The eighth consciousness

Thrust a sword into the eighth consciousness

There’s a huge Chinese character in front of some interview rooms, which means the frontier gate. At the frontier gate – we would call it the customs – all your baggage is opened. They say, “Have you anything to declare?” You say, “Oh, this and this”. They say, “Well, we’ll have a look,” and everything is opened. In the same way, at that frontier gate, everything in the personality is opened. Things that we’re afraid to look at ourselves. Things we didn’t know we had or weren’t willing to acknowledge that we had, are opened.  Beyond those fundamental convictions, the saying is to thrust a sword into the eighth consciousness. Sometimes it says the eighth consciousness breaks open. The consciousness of being an individual, of having these limitations, these strong points, these memories, this name, these hopes – this is all broken open and then a light shines through.

We can say, “What’s the distinction between what one thinks ordinarily and what is in the eighth consciousness?”  An example was given by the president of the judo headquarters. He was a very learned man, who founded the modern system of Judo. In those days, the laundry is to be beaten out by soaking it in soap and then hitting it with the fists. The dirt is beaten out of the cloth. It’s not particularly good for the cloth, but it gets the dirt out. In the kitchen, he used to go sometimes and see them doing the laundry. He taught the maids to strike it with the edge of the hand, and to be able to exactly calculate how [hard].  He showed them how to use the body, not just the arms as they were doing – to use the whole body – and he made them do the laundry that way. They thought, “Well, he’s a marvellous, very famous great man. A bit eccentric, but we’ll do the laundry that way.” Then one evening, one of them was visiting a sick parent and she came back late. This was in the end of the last century, [where they wore] long sleeves. As she passed the end of an alley hurrying back late through Tokyo, a tough caught her sleeve, and without thinking at all, she broke his arm.

Dr. Kano said, “If she had been taught to do this and told about it, “Now, if you should get caught like that, you should try it like that,” she would have panicked, since it would not have been in the eighth consciousness.  But because she had done it every day – they do the laundry every day in Japan; they wouldn’t have dirty things about the house – every day, for years, without thinking it came to her.

Supposing I’m a music enthusiast and I hear that they’re going to play the reconstructed Schubert’s 10th symphony and I’m very keen on Schubert.  Then I have a chance to get a ticket. I have two old parents and it’s my turn to be looking after them for these three months. The doctor says, “Well, they’ve both got bad hearts. They shouldn’t be alone, ever. Might go off anytime.” I arrange for auntie to come. She says she’ll come to look after them for that evening. I get ready. Then there’s a telephone call from auntie to say that she’s fallen down and broken her wrist. She can’t come. I think, “Well, they’ll probably be all right, watching television. They’ll be alright, probably, if I go. On the other hand, I have promised to look after them and I really ought to do that.”

Whatever I do – if I go to the concert, I’m going to be thinking about them at home, perhaps fighting for breath one of them, and the other not knowing what to do – if I stay, then I’m going to have this resentment against them for keeping me there. Supposing I stay, and then mother says, “I think I feel sleepy. I think I’ll fall asleep; I’ll go to bed.” Trust mother to do that. Then father says, “Yes, I won’t watch the television, I don’t think. I’ll have a nap too.” Instead of being the sympathetic care nurse, you’re a sort of night watchman, when all the time, Schubert’s 10th is going on.

You think, “I’ll do something. I’ll wake them up. I’ll make them some hot milk and say, “At least have something.” “No, we don’t want that.” Then at the end of the evening, your mother wakes up about the time you’d have been back from the concert. She says, “You mean you stayed here? You’re a fusspot. That’s what you are. I’m going to tell everybody you’re a terrible fusser.” Father says, “You can’t leave us alone, that’s the trouble – spying on us.” You begin to think, “Doctor, where are these heart attacks you keep talking about?”

Now, in these situations, we can scatter flower petals over them. I can think, “What a good son I am. It’s marvellous really.”  But I’m stabbing myself to the heart, to the sound of solemn music, sacrificing myself – but it’s no good, there’s still this terrible stench. There’s something else in that situation. There’s something else, something quite different – not from outside, but in the actual situation itself. I can think, “Oh, well, I’m making good karma, marvellous karma. The Buddha said, ‘Looking after the old. There’s nothing higher than that.’”  No, that’s bringing in something from outside. That’s scattering flower petals. There’s something in the actual situation. The teacher said, “You must find this.” You say, “What is there? All I know is that I’ve completely uselessly sacrificed my chance to hear that wonderful concert for something that had no point at all.” He was saying: “Now – in that!” These are the riddles, which are set in Zen – not theoretical riddles, but something in our actual lives; to show the original face, to find the original face, not just in myself.

I’ve got a rusty pipe and it should be scraped. I think, “Oh, what a chore. Well, I have to do it sometime”. I put it off, put it off, but finally I’ll do it. I’m just thinking, “… another 10 minutes and I’m free.” “Now”, he said, “Now’s the time. Don’t think what you’ve been doing. Don’t think what you’re going to do. Look at this. You’re scraping with the metal wool, and you see the original face of the metal begin to shine through the rust. Look carefully.” You think, “Oh, well it’s just metal. That’s how it was.” No. Look carefully. Become aware of something.

Round the monasteries, they have moss growing, it’s cultivated. Here moss is a parasite and a pest, but there moss is cultivated. Moss stands for spiritual illumination, spiritual realization, because it can’t be forced, it can’t be hurried. The main thing with cultivating moss, is to remove the weeds. It’s not strong and it can lose out to the weeds. All the monks from the abbot down, are on their knees, every two or three days, weeding the moss. Now he will say, “Don’t just weed and think, ‘Oh no’. The original face of the moss is being purified.  See that, and as you weed, you’re weeding yourself, and the original face in you is beginning to shine.” You think, “Oh, those are just words.” No. When you see those monks who have practised, their weeding is different. The action of the hand is different. You can’t say exactly what it is, but there’s a difference. After you return, you find you’re calm. You’ve just been weeding, but you are calm. In those circumstances, in their presence.

The teacher again and again says, “Don’t search for it in exalting circumstances mainly. Search in these very small jobs of daily life, where you don’t have to do a lot of thinking, where normally your mind would be racing about some quarrel you’ve had or some ambition you’ve got. Try to find it in those things.” You say, “What good does such a man do in the world?” There are some who speak, who are very eloquent, and some who never speak.

One such man, he was a great saint, and he was asked, “Why don’t you speak? Why don’t you tell the people?” He answered in the words of Confucius, “Does heaven speak? The seasons follow each other. The rains come when they’re needed. Flowers bloom.  When autumn comes, the leaves turn red. In the winter, there’s snow, but underneath the snow, there’s thunder in the earth, there is a life in the earth, that comes up in the next spring. Does heaven speak?” There is a message for us, and many of us can find it, but heaven doesn’t speak in words. Well, in the same way that saint didn’t give addresses, but the people were changed by his presence.

Lastly, perhaps you’ve heard it before, but this is a famous Chinese story, which they think is historical. Poets and painters used to take the boat and drift down the river. A group of them were passing down the river and they were silent in admiration for the scenery and feeling their own inspiration, which would come out later in the paintings and the poems. A man, poorly dressed, was walking up the bank of the river, as this boat of silent people drifted slowly down. He looked at them and he took out a flute. He stood and he played like a great master. The boat slowly went past, then he put his flute away and went on.

If he hadn’t done that, they would have thought, “Oh, he’s perhaps the village clerk walking back home after the work.” They would never have known, because they were silent and reverend, he recognized this and then from this master musician, they heard this wonderful music. A teacher told us that these are the true forms of expression. We can say it was only 10 minutes, but this was embodied in a story which is one of the foundation stories of Chinese culture, written by one of the poets. The effects will go on. They will have spiritual vigour and life. The original face, then was expressing itself.

Talks in this series are:

1 Our inner Self

2 Our fears can be illusory

3 The purification of the memory 

4 The eighth consciousness

The full 52 minute talk is here The Original Face

© Trevor Leggett



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