Reducing casual thoughts
Damascus House talk: 12 August 1994
TPL: Well, the reason I’m in this trouble is that I failed to put anything down. If I put the things down, I can pick them up when I want them and use them when I want them and put them away. This is one of the important principles of the Gita – to be able to put things down. Normally, when we live, I’m doing something but I’m thinking of what I was last doing and what I’m going to do in half an hour’s time. I’m talking to someone and we’re making an arrangement, but all the time I’m thinking, “I’ve never much liked you, really. I’ll find some way of getting my own back.” Or on the contrary, “How am I doing?” “I can’t put things down. I can’t just talk. I can’t just do the things. I’ve got all this extra paraphernalia in the mind, which I can’t put down.”
One of the important trainings in the Gita is to learn to put thought down, to use it when we want it and it’s sensible. Then to be able to put it down and be myself. If you’d like, we can try one of the practices which is given for doing this, for two or three minutes. So if you sit reasonably upright and shut or half-shut the eyes. Now think, “I’m on a hilltop with the view to the horizon, just the hilltop under the blue sky, sitting on a seat. In my lap, I have a cloth with a number of little pebbles. I’m sitting there balanced, at ease.” A thought comes up, “I needn’t have paid so much for that the other day. I might try…” Feel that we pick up a pebble, mentally, and throw the pebble and the thought away together, so it rolls down the hill away. Then another thought comes up, “They’ll never get away with…” Pick up a pebble in your mind with that thought and throw it away, so it goes down the hill. If we continue doing this, the thoughts will become less.
No thought can arise in the mind unless I put my vital energy into it. By constantly throwing them away, I reduce the vital energy into the thoughts. Then they begin to come less; then I’m sitting under the blue sky at ease. I’m troubled by these casual, meaningless thoughts. If you’d like to try, you’re sitting on a hilltop under the blue sky. In the lap, a cloth with pebbles. As a thought comes up, mentally pick up a pebble and wrap the thought around it and throw them both away down the hill. Then another thought comes up, throw it away. Not angrily, not furiously, just throw it away with a pebble. If you’d like to try for two or three minutes, take a big breath and then begin.
The ability to reduce the casual thoughts – as one teacher used to say, “It’s not your great passionate thoughts that really hold you up. You’ll suffer for them, but you can learn and you can recover. It’s the silly, meaningless, pointless casual thoughts that you fill your mind with all the time and play with all the time. That’s how you waste your lives in nothing.”
Another way of showing it is this. If we shake hands and his hand is strong, fixed, I can pull. But if his hand is lean and supple, it’s more difficult. Teachers say, “These thoughts will sometimes come up. Thoughts of fear, thoughts of temptation will come up – but don’t shake hands with them.” If there’s no interest, then they can’t pull you. You might say, “Well, how could you do that?” We can. Most of the things we’re pulled by, we know – they’re not really of much meaning. We do them because other people expect us to or because we can’t think of anything else to do. We’ve got a vague idea it might turn out all right, better than last time. Actually, there’s not much to them and we can simply give up interest. It doesn’t mean not to be interested in things ever, but only when we want to have the hand strong, when we want to be able to make it. These are physical illustrations which are given and they’re quite helpful to some people, rather than being told something theoretical.
The casual thoughts, the thoughts of involvement of our personality or our future or our past, or just completely meaningless, pointless casual thoughts, they’re all around us and they affect our action. It’s like trying to play the piano in boxing gloves, with this big clump of prejudices and thoughts, “I don’t care for this. What about that? It’s a bit boring.” It’s like a boxing glove around the hand. There’s no sensitivity, there’s no control, and it affects our movement.
One teacher used to say that (if we want to meet up with someone crossing a playing field, we calculate our path so that we’ll both arrive at the same point and same time on the other side of the field. But if when I begin walking, I start thinking, “How’s this going to affect my relationship with so and so?” then by the time I reach that meeting point, the other person is further on.) The connection with a physical art where we have precision, accuracy and speed is very important. If you have other things in your mind, if you have other considerations, your movement will be adversely affected.
You’re typing away happily and somebody comes and stands here. “Who is it? Is it the boss?” Now I start typing badly. Or else, if I think, “Well, it may be the boss. I can’t really see.” then I start typing very carefully, so that I won’t be seen to be an inaccurate typist and he’d sack me. “On the other hand, if he sees me typing very slowly, perhaps he’ll sack me anyway.” All these thoughts come in and my typing falls to pieces. That figure then turns out to be our office boy. It’s not affecting my typing directly but my thoughts about my typing. So the directive to the fingers is tangled up, and the action becomes inefficient and often counterproductive.
There’s a temple in India and an old man is polishing the temple by himself, keeping it clean by himself. He always hopes some young people will come and give him a hand, but they don’t and so he gives up this notion. When the visitors come, he works like mad so they’ll say, “That old man is working so hard, you see, we must give him a hand.” What they actually say is, “He’s working like mad. He could never keep that up. It’s just a ham-acting show put on for our benefit.” That’s all, he gets no credit at all. Well, finally, he gives all that up and he cleans the temple by himself and
Then some young people do come to join him, and one of them says, “When we are cleaning and polishing the stones we get tired – but you don’t seem to get tired.” The old boy said to him, “Well, what are you thinking of when you start one of the stones?” He said, “I suppose I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’ve done three, then I’ve got this other row and that’ll be the quota for the day. So I’ll do this one carefully and then I’ll move on to that one.”
The old man said, “Well, I don’t say it’s bad, but while you think like that you will get tired”. “Well, what are you thinking?” The man said, “Well, when I’m polishing the stone, I’m thinking of God in the stone; and as I polish it, I feel that, as the stone begins to shine, the true nature of the stone is a shining force. I don’t think how many there are to do or that I’ve done that one. I just think of this one and it begins to shine. So,” he said, “I find I don’t get tired.”
Well, there’s nothing like trying these things. The next time one has a long, boring tedious job to do, we can try it like that. The first time we used a typewriter, I suppose nobody can remember now, but it was magic. You press and then there’s this beautiful sharp outline inked on the page. It’s wonderful – but we soon forget all that when it just becomes a chore. But if we live into it, and don’t think how much I’m going to get paid, and whether he’s doing the same job and getting paid more, then we appreciate what we’ve got, and it begins to shine. Now, this can’t be explained more, but if these jobs are done and the mind is clear of the thoughts of before and after, and what I get and what I didn’t get, all the casual thoughts, then the object and the work begin to shine.
The teachers say, if we practice it for six weeks and then three months, we should begin to feel this. Now, that is in movement. In meditation, there’s a stillness and in that case, we can go deeper into what’s in ourselves, our real nature in ourselves. Now, as practising yogis, you know the ideal position is sitting on the floor with one leg on the opposing thigh, if possible, and the hands drawn in. The limbs are drawn in towards the centre of the body. The physical act is to draw in the limbs for those who can manage it, otherwise, they just bring their hands in and mentally withdraw.
One of the traditions is of the point just below the navel. Of course, the distances of the proportions of the body differ in different people, but the indication is that it’s the middle joint of the middle finger, that distance on each person. It’s that distance below the navel, perhaps an inch or less. If you’d like to bunch the fingers and press them in just below the navel, and then tense the muscles at the navel, at the abdomen, so that you feel a little pressure from the bunched fingers in the body, just a light pressure. Take the hand away and use the after-sensation to bring your mind to that point. Those of you who would like to try, bunch the fingers just about half-an-inch or an inch below the navel.
This point is manipulated in Judo to bring somebody back from unconsciousness, but it’s rather difficult to do, and I don’t want to go into it now. It’s an important point. Just press in there, tense the muscles behind it, and then take the hand away and feel that point. There are various hints in some of the statues of the Buddha. There are two lines which converge at the navel. The curve of the mouth, it is said, is the arc of a circle, the centre of which is at the navel. There are various, so to speak, secret conventions in some of the statues, but the purpose is to indicate, to bring the attention to this point.
If we’ve got to wait for an hour and then, perhaps, face something in pain, or we have to go into action suddenly, what tends to happen is that the prana, or what the Chinese called ‘chi’, goes to the extremities. We’ll start fiddling with our hands and the face. Now, instead of that, bring the attention to the navel point. If we feel nervous, we must move – but instead of moving, shifting, and fidgeting, just tense the muscles here. Sometimes the monks give a little growl (to sense this point). If we have to wait, maybe in very difficult circumstances, threatening circumstances, then it’s worth knowing this, to bring the attention here.
A doctor of a big hospital in Tokyo, Dr. Suzuki, he treats those who have nervous breakdowns, which quite a lot of Japanese executives and the workers are having, because they get overstressed. He told me that those who are reasonably flexible in the limbs, and they’re often young people, he teaches them to sit with one foot up. He’s a sceptic, he’s not interested in Buddhism or Zen or anything like that, but he teaches this posture to some of the patients in the hospital. He’s found from experience that some of them take to it, because they find that simply sitting in this posture, calms them.
So in the hospital, there’s a corridor with little round meditation cushions on a little platform to the side of the corridor, and any patient can go there at any time and just take a cushion and just sit there. You wouldn’t think they would, but they do. They find this is one of the best ways, when they’re getting tensed, to calm themselves. Dr. Suzuki told me, “The posture itself, I found, it calms.” He also said to me, “It’s very good for the nurses too, because they know where the patients are and they know they’re not doing anything. They’re not getting into mischief and so the nurses encourage it.”
Well, this is just a little example from a materialist scientist. He treats these cases on orthodox, well nearly orthodox, medical lines; but he has found from experience that teaching this posture brings a benefit to the patients and the patients confirm it. He doesn’t make it a fixed routine, making them do it. Once they’ve been shown it and just initiated into it for a few days, they themselves tend to go.
Now, in motion, the analysis is that first there’s the thought, the intention to move, to do something. I intend to pick up a pencil. If I can see it, I intend to pick it up. Now my hand goes out to pick it, and then there’s a use of force when I pick it up. The critical thing is the intention and then the movement. There’s a gap. If the practice of dropping unnecessary thoughts is persisted in, then that gap will become less and less and finally disappear. Then the intention and the movement are one, and the actions become very efficient, as I said.
This is just a hint of something that has to be practised. Now there’s a state beyond that, which comes to people who practise meditation regularly, and that will be when the actions begin to take place of themselves. This is something that will come to people who practise meditation quite seriously for quite a time. It can come by chance to anyone, but when it comes by chance, it can’t be repeated. People have a moment when this inspired action takes place. They say, “I don’t know how! I didn’t do it. It happened by itself. The thought just came. I didn’t think it out.”
Linus Pauling was a very successful chemist, consistently productive over a long life, which is unusual for a scientist. Generally, they make one big discovery at the beginning and live on that for the rest of their career. But he was consistently productive. Now, he said, “For dealing with problems that defeat me, I deliberately make use of,” what he called “my subconscious mind, whatever that means. I concentrate on the problem for two or three weeks, then I deliberately forget it. b It’s not easy, but by practice now I can forget it.” He said, “Weeks, months, even years later, as with the structure of Alpha-keratin, the answer, ready-made, suddenly pops into my head. I haven’t thought it out.”
Many mathematicians have this. Poincaré, the glory of French mathematics, he writes of it. He said, “It means there’s something in me, which is more intelligent than I am, and I should hate to think that.” Our Western psychology can give no account of this at all. They tried to say, “Well, perhaps the unconscious can try many different hypotheses,” but that’s not the point. The point is, that the correct hypothesis is recognized and presented, which is a high-level activity. It’s an experience in meditation that, if it’s practised for a good period and the life is reasonably controlled, then these moments of inspiration will come, and life will begin to change.
One of the applications of this is given in the form of a story, and these concrete examples are often extremely useful. There was a man who was practicing yoga. But he was a nervous man, and he was always wondering what he would do if this or this, or this happened; and working out what he ought to do, a proper thing to do, in advance so that he would be ready. He used to do this and that meant that quite a bit of his thinking was occupied with wondering if this or that was going to happen and how he could meet it. Sometimes he could work out a plan in advance, but that didn’t make him any less nervous. He was full of plans for meeting contingencies, but he still suffered from the same nervousness.
Well, he asked the teacher of meditation what he could do about this and the teacher said, “You’re swimmer, aren’t you, you’re an expert swimmer. Well, I’ve heard there’s something called a racing dive. Could you show me?” So the man, of course says, “Yes, I’d like to show you.” Because he wants to show off his skill. So they went together to the baths, the expert swimmer changed and then they walked together along the side of the bath to the end, where he was going to show how you did the racing dive. Well, as they were walking on, the teacher suddenly pushed him in. He went in like that but, of course, as a swimmer, he turned and came straight back out.
The teacher said, “How is it, you came out here so quick?” He said, “I’m a good swimmer, as you know.” The teacher said, “But surely you’ve never gone into the water like that. Have you?” and he said, “No, nobody would go in the water like that unless of course they were pushed!” So the teacher said, ” Well, how on earth did you know what to do then?” and he replied, “Teacher, I don’t know what I did, I’m a swimmer. I simply came out.” The teacher said, “Well, now it’s the same in life. You don’t have to go on making plans in case this or that happens, because you are a meditator. Whatever happens, if you are a meditator, yes, you’ll go in, but you’ll come out, because you’re a meditator. You don’t need to make plans in advance like that.”
This sort of example can sometimes be quite useful to us. People often say, “If there’s a God, why does He allow all the evil and injustice and cruelty in the world? If there’s a compassionate Buddha, why does he allow this?” All sorts of answers are given to this and there’s a lot of very fast talking – but the answers generally are not satisfactory, because they’re not the true answer.
Now for a Christian, the true answer is to think of the great Christ, not the little Christ. A Zen teacher said to me, “I don’t know why outside their churches they’ve got the dead body.” The great Christ! That teacher had read the Bible. The great Christ is in texts like Colossians at the beginning: ‘Christ is everything’. Just before Christ leaves his disciples, he says, “The Holy Spirit is in you, you know him.” These texts get somehow onto a siding.
A man, who was a Christian, asked his yoga teacher, “Why does God allow these things, these dreadful things to happen in the world.” The teacher said to him, “Do you yourself contribute to these evils that you are so distressed about?” He thought and then after a bit, he said, “Well, yes, I’m ashamed to say that I have done mean and cruel things.” The teacher said, “You are Christ. Christ is everything. You are Christ. Why do you allow yourself to do these things?”
The true question has to be asked. God is in us. We have to ask ourselves and go deeper and deeper and deeper, until we find the God in ourselves and then say, “Why? Why do I allow these things?” Well, it’s just a hint, just an instruction, how to approach this problem. Not look up and say, “Why did you do all these things? Why do you let these things happen?”, but to go deeper and deeper into the Self.
Now we can say, “What does it mean, what does it mean, what does it mean?” In meditation, we have to reduce the thoughts – reduce the casual thoughts, then reduce the passionate thoughts and, finally, reduce the thoughts of the individual ‘I’. In the gap that’s left when the thoughts have been removed, in the first little gap, there has to be ‘seeing’ – a looking calmly and carefully, a glimpse of immortality. Not to believe in immortality after the death: “Yes, I believe, I believe, I believe. I’m sure – well, I’m almost sure.”; but to look within, reduce the casual thoughts, reduce the passionate thoughts, reduce the thoughts of individual egoism, and look deeper. Then he can get a glimpse of immortality and, after that, life will never be the same.
The Gita says, “As in this life one casts off the worn-out clothes and puts on others that are new, so in the life to come. The soul casts off the worn-out clothes and puts on others that are new.” In yoga, the aim is to see the one who wears the clothes, not to look at the different clothes – for a moment to have a glimpse of immortality. Then, life will change. It’s not a question of faith or belief or hope. While it remains a question of faith or belief or hope, it’s always liable to change. If there’s one experience, then it’s different.
One of the examples that’s given in one of the texts is of two men travelling in the desert. They believe that there’s an oasis in the direction they’re going, but they’re not absolutely certain. Well, if you’ve ever had it, it’s the most unpleasant position to be in – because you think, “Yes, I’m sure it’s there.” and you go on and on and on. Then you think, “Well, if it isn’t there, we’re getting further and further away, aren’t we? So one man, he’s still thinking, “I hope it’s there. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do but keep on and hope.” But the other man who knows, he thinks, “Every step coming closer to it.” Well, that’s one example given by Swami Vidyaranya. This is the difference between belief and faith which can be very complete – but it’s still faith. It should be confirmed at least by a flash. Those who are eager for this, they practise it.
In Zen, students have to drive at experience; but there are devotional sects in Japan which are similar to some of our Christian sects and they recite the sutras in faith. One of the disciples of this Zen master had to go into the country and he had to stay overnight. He went in the evening to the local temple and he attended a service there. He came back and he said to his teacher the next day, “It was so impressive. The peasants were there, and you could feel this absolute faith that they had, hearing the resonant voice of the preacher intoning these sonorous Chinese monosyllables.” He said, “It was wonderful, perfect faith.” The teacher said, “Yes, it is very impressive, that. The only one who might have his doubts would be the preacher himself.”
We’re expected to go beyond rituals, beyond things which are exalting but which when repeated, gradually become flat and become just gabble. Books which exalt us – we read them again and again and again, and they lose this power of life. What happens? How to keep the vitality?
Zen people also recite the sutras, the chants. Some of them get very good at this chanting. The whole body vibrates with this set of syllables. There are some who are very good at it and they are rather proud of it. One such man, he went out into the countryside, and he used to do quite a long recitation which he couldn’t memorize. It was from a long sutra and he used to do it every night. One day he had to leave for the country in a hurry and somehow, he failed to pack the book of sutras.
When he arrived at the deep country and put up at the inn, he unpacked his things. He was going to do his recitations, not in a loud voice, but with this inner vibration. Then he found he hadn’t got the book. He went down and he spoke to the landlord. He said, “Have you got a copy? I know it’s not one of the ordinary sutras, but have you got a copy that I could borrow just for these days?” The landlord was talking to a rather striking-looking man, with a handsome face, but rather contemptuous, perhaps. The landlord said, “Well, I doubt if you’ll get a copy of that in this village.
He said, “Oh, no. This is going to interrupt my regular recitations, which I always do.” Then the other handsome, striking man left suddenly. So the man telephoned his teacher in Tokyo and said, “Look, I always do my recitation, as you know, for an hour every evening and now I haven’t got the book.” The teacher said, “Well, if you haven’t got the book, sit down and instead of reciting it, think, “What does it mean? What did the Buddha mean when he gave these words?” The man replied, “But I recite. I feel uplifted by this recitation. I’ll miss that.” He went down again and then this arrogant man came back with a copy of the sutra. He said, “My wife is a devotee. I had an idea that she might have a copy and so I borrowed it for you. Please take it and use it while you’re here.” So the man said, “Thank you.” and went upstairs to do the recitation.
Well, he came down again after the recitation. He talked to the landlord a bit and the landlord said, “That was a real surprise. You know that man, his nickname here is Devil – and there you were, happy about your copy of the sutra. For goodness sake – the Devil went out, went round to his wife and got a copy of the sutra and gave it to you!” The man thought, “Yes, this is extraordinary. What’s happening? I’ve received this from the Devil.” So he telephoned his teacher again and told him what had happened. The teacher said, “Yes, he doesn’t want you to think about the meaning of the sutra. He wants you to go on reciting, without thinking of the meaning – just proud of your recitation.” Then he said, “Put the book aside and think of the meaning.”
Well, this is a story, for going deeper into our practices that we do, to find new life in them and inspiration. If we practise, not only there will be some experiences, but there will be an awareness of the cosmic purpose. We can become one with the cosmic purpose – it’s an inspiration. We think, “Well, we’re not famous scientists, or artists or writers, we don’t get inspirations.” Yes, you do. St. Francis – of course, there’s a tremendous picture of him – but he called himself ‘God’s busker’, jongleur – it means something like a busker for street entertainment. He wasn’t this very refined man that we think of. He wrote just two or three things. One of them is called The Canticle of Creative Beings. It’s very famous and very short. If we just read it now, and then I’ll say something about it that you may find it a bit surprising:
The Most High, Omnipotent and Good Lord; To You alone praise, glory, and honour and all benediction. To You alone, oh Highest, do they belong. No man is worthy to name You. Praise be, My Lord, through all your creatures; Especially my Lord brother, Sun; who is the day and through whom we have light. Beautiful is he and shining with great splendour. Of You, oh Most High, he bears the lightness. Praise be, My Lord to sister Moon and the stars in heaven. You have made them bright and precious and beautiful. Praise be, My Lord, through brother Wind and through breezy; And cloudy and serene and every weather. Praise be, My Lord, through our sister Water; Who is so useful and humble and precious chaste. Praise be, My Lord, through brother fire; Through whom the night is very bright. He is fine and joyful and powerful and strong. Praise be, My Lord, through our sister Mother Earth who sustains and brings for us different fruits; With coloured flowers and herbs. Praise be, My Lord, through those who forgive for love of You and endure weakness and tribulation. Blessed are those who continue in peace, for by You, Oh Most High, they shall be crowned. Praise be, My Lord, through our sister Bodily Death; From whom no man living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom she finds doing Your most Holy Will; For the second deaths will do them no ill. Praise and bless my God; And render thanks and serve him with great humility.
This is one of the most famous poems in the world. It’s a masterpiece. But, technically, it’s very poor indeed. The lines in the original are not in Italian – there was no Italian. There was the Umbrian dialect, and educated people didn’t speak that. All the educated people, in what is now Italy, spoke French. The troubadours came through Italy but they sang in French. This is the first poem in the Umbrian dialect. It doesn’t scan, it only rhymes by chance, the verses are unequal in length. Technically it’s very poor. But this is the first poem in anything to be called Italian. There were no poems in that dialect, or others, before him. Francis’ disciples imitated this poem and gradually set up a poetic tradition among the Franciscans, which came to flowering with Dante, the great masterpiece in Italian, what is now Italian. As the Italians proudly say, it began to civilize Europe.
It began with this, which technically is so poor – but through inspiration, it’s so wonderful. This was not by an accomplished poet at all, but it was divine inspiration. It has changed the lives of many people and the literary critics still hold that this is one of the best poems in anything that came from Italy. Now, there’s prayer attributed to St Francis which Prime Minister Thatcher has quoted. It is very well-known and again, there’s a little bit of a surprise.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me show love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled; As to console; To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Now they say only St Francis could have written that – but he didn’t. There’s no Italian original, not at all. It first appeared in a French magazine in the middle of the last century. Nobody knows who wrote it. It was on a page opposite a picture of St Francis. So it was assumed by people everywhere that this was a poem by St Francis; but it wasn’t. It must’ve been written by a sub-editor of the magazine, probably a woman, completely unknown. This prayer is now one of the best-known religious texts and one of the most beautiful. Well, these are examples of inspiration, not of people who’ve trained and trained and trained. They could get inspirations too, but it’s not confined there. It can come through these sources.
There was an old woman, early in the century, who was looking after her little grandson, whose parents had both died in the village where they were. She lived by doing some cleaning and washing. She had a pretty hard time bringing up the boy. She made sure that everybody knew she did have a hard time with it, and she didn’t have very many friends. Near the village, there was a retired master of calligraphy with the brush, which is a very highly developed art in the East. In China and Japan it’s rated above painting. He had retired there and he took an interest in the education of the village children.
He told the grandmother, “The boy is bright and he ought to go on past middle school and high school to a university. I know the president of one university in the capital and he has scholarships for promising students. I think if I recommended your boy, very likely the university would take him.” She said, “Well, of course, I’d be terribly lonely, but for the boy’s sake, I agree.” Now when the boy passes the exam for university entrance, the master said, “Well, come round and I’ll give you the fare to the capital. You can take my letter of introduction to the president, and he’ll see the boy and give his decision.” So she went to get this letter.
This calligraphy master was very famous – retired, but very famous. She thought, “Now I’m really going to see something”, because she knew he’d got brushes there, which came from special hairs from some place in China. But he didn’t pick up any of the brushes he had there. Instead, he picked up an old pencil stub about two inches long. Then he just made two little cuts and scribbled on the paper, and he didn’t sign it or seal it. He put it in an envelope, and he addressed that very carefully and said, “Give that to the president.” She felt so embarrassed. She thought, “It’s just a scribble. Anybody could have written that. The president will throw us out.”
But she was too embarrassed to say anything. She took the envelope and the fare money and they went up. She handed the envelope to the president’s secretary and he saw them immediately. As they went in, he was looking at this scribble and he said, “It’s a masterpiece, who else could have done it? He’s got such control. He’s using a blunt pencil, but he’s got such control that he can imitate the brush strokes. I’m going to keep this, this wonderful thing. Certainly, I’ll take the boy, or anyone recommended by him.”
The boy went and lived in the capital at the university, but she found she wasn’t quite as lonely as she thought she’d be. People got into the habit of dropping in on her and they’d bring little presents. Then one day, one of them said to her, “Do you know why people like me come to see you?” She said,” No.” The other one said, “Well, you used to complain rather a lot and it was a bit wearing, but now you don’t complain at all. In fact, you say very little; but when we go away from here, we find we’ve got new strength to face life and new courage. That’s just from having been with you for half-an-hour. It’s nothing you’ve said, but we find we’ve changed. I’m just wondering what made the change in you?”
The old lady told her the story of the pencil stub and then she said, “When we came back, I kept thinking, why did he do it? He had all those beautiful brushes, why did he use that pencil stub? The president said it was a masterpiece, but why did he do it?” She said, “It haunted me. I kept thinking, the pencil stub, the pencil stub. Then one morning I woke up and I suddenly thought, ‘I’m the pencil stub. My life is nearly worn out, my mind is old and blunt, but with just two little cuts, cutting away my selfishness, the hand of the Buddha can write a masterpiece.’ Since then,” she said, “I’ve felt strength holding me and peace within.”