The seeds of karma are laid down by what we do
What we do lays down seeds which are called karma, which are dynamic, come back to us. Many geniuses in the world have had an insight of this. In Shakespeare you find it again and again. Brutus kills Caesar, and he thinks he’s finished, but the ghost of Caesar appears, and this happens again and again in Shakespeare. By this ghost he means to show the karmic effect, which goes on. We perform an action, we think I’m finished with that, but it goes on, this dynamic seed, and when associations are favourable that seed will sprout, and if I’ve performed a good action it will sprout as happiness and favourable conditions, and if I’ve performed a bad action it will sprout as suffering and unfavourable conditions.
Now, we feel, ‘Oh well, I can do this, no one will know’, and one illustration that is given ,they often illustrate these things humorously, when Chinese children, so to speak, stand before Grandpa, they are taught to stand over here , line of little boys, or just one, he meets Grandpa , and some traditional Chinese grandfathers, even now, they look piercingly at the boy, and punish him. Well, a Westerner who saw this, and observed the custom, he asked the grandfather, ‘Why did you hit him? What’s he done?’ And the grandfather says, ‘I don’t know’. And he says, ‘What! You don’t know what he’s done, and you hit him?’ And the grandfather says, ‘I don’t know, he knows’.
Well now this is a humorous illustration. If something happens to me, other people may think ‘Well, why has this happened?’ Perhaps I feel as good as gold, but really it’s because of something I’ve done in the past, and they say if you want to know what a man has done in the past look at how he is situated now. And if you want to know how a man will be situated in the future, look at what he’s doing now. That will fructify.
This they teach, not systematically, as philosophy – because once again you get philosophical principles and then it all goes dead. You think, ‘Ah yes, yes, * you do good and you get good, do bad and you get bad’. But some of these stories are much more vivid, and when the universe hits me on the head I think, ‘I know why’.
Now a group of Western pupils who were studying under a Zen teacher, they asked him, they said, ‘You know, when we give practice of meditation, or we read a, some spiritual book, we feel a sort of joy, and we go about life in a new spirit, but gradually that wears off. You can revive it a bit by reading the book again, or hearing something like that again, then it’s a bit weaker, gradually it wears off, and then you get a sort of depression. Can you tell us why this happens?’
So he said, ‘Well, you Westerners, you tend to think in terms of jubilation and lamentation’, and he was one who had read the Bible, as many Buddhist priests have. He said, ‘You have a, don’t you, a little section, the Jubilee, in your Bible, and you’ve also got a much longer section, called Lamentations, which is Jeremiah, and that’s how you see things, triumph and disaster. Your gardens are the same. You plant flower beds, and in the Spring and the Summer it’s a riot of wonderful colours, you feel joy, and then they fall in the Autumn, and in the Winter you’re in your famous gardens, they look very sad and dejected, don’t they? That’s how you see things. From that peace, there will finally come creativity.
But a Japanese gardener sees things quite differently. It can be just sand, raked sand, and a few rocks. You may have seen some of these pictures of some of these rock gardens. ‘No flowers, darling’. Might be an evergreen in one corner, but just rocks and sand, that’s all. Sometimes the garden’s as big as this room, they rake it every morning, I’ve raked one, quite a business, and five rocks, different shapes, but if you stand there, or sit there, without realising it, you begin to feel peaceful.
You don’t know why, but you can get to feel peace coming up in your heart. The garden is designed to produce that. A Master can design a garden, the rocks, in just particular proportions, it’s not regular or symmetrical, like our gardens. A Japanese gardener said once about one of our Italian gardens, you know them there, symmetrical, aren’t they, a lake in the middle, he said, ‘If you had one quarter of the garden and a couple of mirrors, you’ve got the whole garden, haven’t you?’ And every part of a Japanese garden is different, and it produces peace. Now even under the snow in the winter, and I’ve seen them under snow, the rocks are concealed, but the snow on top of the rock still gives you the shape of the rock. The snow on the sand, and those proportions still remain. In the winter the garden is just as effective.
You don’t know why a little peace comes into you. Well in the same way, the teacher said, these visual practices are not to give you joy, which will have later on a follow-up of depression or sadness, but if you go into the practice it will give you peace. Don’t look for joy from the practice, look for peace. And that peace, from that peace, there will finally come creativity.
It’s by this sort of illustration that they teach, not by giving many general principles, or Ten Commandments, and so on. It’s more like the English Case Law, where the case comes and the judge gives the decision on each case, and then you look at a number of cases and you can extract a principle from the cases, but they’re individual cases, whereas on the Continent they have a code of laws and then you look at the code and then you try to find something that fits your particular case.
Well, philosophical systems are like a code, it’s all set out, they’re nice and clear. But it doesn’t help you very much in your practical situation. You’ve got to search through the code to find the bit that will meet your case. But the method of teaching in Zen and in Yoga is by the actual experience of the time, and then from those experiences afterwards we can extract a principle in philosophy if we feel like it.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Release from illusory bonds of identity with body and mind
Part 2: Yoga and the Zen training points to what’s in our heart
Part 3: The seeds of karma are laid down by what we do
Part 4: Yoga and Zen both say we can begin to see and express beauty
Part 5: The true nature of man is that he wants to create beauty
Part 6: Kobo never chooses the brush