Interviewer: Mr Leggett, sir, have we lost the feeling of the spirit in the West?
Mr Leggett: Well, people very often don’t want inner peace. They want to win, or they want to be comfortably off – to hell with everybody else. There are some in whom this is beginning to stir. Now, the responsibility is on those people actively to try to develop the Buddha nature in themselves. That’s where the responsibility is.
We can’t expect that the world, in general, will practice. Something will be transmitted, unconsciously, on the people who are practicing and it will have an effect. If the people who are in a position have some faith in others.
You see a teacher of music, when you’re about seven, or eight, what you like are the Strauss waltzes. It’s no good people coming up and saying, “You’ve got to like Bach.” You think, oh God, not that stuff. What the teacher does, he has got faith in the music, in that pupil. He knows, quite well, that the pupil isn’t going to like Bach or Beethoven, or any of them, any of the others, but he gives him a little.
He says, “Now, look, do this. Afterwards you can play your” – well in my time it was jazz but he just said, “Look, afterwards you can play your jazz but I want you to learn this, this variation.” So, you learn some boring Beethoven variations. You just play them and you chuck them and then you get on to what you’re really interested in, Alexander’s Ragtime Band or something like that.
As you grow up, those things begin to stir. He can’t create the change but he can facilitate it. In the same way, people who practice spiritually will facilitate the change in people, but it can’t be forced. Now, when you get religions, and you get property, you get organization and so on – well, in some points it can be good – but very often that becomes a substitute for actually doing any. The early Quakers would sometimes wrestle with their meetings for seven hours, seeking for the inner light. In three generations they had to have an awakener, going round waking people up, after the first hour because they were all falling asleep. By that time, they were better off. They’d formed a little coterie. They were honest. So, they were successful in business but they say that themselves, not without humour, and they’re quite right.
Interviewer: Over the years, sir, I’ve heard you, many times, allude to the arts in a way that suggests that the arts of various times have a part to play in the evolution of consciousness. Do you, in fact, see it that way?
Mr Leggett: Yes. This is one of the ways in which the feelings are canalized and refined and become creative. In India they say that the arts are children of the great God of love, and the fury of the section of the arts can be refined and can create beauty through art.
Interviewer: Has not the Pope said that Bach has done more to turn man’s mind to God than any saint?
Mr Leggett: Well, it’s a half truth and a very important… there’s a very, very important point. That the music is a wonderful help but it’s very easy to stick at the help and forget what you’re helping. As an example, Bach’s famous chorale, ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’, it’s one of the most famous. It’s lovely, beautiful, and nearly everybody can appreciate it but nobody knows the second line. We know the music but not the words, not the ideas, which it’s supposed to bring up. The help, the music has taken over. It can happen with sport and it can happen with austerity, it can happen with all these things, but one can lose the actual centre. The Kobo Daishi School, for instance, it taught the Buddhism in one section.
Then it taught the secular arts and Confucianism in the other and it taught calligraphy, it taught writing, it taught administration. The thought in Buddhism has been very wide, it has been free. It is enormously wide, the Buddhist thought. There’s everything from absolute affirmation to absolute negation.
In comparison with Buddhist thought, Christian thought is very narrow, because we burnt alive most of the people who thought differently. Well, it’s quite marked. Again, Buddhists, the logic and the intellectual development in Buddhism, tremendous, and did become an end in itself. When the meditation began to be lost, the life began to go out.
Interviewer: Therese is wondering how can we balance discipline and this letting go?
Mr Leggett: What is this letting go?
Interviewer: To let the Buddha current reach us? Can we reach it without letting go, do we need discipline to learn to let go?
Mr Leggett: Well, let’s take an example from art. When we learn a piece of music, we learn the notes, we can play it. The teacher says, “Play it to the metronome mark that’s written.” He sets the metronome going tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and we play it exactly like that. Bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, tick, tick, tick, tick. Bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, tick, tick, tick, tick.
When we can play it, then the teacher is going to say, “Now, find your own tempo, find your own tempo.” Oh, you can play, tick, tick, tick. “No, no, no. Now experiment, find the tempo.” You think, well, I played it right. Forget all that, forget all those instructions. Now find it, let go now. All that tick, tick, tick, all those rules. You’ve got to have had the rules first.
That’s wrong, this is right, but the time will come when you’ve got to forget them all and just speak and a lot of people can’t do that. Japanese love grammar, they learn all the senses and they think them out first. He says, “It is oppressively sultry today.” You know, there’s hundreds and thousands of words and phrases, but it all comes out like that. The Chinese is much better, he’s a continental, he has got cheek, he only knows 500 words but he says, “Sun, hot, me, ice cream.” Now, you can’t go on doing that with your 500 words, you’ve actually got to learn sometimes. Also, when you’ve learnt, then you’ve got to be able to jump beyond technique and rules. So, if you jump too soon nothing will happen.
Interviewer: Does it really matter if you can’t let the metronome go? You can still make yourself understood and so on. If it does pass and you develop your own character, in your speech, well, that’s doing good. It is better to speak via a metronome than not speak at all.
Mr Leggett: Oh, better than not speak at all, yes, but not so good as to speak freely. Because your soul doesn’t come out while you’re speaking through the metronome.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are Questions and Answers to Gospel of Peace According to Lord Buddha :
Part 3: Teaching and learning Q&A
Part 4: Types of Meditation