It’s been said, Western music tends to be a prelude to the presto at the end and everything else is leading up to the last variation of the set of variations where there’s going to be an athletic performance by the pianist and I’m afraid it’s true that in a lot of our compositions, there is an athletic performance at the very end, but this is a wrong view. The piece is a whole. At the end of the Beethoven’s 7th are these waves of bliss. It’s a wonderful experience to hear them, but if we sit throughout the symphony waiting, thinking ‘well, soon now we will be coming to these great waves of bliss’, then we miss the second movement which is one of Beethoven’s greatest works of genius. This is the one where at the first rehearsal, the players stood up and cheered when they first heard it. The parts are equal and the same way with training. We get impatient – ‘I can’t manage this, or how much longer is it going to be.’ We don’t see that the periods of training, the steps of the training are just as satisfactory and just as beautiful as the achievement which is very short.
We think training like mad for five or six years and then you get in the Guinness Book of Records – photograph! Ahh! The book is on your side table. If you happen to open it, it always opens at the same place, but next year you’re gone, but you still keep that. I think last year’s book is more interesting, don’t you? I like to keep some of the old ones and that goes on for years and years and then there’s a gradual decline and then the man who was in the Guinness Book of Records is now a cripple and we think of the tremendous effort and then we think of the moment of glory and then the decline. We don’t realise these are all parts of one movement and they’re equally significant and they’re equally beautiful. You don’t want to go on, in any case, throughout life winning Guinness Book of Records. You’d spend your life as some sort of athletic machine. If you’ve ever had an athletic success, when you’re absolutely full of it, you hear someone say, “Yes, just a magnificent animal”. You think ‘What? Well, they’ve always got another side to them’, but one of the principals that he says is that during the period of training there are mistakes and lapses, but these are all part of the process and they are part of joy. Not that the joy is all concentrated in one ecstatic moment and then tails off there. Wasn’t attained here, joy, and then it all tails off into tragedy and he gives some space to that.
(Torei:) “First of all, you must learn to devote your heart to this basic meditation, going ahead with each thought and practising on each occasion as it comes up. Keep up the right line of the meditation. Then when you walk, practise on the walking. When you sit, practise sitting. When talking to people, practise in talking. When there’s no talking and things are quiet, then you can meditate more intensely. When you look at things, enquire what it is that is seeing. When you hear things, enquire what it is that hears. When things get very rushed, so that you easily get swept away by them, enquire what this is that gets swept away and even if you do get swept away, don’t give up your meditation. Getting ill, use the pain as a seed for your meditation. In every case the meditation must go forward in a straight line. However much business there may be. It must not be that the meditation is vivid and clear only when ordinary surroundings are quiet. Unless the meditation is bright and clear at all times, it cannot be said to have power”.
Then he gives the example – this is from the time when the central government had been firmly established in Japan, but there were occasional local teams of semi-brigands who used to start plundering, free booters, plundering the country and they had to be met. (Torei:) “To control armed strife in a country, at the crisis, it is a question of taking the field, confronting the dangers and fighting fearlessly, without ever turning back. This is the way to win. The meditation fight is the same. It is just when one is caught up in the circumstances when one’s thoughts are disturbed that there’s a good opportunity to win a decisive victory”. He says this – that you can’t think of meditation as a separate practice apart, at favourable times. It must be something that’s with you. It may be weaker, it may be stronger, but it must be with you and he says now at the time of peace, the warriors of government practise in the castle.
They practise strategy and tactics. There in safety, they practise with great sincerity, but the time comes when the rebellion breaks out. Now then they have to take the field and exercise their skills that they practised and they have to confront the enemy and win and in the same way, he says, if your meditation becomes strong when you’re sitting in safety and still, you’re not yet seasoned. You have to be able to go out into disturbed circumstances and face them with the meditation and the one Indian teacher used to say that far more difficult that the physical dangers, is ridicule and insult. He said that there are many who will choose death rather than dishonour. They can’t face dishonour, ridicule, scorn, hate and he said that it was demonstrated that only people who could practise meditation and could retain their inner balance in those circumstances who could say and feel that they had a real balance of meditation.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 3: The facing inward of the Buddhas
Part 6: The Cat and the Krait
Part 8: Picture of Bodhidharma