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 things off their hands to do them better.) Reason‑in‑the‑service‑of‑the‑ego, or Mephistopheles, argues that it must be best to offer one’s service in a field where one can make a really significant contribution. But while there is the‑ feeling ‘I am making a really significant contribution’ training has not begun. If …

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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 almost all the time. A huge training temple like Eiheiji of the Soto Zen sect has a good number of courtyards covered with moss, and one of the daily jobs is to do some weeding out of competitors, and then to sweep the moss clear of fallen leaves. This is …

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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 tales is enfolded many a mystery. Though they tell many ridiculous things` yet do thou ever seek the treasure that is hidden in the ruins”. We must find the treasure for ourselves` because it is in us. “Do not pass over the story as of no account` for it is …

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