A yard of teaching, one foot of practice

A yard of teaching, one foot of practice

Now, another one of Tozan. A great teacher, a direct disciple of the Six Patriarch made a comment which was criticised by Tozan and that great pupil of the Sixth Patriarch said, rather than a yard of teaching, better a foot of practice; and rather than a foot of teaching, better one tiny inch of practice. Now, Tozan criticised this. I expect you can immediately see what that criticism would be. ‘Rather than a yard of teaching, one foot of practice. Rather than one foot of teaching, one inch of practice.’  We can say things are changing in the modern world. These decisions which we have to take all the time, as to whether to take part or whether to interfere, how to fight for the ends of the pen, they’re going to come less and less and less. There’s more information available now, and there’s complete information available now with computers.

And this is going to happen in the future. For instance, your game of chess will simply disappear. You can program a computer now to visualise, so to speak, all the possible games of chess. The computer will make its first move and we’ll simply choose one of those games that leads to a win. Whatever move you make, that will already have been foreseen and played through by the computer and he will pursue it to the end. So a lot of these things will disappear. They will become mechanically solved. One of the flaws in this is that the number of possible games of chess is greater than the number of atoms in the universe. So the computer would take billions of years to make its first move because it would have to play through all the possible games to make sure there was no losing variation.

But, for instance, in music, the computer can now produce all the fugues that can exist. So among them will produce Bach’s masterpieces and masterpieces that Bach failed to produce. This has been calculated; “The number of chords that can be struck on the piano is…” No, I can’t stand it!  “… greater than the number of atoms in the…”  Oh, so that will not be feasible. Well, at least, a lot of our life will be made much simpler. For instance, the man who has to tour the country, he’s got 350 towns to visit in the course of a year.  Well, the computer can plot his shortest route. No decisions there. Doesn’t have to think of about scenery or anything like that and won’t be able to think about pleasant routes and unpleasant routes, the computer will simply choose the shortest and cheapest. And with 350 towns, the number of possible routes – I know – atoms, universe, it’s…  So the danger that our choice will be restricted is illusory.

This has been discussed, humorously but accurately, by one of the modern commentators on Zen.  Sometimes a concrete example is much more telling than theory. For the theory immediately becomes ice. There was a particular Mahatma, a very great one, who in his youth had practiced the physical hatha yoga and he’d had this great ambition to become very impressive and to be honoured.  Well, then when he met the man who became his teacher, all that disappeared.  But because of the concentration he put in on it, it did actualise itself and when people saw him, they were immediately struck with a sense of reverence and awe. So he used to live a lot of his life in the mountains in order not to meet too many people.  He used to come down occasionally and I knew one of the brahmacharis of the time who, on one occasion, when the great Mahatma came down, he was sent by his own teacher to serve him.

He said the moment the Mahatma appeared, near Rishikesh, people began to [come]; and they all wanted something. They wanted miracles and they wanted healing, and they wanted all sorts of things.  The Mahatma said to this student, this boy, “Go down into the town and get an empty whiskey bottle and fill it with Ganges water and bring it back.”  So that’s what he did. He brought it back and there was the Mahatma and there was an audience around and they began to ask whether he could do this, whether he could do that for them. And he said, “Oh, well, these things can be considered of course.” And then, “Oh, here you are.” And the boy brought this bottle, this whiskey bottle, full of the Ganges water.  Anyway, the Mahatma took it him and the people began to filter away, at the fringes. And when he’d done this two or three times, there was nobody left, and he said to the boy, “See. They have faith.”

Now, people sometimes think that’s rather cruel. Here are these people coming with simple faith and then the Mahatma deliberately makes them think that he’s a bogus and swindling Mahatma. But if one thinks just for a moment, you can see no swindling or bogus Mahatma would expose himself by drinking whiskey in front of them. That would be the last thing he did. And if they thought even just for a moment and had faith, even just to think – just for a moment – they would have seen immediately, but they didn’t and they went. That example he gave to show that people are simply attracted by something, which they don’t really [value].  They’re not really attracted to it, but they just hope to warm themselves momentarily and then go away and live their lives.

Well, the final one concerns frogs and snakes.  Again, in some of these big gatherings where there’s preaching and so on and there are holy ceremonies and the people partake, there are often children and for them they make a big bowl of crushed Bael juice. It’s a fruit and it’s extremely nice if you have ice. The fruit is crushed and it’s this delightful fruit juice. We don’t have it here as far as I know. Then, the ice is put in and they wait a little bit so it melts and then the companies who produce the ice (Here we have ice cubes don’t we?) there, especially for children, they have lots of little moulds and sometimes the moulds are of animals. In this case, which again this man saw, the host was a great spiritual figure who was a lawyer. As he was holding this meeting the ice came and there was a tiny, little frog of ice, a little snake of ice, a little tiger of ice, a saint of ice and there was a Thug – meaning a ritual murderer; and there were all these different things of ice.  While they were crushing the juice, the children were picking up the different little models of ice, you see, which had been frozen. Some of the children were saying, “Oh, don’t melt the kitten, it’s so sweet.” But everybody wanted the snake chucked in because ‘no-one likes snakes, especially if you live in India.’ Some were saying, “Well, we’ll throw the Thug in, but we’ll keep the holy man and we’ll throw this one in and we’ll keep that one. I like dogs. We’ll keep  this one. I don’t like cats, we’ll throw the cat in.” “No, I like cats.” “We’ll keep the cat.”

He described how, when the juice was ready, the pundit came up and the children were all arguing and they all had their little things you see. “Hey, can we keep this one? Can we throw those in?” He said he took their little hands and he smiled at them and he threw handfuls, threw them away, threw them away. He looked at the grownups, but didn’t say anything. He smiled at the children, took from their little hands, threw them all in, good and bad, and then he looked at the adult people who had come to the meeting.  Well, some of them understood, some of them didn’t understand; but for those who understood, it made a big, great melting in them, at least for a time.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Melting the Ice and Fists

Part 2: What is the Buddha?

Part 3: A yard of teaching, one foot of practice

Part4: We deny it’s a thing


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