‘If he comes with the arrogance of wealth, I meet it with goodwill’.
‘If he comes with rank and power, I meet it with righteousness’.
‘The superior one is not to be caged by a semblance of superiority’.
‘If one is fully determined, he can defeat fate’.
‘If the will is one pointed, the cosmic energy moves for him’.
‘Ambitious men think that they use the world. In fact they are used by the world and then thrown away’.
‘The noble one is not clay to be moulded by some potter’.
‘In your heart stand one step above the world, lest your robes trail in the dust and your feet be washed with mud, but in worldly life keep one step behind the others, lest you be a moth on a flame or a ram caught in a thicket’.
‘Those who hold to virtue will at some time find themselves deserted, but those who rely on wealth and power, will always spend their whole life in dread and loneliness’.
Now, about these words, the Japanese chess system is a lot more complicated than ours, but he said this applies to life and he said it’s the doctrine of karma.
I do this, that’s the first move; there’ll be reaction from the universe, that’s the second move. What am I going to do then? That’s the third move. He said if you examine your life in those terms, just look three moves ahead. If I do this it will come back on me, and then what am I going to do?
Now, the roshi left me a little bequest. We were talking and he said, ‘Well, I’ve finished my sermons but you are giving a talk next week, aren’t you?
And I said, ‘Yes’.
He said, ‘Put this in the talk with one of your ironical stories…’
So this is what he said: ‘I leave you to make up the ironical story. People think that Zen went to Japan because it suited to the Japanese character, and similarly when we take up things we should take what is congenial to us, what suits us, but that’s quite a wrong idea. Zen requires you to stand on your own feet alone, which is something the Japanese people don’t like to do’.
They like to be a member of a group and Hakuin gives this example of Japanese psychology. He said, the trees, the branches interlace, and so the trees support each other and even if the roots all wither, the trees will still remain standing like a table with many legs, although there’s no root, no working root, but when the first typhoon comes along the whole thing goes down. And he said this is like the Japanese people, their religion, and their faith tends to be relying on the other people, they seem full of faith. So I feel full of faith, too.
And then they look at me, and they think, oh well, he’s full of faith, so in that way they support each other, but none of them has really got any faith at all, and so the whole thing is liable to be blown away and the roshi said that in Zen people have to stand alone and put down roots of their own, and he told me that Japanese people don’t, in general, like to do this. They want to depend on each other, and then he said, ‘And they want to depend on me!’
He said, ‘Here, I can be very friendly and meet people very easily because I can see, in most of them, there is a willingness and the realisation that they must try to stand. But’, he said, ‘in Japan I have to be much more distant and austere because otherwise they would cling onto me and get support from me’, so he said, ‘Zen is good for Japan, just because it’s the weak point’.
‘Then he said, ‘Do you to think the same thing applies in the West?’
So I said, ‘Well, yes.. “Love one another, this commandment I give you”, but we have been rather free with burning each other at the stake, in order to keep the words of the scriptures absolutely pure, so perhaps we need a religion of love, because of this’.
Well, he made some sort of comment that Zen was being or would be – the Japanese are ambiguous – is being presented in the West with a great warmth and in Japan it’s often very austere, it’s regarded as austere like a mountain peak.
The last point is about dissatisfactions. He said that, he was talking about the sun, that we don’t appreciate the sun at all, as I mentioned to you, we don’t pray in gratitude for the sun which comes every day, we only curse when it happens to be clouded over. In a play by Strindberg called ‘The Dream Play’, the daughter of the gods comes to earth. She’s given the mission, by Indra, to find out whether there’s anything in these perpetual complaints which arise from this beautiful earth made by Brahma, from these human beings living on it. So she comes down and she investigates, and enters into the lives of the people, and all of them are dissatisfied and profoundly disappointed with various things.
There is one old man, and she talks to him for a bit and he says, ‘You know I’ve had, I suppose, a hard life and I always dreamed of the time when I could retire and I just wanted to fish in the lake with a green fishing net, and I thought if I could just have that, I’d be happy, that’s all”.
Well, the daughter of the gods manages, in her human form, at least, to get that! And the old man does have his green fishing net.
And when she goes back, she’s going to ascend to heaven again, carrying all these complaints and moans and tears and sighs and then, passing, she says to him, ‘Well you, at least, got what you wanted, didn’t you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know, I know, it had to be green. But not that green!’
1. Rinzai Zen Buddhist nun, Venerable Myokyo-ni, was head of the London Zen Centre. She died in 2007.
2. Joshu Jushin, great Zen Master in ancient China, 778 – 897
3. Rinzai Zen Master, Dokuon, teacher at Shokokuji, Kyoto. The meeting was in 1869.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: The Flower of the Heart
Part 3: The concealment of realisation
Part 4: Reaction from the universe
Part 5: You cannot live on sweets
Part 6: Some essential thing is missing
Part 7: Naming a thing is not knowing it