with the sword or with the spear?

A doubt comes up in the mind: ‘Scientists actively refute mysticism and yoga. They have created all these modern marvels – surely they must be right?’ It is met: ‘Some of the greatest of them like Pasteur and Einstein and today Davies, say the weight of evidence is for a cosmic intelligence.’ The doubt subsides, but returns in a slightly different form: ‘God or no God, it makes no difference. It’s all inference, so why make the inference anyway?’ Many students of yoga simply do not know how to meet their doubts. They tackle each doubt as it comes up with some answer, but it re-appears slightly changed: ‘Aha! you didn’t think of this!’ Meeting doubts piecemeal, as they happen to come up prompted by circumstances or chance associations, will never settle them. When contaminated food has been distributed to the retail shops, it is difficult to collect it. The …

Read moreShould they do their first training with the sword or with the spear?

In an expansion of some faculty, there is a sense of joy

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 moreIn an expansion of some faculty, there is a sense of joy

If the flint of the heart can be struck skilfully, it may produce a flash of inspiration

When steel is struck skilfully against a flint, a spark can be produced. If you have ever tried this, or seen it being done, you will know that you do not get a spark every time you strike the flint. But if you keep trying, you get some. If you want fire, you have to go on striking until you get some sparks. In this article, the heart is compared to a flint. In English we have a phrase: ’a heart like flint’, and it means someone who is never moved by appeals for help, or for more time to pay, and so on. Most of us behave like this sometimes. A variation of the phrase is: ’a heart of stone’, and there is a saying; ’One cannot get blood out of a stone.’ One cannot get blood out of a flint, either. But one can get a spark by …

Read moreIf the flint of the heart can be struck skilfully, it may produce a flash of inspiration

Shaku Soyen gives Suzuki hidden help with the koan

 For a teacher or expert to help without the pupil knowing or recognizing it is good for a pupil’s motivation. But if the teacher is not present, it may induce despair when there is continued failure or seeming failure. For the pupil to know he is helped may on the other hand lead to dependence – “What do I do about this? Oh, he will sort it out for me when he comes to it.” A good teacher is able to give a tiny hint at just the right moment to bring the pupil to a realization or a success, so that he feels he has achieved it by his own efforts. Only afterwards does he appreciate what was done for him. Then he is grateful. In a memoir, Dr. D.T. Suzuki wrote of how he was given the koan of the Sound of One Hand by the famous teacher …

Read moreShaku Soyen gives Suzuki hidden help with the koan

For a complete change, you have to change yourself too

“The doctor says that I need a complete change. So I am going to Italy, to stay for a month with a family which one of my friends knows well. It’s beautiful country round there. They don’t speak English, but I know a little Italian, and they say they would like their small children to hear the real English accent a little bit. I am not to go with a companion, and I am not to meet any English people there, or fluent English-speaking Italians. So it will be a complete change. I’ve made all the arrangements.” “Not quite all, perhaps” remarked the friend. “It won’t be a complete change if you are there yourself. For a complete change, you would have to change yourself too. What arrangements have you made for that?” “What can I do?” “You might take with you a text that tells you how to change …

Read moreFor a complete change, you have to change yourself too

There are no ghosts except those that haunt the human mind

An old Zen Abbot and his attendant, while on a journey, stopped at a small inn. In the evening they talked and the innkeeper asked the priest about ghosts. The abbot said “There are no ghosts except those that haunt the human mind.” The master was a bit annoyed at this as ghosts had been seen in the neighbourhood, but the abbot would not give way, and soon went to bed. Still rankling at his defeat, the innkeeper said to his daughter: “In the night, you go and steal into his room, go up to his bed and hold his hand. Then I and one of the others will burst in with lights and discover you. He will be humiliated.” The daughter said “I couldn’t do anything like that” The innkeeper said, “Is a silver piece any good to you?” The daughter said, “Oh well of course, I am your …

Read moreThere are no ghosts except those that haunt the human mind

Practising Yoga yourself to meet a real need

A learned scholar of Indian thought, both Buddhist and Vedanta, thought he would like to get some insights into the actual methods of practice. After some search he discovered that there was a man reputed to be an expert in the practice as well as the philosophy of one of the main schools. His further enquiries took him to a member of the group who was studying and practising under this teacher who was of the line founded by a great 19th century Mahatma named Balram Udasin. That Mahatma had been a famous adept in the yoga of Patanjali, and had written a masterly tika gloss on the Yoga Sutras. The yoga is the basis for the meditation and other practices of main sects in both Buddhism and Vedanta. The Western Scholar therefore applied for an interview but the assistant to the teacher told him that he would not be …

Read morePractising Yoga yourself to meet a real need

The Ethical Bazaar

A businessman who practised yoga in a group, went to a senior for advice. “There is an opportunity for me to do quite a bit of good to some people in need, but it would mean tricking another man. I know that he is quite a rogue, so I feel tempted. The good would outweigh the bad, and he would get no more than he deserves, what he has himself done to others. I can’t find this sort of case covered in the traditional books.” “No,” agreed the senior, “the general principles are sometimes difficult to apply, but let me ask you about something in my own experience. When I was young, my brother was starting up a life assurance business. To help him to make a start, I took out a savings policy, at a monthly premium which I could just about afford, and kept this up for a …

Read moreThe Ethical Bazaar

Dragon Head, Snake Tail

Dragon Head, Snake Tail is a Chinese phrase meaning something that starts out very impressively but ends up as commonplace. An example is the following folk-tale, found all over the world. A father leaves to his children not much more than a house and an adjoining field, his last words being that there is a family tradition of a treasure hidden in it. He dies before he can explain further, but they know that in past wars, rich people have buried valuables before fleeing, hoping to come back later and recover them. The children dig hopefully for a time, but with steadily decreasing enthusiasm as they find nothing. One gives up, but a couple go on out of reverence for their father. They know they are just tilling the soil, digging a bit deeper perhaps, and throwing the occasional stone on to the rubbish heap in the corner. They never …

Read moreDragon Head, Snake Tail

Seeing The Unseen

‘It is clear before you, but you do not see it,’ says the Zen master. ‘It is self-evident, but hard to find’, says the holy Indian text. They are speaking of the ultimate reality, the supreme goal of human life, and some people find these seeming contradictions obscurantist and, perhaps, irritating. They foresee a lot of clever talking, but nothing of any use in life. However, we can find examples, in our own daily life, of just these contradictions, and to resolve them is a stimulus to inner training. Ask a few people to look at a garden and describe what they see. They will name the main features: grass, flowers, perhaps a few small rock, a bush – and so on – but then they are told: ‘You have left something out.’ They go into more detail, but again are told: ‘You have left something out, a big thing.’ …

Read moreSeeing The Unseen

No-name bridge

Some coastlines in the East, owing to volcanic origins, have small islands separated from the mainland by only a small stretch of water. But the current may be so strong that in rough weather a ferry may have to wait hours before it can attempt to cross. And in some cases, the rocky cliffs make a bridge dangerous, unless it is a massive affair. On one such island there were three villages, with a fierce local pride. They had a primary school, but from about twelve the children had to cross to get to the middle school. On the island was a couple with the somewhat unusual name of Akudu, who had an only son, and no other relatives. The parents were killed in a storm, and the local council paid for the rest of the boy’s education, and then proposed apprenticing him to a local artisan, as he seemed …

Read moreNo-name bridge

In Sojiji temple there is a picture of Nansen killing a cat

In Sojiji temple near Tokyo, there is a picture of the Chinese patriarch Nansen killing a cat. It illustrates a famous koan riddle. With his right hand he is holding aloft the glaring spitting cat, while his other hand grasps the sword. The Japanese master Dogen, founder of the Soto Zen line of which Sojiji is a head temple, remarked of the story, ‘Buddhism can be taught in this way, but it is open to abuse and is best avoided.’ A great Indian teacher who saw the picture remarked that the cat represents the mind. One of his pupils was asked about it, and commented: The teacher did not care for the company of cats. In the tradition, the cat was the only animal which did not come to mourn the passing away of the Buddha. Devoted to comfort as they are, they teach no spiritual lesson, whereas the dog, …

Read moreIn Sojiji temple there is a picture of Nansen killing a cat

They are indeed praying for him – to die.

Sometimes people complain that there are many things that go wrong for them. There are innumerable little worries about personal relationships, and not being able to afford this or that, or the noise of the traffic and so on and so on. They feel, “If only I were a millionaire, everything would be alright. Of course some people would dislike me but they would keep their mouths shut. And all these other little troubles would disappear if only I was very rich”. There is an interesting parallel to this: the case of the yogi on his bed of nails. When you see him, it does look terrifying; dozens and dozens of these sharp spikes on the board and he is lying on them (he has a little strip of wood under his head). We are impressed by his stoical endurance and give a coin to his attendant at which the …

Read moreThey are indeed praying for him – to die.

When individuality is transcended there is a cosmic effect

A pupil heard a teacher say that when by long training the individuality is transcended there is a cosmic effect. This effect is far greater than anything produced on the individual plain by individual words and actions. So this pupil asked the teacher: “It is clear to us sir, when we face you, that your former individuality has been transcended. So how is it that you continue giving teachings? We are grateful for them but from what you have said it seems contradictory that you go on.” The teacher told him about an incident in a nineteenth century autobiography by a doctor who had lived near a crossroads. In the bleak winters of that century, sweepers were employed to keep the crossings clear of snow. The sweeper had a little hut where he lived, and was not paid much. The doctor, out of compassion, took an interest in him and …

Read moreWhen individuality is transcended there is a cosmic effect

They do not have the support to stand on and enjoy the last laugh

In a certain dictatorship inhabitants were warned by official propaganda to beware of foreigners. If they had to talk to foreigners they were told to ask them what was their business in the country, and to report the replies to the police. A foreigner who had lived in the country before and knew the language was making another visit. He thought he would exercise his sense of humour and to a question from a restaurant owner as to his business he replied: “Well, don’t tell anyone but I am a spy.” He was gratified to see the shock on the others face. The restaurateur excused himself hurriedly and the foreigner went on happily eating his meal. Quite soon however the doorway was filled with the bulky form of the local police sergeant who sat down at the table and began: “You have said you are a spy and I am …

Read moreThey do not have the support to stand on and enjoy the last laugh

Personal success is swallowed up by the gradually revealed greatness of what they are practising

A hundred years ago a simple minded Indian peasant overheard a rich man say portentously, “Money attracts money”. He took a silver rupee from his tiny savings and went to the shop of a money lender in town with the idea of capitalising on this piece of knowledge. At one end of the counter the money lender was busy negotiating a loan. At the other end his strong-armed assistant was keeping guard over several piles of silver rupees. The peasant quietly came in and sat down in front of the money. When the assistant was momentarily distracted by a fit of coughing he took out his single rupee and put it on the counter opposite the mass of rupees. Then he waited for his money to attract money. Recovered from his coughing fit the assistant now noticed the single rupee on the counter, and assumed that he must have somehow …

Read morePersonal success is swallowed up by the gradually revealed greatness of what they are practising

God never seems to be at home

A new disciple in a yoga group had some difficulties and she prayed for help. After a couple of weeks of no change, she put her case to a senior: “I pray and pray for help, but there’s no response, God never seems to be at home.” The senior said: “This is something that happens in ordinary life too, there’s a small shop near here that sells electrical goods, and repairs them. They also send an engineer if there’s a problem in a house. Well, apparently there was a request for someone to go round on quite a simple job. So the boss sent a young apprentice of only fifteen who was very good with his hands. He gave him the address and a small pack of tools with the job sheet in it. But the boy came back after 20 minutes saying there had been no one at home. …

Read moreGod never seems to be at home

Enthusiastic students were told the story of Kyogen

In the classical Zen of China a monk, called by the Japanese Kyogen, was famous as a scholar who after many years had mastered the scriptures. When the Abbot, his teacher died the new Abbot told him he could if he wished leave the monastery as he had now full knowledge of the doctrine. To the others’ protests he set Kyogen the Koan riddle: “What is your true face before your father and mother were born?” Baffled and furious Kyogen left the monastery but the riddle haunted him. He spent the next years in isolation minding the shrine of the 6th Chinese Patriarch without hope or expectation but still revolving the riddle in his mind. Eleven years on as he swept the courtyard, the stroke of his broom sent a stone skidding across the ground to strike the bamboo fence. The loud Clack! seemed to knock away a wedge in …

Read moreEnthusiastic students were told the story of Kyogen

It takes a long time before Life forgives us for our own imitations

In the 1930s when Japan was preparing for war, foreigners were regarded with great suspicion, especially by the police. Sometimes the suspicions were built on chance coincidence without any substance, but in the official mind they proved hard to shift. A young accountant employed by a foreign firm used to enliven his evenings by visits to geisha houses, where he drank and talked and laughed with the girls. He never learned any Japanese but as it happened he was a very good mimic. In the course of these evenings he learned to sing some of the little songs along with the girls, mimicking their pronunciation with remarkable accuracy. In time he could sing some of these songs himself just accompanied by one of them on the three-stringed Samisen. He had no idea of the meaning of what he was singing. When war came suddenly he was arrested and interned along …

Read moreIt takes a long time before Life forgives us for our own imitations

The Blotch made by Zen Master Shido Bunan

The Zen Master Shido Bunan was once appealed to by a family of local lords at Okubo. For over twenty years they had been plagued by continuous misfortunes and they had consulted various astrologers, spirit mediums, and even some Buddhist priests, but without success. The disasters went on. When the request for help came Bunan read it and simply said: “there’s no need for me to make a special visit for this sort of thing. Give the messenger this.” He slumped down at his writing table, slapped down a sheet of white paper, snatched up a brush, and splodged what looked like a black rice cake in the middle of the sheet. He passed it to the messenger with the words “Tell them to paste it up somewhere.” The horrified messenger took it back and reported to the head of the Okubo family who also had the feeling he was …

Read moreThe Blotch made by Zen Master Shido Bunan

Money has nothing to do with the Truth

Some of the Christian missionaries who went to Japan in the mid-19th century were scholarly men, who mastered the language both spoken and Classical, and also made a study of basic Buddhism. However, one such found to his dismay that he was sometimes unable to meet the arguments of Buddhists in public debates, and decided that he must go far deeper into Buddhism to find the refutations he sought. He heard that the greatest scholar of Buddhism was a Zen abbot living in semi-retirement in a tiny monastery. He made inquiries, and found that the abbot never took any fee for his teaching and would not accept any money donations to the monastery. Scholars from all over Japan used to come to stay for two or three months in the nearby villages, paying rent, and the villagers served the tiny monastery in various ways: the local carpenters kept the building …

Read moreMoney has nothing to do with the Truth

There is something, not a sin, which often can’t be forgiven

A woman member of a traditional Yoga group also served on the fund-raising committee of a charity. Her written articles and her appeals at public meetings were attractive, and brought in many more donations than those of her colleagues. She began to notice a certain coolness towards her suggestions at committee meetings; they were nearly always turned down on some pretext. She mentioned this to the teacher, saying, “I wonder whether I am seen as bossy or something like that. I try not to present my suggestions in a pushy way, but still I feel I must be doing something wrong.” The teacher said: “People will forgive some bossiness in a good worker, though you don’t sound bossy. In fact, people will forgive almost anything in a good worker: arrogance, a bit of roguery, a bit of waspishness – all that sort of thing. But you’ve done one thing that’s …

Read moreThere is something, not a sin, which often can’t be forgiven

Giving up a bad habit by making it difficult

If one wants to give up a bad habit, but is not prepared at first simply to break it off, then a useful strategy is just to make it difficult. I saw a Japanese man, a heavy smoker, who had got the idea that it was bad for his health, and had evolved a strategy to control it. He was an artist, and artists smoke heavily. When he was at a party and wanted a cigarette, he would take out a pouch, from which he would produce a piece of metal, a flint, some indeterminate material similar to brown cotton wool, cigarette paper, cigarette holder, and a little tobacco. Then he would roll himself a cigarette and put it in the holder. He would hold the flint in his left hand, with some of the tinder under his left thumb, near the edge of the flint. He would strike the …

Read moreGiving up a bad habit by making it difficult

Don’t make ugly faces at the karma-mirror

A noted, middle-aged poet lived like a recluse in a remote area. The country had a strong tradition of poetry; for every public occasion, and some private ones, there would be a commission to write a poem. This poet had, aided by some strokes of luck, established a reputation, and many commissions came to him, so that he became comparatively wealthy. He was an eccentric man, who lived in solitude, and he never visited the capital. He wrote his poems in a little two-roomed retreat he had built in a corner of his large garden. Hardly anybody knew what he looked like; he employed a local, simple-minded boy as his messenger, to go to the local town with his correspondence. It was popularly supposed that he spent his time in creation and contemplation, but as a matter of fact he had a secret passion for gambling. From time to time …

Read moreDon’t make ugly faces at the karma-mirror

Why had the teacher hesitated for so long?

In the first part of the 20th century, when the living Vedanta of the Gita was brought across to the West by Dr. Shastri, few of the great Sanskrit classics had been adequately translated into English. Among his early disciples was a middle-aged Scottish lady, who gave much of her time to looking after the needs of the little Sangha (spiritual group). One day he told her that he had received a spiritual impulse to translate, into English, one of these great classics, but he added that he felt quite incompetent for the task. She said: ‘But you are a famous Sanskrit scholar’, and he answered: ‘My knowledge is, in fact, very limited compared to the learning of that masterpiece. How can a firefly presume to emulate the sun?’ In the subsequent days and weeks, he kept returning to the subject, saying that the impulse was there, and he must …

Read moreWhy had the teacher hesitated for so long?

On the in-breath breathe in freedom and with the out-breath throw away worldly concerns.

A middle-aged energetic business-man, member of a yoga group, began to think that he was not making proper progress. He practised regularly and did a good deal of service, but he felt that he was getting no new insights or experience. He asked the teacher, who told him: “It is good that you have become aware of this. Ask yourself whether at the end of your yogic practices or service you think: I have finished with that, now I will get on with my ordinary affairs; and whether at the end of an engagement in worldly affairs, you think, I have finished with that, now let me do my yoga. If so, perhaps the time has come to bring the two worlds together.” Next time they met, the pupil said: “You are right, that is what happens. What can I do?” The teacher told him: “I understand that as a …

Read moreOn the in-breath breathe in freedom and with the out-breath throw away worldly concerns.

Compassion is catching

The owner of a small wine-shop in a not very prosperous district of Tokyo had to be a tough man, if only to deal with penniless alcoholics demanding a drink. One such wine-shop proprietor related this incident to a Buddhist priest. It was the end of the year, when debts have to be settled. Those who have collected the money owing, spend some of it on drink; those who cannot pay, hide from the debt-collectors or sometimes vanish to another part of the country. One evening just before the New Year, a little girl of about seven came into his shop and asked for a bottle of Lao-shu wine, for which she offered three small rin coins, which would be only a fraction of the price. He was going to refuse abruptly, but something about the pure innocent little face made him pause. He thought: “Of course she doesn’t know; …

Read moreCompassion is catching

Intensity of practice is nothing to do with time

A teacher told his pupils that a true yogi would attain an intensification of his practice and experience every six weeks. A pupil of some years came to the master a little later, recalled the remark, and went on: `I have come across a marvellous story about this, which ha helped me to understand. Arjuna used to do his devotion, with elaborate ceremony, gold and silver vessels carefuly arranged, and with long prayers and meditations. His brother Bhima did nothing like that; he simply stood for a few minute; with his hands clasped and his eyes closed. Then he would go about his daily activities. It occurred to Arjuna one day td wonder what happened to his prayers. and he came to know about a special ceremony which would give that knowledge He performed it, very carefully, and found himself in a vision looking at a great courtyard, which seemed …

Read moreIntensity of practice is nothing to do with time

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