The glories of Zen in Japan


Male Questioner: Have you read one of the Lives of Ramana?

Trevor Leggett: Well I have read one but actually I don’t want to discuss him because my teacher didn’t. He based it on the Gita, which his teacher was a follower. That was what he taught us.

Male Questioner: Could we ask you how you view sport as a form of life training, if it’s-?

Trevor Leggett: Well on this point, it trains will and it trains non-attachment. If we learn those two things, we’ve learnt two very valuable lessons for yoga, very, very valuable.

Male Questioner: How is it, in your own personal experience, when you’re suppressing emotion? How does the person cope with that? A normal person has emotion and if you eliminate it, does it find itself another form? Is it channelled in another way or is it completely cut dead?

Trevor Leggett: In Zen they turn it into austerity, enquiry and will.

Male Questioner: I mean do they feel happy that they found the answer to something? Is it a fascination enquiry? Is it an emotional satisfaction hidden?

Trevor Leggett: There is a lot of fighting spirit in Zen and there are a lot of people who respond to change. It stimulates them. They are mountaineers you see. There is nothing at the top of the mountain. You’re just, “It’s there. I’m going to climb it.” Well now this is a particular type or it’s a person at a particular stage of life and that’s the time when they’ll do that and they’ll respond to these things. In Zen yes, you have to produce an answer to the teacher twice a day. You’ve got to produce an answer. He’s got a big stick.

In yoga, the emotions are made universal but in Zen yes, you can say they are re-canalised. They are forced into this enquiry and will. They all practice some art, the Zen monks, if it’s calligraphy. They are good calligraphers. They nearly all paint a bit. From the Zen point of view, if you’re really keen on listening to music, you should all play something yourself, not necessarily well but you should create some beauty not passively, listen. This is not mine, this is a Zen saying, “Don’t passively appreciate. Make some contribution, you don’t have to be good.”

They all write poems. There are 300 poetry magazines in Japan. Here there are about 5. Sometimes if you see the sun going down in a beauty spot, people are silent. You come back afterwards, they’ve made little poems. They’re rotten most of them but they’ve made them. This is why the educational standard in Japan is very high because the mothers are educated and cultured. You can say that the designs of the cups and the towels in Japan is much better. Here we just put three red stripes on, “There’s your towel.” But there the mass produced things are not without taste because the Japanese housewife has the taste to choose the good design. Many of them, they don’t have to be rich.

Here, with the flower arrangements, you’ve got to have a cornucopia, masses of flowers, haven’t you? If you’ve got two or three it’s skimpy. But Japanese, no. Just a few flowers can be a master piece. You don’t have to be rich. Many of the housewives, who aren’t rich at all, who aren’t well off at all, they take little lessons. At a peak hour on television I saw a lesson in flower arrangement. It was very well done. They got some amateurs from all classes of life. They brought their flower arrangements. The expert, she was a woman, she looked at them and she said, “Yes.”

One was looking at them and you think, “Well that’s pretty good.” She said, “You see the gaps here, there is no relation between them,” and then she just shifted it. You thought, “Yes, that’s it.” Then another one would come on. Now this is not my impression, I’ve compared notes with Japanese women who were interested in it, it’s mostly the women and they say, “Yes, that is so. You think it’s very good and the expert says, “It can be improved,” and you think, “No.”” In those things, yes, in zen training they do a little bit of meditation. Before a broadcast, we’re smoking cigarettes.

Quite a lot of Japanese will sit down. They’re not zen people at all but they calm their mind. In a chess championship here, they make the first few moves like lightening to gain time. But I’ve seen a Japanese chess champion, he sat for 10 minutes and then he made his opening move, the one he always makes. I know him. I said to him after, “What are you doing?” He said, “There is a current. First of all I’m calming myself, then I feel a current and I come to know how he is feeling.” These are things that are unknown to us. Some of us learn individually one of these little things but we’ve got no tradition of it.

People here, individuals learn it but very often they only learn it in their particular field. If you saw Menuhin going to play, when he’s just going to begin there is a withdraw like a man meditating. You see this sometimes but we don’t have a tradition so it generally dies with the male. Perhaps he teaches it. Well in these things, Zen has contributed to everyday life. This is one of the glories of Zen in Japan. In China and India it was just a little but in Japan, yes, you can say the influence was very great.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Damascus 1977

Part 2: Meditation on the navel

Part 3: Yaza is real devotion

Part 4: Not in Samadhi all the time

Part 5: The glories of Zen in Japan

Part 6: Disillusionment in society

Part 7: Yoga and Zen in Christianity

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