(24 November 1990)
This is the verse from the Upanishad. “The eye does not go there, nor speech, nor mind. We do not know how to teach about it.” There are several verses on this, the same point. ‘We do not know how to teach about it, the mind does not go there’. Those of you who learned to ride a bicycle when you were young can remember you fall off this way, then you fall off that way. Well then, they put you back and hold you up and they say, “Ride!” and you say, “Well, how do I stay up?” They say, “Well, just stay up. If you seem to fall this way, lean,” and you simply keep falling off.
Then the time comes, often quite suddenly, when you feel a support from the bicycle. You feel the ground under the bicycle supporting you. Not for long, but once you’ve experienced that moment of balance then you know what to try for. After that, the progress can be quite quick. Now, that can’t actually be taught by any means. If somebody comes up to you and says, “Learn that balance, or I’ll shoot you,” you won’t be able to learn it. You have to practise. It’s not something you can simply learn. When you ask people, how do you do it? Well, the most they can do is get on the bike and ride, like that. We do not know how to teach it, but it is there. You can see people riding, or you can read about them riding a bicycle or roller skating. They can put you on the bicycle. They can provide you with the bicycle and put your hand on the right place. Then, ‘Now we go’.
Our study and our concentration through the text is like that. It’s like getting the confidence that it is possible to ride, it is possible to find a balance, which seems simply not to be there at the beginning, as you either fall this way or you fall that way. It is possible to find a point of balance. You can’t actually be taught, but you can be encouraged. “You’re getting on, you’re not falling off quite so much, are you?” ‘We do not know how to teach it’, but still something can be done in the way of convincing us that there’s something there so that we will keep going. To that extent, the theory is an important thing. If we’re simply presented with a bicycle, but we’ve never heard of anyone riding it and never seen anyone riding it, we can, just by looking at it, see what it’s for. But when we get on it, we simply fall off. We think, “Well, it doesn’t work.”
The theory and the cases and the encouragement and instruction are to enable us to persist and to feel there is something latent there which can be brought out, although at the moment it’s completely hidden. The theory can be great help in pursuing a discipline. People have diabetes, for instance. I have to follow a strict discipline of diet and other things. Someone who’s, for instance, had a medical training as a nurse will find it easier. They know what rules are and they know why. To read up something about the diabetes and to understand the meaning of the tests brings together a setup in which we are encouraged to keep to the diabetic diet.
Again, the study of the spiritual text and concentration on them, and the regular looking, memorizing a text, and then thinking about it for a day – these things enable us to practise. The more we feel there is something there, the easier it’ll be to persist in the practice and the sooner it will come to us.
There’s something about encouragement given by somebody who themself has passed through this. My mother was a diabetic in the bad old days when it was quite a serious business, and it wasn’t diagnosed for some time. She’d been a nurse. One of the things she remarked was that a certain Dr. Lawrence was very convincing when he gives you recommendations about the diet and so on, because he’s a diabetic himself. He himself has experienced and speaks from experience about the effect of these things, and so it’s very convincing.
She had a friend, a brilliant woman, a historian who was also diabetic, but she never read it up. She understood the theory that she mustn’t eat chocolates. She never actually read it up, so she didn’t have the reinforcement. In her case, there was a corner cupboard in her living room and sometimes she used to go across. She’d just open the door of that corner cupboard and inside there was a box of chocolates, and she just used to believe that it wouldn’t count – just like small child, “One won’t count if nobody sees it”. Well, it killed her quite quickly and this was a living example.
“The texts are dead”, people say. “These texts, they may have been living once when they were given to people in those days. They thought this way and that way, and it suited them. It suited the society at the time, now they’re dead. Something that’s dead, can’t live again.” A man said this to a teacher, and the teacher didn’t make any reply. Later on, another day, they went for a walk and they passed a farm where the teacher knew the farmer. He asked the farmer to give him a handful of hay and the farmer did. They took the hay and he said to the people, “This hay is dead, isn’t it?” He said, “I’m going to make it live.”
They came along and they came to a horse and the teacher held out the hay. The horse came across and ate it. He said, “Now the dead hay is going to become the splendour of the living horse. If the horse just looks at it, won’t have any effect. If he eats it, it’ll become the horse. The dead thing will live.” He said, “In the same way if you just look at the texts, if you examine them critically, they will be dead. If you imbibe them and you practise, then they will come to life in the vigour and the splendour of enlightenment in you.”
‘We cannot teach it. It is beyond the mind’. Teachers give different examples. I’m giving one that’s comical, perhaps, but at least it comes from personal experience. Like a doctor, it can carry some convictions. Small children are sometimes extraordinarily persistent and show very strong will. At our school when I was about, I suppose, eight or nine, a boy came in from another class. Anyway, he could move his ears. He could just stand there, and the ears would move. This created an absolute sensation, and others that tried moving their ears found they couldn’t.
Anyway, he enjoyed quite a triumph. I don’t know why, but I felt considerably annoyed at this. I thought I must go one better than those moving the ears, because he can do that. I thought, “I’ll try moving the nose.” I spent about a month every day in front of a mirror trying to move my nose and after a few weeks, I began to be able to move it. That was done just looking at a mirror and, being unable to feel the nose at all, but simply thinking, “I’m going to”. There was no way of teaching it, there was no way of approaching it. All I could move was my cheeks – but, by that persistence, somehow a feeling developed and an ability to control it. There are those you can see in India who can contract the pupils of the eye. They’ve established a control over that and over many of the other automatic functions of the body. They can establish control over it. It’s something that simply can’t be felt and yet by persistence, that feeling can be attained, and then it can be mastered.
I give this as a rather comical example, but it’s convincing to me because I experienced it, and it illustrates something that can’t be taught. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be able to do it, but I can do it. Yet I can in a way say, “Stand in front of a mirror and think, ‘I can, I can, I can’, and after three weeks of trying, you’ll be able to.” Some people might try for a week, and then think, “That’s ridiculous”. One teacher said that to develop the awareness of what’s beyond the mind, the mind has to be brought to order and to focus. If the mind is a tangle like that, you can’t see through it at all.
If the mind is brought to order, you can see through it partially, there are glimpses. You can have glimpses through it. If it’s a tangle, you can’t. In meditation, the mind is brought to a calm. The mystic or the yogi is able to separate their mind and have a completely clear vision. The mind is laid aside for the time and it can be taken up again. But somebody who can’t lay the mind aside yet, may be able still to reduce the tangle to some sort of order, and in those periods of calm and order, be able to catch glimpses of what’s beyond.
Under the great deserts of the world like Sahara and the Thar desert in Pakistan, it’s now known that there are great bodies of water. They were drilling for oil in the Thar Desert. They drilled and then the results came back from the drilling, “Have you found oil?” “No, just water”. That was repeated from the engineer on the site to the water headquarters and repeated to the deputy minister, “We’ve only found water.” “Water?”, he said, “Much more valuable than oil! That great desert can be made to flower.” Underneath the deserts, there’s water and sometimes living streams. What was thought to be a myth of the river Saraswati, which rises in the Himalaya and goes underground for hundreds of miles, is now thought perhaps to correspond to this. If we dig in the same place persistently, we shall finally come to the water, to a living stream.
The ordinary wells go down and they find some layers of water, but if they go deeper, they may find a living stream like the Saraswati. Then whether the well is big or small, it’s the same, it pulls up from the stream. In the same way the personality and the individuality may be big or small, but if it penetrates down and down and down in the same place by meditation until it comes to a living stream, then whether the educational or energetic qualifications are great or small, there’s still a living stream of water which comes up. There’s a living stream of inspiration which can be kept and can help in the world.
This was an example of the well. It’s a very old one. The ancients knew these things. There are wells which are 1,000 foot deep. If the Chinese records are right, there’s one or two which are 1,500 foot deep. The ancients dug them. They were aware of this, that if you dig enough and enough you will find the living stream, but it has to be in the same place. If we keep on changing our focus of concentration, then it’s like digging in a place in the desert and you don’t find any water and you think, “Oh, this is getting boring here, let’s try over there. Try something else, digging there.” Then that gets a bit boring. “My luck’s changed. We’ll try over here”. You’ll never get anywhere because it has to be the same place and the same Upanishadic doctrine or the same teaching. The same practices kept up for at least three months and three years really do have a reasonable expectation of results which can transform our lives. It should be in the same place.
If we’re seeking for the origin of thought, then to seek it. Finally, we will become aware of a light under which the thoughts come up, under which they flourish, under which they die away. We can become a little aware of this if we analyse dream. In dream, there’s a light. We don’t think, “Well, what’s that light?” Or we say, “It’s a memory of the light that you had when you saw those things in real life”. But the memory is not the same as a light. Those memories lie buried. What brings them to light? We remember if we think back where we were at school. That’s buried. Now it’s brought to the light. What’s the nature of that light? The memory was there the same. What brings it to light? These are little hints for digging to try to penetrate.
Now, if you’d like to consider this point, that learning, we should study and we can concentrate, we can read the Upanishads with the commentaries and we can read the wide-ranging texts on the spiritual truth. Finally, we should come to a point. A man came to our teacher’s teacher, a very learned scholar and he said, “I read the Upanishadic texts and the Gita regularly and I meditate on them, but I don’t have a realization. I don’t get this living stream experience. I feel exalted sometimes and it helps me in life. Yes, I feel calmer, but there isn’t a living stream of experience.”
Learning, for instance, these brief verses in the Upanishad. There’s a commentary by Shankara and amazingly, there’s a second commentary by Shankara – another one, which is not the same as the first one. There’s a great argument about whether it’s spurious or not, but it seems to have the hallmarks of his vocabulary and it seems to be contemporary with the first one. It’s a very, very interesting point to compare the two, the different stress that’s laid on it. If I know those commentaries, then when I read the verse of the Upanishad, immediately those commentaries come to my mind. I think, “Oh, yes. Now there, they both said that to realize this, you must go into solitude and practice Samadhi, the one-pointed meditation, but the longer commentary of the two gives various other qualifications”. The second one says, “No, the main thing is meditation. The other qualifications will arise from the meditation.” Interesting! But it means that when I’m reading the verse or thinking of the verse, these other things come into my mind. That means there’s a blunting of the attention.
So our teacher’s teacher said to this very learned pundit, he said, “How do you read the Upanishads? Do you read them with the commentary of Shankara?” He said, “Oh, yes, yes, because that’s, of course, the orthodox and the authentic meaning.” The teacher said, “Now, you’re blunting your awareness of the verses by your extra learning. It wasn’t wasted, but now read simply the verse by itself. The flash of lightning by itself, and not with the commentary.” This is a hint that thinking about things can help us to focus. When we come to a real focus for our practice, then to give up and focus simply on the text. Now, if you’d like to just try, we were meditating. Again, it’s just a short practice to focus. There’s a light beyond the mind of which we don’t think, but by whose power the mind thinks – to become aware of something beyond the mind, like a blue sky beyond the moving clouds of the mind. If you’d like to try it.
The central point of the Upanishad, the first of the two crucial points, “If you think, ‘I know it’, little indeed you know.” The teacher says this to the pupil because now we have brought it down. I’m thinking with the mind, that it is beyond the mind. It is above the known. “Oh well,” we think, “Well, it can never be known.” It is above the unknown. The pupil’s bewildered and the teacher says, “Now go into your meditation.” It is above the known and beyond the unknown, and the pupil does this. Now, he comes back to the teacher and the teacher looks at him.
On these occasions, the disciple has to speak, not quoting, but he has to speak from his own experience. It must be new, but it must also be in consonance with the classical experiences of the past. It’s, so to speak, a variation on the theme. You’ll have to know the theme before you can present a variation on the theme. The pupil says, “I do not think, ‘I know it’, but it’s not that I don’t know it.” He among us who understands when I say, “I do not think I know it but it’s not that I don’t know it”, he understands. We can think, “Oh, for goodness sake.” This is like one of the Zen riddles. ‘I do not think, ‘I know it’, but it’s not that I don’t know it’.
In the Zen, it’s not permissible to give any help at all or any hints at all in these things. In the yoga, it is. Our teacher used to give examples of this sort of thing. Now, one modern example. When you learn to type, you don’t know the keyboard and you have to keep looking – semicolon, ‘O’, ‘T’, ‘H’, ‘E’. You don’t know the keyboard, so you don’t think, “I know it”. They used to cover up the hands so that you can’t see the keys. You look at the chart and you find your typing’s full of mistakes; but still by persisting gradually, you come to know. Then you can type without mistakes. Not very fast, but you can type without mistakes. W and then H without looking down E, and R, and E. Then you can say, “I know it.”
But if you think, “I know it”, while you’re at that stage, ‘Little indeed you know’, as the teacher says. People who are at that stage, who know the keyboard, are not very good typists, they’re very slow. People who type, who go on typing on and on and on until they can type up to perhaps 80 or 90 words a minute and type accurately, they can type. They’ve got the text there and they simply type. With an expert like that, if you say to them, “What key is the J?” They don’t know. They have to think, “Oh, it’s here, it’s under this finger. It’s the fourth one along on the middle row.” He doesn’t know the keyboard and yet it is not that he does not know it, because he types accurately at tremendous speeds.
This is an example which is given as a hint. First of all, “I do not know”. Then after learning, “I think I know”. While I think and I’m aware of ‘I know’, little indeed I know. My typing is very chancy and it’s slow; but when I’m an expert, a real expert, I no longer know. I can’t answer questions about the keyboard – but it’s not that I don’t know. He among us who understands when I say, “I do not think, ‘I know it’, yet it is not that I do not know it”. In the same way, he does not think with the mind, ‘I know it’, but it is not that he does not know it, because this is shining through the mind and the body and all the actions, but he’s not thinking, “I know it”. This is one example.
Now the other example, was given by my teacher. It’s a bit similar, but I give the typing one because I’m familiar with it. This one is when you learn a foreign language. At first, you don’t know – “I do not know”. Then you study the grammar, and you learn the vocabularies and you get considerable expertise in it. You’re able to frame sentences which are grammatically correct and often using quite difficult words, and you’re able to pronounce them rather accurately as a native might pronounce them, depending on the accent of your teacher. Anyway, you know it. If you want to say, “It’s a fine day today”, then you’re able to think “Yes,” and you’re able to say it in German or in French or in Italian or in Chinese. If you want to say, “Look out,” to someone, you’re able to think, “Yes, that’s right,” and you’re able to say that in French, ‘Faire le guet’, or in Japanese, ‘Abunai’. You know the English word and you know the French word.
But there comes a time when you’re no longer knowing the English and then knowing what the foreign language is. There comes a time when you’re not knowing, you’re simply speaking in the foreign language. You don’t translate ‘Look out’, you just say, “Abunai.” You’re not knowing now. We see this, for instance, in grammatical rules. You learn all sorts of grammatical rules. It’s the foreigners who know the grammatical rules, isn’t it? The language. The natives themselves don’t know. Japanese students used to come up and ask me questions like, “What’s the difference between ‘as if’ and ‘as though’?” ‘As if’ a king, ‘as though’ a king; ‘as if’ he was mad, ‘as though’ he was mad. We don’t know, but there are rules.
When you learn the language, you learn the rules and then you know them. When you’ve spoken that language for 20 or 30 years, you’ve forgotten the rules. You just speak correctly. You no longer think, “I know, I know it,” but it’s not that you don’t know, because it comes out. That’s second one about the languages, one that’s given. They are only hints, they’re meant to give us a hint for our practice.
With these meditations, there’s always a pulling down by the mind to try to conceptualize them and put them into words and make a satisfactory sort of scale of it. In this way, it gets lost; but if we persist, then there will be something: ‘I no longer know. I don’t know and yet, it is not that I don’t know. I do know.’ This will be what’s called ‘inspiration’ sometimes. It’s not created mentally. It comes flooding through, and then there’s a struggle to express itself through the mind – but the nature of the inspiration is from above the mind. There is something in us which we don’t know – and yet it is not that we don’t know, because it is this which supports our thinking.
There is a traditional play put on in Japan called The Dance of the Old Man and it’s supposed to be an old man of 100. It’s a masked player, as all the traditional ones are in the mask – a smiling old man with long beard, a thin straggly beard, we would say, that they have difficulty in growing these thick bushy beards which we display here. The dance is very slow, and the movements are only such as could be made by a very old man. They’re the movements of a very old man.
He’s got the long robes, but they’re very beautiful. It’s very slow, very beautiful. At the end he comes forward and bows. Then the actor sits down by the side of the stage, on one corner of the stage, and he takes off his mask. It’s a young man. It’s a young man deliberately confining his movements to those which could be made by a very old man and creating beauty.
Now, in the third part, we’re going to discuss this more, but – that which is beyond, know that to be Brahman, which shines out through the one who practises – deliberately restricting itself and yet creating beauty. Then at the end, the makeup mask is taken off and it’s a young man. I’ve seen this once or twice, an older Zen teacher of 90. He was very, very old and frail. He’d lived a very hard life. I had translated a book of his, but he was able to speak and to talk a little bit. In his eyes, one could see that there was something young, that there was something young that was looking out through all these restrictions and limitations.
I saw it again with a Western woman, a pupil of my teacher. She was very ill but visiting her, there was something which was eternally young like that young actor in a very old body. Adapting himself to all the restrictions of a very old man’s body, but there was something sparkling and young. We mustn’t think that the meditations are simply something to escape from this world. To pacify and order the mind is a great advantage in this world. To plunge deep into the stream is a joy and an escape from the restrictions, but that can come back and adopt the restrictions – but within them, there’s a sort of life and joy and those who have the seeing eye sometimes can see it.