Meteors and Stars

You see meteors, they blaze across the sky


Well, the talk has one of those titles which can mean anything, Meteors and Stars. However, the idea is to compare them.  You see meteors, they blaze across the sky, a good one lightens things perceptibly and then they disappear.  There are religious teachers and teachings like that.  They’re wonderful and they light things up, although not enough to read by or to actually do anything by it and they don’t last, of course, for very long.  Well, you compare those with the fixed stars, which are distant and still.  They do move, but we don’t see them move, it’s just that the next evening they’re a slightly different place – except for the Pole Star.  Now, they correspond to the traditional trainings and schools. They don’t seem to be very interesting.  They don’t change much – they’re just there. The meteor blazes across and you go, “Oh, gosh!”  Such a meteorite, just as an example, blazed across the Western world in the 1920s, and 30s and 40s, and 50s, a little bit into the 60s.

Now, one of the things he said was that there was what he called a Fourth Way, which was the way of the clever man. One of the examples he gave, that he really impressed, was: “Supposing in the course of a spiritual training, one comes to know that the body needs a certain drug. A pure devotee will pray and by his prayers, he can produce that drug within his body in about a year. A mystic can produce it in a month. A yogi, with special yoga practices can produce it in a week – but the man of the Fourth Way, simply goes out and buys the drug.”

Everybody went, “No! Oh, isn’t that wonderful?” A lot of people joined him because nobody likes to be among the monks, the devotees, or the mystics or the yogis. Then people after 20 or 30 years started thinking, “Yes, that’s right, in course of spiritual training, he comes to know that his body needs a certain drug.” You think, “Drug? What is this drug, what is this needing of drugs? The Buddha or Christ never found at a certain point they needed a particular drug.” All that had been accepted.  It was somehow, “Yes, of course he needs a drug.  It can take a long time by prayer, so just go out and buy it, you know what it is and, of course, he will tell us.”

Well, this a is sort of meteor.  It’s all gone now.  I asked somebody today at dinner if they’d never heard of him, and they hadn’t.  But it made a tremendous meteor splash in its time. Well then, if we don’t have the meteors, there are the fixed stars.  Well, they’re not very interesting – but they are.  If they’re studied, we can navigate, we can know the directions, through the Polestar.  And in the same way, through fixed traditions that have been for a very long time known and studied, we can find our direction for life and our directions for spiritual practice.  But they have to be studied, not just looked at.

If they’re studied under the guidance of experts, then we know how to find the Polestar fairly quickly.  We’re taught it at school to look for the so-called Great Bear, or the Dipper, or the Plough, or the Seven Holy Sages, as they’re called in the Far East – and then we can find the Polestar.  From that, we can find our direction. Direction? We all want to do some benevolence and good, don’t we? One of the things Confucius says is benevolence without wisdom becomes just sentimentality. We don’t know how to do benevolence; mere good wishes are not going to be enough.

When I was young, we thought, with the Welfare State, crime would simply disappear, people committed crime only because they were in need.  But now we know people commit crimes for fun.  We can say, “Well, society has made them as they are.”  No, it hasn’t.  No, it hasn’t. I’ve done vicious and spiteful things in my life. It wasn’t due to society making me.  There were causes, but I did them, you’re not all guilty. I did them because I had no direction.  I did them and I knew they were wrong, but I thought, “Oh, well, we’ll have a bit of fun. Knock down something people have built up for years and years and years and see them go, ‘Oh, what’s happened? Oh no, we built it all up, now he’s kicked it down.'” You think, “Ha ha ha.”

The traditions will tell us. I give a few examples from judo, because I know it well as a pupil and as a teacher. To avoid a throw, there’s a particular technique of using a hand in a particular way.  It’s extremely dangerous; but a skilful man, a highly trained man, he can do it. When we teach, we never do this, even though we can avoid a throw in this rather spectacular way.  We know how to do it and it’s perfectly safe, but we never do it – because, if we do, some of the young ones will try to imitate it. They’ll pull it off once or twice, and then they’ll just go wrong, and the arm will stick out, will be dislocated at the elbow.

So teachers, experienced and highly skilled teachers, never do this because they’re a bad example.  In the same way, there are teachers and people who practise spiritual training who are careful, not only about their own conduct, but about the effect that their conduct will have on others. There have been those like Socrates who could drink all night and it had no effect on him whatever; but it was not recommended for teachers to do this because, although it might have no effect on them, others would imitate them, and they would be poisoned.  We have to find a direction and the traditions can tell us this and tell us how to find the direction in ourselves.

Now the problem of evil always comes up: if there’s a God, if there’s a Buddha, why is there all this evil in the world? Well, a man asked a teacher this.  He was very distressed over it, and the teacher said to him, “Do you yourself contribute to this evil in the world that distresses you so much?”  The inquirer thought and he said, “Well, yes, I’m ashamed to say that I have done things that I knew to be wrong, that have harmed people.” The teacher said, “Well, you are God, you are Buddha, why do you do these things?”

In judo, we get very energetic, very powerful young men; men that, when they’re getting on in years, can make very strong attacks. In the first years, they’re full of fighting spirit and aggression and so on.  But their consciousness of the body is not very strong. They know what they want to do, but they can’t feel very well.  There’ll be an enormously powerful young chap – and perhaps I’m not so strong now.  But there’s a way, known to rather experienced teachers, of quietly catching his trouser leg on the far side.  He doesn’t feel that in the excitement.  He’s giving tremendous heaves and tugs and somehow I don’t move and he can’t understand why. The reason is he’s pulling on himself. The more the more he pulls, the more fixed he is. This is an example of enormously powerfully directed action, which fails because there’s no, what Confucius used to call, wisdom; and what in this particular context is called technique.

There is a way of putting the evil in the world right. When you’ve got an infection, the thing swells up and you get all the pus inside.  They’d often have to lance it and then they’d press and the pus would come out and finally, the thing would heal. One teacher said, “This was the old way, and this is what we do when we want to alter society.  But now there’s an antibiotic. Now that goes in, sometimes it’s taken orally.”  You think, “Well, what’s taking something here got to do with this huge infection I’ve got on the leg?”  But it clears it up. Now he said, “These spiritual truths, if people study them and practise them, they will be like this sort of antibiotic in society.”

We can feel, “Well what relation has it got – a few people doing meditation practice, to the things that are going on in society?” He said there will be an inner change which will be brought about but, finally, it’s not a question of poultices or of antibiotics, but of natural health.  If the natural health is cultivated, then that will throw these things off, of itself, before they start. He said that natural health will result unconsciously.  Trained athletes never think about health. They’re thinking about breaking the record or winning this contest, they never think about health at all.  It’s people who are not healthy or always talking about health in whom spiritual health must become unconscious. Not that people should feel, “I’m spiritually healthy. I’m saintly.  I’m doing the right thing.”

Just as one example – and I offer this with hesitation – one of the nuances in Sanskrit of the word shila is a persistent tendency to do something. Somebody who’s a gardener has a shila to garden. This is one of the nuances of it. A man who’s got a bad temper, has got a shila for this [behaviour].  One of the things that’s said is that it’s not really shila until it becomes a tendency in the person; not if each time there’s a fresh imposition, “Now I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do this.” When it becomes a tendency to do that, then it’ll be a shila. This again, it’s moving from the compulsive, the ordered and the correct to something that’s habitual and finally something that will become unconscious.

Now again I give another illustration. When people fall down, they try to keep off the ground as much as possible. They’re falling and everything tries to keep off, because you don’t want to hit the ground; but what happens in the end, you go down and the whole shock comes on one point, like the elbow or the hand or the tip of the spine.  You go down like that.  Now if you hit with your fist on the table, it can hurt because the whole shock is coming at one point. If it is flat, it doesn’t hurt at all because it’s spread. We teach people how to fall by taking the shock across the whole of the body and it takes some weeks to learn. After some years, you can run along, and you can turn a somersault in the air and come down and crash. Makes a terrific noise and it doesn’t hurt at all. If they miss it, it doesn’t make a sound and it hurts like hell.

You get people who go in for this ornamental acrobatic stuff and it doesn’t do the body any good later on in life but, never mind, it’s great fun at the time. They’re very expert at it.  An experienced teacher never leaves it like that. You say to a man, “Pull forwards; fall backwards; fall in a somersault; roll over.”  He’s expert at it, but a teacher never leaves it at that.  One day when that chap’s standing by the side of the mat watching critically, the teacher comes up behind him and suddenly smashes him to the ground, when he’s not expecting anything.  Sometimes they panic and all the technique that they can do so marvellously on command disappears.

After two or three of those, one day the teacher does something unexpected and he falls correctly. Now then it’s part of him.  But there’s still one more [step], the experienced ones say, and that is when he’s not in the judo club at all. One day he falls on the ice or something like that, and then he goes down correctly. Then the floor, the ground becomes his friend.  Before that, even with a man who’s technically expert in falling, there’s always a certain fear. There’s the ordinary person’s fear of falling; but when this has happened by accident and he’s gone down [safely], then that fear completely disappears.

Well, this is a given as an example.  We sometimes give these judo examples to other judo men, but they can also be quite revealing to others. One’s good conduct or morality or honesty is actually no good until it’s unconscious. We have form and all the great traditions have forms. One can feel, “Well, the thing is to get the form, to behave properly to people, to be courteous as we are here and, on a larger scale, to do the right thing.” All this can be the form only, but there’s something else.  Compulsively good people, very good people, are often extremely irritable.  It means that something hasn’t developed.

Well, this example is given and you used to see it in Japan, since the war especially.  The piano has become popular and nearly all the young girls learn the piano, like we used to here in Victorian times. My mother was tone deaf, but she could play the piano quite effectively.  It meant nothing to her, but she could play the notes. The girls were taught to play then. Well, they’re taught now in Japan, and they play the notes effectively and correctly, but quite a lot of them, until fairly recently, had no idea of musical expression at all.

They played the notes correctly – and the Japanese are very keen on accuracy. The form was perfect.  You can’t say what’s wrong. I mean, they play loud and soft, they’re told to play what’s written on the music score: piano, crescendo, sforzando, legato.  All that’s perfect, but there’s something wrong, and the pianist can’t tell what it is. She doesn’t know what it is: “I’m doing it right, aren’t I?”

Well, my father was a professional musician and he put me under an extremely good piano teacher. I liked music, but I liked Johann Strauss waltzes and jazz, which was then new, and not the Beethoven and Haydn.  But I had to play them in order to pass the exams. I had to be able to play these things, but I can still remember learning some of the pieces, especially Bach. It meant nothing. I played it correctly and I tried to think, “What the devil do they see in it? Goes on and on – all those semi-quavers and ‘pom pom pom’ in the bass clef.”

Now the teacher simply said, “You can play your jazz and your Strauss and so on but, for me, play these pieces and try to play them with respect. Don’t just dash them off.” He said, “Then something will come to you.”  When I was about 12 or 13, I was quite an effective performer technically, but had no feeling at all for music. Then it began to appear.  He knew as a very experienced teacher, that it would come.  But I had to have considerable faith in him, and he had to have faith in me, to persist with this [stage] where you get the form right and there’s simply nothing in it. You can get disillusioned; you get the form right and you don’t find a living inspiration in it. But, as in the music, if one persists with the form and tries to do it with respect, not just slickly, then something will come up in it.

One can imitate and when one’s getting the form right, you imitate. Sometimes when I could play a piece well. the teacher would say, “Now, find your own tempo, don’t play the wrong tempo.” I’d say, “Well, what tempo do you want me to play?”  He’d say, “Find your own tempo.” So I tried a bit faster or a bit slower. He said, “No, no, no.” I said, “What do you want, for God’s sake? I can play you the notes. Tell me what to do.” “No, find your own tempo.”  So I went out and I got a record of somebody playing it. “No,” he said, “you’ve got to search for it, and you’ve got to find that.” Well, that again was a sort of riddle. But finally, you do discover, there is a tempo, and it may be something to do with one’s heartbeat. Rostropovich thinks it is something to do with the performer’s heartbeat.  There’s a particular tempo that’s right for that performer when he’s technically good.  He’s got to search for that.  These are little hints which some teachers give, and this sort of hint, I’m transferring it.

If you just imitate, the imitation could be perfect. It was reported in the press some time back that a father’s little son had just gone to the school, a kindergarten place. He said, “What are you learning?” He said, “We learn mental arithmetic.”  The father said, “All right.  Now supposing I’ve got five oranges and two oranges. How many have I got? You don’t know? Five oranges and two? You don’t know? What have you been doing?”  The little boy said, “If it was apples, it would be seven.” Well, that’s an example. You know the answer. One of the things that teacher said was the things that are benevolent, we think are benevolent; but if we don’t understand them, they can turn out in exactly the reverse way.

One example I came across, is that the old people in the East are given these [baoding balls].  They keep your fingers supple, them moving around and because they’re Chinese, they make a nice little noise [tinkles]. It keeps your hand healthy, stopping arthritis, that sort of thing.  But they can have another use. The so-called ‘singsong girls’ in Shanghai in the old days used to have long sleeves. And in those long sleeves, they had one of these balls.  So, if one of the customers got two noisy and drunk, she could swing her sleeve so they’d [be knocked out] – and that was called being loaded.

A Chinese scholar I know, he told me that, in one of the anti-foreign riots near the beginning of the century, sometimes the Western nuns were regarded as spies for the British or Americans.  Two of them were returning to the convent. There was a little group of toughs outside the convent who were going to throw them in the lake.  The nuns had their prayer books in their sleeve. The toughs were going towards them when one of them said, “Look out, they’re loaded.”  The prayer book in the sleeve looked like one of these deadly weapons that the nun would be able to bring out and stun everyone. It’s just an example, where the same thing can have these different uses and, finally, there can be an illusion, which is just as effective.

In the end, our attempts of benevolence, unless we have spiritual direction from inner inspiration, will be self-contradictory. Some examples are given of self-contradiction, again in the Western terms. Your cat, when you call it, puts up its ears and looks at you: “I hear you perfectly.”  You say, “Tibbles, the heart of the world will be broken if you don’t come.” You say the future of the cat then depends on your coming. He says, “I’m all right” and stops. That’s the cat, and the mind of the untrained person is a cat, the teachers say, and it’s got to be turned into a dog. The dog will come when you call, he’s obedient; but there are occasions when you call him, and there’s a conflict, isn’t there? He wants to go and investigate something out there, just briefly; but you’re calling him.  He can’t disobey you, and yet he’s got to go there. What he does, he puts his ears down: “If I could hear you, I’d come.”  This is quite a [vivid illustration].

We do this in a different way. We put our ears down by interpreting the plain words into the reverse. It’s not at all difficult if you’ve got an agile mind. I’m going to do something pretty discreditable. “Be ye perfect,” Jesus said, “even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The Father in heaven is perfect, he’s a perfect father in heaven. I’m a villain, so I should be a perfect villain. I interpret it, I put my ears down and I go and do it.

Well, the teacher says, “This is where there’s got to be an inner direction. If it doesn’t come from inside, it’s got to come first from outside.” Then the purpose is to bring it from inside. We protect a self which, in fact, when we investigate it, it becomes more and more unreal. So I have to protect it very vigorously. We protect it,” he said, “we have our roles in life, which are perfectly reasonable, but we make a ham performance often of it. If I’m disappointed, if I’ve been badly let down or something disastrous has happened, it’s quite natural to say, ‘Oh, well, we have to pick ourselves up I suppose.’  Something in me wants to make a self. “Ah, no, this always happens, they’re plotting against me.’ You can do a sort of soliloquy and so build up the self; there’s nothing, but it’s building up.

One teacher said we’ve got makeup on all the time. It’s all right to play a role, to put makeup on. Then you’ve got to take it off when you come off the stage. When you play your part, perhaps you’re controlling the crowds at a big meeting or something, then you’ve got to play your part, you’ve got to look impressive. You’ve got to shout commandingly. He said that’s alright but when you come away, take your makeup off, take off that loud, threatening voice and that pompous attitude – give it up.  Most of us he said, can’t. We are wearing our makeup, he said, all the time. Instead of that our self should be thinned until we come down to something actually central. The forms are good, but if they form makeup that we can’t throw off and be actually true to ourselves, then they’re a hindrance.

I did a few stories before from the Sufi Masnawi, and I have one more on this point: a man was running hotfoot to the mosque and he saw the worshippers coming out. One of them said to him, “Oh, foolish man. The service has ended. The Prophet has given the blessing and departed. How are you trying to go here now?”  “Alas,” he cried, and it seemed as the smell of heart’s blood going up like smoke. One of the congregation said, “Give me that sigh and all my prayers are yours.” So he took the prayers and he gave that burning sigh, which was so full of regret and longing.  The man who bought the sigh that evening – a voice said to him, “You have bought the water of life and for the sake of that sigh that you bought, all the prayers of the congregation are answered.”

The poet gives a little commentary on it which is roughly that the prayers are the true form that received the blessing of the Prophet. But it was still a form, a correct form, a true feeling. The man who came late, he’d overslept and ran, and he gave that great cry, ‘Alas’. That was life and he bought the life and he gave to the other one before him. One of the teachers says that all religions begin with the individual self and the God transcendent. Although in theory, it’s known that God is everywhere.  In fact, [the Supreme] and the individual self are the same. But in all true religions, when they develop, the self becomes transparent and God becomes everywhere, even here.

In some of the great classics, this progress is shown.  For instance, in the Gita, several times early on the disciple is told, the Lord says to him, “I am in you. I am you” – and there’s no reaction at all. He’s like an Englishman, he says, “Oh, really?” He simply cannot take it in. Later on after a great and terrifying experience, he’s shaken, and then he’s later able to incorporate this.

One of the teachers says (in modern terms) that it’s like a car. We’re the driver in the car. Now we’ll park the car. In fact, when the ordinary man parks his car, the engine’s still running.  Even when he’s asleep, the engine’s still running. He’s dreaming like mad in his sleep, and the engine’s still running. Then if he learns meditation, he learns how to stop the engine sometimes, to park the car and stop the engine.  But the driver’s still there – there’s still a driver in the car who can come to life, come and drive it.

In this century, some of the Zen teachers are using more and more phrases for the transcendent, like the Great Life or the Great Way. There are some philosophers who say, “This is getting nearer to the Upanishads.” – the Great Life pervading the whole universe.

Now, for instance, in the new book with the commentary by the Roshi who was here, I’ll just read the one little paragraph. “Master Nuri is not concerned with forms, only with the Great Life itself. The Great Life neither comes to be, nor ceases to be. It is beyond our understanding, ineffable. It manifests dependent on, and in response to causes and conditions, but is itself without name and form. Indeed, without any characteristics at all.”

Now one Japanese – he’s a Zen priest and a famous professor – he says, “No, this is too near to the Upanishadic descriptions: “To the God who is in the grass, and the trees, and the mountains, to the God who is in everything, behind everything – salutations, salutations.” He said it’s too close. But he admits that this description is provisional because, at the end, he says, it’s totally beyond our understanding and it’s free from name and form, indeed without any characteristics at all.

I just mention this because this is something that you can see in the works, for instance, of Dr. Suzuki; but especially in Nukariya Kaiten, who wrote The Religion of the Samurai, and who was a most influential figure in Soto Zen then at the beginning of the century. “[A man] does not know the great life, which though wounded, is not itself wounded, though in the midst of dirt, does not get dirty and does not get extinguished in death.”

These are indications which are given. The inspiration has to come from a life within, not through thinking of all the possible things that can happen and how one ought to meet them. There was a judo school, which had a jiu-jitsu school of self-defence, which had a list of about 150 tricks. The idea was to think of everything that could possibly happen. Somebody running at you with a hatchet, somebody catching your ankle from behind, somebody trying to butt you with his head, somebody catching your hair suddenly – all those things, you list them all out and then you work out and practise a defence to each of them.  It used to take about 30 minutes to run through them. The pupils did. You’d think they were pretty well equipped for everything that could happen, except perhaps an earthquake or something like that. The true judo men realized this is quite wrong. You don’t want to try and think of everything that can happen and prepare yourself for it, but you want to get a living response to the things that can happen, so that you’ll be able to meet them, you’ll be able to invent a technique.

There’s one example of a man who was very nervous and used to think of things that would happen and what he’d do, and he happened to be a good swimmer. A teacher took him to the swimming bath one day and suddenly pushed him in from the side. He went in like that, tremendous splash. He came up, he looked at the teacher. The teacher said, “Swimmers don’t often go in like that, do they?”

He said, “Well, no. Who would go in like that, unless he was pushed?” The teacher said, “How did you know what to do? What did you do?” “I don’t know. I just came up. I came up. I’m a swimmer.”  So the teacher said, “You don’t need to work out all the things that can happen to you in life and what you’ll do. If you are a meditator, when something happens, you’ll do the right thing. You may not even know what it is, but you’ll come up because you’re a meditator.”

This picture [on show] is a symbolic representation of meditation. In the Far East, the moon is taken as pure awareness. These are the thoughts. They can fly so thickly that they’ll cover the moon, but they can never destroy it, though it seems to disappear. It’s only by the light of the moon that they are visible at all. Even when the cranes fly very thickly across the face of the moon, people who are experienced can see the moon lighting [them]. In a meditation, we can sit and be aware of the moon and the thoughts passing across it and passing away. This is one of the pictures that represent it.

The last thing I meant to do is, when we’re sitting in meditation, we can think “How can I get inspiration and know what to do when I come out of the meditation? And also, how will I know when I’m sitting in meditation?”  This is one example the teacher gives. We live in a magnetic field, the Earth’s magnetic field of which we are quite unconscious. As a result, we don’t know which is north and which is south. We don’t know the direction. Now, the Chinese got onto the idea of the compass long before we did, except that in their strange Chinese way, they thought that it pointed south, not north. Still, they got the idea.

Now this example that’s given, the Romans never noticed that if you hung a magnet up it would point. It’ll take a long time before that settles down to the north and south. It’ll take a long time. If I start to put it somewhere where I think it is, it’ll come to rest quicker. But if there’s a disturbing element, it’ll never tell me north and south.  It’s got to be insulated from the disturbing element and then kept quite still; and then the thread will unwind, and slowly it’ll come to point north-south.

Well, this is an example that the teacher gives. He said in some of the meditations the mind is set roughly by the intellect in what we think is the north-south direction, but we don’t know. It could be only a guess; but if it’s left, in calmness, no disturbing metal is brought near it or another magnet, the magnets of the passions, are not brought in, then it’ll settle.  Then actual knowledge and inspiration will come to the magnet – not something depending on the twisting of the thread or something, but it’ll be actual knowledge and it’ll come in touch with that magnetic field.  In the same way (he didn’t like to specify a lot of details) he said there is, what the teacher calls, the Great Life.  It has its current, and we can come to be part of that or to feel that in ourself.