On the Seashore of Endless Worlds


This is a poem of Tagore, which he may have semi-translated from a Vaishnava poet earlier.

On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting place of children,

On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances,

Stars shine, suns blaze, comets whirl, and the children play,

Pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach,

Some gather seashells and scatter them again,

On the seashore of endless worlds, the children play with shouts and dances.

Well, perhaps some of them gather stories and scatter them again. These are a few stories that I’ve gathered and which I’ll scatter, and I hope that some of them can help you, as some of them have helped me. The first is a story from Japan, of a bird monster that appeared in the country, terrified people, though it didn’t do any actual harm, but they employed an expert warrior, a samurai warrior to kill the bird. He accepted the commission. First, he shot arrows at it, but instead of piercing it, the arrows stuck to the sides. Then he ran at it with a lance, but instead of piercing it, the lance stuck to the side. Then he drew the sword and tried to cut it. The sword simply stuck.

Next, he tried some of the jujitsu techniques, but his hands and feet stuck to the monster. Then the bird monster said to him, “Now do you surrender?” He shouted, “No.” The legend is that the bird changes into the god of the martial arts and congratulates him. The teaching point is that when we’re confronted with something which is strange, we first of all try to remain in safety at a distance and shoot arrows, hoping to kill it, and then bring back the dead body and examine it. The Christians used to be eaten by the lions, but now the Christians are shooting bullets at the lions, bringing back the dead lions, and hanging the heads on the walls.

The samurai’s arrows failed to pierce. He couldn’t kill this strange monster so he comes closer with the lance, closer still with a sword, closer with his technique, and he still can’t kill it. Now, the teaching point for us is that while we remain at a distance, and try with different instruments, symbolised by the arrows, spear, sword, and the techniques with the hand and feet, we are at a distance and we can never understand or master what we’re trying to find out about.

We think that we can. We think we can shoot arrows at Buddhism. We shoot, we seem to hit it, we bring back, but what we bring back is a dead body. You can never bring back the life of Buddhism by shooting intellectual arrows at it. The intellectual arrows are ways of neutralising the practice. For instance, the previous week, the story was given of a great enquirer who was not a Buddhist, who came to the Buddha and in full sincerity after himself having sought for many years, he asked the Buddha, “Tell me what you teach.” The Buddha sits silent in meditation, and the other bows. He’s received it, and he goes away.

He has received something from that silence but that is something that intellectually, we can’t grasp. It doesn’t make sense. He asked the question, the other man sat silent. The intellect says, ‘Well, of course, this is a Buddhist story,’ but in actual fact, there’s a lost Upanishad which is quoted by one of the early commentators, only just this little piece of it. It may be that it goes back before the Buddha, and there the enquirer goes to a teacher and he says, “Teach me.” The teacher says, “Learn That.” He understands by ‘That’ they meant what transcends.

He says, “Well, teach me That” and the teacher sat silent. He asked again, “Teach me That.” The teacher sat silent. He asked again, “Teach me.” The teacher said, “I do teach you but you don’t understand. That is silent.” Now, it’s extraordinarily interesting that parallels with some slight differences between this story from the Upanishads, possibly pre-Buddhist, and the Buddhist story. In this way, I’m shooting intellectual arrows and the meaning of the story has now become secondary. The whole question is whether it originated with the Buddhist tradition, or whether it originated in the other tradition so the thing has become pushed away to one side by an intellectual enquiry, an attempt to understand. This is shooting arrows, they say. Arrows of opinion, arrows of intellectual concept, arrows of ideas, hoping to capture a thing, but all we care is something dead. The Roshi was saying last week, he just said it in passing conversation, “If people are too clever, they won’t complete a Buddhist training.” Some said, “Why?” He said, “Well, if you’re very clever, you can always find a way out.”

Now, one needs concrete examples. In the Indian logic, propositions are put forward and proofs are made as in our logic, but there always has to be what they call drishtanta, a concrete example, from life. I’ll give one example of this. A brilliant intellect, De Quincey, a famous writer (among other things) of the Confessions of the English Opium-Eater. When he was young, he heard the piano being played, and he resolved, ‘I am going to be able to play like that, and make this wonderful music.’ Of course, before radio and television, music was a rare event and it would be something so he made this resolution, but then he discovered that to play the piano like that, you have to practise every day about two or three or four hours, but he made the resolution. He said to his intellect, ‘Get me out of this.’ Then the intellect comes forth like a barrister: ‘Of course, I can only speak as an outsider, I can only give the point of view of pure reason but supposing, Mr. Quincey, you had an invitation to a wonderful concert, and you were going to sit at that concert and hear this wonderful music. At one given moment, instant, in the concert, you were asked simply to raise your spectacles and put them down and then listen to the music again. Now, the fact is, your whole enjoyment of the music would be destroyed. Before this time came for you to raise your spectacles, you’d be thinking, ‘Oh, only another five minutes. Another four minutes, getting close to it, yes, nearly, yes,’ then you raise your spectacles. Then you’re thinking, ‘Ah, I’ve done it.’ Your enjoyment of the concert will be destroyed, would it not?’ ‘Well, yes.’ Well, now think how much more disturbing if you’re a member of an orchestra because you’re busy the whole time, you’re not just raising your spectacles. You’re constantly scraping away or blowing away, so that, in that sense, the musicians can never appreciate the concert at all. They’re just workmen doing a job and it’s we, the audience, who appreciate it, so it would be a great mistake to learn to play the piano.’

This is an example, “Get me out of this.” Exactly the same things happen – we hear about the importance of not having sticky attachment for the things of the world. It doesn’t mean not handling them but not having a sticky attachment for them. This to be practised, it has to be practised all the time and that becomes wearing, so we say to the intellect, ‘Get me out of it.’

The intellect says, ‘Of course I can only speak as an outsider from a point view of pure reason. It seems to me that the Buddhist’s emphasis on unattachment is itself a form of attachment, isn’t it? They’re attached to non-attachment and they ought to be non-attached to non-attachment. Sometimes we should be attached to be free, either to be attached or non-attached.’ In this way, the intellect can get us out of it and we do nothing.

It is worth examining carefully how the mind presents these things. I’ll give one more, not very elevating example because it shows very clearly what can happen. When I was a fairly heavy smoker – this was before the connection with bad health had been established – a close friend of mine whom I saw every day, he was my boss as a matter of fact, he was a smoker too, then for some reason he gave it up. Underneath, doubtless, a sort of blasted oak, he made a resolution: ‘No more smoking, not one,’ so he stopped, completely stopped smoking.

He kept this up for three months and then he started preaching. “Why don’t you give up this filthy, this disgusting, degrading habit?” He went on like that and every time we lit one he… Then something rises in one, you can feel Satan lumbering to his feet. The thought comes, ‘I’m going to break this.’ Now, how do you break it? It’s an interesting little problem, isn’t it? One of the things was, he used to say, “Probably, the evidence is piling up that it’s bad for the health.” I said to him, “The fact is they used to think drinking port was the cause of gout and lots of English country squires gave up port because they had gout, but we now know that gout is a metabolic disorder, nothing to do with drinking port, whatever. And those poor devils, giving up their favourite drink for nothing and it can be the same with cigarettes, can’t it?”

I said, “You say we haven’t given it up. You say you have given it up, but you haven’t given it up.” He said, “What?” “No, no, you haven’t given it up, you’re terrified, aren’t you? Absolutely terrified about starting again. That means you’re not, you haven’t given it up. It’s still with you.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, look the only way actually to know whether you’ve given it up would be to have one, then you’d be free.” Finally, he saw it so he had one and the avalanche was on.

I only cite this because I know how Satan feels now: ‘You poor mugs, a little bit of twisting in the argument and off you go!’ Now, the intellect will do this in any discipline at all. It will say, ‘Well, you don’t want to get fanatical. You want just a break sometimes and then you’ll have renewed energy, you’ll come back with renewed energy.’ They try this with athletes they tell them, “Well”, they tell them, “have a booze up occasionally one weekend, and then sweat it all out on Monday and Tuesday.” Some of them fall for it and they never get in the Guinness Book of Records or indeed anywhere else.

I mention those two: the intellect needs to be understood. It reasons in these ways but it has a purpose. The purpose is to destroy, the purpose is destructive. It’s worth noting in ourselves. We can see these very things presented to us. ‘While you haven’t given it up in your thought, then you haven’t given it up in practice so you might as well do a little practice, mightn’t you? You can’t give it up in your thoughts.’ The intellect presents itself in those ways and we have to be aware, we have to be mindful and become aware of what’s going on.

The next point is there is a saying in the schools of the knightly arts. When people take up archery, the saying is they miss the bull’s eye 100 times and then the hundred and first one they get a shot in the bull for the first time. It’s something like that. The saying is: “Don’t think of the 100 misses as failures and then the shot right in the centre of target as success. They are one. The 100 misses are the shot in the centre of the target, and the shot in the centre of the target is the 100 misses. Without those 100 misses, you won’t get in the centre of the target. So when we’re practising shooting and it misses, shooting and it misses, shooting and you seem to be getting worse, shooting and it misses, don’t think, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, I wonder if I’m cut out to be an archer, perhaps people are born archers. One never knows.’ Then you lose your temper, then you get depressed, then you start thinking there is some knack or secret. You think, ‘Oh well, why plod on, plod on?’ No. The 100 misses are the shot in the centre of the target. It’s one thing.

This success is not superior to these steps here. There’s the same life and enjoyment and mental calm on the fifth shot, on the 35th shot, on the 75th shot and it goes into the target every time. It’s important that we shouldn’t have the idea of failure, failure, failure, failure, success. When we’re doing things, not to think, ‘Oh, well this, of course, this is just a temporary thing, these mistakes there, they are just temporary of course, I shall become an expert.’ This is part of archery and some of the teachers are rather good at explaining it. Now, they say that when you master one of the martial arts, you tend to forget this. You tend to forget this which you learned in training and therefore one of the sayings of one of the schools is that, however good you are in one line, go next door to an entirely different line and become a beginner again. The saying is: “However big a frog you are, get to the next pond and become a tadpole again.” If you’re a master archer, do some fencing where you’ll be an absolute beginner.

Some of the best judo men – they do a bit of fencing. Marvellous, full of confidence, perfect poise on the judo mat. When it comes to fencing they don’t move like that. Now, in this way, we can go back and recover what it was at the beginning and see the whole thing. The training is one piece, it’s not failure, failure, failure, disaster. ‘How shall I ever do this?’ and so on and then success but it’s the whole thing forms one piece, and there’s the same experience at this end, as at that end, if it’s viewed in this way.

We know this in certain areas, but we don’t fully understand it. We confuse anxiety with effort and will. It’s an entirely different thing. Anxiety consists in making pictures of failure, and thinking ‘What the hell am I going to do when it fails?’ but the will, the directed will and effort is making pictures of success and calmly, without any fever, to actualise these pictures. When we learn to type, we make mistakes, but we don’t curse and swear, “Damn. Blast. T-E-H instead of T-H-E!” Some people get a habit of it. “Oh, damn.” No, this is part of learning to type and it’s not an inferior part when we’re beginners compared with what we are when we’re experts.  It’s formed in one piece.

The trainings form one piece from that complete beginner to the master. In this country, the tigers at any sport, for instance, won’t play with the rabbits, but in judo for instance, however good he is, he’s expected to spend 15 or 20 minutes of the practice period every evening with a beginner, and the beginner up against his master. He tries attacks, attacks. The master moves, doesn’t keep throwing him but he moves and unconsciously, the movement of the master begins to be incorporated.

While the beginners play with each other, they get some wins but they don’t improve. Against a master, though he may never get a single, anywhere near a throw but the mastery is beginning to come into himself. Now, one thing we’re told is that the Buddha-nature is everywhere. There’s no place, no time, and no state in which we’re without it. We’re using it all the time and it is moving through us. Well, it’s quite annoying to be told this, isn’t it?

One example that’s given, for instance, is, supposing I’m looking for my glasses. A friend comes in who knows me very well. “I’m looking for my glasses and I can’t find them” and he says, “You’re looking at them.” I say, “What, where?” He says, “You’re looking at them.” “What, here, you mean?” “No. Shut your eyes and feel.” The power with which I was searching for the glasses is the glasses. If I’ve got bad sight I can’t search without glasses. If I didn’t have the glasses on I wouldn’t be able to look for them.

Now, I’m looking at them all the time. When I’m searching for them, I’m looking at them. The power by which I’m looking, that is what I’m looking for. While I focus on the objective things, on the objects, I won’t see the glasses, but if I shut the eyes and feel, as it were in meditation, then I feel them. The feeling’s always been there, but I didn’t notice it. Again afterwards, when I put them on, I know I’ve got them on by an act of attention. Even though looking at the objects, I can be aware of seeing the glasses in a way although they’re completely transparent, yet in a way I’m aware of them.

This example was given for the Buddha-nature being everywhere and being the power by which we search for the Buddha-nature. There’s something latent in everybody and one example we give was given by Plato and it’s worth knowing this. He wanted to show that all of us, absolutely everyone, has a geometrical sense, which the Greeks then didn’t believe. They thought geometry was something that had to be developed by training.

In Plato’s account, they call in a slave who’s had no training whatever in mathematics at all and they show him a square and they say to him, “We want to draw a square, double the size of this one. What do we do?” He says, “Well, you  double the sides.” Then he showed that when you double the sides of the square, you get, it’s true, a big square, but it’s four times the original square but what he was  being asked to do was to produce a square which is twice the size of this.[Square drawn on a board.] Well now, the slave is asked, who’s had no training in mathematics, completely uneducated so there’s a silence and he says, “I don’t know.”

Then they draw a line. They draw a line here, [diagonal line] and they say to him, “Look, that’s halved the square, hasn’t it? “Yes, yes, if that was a field that would halve it.” This area here is half the original square. He says “Yes.” Then there’s another silence. Then they draw another line. “That halves the square, doesn’t it?” He said, “Yes.” This area would be half of that second square.” He says, “Yes.” Now, Plato says some of the slaves would be able see it now, how to draw a square twice the size of this original square, but others don’t. So, they draw another one. This time some of the remaining ones will see it. This is half the area of that square, this is half the area of that square, this is half the area of that square. No, he still doesn’t see it.

They draw the fourth line and the slave is shown. “This inner square must be half the area of the four. If it’s half the area of the four, then it’s the area twice this one.” Well, then some of them see it after immediately, and some of them see it after some time, but all see it in the end. The example where this applies to our teaching is that the teaching of learning about things like Buddhism, is not a question of piling up more and more information, drawing more and more lines. The lines exist, but they are only so long as he doesn’t see it. A trained mathematician will know at once. If he doesn’t see it, you draw that. If he still doesn’t see it, you draw another one. If he still doesn’t see it, you add further information. If he still doesn’t see it you add further information. The example is given that the study is done, we study until we see it. The study is not a question of piling up information and then suddenly at the end of it, you’ve built on this information and you see it, but it’s a question of some people see it very quickly, others take longer, others take still longer. Then the study and the practice, if done like that, but at any moment one of the slaves may see it. The same way that practice is continued and piled up, in a sense, at any moment it may be seen.

Well, just three very quick ones and about miracles, rainmaking. We had a drought in London over 10 years ago. The Indian community in London sent a message and a donation to a famous rainmaker in India. This was reported in The Times. A friend of mine who is a scientist, he’s a neurologist near the top of his profession. He’s not a blind sceptic. He knows there are things that we have no idea about, but anyway, he thinks a lot of religious practices are mere superstitions.

He said to me, “They’ve sent this message across to this rainmaker and he will try but the fact is, the drought isn’t going to break for another month because we know what the long range forecast is. When he fails, you’ll see, they’ll invent some ingenious excuse why it’s failed. In actual fact, very soon afterwards the rain did fall and the drought broke. I said to him, “The rain did fall, didn’t it? You said that it wouldn’t.” He said, “These long range forecasts are based on the averages over the last 150 years. They’re mainly averages.” I said, “You remember about finding excuses?”

A great scholar and a most remarkable man travelling in Mongolia, went to see the so called Living Buddha there. He wrote a tiny little memoir about it, the early part of the century. He had a famous reputation as a scholar. There was a terrible drought around the city, the name I’ve forgotten, but he was asked if he would do the rainmaking ceremony in Sanskrit. They only could do it in Chinese, the priests there, but they had the Sanskrit text.

He says in his memoir, “Very, very foolishly, I agreed to do this.” He did the rainmaking ceremony in Sanskrit and it rained. He said, “I became a god to the common people and I left the city by night.” He said “It was a very, very foolish thing to have done.”

A great Zen master was begged by the rulers to undertake a rainmaking ceremony. Now, the Zen people don’t do this at all, but there have been a few of them who also have been priests of one of the sects who do have such ceremonies and he agreed to do this. His attendant was strongly opposed to it. He said, “Master, you can’t do this. You know it’s wrong.” The Master said, “Look, when you’re with children sometimes you fall in with what the children want.” His attendant, who was a great figure in Zen, he left early before the master, to go to the altar. They’d raised up an altar of earth for this rainmaking ceremony and he got there. There were a few officials and guards there.

He jumped up on the altar and he urinated on it. He said, “I’ve made rain. They were furious and they arrested him and marched him off. On the way, as he was being marched to the main city for judgment, it began to pour. Everybody had to look at themselves from different angles and find out how they stood, but anyway, he was allowed to go free. Well, I only give those three examples to show that if you can do miracles, what a mistake it is to do them.

On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting place of children,

On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances,

Stars shine, suns blaze, comets whirl, and the children play,

Pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach,

On the seashore of endless worlds, the children play with shouts and dances.


Thank you for your kind attention.


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