This is a Chinese phrase: ‘A hundred hearings, not like one seeing’. We are all familiar with the experience of a trip to some famous place, which we have heard and read quite a lot about. When we get there, it is different from what we expected.
The hearings are not like one seeing. It is not that the hearings are wrong, necessarily, but they are incomplete. When we see, we understand what we have heard, sometimes for the first time.
Now, in this sort of rather free‑wheeling talk, (and it has to be free-wheeling), I am just trying to give a few hints which have helped me and which can be of help to others. They are like pepper and salt with a meal. They are not the nourishment themselves but sometimes they can make the nourishment easier to take and digest. You cannot live on pepper and salt! So nothing replaces the solid practice, study and devotion of the life. But sometimes a new slant, or a new angle, or a new illustration, especially if it is an unexpected one, can be a help in absorbing some of these things. What I will say comes from various sources; some from teachers I have heard; some I have read ‑ I take temple magazines and occasionally somebody will write a little memoir of his own teacher, which can contain something very useful.
Now one of the things they say is you can learn by instruction, by hearing. Or you can learn by seeing others, by observation. You can learn by inference. And finally you can learn by experience yourself. ‘And they say that you need all four for your final experience to be fruitful. If you take them separately, just one by one, saying for instance, ‘Oh, let people find out for themselves. ‘If you drive when you are drunk ‑ you can hear instruction that it is dangerous to do it. You can have observation that is you see that other people do this and they have serious accidents. Again, you can infer that it is a generally dangerous practice. But if you are still so stupid, that you have to have experience.
You get drunk, you drive yourself, and you have a serious accident. The only point is that you may not be able to learn from the experience because you may be dead!
Now, on the other hand, if they are taken in turn, first the instruction which corresponds to the text or the words of a teacher, and then those are confirmed to some extent by our observation, and they are confirmed again by inference and finally, they are confirmed by direct experience. Then that direct experience is fruitful because it has been directed through the instruction which was given at the beginning, which is from a fruitful source.
People say, ‘Oh well, science has replaced all this, science begins with observation.’ Well it doesn’t begin with observation! Long ago they had a cartoon in the American Army paper. The patrol gets lost so the sergeant says to one of them (who is appropriately named Zero), ‘Zero climb to the top of that tree and see what you can see.’ He hopes for a sighting of a river, or a mountain. So Zero, who is fairly athletic, goes to the top of the tree. ‘The sergeant calls, ‘What can you see?’ And Zero says, ‘Well, there is a bird’s nest here, but no eggs in it And there are a lot of little caterpillars eating the leaves.’ That is observation, but it is not directed observation. Science has to begin with an idea, and then to observe on the lines of that idea to confirm it, or to develop it or reject it.
Now to give the sort of example of how to apply observation. Examples are best when they are striking. One can hear and one can agree internally. Sometimes you have a spiritual fall, you have a great temptation and you fall. Or you have a wave of anger and you fall. Afterwards there is regret, repentance and a remorse. Well now, this is something I saw, which made an impression on me, and for you it is only something heard, but still it is very vivid and it may be unexpected and it can be a reinforcement
In the old days of Judo, we used to have the big contest area of mats and then some of the seniors who had graduated from the university, they weren’t in the teams but they came to support it. They would take off their shoes and they would just sit round the edge of the mats in their ordinary clothes but without shoes.
One of the things you are told in Judo is not to save a fall in a particular way, it is very risky. But, of course, we were perhaps risky fellows then. I saw a chap do it and the elbow was dislocated, as he went down. Well a man from the front row of the audience shot out, sat down on the mat beside this fellow and put one foot here in the armpit and one foot here on the side of the neck, then he caught the injured arm and pulled and it was reset.
The recovery was extremely quick! I knew the team, I used to practise there, and he recovered very quickly. Afterwards I enquired about this (the chap who did the job was, I think, a surgeon, but in any case some Judo men were skilled in Sei Kotsu or bone setting.) and one of the things they said was, ‘If the thing can be set in a few seconds, there is very little lasting damage and it will heal very, very quickly. ‘The next phase is, if it can be set within two hours, then still there will be a relatively quick recovery. But if it is more than two hours then it is going to take quite a time.”
This is applied to a spiritual fall. If we have a bad failure, we generally feel, ‘Oh, will I ever be any good? Or ‘blast it!’ Why do these things happen? Why do I do these things? Why do they do these things? And so it goes on. Now, if in a few seconds, this can be put straight, and the man can perform a spiritual practice, (one is to push the bunched fingers in just below the navel and growl), and if within a few seconds of the fall that can be done, then a disaster leaves almost no impression. But if remorse, or repentance, or regret or despair, or anger, go on longer, it will be much harder to recover.
If I want to hit something: the table and my fist is only half an inch from the table, then I can generate only a little force. But if I really want to smash it I have to take the time to raise my fist high, and then I can make a big blow.
Well, in the same way, the great obstacles of repentance and remorse, and the feeling of failure and despair, take time to mount. And if in those few early seconds he can quickly get away to a spiritual training practice, and then by the time the blow comes down, he is no longer there! One teacher told us about this sort of fall: ‘Think that the consequences to your own mind take a little time to mount. When you feel yourself beginning to get angry, it cannot happen immediately. You feel it coming, and if you can quickly move, before the thing has marshalled its force, you are out of the way.’ Well, the instant resetting of the elbow was one vivid example which I saw and it made an impression, because it was so dramatically effective.
Now take another one. This is a poem. It is probably about the thirteenth to fourteenth century, from the School of the Spear. The men of the Spear especially developed the psychological side because the technique of the spear is very simple. There is very little technical excellence; it is mainly instantaneous response and anticipation. No gap between the opponent’s move and the response. As today, they used to be arranged in grades, and to me the Judo grades are familiar. And if you are, say, a third dan black belt and you are going to meet a fourth dan black belt, well you are going to lose, aren’t you?
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 2: The only way to win is to forget