Kobo Daishi

The priest Kobo of ninth century Japan was a universal genius and scholar of vast erudition, one of the outstanding figures in his country’s history. Kobo Daishi (this is his ecclesiastical name, literally “the Great Teacher who spreads the Law”) was born in 774 A.D. as the son of the governor of Sanuki province of Japan. He went to the university at the capital to master Chinese classics and poetry, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. At 20 he became a monk, and at 24, when sitting in meditation on a cliff by the seashore, there was an experience of illumination which determined his life.  His learning and piety so impressed the Emperor that he commissioned Kobo to go to China to find the inner heart of Buddhism and bring the knowledge back to Japan. Buddhism, of course, was already established in Japan, but for two centuries it had developed mostly within …

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Siddhi

When I first met Dr Shastri, I had done meditation for about seven years, on the lines of practising casting off thoughts including desires at any time, while being able to entertain them at other times at will.  My interest was to develop some powers and knowledge over self, and perhaps over external things directly.  This was the subject of repeated experiments.  I did pranayama and hatha yoga postures, and did transform physique and physical energy, after never playing sport up to fifteen.  I was practising ‘reading’ playing cards, shuffled and dealt face down: in spite of a few remarkable successes (e.g. two successive correct and the third one near (jack of clubs instead of king), I rated the results as poor; they did not seem to improve. The visual images were mostly blurred and shifting:  the few clear ones seemed to turn slowly up before the inner eye, as …

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The last Confucian sage was Wang Yang-ming

The last Confucian sage was Wang Yang-ming, a universal genius who as a Minister occasionally commanded military campaigns. A master strategist and tactician, he lost very few men. On one occasion, before an imminent battle, he made his dispositions and then in his tent began a lecture to his staff officers on strategy. The fighting began and after a time a courier rushed into the tent to report that the enemy had made a breach in the right wing of Wang’s forces. The officers jumped up in excitement, but Wang waved them back into their seats remarking: “The possibility has been foreseen, they know what to do,” and continued the lecture. Again after a time another courier arrived to say that the enemy had been completely routed. Again the officers rose in excitement but Wang made them sit down and calmly finished his lecture. This famous incident from 15th century …

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Narayana Prasad (Shri Dada)

Narayana Prasad, later known as Shri Dada, was born in a rich family in Moradabad, a city of the United Provinces. He was a Brahmin, or member of the highest caste. In early youth he met his guru, Swami Krishnanandaji, and devoted himself entirely to his service. The young man’s father strongly disapproved, because he wished his son to live the life of an aristocrat; in the end he disinherited him and refused to see him again. Shri Dada would not take his worldly troubles to his guru, and spent some months penniless, living in the woods. Later he got a post as a clerk at the railway station, and in this way supported himself, remaining in the service for the rest of his life. He gave himself with undivided will to the personal service of his guru and to the mystic practices he was taught, and obtained the final …

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Jan Smuts and the stoep

Sir Douglas Busk told me that when he was a young diplomat in S. Africa he had to deliver by hand top secret documents from Churchill to Smuts on the latter’s farm Smuts did not trust some of his Cabinet, who were pro-German. Busk said that he was warned not to put even a foot on the stoep surrounding the house of the farmstead, as by the laws of Boer hospitality Lady Smuts would be bound to invite him for a meal. She would be absolutely charming to the British guest, but it would be a great torture to her. So to spare her this, Busk always kept away from the edge of the stoep that went round the house. Then Lady Smuts could just greet him as he waited for the reply; she did not have to invite him in, and it was understood that if he did not …

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