Becoming a Thing
(TPL bangs his fist on the table) That’s a thing. We can’t say it isn’t. We can talk, and talk, and talk – but when it comes to the point, that fist is a thing. If we deny it, the denial can go right back into our teeth, and perhaps the teeth with it. It’s a thing. (TPL hides the fist) Now it’s gone. Well, one teacher used this in teaching judo. (As a fist) it’s strong enough to emphasize an argument, but if you want to stir your tea (that way) it’s quite a nuisance. If you want to write, it’s still more of a nuisance.
(The arm) is very strong as it is. It’s so strong in one direction, that you can get someone to hold his arm out there, and try and push it back, but you haven’t a hope. (But if you push the opposite way) you can just use your little finger, and he can’t keep still. It’s enormously strong here, but very weak here. Now, they explain that we specialize in certain things. We get enormously strong in a particular direction with a particular thing, and we become that thing.
This (finger) has a form. As a pointing finger, I’m an accuser. In India, sometimes a man is sitting meditating. An atmosphere of holiness comes from him. People gather around. Finally, he comes out of meditation. He sees them. He doesn’t say anything, (but just holds one finger pointing upwards), then he walks away. It means something, but what does it mean? Does it mean one, all is one, only one? Does it mean whatever you think, whatever you can imagine, above there? Transcend that? Go beyond that? Hand has no form, but has all the capacities of the forms.
Now, one of the lessons this is supposed to teach is that, in life, we specialize in something. Some of us become fists – we can’t bear any opposition, and we want to overbear. There’s another one who becomes “No!” Before any new suggestion, before the sentence has been completed: “No!” We become these things. In any skill or in life, we can become a thing. We lose the capacity to adapt flexibly, to thread a needle. You can’t thread a needle if you’ve got a fist – or write delicately.
In the vocabulary of some of the arts, this is called the bull’s horns. You develop a particular faculty, like a bull’s horns. With these, you can (intimidate) – but they’re awful nuisance. If you want to get into a car, you can’t get (get in the door). You become a bull with your skill, very formidable and triumphant, but all you can do is charge and gore.
They say one of the first things is to become a hand, so that you’re not specialized, you can do these other things. When it’s time to thread a needle, you can thread it. When it’s time to write, you can write. There are bulls who write (with the pen in their grip). But the pen has length and should be held here, balanced.
Things create illusions. We get the illusion of, “This is me. I’m like this.” “This is what I’m good at.” “Oh, I could never do that,” and so the capacity of the hand is lost. The example is given is of illusory forms. I just give one very brief thing. We have attitudes and habits of which we are entirely unconscious.
[I should say that any examples I may give here, people would never behave like that. Anything that’s said is purely as an example. Any resemblance to any situation or any person, living or dead, is purely intentional!] [laughter]
In the old texts the Chinese, when they came to Japan, repeated a phrase ‘Maku mozo’, as the Japanese pronounce it – “Don’t have delusive thought”. In the records of the Chinese masters when they came, they would repeat things. To this day, I only meet Chinese talking English, but they tend to repeat things. If you tackle a Chinese on this and say to him, “Some of the old Chinese monks coming to Japan tended to repeat their phrases. Is this a characteristic of the language, because I’ve noticed that some of you do today?” and he replies, “No, we don’t. No, we don’t.” Well, this is one example of us.
Now, to create consciously forms. This can be one of the secrets of bringing something to fulfilment. Without going into anything else, I just mention a point that may not be familiar to you. Take somebody who’s an athlete, say who’s training really seriously; suppose he’s an amateur so he works in the day, and then he gets to start his training in the evening.
Now, if he always starts exactly at seven o’clock, then at about half past six, his blood pressure begins to go up. He may still be in the office, if it’s near the gymnasium or he may be sitting in the train, but his blood pressure’s beginning to go up, and there are physical changes taking place in his body. It means that at seven o’clock when he strips off and gets ready, he’s already half warmed-up. He only has to do about 8 or 10 minutes warming up, whereas, if it’s at an unfamiliar time, it takes something like 20 minutes to get everything working.
Now, this can be used in something like meditation, where you’re supposed be calming down. Some studies that have been done, quite elaborate ones, show that if the meditation sitting is done the same time every day, then from something like 20 minutes beforehand, changes begin to take place. The body and the mind begin to become pacified before the meditation has started. The entry into the calm state is much quicker, but it has to be done at the same time every day. This is something that can be of use to people, if they don’t know it.
In this way, whether it’s meditation, maybe, or athletic training, if we begin at the same time and, if possible, in the same place, the body begins to prepare for it, for that time. It has to be done at the same time every day for a long time. When these things come to perfection, when the form comes to perfection, then it can be relied on absolutely. If you have ever seen an expert musician very drunk, put in front of his instrument, it’s surprising how much control he gets. With his long practice and preparation, now suddenly (faced) with the instrument, changes can take place very quickly.
Even the perfect thing has to be a little bit flexible. I’ve got a pair of new Japanese shoes. They’re not, as a matter of fact, very comfortable yet. Although they are absolutely perfect, my feet aren’t perfect. All the toes have been dislocated or broken. It’s going to take some weeks before the very small changes take place in that perfection to be comfortable on my feet.
In the same way, if someone’s an expert in high-speed shorthand, they can break one or two tiny little rules and they can write a word like ‘incompatibility’. No one will be able to read that, except another expert who recognizes the perfection of the form, and recognizes that one little rule has been broken in order to shorten it still further. The basic form is perfect. If the basic forms aren’t kept perfectly and laid down perfectly, then these little adjustments will mean that the whole thing collapses. An expert can make these very slight breach of the rules, and another expert will recognize it. People think that, “Oh. Once the rules are broken, I can do this, I can do that, and I can do the other.” No. It’s only if the form is perfect, that there can be these minor adjustments in the rules, and they can be productive.
The Roshi was saying how, when he read the Sutra, the Heart Sutra, which says, “No ears, no nose, no eyes.” he queried it. He said, “We have ears, have eyes. Why does the Sutra say we haven’t got them?” Now if you think of the hundreds and thousands of other students who all read the Heart Sutra, all learnt it by heart, and the Roshi was explaining by hitting on the head. An old priest told me that he had used the book that his grandfather had learnt on. On the pages, there were not only the marks of tears but the marks of blood. How many other students just said, “Oh, yes, no ears! No nose! No eyes! Yes. That’s right. The Sutra says so!” There’s no life. They have the form, but now the form has become mechanical. There’s nothing in it. They keep the form. This is the danger, that the form can become mechanical. The form has to be kept alive as it’s perfected.
In the school where I learned, we learnt elementary mechanics. One boy, everybody agreed, he was a bit stupid. He used actually to try these experiments with the pulleys. In mechanics, it explains how the pulley arrangement lets you pull here, and then a big weight can move there. But none of the experiments worked. So he queried it. The master said, “Oh, in these problems as you’re given them, friction is disregarded.” He said, “Well, sir, how do you find out what the friction is?” The master said, “Well, it’s very difficult to calculate the friction, but you can know what it is, because it’s the difference between what you get and what the theory tells you.”
Everybody agreed he was a bit stupid. He went on arguing. The master finally had to shut him up. Finally, the argument was simply, “Look, learn these answers and you will get marks. Get marks, you will pass exams. Pass exams, and you will get a job. Don’t go on asking about whether the things work or not.”
To bring the forms to life again, ‘helps’ are sometimes provided. Now, for instance, in the Christian services, it’s been found that music is a help to the devotional, reverential attitude. That goes back, as far as they can tell, a very long way indeed. It’s great help, isn’t it? The most marvellous music has been written. One of Bach’s most famous compositions for throwing people into the reverential mood is a hymn, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Nearly everybody knows that wonderful melody and the ritornello. Nobody knows the second line. The help has completely swallowed up the central thing. Now we just go for the music. We don’t care what the words say at all.
The next little section on this is what’s called fireworks. If you go to a firework display, you see wonderful things. There was a fat one when I was a kid called the ‘Devil Among the Tailors’. What he did and who they were, we didn’t know, but it was a great fat thing. It exploded, and then the bits that had exploded, exploded some more. It’s a marvellous thing and you all enjoy it. But you can’t actually read by that light, can’t light a fire by it, couldn’t light a cigarette on fireworks. You can’t actually use the firework display for anything – but it’s marvellous, absolutely wonderful.
In India, sometimes from childhood, they are made to go into these so-called yoga contortions. They are very late; they were developed about the 16th century. They’re not classical at all. They’re very small children and they go into them so they can continue to do them. For example, they can bend the fingers right back until they nearly touch their arm. If you see one, they say, “Our hands are trained. Pure hands, you see.” You say, “You must be wonderful surgeons or musicians with those marvellously trained hands, I suppose.” “Oh, no, we don’t know anything like that.” That’s another firework. Somehow you feel, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful!” You, yourself, feel crude, and untrained, and so on. But, actually, there’s nothing there at all.
Victorian girls were taught, in fairly well-off families, to play musical instruments. My mother was tone-deaf. She could play the piano, play the notes quite effectively, if she remembered to change the base because it meant nothing to her, whatever. She’d play loud sometimes and sometimes piano as the teacher or the music said. It meant nothing, but she was taught to sit in this beautiful stately way. It’s referred to in one of Browning’s poems, I think, “You sit stately at the clavichord”, or something like that. She looked the part of a marvellous pianist, but actually, there was nothing there. She got her superficial technique, but there was no musical expression at all, because she was tone-deaf. There’s another example of a firework. It looks splendid, but really, there’s nothing there. Nothing comes out of it at all.
Now an example, which I know personally, about a great teacher who was a great scholar. He had translated a certain text, which has a number of chapters. He had lectured on it, and he had published a short commentary on it. He told his pupils this was one of the most valuable texts that they should know. Some people thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be a good idea if some of us had a little quiz on it?”
As in a number of Indian texts, there are repetitive passages, so that you get a similar passage in chapter three and chapter four, and then a little bit similar one later on, in chapter six, but, of course, they’re not the same. One way of testing one’s learning would be to practise how much one knew, and how much one could identify.
So they put this to the teacher that they thought they’d have a little quiz. They would read out one of these verses, and then people would guess which chapter it came from – not guess, but try to say which chapter it came from. The teacher said, “Well, I’ll take part too.” They said, “Really? Well, all right teacher, but you’ll come in at the end,” because he would, obviously, give the correct answer and everyone would just imitate him.
So the first one was read. It was one of these similar ones. Some people said three; some people said four; one or two said six. Then the teacher said, “Well, I think it’s six.” “Oh, well, now we know.” But the person who had the sheet looked uneasy. He said, “Well, matter of fact, it’s three.” Everybody laughed, and then we went on. But he got quite a lot wrong. He wanted to show that being able to identify passages accurately from a text like that was a firework. He was all in favour of learning. He was a learned man himself, but this sort of thing, no regard for the meaning at all, just to be able to identify where it comes, would be a firework. One could get very good at it, but it would have no actual result at all.
Another one, which I say with some reserve – and this is good time back and probably only applies to one temple – but at a certain Zen temple people would sit in meditation. On some occasions, the teacher would go round and put a flower on top of the head. They would sit there for an hour. A slight move, especially on a shaven head, will bring the flower off. In a certain sense, this too is a firework. It has nothing to do with the quality of the meditation, but it means the form is like a rock.
Then the central point. There are many books on Judo and all the tricks are explained in great detail. People buy them and they try these books. They try these tricks out of the books, and they never work. They try them again. They still don’t work. They try them again. Still, they don’t work. The reason is that, although the man is making the movements, he hasn’t got any balance. Instead of him breaking his opponent’s balance, he’s losing his own balance by making these complicated movements, for which he hasn’t had the training.
Well, in the same way, we can read all sorts of things, but if we haven’t got a central point of balance, then we shall fall over. The tricks won’t work. There’s only one case that I knew of where the tricks did work, where a man who’d done no training whatever, had had private lessons from a teacher. He came out and he was fully confident in his ability with a certain throw.
By chance, he turned up at a genuine Judo training hall and watched them. One of them said, “Would you like to try this one?” He said, “No, I’ve done this. I know this.” “Oh, well would you just show us.” So he changed and he went, full of confidence, up to one of the best performers and tried his throw. The other man just stood still. He was a bit puzzled and tried again, and the other man just stood still. So he said, “Well, that’s most extraordinary. I paid several hundred pounds for private lessons – just me and the teacher. Every time I did that, he went flying through the air.”
It’s a good idea to have a traditional teacher, and to practice in a traditional place with other people who are practicing traditionally. One teacher says of this, “People come to me basically to try to free themselves from their egoism.” Then he said, “In six months they’re talking about ‘my path’.” Somebody said to him, “It’s much easier to teach people in these traditional sanghas, because people will do what you say. Teaching outside them, the pupils think, ‘Oh, why should I?’” “He said, “Well, they do everything I say, so long as they agree with it. If they don’t agree with it, they interpret it into the opposite. As what I say goes against what they fundamentally believe and agree with, in fact, they do everything I say, except what I actually do say.”
One of the stories on this is of a man being tattooed. This is found in various forms, but, in one of the most amusing one, he wants to have a lion tattooed on his back, a raging lion. They agree the price for the lion, and the tattooist stabs the needle in and rubs in the dye. The man gives a terrific yell. “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m doing what you said. I’m tattooing the lion.” He said, “Well, what part of the lion are you doing?” “I’ve started doing the paw.” He said, “Oh, well, do it without a paw.” Then the chap starts again. He drives it in, and the man says, “Well, what are you doing now?” He said, “I’m doing his ear.” “Oh, no. Let him have no ears.” Well, this goes on until of course there’s nothing there.
The little follow-up on this is, that people can go from teacher to teacher hoping that somehow it’ll be different and easier. Some teachers, at the beginning stress ‘this’, and others stress ‘that’, and are easier on ‘that one’, but later on, ‘this is going to come’. In the end, it’s going to be the same. People go from teacher to teacher, from meditation centre to meditation centre, hoping that they’ll find one which doesn’t (ask too much), and so they’re disappointed. The lion never gets tattooed on them at all.
The hub of a wheel, the chariot wheel, has a space in it through which the axle goes. If there isn’t enough space for the axle, it’s very tight, and there’s a terrible grinding as you try to advance in your chariot – there’s not enough space. Sukha, or happiness, means there is space. There’s space, so the wheel can turn.
The idea of happiness is that when you’re going about your business in your cart or chariot, the wheels can turn smoothly. There aren’t a lot of jagged pieces, there’s not a lot of friction. This is a happiness because there’s a space in the ordinary activities of life. Not happiness at a special exclusive time when the surroundings can be made very good, but a happiness when you’re actively engaged in the business and there’s space in the wheel.
Commenting on this, one teacher says, “Don’t have your dealings with men. Have your dealings with heaven.” The word for heaven is space. If you have dealings with men, you’ll have likes and dislikes, you’ll be ashamed, you’ll be exultant. Stand before heaven in your actions – this space. He compared it to a fly buzzing inside a windowpane. You’ve all seen this happen. The window is open at the top, and the fly is on the glass. It’s trying to get out, buzzing against the glass, but the frame is blocking its way. Then by chance, in his explorations, he comes up and he begins to crawl on the frame, and just beyond that, there’s freedom. Then, as he crawls on the wood, he finds, “Oh, no. The light has gone. It’s true. I couldn’t seem to actually get into the light, but that was where it was.” Then it goes back against the glass, buzzing. The teacher said that meditation can be like that. Get away from this futile buzzing in this constriction behind the glass. Give this up, and cross, fling the mind into heaven, into the freedom of space.
He says when we can do that, there’ll be space. There’ll be a space in our heart. One of the examples is given is this. A famous Japanese poet, Ryokan, he lived a very simple life, almost as a beggar. One year around his hut, he made a garden. He describes it in this famous poem, all the flowers that he had cultivated there. He was bringing them along. He said, “Other people said they were coming along beautifully too. I protected them from too much heat, and I sheltered them when the rain was too hard. Just as they were coming out, there came that typhoon, howling like a mad man, and it tore them all up. The rain battered them on the ground. All I could say was, ‘Oh, how pathetic!’ I made them over to the will of the wind.”
Now, this poem has got two things in it. One, for our lives that when something we’ve struggled for unselfishly for a long time is viciously and spitefully kicked to pieces in front of our eyes. “Typhoon howling like a mad man tears it all up. I made it over to the will of the wind.” One thing more – the garden’s been smashed, but out of that gap, out of that space, there came a masterpiece for a poem. Heaven spoke, ‘smash’, and then in his heart, heaven spoke, and he made the poem.
The Roshi was saying about the samadhi of play – in some of these arts, this point is made that the action should be pure. It’s not pure if there’s any thought of the future, or the reward, or the fear. When I’m typing, perhaps at high speed and accurately, and somebody comes and stands beside me, unless I’m very experienced, I shall begin to be typing through treacle, wondering, “What are you up to? Are you looking for mistakes, or perhaps a promotion or something?” Then the action becomes impure. We should be able to do the thing as a play.
Babies can do this for hours. You can see people sitting, you can see us sitting there. We watch the wind in the trees. It’s blowing them. It’s different each time, and yet it’s the same. We can watch that for a long time. We can see the beauty. but when it’s us, we’ve lost the capacity to see the beauty when we’re polishing the furniture or cleaning the floor. It means that when we do polish the furniture, we clean the floor, we’re able to enjoy it as a play.
We have electric typewriters now. When they first came in, people said, “Oh, wonderful, like magic.” Well, now people type with lots of mistakes. The touch is too light. In the beginning, the good touch-typist always kept a little finger on the semicolon key to anchor it. When they moved to electric machines, the whole thing was spattered with semicolons. [Laughter] Well, to enjoy it as you are enjoying it now, instead of thinking, “Oh, gosh, what a mess!” Do enjoy it.
We can say, “Oh, well, it might brighten up life a little bit, but would it have any effect on the world?” Well, I’ll give one example. Before the last war in Japan, there was a remarkable man. He was an admiral, Suzuki. Like a number of the higher people in the Japanese Navy, he did try to stop the war, though when it began, he went. He did what he could in it, but he tried to prevent it, because he realized, very likely, what would happen. For his attempts to prevent the war, an assassin broke in – he was one of the cabinet ministers. The assassin, who rather admired Suzuki, tried to explain, holding the gun. He said, “I want to explain to you why I’ve got to do this.”
He started to explain, and Suzuki said, “Well, if that’s all you have to say, better shoot.” So the man shot. The bullet went through and grazed the head, but he did survive. When Japan’s defeat was inevitable, he was appointed prime minister to run the country in this very dangerous period, up to the actual handing over.
He was an old man and he hadn’t been practiced in administrative art. He had been formerly a naval man. The country was in fact run by the cabinet secretary, a very brilliant man named, Sakumuzi, whom I’ve met. He said that he used to work sometimes all night, and he would get the necessary papers. He knew that both he and the prime minister were in imminent danger of assassination. He said, “I’d get all the papers and present them for his approval.” But Suzuki simply said, “Well, if you think this is right,” and then he sealed them. Sakumuzi said, “I thought to myself, ‘This old man, he’s a feeble boy, but he’s not even really looking at them. If he did look at them, he wouldn’t understand them. I’m running the country and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. He just comes in. He sits there and says ‘Good morning’”
One morning, the prime minister wasn’t there. Sakumuzi said he prepared the papers as usual. He was perfectly calm as usual. He came in. The prime minister wasn’t there, but the seal was there. He could just seal them. He said his hands started shaking. He couldn’t do it. He had to wait. Then the old man came, and immediately he became calm. He was able to do it.
Well, we think that a personal life, unless it’s full of talents and gifts, will have no effect and no help to people. But the fact is, there are people who can complete a training and they may say nothing and do very little. They can have this effect on the people around them. In that way, they bring heaven into the world. “Don’t have your dealings with men. Have your dealings with heaven.” They bring heaven into the environment and into the hearts of the people around them.
Well, these are the things I had to say. Thank you for listening.