Kobo never chooses the brush


A Yoga teacher had a disciple who was very anxious and he was always visualising situations in advance and thinking, ‘What’ll I do if that happens?  What ought I do?’  And then he’d read some biographies or memoirs to find out the sort of thing, really, a spiritually advanced person would do in various circumstances.  But that didn’t free him from his anxiety.  He would still always plan, looking ahead.  And one day the teacher said to him, ‘You’re a swimmer, aren’t you?’  He said, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve done a lot of swimming’.  The teacher said, ‘Well, I’ve heard of the racing dive, which is not the same as the ordinary dive I believe.  Could you show it to me?’.  So the swimmer was delighted to be able to show off his skill.  He said, ‘Oh, yes, I can show you’.  So they went to the swimming baths together, and the swimmer changed, and they walked along together to the end of the bath where he was going to demonstrate the racing dive.  As they were walking there the teacher suddenly pushed him in.  Well, he went down, he came out smoothly, jumped up, (laughter) so the teacher said, ‘Have you gone in like that before, sideways?’  He said, ‘Well no, who would go in sideways?  Unless he was pushed of course’.  The teacher said, ‘Well, how did you know what to do?  How is it you didn’t drown?’  He said, ‘Oh, teacher, I’m a swimmer’.  The teacher said, ‘Well, what did you do?’.  He said, ‘Well, I don’t know what I did, no I don’t know, I did what I could, I came out, I am a swimmer’.  So the teacher said, ‘In the same way, if you practise Yoga, you don’t need to think ahead, what you do in this case, what you’ll do in that case – you’ll come up. Because you’re a Yogi, because you’re a Yogi, you won’t need to plan, perhaps you won’t even know what you have done, but you will come up, because you’re a meditator, because you’re a Yogi’.

I’ve got a pen here which has on it, it’s a silver pen, and on it it’s got in relief the whole of the Chinese Buddhist sutra, marvellously done in these tiny little characters, it’s a masterpiece.  But this fountain pen and it’s got a beautiful nib but the fact is it’s so much more heavy, it’s not comfortable to write with, and another thing is that when I take it out to write I feel that I’m wearing away this marvellous sort of metal carving of these characters, so I don’t like holding it tightly, and I tend to take my handkerchief and sort of wrap it around the pen because I don’t want to spoil my pen, and actually it’s absolutely useless. But of course it seems a pity if no one knows about it, I can’t use it, and almost the only use this thing has got is on an occasion like this to tell people how useless it is.  Well, our lives are full of these things.  We acquire things, although I didn’t buy this, this was given to me for a service, but we acquire things, their only use is to taunt other people who haven’t got them, and they’re pointless. Now in Zen and Yoga we’re taught to strip down, and we say simplify our lives. The Chinese proverb is this:  one bowl of rice a day, and a vegetable, is necessary, two is better, three is luxury, four makes him ill and five kills him.

Well, in this way, to look at our necessities, and to reduce them, to what we actually need, and in that way to set our energies free, not triumphing or coughing when we do righteous deeds, but to be able to do them and forget them.  And it will have an influence on the world, or we can say, ‘I’ve go no special talents’.  Well, the teachers often raise this point.  People think, ‘Oh, I’m weak, I’m not brilliant, I’m not clever, I haven’t got a lot of money, or influence, what can I do?  I can do a few little bits of kindness to a few people around me, that’s all’,

They say, ‘No!  There is a saying, Kobo was the greatest calligrapher in Japan, he’s 800 AD and ever since, all that time since then, there’s been no greater calligrapher appeared, and calligraphy is esteemed higher than painting, and there is a saying, ‘Kobo never chooses the brush, Kobo, he picks up any brush, good or bad, and he writes a masterpiece with it’.  He doesn’t just choose the good ones, he picks up any one, and he can allow for its defects, and write a masterpiece.

Well, in the same way the teachers use this.  They say people are wrong if they think that the universal spirit will only speak through individuals who are very talented, brilliant.  It can speak through any one.   Kobo doesn’t choose, select, any particular brush.  It might be any brush.
A big bell you can ring in somebody’s ear.  A big bell is used to attract the attention of people who don’t want to listen, or don’t know about you, and in the same way you can shout Yoga or Buddhism into the ear, to catch people by the ear, and shout it in there, and, ‘Oh, yes, they’ll get it’.  But tomorrow somebody’s got this ear, and something quite different is coming in there.  A great bell that nearly deafens you, but if people want to hear, if people want to hear (rings bell), this can speak just as well.

And the teachers say people today are starving, not only physically.  The people who are throwing the bombs are not physically starved, but they’re starved spiritually.  They’re longing to hear something which will expand the spirit; because they can’t find it and can’t hear it, they are taking to these imprisoning thoughts and actions, and therefore anybody who practises meditation with a right life (rings bell) the dharma will speak through them.


© Trevor Leggett

Talks in this series are:

Part 1: Release from illusory bonds of identity with body and mind

Part 2: Yoga and the Zen training points to what’s in our heart

Part 3: The seeds of karma are laid down by what we do

Part 4: Yoga and Zen both say we can begin to see and express beauty

Part 5: The true nature of man is that he wants to create beauty

Part 6: Kobo never chooses the brush


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