Questions on Yoga and Zen

Question:  What about the crisis in Zen , is it different from a yogi not fearing death?

TPL:   But you are assuming that the Yogi doesn’t fear death.  That isn’t correct while the training is on.  It is correct when the training is completed, but not while the training is on.  This is why the man is training, because he is frightened of death – but this may not be the only reason.  It generally comes down to perhaps three or four reasons.  The thing that really concerns us – it may take years to arrive at it, in Zen or in Yoga – but it is generally either death, or it can be happiness, or it can be knowledge; and it takes a long, long time before we really find out.

Question:  Would you say a little more about the fact that Zen eliminates emotions and Yoga tends to cultivate them.

TPL: I didn’t say quite eliminates it, but it doesn’t cultivate it so much.  Look at the picture of Bodhidharma.  It is partly a convention that his meditation is at the navel point.  This brings the mask into this, but it is Will.  Look at the face of Bodhidharma for ten minutes.  You will see will and if you look very carefully, you might see something else; but the main point is will.

Question: How do you divide these things?

TPL:   What do you want me to divide it in?  Alright – when we face death, that’s emotion; when we are strongly tempted, that’s emotion; when somebody spits in my face, that’s emotion.  There was a painter of the invisible and he was asked to paint the human heart, you see.  He flicked the ink on the man’s face and then he quickly sketched those blazing eyes.  Then he was asked to paint the Buddha nature. Now, how do you think he painted that?  This is what Zen does. It creates an enquiry – one wonders what he did.  Their methods and their stories are very good at catching the mind. It is done in will and enquiry – and the teacher won’t let us off.

Question:  Could I ask you about how detachment comes into Yoga as well as in Zen?

TPL:  Well, in this country it is not so difficult, it ought not to be so difficult.  Cultures vary, but one of the elements of this culture, which is a good one, in which this culture is given to the world, is the idea of sport. The people try at their sport very hard, but they are trained as children not to shout with excitement in victory and not to be furious or depressed when they lose.  And yet they try very hard.  They don’t say, “Oh, it’s only a game, what does it matter?”  This is an example of non-attachment in one limited sphere and my teacher used to say that this point should be easier here for people to grasp.  In many countries the idea of sport isn’t grasped at all.  They play the games, but when they win, the winning team gets up and shouts, and the losing team skulk away and they maybe shave their heads and they are in disgrace.  They are completely attached to it.  There is no non-attachment there; but if you think of what we mean by a good winner and a good loser, it is somehow the same thing.  Now if you try to explain this to someone who hasn’t got this idea, he can’t see that it is the same thing.  He will say, ” Oh, this means that you simply don’t try.”  You do try.

Now as to the training in non-attachment, there are two practices.  When you sit on a hillside or on the beach, you pick up a stone and throw it, and there is a sense of relief.  Many people do this, it is difficult to say why they do it but they do.  One of the Zen practices is actually to go to a hill before the dawn and collect a lot of little pebbles in a bag and sit down on the hill.  As the thoughts come up, simply throw a pebble, as if you are throwing thoughts away.  Then another.  They do this and they find it effective.  In Yoga, as you know, the non-attachment is cultivated by giving a much stronger attachment to the ishta-deva, the object of our worship.  But in Zen, officially, there is no formal worship, and so they do it in that sort of way.  These things are something to be tried.  It takes quite a bit of organising but it is worth trying.

Question: How do we work attachment and detachment out in relation to human relationships?

TPL:  Yes. There are a number of enigmas in there. You see they can’t be explained, they can only be practised.  It can’t be done until there is some inner light and balance.  When you teach, you cannot teach people that you dislike, and you cannot teach people whom you like.  You can’t do it.  The people you dislike, you can’t tell them off.  Not that you can’t praise them, you can’t tell them off properly.  Either you do too much because you think, “I don’t like you, so I ought not to say too much.”   And with the people you like, the teacher, to be successful, has got to be balanced, balanced in himself.  He may like people outside the teaching, but in the teaching area it must be just so much.  More or less is not good and in the same way doctors try not to treat their own families – they don’t see things clearly.

Question:  “Can I just ask one thing, Mr. Leggett, which may have puzzled a number of us?  Is it correct that Zen is concerned, as indeed Yoga is, in the jnana sense, in the annihilation of ‘I’; and on the other hand, that to speak of the will, Zen is concerned with activating will – that is an act of extremely affirmative ‘I-ness’ within the normal view of things.  Triumph of the will is an assertion of ‘I’, which would normally tend to mean an inflation of ‘I’.

TPL:  Do you think assertion of the will is always an affirmation of ‘I’?

Questioner:  I would think we would normally put this construction upon it.

TPL:  No, only if we expect results from it for ourselves. That is when it is an expression of the ‘I’.  And, as a matter of fact, here is an example of the Zen:  In the Yoga they say – perform the actions with great enthusiasm, but you must consign the results to the Lord.  Don’t expect gratitude.  Don’t say, ‘It wasn’t noticed.’  Don’t say, ‘It wasn’t appreciated.’  When it fails, don’t think, ‘I should have done something about that.’  Be able to act very enthusiastically and then – let go.

In the Chinese tradition and also in Japan, they have what is called ‘hidden virtue’ – and that is the only virtue that counts according to some of the Zen masters.  The virtue that anybody knows about is nothing.  It just doesn’t count.   One of the stories (of Honen) is that he was one of the great leaders of the movement singing the mantra of the Buddha of Light.  They went through the villages of Japan and a great wave of devotion came over the people.  He came to a village and they used to chant in the street.  There was a thief with a few underlings and they were watching. A young apprentice thief was impressed, but the thief said, “I don’t like it.  They say this is devotion to Buddha, don’t they?  But it isn’t.  Supposing I fell in love with a woman.  Yes, I might whisper it in her ear, but if I was shouting it all in the street, you wouldn’t call that love, would you?  Of course it’s not.  They are just showing off to get our money.”   Well it so happened that Honen stayed at the same cheap inn where that thief was staying.  In the middle of the night the thief crept round the veranda and peered into Honen’s room.  He saw a tiny light there, like a little nightlight.  Honen was sitting in front of it and with his lips he was saying this mantra without making a sound.  The thief watched.  Honen went on.  Then the thief sneezed and Honen immediately put out the light and went to bed.  The thief went back and in the morning he went and saw Honen and said: “Look, I am going to tell you what happened, and what I have been saying about you.”   Honen said: “No, you are quite right.  What we do in the street isn’t devotion and it isn’t virtue at all.  We do this as a service.  We hope it will bring people to recite the name of Buddha, but it’s nothing that we’ve done.  The only virtue we do, is when we recite the name of the Buddha when nobody knows about it.  I was reciting it.  When you sneezed I knew somebody was watching me.  Then I knew my devotion was no good, so I put out the light and lay down until I should be alone again.”  This is the sort of Zen example.  It needs great will to sit up all night, but it was not an assertion of ‘I’.   It means that somehow it is absolutely secret; but somehow it leaks out and people get to know of all that you are doing, and then, yes, that is an assertion of ‘I’.

The announcer:  A formal affirmation which is not egocentric, but which is harnessing the energies of the individual.  At the beginning it is egocentric, but at the end it becomes less and less.  And this is seemingly not the same thing as what was written about by Nietzsche in his “Triumph of the Will”, the gospel of the superman, that so appeals to the mass egocentricity of pre-war Germany, and perhaps not the same thing as one may hear about in magic practices, in which the will is harnessed in order to gain some alleged occult power.

TPL:  Yes , After all, Nietzsche listed six supermen in the History of the Will.  The seventh superman he didn’t list.  From which you were expected to draw the conclusion.  (Laughter).

Question:  Does what you say imply that Zen people will always do their devotions on their own without any other Zen followers around?

TPL:  No, but some teachers say that the real devotion is what is called Yaza, when the man is meditating by himself alone.  And one man told me that when it was raining in the night, he got up and saw his teacher sitting in a corner, a dark corner, and he watched him.  He noticed that there was a bucket, which was catching the water drops at the corner.  After about an hour that bucket was full of this pure rain water, and then the teacher took it and washed the lavatories with this pure water.  Once the teacher found out that this was known.  They say that’s the real one.  Of course they do good devotions, but the real one is when people don’t know.

Announcer:  It must be very difficult to carry out anything secretly in the real world.

TPL:   No, not so difficult you know.  You give a donation to a hospital if you are rich and up goes your name in the room, doesn’t it.  If you’re poor, of course, you can’t do that, so your name won’t be up.  So the right man makes sure that somehow the extent of his donation is known.  No, there are other ways of keeping something secret.  They say the more secret it is, that’s the real virtue.  But the test in Yoga, our teacher gave this example.  The woman was carrying a tray to offer to the temple with the flowers and the fruits beautifully arranged.  She’d spent hours on it.  Then, as she comes to the temple, she trips and they all fall in the dust.  Then, without being disturbed, she picks them up and dusts and cleans them and arranges them again.  Now most of us think, when we have taken a tremendous lot of trouble and it goes wrong, that somehow there ought to be some sort of spiritual arrangement for preventing these things.  “After all we’ve done, there should be a little bit of appreciation.” (Laughter)

Question: What is the difference between the Zen Roshi and the Yogic Guru?

TPL:  Yes there are parallels, but in the case of Yoga the Guru is to direct the man’s attention to the ishta-deva, the form of the incarnation of the Lord or the form of the Lord.  In Zen there isn’t that and, in a certain sense, the dependence on the teacher is very important in Zen.  Very important.  In Yoga they say, if he is a bad teacher but his devotion to the Lord is strong, He will speak, even through this bad teacher. There are accounts in the upanishads where the teacher doesn’t give instructions, instead he hears it from the fire and the animals.  The Lord speaks to him through that and gets the inspiration through.  In Zen the attention is on the teacher.  It is a very strong attachment and the teacher sometimes breaks the personal attachment by behaving in awkward ways sometimes.

Announcer:  Could I ask for comments on a question which very frequently occurs.  What are the differences between individual meditation and group meditation?  You did just briefly touch on that.

TPL:  Well, again, it depends on people, and it also depends on the stage that people are at.  It is a bit like physical exercise.  When people do anything, at the beginning, they are full of,  “You know my arms have always been like this, and you know I can’t do that, and this movement doesn’t suit me.”  It sometimes takes months or years to die down.  Some people never get over it but, if they do train, then in the end they find they can all do what is to be done.  When they do that, then the teacher looks at them with quite a different eye, and then you can see the real individual differences. And then the teacher trains slightly differently, sometimes considerably different, and the teacher has to be very careful.  Sometimes people get obsessed with theory, because they are a little bit scared of practice.  One man, for instance, you say to him: “Look, cut out the theory for three months, no theory, just practice”.  Before you know where you are everybody is whispering:  “No theory, no theory at all.”  And then you have to give a formal statement, “You never get anywhere without it.”  A short cut or special things, for some reason, I don’t know what they think that is, that it can somehow be wangled. 

Well, at the beginning many people, and especially people who have got all sorts of quirks, it is very useful for them to sit in a group and they see everybody is doing it; and when the time goes by and people aren’t disturbed, that is often a great support.  We don’t need that so much in this country.  We have quiet and security, we haven’t got mosquitoes feeding on us, and we haven’t got snakes crawling around.  We haven’t got earthquakes, “Are we going to sit there when the whole building starts to shake?”  The monks do.  They don’t get up.  If it comes down, it comes down.  We haven’t got any of these, so we are pretty well off.  But, just the same, we invent new ones for ourselves and then group meditation is a very useful thing.  When people have made some progress, well then, they often have to do individual practices.

Question:  It seems to me that there are two ways to realisation, and that you are discussing only one of these ways, the way through a personal Godhead.  There is a way of attaining realisation without a personal Godhead and people like Rama Krishna had to go through that Godhead in the end in order to get full realisation.

TPL:   Traditionally, it is what you said.  They go through the path of devotion and, as I did say, when it comes to the very end, then he says, “The God whom you worship is the God in yourself. And he who worships another God, thinking He is one and I am another, he does not know.”  This is in the Upanishad.  For an active man in the world, he must worship, he must do actions without being attached to the results, he must do some austerity to obtain some independence from the pairs of opposites, and he must practise meditation.  Those four, and one of them is worship.  And although it sounds fine to say, “I don’t need worship” – walking, going, sleeping, standing, eating, I am in samadhi all the time, as Hakuin said, “There is nothing wrong in saying that, but in actual practice you are not in samadhi all the time.  Until you are, you have to practise meditation, you have to practise the formal path.”

The path of the attributeless, the Gita says, is the more difficult path.  While things are going well it is alright, but when things aren’t going well, then sometimes we find there is nothing to put our weight on at all.  These words we have been using, the attributeless, the infinite, vastness, non-egoity, it’s all passing about up here and it is like throwing stones into a wave or water tanks with butterflies or something.  It is all nothing.  Sometimes people give up Yoga then.



© Trevor Leggett



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