(22 August 1984)
These are just short pieces. It’s not meant to be a connected talk. If one of them helps to wake somebody up, they will have fulfilled their purpose. If it doesn’t wake anyone up, well… Anyway some of them have woken me up, so there’ll be some advantage in it.
The Chinese Buddhist scriptures form an enormous bookcase, which is often in the form of a drum, a revolving drum. You can’t be expected to read them, of course. But if you take one of the spokes from the drum, which is on a pivot, and push it round, which I’ve done, you practically know the scriptures if you’ve just made them revolve.
A man was looking at this at the great temple of Narita, and he said to one of the priests there, “The beliefs of the Buddhists are thinner than paper because it’s all based on what they’ve read. They don’t believe all they’ve read, so it’s thinner even than paper.” The teacher said, “No,” and then the other man said, “Well, they’re dead. Maybe they were alive and the Buddha spoke them. Maybe they were alive when the Patriarch spoke them, but they’re dead now, and dead things can never live again.”
The priest said, “They can.” So he took him for a walk, and they passed a farm, where the priests knew the farmer, and he borrowed a handful of hay. He said, “This grass is dead, isn’t it?” “Yes.” “I’m going to make it live.” They went along, came to a horse, and the horse ate the hay. Then the priest said, “Now, the dead grass, when the horse eats it – not just looks at it, if he just looks at it, it won’t do him any good – when he digests it, it will become the splendour and vigour of the horse. In the same way, if you take something, even a phrase, even a single word from the scripture, and you digest it, it will become the vigour and splendour of wisdom in you. The dead things will live, but they have to become part of us. There has to be an inner scripture, not an outward scripture.”
A girl who ultimately became a disciple of Hakuin, called Osan, was very devoted to the ‘Lotus Sutra’. She used to read it every night, and she would put flowers up and light incense. She would read some of the sutra, and then she would put the sutra up and she would worship the sutra. She used to do this every evening, for an hour. The parents knew, when she was in her room, doing this. One evening, there was a tremendous crash and they were a little confused. Then they went in, and they found the flowers were knocked over, and the incense was knocked over. The sutra was spread out on the floor, and she was sitting on it, doing some mending. “What’s this, a holy sutra?” She said, “Yes, while the sutra is up there and I’m worshipping it, it’s no help to me. The sutra has got to support me.” This was her first realisation. She had a good deal further to go in the way of expression of realisation under Hakuin, but it’s very vivid – it must support us. Something we worship up there which doesn’t support us is still dead. There have to be applications.
We read these things, for instance, about reincarnation: ‘Oh, it’s something, it builds a tent, puts up a tent and then the tent is torn down. Then it puts up another one, and it’s torn down again.’ Or putting on clothes: ‘Man puts on new clothes, throws away the old ones,’ and so on. We read these things. We think, “Well, yes, it may be true. It may not. How can you possibly know?” but there is an application in daily life.
We pick up these clothes, with opinions, and biases, and limitations, and prejudices and attachments. They’re clothes and we put them on. We think, “This is me.” We can’t shed them. We don’t realise they’re clothes. We think, “This is me.” When they’re torn off us by force, we feel, “I’m dying. I’m dead.” But they are just clothes. In ordinary life, we have to throw off the clothes and be able to change them. We think, “This is against my personality, my whole integrity.” No, they’re clothes. They can be changed.
As Reverend Yodama said last night, “You can’t go about naked. You’ve got to have some clothes,” but you must be able to change the clothes. You must be able to wear the clothes you want, not fixed in clothes which remain with you forever, getting dirtier and more ragged. We have to apply the text to ourselves – it’s quite difficult.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Collected Stories
Part 2: Egoism or Pride
Part 4: Fifty-two stages of Buddhism
Part 5: You are caught in technique
Part 6: I have nothing
Part 7: Advance in emptiness