Life poisoned by envy of something imagined

This is a story of two students in a provincial town in Iran. There were two very promising students and the new government of the Shah was looking for new young talent to promote into government and sent a minister to provincial towns to recruit the brightest. These two 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. So only one was interviewed and he was taken to the capital to begin his new life. For his friend, it was just bad luck and he was left behind. As he wrote in his account many years later, he felt bitter but he made the best of it, got on with his life, and became a prominent man in the provincial town. He did a …

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Anger need not have lasting effect

The minds of the wise are not without movement and action, but they are without binding feelings, without fixed attitudes of `I’ and `mine’. A man said to a teacher: “I do get angry, but only with good reason. After all, when Christ drove the money-changers from the Temple, he showed anger, and he was unquestionably right. When I get angry, it’s the same thing!” The teacher took him outside on to the grass and gave him a big stone. He told him: “Throw this stone on the ground with all your force.” He flung the big stone down and it made a great dent in the ground. The teacher said: “Now come back to me when that mark has gone.” It took some weeks before the mark was gradually obliterated by the rains and by people and cattle walking over it. Then the teacher said: “This is like your …

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First Principle was brushed by the great priest Ingen

The two main Zen sects in Japan are the Soto, which has many temples in the country, and the Rinzai which is more associated with towns. There is a third sect, much smaller and a late comer, which derives from the Chinese patriarch Obaku with its main temple at Uji. This sect incorporated some Pure Land devotional practices. Above the entrance gate to most Buddhist temples in Japan there is a massive piece of calligraphy embodying some central tenet, and at the Obaku main temple it says: THE FIRST PRINCIPLE. There is a story about how this was brushed by the great priest Ingen who was the first master there. The patron who had the temple built for him was a fine calligrapher himself and when the time came he turned up with sheets of paper to ask the priest (also a noted calligrapher) to brush something appropriate. The usual …

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Mist and Rain

The great Zen teacher, who was one of the first to bring Zen from China to Japan, in the 13th century, was asked at the end of a public ceremony: ‘Now you have come from China to Japan, how does your teaching differ?’ Bukko replied: ‘It does not. It is all the same. It is the same teaching.’ And the questioner said: ‘But you do, in fact, teach differently here. For instance, you teach through an interpreter.’ The Master replied: ‘Well, I suppose we can say there is some difference between mist and rain.’ © 1998 Trevor Leggett

Final Penalty

My father was a soldier in World War I. He joined up immediately the war broke out in 1914 (just as I was born) and came home after the Armistice in November 1918. He was one of the lucky few who passed through the whole war without a scratch. Like most of the soldiers in that terrible conflict, he never spoke of the actual fighting, but I remember one or two interesting comments about the Army. He said that they were all more or less bullied into fitness and compliance; fitness came almost automatically with the training, but compliance varied. He remarked that labourers and factory workers and clerks were used to taking orders, and soon adapted to the routines. But small street traders, who were fiercely independent and always fighting among themselves in ordinary life, often could not control their insubordination. They were, of course, punished by being given …

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One Dharma A Thousand Words

Priest Horin, mediaeval Master of Kenchoji temple was asked by one of the Kenchoji gardeners who worked on the lands there, “Is there any virtue in the recitation, or listening to the recitation, of the sutras if you don’t understand the real meaning?” The priest said: “If someone takes a medicine, even though he may not know its virtues, still when he takes it there will be a good effect. And in the case of a poisonous drug, then though he may not know from the taste that it is harmful if he takes it that drug may kill him. Again it is like taking passage on a ship. You may not know anything of the rigging and fittings of the ship but still if you board it, it will take you to a far destination. And so, recitation of the sutras is like that. Their spiritual meaning may not …

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Sake Wine and Samadhi

Gudo was the Master at the Myoshinji Zen temple in Kyoto. He was famous as the teacher of the 17th century many-talented Emperor Gomizu-no-o, who was also a devout Buddhist. Gudo occasionally had cause to visit Yedo, the capital, about 300 miles from Kyoto along the great Nakasendo highway. Gudo sometimes walked the whole way incognito as a humble travelling monk with nothing but his staff and his bundle of things. On a long journey the custom was for the monk to ask for lodging for the night in some village, and it was an act of Buddhist merit to give it. On one occasion Gudo made such a request at an unpretentious house, and the wife and grandmother welcomed him in, saying that the husband would be back soon from the shop. He noticed a certain anxiety in them, however, and in conversation learned that the husband had become …

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Satan

Quite often in our lives we are going to meet Satan, either in other people or in ourselves. We don’t realize it because we often fail to recognise him. Here is an example from a time when smoking was just a social habit and not yet known to be a killer: A certain heavy smoker did find some adverse symptoms and he recognised quickly that it was due to smoking. He resolved to give it up and managed to maintain this for several months. His cigarette-smoking colleagues at first tried to break his resolution; failing to do so they began to respect him. But then he made the fatal mistake of beginning to preach to them. “Why can’t you give up the filthy habit, you know it is bad for you, it’s disgusting and it only wants a strong will, haven’t you got the will-power to give it up?” His …

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Help, No Help

SOMETIMES a new idea can change the whole landscape of endeavour, so to say: 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. Naturally everyone would like to choose their job; 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 is usually offset by the unconscious arrogance of the expert, perpetually putting others right, or taking …

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Leaves and Moss

Leaves and Moss by Trevor Leggett 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 they are patiently and continuously got rid of, however, it 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, and so in the temple gardens where they are cultivated, small trees are planted which shed their leaves at different times of year, thus providing a certain amount of shade …

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Stories

One of the great means of instruction is telling tales. The Sufi classic Mathnavi, and the Zen writings, are full of them. The stories are not fully explained; we are expected to find the inner meaning by our own efforts. Pondering on a story is compared to churning milk; it has to be turned and revolved again and again without interruption for a good time till quite suddenly butter begins to appear. Sometimes disciples try to insulate themselves by simply naming some of the characters-this one represents the lower mind` and that one the teacher, and so on. Such facile identifications can be made in hundreds of ways, and they do not help in finding the secret. They are attempts to seek safety` to avoid the implication of the story. “The world”, says the Mathnavi, “resembles the great big city which you may hear of from children’s tales. In their …

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