Buddha-nature, where is it?
Buddha-nature, where is it? It doesn’t seem to be anywhere. The teacher says, ‘But it’s here . . .’ It’s something which we know we haven’t got, and yet we have. One method of teaching this is through history. It’s no use citing examples from Chinese or Japanese history which take long explanations, so I’ll give one or two examples from our history. All of you can read silently. You can pick up a letter and you can read it. But in the Middle Ages and in classical times, they couldn’t do that. They had to verbalize; they had to speak it aloud before they could understand — that was the only way they could read.
This was true of Japan too. A Russian captain in the eighteenth century, who was wrecked on the coast, was held in prison for a time till the authorities could investigate him. He complained to the guard that he was keeping him awake at night by reading aloud. He said, ‘Please read quietly.’ ‘But,’ the guard said, ‘this is the only way I can read. Unless I say the words, I can’t read.’
St. Augustine could read silently and he was regarded as a great, an unparalleled, genius because he could do this. But everybody here can do it. Are we all unparalleled geniuses? Perhaps we are, but certainly at that time they couldn’t find this capacity in themselves.
The medieval people built great cathedrals; these were tremendous triumphs of organization, and the finances were pretty complicated too. But the accountants couldn’t multiply in the head more than five times five. No human being could remember the tables after that! So they had them posted up on the walls. And if the accountant was away from his posted-up tables and he wanted to multiply, say, seven times seven — well, naturally, one can’t remember things like that. He would hold up a hand and put down the fingers above five. Seven — so you put two down and leave three up. The same with the other hand. Then you add the fingers that are down — four —(they are the tens) and you multiply the fingers that are up (three times three) — nine — and you’ve got the answer — forty- nine. Professional accountants used this method. There are references in the literature of the time to ‘the supple fingers of accountants’, because they were doing this all the time. We can manage this now in our heads. They were professionals dealing in millions of gold coins, but it was too difficult.
There are examples from Chinese and Japanese history to illustrate this, but these are two from European history. We’re meant to find something which we can’t yet see in ourselves; we have to have faith in the teacher who tells us, as the teacher has faith in us.
We’re asked to make sacrifices, tremendous sacrifices. A man was complaining to a teacher about this; he said, ‘We’re asked to give up so much.’
The teacher said, ‘Well, not necessarily, you know.’
And he said, ‘But we are; we’re asked to give up all these things.’
So they went to a judo dojo where the teacher knew the pupils and he called one of them out. He said, ‘This boy’s very keen. He’s determined to become county champion.’ And he asked him how he trained.
‘I train three or four hours every evening, and Saturday nights I often run all night,’ and this and this and this.
The teacher said to him, ‘But you’re making the most colossal sacrifices. I mean, you’re so exhausted that you never go out to the cinema or anything like that in the evenings; no parties; you’ve got to keep off the drink which some of your friends are going in for. You have to sacrifice all this. Don’t you feel it’s sometimes too much?’
And the boy just looked at him and said, ‘What are you talking about? I want to do judo!’
He’s doing what he wants to do with his whole being. All these other things are simply peripheral, futile, boring.
The pupils, when they enter a school to learn the Way, sometimes complain that they are given a standard discipline that everybody’s given, and it’s a great disappointment.
A pupil says, on entry, ‘We’re all different, so I expect to have what will suit my character.’
So the Master of Novices says, ‘Well, these practices will suit your character.’
And then the Master says, ‘It’s probably better if you don’t talk to other people about them.’
Of course, after he had been told that, he would never say a word, but somehow it leaks out, and then he discovers that in fact this is a practice that everybody is given. And so he goes to complain. ‘Look, this is just sort of mass-production, isn’t it? But it’s got to suit; we’re all different, aren’t we?’
‘Well, here we find that we’re all the same.’
‘But look, everybody says we’re all different. ‘
‘The fact that everybody says so, means that we’re all the same.’
One word more about applying things to ourselves. Two women pupils studied under a woman teacher for whom they had a great reverence. She used to see them every week together, and one of them said coming away, ‘You know, it’s funny, at the end she always says something about egoism, or pride, or something like that.’
‘Yes I’ve noticed that and I try to examine my conduct. And I generally do find that there is something in it, and I try to amend it.’
‘Oh well, of course, you must speak for yourself. I’ve nothing to say about that at all. But me, I do all that work for the temple; I never call attention to it; I never ask for any acknowledgement or any recognition (and I don’t get any either). How could anyone think I was egoistic? Why, I’m well known for remaining in the background; I’m famous for my love of obscurity!’