Fingers and Moons

Stories, parables, and examples have been a favour­ed way of conveying spiritual insights and truths since time immemorial, and Trevor Leggett was a master at it. He had the knack of pointing out the spiritual implications of practical events which people can relate to.
The Old Zen Master contains stories based on Buddhism with references to martial arts, music, chess and incidents in ordinary life. He describes this as a freewheeling book: `I am trying to give a few hints which have helped me and which can be of help to others,’ he said.
For those who know nothing of Buddhism or Zen in particular, this is an ideal introduction. It is nevertheless relevant to long-term practitioners as well. As the author points out, occasionally a new slant, a new angle or a new illustration — especially if it is an unexpected one — can be a help in absorbing practice, study and devotion.


This book is a transcript of talks given at the Summer Schools of the Buddhist Society in the years 1982 to 1985.1 have in general kept the original colloquial presentation with its occasionally loose sentence construction. There were however a few cases where bare print could not convey the sense of a gesture or intonation, and extra words were therefore supplied.

Trevor Leggett London, 1988

Sparks from the Heart Flint

This talk is called Sparks from the Heart Flint. Of course our hearts are not flinty — at least mine isn’t — so in a way the whole basis of the talk collapses! But the fact is that other people — and sometimes they have good reason — think that my heart is flinty when you just scratch the surface. So for the purposes of my talk, the heart is a flint — it is hard and it can scratch. Now, when steel is applied skilfully to flint, a spark can be struck. If you have ever tried to do this, or seen it being done, you know that you don’t get many sparks out of the striking with the steel, but you get some. So you have to go on until you get a spark. Our heart flints can be struck in different ways, and one of the methods…

Fingers and Moons

This is not a formal lecture at all; it is like a few pebbles thrown at a window to wake up someone who is sleeping inside. If the sleeper doesn’t wake up, then you throw some more pebbles. The hope is that one or two will wake up one or two people — temporarily at least — as some of them have woken me up — temporarily at least. The talk is called ‘Fingers and Moons’ and relates to the phrase ‘the finger pointing to the moon’. This is generally illustrated by a finger pointing to a full moon that everyone can see. It is really rather pointless. But the saying actually arose from people trying to see the new moon. There used to be a fasting austerity in India called ‘the ant body’. An ant’s body, as you know, begins big and comes down very thin and then gets…

The Stone Sermon

In the Lotus Sutra (one of the old ones), there is the story about a sort of Buddhist prodigal son. He is not actually prodigal, but he wanders away from the King’s palace when he is small and forgets. And then he wanders back again when he is much older — as a beggar. The King recognizes him from within the palace and sends out a guard to bring him in. But the beggar runs away when he sees the guard. So the King has to take him on in the humblest capacity and in the farthest corner of the kingdom, gradually promoting him up until, finally, he declares: ‘You are my son! You are the heir, and everything here is yours.’ The son has always been the heir to great power and wealth, but because he is a beggar, because he has forgotten his inheritance and who he is,…

Tips and Icebergs

As you know, the iceberg is supposed to be ten per cent on the surface (or one per cent some people say) and the rest hidden. My method of presentation here is to present just a small proportion of the iceberg and then for you to find the rest for yourself. So, in this method of teaching, a number of illustrations or stories are given which are meant, so to speak, as seeds to work on. Unless they change your life, however, they are just entertaining stories. And I am telling these particular stories because some of them have been helpful to me and I have confidence in them. But it is necessary, like seeds, that they should go into the ground. You probably know the parable of the sower in our Christian Bible. And there is a famous painting of ‘the sower went forth to sow’ which shows the…




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