Imitations do not lead to anything
We can imitate things, we can imitate pointing fingers, we can imitate spiritual attitudes, which are supposed to lead to progress, but those imitations don’t lead to anything, they’re like putting rings on the fingers. Again, the pointing finger should be studied carefully, but if it becomes an end in itself, then the practice will drop. As an example, this is an Indian story about two brothers. It’s a Hindu story, but it contains rather a good lesson.
Two brothers used to worship every day. One used to use many vessels of gold and silver to do this ceremony, very elaborately. There are such ceremonies in Buddhism, too. It used to take him about an hour. He did it with great devotion and sincerity. Everything was precise, absolutely accurate and he did all of that. His brother never did anything like that, he didn’t even have a fixed time for praying, but when he felt the impulse, he would just stand and stand and clasp his hands a few minutes, then he’d go about his business. The ceremonial brother, as you might call him, had an impulse to find out what happened to his prayers.
He was told of a ceremony, which would give the vision and he did it and he has the vision of this great courtyard, it’s full of flowers and attendants are loading these flowers onto carts. The voice tells him these carts are for the halls of the Most High and these flowers are the prayers of the two brothers. The place was full of flowers. Then he looks around and he sees a little posy and he realizes these are the prayers of his brother. They look rather pathetic, but when he looks carefully, he sees they’ve got a beauty of their own, a simple beauty of their own. One of the attendants calls out to the others, “Quick, hasten, hasten, we must get these flowers cleared away and sent to the halls before the next lot arrive.” The ceremonial brother steps forward, and he says, “There’s no need to hurry because I shall not be praying until this evening.” The attendant says, “We can handle any number of those little posies, but your brother is about to pray again and the whole courtyard will be deluged with flowers.”
The technique, which we have in life, like that man had a technique of prayer, was not bad. We can’t say it was a bad thing, but there was something much higher. In all the arts and in life, generally, we get a technique of handling things. Our technique might be helplessness, “Oh, I could never mend a fuse. I’ve never been any good; and people rush to mend them. Aren’t they clever?” That can be a technique and a very effective one. I might use it very successfully; but if I’m alone and the fuse goes, I find that I can get up and mend it quite effectively.
Some people have a technique, “I look at everything scientifically. I look at everything historically, you see.” “I look at everything from the point of view, kindness, be kind to people.” If a man says he’s thirsty, give him a drink. If he’s diabetic, you’ll be killing him, but that doesn’t matter, it’s being kind. Confucius said that benevolence without wisdom is only sentimentality and doesn’t lead to anything.
Then our technique has to be given up. We think, “What?” In judo when the teacher tells us, and he only tells people who are very determined to improve, he says, “Now you’ve mastered that, now, give it up for at least six months.” “What? I’m not allowed to do that?” Then I go on the mat, and I’m not allowed to use my big throw. I’ve got to try other things that I can’t do, I get countered. I look an absolute fool.
Now, many of us fail that test. We think, “No, no I’m not going to do that. Do this.” We go back to what we can do and we get some successes, but those who have got faith in the teacher and who realize that the teacher’s got faith in them, they persist. Then they begin to develop a free movement, not fixed on one point. They can move freely. The opportunity’s here, they can take it, if it’s here they can take it. They’re not fixed.
There are supposed to be people who prepare jokes: “Going to a party? Yes, now let’s see.” I think the American poet Ogden Nash, wrote a story about a man who thought, “Well there’s a proverb isn’t there? The shoemaker should stick to his last.” He says, “Big party, there will probably be a man there called Schumacher, a common name in America. Very likely he’ll been divorced, but he won’t be getting on very well with his present wife. Then I shall say to him, ‘Schumacher, you should’ve stuck to your last.’ It describes this man you see going around the party trying to turn the conversation towards shoemakers and so on, but he never succeeds.
It’s a bit like that when we have our favourite techniques in life. We go around looking for opportunities, trying to manoeuvre opportunities so that we can bring off the big gun, but actually people somehow, they get a sort of instinct for not getting in front of a big gun even though it may be hidden in the bushes, and these methods fail in the end, so we have to give them up. In judo it’s called, cutting off the bull’s horns.
With eight years’ intense practice, you develop something very strong, and that’s the bull’s horns. That’s what he fights with. Now you’re asked to cut them off and that means one becomes a beginner again. This is a very important part of the spiritual side as well as the technical side of judo training. They also tell us, and they put it into practice too, that when we’re becoming strong and well known, and when we’ve mastered something, then to take up something else, where we’re going to be no good at all. If you’re a violinist you’ve mastered the violin, then take up the piano. They say when you’ve become a great big frog and you’re puffing yourself up like that, go into the neighbouring pond and become a tadpole. A tiny little tadpole. This is again cutting off and being able to go freely into those other forms.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Fingers and Moons
Part 2: Cherry blossoms
Part 3: Fingers are the methods
Part 5: The trees on Mount Ibuka