Melting the Ice and Fists

 

They say Buddhism goes up, it starts with the human condition. And, Christianity, for instance, comes down. In the beginning, God made Heaven and Earth. So then we’ve got what in Buddhism is called, ‘Kojo’ – spiralling up and Christianity’s grace, coming down. And then somehow that seems pretty satisfactory. And then somebody said, “Well, let’s see.” The fact is Buddhism has always gone in from the top through the courts and the intellectual people. The Buddha’s first disciples were Brahmins, about 80% of them.

So it’s Buddhism that’s really comes down, you see, whereas Christianity and Islam went up through the underprivileged, mainly women and slaves. So that, kind of, reversed itself.  And then they say, as a matter of fact, the Amida, the grace, the Amida who saves, simply if people turn to Amida, regardless of their conduct, the Buddha forgives. But in Christianity, oh no, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them, that trespass against us’. That’s to say there has to be human effort; in Buddhism, no, only faith.

So it’s the reverse again. Now all this is ice. It can be utterly interesting. And I’ve just read and I persisted to the end, a long debate on it between Buddhists of the Tendai school and some Christian missionaries in Japan, highly intellectual people. And at the end of it, you’re interested, you’re stimulated and you’ve got a talking point to say, to pass on maybe, but nothing has changed. It’s ice.

And that ice has to be melted. In the glacial age, the ice looks beautiful, but the plants can’t grow and it’s rigid. And it’s not much good for anything except, perhaps, putting in your double whiskeys in the form of little cubes. Well, in some of the schools, they say that our human, ordinary human condition is ice. We freeze in a particular pattern.

That pattern is not necessarily a bad one, but it depends on the circumstances, very much. I’m as good as gold, now. I’ve no reason to be anything else. I know where the next meal is coming from. And perhaps one after that. I’ve got security, a home over my head so, yes, provided it doesn’t take too much trouble and I happen to feel like it. And, maybe I see a possibility of some gain to myself in the long run. I might be very willing to help you, give you a hand.

I’m frozen in that pattern, but things change. Because it’s rigid, it flips over into the reverse. Then I’m something very different. Still frozen in the same pattern, but I’m the reverse of that pattern. And we see this all the time. People like Mussolini and Hitler were socialists. Very keen socialists.

Then they changed. Frozen. Just changes. How often love changes to hate and even hate can change to love. They both mean intense interest. You can’t hate someone you’re not interested in. So these are fixed patterns. They may look very good and they make look terrible, but while they fixed in their frozen ice, the point is that there’s no real life there.

It can look beautiful, but there’s no life. Now, we feel this obscurely. We can feel, “Well, if you only have strong feeling,” like St Francis, in his order. How can you say that’s ice? In 24 years of the death of Francis, the whole business of poverty had been abolished, they were building great edifices. They became great centres of learning.

Francis left a testament warning against these very things. And within 24 years of his death, an infuriated minister was taking that testament of Francis, a copy of it, and burning it on the head of one of the so-called spiritual Franciscans who wanted to keep to the original order of poverty – the pattern turned over.

Well, now, why do these patterns form? We feel there’s something wrong, we don’t know what to do. Well, this is a folk story in the Himalayas, it’s damned cold there. And there’s a berry… bushes of berries which are brilliant red. And the folk story is that in the winter, when the monkeys out there are terribly cold, they gather around these red berries trying to warm themselves because it looks like a fire.

And somehow you get around it, you feel warmer. Well, they do actually get a tiny little bit warmer, because they’re all huddled around. So they’re warming each other, but there’s no actual heat coming from the red berry, which is only a berry. It’s not fine. Well, in the same way, we try to find something in the world which will melt us and warm us and give us life and people can find it outside their usual – they search for it in their usual haunts and they can’t find it. Then they start looking elsewhere. A seasoned American ambassador, for instance, has got to be a fairly experienced and cynical man. And he can meet, and one did meet, the head of a state whose policies weren’t necessarily in conformity with American policies, but he wrote up – this head of state – he said there’s this warmth from him. He’s the sort of man that a child would instinctively want to climb up onto his lap or a dog would instinctively sidle up to. A Christian dean, he met – again, a man – not a Christian at all in fact, a declared atheist, but he said, the moment anybody else’s troubles are mentioned, other people’s struggles, his whole face changes. And you see this deep concern for other people. He said, “No, he was not a Christian. I am a Christian. I felt a great shame. I felt this was the true spirit of Christianity.” Well, the man whom any child would want to climb up into his lap was Stalin. And the report was by the American ambassador  (Bullitt? Davies?). The man whose face lit up with concern was Chairman Mao Tse Tung who now, we believe, killed more people than Hitler and Stalin put together.

And the dean was Hewlett Johnson. He was one of the few Westerners to have a face to face interview with chairman Mao. They were seeking for something and they saw something that they didn’t understand, they didn’t of course speak the language in either case. And they tried to warm themselves and they felt somehow a warmth there. But, of course, it led to nothing.

Dora Russell, she was a considerable thinker and writer in her own right. She was hypnotised by Chairman Mao, as so many were. And sometimes you get the idea that people like Mao who are worshipped, something mischievous gets into them and they think, “How far could you go? What would they stick at?”

So when he was talking to some educationists, he said, “You know, the ideas of education, the traditional ideas, they’re not right. Now, take a literary exam on the Dream of the Red Chamber,” that’s one of the Chinese classics, “Support you get a student and he answers all the questions about the Dream of the Red Chamber, perfectly correctly. But in fact, they’re memorised from his textbook. They’re absolutely right. Well, most examiners would mark him 100%. The boy next to him, peeps over and copies all his answers. The examiner sees him doing it. These answers are correct are they not? So the second boy should get 100% too? Because that’s the world. It doesn’t say, where do you get your knowledge from? It says, is your knowledge correct?”

And then he said, “And then take the boy who was answering the exam questions, who’s never read the Dream of the Red Chamber and just invents the answers. He ought to get high marks because he’s creative.” And then he went on to say, “You know, there’s all this prejudice against hiring the clever boy. To take your place in the examination. And that’s been condemned in the past, but actually it’s very enterprising. And if you do that and you get a correct examination paper, then you should pass.” Well, Dora Russell quotes this in one of her books with approval. In other words, she’s worshipping them. Something to warm. Something to melt the ice. But she failed, obscurely.

Well, at the end of her life, she said she was a great idealist, but she said it’s all been ashes. All this enthusiasm as to which she devoted so much self-sacrifice and enthusiasm and hard work, she said, had all turned to ashes. So trying to warm ourselves from something in the world.

We may join a group and because we’re together in the group, we can feel, kind of, a little bit of warmth. But it’s not a true light, not a true fire.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Melting the Ice and Fists

Part 2: What is the Buddha?

Part 3: A yard of teaching, one foot of practice

Part4: We deny it’s a thing