Reducing casual thoughts (Q&A)
Damascus House Talk: 12 August 1994 (Q&A)
TPL: I’ve noticed that even in antagonistic sports, very often two well-matched opponents who do have a very hard fight, may like each other. It forms a bond. There’s even a Japanese proverb about it: “the formidableness of the enemy is dear to you” somehow. One doesn’t like a match where they’re not really trying, so it’s this really trying hard and, yet over it all, there’s friendship. Yes, there’s mutual benefit, isn’t there – they would never cheat, but they’ll try very, very hard.
Question: It was interesting what you said about the use of the sitting posture with nerve cases, mental cases – particularly since it was a purely empirical trial on the part of the doctor.
TPL: Yes, he showed me. I saw him for two hours. He does his medical treatment and then he has two other things. One is sitting in the posture and the other is growing roses. He tries to interest the patients in growing roses. He’s got a huge thing of roses there. He’s found this helps, as you say, simply from the experiment.
Question: Has he communicated that to fellow professionals as well?
TPL: Well, he writes in Japanese. He sent me some things. It’s not really my main field of interest. It was chance that brought me in, but I found this an extremely interesting experience of what he’s in.
Question: I bet. In the ’50s, an Australian psychiatrist called Hans Jacobs, recorded his experiences using yoga postures with psychiatrics. He concurred about the sitting postures. He also particularly stressed inverted poses for stabilizing the nervous system and making the organism quiescent.
TPL: I don’t know. I hadn’t heard of that. I used to do a judo meditation class in the early morning and one of the people was a doctor, a woman doctor. She was absolutely festooned with qualifications and she runs two homes for difficult children. She told me that of the meditations, the one that attracts them and that they really take to is the blue sky one – sitting on the seat and throwing the thoughts away under the blue sky. She said some of the difficult ones will take to that, will do it with satisfaction.
Question: I was wondering about that, Mr. Leggett. If you had a difficult child and every time there was a problem, you hit it, it would quickly stop being a problem, wouldn’t it? How would that compare if you sat with thoughts and every time one came up, it was a problem you threw away. Would you solve the problem?
TPL: No, it’s not hitting, it’s throwing the thoughts away. They’re not related to you like a child is. They’re casual thoughts, meaningless, irrelevant.
Question: Where do they come from?
TPL: They come from our past memories because we’ve encouraged them. We spend so much time humming meaningless little television jingles or something like that. We don’t censor our casual thoughts at all, and we can do easily.
Question: I met a monk recently and he could not see the sense in the West of grown men chasing after an inflated piece of air, a football. The amount of effort that they put into that, he couldn’t understand it. Do we have a similar situation in Japan where they could not see the value of competition – men or women chasing after a ball?
TPL: Well, there are two things. One is that it does keep people out of mischief when they’re actually playing it. The other thing is they could be doing something much more useful at the time. It’s got slight benefits. It’s one of the benefits of studying, it keeps you out of mischief. I’ve done a good many years of study, and all the venomous and vicious things that I would’ve done otherwise, I just hadn’t had time for them.
Question: You mentioned the man who chanted, sir. I think you said his whole body vibrated. Is there any record of that practice having therapeutic value?
TPL: I think if it’s done by an expert and controlled by an expert, it might have. Otherwise, it’s a very much second best, because he’s not thinking of the meaning of what he’s doing. But again, it keeps him out of mischief.
Question: In terms of the desperation, and it almost is that, of our medics to find some effective means of treatment for the overwhelming number of patients they have, who are psychiatrically disturbed, and so on – some of them are almost clutching at straws. In these Eastern practices, is there a therapeutic relevance that could be helpful?
TPL: There might be on the fringes. You see it’s like this posture. The purpose of the posture is not to calm nervous, neurotic people, but it can have that effect as Patanjali says, it’s to free you from the opposites. But the purpose is much deeper. My teacher was not particularly keen on taking little bits of the yoga for worldly purposes. He wanted people to practice yoga for its own sake. Now I dare say a number of things could be picked up; but unless the life is controlled to some extent, it’s not why the practices were devised. Realization of the Supreme Self, is the purpose of the Bhagavad Gita.
Question: Last night we had Father Kelly from the house, talking to us. He read out this letter from an old woman in America. She was asked, if she could live her life again, what changes would she make? She said she would have more fun if she did live again. She’d have more ice creams, more goes on the merry-go-round and she wouldn’t take problems so seriously. That obviously sounds like really good advice, but I’m wondering how one would balance that. There needs to be a serious approach to life, but there needs also to be fun and enjoyment, and not take things too seriously. How would that fit in with natural meditation, because meditation seems to be a fairly serious pursuit? Would you describe it as that?
TPL: You’re assuming that there’s no fun in being serious. There’s much more joy and interest in these serious pursuits. There’s much more vitality in life when people have a purpose and go for it. The others are only half alive. They say it’s fun, but actually, it isn’t. It’s always going to be fun next time – something went wrong this time. It’s short term and, again, long term – you can have short-term enjoyment or long-term enjoyment. If you decide you want to have a holiday in Italy, well, you can prepare and you can really see the things in Italy that matter; and that will interest you and give you fresh vitality and probably stimulate your artistic feeling of it.
Well, to do that, you’ve got to study Italian and prepare. That means you’ll have to get up and do these things, have some application. That’s ‘long-term seriousness’ fun. ‘Short-term’ fun is, “Oh, I don’t think I’ll bother today. I feel a bit tired. I’ll pass the day in bed I think”. Well, those people just go to Italy and they see nothing.
An archaeologist told me if you want to see something of what the old ancient world was like, the best place to go is Ephesus. He told me there’s a hill there – I haven’t seen it myself – and a curve of columns. If you get there early in the morning and you’ve read up and understand what it is, then you can get the feeling that you’re back in those days when St. John was at Ephesus.
He told me that he often went there, and he got up early one morning to go and see the dawn. As he walked up the hill, there were two people sitting on the seat at the top of the hill. He thought, “Now, I’ll walk very carefully, I don’t want to interrupt them because they’re enjoying this.” He walked very quietly. And as he came around, he heard them talking. One of them said. “Well, at least I did think when I got to Turkey, the coffee would be all right, but it was terrible.” A bit of a shame, isn’t it?
Some of the discipline in classical Japan was much more than hitting children. I studied a text called a Thousand Character Classic, which has 1,000 characters. None of them is repeated in this classic – it’s a terrible, terrible classic, with difficult characters. If you have to plow through it and write each one 20 times, usually. You’re supposed to learn what they mean, which is very difficult. I learnt from an old priest, who told me that he studied this classic from the same book that his father and grandfather had learnt from, a very old edition. He told me that on some of the pages, there were marks of tears and on some, there were marks of blood.
I thought he was going to say, “Those were terrible barbaric days.” I said to him, “Well, how do you teach it?” He said, “Oh, I’d do it in the same way, if I could get it into those heads.” He was very energetic. It hadn’t crushed him. The Chinese character for ‘to teach’ has three elements. One character makes an old man and another a child. The third character means to hit, so the complete character is ‘the old man hits the child’.
Question: Mr. Leggett, about your first example, the intention hitting the mark, I have to tell you that I had the same example given to me by Rostropovich the other day. He said to me, “Look, if I take this bow and I throw it out the window, I’m going to hit the window because my attention is on the window.” He said, “If I start thinking, how heavy is the bow, and the force of gravity pulling it down, and the force of which I’d have to throw it to hit the window, I’m going to miss.”
TPL: Well, if there’s some teachers here, perhaps they can tell me. Is it still held that education is from the Latin “educare” to lead out? It’s from “educare” to train, isn’t it?
Question: To extract and draw out, yes exactly. It’s exam-oriented really. How can you draw out if they’ve got to learn so much within such a short time? It becomes so specialized.
Question: Is it true to say that meditation will only happen when you’re ready, that you can’t force it? For example, if one wanted to teach it to the young, one couldn’t force them productively. One would have to wait until they felt they wanted to join in.
TPL: It’s worth teaching people to sit still, but not to meditate. In the judo classes I had, we’d have 60 or 70 small kids. At the end of the practice, when sweat was pouring down, you make them sit still on the ground. “Now don’t move, sit still.” Well, then you arrange for somebody to drop something at the other end of the room. The heads go around and it’s, (shouts) “Sit still.” They sit still.
Then the next evening, it’s same thing. You’ll arrange for somebody to knock something over there and their heads go round and you say, (shouts) “Sit still.” Then the third evening, the heads don’t move at all and they’re very, very proud of that. It can be done and then they’ve learnt if when you are about 8 or 10, you can sit still for 5 minutes. Then when you are a grown-up, you can wait and sit still for a long time.
One of the differences in Japan is that they never teach their children to wait. The moment the small children want anything, if it’s possible, they give it to them. If they can’t give it to them, they distract their attention. The children are, what we would call, hopelessly spoiled until they’re about six or seven. The girls admittedly have to give way to the boys, so they’re not so spoiled. Then the system clamps down and they have an awful time because quite suddenly their self-will is hell.
Well now, I’ve often used this example in Japan and I used it in a small book I wrote, which was taken up by the Japanese Ministry of Education. They put it in their reading primer for all the schools, Training In Waiting. I said that when I was a small boy about four or five or six, when my mother came back from shopping, with my brothers, we’d all rush to the door and say, “Mummy, what have you got for me?” Well, then she used to look at us with a very severe face. She’d say, “Now you wait until I’ve gone upstairs and taken my things off.” Then she’d go upstairs.
We had to wait, you see, for five minutes, it’s an absolute eternity. I could remember hanging onto the banisters until she’d come down. Then she’d smile and give us the little presents that she’d always brought to us. Well, no, they don’t do that in Japan. I said, “If at the age of four or five, you can wait for five minutes, you learn to wait for five minutes, then when you are an adult, you can wait for five years.” Japanese people, I don’t mean they can’t wait. They can wait and they do wait – but when the Japanese wait, there’s a tremendous sort of tension inside. British people wait more naturally.