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 before the children they die happy because they see the young ones grow up to maturity. And similarly, if they live to see their grandchildren alive and well they know that they have fulfilled their role in the world and that the line will continue. They die in peace and …

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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 explaining that the lawyer had told her it was worth five pounds. He was equally impressed by the incomprehensible Latin and the seal and in turn thought that he would use this little windfall to settle his own account with a carpenter. Bills were then generally paid by instalments and …

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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 crisis. In somewhat the same way, he adds, an individual personality can apparently hold together firmly, but merely because the parts support each other. This lasts only so long as times are good. Unless roots of spiritual conviction have been put down, the whole structure is brittle and hollow and …

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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 karmaniā€¦..” 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 writer to keep quoting passages in German just because Einstein happened to publish his work in German. If the teacher wanted to site Einstein’s remark at the beginning of his original book on relativity, that it is not meaningful to speak of two events as being simultaneous, he would not …

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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 actual dangers can be confronted, and one can ultimately become free of them. But illusory dangers cannot be so confronted; they are always just round the corner. If you go around that corner you find nothing but they are now round the next corner. The yogic methods do not seek …

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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. ‘Shouldn’t the natural rebel refuse to do that?’ There was a pause, then the teenager said: ‘Yes, maybe you’re right there. Perhaps I’ll put up pictures that I really like. But it’s not only the pictures; it seems to be everything. My parents just don’t understand me at all. I …

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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 the physical level. When someone has habitual restless tension in the legs or chest, the trainer does not say, “Relax”. On the contrary, the instruction is given, “Tense those muscles even more, as much as you can.” In this way willed and involuntary tensions come to one. Then as the …

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