Meditation and Inspiration

Meditation and Inspiration

(12 February 1981)


I’m basing this lecture on one which was given by my teacher, Dr. Hari Prasad Shastri, a long time ago. He spoke of the infinite capacities in man, and he recommended that we should study history to convince us of this point. It’s easy to think of inspiration as something for scientists, for Einsteins, and for artists, for da Vincis, and absolutely out for ordinary people, but if we look at history, we shall find this isn’t so.

All of you can read a newspaper or a book in silence, but in Roman times and in the Middle Ages, a man was regarded as a genius if he could read a book silently. They all had to read it aloud in order to follow it. So, we are all geniuses or perhaps a capacity has been developed, which was thought not to be there except in very unusual people.

Again, in the Middle Ages, there was a lot of trade in Europe, great business houses, and many professional accountants. Those professional accountants who we study, they learned by heart the multiplication tables up to 5 times 5 a 25. After that, it was too difficult, so they had them written out on the wall.  But, of course, an accountant is not always in his office. What does he do if he has to multiply six times eight?

Well, he used to hold up his hands, [and work it out on them.  Six is one more than five, so he’d put down one finger on one hand. Eight is three more than five, so he’d put down three fingers on the other hand. Then he’d add up the fingers that are down, that’s one add three is four. Then he’d multiply the fingers that are up, i.e. two times four, that’s eight.  Putting those two answers together is 4 8 – 48.] In some of the Medieval Texts, there are references to the supple fingers of accountants, so we know they had to rely on this.

But we can easily learn by heart the multiplication tables – in this country, up to 12 times 12. In most countries, anyway, up to 10 times 10. This is another faculty. It was thought to be too difficult even for professionals; but it was a capacity, a simple one, that was brought out and is brought out in everybody by training. This is the sort of historical example. The meaning is to give us confidence that there are faculties in man which can be brought out. Now, these are not particularly morally significant or aesthetically significant faculties, but again if we look at history, we shall see that other faculties can be brought out.

In Japan, there are well over 300 magazines devoted to poetry alone. In this country, there are five or six. Poetry in this country is thought to be something rather special. People might appreciate it but not write it. In Japan, it isn’t so. The faculty of poetry has been brought out from the ordinary people. At the end of every year, there’s a great poetry competition at which the Emperor also contributes a poem. They get 30,000 entries. How many should we get? The first prize, we know, is sometimes a miner, a farmer’s wife. The capacity for poetry has been brought out from the ordinary people. It’s not a specialist thing as it’s regarded in most cultures, but it’s something in everybody.

A great General in Japan in the Middle Ages got caught in a sudden rainstorm and he wanted to get a straw cape to cover his clothes. He sent a man to the little nearby peasant’s cottage to ask for a straw cape, which the peasants wear. A girl came out from the cottage with a little tray and on it, there were two or three flowers of a particular kind. Without saying a word, she bowed and offered the tray. The General knocked the tray and said the girl is a fool, and they went off and they tried to find a straw cape somewhere else.

When he got back to the capital, he was talking and he said, “Some of these peasants, they’re absolute idiots. I sent this message to a cottage for a straw cape, and a girl came out with a few flowers.” The Minister there said, “What were those flowers?” The General said, “Oh, there were those flowers you see them sometimes growing wild.” The Minister said, “Those are flowers which grow after the harvest when the straw has been cut and burned. Still, a few flowers are seen in the stubble. There’s a famous poem on it, ‘The straw has gone, but still a few flowers show.’ She didn’t want to refuse you the straw coat which they didn’t have, and she brought out the flowers on a tray expecting you to recognize the poem, ‘The straw has gone.’ There is no straw.”

That same General was so ashamed of his ignorance and crudity that he studied poetry, and he became a famous poet. These are examples that the poetry, the instinct of poetry, can be brought out and inspiration can come from the ordinary people or people who are regarded as ordinary. The poems are encouraged in Japan.

Now, I remember a poem written by a little boy of six. It was published in a magazine with the poems of a class of primary school children. This poem has a spiritual meaning. The words are very, very simple, but it’s a remarkable production and it’s roughly like this:

The eggs began singing; In the hens’ nests; In the shops, in the kitchens; Everywhere, the eggs began singing.

And the people were angry and they thought; “When we cook them; They’ll have to stop singing.”

But when they were boiled, when they were poached; When they were scrambled, when they were fried; The eggs went on singing.

And the people were angry and they thought; “When we eat them; They’ll have to stop singing.”

So, they ate them but in the people, the eggs went on singing.

And the people were evil and bad, and they took knives to kill the eggs; But they only killed themselves.

And all over the world, the eggs were singing.

This is by a Japanese boy of age six. We remember in the great Persian poem, the Masnavi, it says:

If you strike at the saints, you strike only at yourself.

The saints are a mirror.

If you look at a saint and see Satan, you see yourself.

And if you see Jesus and Mary, it is you.

Inspiration has to come to everybody in the everyday things of life. It isn’t painting a great picture, but the ability to arrange things so that they give a sort of peace. The ability to know some of the secrets of life. In this country, we buy things one after another. We buy this there; then we like that and buy it; then we buy that – little ornaments, little things. They’re all put up, until the room of an old person is a sort of fossil record of everywhere they’ve been and everything they’ve done.

In some civilizations, they understand the meaninglessness of this because when we have looked at a thing for a week, we’re no longer seeing it. In the houses of those civilizations, there is one ornament and that’s changed every two or three weeks, and that is seen. When it’s changed, there’s an impression, a vivid impression. Then we truly see the picture. There is just one ornament. In these ways, a life becomes vivid. When we have the things up for years together, we no longer see them.

Patanjali, who my teacher quotes in this lecture, he gives a technique of meditation which he says leads to inspiration, and he gives certain stages. They have technical names, but the technical names are not so important. You know the technique of meditation; to sit still, in a balanced position. That can be in a chair, but it’s an advantage to learn to sit on the ground. Young people can achieve it after a couple of months if they sit cross-legged on the ground and put one foot up. Not necessarily while they’re meditating, if it’s uncomfortable, but to read with one foot up. Then the moment it’s uncomfortable, to change to the other foot. After two months or so, the posture is conquered and then it’s very comfortable.

In some of the Japanese monasteries, the posture is compulsory. Those whose joints are stiff, sometimes are weeping, crying with the pain for the first few weeks.  But after two months, it’s so comfortable that they begin to fall asleep. The first distraction is the pain, but the next distraction is sleep. It can be very comfortable and it’s worth young people, before the muscles have shortened, acquiring a posture on the ground.  It can be attained in a chair sitting up, something like a man on horseback looking in the distance. This is the Chinese illustration. We should learn to sit still in a comfortable position, otherwise we’re too nervous actually to think at all.

Then there are two practices – one is detachment and one is meditation. Detachment means that there has to be a certain amount of detachment from the things of the world. Otherwise, during the course of meditation, the impressions of them will bristle up and they’ll disturb the meditation. There has to be a certain balance.

In the course of meditation, the first meditation is on a physical object, an object which has a physical form. One of those objects is one of the great incarnations, for instance. This example is given by Patanjali. From practice in meditating on an incarnation comes confrontation with the deity – face-to-face experience of the deity in a physical form, for example a classical picture of Christ, or of one of the forms of Vishnu, or of a Buddha.

(14.28) Now that’s associated at the beginning with, I am sitting, I am meditating. The object has a name. There is a time and there is a place, and it has to be continued until those begin to drop away, until the name begins to drop away. We say, “Well, it will never drop away,” but it will. Again, if we think from our personal experience, these ideas which at the beginning fill our mind, drop away.

Now, for instance, an expert touch typist. If you suddenly ask him, “Where is J? Where is S?” He can’t tell you, but a beginner can tell you. They have to memorize the keyboard, but an expert has forgotten it and yet he doesn’t make mistakes. There’s something which is first unknown before he can type, then it’s known consciously in order to learn to type.  But when he’s an expert, it’s unknown again – but that unknown is not the same as the unknown of the man who can’t type. It’s more than known.

In the same way, when the meditation begins there are many associations, with name, with time, with place; but if it’s done regularly, those associations begin to become thin. They begin to die out and then the object becomes radiant. This is the next stage, when the object becomes radiant. At the beginning, the object has to be constantly supported in the meditation. When we’re learning something, which we don’t perhaps care for very much, or if we care for it a lot, we soon get fed up with it, we have to constantly by the will bring the attention back to it.  But after a time, that will begin to grip the man who meditates – the object becomes radiant.

Well, these are words and they have to be practiced, and it’s not so easy to maintain the practice but it has to be done. Music training is a good example. The musician must practice every day. The ballet dancer must practice every day. I’ve seen a ballet dancer on a ship who was seasick but she came up on the deck and practiced along the deck rail – being sick but still practising. The artist, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t draw for months, he can still do it, but not a musician. This is a good example. It has to be done every day, then it becomes empty of itself. The first thing is the object will become radiant. The next thing is the meditation will become empty of itself. He no longer thinks, “I am doing this”. (18.12)

Now, if we consult our own experience, we can find this very, very occasionally – in memory, not at the time. The man who thinks I’m not doing this, of course, he’s fully conscious of the self; he is not empty of the self.  But by long practice, after a long time, says both the Gita and Patanjali, it will become empty of itself. Then if the concentration is maintained on the one object, the object becomes radiant but not yet truth-bearing.  When meditation becomes empty of itself, then Patanjali says, it becomes truth-bearing.

We can find examples of this. In this part of the world, people are impressed by science. They think, “Well, a truth which comes to a scientist unexpectedly, now that is real inspiration. That can’t be imitated,” but in the Far East, they don’t think so. They think, “No, that might be guessed. What couldn’t be imitated would be the brushstroke of the calligrapher. No one can imitate that.” They show you the calligraphy before enlightenment and after enlightenment. Here we think, “Well, who’s to say what’s brilliant? What’s the work of genius and what isn’t? It’s just a scroll. But the scientific thing, that’s different.”

Well, I’ll read just one example of a scientific inspiration, which isn’t very well-known but it’s an important one. Fermi, the Nobel Prize winner. He was asked by an Indian physicist, Chandrasekhara, a great physicist, about the process of discovery in physics. He replied, “I’ll tell you how I came to make the discovery, which I suppose is the most important one I’ve made. We were working very hard on the neutron-induced radioactivity. The results we were obtaining made no sense.

One day as I came to the laboratory, it occurred to me, I should examine the effect of placing a piece of lead before the incident neutrons. Instead of my usual custom, I took great pains to have the piece of lead precisely machined. I was clearly dissatisfied with something. I tried every excuse to postpone putting the piece of lead in its place. When finally with some reluctance I was going to put it in its place, I said to myself, ‘No, I don’t want this piece of lead here. What I want is a piece of paraffin.’ It was just like that, with no advance warning, no conscious prior reasoning. I immediately took some odd piece of paraffin I could put my hands on and placed it where the piece of lead was to have been.” From that came the discovery which earned him his Nobel Prize.

He makes a great point of that. There was no conscious reasoning up to it. He was going to do something else and something made him suddenly say, “No, I don’t want a piece of lead. I want a paraffin.” This is what Patanjali calls truth-bearing. He’d concentrated on it for a long time. He was a very detached man. When the news of his early death came, he took it with complete serenity. To this same Chandrasekhara who visited him after the operation, when he knew he was going to die he said, “Well, what shall I be next time? An elephant?” He was cheering up the people who’d come to cheer him up. He had this detachment, vairāgya – detachment, and he had this intense concentration, so the object became truth-bearing.

Many scientists make one discovery, and then they live on it for the rest of their lives, but not another one. The yogic analysis of this is that the inspiration comes first when there’s great purity and no sense of ‘I-ness’; but when he’s become famous, now he thinks, “I’ve done it once, I’ll do it again.” Then there’s no longer the clarity, no longer empty of self. Then there’s the thinking, “Well, now what about this? Yes, might get something out of this.” We can say, “Well, surely, that’s the scientific method, isn’t it? Have an idea of what might be there and then try to find out whether it is there.”

Well, I suggest that you read, those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, the accounts of N-rays. X-rays were discovered at the end of the 19th century. Some French scientists thought, “X-rays – perhaps other forms of rays, too,” and they discovered them. Professor Blondlot at Nancy University discovered them, and this was confirmed by many other scientists. They measured the wavelength and they observed them in many different ways.  Many prominent scientists published papers on it – but the N-rays never existed. It’s worth reading up. That was an example where the mind is not pure, where there’s a desire and an expectation, and it was found.

For ordinary people, what are we going to say? Where does inspiration come? It has to relate to our own lives, not to the lives of the Alexanders, or the Einsteins, or the Beethovens. What scope? Where will inspiration come in our lives? Now, to give one example, we may do spiritual practice and then nothing happens. This is a poem from a Sufi mystic, which shows an inspiration for this situation. It’s from the Masnavi:

“A man was crying Allah all night, till his lips grew sweet from the praise of God.     The devil said, “O garrulous man, where is the response, ‘Here am I,’ to all this Allah of thine?                      Not a single response is coming from the Throne. How long will you cry, ‘Allah,’ with grim face?” He became broken-hearted and lay down to sleep.                                                                In a dream, he saw Elijah amidst the verdure, Who said to him, “Hark, you have held back from praising God. Why do you repent of having called unto him?”                                                    He said, “No response is coming from the Throne. I fear I am turned away from the Door.”                                                                                                                                                       Elijah said, “Nay. God saith, ‘That ‘Allah,’ of thine is my, ‘Here am I.’ That burning ardour and grief of thine is my messenger to thee.                                                                                Beneath every, ‘Allah,’ of thine is many a ‘Here am I,’ from Me.’”

This is a beautiful idea. It comes in St Paul, but it’s an idea. These ideas can give us an exaltation for a time and then it goes off. Now, the purpose of this inspiration is to point to something in our own experience, not to produce an idea. The idea is necessary at first, but we should meditate on this idea and find out in our own experience whether beneath every, “Oh Lord,” there is a response. It’s meant to turn the attention to something in our own experience. If it simply remains an idea, an exalting idea, then it will waiver, it’ll go up and down; but the inspiration is meant to point to something, to identify a subtle point which we miss. The reading of a situation can be quite different.

There’s a historical example. Before the Emperor Dowager in China gave the disastrous order to enable the people who call themselves the Harmonious Fists, or who are called by us the Boxers, to launch their attack on the European armies, they gave a demonstration in front of her to convince her that a Boxer was invulnerable to weapons. They gave a demonstration of what’s called jiu-jitsu now, where a man is attacked by a sword and spear and a club in various ways and finally, he’s shot at and he’s invulnerable. The sword whistles down and he [side-steps the blow]. The spear shoots at him and he just moves and it goes under the armpit, and then the attacker is disarmed. She was convinced that there was a magic and that these men were invulnerable.

Now, to an expert looking at this, he can see the little signals that the men give. He knows it’s been rehearsed brilliantly, very, very carefully, almost to the millimetre. It won’t do for the sword to miss by a big margin. It must just shave him. He aims just at this point where that man has to move, just the edge. To an expert looking at that, it’s one thing; to the Empress looking at it, it’s entirely different. One of the inspirations from meditation is to have a different view of the world. We can say, “Well, what about the suffering and evil in the world? How can you have a different view of that?”

A man asked a Zen teacher this question, and it’s often been asked in India. “Why does God permit the evil in the world?”  (The Zen answer is not appropriate for here) but in an Indian answer, the teacher said to the man, “Do you yourself create some of this evil?” The man examined his life, and he said, “Yes, I’m afraid that I do.” The teacher said, “Well, you are God. Why do you permit this evil?”

This is an idea. Again, like all these ideas, it can give us a momentary feeling of having perhaps learned something, or understood something or seen something, and then that’ll go away. This has to be meditated upon until it becomes radiant. Then there’s a meaning which is not the surface meaning, not the meaning which we think, but something which will be truth-bearing in ourselves, not from outside.

There are many examples of inspiration. Now, one man, he was a sage, but he lived in the country, by the sea. Somebody came and said, “I practice kindness and goodness as best I can. I pray. I feel exalted sometimes. I’m able to do some good, but then I relapse. I find I’m getting dishonest. I can’t resist certain temptations. I know I’m doing harm, but I go on doing it. It’s all leaked away, and then I try again, and I pray, and I do austerities and practices. Then again, I feel I’m becoming pure; and then it all leaks away.”

The teacher went into his little cottage and he got a sieve. He said, “Now, fill this sieve with the seawater.” The man picked it up, scooped up the water [and it drained away. So he tried again, with the same result.] The teacher said, “This is your situation.” The inquirer said, “Well, what do I do? How can I ever fill the sieve with seawater?” The teacher took the sieve then threw it into the sea. It floated for a little bit and then it sank. He said, “Now, it’s full of seawater.”

While you stand on your own individuality and you try to ladle virtue and purity and inspiration into yourself, it will go in, but it’ll soon leak away through your heels. You have to make a great jump into God and sink your individuality in God, then you’ll be full. We can say, “Well, how does one know? It’s an idea. All these things are ideas. We scoop up ideas and we put them into ourselves and it seems to have an effect but after a time, things are as they were before.”

Well, again, this sort of story is meant to be meditated on. There’s a meaning in it that’s quite different from the surface meaning. Quite different. It’s the same with the parables in the New Testament, there’s a secret in them. He said this to His disciples when they asked Him for the meaning of the parables. “How dull you are. If you don’t understand this parable, how will you understand any parable?” How is inspiration going to come into daily life?

I’ll give one or two examples from a problem which many people have – bringing up small children, not so easy. How would inspiration show itself there?  Should the child be left to its own devices? Bertrand Russell believed that children were naturally curious, naturally wanted to learn. He founded a school on that basis, but he found that children spent their time bullying the ones smaller than themselves. It turned out to be wrong. On the other hand, are you going to set them to learn, as my generation had to, hundreds of Latin verbs, most of which never occur in ordinary Latin texts at all, but just happened to be exceptions to a rule. What’s going to be the method? How is one going to do it?

Well, this is an example of a little girl. She was very wild, which is not a good thing for a girl to be in most countries in the East.  She was four or five and her parents died.  She went to live in the house of an aunt who was a spiritually advanced woman but had very little time to give to the girl. She made arrangements for her to go to school, but controlling her behaviour was quite difficult. She took her to the temple and she showed her the statue of the Buddha.  It was sitting with the hands in the traditional gesture (which has a particular meaning, which doesn’t matter now) [where the fingers and thumbs make a circle].

She showed the little girl the image. They bowed before the Buddha and they prayed. The little girl was very impressed. Then the aunt said to her, “Now, when you do something wrong, the Buddha knows and his hands change from these circles to triangles. When the Buddha forgives you, they change to circles again.” She was impressed. When she did something wrong, she used to run to the temple and see if the Buddha’s hands were in triangles or whether she’d been forgiven. She always found they were circles and she felt that she’d been forgiven.

Now that woman, later on, became an important figure in her local town. She was asked about this. They said, “Weren’t you annoyed at having been fooled like that? Because really you were, weren’t you? You were being fooled.” She said, “Oh, no, I wasn’t being fooled. I came to realize that the Buddha’s hands would always be like this. That made me realize that the Buddha would forgive me, was forgiving me, all the time. Then I felt I don’t want the Buddha to have to forgive me. I want to do what’s right, so that he won’t have to forgive me.”  She said at times of great temptation or great fear, this had been a support to her. The vivid image of the Buddha, calm with this slight smile and the hands in the circles, was a case of inspiration. The aunt found from her inspiration what would direct that little girl and, in the end, inspire that little girl.

Inspiration is attained through meditation and classically, in Patanjali, the most important road to meditation is the repetition of the syllable ‘Om’, one of the names of God, and feeling the vibration.  This is something, again, which people will take to for an hour, two hours, a week or month, and then give up.

Goethe was perhaps the finest mind there has ever been in Europe. In his Faust classics – they’re in two parts – there are many secrets, yogic secrets.  He discovered, by himself, many of the secrets of yoga. Now, in the second part if we look carefully, Faust, is looking for inspiration of a particular kind.  Mephistopheles represents the discursive intellect and can’t himself go into meditation, but can read books or find out about it.  So Faust asks him, “What do I do? How do I enter inspiration?”

Mephistopheles says, “You have to leave everything.  Imagine you’re going to the ends of the Earth. There would still be something, but in that region there’s nothing.” Faust says, “How do I go? Do I go up? Do I go down?” Mephistopheles says, “No, it’s not a direction.” Faust says, “Well, how can I get there?”  Then because Mephistopheles has to do what Faust says, he produces a little key. He says, “This is the key. This will take you down to the realm or up to the realm of inspiration.” Faust says, “What? That little thing?” Mephistopheles says, “Don’t despise it. Hold it firmly.” He holds it firmly. He says, “It’s changing. It’s shining. It’s shining. It’s flashing. It’s flashing.”  We can see this is a clear reference, the object becoming radiant as Patanjali says. The little key, which looks so small and trivial like a repetition of a name or of ‘Om’, don’t despise it. Hold it firmly. Imitation is a good thing but it’s not inspiration.

When we learn art or the piano, for a time we have to imitate the technique and the interpretation, but the time comes when the teacher will say, “No, find your own tempo.” Then the pupil says, “Well, what’s the proper tempo for this piece?” “No, find your own.” Then he goes out and buys some gramophone records and plays it like Arrau plays it. “No, not like that. Find your own.” Then he has to find something from within. Not by imitation but something new.

Now, the last story of the children. This is a famous story from Chinese history. The next sage after Confucius was Mencius, perhaps an even greater man. A great scholar and a great hero who said to a prince, “I hate the princes in their silks and furs when the common people are starving.” That might have cost him his life. His mother was a sage and she brought him up. The father was dead.

Now, when he was five, he was to go to school. The mother was a weaver and a good one, but they were not rich, but she got the money to send him to school. She was working in the summer in the garden on a beautiful piece of embroidery that she’d just begun with gold threads. It was going to be a beautiful picture. She took him to school and left him there and came back and was working. Then she looked up and she saw the boy at the gate [having run out of school]. She picked up a knife, which she used to cut the threads, and she slashed the embroidery that she’d done. Then she looked at him and said, “I have done the same as you have.” He turned around and went back to school. He became the greatest scholar of his century.

When he was in difficulties (and the Chinese language is not a very easy one), when he felt like abandoning it, when he took on some very difficult task and seemed overwhelmed by it, that picture of his mother would come into his mind, “I have done the same as you have,” and he would be able to go back.

This is an example of inspiration in daily life. Our teacher told us that people who do spiritual practices will give an inspiration and a courage to the people whom they meet, even unconsciously.  There are many cases which are hardly known.  This is one of, not exactly tests, but the marks of spiritually advanced people – that after we see them, when we come away, we’re able to do things that we’ve been frightened of, or that we’ve had a revulsion against doing, although they ought to be done. There’s a new strength and a new courage.

They say in the classics, there’s three gifts. The lowest is the gift of food and money because, although it’s necessary sometimes, when the man has eaten it and spent it, he’s as he was before. The second one is the gift of courage, which is a much higher gift because that will last. The third gift is the gift of wisdom – not imitating others’ conduct, but a living inspiration from within himself. We’re told in these ways, inspiration must be creative in ordinary life.

Well, thank you for listening. This is what I had to say.


Similar Posts