The Yogin and the Magician

An adhyatma yogin fell in with a magician travelling the same path, and the magician said to him: `Your yoga is only words. At the end you are only what you were before.  You speak of removing limitations, but you cannot do it.  Now in our path, we do actually remove limitations;  we extend our powers.’ `But you do not remove the limitation of individuality,’ said the yogin, `and while that remains, though you may think you remove some physical limitations, others will be imposed on you, perhaps unconsciously.’  `If they are unconscious, what would it matter?’ retorted the magician.  `Anyhow, we shall see.’   They came to a river, and could not see any boat.  The magician stood on the bank, muttering certain syllables again and again.  His body began to tremble, and his aspect changed:  he looked as light as a feather.  He threw his straw hat on …

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The Story ofF Raikva

One of the attractions of a certain type of story is its demonstration that the reader is not merely, being treated to an ingenious exhibition of gossamer word-spinning and thought-weaving ; what he is being told actually works in practice. The story of Raikva, according to the great commentator Shri Shankaracharya, is introduced in order to make the general subject matter of this part of the Chhandogya Upanishad easily understandable and to show how a man of firm virtue is eventually led to a Teacher who imparts to him the supreme Knowledge. Of rather different intent is the tale recounted by a modern Zen master in commenting on a verse of the celebrated Zen Teacher Hakuin. ” Lions and Tigers ” is satirical and symbolic and the finer points of the illustration will need to be dived for. Even so, the greatest challenge to readers is likely to be the …

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Two Stories

The King of a small state in the south of India used to meditate every day on himself as a servant of God. He limited the satisfaction of his desires to what he thought appropriate to a servant, and practised a servant’s simplicity of life. After some years, this practice produced in him extraordinary energy and clear-sightedness; his kingdom was a success internally, and the neighbouring kings soon found it did not pay to venture to extend their territory. The king’s spiritual adviser (though not his Teacher) was one of his ministers, to whom the king owed, and knew that he owed, a good deal of his success. This minister was an advanced practicant of meditation. One day the king learned, by chance, that the minister’s own form of meditation was on the self as infinite shining space. He told the minister that he would like to go on to …

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The Lord is in the heart of every being

Last Words A teacher of the Gita Yoga had as a disciple an Englishman brought up to restrain expression of feeling. The teacher approved of this as a basis, but got him to take part in amateur theatricals and public speaking so that there should be some creative expression. The Englishman’s mother was sceptical, (though she had been baptized) and often sarcastic about religion. They lived far apart, and when they did meet he never talked about his beliefs and practice. She had a vague idea that he was inclined to some strange Oriental cult, but she would dismiss the subject of religion in a few sharp words if ever it appeared on the conversational horizon. She recognised that he was a good son to her. When finally she fell very ill, he took her into his home to look after her in the final stages. Now the teacher had …

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One of the great means of instruction is telling stories.

Stories One of the great means of instruction is telling tales. The Sufi classic Mathnavi, and the Zen writings, are full of them. The stories are not fully explained; we are expected to find the inner meaning by our own efforts. Pondering on a story is compared to churning milk; it has to be turned and revolved again and again without interruption for a good time till quite suddenly butter begins to appear. Sometimes disciples try to insulate themselves by simply naming some of the characters-this one represents the lower mind` and that one the teacher, and so on. Such facile identifications can be made in hundreds of ways, and they do not help in finding the secret. They are attempts to seek safety` to avoid the implication of the story. “The world”, says the Mathnavi, “resembles the great big city which you may hear of from children’s tales. In …

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The Magistrate in Lotus lake

The Magistrate A Teacher of the Yoga of the Bhagavad-Gita came to the district and set up a school in a village there. When this was reported to the local magistrate (the chief administrative officer for the district), he was displeased. He was a follower of a Western philosopher who held that traditional religion and its compulsive morality was the cause of many of the ills of man. The magistrate had a great love for the people of the district, and worked night and day to bring them to what he saw as modern and progressive views. He therefore put many obstacles in the way of the yoga teacher, and for a time was successful in turning public opinion against him. When he heard that the school was also teaching secular subjects to the local children (admittedly poorly served by the present arrangements, because of the poverty of the district), …

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Do Good in Lotus Lake

Do Good “Not much thanks in this world when you do a kindly action,” grumbled a disciple. “They at once try to find something wrong with it, and if they can’t find something wrong with it, they find something wrong with you. Seems to make them feel better somehow.” “I heard a good saying in one of the devotional schools,” remarked a senior. “Apparently their teacher used to say: ‘Do good, and be abused.’ But he told them that the resistance and abuse against good deeds was like the bow-wave when a ship is moving forward strongly; in a way it is a confirmation, and should not be resented too much.” “Yes, I know, I know. It’s all very clever and elevating, but the fact is that when spiteful things are actually being said, when a well-meant action is deliberately twisted to seem self-seeking—it’s a bit different then. I haven’t …

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Self-Examination in Lotus lake

Self-Examination Two friends who belonged to a group practising interior training were given the practise of self-examination. “At the end of the day, sit down for a few minutes and try to see where you have gone wrong: make attempts to correct the faults.” One of them, a desperately conscientious man, raised the point when they next had a meeting with the teacher. “I find myself overwhelmed when I do self-examination,” he said. “I feel absolutely crushed. It seems to have been all blunders and meanness and weakness. I can’t get rid of the thought of them afterwards, either. Sometimes I can’t sleep.” The teacher said, “There is another way for people like you. You need not do formal self-examination. Whenever you think of your mistakes, turn your mind on to the Lord. Create vividly in your mind the scenes from the life of His incarnations. This will free you. …

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Last Words in Lotus Lake

Last Words A teacher of the Gita Yoga had as a disciple an Englishman brought up to restrain expression of feeling. The teacher approved of this as a basis, but got him to take part in amateur theatricals and public speaking so that there should be some creative expression. The Englishman’s mother was sceptical (though she had been baptized) and often sarcastic about religion. They lived far apart, and when they did meet he never talked about his beliefs and practise. She had a vague idea that he was inclined to some strange Oriental cult, but she would dismiss the subject of religion in a few sharp words if ever it appeared on the conversational horizon. She recognized that he was a good son to her. When finally she fell very ill, he took her into his home to look after in the final stages. Now the teacher had told …

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Anger in Lotus Lake

Anger In the sermon it was remarked in passing that in the Eastern traditions it was generally held that the worst sin was anger leading to injury to others, whereas in Christianity it seemed that sexual license was worse; in English, for instance, the very word immorality had overtones of sexual transgressions. This part of the sermon was reported to a Christian who lived in the neighbourhood, and he later tackled the preacher on the point, adding, “I get angry myself, but only with good reason, so I don’t regard it as particularly sinful. After all, when Christ drove the money-changers from the Temple, he showed anger, and he was unquestionably right. When I get angry, it’s the same thing.” The preacher took him outside onto the grass and gave him a big stone. He told him, “Throw this stone on the ground with all your force.” He flung it …

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Habits in Lotus Lake

Habits “I don’t see why we are asked to come to meditation and devotion practise classes. Surely the whole point of yoga is to develop the consciousness in the ordinary affairs of life, so we ought to practise them in that field. If we don’t do that, they are basically useless for life.” This sort of objection is very common, especially among ambitious or property-loving disciples. A teacher once answered in this way: “If you practise only in the ordinary life, your practice will be affected by the associations of that life. You may be unconscious of the distortion, but it will still be there. It used to be said among forgers of signatures that it is relatively easy to make a near imitation of someone else’s signature. The really difficult thing is to prevent some of one’s own characteristic letter-formations from subtly influencing the movement of the pen. To …

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Honour in Lotus Lake

Honour A great scholar, a devout man, was suddenly offered a very high position in the political field. It would be largely prestige, but he thought that he would be able to do a good deal to encourage and support scholarship and religion from that eminence. He would, however, have to spend a good bit of his time in official ceremonial, and to that extent his own work would suffer. After some hesitation, he accepted the honour and duly received many telegrams of congratulation, and also a large number of small presents in accordance with the custom of the country. A friend of his, a spiritual teacher, sent him a little packet. When he opened it, he found that it contained chocolates wrapped up in gold paper to look like coins.

Prayers Answered in Lotus Lake

Prayers Answered Before one enters a yogic path, it is natural to pray to the Lord for legitimate accessories to a natural life, with a view to share them also with others. The prayers are answered, unless they would be fatal to that person’s spiritual growth. When he has entered on a path, however, the yogin is expected to rely on his own Great Self, and not to pray for anything at all, either for himself or others. An idealistic schoolmaster in a small village complained to his teacher that if only he had a larger place, he could do much more for the children of the neighbourhood. “Surely I may pray for that?” he said. “I do not understand our rule which forbids praying for things. Surely it cannot be wrong to pray for that?” “Devote yourself to realization of your self in God,” said the teacher, “and you …

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Proclaimed Wisdom in Lotus Lake

Proclaimed Wisdom A King heard about a special thirty days’ discipline by which he could be blessed with the gift of Proclaimed Wisdom—namely wisdom and the ability to declare it. The discipline was harsh, but the king was delighted to discover that it contained no requirement as to mental control, which would have ruled him out. The only necessity was endurance. He managed to follow the drastic reduction in his diet, the total abstinence from alcohol and opium, the limitation of sleep to three hours, but he found it increasingly difficult to keep himself away from his queen and concubines. On the twenty-seventh day he realized that he was not going to be able to do so by his will alone. He had himself dressed in poor clothes, and then the chief minister locked him in a deep dungeon underneath the palace. A stupid and fanatical pair of guards were …

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The Judge in Lotus lake

The Judge (There is a hint of this story, though not the main point, in Kipling’s short “On the Gate.” He calls his main human character St. Peter; as this has the necessary associations for most Western readers, it is followed here to save explanations.) An Angel was appointed to judge one whole generation of humans. He had been given a limited omniscience and omnipresence, so that he could live through their lives with those whom he would afterwards judge. When the last member of the generation had died, he was told to get ready for his task. But he was instructed to pay his respects to St. Peter first. In a clear voice, the angel explained to St. Peter, “I shall not judge these humans from the outside. I was given the grace to be with them, in fact in them, every moment of their lives. I have known …

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Tail, No Tail in Lotus Lake

Tail, No Tail A foreigner visiting a Himalayan region for the first time was impressed by the sight of troops of langur monkeys, dropping fearlessly down almost vertical cliff faces by catching on projecting branches of trees. He noticed the use they could make of their prehensile tails, often much longer than their bodies. Some of them would hang by their tails. He happened to meet an English-speaking yogin, and mentioned it to him. The yogin said, “These monkeys are sacred because of the association with Hanuman, but their physical form itself teaches a lesson. Their name comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘tailed one,’ and it is one of their central attributes. If that tail were strapped to the body, so that the monkey could not free it, it would become atrophied, its owner would feel pain and probably soon die. If the monkey does not use the tail, …

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Powers in Lotus Lake

Powers In a remote area of an undeveloped country, a river came rushing out from the mountains, dividing just afterwards. Still further on, the two streams joined up again. So there were two huge arcs of flowing water enclosing a long, wide island. The surrounding terrain was mostly desert, but the villages beside the river could live reasonably well. No general irrigation schemes had ever been developed. Once a small landslide blocked one of the branches of the river just below the division; all the villagers living on that arc of the river cooperated to clear it, thus rescuing their water supply. The village situated at the spot where the river divided realized that they could dam up one branch of the river by felling trees into it, thus starving the villages on that arc of water. They trained themselves in the use of weapons. When they were an efficient …

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Obedience in Lotus Lake

Obedience “Your disciples treat you with great reverence,” remarked a visitor to a teacher. “I suppose they follow literally what you tell them, and you have to be careful. They are always saying, ‘The teacher wants this,’ or ‘The teacher doesn’t like that.’” “They do follow literally what I tell them,” replied the teacher, “so long as they agree with it. If they don’t agree with it, they interpret it as a joke, or a sort of riddle which they have to interpret. Then they interpret it into what they want, which is sometimes the very reverse of what I have said.” “How could they do that?” marveled the visitor. “Oh, quite easily,” said the teacher. “For instance, I tell them not to swallow the teachings I give without examining them. I ask them to think for themselves; if they have a sensible objection, I tell them to raise it. …

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Holy Ceremony in Lotus Lake

Holy Ceremony A student who came to the lectures of a teacher, but had not become a disciple, was sometimes invited to stay on a little. On one occasion he asked about a Tantrik ceremony he had heard about. A pair, male and female, perform a rite on the night of the full moon, by which their sexual conjugation is sanctified and made uplifting. “I and my girlfriend have heard about this and we should like to try it. It seems a beautiful idea.” The teacher replied, “These things are not recognized in the classical tradition; they very rarely lead to any lessening of bondage to the world, with its consequent suffering.” But the student persisted that it was surely wrong to rule out any aspect of the divine current. He had been impressed with the phrase that in the ceremony, heaven and earth were made one. Finally the teacher …

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Handshake in Lotus Lake

Handshake “I think it’s wrong to avoid situations of temptation,” declared a pupil somewhat positively. “If you do, it means you’re afraid of them, and to fear them gives them power over you. It’s neurotic. Of course one shouldn’t seek them out, but if they come—well, let them come.” Others demurred. “We are told not to go voluntarily into places where we shall be tempted; in the Lord’s Prayer too we pray not to be brought into temptation.” There was no agreement, and they decided to put the point to a senior of long experience. She said, “When one is still weak after an illness, it’s a mistake to go out into a gale. It’s not a question of being afraid; it’s recognizing that one may not be able to keep one’s footing in a sudden blast. Now we here are in the process of recovering from the illness of …

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Prescriptions in Lotus Lake

Prescriptions A tough elderly pupil, once a well-known athlete in his youth, remarked on the calm rationality of the spiritual directions given by Vedanta, as against the fanatical emotionalism of some devotional sects. “The instructions given us are like a doctor’s prescriptions. I think Sankara says that somewhere. The suffering is analyzed, the cause is shown, and the patient is shown how to avoid it. Only if he fails to follow the preventive advice does treatment have to be applied. “It’s a very fine way to tackle spiritual illness to treat it on the same lines as physical illness. My own doctor, as a matter of fact, sometimes comes out with things which just fit both cases. Only the other day he said to me, ‘Look, do you want to get ill? No? Then take my advice now. Don’t wait till you get ill and then come and ask me …

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Excuses in Lotus Lake

Excuses “I can’t be expected to practise yoga much,” complained a pupil, “because I am now so busy with the final structure of my business. If I don’t do that, it might begin to decline, and if that set in, it might even collapse. This is an exceptional time for me. Once the business is completely, firmly established, I’ll be able to concentrate on yoga.” “It will never be completely, firmly established,” replied the teacher. “Nothing in the world can be. Your present time of life is not exceptional, it’s typical. “After all, when one is a child, one can’t practise yoga because one has never heard of it. Then at school or as an apprentice, or learning from mother about running a home—those are full-time, aren’t they? Because one’s learning new things all the time. Then in the romantic tides of youth, there’s hardly the inclination to practise yoga. …

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Test Not in Lotus Lake

Test Not In a country where several religions were practised, including Christianity and Buddhism, a spiritual group existed which taught methods of mind-control and meditation without restrictions of belief. Believers found their own faith intensified by the practises, and were not asked to convert to a new faith. They began to prosper, and undertook small charitable works where they saw a need. But these were to be occasions for practise of universality and serenity, not ends in themselves. They were near a small school. Some of the children came from a distance on bicycles, which they had nowhere to put against the rain. It was proposed that the group offer to provide a little shed for them. The school, short of funds, gladly accepted. Two of the Outer Activities Committee, one a Buddhist and one a Christian, were appointed to see it done. There was an elderly professional carpenter in …

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Giving Up Illusion in Lotus Lake

Giving Up Illusion A young student was considering becoming a brahmacharin celibate for three years. The teacher told him that when combined with the yoga practises, it would give increased intelligence, energy, happiness, and inner serenity. “You cannot just say no: it must be part of the system of disciplined practise.” It happened that the class was reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and they came to a passage picturing temptations that the brahmacharin has to be able to face. “Here is a girl so beautiful that she seems to have been carved out of the moon, whose glances light up the world wherever she looks, whose lips are honey,” and so on. Afterwards he sought the teacher. “I doubt if I could give up a girl like that,” he confessed. “You are not asked to,” replied the teacher. “This is a fantasy. Girls do not seem carved out of …

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Fire Stages in Lotus lake

Fire Stages An Indian tradition says that training is usually like setting fire to wood that is a bit damp in places. It is difficult to get a flame at all, and it keeps going out. When it does catch hold a bit, great clouds of dense smoke arise, nearly choking the fire-raisers. Then it begins to burn briskly, and people can benefit from the light and heat. Then it roars in triumph as the whole pile blazes. Finally it dies down into the peace of the ashes

In the Courtyard in Lotus Lake

In the Courtyard The carpenter was poor, and one day asked his spiritual teacher whether it was right to pray for a better living. “I too am poor,” said the teacher, “but after all I have a place to sleep and some food to eat, which some people have not. I am ashamed to ask the Lord for more when there are so many worse off than I am.” The carpenter thought resentfully, “But you have some rich disciples; why shouldn’t they be asked to do something for me?” But he managed to remain silent. As the years went by, his reputation as a conscientious workman grew, and things improved, though only a little. He began to feel, however, a sort of peace in his heart, and no longer resented the better circumstances of others. A new king came to the throne, energetic and efficient, and interested in spiritual things. …

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Dream-Fair in Lotus Lake

Dream-Fair In the dream I was in an old-style fair, like the fairs of my childhood: dazzling lights, blaring music, obscure comings and goings in the dark alleys between the stalls. The booths were selling Unhappiness, Failure, Disease, Disaster, Despair—all at high prices. I wandered around, and noticed a stall a little apart, with its shutters up. An inconspicuous notice read: “The Kingdom of the Universe: First Customer Only.” I smiled and went on. I lost my way, and later found myself before the little stall again. The front shutter was being taken down from inside, revealing a counter and dimly behind it a stalwart, fierce-looking old man in a patched cloak. He looked at me, and on impulse I put my little handful of money on the counter, but keeping back three coins which I knew I would need to get back home. “You are the first customer!” cried …

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Fireworks in Lotus Lake

Fireworks A yoga pupil in Calcutta knew the manager of a theatre, and was sometimes presented with a free seat. On one such occasion he saw a demonstration of thought-reading; the manager said as he handed over the ticket, “This is in your line.” The central part of the show was that the performer came to the front of the stage, opened his arms wide, and asked the audience each to think some question strongly. After a short time, he announced, “There is a lady in the fifth row, worrying about her mother, who has had a road accident. Her leg is broken. If this is correct, will the lady please stand up and acknowledge it? I can tell her that her mother will recover well.” A middle-aged woman stood up and said, “That is right. Thank you.” The pupil assumed that she was a confederate of the thought-reader. However, …

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The Swimmer in Lotus Lake

The Swimmer An anxious man, always trying to foresee every possible eventuality so that he could prepare countermeasures, came to a yoga group. There he took to reading up historical and legendary incidents in the scriptures, so that he would get to know how spiritual people behave. “You’ve no need to do that,” an experienced disciple told him. “Our teacher tells us to try to become enlightened ourselves, rather than just reading about the enlightenment and enlightened actions of others.” “But then how is one to know what to do?” replied the new disciple, and he went on as before. He happened to be an expert swimmer, and the senior one day asked him whether he could demonstrate the racing dive he had heard about. The swimmer readily agreed, pleased to be able to show his skill, and they went together to the swimming baths. The expert changed into swimming …

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Mistakes in Lotus Lake

Mistakes A pupil who lived rather carelessly remarked, “Mistakes are a necessary part of the path of training. If you read the biographies of even the greatest, they all say that they made many mistakes. Some of them say that mistakes are a necessary part of the training—one learns from them. So I don’t worry about my own conduct: Let the mistakes come, I think, let ‘em all come. I’ll go through them and come out the other side. It is all part of the path.” This was put to a senior pupil, a businesswoman, for her opinion. She remarked, “You need not tell him I said this, but I don’t think our teacher would rate the idea very high in terms of clear thinking. It’s easy to get woolly about spiritual things. I remember when I learned to type. It was in a class. Of course we made mistakes, …

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Too Good in Lotus Lake

Too Good In a thick grove some way outside the town was a small temple, looked after by a widowed retired businessman, who was a devotee of the divinity of the shrine. It was traditionally said, and widely believed, that anyone who came on foot to worship there, with a pure heart, every day for forty days, would receive blessings. Few undertook the forty days, but many people made occasional visits, and some of them experienced great relief from anxieties after the visit. They used to make a small donation according to their means to the temple each time they visited. The temple keeper spent a good deal of his time washing it spotlessly clean, and polishing the surfaces to get them to shine. This was no easy matter, owing to the nature of the stone. He felt that the work he did was not appreciated by the worshippers who …

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Turtle in Lotus lake

Turtle Disciples nearly always pass through a phase when they feel that it is no use doing any service to the spiritual group or to fellow men, no use in fact doing anything with a purpose, because all these things will reinforce egoity, the feeling “I am doing it.” They may drop for quite a long time into a sort of inertia, thinking, “Well now, at any rate I am not being egoistic.” To a pupil in this state a teacher told a parable: “It is a tradition in ancient China that the turtle smoothes out its footsteps in the mud by wiping them out with its tail as it goes along. It leaves no footmarks, and therefore its enemies cannot follow its footsteps. “But the enemies follow the marks left by the tail.” “Then what is one to do?” wondered the pupil. “You cannot stamp out your egoity, but …

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One Step, Twenty Steps in Lotus lake

One Step, Twenty Steps “When someone takes one step toward the Lord, the Lord takes twenty steps toward him.” It is a striking phrase which has vivified and energized the devotion of many yogis. Nevertheless, it can be interpreted, disregarding the plain meaning of the words, into something quite different. In a lazy period, one who believes himself a devotee can reason something like this: What this says is that when I take a step toward him, the Lord takes twenty steps toward me. In fact he is doing the same as I do, namely taking one step, and then he adds nineteen more of his own. So if I take no step at all, then admittedly the Lord will not take that step either; but then he will add nineteen steps of his own to it. Adding nineteen to nothing gives nineteen, so he will still move nineteen steps …

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Warning in Lotus Lake

Warning There was a discussion about whether it is necessary, or even right, to give a warning on a spiritual matter when it is clear that it will not be heeded at all. One view was that in such cases it is meaningless, and the instance was given of a saintly man who had given a warning about the sin of using violence to a crowd of self-styled patriots. Their response was to beat him, and then go on with their program, which in the event led to the calamities for others and themselves which he had predicted. A member of the sangha asked for an explanation. “Did that saintly man know they wouldn’t listen? Or did he simply miscalculate?” “Nothing is absolutely impossible, and he would have been following a spiritual impulse to speak out,” said a senior, “but, yes, he would have known that in the ordinary course …

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Hypnosis in Lotus lake

Hypnosis Question: Is there any benefit to be gained from using methods like self-hypnosis as an aid to meditation? Answer: None at all. In self-hypnosis some elements of the personality are put to sleep, so to say. But they are not changed. Suppose there is a family whose house needs painting but we cannot agree on what colour it should be painted. We all feel strongly about it, so it does not get painted at all. Now I think, “I should like the house painted green, but they will not agree.” I give my relatives a drug which sends them to sleep, and while they are snoring I paint the house green. I have, in a sense, hypnotized them, and got my idea through. But when they wake up …

The Procession in Lotus Lake

The Procession A great mahatma (Rama Tirtha) after his realization found he could no longer continue a home life in society, as professor of mathematics (at Lahore University). He went to live at great heights in the Himalayas, occasionally coming down to give talks and publish articles. On one such occasion his former teacher sent a young disciple to look after him. One day the mahatma gave a four-hour-long discourse to an audience of thousands; he danced on the sands of the Ganges, and many of the audience saw a god there dancing. Afterwards he went back with the young brahmachari to the small room where he was staying. The mahatma’s lack of interest in food, and his solitary life in the mountains, had upset his digestive system, and he sometimes suffered from attacks of colic. When the spasms came on, his body twisted and turned. The disciple watched this …

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The Well in Lotus lake

The Well Some students discourage themselves by looking at themselves each day. After trying hard for a session, they feel that as there has been no result they have failed. Next day they try again, and again they fail. Gradually this builds up into a conviction of continuous failure, and they begin to think, “Oh, what’s the use of trying?” For such occasions there is an ancient Indian example, that of the well-digger. The Indian tradition was that beneath the desert there is water, however deeply hidden. This has recently been confirmed in the case of the vast Rajasthan desert in northwest India, beneath which a legendary river was supposed to flow. It has been established that the river is actually there though deep underground. The maxim of the well-digger is this: Each day when he digs but finds no water, he does not think, “I have failed.” Next day …

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Remembering in Dragon Pool

Remembering A woman disciple had been told—as all the disciples were told—to choose one verse from a holy text each week, and learn it by heart. She protested to a senior, for whom she had a great respect, “That would be quite impossible for me. Even as a child I have never been able to memorize things.” “How do you know?” asked the senior. “Why, at one of my first classes in infant school, we were set to learn a little list by heart: it was six dates, and the others learned them quite quickly. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. And at the end of the lesson, the school mistress (I can see her now, in her black bombazine and jet bracelets, all sweetness on the surface but hard as nails underneath) said that the others could go home but I was to sit there till I had learned …

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Reverence in Dragon Pool

Reverence A devout pupil attended a spiritual meeting in another part of the country, at which holy texts were intoned by individual men and women. On his return he told his teacher that he had been shocked by the lack of reverence shown by those reciting the texts. “I had heard that they were a very good group, but they did not seem to show respect for what they were reading. You have told us that we should always read holy texts with great reverence.” The teacher, who was well known for deep insight, asked, “And did you feel the truth of the texts when they were being recited as you say?” “Why, yes. It was very clear and firm. But no reverence—that put me off.” The teacher said, “When we recite the holy texts, we must always do it with great reverence. But if it should come to pass …

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Humble in Dragon Pool

Humble The temple had a good number of rare manuscripts, and the librarian, an excellent scholar, catalogued them efficiently and arranged for their publication. Scholars came to consult him from distant centres of learning, and the temple and its librarian became famous. One day a visitor was congratulating him on his great contributions to learning, and the priest looked out of the window and pointed to an old man sweeping up the leaves in the garden. “That is a humble task,” he said with a very kindly smile. “And people sometimes forget that the library, and the whole temple in fact, is supported on humble work like that, humble work like that. In their own way, he and others like him make a great contribution.” The visitor was impressed, and when he said farewell to the abbot he mentioned the incident. “When I saw that humble man sweeping up the …

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Racing Dive in Dragon Pool

Racing Dive A well – known modern Zen master, on tour with his attendant, visited a Zen centre for lay folk founded by a pupil of his. In addition to their sitting practise, they were encouraged to undertake joint social work to help the local school and so on, but not so much that it became an overriding concern. When he was introduced to the members, the master seemed to have an immediate understanding with one of the women, a longtime member of the group. She was known as a good quiet worker, but not otherwise remarkable. He did not give her special attention, though he asked her opinion on several points. When the time came for the individual farewells, the two of them stood for a few seconds looking into each other’s eyes. The head of the group took the opportunity to thank the master for his “kindness, to …

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Devil, Devil in Dragon Pool

Devil, Devil There is a method of reciting certain sutras, or parts of sutras, in which special attention is put on to the sound uttered. The would-be reciter sometimes practises for a time in the open, intoning the sonorous Chinese monosyllables into the wind on the edge of a cliff, or against the roar of a waterfall. If all goes well, gradually he comes to feel that he is bringing out all his insides with the utterance, and that his voice is penetrating the whole scene before him. It is technically called “reciting the sutra with the whole body.” When he can realize the feeling, he practises to retain it even when he repeats the sutra very softly. He still feels his body one with the sound, and syllables resonating with the universe. It can take a long time to acquire skill in this practise, and some of those who …

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All Different in Dragon Pool

All Different A girl began inner training under a Zen abbess for whom she had conceived a great reverence. After a period of probation, she was told by a senior disciple that she would now be given instructions on how to meditate. “I have never done meditation at all,” she said anxiously. “These practises will be ones that suit me, won’t they?” “Yes, they will suit you perfectly,” she was assured. She was given the instructions, and told at the same time that it would be better for her not to discuss her practises with anyone else. She fully intended to follow the advice, but (as often happens) something slipped out, and she was taken aback to learn that all the pupils had been given these same practises at the beginning. She asked to see the senior, to whom she complained, “I had expected to receive personal instruction suited to …

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Seeds in Dragon Pool

Seeds Nearly every sangha from time to time experiences a wave of inertia, which is actively supported by those pupils called the “old soldiers” (and by other less complimentary names). With the aid of various false analogies, propounded with enormous condescension, they try to dissipate all enthusiasm and reduce the whole sangha to their own state of apathy. On one such occasion, one such person was holding forth to a little group having their morning tea break on a verandah overlooking the garden. He waved a hand at the garden. “Think of the seeds,” he said magisterially. “They are sown deep in the ground, and nothing more is seen of them for quite a time. But then the first sprout appears, and a little later the plant or whatever it is. Do you remember when you were very small children, how impatient you used to be, waiting for the seeds …

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Emptying in Dragon Pool

Emptying A teacher used to point out to his pupils that what is already full cannot take in any more. This well-known Zen principle is often illustrated by pouring more tea into a filled cup so that it overflows on to the table and floor. This teacher went on to say that when there is a vacuum in the mind, illumination can come to fill it. The pupils did not understand this but let it go, except for one who persistently asked him what he meant exactly. “How can we make a vacuum in the mind?” he would say, to which the teacher made no reply but sat silent. After some repetitions of this, the teacher told him, “Well, as you are so keen I’ll give you some private instruction on it, if you’re willing to prepare by purifying yourself,” and he gave him elaborate directions for a daily ritual …

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Silence in Dragon Pool

Silence A pupil asked why they were expected to study the texts. “Surely it is enough if we simply do the practises?” “Merely to perform the practises, like a pledge fulfilled, will not be effective if there is no inner conviction. The whole personality has to be unified into the practise.” “But why? Can’t the disturbing elements of the personality be put down by very strong practise?” “They may be put down,” replied the teacher, “but they may not stay down. A seventeenth-century Japanese Zen master relates how he once met an old priest who talked incessantly, like a waterfall. After a little time, he suggested to the old man that practise of silence was a good thing occasionally. “Of course it is,” shouted the priest. “A very good thing, a very good thing it is, a very good thing indeed. I should know better than anyone, better than anyone. …

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Mu in Prison in Dragon Pool

Mu in Prison A Japanese businessman saw a cast-iron chance to make a quick profit. He took the capital from a trust fund, meaning to return it almost at once. It happened that a spot-check by auditors revealed what he had done. Though the venture was successful and the money was repaid, it was a serious offense for which he got a sentence of three years’ imprisonment. He was sent to a small prison in the north. He had done a little Zen training some years before, mainly as a means to strengthen his character. During the hardships of prison, he again took up the Mu koan, which he had been given at that time by the teacher. In an article which he wrote for a magazine, he described how the bad food, cold, and a brutal jailer made him think of suicide, but through the concentration on the Mu …

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How Much in Dragon Pool

How Much A keen member of a sangha was always bringing extra furniture for the comfort of the sangha members, and in many other ways trying to make the place and its garden more beautiful and artistic. A senior member finally dropped a hint that this was not necessary, and was indeed undesirable. “But I am doing this so that our members should have as nearly perfect conditions for their practise as possible,” protested the member. “Surely that can’t be wrong?” “Perfect external conditions are not attainable,” said the senior, “and even if they were, external conditions would do little to improve the internal conditions, which is the main point of our training.” “Then are we simply to let the place get dirty and leaky and the garden overgrown?” “The tradition does not say that,” rejoined the other. “There is a minimum necessary, or at any rate, almost necessary. We …

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The Mantra-Sayer in Dragon Pool

The Mantra-Sayer “I always recite the mantra of Perfect Realization in the morning, because we are told that recitation of this will infallibly give Nirvana. Then I recite the mantra of Sweeping Away Obstacles in the evening, because we are told that recitation of this will remove them all, and as Realization is something already achieved, the mere removal of the obstacles will reveal it.” “Do you really believe all this?” asked the teacher. “Yes, I do,” replied the mantra-sayer. “Well, if you really believe in either, you won’t need the other one,” remarked the teacher. “But you seem to think that each of them could do with a bit of reinforcing.

Notes in Dragon Pool

Notes “Our teacher,” said a disciple to a friend of his, “won’t let us take notes when he gives his sermons. Still, he always speaks on one of the classical texts, so as soon as possible afterwards, a group of us meet together and recover as much as we can from memory. With the basic text to consult, we can between us recall nearly everything that he’s said, and then we get it down.” “But why won’t he allow notes while he’s speaking?” asked the friend. “Yes, we’d always wondered that,” went on the disciple. “He just says at the beginning of every year that he doesn’t want us to take notes. None of us felt we had the right to ask him; I mean, a teacher’s decision mustn’t be questioned, must it? But we thought we’d like to know. “Well, one day when we knew that some outsiders would …

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Faith in Dragon Pool

Faith A city dweller, a keen Buddhist, had to make a business visit to the deep country, and as there was no late train back, he stopped over for one night. In the evening he went to a small temple belonging to a devotional sect. On his return to the city, he described to his teacher what a great effect the service had had on him. “Those people there, sitting so devoutly and listening intently to the resonant voice of the priest reciting their devotional texts—wonderful! His voice was like a great bell, proclaiming the Buddha to the whole world. I was thinking to myself all the time: how different from the wavering minds and hidden scepticisms of us city folk. One could feel their absolute faith: no lurking doubts there at all.” “No,” remarked the teacher. “The only one who might have his doubts would be the priest himself.

The Part in Dragon Pool

The Part An emotional man was protesting against the principle of Detachment taught in many of the schools of inner training. “It seems to me that this is a negation of all human feeling,” he burst out. “Surely when there is an occasion for grief, I should express that grief fully, and when it is an occasion for happiness, I should express that happiness fully, laughing and singing and dancing if I feel like it. And then there are cases where I see something is wrong; I must show that I am against that, absolutely against it.” “Oh, the training doesn’t say that sometimes there are not genuine parts to be played. Often there is a genuine role, as you say. But a first-rate actor will manage to express it fully, with the greatest economy of means. Why ham it?

Hero in Dragon Pool

Hero “Some of these youngsters take you as a hero,” remarked a friend to a well-known Judo teacher. “Do you think that’s a good thing?” “Well,” replied the teacher absently, “it’s true that they see what they think are good points, and try to imitate them. But from time to time I give them a hint about where I feel I have made mistakes in life, and how and why it went wrong. I think some of them take it in. “If they can imitate my good points, and avoid some of my bad ones, then they’ll do better in life than I’ve done. And that’ll be some small gain for the world in the next generation, won’t it?”

Jobs in Dragon Pool

Jobs A woman disciple who took it upon herself to see that everything in the meditation centre was spotlessly clean and in perfect order, once complained about the slackness of the others. “Some of them,” she said to a senior, “just sit there—meditating, I suppose they are—while I am putting things in order. They get there before the meeting, but do they help me put the things out? Oh no, they just get straight on with their meditation. I’d like to just sit there too, like them, but I can’t, I’m too busy. The things have got to be put out in the traditional way, and away afterwards, haven’t they? But it’s always left to me, somehow …” After a bit of this, the senior said, “Well, then we’ll try something else for a couple of weeks. Now, I’ve got a bit out of practise at putting the things out …

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Good in Dragon Pool

Good A devout widow, a woman of clear sight and organizing ability, was the guiding hand behind a great work of charity, which substantially benefited the condition of the poor people of the town. She did this in strict anonymity, but by an extraordinary chance the identity of the secret benefactor leaked out. She began to be respected and even revered by the townspeople. She remarked to a friend from another town, “I am going to leave this place. I am too highly esteemed here; all this fame and attention interfere with my spiritual practises.” “You need not move,” her friend replied. “Quite soon you’ll find that envious people are circulating damaging rumors about you. They’ll say … oh, I don’t know what it will be, perhaps that you have somehow made something for yourself out of the funds. That’s the sort of thing. Then you’ll drop into obscurity again, …

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Cat and Dog in Dragon Pool

Cat and Dog In Sojiji temple, near Tokyo, there is a picture of the Chinese Zen patriarch Nansen killing a cat. It illustrates a famous koan riddle. With his right hand he is holding aloft the glaring spitting cat, while his other hand grasps the sword. The Japanese master Dogen, founder of the Soto Zen line of which Sojiji is a head temple, remarked of the story, “Buddhism can be taught in this way, but it is open to abuse and best avoided.” A great Indian teacher who saw the picture remarked that the cat represents the mind. One of his pupils was asked about it, and commented: The teacher did not care for the company of cats. In the tradition, the cat was the only animal which did not come to mourn the passing away of the Buddha. Devoted to comfort as they are, they teach no spiritual lesson, …

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Shooting Arrows in Dragon Pool

Shooting Arrows A monster bird, though it did not do much actual harm, terrorized the whole district by its frightening appearance. So a great warrior was asked if he could make it go away or kill it. I have seen a picture of the bird—it is sort of human with a bird’s head and wings, and it has a terrifying aspect. The warrior went and started shooting arrows at it, but his arrows did not pierce its body, they stuck to it. So the warrior took his lance and ran at it, but the lance, too, was deflected and just stuck on the bird’s body. Then he heaved at it with his sword, but the sword somehow did not make contact but also just stuck. Being a warrior, he also knew of the Jujitsu means as they were then and he tried them, but his hands now also stuck to …

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Gardens in Dragon Pool

Gardens Western members of an Eastern sangha were discussing what they agreed was a common difficulty: when a new practise is received solemnly from the teacher there is a feeling of exaltation, but that feeling gradually gets less. It can be revived temporarily by reliving in memory the occasion when this practise was conferred, but these revivals become less and less effective. Finally the practise is liable to become completely dry, pursued only in a dogged spirit of Keep On Keeping On. As they realized how general the experience was, they decided to ask one of them to put it to the teacher on behalf of all. When he heard what the delegate had to say, however, he insisted that they should all come together as a group to put their question. After questioning a number of them, and hearing their replies on very much the same lines, namely of …

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Independence in Dragon pool

Independence 1. There was a Zen class attended by many foreigners that I had heard about when I was in Tokyo. The teacher carried a stick and said, “If you do not sit properly, I will hit you with this stick.” Then he shouted, “Don’t raise your shoulders like that, drop your shoulders. I shall walk slowly and watch you, but don’t be nervous, drop your shoulders, and if I see you sitting calmly with shoulders dropped, I won’t hit you at all. Or maybe I’ll hit you twice as hard!” You have to consign yourself to your teacher. There has to be complete resolution to go through anything. 2. A very poor Brahmin poet composed some verses for a Moslem ruler who, most impressed, ordered a great pile of silver coins to be given as reward. The Brahmin refused to accept the silver unless the gift was made in …

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Gone Away in Dragon Pool

Gone Away In some Japanese temples, there are glass cases in which are displayed ancient manuscripts, relics of the founder, and so on. There are no professional guides, and young monks learn the information by heart, stand beside the case, and recite it. I remember in one temple the guide stood upright beside the case, saying his piece without himself looking at the exhibit. At one point we moved on to a certain case from which the exhibit had been removed, for cleaning or some research. The monk did not notice, but gave his description in a firm voice: “Here is …” Only after about a minute did he notice that we were not looking at the case, and himself peered into it. “Oh,” he said, “oh, it’s gone away …” and led us on to the next. I was reminded of this when I heard a teacher say how …

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Ghosts in Dragon Pool

Ghosts A merchant who lived near a graveyard got the idea that ghosts from the graves were threatening to enter his house. He got a spell from a priest and went over the graveyard at sunset as he had been told, reciting the spell with all his force. “You have to feel that you are spitting out all your insides with the spell,” the priest had instructed him. At first he was trembling with fear, but after a little he felt the effects of the spell, and finally realized that the ghosts had been quelled. He boasted of his success to a friend, a man who had attained discernment through Zen practise. “You don’t have anything like this in your Zen, I suppose.” “I wouldn’t say there’s nothing like it,” replied the friend, “but in Zen the question would have to be asked, what is this being done for? And …

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The Pond in Dragon Pool

The Pond In one of the oldest Japanese temples, there is a small pond. It is irregular in shape, but admired by visitors—especially foreign visitors—for the subtle aesthetic effect of the design. At the end of one such enthusiastic foreign visit, the head monk remarked confidentially in Japanese to a foreigner whom he knew well, “This pond is not old, though it has been allowed to become old-looking. As a young monk, I was one of those who dug it. Six of us began together in the middle of the space, and we simply dug outward from the centre. Of course, the stronger monks got further out than the weaker ones. After a few days, the old head monk came to see it. He said, ‘Stop! Now bank up the sides with the big stones, and leave it. See that the moss is allowed to grow over the stones.’ “As …

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Fallacy Somewhere in Dragon pool

Fallacy Somewhere A Buddhist was trying to point out to a sceptic the superiority of Buddhism, as suitable for a rational person. “In religions, there is always a dogma, which has to be believed or at least subscribed to. In Buddhism there is no such requirement. The Buddha simply presented his view and asked listeners to apply their own reason: if it seemed reasonable to them, they should adopt it.” The sceptic produced an unexpected rejoinder. “As a matter of fact, the Buddhist presentation contains a fallacy which religions in general do not suffer from. The fallacy is this: the Buddha’s conclusion was that the mind of the ordinary man is stained and swayed by passion and delusion, and therefore incapable of seeing the truth. So far, it is undeniably the fact. In Buddhist practise, there is a long process of purifying the mind before truth is realized. And yet, …

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Dark Spotlight in Dragon Pool

Dark Spotlight In one of the weekly discourses to a small group of disciples from the country, the subject of egoism was raised on several successive occasions. The speaker remarked that people who had done a little training were of course aware that they ought not to perform their good deeds to the sound of trumpets, as it were. “But,” he added, “there is a way of coughing when putting a gold coin in the collection bowl, which is really the same thing. Let our motto for a few weeks be: ‘No coughing when practising virtue.’” As they left to return to the country, one woman disciple confided to her friend, “I cannot understand why when we are there the teacher keeps on talking about egoism as a great barrier.” “Perhaps he thinks we are egoistic,” replied the other. “I always try to examine my conduct afterwards and usually find …

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Spitting in Dragon Pool

Spitting In a traditional-style Japanese home, or a temple today, the floor consists of straw mats, beautifully constructed with exact precision. Life is lived on the floor, the whole building being raised a couple of feet off the ground. The mats and the wooden corridors are kept spotlessly clean, and no dirt from outside is allowed to enter; shoes are left in the porch located on the ground level. The avoidance of what is called aka, which can be roughly translated as dirt, grime, or anything greasy or slimy, has always been a major preoccupation in Japan. For instance, in the first half of this century, a Japanese girl would tend to hesitate on entering a Western-style classroom at school. Her instinct was to remove her shoes, so as not to bring the dirt of the playground into the classroom. Again, Japanese women wear with traditional dress a pair of …

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Time, Time in Dragon Pool

Time, Time In Japan in the thirteenth century, old people who were deemed useless were taken up a mountain to die. In this case, a son decided his father had to go since he had become a burden. “We are going to take grandpa to the top of the mountain and leave him there,” he told his own little son. The boy, who was fond of his grandpa, asked why he couldn’t stay at home with them. “No,” said the father, “it is kinder that way, when old people are confused and useless.” They got a dilapidated sedan chair, bundled the old man into it, and went to the mountaintop. The child asked his father to take grandpa out of the chair and bring it down. “No, there’s no need, this is an old chair, no use to anyone.” “But I need it for you when your time comes,” said …

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The Blue Mountains in Dragon Pool

The Blue Mountains “I don’t think I want to undertake inner training,” remarked a layman to a teacher, “because after all, what guarantee is there that I would be able to bring it to a conclusion? There is no assurance, and it would be a waste of a lot of time and effort if I took it up and then found I couldn’t complete it.” “The same applies to any plan which you make,” came the answer, “and yet you continue to plan—to move to a better house, to send your children to a good college, and thousands of other things. “In one tradition, the state of spiritual fulfillment is called the Blue Mountains—where the saint-ascetic lives in contemplation and has the freedom of all worlds. The concluding line of a famous poem runs: The place he has reached when he dies, That is his Blue Mountains. “A true man …

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Paid For in Dragon Pool

Paid For In the Tang dynasty, a Zen monk was preaching in the open air to a small crowd. A seller of pears, pushing his cart of fruit with its two long handles, paused to listen. He became more and more impatient with the teaching about restraint of passions and inner serenity; finally he shouted, “What can your Buddha do? Show us a miracle if you want us to listen to you!” “Miracles have to be paid for,” replied the monk, “and they bring no lasting good. But practise self-restraint and meditation, and you will be free from sufferings forever.” “Talk, all talk!” retorted the peddler angrily, and he forced his cart through the crowd up to the front. “Your Buddha did miracles, didn’t he? Then you do one, if you call yourself a Buddhist.” “The Buddha passed six years in austerities, living on one rice-grain a day. If you …

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Triumph in Dragon Pool

Triumph A piece of advice which can be most useful in life runs something like this: Aim at success, never at triumph. If you have aimed at success merely, then whether you meet with that or with failure, you will not be upset. You will not get excited, because your personal feelings have not been bound up with your action. But if you have aimed at triumph, then when it comes off, you will become overelated and want to tell everyone about it; and in failure you will get depressed or perhaps angry. In which case you will find yourself either trying to conceal it, or else blaming it on other people. So aim at success, never at triumph. I once had an experience which brought this advice to life for me. I was given the job of sweeping the leaves away from one courtyard of a Japanese temple. Such …

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To the Last Drop in Dragon Pool

To the Last Drop A women’s charitable organization gradually came to be dominated by an energetic member, skilled in committee procedures and expert at shouting down arguments against her plans. She began to use the meetings as a vehicle for self-display, and for giving expression to her personal likes and dislikes. Quite soon there was a marked deterioration in the organization’s activities, but most of the members were afraid to oppose her. The only one who was courageous enough to do so was the disciple of a Zen teacher. She got no support from her timid fellow members in her attempts to get things back on to a proper basis, and was instead subjected to a campaign of vilification, not stopping at personal physical attacks of a minor nature. She made no complaint, but the teacher came to hear of it, and one day said to her, “What is your …

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Wisdom Water in Dragon Pool

Wisdom Water A number of Sanskrit words came into Japanese along with Mahayana Buddhism, one of them being prajna, which means transcendental wisdom. A Japanese politician wrote an article, in the course of which he described how he and two or three others had made a visit to a Buddhist temple to find out whether all was well with the temple lands, and if not, whether they could do anything to help. The abbot received them kindly and the discussion was amiable. There were only a couple of very minor matters, which could easily be set right, and they promised to do them. The abbot then invited them to lunch, and a vegetarian meal was served, very well cooked. The abbot asked whether they would like anything to drink with it, and the politician took this to be an invitation to have some Japanese rice-wine. He therefore said that he …

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Channel in Dragon Pool

Channel At the end of a talk on Buddhism by a well-known master, a Western listener irritably objected. “You kept saying that while our whole life was a life of distinctions, we should be in illusion and suffer. You quoted all those stories of rich people groaning because they thought themselves very poor, or people standing up to the neck in fresh water and crying out, ‘We’re thirsty!’ All very pathetic. But you contradict yourself, because your words themselves are distinctions. So your very words are part of it all: they are just as illusory as the rest.” “Yes,” said the preacher, “they’re imitation pearls thrown to people pretending to be beggars. But it makes them feel better, just for a bit. And when they feel better, they might stop groaning and wailing for a moment, and look around at how things really are.” Some people say that although they …

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Pearls in Dragon Pool

Pearls At the end of a talk on Buddhism by a well-known master, a Western listener irritably objected. “You kept saying that while our whole life was a life of distinctions, we should be in illusion and suffer. You quoted all those stories of rich people groaning because they thought themselves very poor, or people standing up to the neck in fresh water and crying out, ‘We’re thirsty!’ All very pathetic. But you contradict yourself, because your words themselves are distinctions. So your very words are part of it all: they are just as illusory as the rest.” “Yes,” said the preacher, “they’re imitation pearls thrown to people pretending to be beggars. But it makes them feel better, just for a bit. And when they feel better, they might stop groaning and wailing for a moment, and look around at how things really are.”

Interlaced Trees in Dragon Pool

Interlaced Trees A Wood of trees growing together can get the branches interlaced so that the trees support each other. Even if the root has become very shallow, the whole thing looks like a stable structure, a sort of table with many legs. But because there are no deep roots, it all collapses helplessly in a storm. A society or group, says a seventeenth-century Zen master, can be like these. The various elements support each other by a system of conventions accepted by all, for no other reason than that they have always been accepted. T here may be no deep roots of conviction anywhere, but that society can look very stable. It is, however, no longer creative, and it too collapses before any sudden crisis. In somewhat the same way, an individual personality can apparently hold together firmly, because the parts support each other. But this lasts only so …

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The Singing Eggs in Dragon Pool

The Singing Eggs (Translated from the Japanese of a six-year-old boy) ONE DAY, the eggs began singing. In the hens’ nests, in the shops, in the kitchens, they were singing and singing. The people didn’t like to hear the eggs singing. They said, “We’ll cook them. We’ll boil them and poach them and scramble them and fry them. Then they’ll stop singing.” But even when they were boiled and poached and scrambled and fried, the eggs went on singing. The people got angry. “We’ll eat them,” they said. “Then they’ll have to stop singing.” But even when they were eaten, the eggs went on singing from inside the people. The people were very angry. They were bad people. They shouted, “We’ll kill them.” They got knives and tried to kill the eggs inside them. But they only killed themselves. And all over the world, the eggs went on singing and …

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The Pillar in Dragon Pool

The Pillar A brilliant young research graduate put in for an award, and did not get even an honourable mention. He had reason to suspect jealousy in the judges. When his teacher asked him about it, he blazed out against the corruption at “the top.” “But you still want to get there?” asked the teacher. “Well, yes. I’d like my work to be recognized.” They were sitting on chairs on the verandah, and the teacher fetched a piece of rope from the garden. He put it round one of the pillars, and passed the two ends to the pupil. “Bring that pillar near to you.” “But that’s impossible.” “Try.” The pupil stood up, braced his feet on the floor, and pulled. No result. The teacher said, “People sometimes think, if I can’t get to the top, perhaps I can bring the top down to me. And they criticize and condemn, …

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Unseen in Dragon Pool

Unseen There is a certain commercialism in some aspects of the Western world-view, extending into religion and art as well as home life and the business of making a living, where it is to be expected. One result is that where an action done, or a mere existence, leads to no quantifiable result in human terms, it tends to be written off as entirely futile. There is another view in the East (strongly subscribed to though not necessarily carried out in practise), in which an action rightly performed, or a true existence (as distinct from an imitation), has a sufficient value in itself. It may lose much of that value by being mixed up with ideas of results. This view is expressed in the Gita verse: Let your concern be with right action, Never with getting its fruits; Let not desire for fruits be your motive, But do not be …

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The Preface to Encounters in Yoga and Zen

Preface   Stories of the type presented here are used in many spiritual schools, to a greater or lesser extent; nearly all teachers make some use of them. I have collected these over the years from a variety of sources: sometimes reminiscences of a former teacher are buried in an old book, or a temple magazine; one or two are folk stories, some are verbally transmitted, some would be difficult to trace to a source. There are one or two incidents personally experienced, and I have occasionally put a few introductory remarks.  Their function is to act as flint and steel in making a light. In this, the flint is gripped in the left hand, with some dry tinder (usually a herb) under the thumb near the edge; then the steel is struck with a glancing blow across the edge of the flint. There may be no spark; then one …

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The Introduction to Encounters in Yoga and Zen

Introduction   Cloth against cloth, or stone against stone: No clear result, and it is meaningless. Catch the flung stone in the cloth, Pin the wind-fluttered cloth with a stone.   This verse comes in a scroll of spiritual training belonging to one of the knightly arts in the Far East. In these traditions, instruction is given in the form of vivid images, not in terms of logical categories; it is meant to be a stimulus to living inspiration, not dead analysis. The apparent exactitudes of logic turn out to be of very limited value when applied to life, because then the terms can never be precisely defined. In the verse, the catching cloth stands for what is technically called ‘softness’, which is not the same as weakness; the stone stands for hardness, not the same as strength. Softness has a special meaning: it is not merely giving way or …

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Iron Rods in Yoga and Zen

Iron Rods   A boy of twelve in Japan lost his father, to whom he was much attached. The shock and desolation turned his mind to Buddhism, and he asked his uncle, now looking after the family and himself a devout Buddhist, whether he could enter a temple. The uncle believed that the change in the heart was permanent, and took him to a training temple where the famous teacher accepted him.  The boy was very keen, and when the uncle made one of his monthly visits to see how he was getting on, the teacher remarked, ‘He is trying with everything he has: he is making good progress.’  In this temple there happened to be at the time a monk of about nineteen, whose family owned a rich temple, for which he was destined to become the priest for life. As can happen, his initial interest in Buddhism had …

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The Preacher in Yoga and Zen

The Preacher A famous preacher of Vedanta had a pupil of sixteen years who, under his instruction, acquired a very fine knowledge of the philosophy. He did not teach him rhetoric, as he did not consider that the boy would make a good speaker. One day however the master suddenly became ill just before he had to address a gathering. On an impulse, he sent the boy to speak in his place, telling him to explain the circumstances, and then try to give a plain exposition of the fundamentals, as he had been taught. To his surprise, it was reported to him that the speech by his pupil had been a great success. A little later, kindly friends hinted that it had even been said that the pupil was a better speaker than his master. (‘Absurd, of course, but we felt you ought to know.’) The preacher pondered for a …

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The Wine Pot in Yoga and Zen

The Wine Pot The final word of Mahayana Buddhism, as expressed in the Garland Sutra of China, is that Samsara, this world of suffering, is Nirvana, and the passions are enlightenment, bodhi. It is only illusion that causes us to see differences between them. ‘Samsara is Nirvana, the passions are enlightenment.’ This formula has sometimes been taken as a sort of slogan, in isolation from the spirituality of the rest of the Sutra, like the remark of St Paul, ‘To the pure, all things are pure.’ A man who set himself up as a Buddhist teacher began preaching the slogan that passions are enlightenment, claiming to exemplify it by himself drinking heavily and frequenting brothels. This was reported to a real saint who remarked briefly, ‘No one who is a slave to passions can claim to see them as enlightenment.’ The teacher came storming round to the home of the …

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Mirrors in Yoga and Zen

Mirrors A young and able businessman was hampered in his career by sudden outbursts of fury when he was contradicted in front of others – at a board meeting, for instance. He was making some attempts at spiritual training, and he consulted one of the senior members of the group. ‘I know you’re going to tell me to count backwards from twenty- nine or something like that, but the fact is that it’s so strong that all that just gets blown away. I see a sort of red mist coming in front of my eyes. Isn’t there something a bit more positive for people like me ?’ The senior looked at him, smartly dressed and clearly very careful about his appearance. ‘There might be, for someone like you as you say,’ he replied, ‘but you have to be willing to get a bit of a shock. Keep a little mirror …

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Fried Eels in Yoga and Zen

Fried Eels ‘You’ve often told us in your sermons that the Buddha-nature in all is always perfect, and their nature loses nothing even if the mind is disturbed, and gains nothing when the mind is calm. Why then do you tell people to control their passions and acquire peace of mind? On your own showing, nothing real is lost, for the true nature can never be lost or even diminished.’ ‘They think that they lose something, and that causes distress.’ ‘Then simply tell them nothing has been lost, It is wrong to treat it as if they did lose something by letting their mind run wild, and then tell them how to control it.’ ‘Let me tell you something that happened to me once. I was passing one of those fried eel shops; you know what a delicious smell there is when they are cooking. I didn’t want any eels, …

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A Tremendous Lot in Yoga and Zen

A Tremendous Lot A lecturer on Vedanta made a tour of the towns of northern India, dazzling the audiences with his erudition. He had a phenomenal memory, and his replies to questions were a revelation. The disciple of a traditional teacher went to one of these lectures, and was much impressed. On his return he asked his teacher about the lecturer: Ts he really as good as he seems? How much does he really know about Vedanta ?’ ‘Oh, a tremendous lot/ was the answer, ‘in fact, everything. And that’s all.’ The Pure Land In China and Japan many millions of Buddhists have been – and in Japan still are – devotees of the Pure Land doctrine. According to this a bodhisattva made a great vow which in time fulfilled itself as the manifestation of the Buddha Amitabha (infinite light), who created a Pure Land paradise in the West for …

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The Pure Land  in Yoga and Zen

The Pure Land  In China and Japan many millions of Buddhists have been – and in Japan still are – devotees of the Pure Land doctrine. According to this a bodhisattva made a great vow which in time fulfilled itself as the manifestation of the Buddha Amitabha (infinite light), who created a Pure Land paradise in the West for those who would take his name with faith. From this Pure Land it was easy to attain final Nirvana. An old lady of this faith was walking along the road when she met a Zen master, who said to her,  ‘On your way to the Pure Land, eh, Granny?’  She nodded.  ‘Holy Amitabha’s there, waiting for you, I expect. She shook her head.  ‘Not there ? The Buddha’s not in his Pure Land ? Where is he then ?’ She tapped twice over her heart, and went on her way. The …

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The Bridge in Yoga and Zen

The Bridge A blind man lived in a village in the deep mountains. He was not afraid of the mountain paths, which he had known since childhood, and when spring came and the snows melted, he used to pride himself on the being the first to go to visit his brother in another village not far away, but separated by a deep gorge about twelve feet across. The state maintained a small footbridge across it, consisting of three wide planks driven into the earth on either side, with a small wooden handrail. One autumn, when the blind man made his last trip that year, he noticed that the planks were becoming shaky, because the earth was crumbling away. He mentioned this to the village headman, who saw the government inspector when he made his rounds. The latter promised that the bridge would be repaired for the next year. When spring …

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The Fourth Truth in Yoga and Zen

The Fourth Truth An enthusiast was explaining about Buddhism to a friend, and told him, ‘Perhaps I can best give the spirit of it by one of the traditional stories. The bodhisattva – that is, the Buddha-to-be – was walking past a mountain, pondering the great questions, when he heard a mighty voice crying, “All beings must die.” It seemed that heaven and earth were resounding with the words. ‘The Buddha-to-be had already realized this truth in his own meditations, and he looked round to see where the voice came from. As his gaze turned to the mountain, the same great voice cried, “This is the law of all existence.” ‘The Buddha-to-be perceived that the voice came from the top of the mountain; he climbed it, to find that it was an extinct volcano. At the bottom of the crater, deep like an abyss, was coiled a huge dragon. As …

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The Vase in Yoga and Zen

The Vase A young Brahmachari in India was very high-spirited and tended to be happy-go-lucky in carrying out tasks. The teacher warned him about it, but he found it difficult to change. One day he said to the teacher: ‘Master, in the sermon the other day on karma, you said that if the karma supporting his present life had exhausted itself, a man would die’. ‘Yes, that is right’. ‘But suppose everyone took very great care of him, surely he could live just a little longer?’ ‘No; if his span of life has come to an end, it will come to an end.’ ‘And you said, teacher, that it applies not only to man but to everything.’ ‘Yes; if a thing’s karma is to perish, it must perish.’ ‘Well,’ said the boy, ‘I was dusting in the hall this morning, and that vase of Ganges water which you brought back …

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The Sieve in Yoga and Zen

The Sieve A group of devotees invited a master of meditation to the house of one of them to give them instruction. He told them that they must strive to acquire freedom from strong reactions to the events of daily life, an attitude of habitual reverence, and the regular practice of a method of meditation which he explained in detail. The object was to realize the one divine life pervading all things. ‘In the end you must come to this realization not only in the meditation period, but in daily life. The whole process is like filling a sieve with water.’ He bowed and left. The little group saw him off, and then one of them turned to the others, fuming. ‘That’s as good as telling us that we’ll never be able to do it. Filling a sieve with water, I ask you! That’s what happens now, isn’t it? At …

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Pearls  before Swine in Yoga and Zen

Pearls  before Swine Sometimes from an unexpected quarter one can get a new light on a very familiar phrase, so that it shows a completely different meaning. One of the best-known texts in the Bible is the one about the pearls and swine: ‘Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.’ Now one can see that the pigs won’t value pearls, because they do not know what they are. But why should they turn on you and rend you? I’d always vaguely supposed this was a symbol of mindless malice towards what is felt to be spiritually superior, but that idea must be wrong; if they don’t know the pearls are valuable, they won’t know there’s anything superior to resent. In 1963-4 I used to take part in a weekly radio dialogue, with a Japanese Buddhist priest, in …

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Help No Help in Yoga and Zen

Help No Help Sometimes a new idea can change the whole landscape of endeavour, so to speak; everything appears in quite a different light. This applies in most fields of human activity, but in the case of spiritual endeavours it has some special overtones. Take the case of doing certain jobs for the spiritual group. Naturally everyone would like to choose their job; someone good at adding would like to do the accounts, and someone good at gardening would like to help in the garden. But, as the Christian saying has it, a cross chosen is not a true cross. To do what one can do well where others can see it is an assertion of personality, and it has not much value as a discipline, though the group may get some benefit from it. (Even that benefit is usually offset by the unconscious arrogance of the expert, perpetually putting …

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The Buddhas Fingers in Yoga and Zen

The Buddhas Fingers A buddhist nun in Japan, who by her strong character, farsightedness and sympathetic persuasion had a great influence in the community where she lived, was asked how she came to give her life to Buddhism. She said that she had lost her parents when a small child, and had been brought up by her aunt, a nun in charge of a temple. The aunt was very busy with charitable work, and could not give the child as much time as she would have liked. She took the little girl into the temple and they stood before the Buddha image, seated with the hands joined in the position called Meditation on the Dharma-world. The right hand is laid on the left one, both index-fingers are bent, and the thumb of each hand joins the index finger to form a rough circle. She presented the child to the Buddha …

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Gifts in Yoga and Zen

Gifts In the sermon, the preacher said that a gift must be not only proper in its time and place and recipient, but the heart of the giver must be pure. If there is a desire for recognition, or for a return of any kind, or even just a feeling of superiority, the gift will be tainted, and in the long run will not do the intended good. Afterwards one of the listeners said to an experienced senior, ‘I can’t see that. I can understand that something wrong in the heart of a giver might spoil the merit of the gift for him, but it won’t make any difference to the receiver. If a man’s hungry, it doesn’t matter to him whether he gets some food from a saint or from the greatest villain alive – he just wants the food.’ The senior made no reply, but began to walk …

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The backhander in Yoga and Zen

The backhander Traditionally and historically, the Chinese have not been fond of fighting. They have generally rated the warrior’s role as something undesirable though sometimes necessary. They could fight well when needed; Confucius remarked, T do not like to fight, but if I must fight, I win.’ But they do not think that a warrior, for instance, is specially suited for spiritual training, as was thought in India, where the Buddha came from a warrior line, and in Japan, where Zen first came in through the warriors of Kamakura. In the classic of Tao, one of the most ancient Chinese scriptures, it is said that the fighting man is an ill-omened instrument, and the Way of Heaven has no love for him. Yet sometimes it has to make use of him. A great Japanese warrior commented on this: ‘The bow and arrow, the swords short and long, are unblessed tools …

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The Tortoise in Yoga and Zen

The Tortoise After the tortoise had won the race against the hare, the other animals began to consult him about improving their running speeds. They had not seen what happened during the race: half of them had been at the start, and the other half at the finishing tape. The first group had seen the hare dashing off into the distance, and the other group had seen the tortoise crawl across the finishing line, and the hare running up second. No one had actually seen the tortoise moving fast, but they came to believe, as the only explanation, that he must have gone into some sort of over-drive during the main part of the race, slowing down when he had passed the hare and was leading by a huge margin. As the animals had no watches, none of them knew just how long the race had taken. No one listened …

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Eighty percent is perfection in Yoga and Zen

Eighty percent is perfection If actions – even the best of actions – are accompanied with the thought ‘I am doing good’, the benevolent man may become depressed. For instance UN medical teams, working in primitive areas, have greatly reduced infant mortality by giving some simple instructions to the mid wives. Yet it was found later that the population of the villages had not increased. The reason was, that there was not enough food to support any more; so the babies saved at birth died a lingering death of starvation a little later. Even when actions are completely successful in actualizing their hoped-for results, there may be unforeseen and unwelcome effects. A saying of the Soto Zen sect is, ‘Eighty per cent is perfection/ They do not explain such phrases, but a parallel comment runs something like this: ‘Do things well. But not very well. If you do a thing …

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Grace of God in Yoga and Zen

Grace of God Some followers of Yoga tend to think that it is somehow ‘higher’ not to believe in any God. ‘There is no God other than the higher self of man they say, throwing their heads back proudly. This is fine as long as circumstances go quite well; it sounds all right to a young person, barefoot and more or less permanently camping, who is nevertheless sure of middle-class parents, or at any rate the Welfare State, to fall back on. It may sound all right in a comfortable flat surrounded by imported luxuries. But when in real difficulties, facing serious illness or imprisonment or even heavy responsibilities, it begins to ring hollow. Those who say it may find that they have promoted themselves to the sixth form without being able to tackle the sixth-form syllabus. The more his spiritual training progresses, the more a student comes to recognize …

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Will of God in Yoga and Zen

Will of God Allied to the doctrine of the grace of God is the doctrine of the will of God, and this too can be a stumbling block to those who use it as an excuse. A famous judge in India, at the end of the last century, was well-known as a devotee of God, and once a thief who was brought before him tried to make use of the fact. The charge was completely proved and the thief made no attempt to deny it, but said instead, ‘Your Honour, I only wish to say this. When the opportunity came to steal that, I felt an irresistible impulse to do it, and I thought to myself that it must be the will of God that I should steal it. And it was the will of God, surely, Your Honour, because otherwise it couldn’t have happened.’ ‘Are you denying that you …

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Tea in Yoga and Zen

Tea Not long ago, a Japanese Tea Ceremony master made a visit to a certain foreign country to give demonstrations. His hosts found a beautiful garden, with two pavilions in it. In one the guests were to assemble, and then a group of fifty would go to the other pavilion, where the master was to demonstrate the ceremony. After about forty minutes, the audience would change; those who had witnessed it went back, and a new group walked the hundred yards to the master’s pavilion to see a new performance. He commented when he returned to Japan, Tn that country the men shout and the women scream. When I heard the very first group coming across, shouting and screaming, I thought, “These people will never understand the spirit of Tea.” But to my amazement, they sat very still and attentive, and there was a good atmosphere. I thought, “They have …

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