Forty can help you. I know that it works

This is from my personal experience as a judo man. Although it is technical, the technical point itself is of no importance to the story which, perhaps, can help you. I know that it works.

I will just sketch out the judo position. When you meet the opponent you can get a hold on the lapel with one hand on the inside, and you have to be content with the other hand holding the other lapel on the outside. This is because opponents do not face each other quite directly. It would be an advantage to have both hands inside, but your opponent won’t let you do that.

Now, you may meet another opponent who insists on putting his second hand inside as well, which would give an advantage. It is quite easy to throw the second hand off, and you do it immediately. Then he comes and puts it in again, and you throw it off again. Generally, opponents will accept that, but this opponent does it again . . . and you throw him off . . . and he does it again … and you throw him off… and he does it again . . .

Then you lose your temper. You make a big movement: GET OUT. . ! That’s when he throws you!

Your big angry response has weakened your posture. He cannot maintain his second hand inside, but he keeps bringing it in. You go on throwing it off until you lose your temper, thinking, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, why do I always seem to end up practising with idiots?’

Alternatively, when your opponent keeps doing this, you may get fed up and just think, ‘Oh well, let him have it.’ Then he has an advantage.

Now, what do you do? It is so idiotic. Either you lose your temper, or you put up with it. The answer is in one word—forty. He comes in and you throw him off—one. He comes in and you throw him off—two. He comes in and you throw him off—three. You are prepared to go on for forty times without losing your temper.

When he finds, after six or seven times, that you have not lost your temper nor become disconcerted, he gets tired. Then he stops doing it.

How can this be applied in other ways? We get some persistent thought which we know is pretty idiotic, but it persists: ‘They said this about me! They keep saying this!’ And you throw it off. Then the thought comes back: ‘They’re forming little groups and running me down!’ The thoughts keep coming back, mindlessly. The thought, the impulse to do something, the sexual impulse, the ambitious impulse, keeps on mindlessly coming back.

Instead of putting it away a few times and then losing your temper and getting angry with it, or saying, ‘Oh, I’ll never get rid of this’, remember ‘forty times’. The thought comes, no!—one; you get on with what you are doing. It comes again, no!—two; you get on with what you are doing. The thought comes again, no!—three; you get on with what you are doing. After a few more times, it gets tired! We think it won’t, but it gets tired, because it lives on our reactions; it is powered by our reactions.

So, when you are lying in bed with some persistent worry be prepared to count up to forty, putting that worry aside. It doesn’t count up to forty, it isn’t very bright and it doesn’t know how long you will resist.

In connection with this, there is a point to make on shila, morality. Oka Kyugaku said that moral behaviour—to be reasonable about things, to be honest, to be self-restrained, and so on—seems to be unnatural and forced. I want something but I must not take it.’ That seems to be unnatural.

Oka said that this is because we have acquired unnatural attitudes. We can compare it to teaching a child to write. Children naturally hold a pen low down near the nib which cramps their writing. But later on they ought to be told to hold the pen higher up and loosen their grip which is how 160 words per minute expert shorthand writers hold their pens. They don’t have to keep moving their hands across the page with every word as the children do. When one is made to sit up and hold the pen higher and loosely, at first it seems unnatural, but this is really natural.

Oka said, ‘When morality, shila, begins to become established in practice, it shows its fundamental nature,’ (for the Sanskrit word shila means ‘innate tendency’). ‘It is not something that is imposed, but is one’s innate tendency which has been veiled by bad constricting habits. When those habits have been resolved with some effort, then the natural tendency asserts itself.’

Forty from the Old Zen Master

© Trevor Leggett

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