Keeping the practice alive
Keeping the practice alive
Damascus House Talk: 12 August 1997
If you have a well-trained dog, he’ll come when you call him. But sometimes there’ll be something so attractive, some smell, he’s just got to go there first. He goes there and, on the way, you call him. Now, he hears you’re calling, but he’s got to go there first – then he’ll come. So he puts the ears down. The message is, of course, “If I could hear you calling me I’d come but, unfortunately, I can’t hear you, and as you see, my ear’s down.” When he’s finished with that he thinks, “I hear you” and he comes.
Now, we’re liable to do this in spiritual things, even the simplest things. When we learn to sit in a Buddhist monastery, as you know, you’ll sit on the ground preferably, and the young ones are told to put one foot up and then the other one on top. There are two ways to do that, you can put the left one up first, and the right one on top of it, or the left one on top.
The Buddha is shown with the right one on top, but there are some traditions where, as it happened and nobody quite knows why, the monk said, “Yes, the left one is on top, not as the Buddha sits.” What they say to you is, “Sit with the left one up. The Buddha sits with the right one on top. When you are a Buddha, you sit like that.” That means, “I don’t want to do it so my ear’s down.” That’s a very simple thing but we tend to do it in general.
If the Buddha, or Jesus, or Krishna says something that I agree with, “Of course, yes, I’ll do that.” But if he says something that I don’t agree with, “Well, he’s talking to people, after all, in an Eastern country, 2000 years ago, at least, with totally different traditions. It would be probably quite wrong to do that. It’s got to be modified, in fact reversed, for modern life, light-years ago.” He says it, but I can’t hear it, because I’m a modern man living a long time and a long way, from where he taught.
In other words, when it’s something I like, I say, “Oh, we follow the great model.” If it’s something I don’t like, I’ll say “Oh, well, of course, he did it you see, but we’re not like that.” If Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek,” I have no intention of doing that. I say, “Well, you can’t be expected to turn the other cheek, other people just trample on you.” But Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.” “Well, I’m not comparing myself to Jesus.” This is something we have to watch for. Not to get our ears down when there’s something we don’t agree with and think up little excuses and arrangements, but to listen and find out whether I’m prepared to do it or not. If I’m not, at least I know that I’m not – but instead of this, “Well, of course, I can’t hear it. If I could hear I’d do it at once, but I can’t hear.” Well, this is the first point about the dog’s ears.
To find out what to do, we have to study. That doesn’t mean getting lost in books. People who have diabetes have to study diabetes just a little bit, to understand what to do. It’s probably different now, but I lived with diabetes in the old days. We had to take a specimen every morning and look at the colour and then give the injection and so on. You have to study a certain amount, but your purpose is to control the diabetes, not simply to study diabetes, in general.
In same way, a special study has to be for a purpose, not simply to know a lot of extremely interesting and unusual facts, which have no practical application. We’re asked to do some study but always to remember that the study has to have a practical application. What would that be? The great danger in spiritual things is when it becomes mechanical and dead. It’s alive for a little bit, we really feel reverence but quite soon (it’s gone).
How to keep it alive? Make a bow? Well, I’ve made, I estimate, half-a-million prostrations on the ground in Judo – down there, right on the ground. You just show the top of your head and look up again. Now, that shows respect for the opponent, and it does have a purpose in preventing quarrels and too much roughness. That bow can be glaring at the opponent, in which case is not a genuine bow. When we make a special bow, it’s very important not to make it mechanically, the same because then it’s not an expression of what I am now.
If I’m grateful something has happened, my bow is really grateful. If I’m in expectation of something, there’s a bow of reverence. There’s a very small change in a living bow every time. So the bow takes part of the essence of what we are then, what we are feeling and expresses it. Without that, the bow becomes dead, and it has no spiritual value. It doesn’t rejuvenate us. If the bows are given properly, there’s a rejuvenating effect. If they’re done mechanically, then it isn’t and it soon wears out.
Now, I’m not a medical man, but I heard this. The pacemaker which is installed, beats with regular beat to imitate the heart. The specialists were saying on the radio that, in actual fact, our hearts do not beat absolutely regularly. There are small variations. He said this makes the heart last and remain vigorous. He gave the example that, if there’s a drop of water falling regularly, if it falls exactly on the same place (and in ancient China, this was used even for boring into Jade), it soon wears away. But if there’s a minute difference, when it was sometimes a little bit this way, sometimes a little bit that way, sometimes in the middle, then the surface will last – it’s not too bad. He said in the same way, “If it were absolutely regular, our hearts would wear out much more quickly.”
It’s these very tiny changes. Well, it’s the same in spiritual life. If it’s absolutely regular tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, the life is gone. The bow must express ourselves and that will mean minute, very small changes. The changes are small, and in a sense, they’re secret. There are devotional sects in Japan and in the East, generally, where the people – you hear them here – they’ll recite a mantra in the street: “Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare, Hare. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare.” In Japan, the invocation was to the Buddha, “Namu Amida Butsu. Namu Amida Butsu,” or sometimes with a drum, “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.”
These are devotional repetitions and they have a purifying effect on the heart if they’re done with sincerity. Now, Hōnen was one of the initiators of this in Japan, and there’s an interesting story about him. He used to lead his party through the streets. They used to get arrested from time to time by the Confucian government, but they continued. People would come out and listen. Some of them would join in, and some of them would take up this idea, when they have a few minutes to spare, “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.”
He said that a thief and his henchman, his assistant, were in the street when Hōnen was passing. The assistant was very impressed and said, “These are remarkably devout people, aren’t they?” The thief said, “No, I don’t agree. I don’t. This is just showmanship. They’re not genuine here at all.” The young man said, “Well, why do you say that?” He said, “Look, supposing you were deeply in love with a woman. Would you go through the streets shouting her name? No, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. Her name would be in your heart. Perhaps it would be whispered, but you wouldn’t go on shouting.”
The young man didn’t know what to say. Well, it so happened that Hōnen was staying at the same cheap little inn where the thief was staying. The thief got up in the middle of the night and he crept around the veranda which these little places have. He came to the outside of Hōnen’s room and, as it was summer, the sliding doors were open a bit and he could just look in and see. There was a light there, and in front of that, Hōnen was sitting on the ground. He was whispering, “Namu Amida Butsu. Namu Amida Butsu. Namu Amida Butsu.” The thief waited for a bit to see when he’d stop, but he didn’t stop, he went on. Then the thief sneezed and Hōnen immediately blew out the lamp and went to bed.
Well, in the morning the thief went around to Hōnen and he said, “Look, I’ve come to apologize.” He told him what had happened, “I apologize for having said you were insincere.” Hōnen said, “No, you were absolutely right. When we are crying the name of the Buddha through the streets, yes, it has some virtue in that people may be induced to say it themselves in their homes. But that’s not devotion, as you say. The devotion is in secret, alone, when no one knows, and that’s what I was doing. When you sneezed, I knew somebody was watching, and then I knew my devotion would be nothing. It would just be a show, so I put off the light and I went to bed.” Well, this is one of the stories on devotion.
There are different views about it, and it’s been compared, so to speak, to the Italian and the English operatic style. Love is, in the Italian, ‘a m o r e’, and you can hear the full orchestra swell in the opera; in English, it’s just a little ‘love’. Anyway, this is what a certain foreigner noticed about our respective psychologies.
Another point is that some of the teachers teach that most of us are governed by want and must: “I want, and as far as I can, I try and get it.” The ‘must’ is the external world, “I must keep this like that. I must do this.” “I mustn’t do that.” Want is, “I want really everything for myself,” and must is controlled. In neither of them is there very much joy. The want is insatiable, as we know from our experience. If I get a good job but then I hear someone on the next street is getting more for the same job. Immediately I think, “I’m being exploited.” Then I hear that, “Well, he’s not actually doing the same job, he’s got to do quite a lot of other things besides.” and I think, “Oh, that’s all right, then.” In that way, our want, it never gets satisfied. Must is always pressing in on us.
Then there’s a third category: ‘ought’. “I ought to do this.” Now, how’s that to be determined? Bertrand Russell spent his life trying to find ‘ought’. What’s the basis for ought? At the end of his life, he said, “I regret to say I can find no logical reason why a man should behave well.” ‘Ought’ consists in rules. We have these rules which in Buddhism are called Śīla. They’re impositions on us, they’re not things we do naturally. We could do them, but then it’s not a natural thing.
Many years ago at Covent Garden, they added a production of the ring. In the ring, Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, there’s a dragon, Fafner. He’s often just shown as a huge shadow, but he’s supposed to come onto the stage and be killed, sing a bit, and be killed. In one year, they did make an enormous dragon and wheeled him onto the stage in rehearsal. He came on, a huge thing and then Siegfried sings and then he kills it. It seems very impressive. They tried it in rehearsals and then they put it away for quite a time. Then the night came for Siegfried’s third opera in the series when Siegfried challenges this dragon. So this huge thing came on, but they’d forgotten to oil the wheels, so it came on with a terrible squeaking of wheels. Well, people had a little bit of fun with that.
The fact is with many of our good deeds, we do them, but there’s a tremendous squeaking of wheels. They’re not natural actions at all. Now, what the Yoga is telling us, physically, we are born one-sided, one side strong. Most of us are right-handed, right-sided – one in ten. That of course gets more and more. We write with the right hand and we do things with the right hand. Then this left hand becomes gradually less and less able to handle things. Left-handed – a left-handed compliment is unskilful. ‘Sinister’ just means left, but it’s got a general bad meaning. Whereas ‘dexter’, which means right, is dexterous. So we build up the right side. The longer we live, the more we build this up.
When somebody has to be trained in some form of physical activity, one of the first things that the coach has to do is to bring this weak side up. He sets exercises to do. He’ll even make people try to write with the left hand, to bring up this awareness. It’s unnatural and feels very awkward. Some people feel, “The coach doesn’t understand me. I’m no good at this.” But finally, this is brought up and then the whole physique can develop together symmetrically. Otherwise, when playing tennis, everything is taken on this right forehand and they can’t manage the backhand. So they stand more and more across the court. The first thing that the coach will do is say, “Now practice the backhand, use the left side.” “Oh, no, I’m no good at the left side.” But that’s what they’ve got to practice.
Now these things can be understood fairly easily physically, but the important thing is the mental side. We have certain things we’re good at or which we think we are good at. These techniques we rely on in life. The longer we live, the more we rely on them, they develop more and more and more. “I’m no good with anything mechanical, if I touch a thing it seizes up. Oh, no, I couldn’t do that. Oh, no, no, no, no.” Then people rush up to show off their skill, or in an argument, “I just shout, shout people down.” Or another says, “In an argument I psychoanalyze them”; or in some sort of difficulty, I’ll say, “Oh, because I do everything scientifically you see. I look at things scientifically.” Then other people say, “I’m the conscience. Why have I got to be the conscience of all you people? You just don’t see the misery you’re causing?” Well, we have a technique and we use that. The rest of the personality tends to wither.
Now, when we first try to change this, bringing out, what the teachers call sometimes, the dwarfed parts of our personality, we think, “Oh, no, I’m not good at this.” But they try to bring it out so that the personality can develop. People say ‘types’ – “You’re the thinking type”; “You’re the feeling type”; “You’re the sensation type”; “You’re an intuition type.” No, you can analyse; and then you can feel what the consequences are going to be; then you can see how it actually practically it will work; then, intuitively, you can see the possibilities.
There’s no reason to be fixed in one. If you’re the intuitive type, you’re always seeing new possibilities and you actualize one and then it becomes boring. You want to see something new; you want to see something new; you want to see something new. No, you don’t have to be like that. You can see something new and then go in for that and pursue that. Well, the teachers are telling us that we must be able to throw off these habits that we have.
One of the consistent methods of throwing it off is to sit and throw away the thoughts. The thoughts form a pattern, which come up from the unconscious as we call it, or the seedbed as they call it, below the surface of the mind. Now, when they come up, throw them away, throw them away. Then they will gradually become less, until the mind will become like the blue sky – relief. We are we told to practice this. If you like just for a minute, we can try the technique.
Sit reasonably upright, imagine you’re on a hilltop under the blue sky. In your lap, is a cloth full of pebbles. Then a thought comes up – pick up a pebble with the thought and throw pebble and thought away, so that it rolls way down the hill. Now another thought comes up – pick up the pebble with the thought and throw it away. Another thought: “I would have said that!” No, just throw it away. Then, “Supposing this happens…” – throw it away. If we practice every day, gradually the thoughts at this time will become less. When the clouds of the thoughts become less, we shall see the blue sky more clearly. We could sit at rest in peace and clarity under the blue sky.
Well, practice this every day at the same time. If it’s done at the same time, for about 10 minutes, then before that time the mind will begin to calm down. If it’s been done for say six weeks, the mind will calm down in readiness and then it’ll be much easier. If an athlete does his practice at exactly the same time every day, then for 10 minutes or half an hour before the regular practice, his blood pressure will begin to go up in anticipation. Then he won’t have to do so many warming up exercises, because the body will be prepared already. In the same way with the calming down, if it’s done at the same time every day, then a few minutes beforehand, the mind will begin to calm down. Otherwise, it may take 8 or 10 minutes for the mind to begin to calm down and the thoughts become less.
We’re given this advice – it sets us free. When we can begin to discard the thoughts, it sets us free from the unnatural habits which we’ve developed. Then we can use the mind naturally without being fixed in prejudices or ideas. The mind can be used flexibly. This leads to far less inner friction on everyday activities. They can be appreciated – there’s no friction, no grinding: “Why the devil do I have to do this all the time. Boring.”
I used to sweep a particular stretch of path in front of the temple in the early morning. If you’re a foreigner and you’re there, you want to do it well, don’t you – to show you’ve done well. I could say I swept it pretty clean, doing it about, I suppose, between 4:00 to 6:00. At about 6.00, one of the boys would be delivering the newspapers. He used to cycle back through the temple grounds, strictly against the bylaws, smoking a cigarette. When he came to my bit of the yard, he would come to the end of his cigarette, and he would just drop the damn cigarette.
My beautiful clean-swept path now had a cigarette in, so I had to go and pick it up. Well, it’s a little bit of a lesson. You feel, “Well, I’m damned! He knew perfectly well what was happening.” Then you realise, “Well, I’ve done that. I’ve been in that position, and I’ve done exactly the same as he did.” Then you start to appreciate it. It sets you free from many internal frictions, and the Śīla, the ‘ought’, then becomes something natural, not something which is imposed on us but something which is normal to us.
What we ought to do conflicts quite often. If you’ve got a good chance – say you’re young and you’ve got the ability in medicine – to go to the capital and study, and to graduate well and do research. But the old mother is ill, and it’s doubtful whether there’s anybody who would look after her. On the other hand, she’s quite likely to die pretty soon the doctor says – not long, probably. Now, what should you do? Should you stay and look after her, and then perhaps she dies and you’ve missed your chance; or should you go and have that on your conscience perhaps for the rest of your life? Perhaps she lives on, and on, and on, in misery.
Well, these problems can’t be solved by the intellect. Russell used to present them and there’s no actual answer. But there’s an answer in meditation, there’s inspiration and something new comes up. This is the experience of those who practise meditation. It seems there are just two alternatives, but if they practise meditation there’s an effect. People say, “How can there be an effect from somebody just sitting still?” Well, there is, and the thing is to try it, to practise when one’s still relatively well-off.
As the teacher says, practise now when you have the chance, in order to avoid the pain which is rushing towards you like an express train. Pain and death are rushing towards us. Now, if we practise, we can become free of them. How can we become free of them? One teacher gives an example: You’re in prison and you’re a prisoner. Or you’re in prison but you’re not imprisoned – that’s the prison visitor. He’s in prison and he may stay there, but he’s not imprisoned.
Now in the same way, if we practice meditation, we can throw off the situations in which our consciousness is held, as if in chains. We can become free at the time of meditation, become free of the situation. All those thoughts, all those ideas, those convictions, even the body consciousness, they’re chains. But it’s possible to become free of them in meditation. Then after the meditation, he comes back and he’s still in prison – but now he’s not imprisoned, and life changes.
We could say, “Well, what effect is all this going to have on life?” It’s possible to get a little idea of some remarkable things. There have been civilizations in which these ideas did become prominent for a time. There’s an account of India in 300 BC by the Greek ambassador, Megasthenes. His book Indica has disappeared, but it was famous. Extracts from it were quoted by many classical authors. We’ve gone through collecting together all the extracts from the classic of Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to India in 300 B.C. What was India like then? These passages are just hints:
This was about officers for foreigners. “Among the Indians, officers are appointed even for foreigners whose duty is to see that no foreigner is wronged. Should any of them lose his health, they send physicians to attend to him and take care of him otherwise; and if he dies, they bury him and deliver over such property as he leaves to his relatives. The judges also decide cases, in which foreigners are concerned, with the greatest care, and come down sharply on those who take unfair advantage of them.”
Then there’s an account that there’s very little theft amongst the Indians. “The Indians all live frugally especially when in camp. They dislike a great undisciplined multitude and consequently they observe good order. Theft is of a very rare occurrence. Megasthenes says that those who were in the camp of Sundracottus, wherein were 400,000 men, found that the thefts reported on any one day did not exceed the value of 200 drachma. And this among a people who had no written laws, that are ignorant of writing, and must therefore in all business of life trust to memory. They lived nevertheless happily enough, being simple in their manners and frugal. They never drink wine except at sacrifices.”
And the last point, is that no one is accused of lying. “The sixth class consists of those called superintendents. They spy out what goes on in country and town and report everything to the king, where the people have a king, and to the magistrates where the people are self-governed. It is against use and want for those to give in a false report, but indeed no Indian is accused of lying.”
This is something that has got a lesson for us today. The thefts among an army of 400,000 men, he says, never amounted to more than 200 drachma – that’s about perhaps a couple of hundred pounds. No Indian is accused of lying. They have no written contracts. People made a verbal contract. If the other man didn’t fulfil his side of the contract, he couldn’t be sued and this man simply blamed himself as being a bad judge of character. But the man who broke his word was known everywhere and nobody would ever do business with him again. That’s very impressive. We do not know how to teach honesty, we don’t know how to maintain this good order, that he speaks of.
One of the doctrines of the yoga is that we must become independent, because the world is not a place of safety and security. Our teacher used to recommend reading history. Now, if you take three men who made their names famous in history and were enormously successful, one was Christopher Columbus. Well, he died in chains after he came back with his great successes. He went again and came back; but rivals who were jealous of his success succeeded in persuading their majesties that Columbus was a dangerous plotter. So he was imprisoned and chained. Finally, he was released but, as a matter of fact, he kept the chains on as a reproach to the government. He died in disillusionment and misery.
Another was Cortez. In Keat’s famous poem.
Then felt I as some watcher of the skies When a new planet swings into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He looked at the Pacific while his men Stared at each other with amazing eyes Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
He discovered the Pacific Ocean or, at least, he’s thought to have. It was not in fact Cortez, it was another great explorer Balboa. Cortez was brilliantly successful in his forays into the New World. He was accused therefore of treason. He was imprisoned, then freed, but he died in Spain, an embittered man. The one who did, in fact, see the Pacific was Balboa – another brilliant organizer. Balboa was actually executed after his triumphs of exploration.
From such lives, you can see, even at the peak of success, there can be a sudden catastrophe. This doesn’t mean to be pessimistic, but it means to understand what life is – to be able to take part in it, but not to be imprisoned by it. Then by practicing meditation, to be able to step out of the bonds, of the chains.
The Japanese chess is much more complicated than our chess. It’s on a bigger board, with more pieces and it’s got extraordinary rules, by which a piece can be dropped on any square, like parachute troops, on the board. In some of the smaller towns, I don’t know if it still happens in Japan, someone would set up a little table in the street with a chess position on it. It’s an absolutely overwhelming position for any opponent. He says, “Now, would any gentlemen like to bet that he can win this position?” You would look at it and think, “Woah, how can he fail to win the position? It’s crashing. What is the fee?” “Well sir, you pay your 10 units and if you win, I’ll give you another 10; and if you do not win, sir, then you lose your fee.” Well, it looks like a pretty good thing and you take it up – but there’s a very subtle defence which you can’t see at a quick inspection of the pieces. He’s able to get out. It looked marvellous and yet he gets out. You lose and you pay over the fee.
Now, life is a bit like that. Even when it’s the most favourable thing and you think, “Well, this is wonderful. It’s something we couldn’t dream about and now it can happen!” Now, that doesn’t mean not to play or not to be interested, but it means to know the circumstances will change like that.
We think, “Is it possible in the stress of modern life to practice yoga and independence and freedom?” Well, it’s not so stressful, really. It’s worth reading a Victorian magazine about 1870. The office staff, they were permitted under the office rules to bring bread or cheese into the office and eat it at midday, provided the flow of work was not interrupted. You were not permitted to wear glasses. A clerk who wore glasses was giving way to weakness. When the sight began to fail, as we would now say, the colleague would say, “It’s the boss coming. Take off those disgusting symbols of weakness.” Those were the days of stress. It’s not quite like that now. They got a week’s holiday, very often without pay. For the bosses it was the same. They were working six or seven day a week and they very often took no holidays, the mill owners. Those were stressful days.
Now, one of the most stressful things is perhaps an army in the last century in India. The Punjab, as we now call it – it means the five waters, punj, āb – is a prosperous part of India, now. It’s relatively rich. In 1780 a young man of 19 called Ranjit Singh, who was a Sikh, declared himself emperor. He succeeded, with his men, in capturing the capital Lahore. Then in a series of brilliant campaigns, he defeated the Afghans and the Pathans. He had inconclusive encounters with the British, who were now moving west. He had the sense to make peace. He had a large army, he conquered a large part of Afghanistan and he ruled for 40 years.
Now, the account of him is that he had a terrifying reputation, but that he never executed anybody in his reign. His army consisted of Sikhs, like himself, Hindus, and Muslims. They never had any communal difficulties or strife. He was the most remarkable man. As I say, for 40 years, he modernized the army, and he ruled the country and perhaps he was responsible for much of the prosperity which the Punjab developed.
At one of the meetings with the British negotiators, the deal was satisfactorily concluded, and Ranjit Singh set up an enormous tent for a huge banquet to honour the agreement. The British representatives were there, and he was there and most of his chiefs. There were a number of dancing girls in attendance, so to speak. It was all very orderly, but the British representatives were quite aware of what it would turn into later. Anyway, speeches were made and the friendly relations were concluded.
Then the Englishman, who was quite well aware that it was now time, took his leave of the Emperor Ranjit Singh and he went out. He was to go back early the next morning into British territory. But after two or three hours, he was arranging all of the things, and it suddenly struck him that he had failed to conclude one ceremony. It was passing of signet rings or something like that, but was an important part of the pact between them. He thought, “I’ve got to do it before I go back.” He thought, “All right, I’ll go back to the tent. I know what’s happening there, but I’ll go back and find Ranjit Singh just to give him the signet ring.”
He said that he went back and what he expected was there. Lots of them were drunk and lying around and the girls were there. It was all an orgy. He thought, “Well, how am I going to find Ranjit Singh?” Then, he saw that in a corner there was a table where Ranjit Singh and two of his men sat, and while everybody else was shouting and sunk in dissolution, he was doing his army accounts.
The emperor knew what he must do for the followers, but he was not at all caught in it himself. He was a most remarkable man and there is a tradition about him. I’m not going to argue about it, but I knew a great scholar who told me that when he was young, he had known some old men who, when they were young, had been at the court of Ranjit Singh just before he died in 1839.
He said the emperor was there, still vigorous at the age of 60 and ruling the country. He was there and he said two monks came in unannounced, but nobody interfered with them. They came in front of the throne, and they addressed the emperor. They said, ‘Oh, one-eyed brother. We cannot keep your light going any longer. It is time.” They bowed and the emperor bowed, and they went out and two or three days later, the apparently hale and healthy emperor died. I was told this, that Ranjit Singh was a Yogi of a certain order and that he had fulfilled his task in the world. They had come to tell him that the time was now, it was now time for him to leave. Well, he is an example of very intense activity, extreme danger, a very courageous man in danger. He himself managed to penetrate into the British camp to see something about the dispositions then. He went with one other man personally, and he came out safely.
He had tremendous courage and a terrifying reputation, which he deliberately created; but he did not, in fact, execute people. He ruled the country very justly and very well, but he was independent. He was independent of the temptations of all the luxury. Also, he was independent finally of the glory of being the countrywide honoured emperor and he could lay down his life. It is one striking example that one can read up. He was a great figure who was respected by those who knew him, even by those who were against him.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Host: “I must confess, sir, when I was being nosy about your notes, I saw Ranjit Singh and by dint of Freudian association, I thought went back to my school days to a sports master who used to extol the virtues of a cricketer he once admired, whose name was Ranjit Singh and I expecting a cricket story.”
TPL: “Ranjitsinhji, yes. He was also a remarkable man.”
Question: “All the thoughts of all the numbers of people that inhabit the planet are going somewhere. It’s like a pollution covering the planet. How does that affect the spiritual life towards the end of the 20th century?”
TPL: “It’s a good point, but most of the thoughts which are being thought are almost nothing. They’re trivialities.”
Question: “They have an energy.”
TPL: “Well, they’re trivial.”
Question: “Where does that energy go, that thought?”
Host: “Well, you know, when waves are superimposed like that, the trough of one meets the crest of another and they cancel each other out. If it’s unorganized and undisciplined, they don’t have very much effect, except a diluted effect because they’re not organized.”
Question: “You were talking about a mantra. How relevant would that be to a Westerner? I was fascinated reading about it and trying it one time; and then I realized it’s a thing from the past that we used to sing in hymns or serve mass with. And I realized what we were saying and thought, “Well, why should I be doing a mantra, which I don’t understand?” Is it relevant to the Western mind or is it worthwhile doing a mantra like that?
TPL: Well, the thing is to understand it and to worship what it stands for.
Question: It is for purifying the heart, would you say?
TPL: It will purify the heart if what it stands for means something to us. If it’s just reciting the sounds, almost no effect. The example they give is, there’s a baby called Tommy, and people come and say, “What’s his name?” “Tommy.” “Oh, Tommy.” But when the mother says “Tommy,” it’s full of love. Now if the mantra is like that, when the mantra is repeated, if there is this love, then there’s a response.
We study in order to make us think and believe there’s something there, and unless we have come to some conclusion on that, we won’t be able to do the mantra. They can repeat it, but they won’t be in fact doing the mantra. One of the criticisms of our Western systems of keep fit is that they’ll say, “Shoot the arm out to the full extent”. But in the Chinese system, they’ll say, “Put your fist through the wall.” Then there’s more extension.
We think if you just say, “Put your arm out”, we have a full-extension; but no – ‘Through the wall’ transforms the movement. The same way, if the mantra is just said, ‘Hare Rama, Hare Rama’, that’s one thing; but if it is said with worship, so that the vibrations are felt, then it’s a different thing. But that should be obtained from a teacher who gives the explanation how to do it.
Question: Sri Parikh, who’s now Swami Gita Prakashananda, approaches mantram from a healing angle, a therapeutic angle. He took sessions in Bija mantras, “Om, Aim, Hreem, Klim, Hoom”. He maintains that other than the ‘Om’, they were sounds but not words with meaning attached; and the utterance of the sounds set up a vibration within the organism that, I suppose, we would allege today, had an effect on the immune system. He claimed he cured his blindness.
Host: Well, anybody can say anything. One advantage of a traditional school is that it has been tried over centuries and shown to work. It doesn’t follow that, if somebody thinks of something now, it won’t work; but you don’t have the same background of experience behind it. That’s the advantage of using the traditional methods.
You see, those mantrams you mentioned go back to the chakras and they are really ancient. It’s argued, you see, that they go back to about 200 AD, that the Indian Bija mantrams were known to the agnostics in 200 AD. Well, [chuckles] nobody knows.
Speaker 3: Did Dr. Shastri say much about chakras?
Host: No. Shankara speaks of them, but he doesn’t make much of them. They’re conveniences, but the point is they are part of the world, and to become over-excited with any part of the world is not an advantage for freedom.
Progress has to be created. My teacher wrote down poems that his teacher used to sing in public in the Ramayana meetings every evening. He had a beautiful voice and one of the very important points is that the spiritual development should express itself. As I was saying with the bow, it must express itself. Even in science, some of the inspirations in science can’t be accounted for by logical thought. Some of the most revolutionary discoveries, they stumbled on them. Get rid of prejudices in the way.
I read an experiment by French psychologists. I think it was about the turn of the century. They wanted to find out whether an elephant was musical. The account was, they got elephants to stand and then they got a violinist to play a bravura passage from Monsigny and the elephant yawned and then turned away. And from that, they concluded that the elephant is not musical. But looking at it now, most of us, well, Monsigny’s not bad – but a bravura Monsigny violin passage? I think most of us would turn away. I think the elephant had the best of him.
Another example I read was about the elephant in Burma. They used to fell the trees, and then the elephant would haul the tree trunk up at a slope so they could be assembled together. Now the elephant might spend perhaps an hour hauling a great tree trunk up a slope. The elephant knew that when the hooter went, all work would stop. It’s said that sometimes an elephant would spend an hour getting it up and he’s just got almost to the top, and then the hooter goes and the elephant just lets it go. It rolls down to the bottom again. So they think it shows they’re not too bright.
But then you think, just a minute, what does the elephant gain, if he pulls it up the last few yards? He’s not going to get a rest the next day is he? He’s got to have another log to pull up. The elephant is more intelligent than the human being then.