Ananda asked the Buddha once, ‘How is it that after all these countless worlds and all these countless people in this world, the Buddha is giving teaching just to us here? It seems sort of arbitrary, how is that so?’
And the Buddha said, ‘I want to write something. Get me a reed.’
So Ananda went down to the bank of the Ganges and they pluck off one of those reeds and cut it diagonally and then they write with it. And the Buddha held up the reed.
He said, ‘How many of these reeds do you suppose there are on the stretch of the Ganges?’
So Ananda said, ‘Oh…’
‘And how many do you suppose on all the rivers of the world?’
‘How many do you suppose in all the countless worlds?’
‘Oh, it can’t be thought of.’
‘And yet here and now, this reed, the Tathagata is going to write with it.’
There is a saying about Kobo, who is the founder of the Shingon sect in Japan and one of the master calligraphers. He was 800 A.D. and his calligraphy is still today regarded as one of the greatest examples of this very highly developed art. He invented one of the Japanese alphabets and it says this wonderful calligrapher does not choose his brush. Kobo doesn’t choose the brush. There are several brushes there. Now, most of us, if we have got to write something, we have a good look at the brush and choose the best one and reject others. But Kobo is the great master and he can write a masterpiece with any of them, however imperfect. Kobo doesn’t choose the brush. He just picks one up and writes the masterpiece with it. It’s extended to mean that we are not to think that because we are not endowed with great intellect, with great power in the world, with great political adroitness, with great artistic talents, that we can’t manifest the Dharma.
If I begin to think I have great talents, well then, I become a mark, if I begin to think I can’t be bribed, perhaps not now, nothing much I particularly want. But nobody’s trying to bribe me. A judo champion was offered a quarter million pounds to become a professional wrestler. That would now be nearly half a million. He accepted it and the whole of the judo went ‘Ohoooo.. how disgraceful!’ He had to be expelled from the judo movement which strictly forbids public performance for money. But we were all saying this when we were not being tempted! But supposing somebody offered me half a million pounds. I’m comfortably placed – one big room. I sleep in the bunk above the kitchen but I’ve got a rear balcony overlooking the garden of a very pleasant place. Yes, but then I should start thinking, ‘Yes, half a million, yes I reject that absolutely!’Then I think, ‘Well, I wouldn’t mind a dog, and I like a dog. I like a big dog, a Chow or an Alsatian. And that would mean a garden. Of course, I can’t afford a garden now, there’s no temptation at all. But the half million? I could afford a garden and somebody to exercise the dog and then who knows?’ I stand: I can’t be bribed… and perhaps the cosmic archer will aim and pheeew..
I can’t be accused of undue aggression or anything like that! There’s old Cumberbatch at the office, you know, he’s an absolute tartar. But gradually I got patient with him. Sometimes I even say, ‘Poor old boy, he’s getting past it so he’s got to sort of exert himself and show himself off and exert his power in these last few years.’ I’m getting patient, I’m getting forgiving… and then the cosmic archer goes pheeew!
They don’t teach it now, but in judo when people get to a fairly high level there are methods of killing people without leaving any mark or trace. It takes quite a lot of skill but it can be done. Supposing I suddenly learn that! Now old Cumberbatch he is carrying on, and I suddenly think, ‘You know, we can do without him!’ Pheeew! Good shot.
This is another thing the teacher said: not to think… we don’t know what’s in our own heart… not to think, oh well, I’m above that, I’m finished with that. But, without any of those great virtues or graces or talents, still Kobo does not choose the brush!
The Buddha didn’t pick a reed. He just took one that happened to be there and in the same way this thing is to tell people (bell rings) who aren’t here who don’t want to listen about Buddhism. You go up and ring Buddhism into their ear and perhaps they’ll listen. But, tomorrow, somebody will be ringing another bell in the other ear and they’ll move off it.
It doesn’t have to be a great noise. People today are starving. We think, ‘Oh yes, they are starving for food.’ No! They are starving for a spiritual training and people who are throwing bombs are not starved of food. But they’re starved of a spiritual vision and the teacher says when people want to hear, even the tiniest sound will convey the Dharma. The people who want to hear…..
Well, thank you for listening to me.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Stone Sermon
Part 2: Jizo, the stone child
Part 3: We sweep up the leaves
Part 4: Brahma Viharas
Part 5: Ananda asked the Buddha