Damascus 1977 – Yoga and Zen training


Trevor Leggett: We have to remember two distinct things, one are methods of training and the other is the objective. They are very distinct in methods of training, Zen and Vedanta. It’s not much use giving generalisations. It’s better to take a concrete instance. When your life is fairly easy and it doesn’t matter, well then you can do what you like and it doesn’t matter. But the time comes when we have to put our weight on something. Now as an example, suppose you have an accident or a severe illness, you go to a Zen teacher. The doctor tells you you’re probably going to die.

You go to a Zen teacher. I’ll give you a case. I knew the daughter of the woman this happened to. She was practicing Zen. She went to her teacher and said, “The doctor says that my illness is unlikely to be cured. I’m probably going to die. Can you help me?” The teacher pushed her out of the room and said, “If you’re going to die, die quick,” and pulled the doors together. She went into the mountains, into a cave to die quick. The daughter who told me this wasn’t a Zen follower at all. She was a Christian as a matter of fact.

On the second night, the mother had a vision of Bodhisattvas, some sort of universal vision. In fact she didn’t die. She became a very great figure in Zen in the early part of this century. People came from all over Japan to see her. Well now we have to think, if we’re in real trouble and the teacher says, “If you’re going to die, die quick,” whether that’s going to be something that we can put our weight on and follow. I will say this, that it has helped me knowing that phrase in one or two times of considerable crisis.

In yoga it would be quite different. A teacher in yoga wouldn’t say anything like that. He would say, “The Lord is compassionate. This illness is the result of your past karma. You should modify that karma now. In what remains to you of life, you should do something for other people every day. Then you should offer your life in devotion to the lord who, as the Gita says, is the friend of all beings.” A Christian yogi would say, “Thy will be done.”

Those methods are quite different. One is self-power, you must find the power in yourself. In the other, your direction is to a lord who is compassionate, who is the friend of all beings. This is the sort of example. In the Zen there is not much scope for the emotions. The main factor is will and enquiry. The teacher is able to whip up a tremendous enquiry that people really want to know. In yoga there is will and there has to be very strong enquiry but the emotions are cultivated much more.

This is one of the big differences in training. When there is no crisis on, one can think, “Well I like this one. I like that one.” It may be that we won’t know until we are in real difficulty. The Zen, so-called riddles, they don’t matter. Is their Buddha-nature in the dog? It doesn’t matter any more than a crossword puzzle. One wonders vaguely why the teacher said no but it doesn’t actually matter. But the time comes, for instance we face a great temptation, perhaps a business man can do very well for himself and no one will know.

Or, as a woman once told me, she was going to inherit a lot of money and the grandparent was very old. No one would have known. At that time we, ourselves, become the dog. Then we need to know whether there is Buddha-nature in the dog or not. We need to find it. Then someone who has been through that Zen koan and really been through it will find something coming up inside them at those moments. These are big differences. In yoga, the teacher will say, “Remember, there is one who sees. Don’t say no one will know. Someone will know.”

But in Zen, the power must be found within himself. Generally, Western people are rather attracted to that because when things are going well, it doesn’t much matter. It’s more economical and convenient and somehow independent. But the time comes when we’re in trouble, when we have to discover whether we really are as independent as we once thought perhaps we could be. This is the sort of difference. In the end, and the training comes towards the end, it isn’t so different.

If you see a Zen teacher putting the incense in in front of the image of Kwannon, he does it with great devotion. It’s not an act. It is enormous devotion, with complete devotion. In the end, in yoga, the yogi is taught, “The God to whom I pray is none other than the God within the self.” But during the period of training, especially during the crises, the attitude is very different. Would people like to ask anything about that? Perhaps it’s not your impression.

Male Questioner: I can’t see that in a crisis a yogi doesn’t fear death. I can’t see it matters about the crisis in Zen and being passed out as being different from a yogi not fearing death.

Trevor Leggett: But you’re assuming that the yogi doesn’t fear death.

Male Questioner: Well I assume this is what I read to be true and in fact I’m wrong.

Trevor Leggett: Yes, it isn’t correct while the training is on. It’s correct when the training is completed but not while the training is on. This is why the man is trained, very often, because he is frightened of death. That may not be the only reason. Generally, it comes down to perhaps three or four reasons. The thing that really concerns us, it may take years to arrive at it in Zen or in yoga but it’s generally either death or it can be happiness or it can be knowledge. It takes a long, long time before we really find out.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Damascus 1977

Part 2: Meditation on the navel

Part 3: Yaza is real devotion

Part 4: Not in Samadhi all the time

Part 5: The glories of Zen in Japan

Part 6: Disillusionment in society

Part 7: Yoga and Zen in Christianity

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