Disillusionment in society
Male Questioner: You’ve told us, Mr. Leggett, that it is very customary in Zen to involve oneself in various creative techniques and perhaps sporting techniques as part of one’s training so that the body and various aspects of the self are cultivated and coordinated. You’ve worked with a distinguished Vedantist, Adhyatma yogi. Now, from time to time one does come across a Vedantist who will affirm, “Do not waste your time on Hatha yoga. Do not waste your time on working with the body. Do not waste your time on physical considerations. The only thing that matters is liberation which is attained through meditation. Therefore abnegate everything else, concentrate solely upon meditation.”
That attitude will leave no room say for the assiduous practice of judo. Have you ever reflected on those two viewpoints?
Trevor Leggett: Yes, some people can do this but not very many. No scope for the feelings, just the 16-17 hours. There are people who do it but they have- well, perhaps they’ve done it in a previous life or something like that but somebody who tried to do that would have a pretty rough time. It’s alright for a few weeks but then a burst of internal irritation comes up, tremendous because there is no scope at all. Now, the yoga training says, “No. Do the actions in the world but free yourself from this hanging on to the results. Be able to perform free actions.”
Arjuna was a warrior. The teacher didn’t tell him to give up. But again, different people or it can be one person at a particular time in a crisis, after a bereavement very often, there is an intense detachment because everything was concentrated on this point, on this one person. Then that person vanishes. Then there is a vacuum, an emptiness. This is a very favourable time for yoga or Zen, very favourable indeed. Nothing seems worthwhile in the world.
But most of us spend the time in thinking and then the energy gradually gets dispersed and then new roots are put down and after a bit it’s all as it was before. But these times are very favourable. There is a detachment and then perhaps people can just meditate. But for the ordinary person who isn’t under particular stress, it’s not easy. As I said, in the Gita four elements are given and meditation is one of them. But of course these things can become a mania. One can take refuge in preparations. One can prepare to prepare to prepare to prepare and you never actually get on with the thing at all.
Male Questioner: Mr. Leggett, there, in this century and the previous century, occurred an extraordinarily compressing, the world of the east and the world of the west and an interfusion of cultures in which you yourself consciously, or unconsciously initially, played some fair part. Have you any reflection on what is happening in evolution?
Disillusionment in society
Trevor Leggett: Well we’ve had one great disillusionment, haven’t we? When I was a boy we believed, for instance, that crime was solely due to want, poverty. Quite soon the standards were going up all the time and crime would simply disappear. Well that was more or less axiomatic. I can remember when there were beggars and we gave our pennies to a beggar whom you knew. It was encouraged and all that. Well now there aren’t many but the crime hasn’t gone down. There has been a tremendous disillusionment.
We thought, “Education, science, everything will be clear. It will all become clear and logical,” and it hasn’t happened. It’s got somehow more anxious and more disaffected, more discontented. This is why we’re turning to the east for- the fact is for instance the old people in the east, although there aren’t nearly so many of them, but generally speaking they are much better off than the old people here, the very old people here. The very old people in the east are often mobile and they’ve got still this sense of significance and they don’t show a lot of these distressing symptoms which you quite often get here and that one tends to think are inevitable. It isn’t so.
Well there is something. There is a great big gap missing and the certainties, as we thought they would, have disappeared so we’ve got to find something new.
Male Questioner: This very plausible equation of crime and poverty and crime and squalor hasn’t in fact established itself consistent with changing social circumstances, has it? In fact as standards have, in some ways, improved, crime has also increased.
Trevor Leggett: Enormously. Not just a little but enormously.
Male Questioner: Now you, having travelled the world, having studied these matters for a very long time, having been actively trained in more than one discipline, have you formulated any view about what we have to do to eradicate crime and the state of mind from which it arises?
Trevor Leggett: Well I think a lot of it is adventure. Especially young people, they want adventure. I stole things and there were certain things I never stole. I never stole money. I often stole books. I couldn’t afford them. But there is something missing, there is some purpose missing. Before, again I was 10 years old, people were tired. Now life is very slow, very easy. A hairdresser’s apprentice used to have to get up at 6:00am, call at the boss’s house for the shop key about 6:45am, get the place opened and swept by 7:15am. He wouldn’t leave until 8:00 or 9:00 at night.
That was six days a week and he didn’t get a summer holiday. Well he was exhausted, wasn’t he, absolutely exhausted. But now he’s working reasonable hours and he’s got energy and also he’s got information. Well something has got to happen with that energy and information. He’s got to be able to experiment. But they say to you, “What am I going to do? You tell me what to do.” The libraries shut at 8 o’clock, supposing he sees a programme on television on astronomy or Chinese history, “Right, I want to follow that up.”
Well you get to the library in just about time for the doors to be slammed in your face and they’re shut on Sunday. Well we shouldn’t be talking about social things. My teacher said, “That in the end some people will change their consciousness and come into touch with the universal consciousness. That will have, unknown to them, an effect on changing the whole consciousness of the world.” Now he said, “They must do this and some will do it, as a service. They won’t be famous. They won’t be known. They may be hated but in general they will be obscure.
But man’s psychology is a much bigger thing in, well the cosmic mind as it might be called, than his body is in the physical cosmos. The changes that he makes can be very significant and produce big differences.” This is what he told us.
© 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