In Samuel in the Old Testament, it says, “At that time, the voice of the Lord was rarely heard, and the vision of the Lord was never had.” When there’s a sort of check in the spiritual experience, then it’s liable to happen that the secondary things, the spiritual home, the spiritual wealth and then the wealth belonging to a spiritual community begin to assume more and more importance. In the temple of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus there were eighty two maidens working on two huge curtains every year, 40 foot wide, 80 foot long. There were six colours, twenty threads and seventy-two strands. And we know the name of the man who was responsible for it, the senior official named Eleazar. This would be a tremendous undertaking, a tremendous feat of organisation – and it was done. But it did mean that the body of the temple became more and more important. Finally when the Romans attacked Jerusalem a group of fanatics, Jonadistulla, took possession of the temple and then fought against the other defenders of Jerusalem. As one Jewish historian says bitterly, “While the Romans were besieging Jerusalem, the defenders were fighting among themselves. And one of the points on which they fought and killed each other was whether it was right to fight on the Sabbath. They felt the Lord must do a miracle. He would be forced to do a miracle to defend the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord”. But this was not so. They said, “We will wait on the Lord. We’re not perfect and it’s not good for us to be fighting among ourselves in this crisis, but the Lord will have to do the miracle, we wait on His grace”. But Shri Dada says, “No – only through you!” One Buddhist says, “People wait for karma, they say, I’m waiting for the karma, but the karma came long ago – it’s waiting for you.”
The attachment to wealth and home – not necessarily to leave, but to be free from constantly thinking about it and talking about it and able to leave if the time comes. Then the word is ‘power’ – this is the second great point of Shri Yajnavalkya – freedom from the desire for the world, which Shankara reads as ‘power’. A French commentator said rather bitterly, “Unless you misuse your power a bit, there’s no point in having it”, and he gives the example that if you’re the editor of a magazine, people are sending in contributions. It’s quite easy to find out which are the good ones and which are the bad ones – if you’re not a good judge yourself, you can find out quite easily: such and such a writer has taken the literary prize and had been in several anthologies for style and so on. Well, if you just accept the good and reject the bad you’re just a rubber stamp and you get nothing out of it at all. So he says, When you have that power you think, “This may be very good, may be famous – but they’ve got to please ME and I can be difficult!” And he says, “Then you get something out of it!” The inner spiritual experience begins to wane, as our teacher said, “How many of the great temples of China – you go there, but the gods have departed.”
One of the great lines – Zen began with this man here in China, an Indian and he’s called the wall-gazing Brahmin. For nine years he meditated facing a wall. He saw the emperor, the emperor didn’t understand and he walked on. Six times they tried to poison him, but he stopped eating, became aware of it. He lived to one hundred and twenty. The poisoners all died of age or ingrowing venom. Finally in the sixth generation this school of meditation, the Zen school, one of the great ones was a very active and combative man. He began to say, “This practice of meditation, if it’s not based on knowledge it will be detrimental, you will be meditating on falsehood. And if you’ve got knowledge, you don’t need meditation. Knowledge, knowledge – not meditation.” In his school the meditation practice began to wane. When that happened they went in for scholarship, but in a few generations the living experience had died. That sect became a great centre of scholarship. For one generation they had a fantastically wealthy temple and then the emperor – well, emperors get short of money – and then the emperor struck, and that was the end of that temple and its scholarship. The other Zen schools they didn’t need temples, they didn’t need anything elaborate at all. The teacher and the pupil could be working together side by side in the fields. So although the emperor tried to stamp out Buddhism, and plunder all the wealth – he took the wealth – but he couldn’t find the Zen people. After the persecution had gone down and the emperor had died, then Zen was the only one left.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 4: Karma is waiting for you
Part 5: Free from the desire for things