The doctrine of the void


In a Chinese family, the small boys, when they meet Grandpa, stand like this,  in front of him for his inspection. And one of the traditional things about a Chinese Grandfather is he, well some, a small boy comes up and stands like that, and the Grandfather gives him a piercing look, then he clouts him! A Westerner who saw this, he says that he said, “What’s he done?” So the Grandfather said, “I don’t know” . So the Westerner said, “What? You hit him and you don’t know what he’s done?” The Grandfather said, “No. I don’t know. But he knows.”

Well, in the same way, some things happen to us in the world, absolutely unjustified. Our friends turn against us. Things that we’ve built up with great unselfishness and devotion are viciously kicked to pieces out of sheer jealousy and spite. Why has this happened? “I did it with the best of motives, with no selfishness at all. I did this and now this has happened.” You have defenders of course. They say, “Yes this is absolutely disgraceful. Poor old Trevor, he did all that and then look what he gets back. “Mind you , they say, and defenders are objective – they say, “of course he wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t felt like it. Kindness or sympathy or helping hand, that means nothing to Trevor – but if he happens to feel like it , yes, he’ll do quite a lot. And now he’s had this back. It’s disgraceful !” Well, they don’t know what I’ve done. But I know. I’ve done things in the past which, when I think of them, then these various disasters that come down on me, I think, “I’m getting off lightly.” The teacher says, “The Mountains attract storms, and spiritual endeavours attract malice and obstacles. The mountains attract the storms, the lightning and the thunder. The peak of the mountain is above them but on the slopes of the mountain, on the trees, deluged.” But it means the slopes of the mountain are very fertile, and the streams from the mountain water the land for a long way around. In the same way a man of virtue attracts this opposition, but in the end that opposition unwillingly leads to great good.

Bodhidharma went to China and the records say the people who were spiritually advanced welcomed him, and those who were not, they hated him, were jealous of him. Six times they tried to poison him. And he stopped eating. He became aware of it. They bribed the cook, or perhaps threatened him and then the monastery would realise something was wrong and change the cook, and he would start eating again. He lived to 120. The poisoners all died of old age. He outlived them all. Like a mountain. Outlived the storms and the persecution.

A pupil said to a teacher, “I Can’t remember the Holy Texts.
” Now she was asked, in that school, to remember certain ones, learn them by heart. She said, “No I can’t do it. They’re principles of truth no doubt. Kanjizai said to Sharishi,”there are no ears , no eyes, and so on … the Heart Sutra, but I can’t remember it by heart. “I’ve never been able to.” And finally the teacher blazed up and shouted, “The world’ full of lazy people deliberately pretending to be idiots- in order to get special treatment!”, and she fled. She finally he came back a few days later, very hushed and the teacher said aid, “Oh. Come in.” And he saw how subdued she was and he said, “Is anything wrong?” And she said, “Well, only what you said to me the other day, “The world’s full of lazy people deliberately pretending to be idiots, in order to get special treatment!”  And he said “Well, you remember that, don’t you1.” So finally she said, “Yes, it applied to me.” He said, “That’s it. Now apply the Holy Text to yourself and you will remember them.”

One of the great teachers , when he was a boy, he learnt the Sutra which says, “No ears, no eyes .. .” and he came up after the lesson where they were it by heart and he said to the teacher, “Why does the sutra say we have no ears when we have them?” And the teacher said, “you‘re the first one that’s asked that question. You’re going to go a long way” he said, “!’I will send you to a good teacher.” He applied it to himself. “

Emptiness is form.” Well, how can we apply that to ourselves.? The word for ‘form’ can be ‘colour’ . ‘Emptiness is colour’ . How can it be applied? What does it mean? We can take an example from history. A great Chinese scholar, I haven’t checked this, but he told me that before the ‘doctrine of the void’ went to China the Chinese had no use for flowers. Now they have a marvellous culture of flowers and have had for fifteen hundred years. But before Buddhism, before the doctrine of the void’ went to China, “We Chinese,” he said, “used to spit on flowers (he used another word which rhymes with ‘spit’ which ! don’t want to use here !’ but he said, “Buddhism, the doctrine of the void, changed us, and Chinese culture of flowers is wonderful. The poetry and the painting – and in Japan it was developed even further. ‘From ‘emptiness came forth colour. This empty doctrine. Nothing. Came forth colour, unrivalled and unmatched in inspiration.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Judo Experience – Zen & More Stories

Part 2: Finding inspiration in everyday things

Part 3: Go into the peace of your practises

Part 4: The doctrine of the void

Part 5: From emptiness inspiration will come

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