On attitudes


It was very hot last week, wasn’t it? I’ve been in hot places. In Lahore it can get up to even 120, [degrees Farenheit] but it was very hot last week for Britain. Somehow I thought one little fan didn’t seem to be enough. I had two. It was awfully hot!   Now, one can easily do this. This was appropriate perhaps at the time. It’s not appropriate now and if I go on doing it, there’s something wrong, isn’t there? This can happen to us very easily in life. We can take up some attitude or find some method of meeting something, which is very often appropriate at the time. Perhaps you’re in a situation where you need to answer back in order to support a principle and it’s right; but then, when that situation has gone, sometimes people are always answering back even when it’s totally inappropriate.

Still, fanning yourself when it isn’t hot – and these fans are used to illustrate this point – you’ve got to be able to take them out, use them, and put them away. In the same way, for our mind, we’ve got to be able to take things out, use them, and then put them away. Not keep on repeating the same idea or the same attitude when it’s quite inappropriate. To be able to take the mind out and use it. There are one or two little examples that can help sometimes or at least be interesting.

Those of you who have had a reasonably well-trained dog, you call him, “Ruff” and he comes, but there’s an occasion when you’re out for a walk. He’s with you and then there’s a smell that he’s got to go to. You see, he’s got to go, and he dashes. You call, “Ruff. Ruff.” Now, normally, of course, his ears are up, but when he’s running for that smell, his ears go down. The meaning is, “Of course, if I could hear you, I’d come… Unfortunately, I can’t hear at the moment.” Then when he’s investigated the smells, his ears go up.

It’s very easy to do this. “The Buddha said something of importance, but I don’t want to hear this exactly. The second bodhisattva vow – the source doesn’t matter at the moment – ‘The flaming passions without limit, I vow to quench, extinguish, or cut them.’” I may not agree with that and yet, the Buddha said it. ‘How am I going to…? Well, I can do it in several ways, you see. Cut off the passions. “But Indians are an extreme people, aren’t they? You think of all those fakirs on beds of thorns and nails and they’re all sitting under the blazing sun with five fires around them. They’re an extreme people. You’ve got to talk in these very, very exaggerated terms to get them to do anything. When he says, ‘cut off’, he means, well, reduce.”

Again, I may say, “Well, Indians, you know, they’re terribly lazy people. Awfully lazy. You give a chap a note to take a message down the corridor and no reply comes. You go out and you find he’s asleep with the note in his hand. They’re terribly lazy. To get them to do anything, the Buddha’s got to make a very, very extreme statement. When he says, ‘cut off’, he means, just cut it down a little.”

These are ways of covering our ears. It’s worth knowing that it’s a fundamental instinct and we’re all liable to be dogs on these occasions. One thing that may be useful to you – I’m no scholar, but I can tell you one or two things – Sīla, which is translated, morality or discipline, means the rules. Actually, the Sanskrit word śīla means more something that constantly happens or constantly is done. Now, the examples from Sanskrit, for instance, that I can remember, if somebody’s very keen on the drums, he’s always at those drums. Now, there you would say śīla. You don’t mean that he’s absolutely drumming day and night, but he’s always at them. He’s constantly doing them; or somebody who’s always telling slanders, they use the word śīla there. There’s a constant tendency to do this as a natural expression.

One Zen Master, Oka, retired to a small place and he gave little sermons. I happened to visit there. I discovered later what a great man he’d been, and they let me take away a copy of his sermons. One of the things he said was the rules of śīla: people think they’re imposed. We’re bound to do them, but actually, the rules are the natural expression of man. They’re natural. This is what we would naturally do. We say, “No!”

When we’re born, we’re born right-handed or left-handed. If it’s not checked, I go on using the right hand more and more and more, or if I’m 1 in 10, the left hand more and more. The body gets distorted. This [holding left hand] is dwarfed. It’s natural to me to use the right hand with everything. If I’m asked to do something involving both hands, this one is very poor at it. It feels unnatural when I’m asked to use the left hand; but as a trainer in anything you have to bring both sides of the body into equal action. At first, he gives things which are very unnatural, but, in fact, when this has been brought to life, the whole body now is flexible and free. Now, this is natural. This is the true nature.

Before, that [ hand]seemed natural, but it wasn’t the true nature. It seemed this [hand] was natural, and to use [the other] seemed unnatural and wrong and difficult. In the same way he says, “Morality is correcting the distortions which are not natural to us.” It’s correcting those distortions. When the distortions have been corrected by force, so to speak, by careful actions, then we find to our surprise, that they’re natural.

At Covent Garden they had, a long time ago, the “Ring” cycle in which there’s an impressive dragon. He’s generally shown as an enormous, fearful shadow on gauzes. One year, they decided to make a real one. They built an enormous framework of this fearful dragon, and he was on wheels and he was to come onto the stage with a rush and then Siegfried kills him. They rehearsed it and all went well and the dragon was put away into the wings, but when the night came for the third opera “Siegfried”, the dragon came on. They’d forgotten to oil the wheels! So this terrifying dragon came on squeaking on a million little wheels.

When I try to do a virtuous action, I do do it, but there’s a squeaking of wheels because it’s not natural to me and it has to be practised. When it becomes natural to me, it’ll be free. There won’t be this squeaking.  Before that, I’m told somebody is ill but my natural reaction is, “Well, sooner them than me” I know I mustn’t say that. So, I say, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Well, it’s sympathetic, isn’t it? But it is a bit squeaky. With luck, I can get a bit better at it.

There’s a point about the forms where we have to make these corrections in certain forms. Well, if you’re going to be a pianist, you’ve got to develop the left-hand, and then you’re given formal exercises to do that. The same with athletics or singing. Most people have got about four notes that they can sing, and the rest of the register is not very good, and that has to be brought up. Then the whole register has to be developed together. You have to have forms to do this. The great danger with the form is that it becomes something that you get good at and that you can do perfectly, and then you’ve done it. That’s all. That’s death to the spiritual feeling behind the form. No skill at all, or knowledge of medicine very much.

I have heard that when they’re putting in pacemakers for the heart, they put in the pacemaker with an absolutely regular beat. A medical expert on the radio was saying that the heart naturally does not make an absolutely regular beat. It’s got slight variation, and that makes it last much longer. You can see, for instance with water, if you have a drop of water and it falls on exactly the same place every time, exactly the same place, quite soon, there’ll be a little pit, even in a hard stone. If it’s very, very slightly varied, very slight, then it doesn’t dig into the stone at all.

Now, this is worth knowing. I’ve made about 500,000 bows in my time on the floor and in the judo hall. We had to go down and the hands are supposed to be at a particular angle and all the rest of it.  You go down looking at the ground, you just show the top of your head, then you look up again. I’ve made about 500,000 of those, and it hasn’t had very much effect, because it was just something I got good at doing and you can do it quickly – something that you just do.  But if there’s a slight variation in it as an expression, then there’s life, and the form doesn’t become dead and wither away.

For instance, when we bow, my inner situation is different. Sometimes, I need forgiveness and I know that I need forgiveness, and the bow should express that. If it’s done with that expression, it’s very, very slightly different from the bow which is made when I’m full of zest and eagerness. There are very slight differences, very, very small, but they express the state. That’s not something that’s done exactly the same every time.

One of the great dangers of the forms in anything is that they tend to become expert and then they become dead. These forms have to express the state. Sometimes, I need forgiveness, and then my bow is for forgiveness. The Buddha forgives. As Oka says, “The Buddha forgives, but I have to be able to forgive myself.”  And, often, I need that bow. The forms are handed down and the question is quite often that one wants to alter them. It’s a feeling that could be altered with advantage or not.

The example given here is of music. Liszt was a composer of real stature, but he was a marvellous technician. When he played, he could not resist showing off his technique. They said when Liszt played a piece, a piece that he saw for the first time, the first time he played it, he played it well. The next time, he improved it by making it more difficult and then surmounting the difficulties. If it’s just a trill, he would trill in thirds which is more difficult, or in six which is more difficult still. The third time he did it, it was all over. Now, that was a piece of music expressing Liszt, not Liszt expressing the music. He was a friend of Chopin, and he used to play Chopin’s piece sometimes. Chopin was furious.  He said, “Play me or don’t play me, but if you play me, play what’s there. Play what I’ve written.”

We must express what’s written, but there’s one exception where the pianist can legitimately play something else: some variation on what’s written. There’s one legitimate exception. That is when the pianist is the composer himself. When Chopin played his own pieces, he sometimes changed some of the rounds and one of his pupils, Mikuli, who was often with him, noted it down. These are acceptable variations and some of them are noted in the books. They’re acceptable because they’re by the composer himself. It’s not somebody else using the piece to show off his own individuality, but it’s the composer putting a change in, not compulsorily, but as an alternative for expression.

Well, now, if we’d like to extend this, some of the forms of Buddhism change and need to change, but those alterations, if they’re made by somebody like Liszt, just to suit the convenience of the people who make them, then it is no longer somebody practising Buddhism. It’s Buddhism being a way of life of some particular person.  But there is one exception. When the Buddha-nature itself makes the changes, when the changes are made by someone who is now not a someone, but the Buddha-nature, then the changes will be right and they’ll be correct and they’ll be fruitful. Apart from that, the changes will simply reflect the individuality of some individual.

Oka has said something about the beginner’s mind. Well, we’ve had this explained, but he does say one thing. He said, “One thing about the beginner’s mind is this. When you’re a beginner, you think about it all the time, constantly, and you’re telling everyone else about it very often too – but it is continued.” He said, “We’ve got that to learn from the beginner’s mind.” Now, this handkerchief [holds one up]. It  has got a lot of little creases in it, hasn’t it? If I hold it out, the creases are still there. If I put it down there, it’ll always fall into those creases.  But if it’s washed and ironed, when it’s opened out, it can take any shape. It’s just got a few minimal little indentations which don’t impede it at all. It can be used as a cloth to cover something. It’s free, it seems. Well, now, he gives this example for the mind. He says that our mind is like this, it’s got fixed creases, but if it’s washed by śīla, by first of all trying forcibly to do the right thing, and then finally getting it even a little bit natural – things will come.

He says that while we are still consciously doing the right things, consciously philosophizing, consciously putting this in this place, in this place, in this place, and the right places, we’re still in this. We’re washing – but the time comes, when the thing is soft, it’s been purified, and then it’s ironed. He puts an iron over it and the iron will take out all those residual creases. The phrase he uses for it is – and you can see it up there [on a board] – “Not one thing.” Not a single thing.”

Periodically, to give up the whole world: the end of the world. To give up our identity, our gender, our name, our age, our country. Then he says it’s like a hot iron, and all those creases disappear. Give up all the makeup, the role I’m in, the role I’d like to be in, etc. Then, later on, I can take them up again, but then my mind will be free and clear. It will be able to adapt to any shape. It won’t have these fixed creases in it.

One of the important things – I’m talking now about the fringes of Zen but there’s something that can be learned from the fringes – is not to become distracted or borne away by poetry, by beautiful images, and think ‘Oh, it’s so wonderful. It’s so lovely to think of unity. We’re all one. We’re all interpenetrated, interconnected, in fact, we’re the same thing. It’s beautiful.’ Then somebody knocks against me and I say, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” You mustn’t feel this is just beautiful, exalting poetry. It’s called ‘getting drunk on words’ sometimes. It’s quite easy to do. You feel it’s most beautiful like going to a beautiful opera. ‘It’s lovely, isn’t it? Well, now we better get on with life!’

No, it has to be something definite. I give one example. This is from Japanese chess, which is more complicated than our chess, also, much higher rated. The chess champion in Japan is a national figure and makes a very good income. Well, one man who dominated the field for 10 years, his name is Ōyama, and I knew him quite well. There’s just one instance about him. They hold their championship matches in a small private room, perfectly silent. They have two contestants, there’s the referee, a couple of markers to register, and one or two privileged people are allowed in for a short time and I was one of them, one time.

As it happens, I came in before the game had started. Now, Ōyama this legendary figure was sitting there and opposite him, the opponent. It was Ōyama’s first move. He was to make the first move. Well, always in our chess, naturally, we’ve decided there’s a time limit and time is precious. We’ve decided and we’ll make our first move instantly. Generally, the other man has decided what he’ll reply to various first moves. The first moves are made very quickly and then they start thinking.

In Ōyama’s case, he sat there in front of the board, and he just sat. I was a bit fidgety. He sat what seemed like 10 minutes. I suppose it wasn’t, but he didn’t move. Then he made his usual opening move.  I asked him afterwards, “You were using 10 minutes of valuable time, why did you do that?”

He said, “I sit there and I give up my whole idea of my winning strategy, of how I will meet him if he plays this new defence that’s been discovered, of what I will do if this happens, of how I will bring in a new move I’ve discovered. I give all that up. I give up the desire to win. I sit there in emptiness.” Then he said, “There is a current.” The Japanese word is ‘Nagare’. It’s the ordinary word for current in water or a current in a stream. He said, “There’s a current across the board. When I have made my mind clear and empty, I begin to feel how he is feeling. I come to know whether this day he’s very nervous, whether he’s confident, whether he’s got some secret weapon that he’s hoping to spring, whether he’s tired. I come to know. Then I play and my shogi, my chess, adapts to it.”

If you practise one of the Ways, the Ways are fractional applications of Zen to different activities in life, to a particular small field in life. I’ve practised it in judo and he was practising it in shogi, in this Japanese chess, but because I had practised it in judo, I could recognize and understand what he said.

This is a definite effect. It’s not something poetical. It’s a definite effect. He won that game that day, incidentally. He won 100 other major tournaments in 10 years. He was a remarkable man, very modest. A tremendous ceremony was held on his 100th victory in this championship games – they have four championships every year.  His 100th victory was announced and he was going to be given this great presentation. In his opening speech he said, “Well, I’m very grateful for this gift which has been made to me by the chess enthusiasts from all over Japan. My 100th victory in a major tournament.” He said, “But I have, as a matter of fact, in my career lost 200 major tournaments!” And they said, “But we’re not talking about that now, are we?”

Yes, he was quite balanced, and he was quite at ease with his fame and the glory of it, and he could empty his mind like that. In judo, we’re asked to do this. Well, not asked to do it, it exists in the tradition. We generally rely on two or three. We may know dozens and dozens of tricks and attacks, but we generally rely on two or three.  The training, when you’ve got to a fairly high standard, when you go out, is to give all that up.

Normally, we think, ‘Find out what his reactions are’. You can find that out in the first few seconds and he’s finding out about yours too. Then you have two or three, and then, give that up. Give up even the desire to win. The first time you try this you go out all spiritual and the next thing is you’re flat on your back.  If you persist, the time comes when it does happen.  You go out, you don’t have any idea at all, and then something happens and you’re nearly as surprised as he is. It’s not one of your favourite tricks quite often – something happens. I don’t want to go more into that. Only just to say that the disciplines and the practices that are given have definite meanings and definite results.

I’ve given no results on the fringes because you can see it, you can see it on the judo mat. You can see it.  But in the case of purely spiritual practice, the result will be that something happens which always annoys me, or something that I’m always frightened of, or something that I’m always tempted by, and I’m always meaning not to do it, but I do it. I try to restrain this by śīla. Sometimes, I succeed, and sometimes I don’t, but I’m practising. Not a single thing. Then one day, that thing I’m afraid of or that thing I’m tempted by, or that thing that I always do, quite suddenly it’s not there, and there’s a freedom. One of Freud’s best pupils, he remarked that in psychoanalysis, almost all the feelings are forced, but there is one which is genuine and that is the sense of relief when some cherished fantasy, or some cherished fear, or some cherished preconception floats away into the void. He said, there’s an enormous relief at giving up these things, and he said that something is genuine.

We’re told about delusions. The Romeo example is given. It’s worth looking at the beginning of that play because it’s perfectly clear that Romeo is madly in love with somebody called Rosalind or Rosamond, I forget who it is – that he’s been in love, passionately, with others before. The footlights of the spotlights on Romeo’s inner stage are blazing away and anyone, any girl who walks on (and finally, it’s the 15-year-old Juliet, a little girl, she walks on and under these blazing lights), she’s like a goddess.

Shakespeare makes it quite clear that this is an effect from Romeo’s mind. Also, it turns into a tragedy as all these great love stories do. The great love story in China is called The Song of The Long Grief. In the end, when they’re parted, the last verse says, “Oh, if we are to be born again, in heaven, let it be as birds that fly side-by-side with the wings touching. If we are born on earth, let it be as two trees with the branches intertwined. Heaven and earth, still they have a limit, but this grief has no limits.”

In Tristan, again, if you look at the score, and read the words, at the beginning of Tristan, the princess hates him. He’s the knight who is bringing the princess from Ireland to an arranged marriage with King Mark of Cornwall. She hates the whole thing and she is determined to commit suicide. She doesn’t like Tristan, who is the knight who’s escorting her, and she thinks, ‘I’ll kill him too for good measure.’

She arranges this beautiful, attractive draft of wine or whatever it is, and tells the maid to put poison in it. As we know, the maid puts in the love charm and then the music is particularly poignant at that stage. They drink it and instead of falling dead, they look at each other, and then this wonderful love episode begins, which ends in tragedy. It’s Wagner’s music and it’s incomparable, but they’re not really in love. They don’t like each other as a matter of fact. They’re, in modern terms, stoned.

They tell us if we study these great events, we can see this. For power, one I know is (we talked about shogi, the Japanese chess) well, there used to be, in some of the towns, and perhaps there still is, a man who would come with a shogi board on the street, and he’d put out a position. One side has got an absolutely overwhelming attack. He’s bound to make the other one. The shogi board proprietor, he stands on this side, you come up and you look at the board and you think, ‘Well, it’s pretty easy doing that.’ He says, “Would you like to try to win? You pay me the fee. If you do win, you get your fee back, and I give you the same fee again. If you don’t succeed in winning, of course, I keep your fee. Well, you’re bound to win.  But there’s a secret trick, that’s very, very difficult to see. You certainly can’t discover it just in the 5 or 10 minutes that you’re playing, and he can get out, so he wins the fee. Life is a bit like that. The example is given, even when it’s most favourable, when you’re bound to win, this is going to be marvellous, it can’t go wrong. But there’s a little trick. You’ll be disappointed and you will lose the fee.

One thing more. He says is, “We’re in prison in this world, but we don’t have to be prisoners. There are people in prison who aren’t prisoners. The prison visitor, the doctor, the caterers who come to bring the food, the prison governor, they’re in prison, but they’re not prisoners.” He says, “Through the Buddhist practices, we can become like that. We shall still be in the prison, but we won’t be prisoners.” At any time, he says we can step outside as the governor can, as any of the prison visitors can, can go outside, they’re free. Nevertheless, they spend much time in prison.”

I read the Memoirs of a Prisoner. It was very well written. One thing he commented on was that they had a complaint about the food. They said it was very monotonous. This chap was appointed as the delegate to see the governor. He saw the governor, and the governor said, “No. I’ve had this food analysed. The food you have has been analysed by the government dieticians and all the elements are there, they’re perfectly balanced, and this is the most nutritious diet.” The prisoner said, “Well, yes, but it’s very plain.” The governor said, “Look, I had the same food myself. Exactly what you eat. What you eat, I eat.”

They respected the governor. The prisoner said, “Well, yes, but yours is individually cooked, isn’t it and presented, and you can have sauces and so on we can’t have.” The governor said, “Yes, that’s true. On the other hand, if you don’t like prison food, why come to prison?”

Well, if we don’t like the pain of Saṃsāra, why jump into Saṃsāra? It’s got that message for us. The head of Eihei-ji, the great training monastery, said, “Even an amateur who doesn’t know much Zen, he can write a page or two on Zen with no mistakes, but if he utters one word, you know his spiritual state immediately.” When the texts are read, we can think, ‘Yes, I know’; but if they’re read from experience, it’s quite different – there’s life. I can hear the texts and think, ‘I know that. I know that. I know that.’ ‘What was that one? I know that one. I translated that one.’

I can do that, and I’ll get nothing from it, but if the sermon is given by somebody, from experience, then in the same words, there’s something quite different. There’s a life. Not just from the words itself, but the teaching can also be without words. In one of the Zen stories, a great Brahmin came to see the Buddha and said, “What do you teach?” The Buddha sat silent. The Brahmin made a deep bow and went away. And Ānanda, who was standing beside the Buddha said, “What did he get that he went away satisfied?” The Buddha said, “The good horse goes at even the shadow of the whip.”

I’ll give a parallel to this. This is from a lost Upanishad. It’s not one that we have now, but Shankara quotes this little episode. He says it’s from the Upanishad. We don’t have it now, but he evidently knew of it.  An enquirer [Vashkalin] went to the teacher, [Bhava] and said, “What shall I do to be free?” The teacher said, “Know the Truth, friend” and then he sat silent. The man said, “How do I know the Truth?” The teacher sat silent. He asked again, “How do I know the Truth?” The teacher sat silent. He said, “Teach me.” The teacher said, “I do teach you, but you do not understand. Silent is this Truth.”

This is Kashyapa, a great disciple of the Buddha. The custom was when the king sentenced a man to be executed it was the custom for the king, himself, to go to the execution ground to see that it was the man he had condemned who was actually the executed one. In this case, the man due to be executed was to leave the jail where he’d been and walk to the execution ground. Kashyapa happened to be passing and saw him coming out under guard.

Kashyapa said, “May I walk with him?” The guard said, “No talking.” Then Kashyapa said, “No talking.” Then the guard said, “Well, alright.” They walked together to the execution ground. When the man had got there, he was completely fearless. He offered himself, he was killed, executed. The king noticed this. He said, “When I sentenced that man he was terrified.” He asked the guard, “What happened?” The guard said, “Well, this monk asked to walk with him. I told him ‘No talking’ and there was no talking.” Then the king approached Kashyapa and told him he wanted to become a disciple.

Thank you for your kind attention.




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