Become like a Buddha for a time

Become like a Buddha for a time

A Japanese poet –

Shizukasa ya

Iwa ni shimiiru

Semi nokoe

The translation could be – ‘Oh the quietness. The shrill voice of the cicada is soaked up by the stones.’

This is a temple scene and suddenly in the quiet of this temple there is this bursting forth of the shrill note of the cicada. It’s ear-piercing while it lasts. Then it stops and there is a moment when, so as to speak, that shrillness and that disturbance is soaked up, soaks away into the stillness of the rocks, the stones, of the temple.

We can find some hints for Yoga practice in the practice of certain arts which require a clear discipline – especially, for instance, music. In music the execution has to be not merely perfect, but it also has to be done in a very short space of time sometimes – and musicians have to practise every day. The saying among musicians was, ‘If I miss my practice for one day, the next day I notice a deterioration in performance. If I miss it for two days, the critics notice it. If I miss it for three days, the public notice it.’ One famous violinist would say in the first half hour or so you were simply getting where you were yesterday, and after that you could make actual progress.

Now one of the great pianist of the twentieth century was Godowsky. His nickname was ‘Buddha’, because he really showed no emotion in his outer performance. He used to be called the pianists’ pianist, and his music was very calm and beautiful, his interpretations were very famous. He did specialise in some amazing technical feats and he did make some arrangements, for instance, putting two études together. He did that, but the main impression of his playing which was left on the public was this Buddha-like calm.

My father knew him and his family and they told my father that, like many musicians including my father himself, they would often return late in the evening after a concert. They would have a meal and they would often not get home until two or three. So they would get up relatively late, say 10 or 11, and then they would have a cup of tea and a slice of toast. They would do a couple of hours practice in the morning and then they would have lunch and more practice in the afternoon. From lunch onwards they would be accessible to the family and so on, but before that they would hardly say a word.

My father told me that the Godowsky family said that he would get up and he would have his tea and toast just without saying anything much and then go straight to the practice room. They could tell from what he played what mood he was in. If he was in a good mood he would play sometimes a polonaise, sometimes a mazurka, or a piece suited to that mood. If he was feeling dynamic or melancholy then the music would reflect that mood and they would know what mood he was in. They said this would go on for quarter of an hour or so, and after that the music itself would take over. Then he would give these wonderful exhibitions of technique and interpretation, refining and changing, and refining again and then there was absolutely no relation to the mood in which he had started. The music took over from this.

In our Yoga meditation practice we are mortified, even when we are fairly experienced, that for the first fifteen minutes or so there will still be traces of disturbance from where we have been, or what we have done, or what we are expecting or what we are fearing or hoping. And although we bring our mind back to the meditation subject again and again, it will be coloured by the atmosphere in which we have been living. But after a time – some say eight minutes and some say longer – the Yoga meditation itself will take over. Then it will begin to shine forth in its own glory, absolutely independent, irrespective of any personal memories or commitments or associations of any kind. We can become like Godowsky, as they said, a Buddha for a time.

© Trevor Leggett

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