Encounters in Yoga and Zen

The book of 108 pages contains fifty incidents showing applications of Yoga and Zen in life. Half are from the Indian tradition and half from the Japanese.

There are tales from long ago, preserved orally or in temple magazines and so on; others are modern, some of them observed or participated in by the author.

It is not, I think, necessary to have a knowledge of or even interest in, either yoga or Zen to find pleasure and learning in this book. Unlike much that has been written on these subjects, the text is unpretentious, easy to read, and for the most part hugely enjoyable….The aim of such stories is to help a serious student to find realization and inspiration in everyday life. As the book jacket puts it:

‘Just as flint and steel are used to make fire, so these stories can be used to create sparks within the reader’s mind, which can, with care and attention, be nurtured into the strong light of realization.’

Care and attention are qualities which Leggett brings to his work. Each short episode is exquisitely unfurled. At first reading, some appear inconsequential: others score direct hits. All, however, are deceptive. Leggett himself says in his fine introduction, ‘Reading a story like one of these, a reader may come to the end and think: ‘Ah yes, yes indeed, and then move on. But a real seeker will find that some particular one may keep recurring to him. That is a sign .. that it has to be read in a different way – slowly, sentence by sentence and ultimately word by word.’

The design of the book also shows signs of care and attention. The headings are in beautiful calligraphy that is very satisfying, and there are a number of pictures in the Japanese Suiboku style – suggestion rather than depiction. This principle, Leggett believes, can give hints at meditation.

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 tries again. There may be a spark which does not touch the tinder; then one tries again. But when a spark does set the tinder smouldering, as must happen sooner or later, it has to be carefully blown on – not too much and not too little – till it glows brightly. Finally a spill of thin paper can be ignited, and that in turn lights the lamp or fire.

If a story here strikes no spark, or if there is a spark which dies away so that it does not recur in the mind, then another can be tried. When one does grip the mind, it should be pondered daily for several weeks, to find the deeper points. At the end of the introduction an example is given of how to focus on one such point. The process corresponds to nurturing the little glow of the tinder; it should not yet be subjected to the strong wind of outside criticism or scepticism or even constructive suggestion. It must be cherished inwardly. If all goes well and it creates a blaze, then outer winds, however strong, can only increase it.

 

Encounters in Yoga and Zen extract

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…