The purification of the memory


They sit and they visualize, vividly, the classical image of the bodhisattva or the god.

They sit and they visualize, vividly, the classical image of the bodhisattva or the god. For a long time that image is supported, it’s created. I can think of Jesus as standing or sitting. Quite often, the pictures of preaching the Sermon on the Mount show Him standing, although the text distinctly says that Jesus sat and He always sat, as is traditional in the Far East.

For a long time, that picture is created, is supported, but (and this is explained both in the Indian text and in the Chinese and Japanese in almost the same words) the time comes when the image becomes radiant.  Then it has its own existence, then he knows the bodhisattva is there. This is not a creation of his own mind, and this brings concentration. He has to have application.

In some of the Zen schools, they give these riddles because they’re very good for catching the mind. “What is your original face before the parents were born?” Well, they produce various answers, but the teacher says, “No. No. No.”  “Well, then what?” In monastery slang, it’s called, ‘wringing out a cloth’, [until you feel] you’ve thought of all of the answers.

One Zen pupil I knew, his teacher had written a number of books, and he had a particular riddle: the sound of one hand.  “Two hands make a clap.  What sound does one hand make?”  He used to go through the teacher’s books looking for the answer and he found what he thought were several answers. He gave them to the teacher and the teacher never accepted them. It corresponds to something in ourselves, which we have to find. We have to find the original face in ourselves. We have to find the sound of one hand in ourselves, not an idea. The ideas are masks. There’s something deeper than an idea. We think, “Oh, well deeper than an idea,” then we get another idea. It’s deeper than the mask of the ideas.

They practise every day. It takes about eight minutes for the disturbances to die down. This is the experience of many teachers. Of course, it varies with individuals and so on.

Supposing I’ve read a book about the Himalayas or the Alps and then I collect some slides, and I think, “I’ll show my friends and tell them about what I’ve read.” That’s a good thing to do and a kindly thing to do and it’s expressive, so I do that. It goes very well. They enjoy them and they’re very interested with my explanations.  But then somebody has to drop in, “Have you been there?” “Look, I’m showing you these wonderful pictures, and don’t you think it gives a tremendous…” “Have you been there?” “Well, I’m trying to explain the spiritual atmosphere of these…” “Have you been there?” “Well, no. I haven’t actually been there.”  “Well, to me, somebody who talks sentimental nonsense about a place they’ve never been to is just an idiot,” and he walks out.

Well, the party finishes now and then I sit down to meditate. The teachers say it will take about eight minutes before that thought of, “Have you been there” will stop coming up in my mind. It takes an athlete about eight minutes to warm up for his exercises. We can say the first eight minutes will be something like calming the mind.  Sitting in a fixed posture the same every time will be a great advantage because the body then begins to adapt.  The nervous excitements begin to die down of themselves, if it’s done in the same posture at the same time, at the same place every day.  We can expect about eight minutes to pass before going deeper. We don’t want to discuss technique because technique is something that has to be learned on the actual occasions, but these general statements can be an encouragement.

The masks are thick, and the illustration is given like thick clouds where we can’t see the sun at all. The sun must be there, or we wouldn’t be able to see that the cloud existed, but we can’t see the sun at all. When the clouds begin to become thin in places, they become radiant because the sun strikes the edges of the cloud, but we can’t see the sun. Then we’re liable to think those radiant edges of the cloud, that is the sun, but it’s only a reflection of the sun. We are near the sun, the clouds are thinning, but we’re not seeing the sun itself. Well, this is an example they give.

When the passions become less and inquiry into truth becomes stronger, then the clouds begin to thin. Now, one example that’s given is this, the fingers are tightly interlaced, and we can’t see through them at all. When they become slightly released, then we can see a little bit and the light begins to come through, but the aim in meditation finally is to withdraw them all together and be able to see.

In the same way with meditation, for a time we see only clouds, different forms of the mask, but they are thinned by knowing that they are illusory and by concentrating on a point of devotion. Then when they become thin, they become radiant.  We begin to feel that the inner layers are more pure, as the buddhi is reflecting the light of god clearly.  Then this is realization, this is liberation, but it is still a very pure and fine mask. This too has to be taken off.

The purification of the memory – in meditation, first of all, a man knows, “I’m sitting here at a time and place, and I know my name, and I’ve got perhaps another 25 minutes to do and I’m meditating on this and that. I think today I’ll visualize this form.” Gradually, those associations will begin to drop away; the words will begin to drop away. Without words, he’ll begin to meditate. First, only for a short time, then the words will come up again.  Then later on when it goes deeper, when he meditates on the same thing every day, then place and time will drop away. Finally, the duality: ‘Myself here; and first of all, him and afterwards thou, you – there’, that will begin to drop away. Then the layers are becoming very thin, and then from that inspiration comes.

If we look at the lives of some really great geniuses, we can see this process. In the West we’re more impressed with scientists than artists because we feel, “Well, who’s to say that the thing is a masterpiece or not.  But science, that can be confirmed.”  In the East, they tend to think, “Well, scientists, they can make lucky guesses and they often do, and there’s no sign of inspiration at all, but nobody can fluke a masterpiece.” In the West, if we look at a life like Pasteur where it’s not one discovery that seems to come about by an extraordinary chance – well, not merely chance but by an extraordinary behaviour on the part of the scientist – but repeatedly five times, he made these great discoveries in different fields.

If we look at them, we find we can clearly see the inspiration in them. His assistant forgot and the virus, as we should now call it, was left in the laboratory for two weeks. They came back and it was nearly dead. The assistant would have thrown it away and Pasteur, for no logical reason at all, stopped him. He tried many things to try to revive it, but, “No, they’re dying.  Well, inoculate the chickens and just see.”  And the chickens, of course, it had no effect on them.  Later on, when they were injected with the full-strength, they survived. This was the principle for vaccination.

We can’t explain Pasteur’s behaviour on that occasion because it was completely against the logic of his own teaching as well. He was inspired. He did something. It wasn’t just a chance. He, himself did something which led to the discovery. If we look at his life, we should see that it’s a spiritual life. He was an artist when he was a boy, he didn’t like science and did no good at school, but then was inspired by a teacher. He went to Paris, became too homesick to stay there, and had to be brought back.  He nearly had a break-down, but went again, and then he began to write about will, duty, and concentration.  He lived in Paris, unusually then as now as a brahmacharya, as a celibate student. He worked very hard and then he began to make these discoveries.

He was an extraordinarily modest man, although he changed the face of medicine against great opposition.  He was sent to London as a delegate to the London Medical Congress, I think in about 1870. He was asked, as they were all asked to get there early, to be sure to be in their places early, because the Prince of Wales was going to come, who was very popular, and the audiences liked to cheer him.  Pasteur thought he was in time, but as he went in, the cheering started and he was lame, he’d had a stroke, but he hobbled to his place. Then the chairman, Sir James Patrick caught him by the arm and said, “Mr. Pasteur, don’t hide.” He said, “Oh, I’m late. The Prince of Wales has come. They’re cheering.” He said, “No, they’re not cheering the Prince of Wales, Mr. Pasteur, they’re cheering you.” That had never occurred to him.

We can see these spiritual qualities and this tremendous concentration, and this purity of life produced – not once, but five times – these totally new and unexpected insights.  Even today, a preventative against hepatitis is still based on Pasteur’s insight. It’s a limited sphere, but when it’s very pure and there’s great concentration, this area on which he concentrated became radiant and he became inspired.

From the spiritual point of view, we have to go deeper than that. Pasteur also had some religious inspirations. He was a very religious man, but he didn’t feel the impulse to go deeper than that. We are told we must go deeper and deeper and deeper until finally, the thoughts we have in meditation will go to what’s called ‘the eighth’. The eighth consists of the fundamental convictions of our life. These are often not conscious to us. Part of the job of a teacher is to bring them out to consciousness.

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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