The Space within the Heart


These short pieces – they’re not given a theoretical justification. Lime juice was discovered to remove scurvy from sailors on the long journeys long before the theory of vitamins had ever been heard of or thought of. It worked and some of these things work and that is the point of presenting them. Not to attempt to explain them from a theoretical point of view.

They’re just isolated pieces and the hope is that one or two of them can strike a spark. Just to start with two words which we’ve heard a lot of: sukha, or pleasure and duhkha, sorrow or pain. These are very familiar words in Buddhism, but there’s a secret in them. Sukha comes from su, meaning good and kha, which means space, and duhkha comes from duh or dur or dush or dus, depending on the Sanskrit compound, meaning ‘bad’ and kha, which means space. The origin of the words, sense of happiness or pleasure and sorrow and difficulty, comes from the application to the axel of a chariot.

As you know, the axle goes through and it turns. Now, su-kha is when there’s space so that the axle can turn freely and duh-kha is when there’s no space or when the space is bad, uneven, and the axle grinds or sticks. Sukha – happiness, but it can also mean ease. Sukham-asit means sitting at ease, so when there’s space, it can move easily, the chariot can go forward smoothly.

The hint is that in our actions, in our interchanges with the world, to have a little space – the world and the events and the circumstances, outer and inner. There’s grit and it’s too tight, but if we can learn to make a little space, then our actions and our thoughts can move easily and pleasantly without obstruction.

So, this is a little hint that if in life we can learn to make a little space and it’s done by practice. When we’re doing a long job, just to be able to make a little space, a few seconds’ space, an easiness where you throw off, ‘I’ve got to get on with this. I must finish it in time,’ and then to go on with it.

This is one of the first points. To make our actions and our feelings and our emotions, when we’re furiously angry, if we’ve got the habit of learning to make a little space, then in the middle of our anger, there will be a little space there and that’ll mean that the anger is not transmitted relentlessly but there will be a little space. It won’t be transmitted automatically or so automatically. These things have to be practised. There’s no time to philosophise or think of little spaces at a time of anger or temptation or great fear, but if we have practised in the ordinary way, then the time will come when we shall find to our surprise that somebody hits me and there’s just a little space. Then I think, ‘Well, I don’t know…’

That was the first piece. Now the second one. This concerns a man who was keen on fencing in the feudal days. He had a responsible position. He went to a very good fencing teacher, a famous one, and he asked to do fencing. The teacher, who was expert, he found this keen pupil and he got him to chudan. They had the contests and this man won most of them. The teacher said, “Yes, you are now a Master of the Sword and I’ll give you the diploma.” He gave him the diploma and [the man was] very delighted, but after a bit he came back to the teacher and he said, “There’s something wrong. This is not what I expected.” The teacher said, “Well, you asked to learn fencing and you have the diploma and you’re worth it.” He said, “No. When I’m in the fencing hall facing the opponent, I’ve got confidence, but outside the fencing hall, I’m not like you. You’ve got confidence outside the fencing hall. There’s something about it and I haven’t got that.” The teacher said, “You asked me to teach you fencing.” The man said, “Well, can you teach me how to become like you?” and teacher said, “No. I can teach you up to the diploma. I can give you the technical skill and you’ve got it. Now, the way has to be found by you yourself.”

We won’t go into the difficulties he had, but a hint was given. There’s a Kannon figure. It is a bodhisattva who in the Far East often assumes a feminine form, so it’s been compared to the Kuan-Yin in China. It’s been compared to the Mary, the Madonna, but there’s a big difference. Although it’s a feminine form, in the East, the Kannon is never shown with a child. There’s no Madonna and child figure, but there is this figure of grace and wisdom, a bodhisattva. It’s sometimes shown with 1,000 arms. Some Western critics say, “Oh, these 1,000 arms and sometimes 1,000 eyes are rather primitive symbolic representations to show omnipotence and omniscience you see, but these distortions of the human form are really quite distasteful.”

They haven’t got the faintest idea that these things refer to something glorious. Told today about the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya, the Buddha-nature appears in different forms and one form is in glory, but there’s another form which you see in the everyday things and incidents of ordinary life. These arms show that this wonderful bodhisattva can manifest in any of these forms, can manifest in the ordinary things and actions of everyday life.

Again, if we can turn away from being absorbed totally and just momentarily turn back, to try and find the Kannon within ourselves. He had the fencing. That was one arm, but away from the sword, he had nothing. Now we can think, “Well, I’ll get more things. I’ll get the sword. I’ll get different ways of doing this.” Most of us have a number of ways of meeting the world. Some of us by shouting and domineering. Some of us by saying, “Oh, of course, I’m no good at anything. You have to help me.” That’s just as much a technique as the other one. These are various techniques, but how to use them appropriately, you need a bodhisattva to do that. Until the bodhisattva is awakened, the thousands of techniques and skills and advantages of money and position, they’ll be inappropriate. They won’t save us, but when the Kannon is awakened, then all these things can be used in the right way and appropriately in accordance with the nature of the things and of the actions.

The fencer practised this and the story is that he did attain it, but now these things, they sound all right. How to practise them? It’s not desirable to talk about personal things. You can sometimes because you have conviction in them. Now, in judo, which I can say that I know, most experts, generally, have three or four things at which we’ve got special skill. Of course, we know of a great number of others, but it’s three or four where we’ve got special skill.

Generally, there’s one when we are coming up and training, there’s one in which we specialise. The time comes when a good teacher with a really keen pupil has an exchange and he says, “You’re just going in for a contest. How are you going to win?” “When he reacts, I find out which his reaction is, whichever it is then I come in with a big one.” Now the teacher says, “No, give up that thought: ‘This is how I’m going to win.’ Throw it away completely.” You think, ‘Well, how am I going to win, then?’

Well, the first time you try this, you go out and you’re flat on your back, but if you practise throwing away – they call it cutting off the bull’s horns. The horns are what the bull fights with and your special technique is what you win with. It may be, as we said, the doctrine of helplessness, but now give that up, throw it away, go out. Then something happens. We don’t know what it’ll be, but he’s flat on his back. We don’t quite know how it’s happened. Then we think, ‘Aha, now I’ll do it again. Now I’m all excited and I’m proud of myself.’ It’s all got to be thrown away into a space, into an emptiness. A famous Zen teacher at the turn of the century said that the world runs mainly on illusions.

These are theoretical statements that are actually interesting, and doubtless very sound but they are no use to you. The thing is to keep an eye open for these things and see how they work in life. I’ll give one example. This was a very bright Hungarian actor and stage director. He got out before the roof fell in. This is a good time back.  He knew English well, he was always very smartly dressed. He was an Olympic fencer. He came across to Britain and he was looking for a job, but his English wasn’t really good enough. It was excellent English, no mistakes, but he hadn’t got the nuances. He couldn’t get a job anywhere and so I said, “What did you do?”  He said, “I became an efficiency expert.” I said, “Oh, did you know anything about efficiency expertise?” He said, “No.” I said, “Well, how’d you get the job?” He said, “I presented myself and I talked to them just a bit and they gave me a job.” I said, “But they must have found out immediately.” He said, “Oh, they did.”

I said, “Then you must have got the sack.” “Oh no, they needed me.” I said, “What?” He said the real efficiency expert, his tie is never in the middle. He’s wearing odd socks. He’s thinking about efficiency and expertise and he can’t be bothered to dress properly. He looks a terrible mess. They used to send us out in pairs, me as the senior, I looked the efficiency expert. I knew nothing about it, but they needed me and then this chap would shamble along and then they would ask the question, put it up and I would turn to my assistant, say, “You’ve got that?” then he would do all the work and at the very end I would present the report and they would be thoroughly satisfied.  Well, this is an example. The real efficiency experts don’t look like efficiency experts. You need an illusion and if we keep our eyes open, we can see how often this happens, that the world goes largely on these illusions, that everything in the world is behind a mask. There’s an appearance, which is a mask and what’s behind it is not the same as what is shown in front of the mask.

The teacher [Iida Toin] said, “Some of us get quite good at seeing what’s behind the masks of the world, but that’s not the real problem. I’m wearing a mask,” and he says, “now turn within. I must find out what’s behind my mask of thoughts, memories, habits, and intentions, ambitions, fears. All these form a mask. The mask is constantly changing all the time,” he says, “but if the needle point of the meditation,” as he calls it, “can penetrate through the mask, he’ll find something that doesn’t change with the changing of the mask.”

The teacher says, it’s not good to specify these things too exactly, but it’s a little glimpse of immortality in this very life. He says, no one comes back from beyond the grave to tell us whether there’s rebirth or not, whether the soul continues or not, whether there is a soul or not that lasts, but he can have an experience in this very life. Then when death comes, he nods and says, “I have been here before.”  Iida says, if we can penetrate through the mask in our meditation, then we can find something which is of value to us.

There are examples of the illusions. When we’re children, if you think at the seaside, you see waves going along and when you’re small, you think the wave, the top of the wave is a thing, a body of water, which is going along like that. If you think back, you get your first surprise when you see something like a cork and to your surprise, the cork here, doesn’t go along with the wave. When the wave goes along, the cork just goes up and down as each wave passes. The wave is not a thing and yet it makes sense to talk about a wave, but we have to realise it’s not an actual thing.

He gives that as one example and the other one is he compares our internal changes to the clouds. You look up at mostly clouds. The fact that you can see the clouds means that there’s a light there somewhere. Then you see a little patch of blue. Well, you feel that’s a thing like the cloud. Sometimes it’s small, but it can get bigger, it can divide into two, it can be destroyed.

Yet the truth is, that patch of blue is not a thing as the cloud is a thing, that blue, well,  Iida Toin calls it Universal Consciousness, but it’s not a thing as the clouds are a thing. He quotes a famous poem:

Do not think, ‘It is clearing up now/and soon it will be bright.’                                                                                                                                                                    From the very beginning, in the sky/was always the brightness of the moon.

It’s a famous poem by a devotee. He says, “Don’t think the clouds are clearing and now the brightness has come. The brightness is always there.”

One of the judo examples, or one that’s given by some judo men illustrates a Zen principle: when you see, hear or touch, think what it is that you’re seeing, hearing touching. The teacher says, “It’s the Buddha-nature. Always.” And people say, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Things are quite different, they’re not the Buddha-nature. When all the quick-talking has died down, they are not the same.”

The example he gives is, “What’s that?” “It’s a fist.” “What’s that?” “It’s a finger.” “What’s that?” “It’s a thumb.” “What’s that?” “It’s a hand.” They’re all hand but we don’t say when we see that. We don’t think of that as hand, it’s fist. It’s unreal but this is how we think of it and identify. They are all hand.

This is a bit pedantic. It’s on education, just a little piece and from the British end. We had a lady talking very sensibly but she said, “I’ve had an education so I knew that the word ‘education’ comes from the Latin ‘e’, out and ‘ducere’, to lead so it’s leading out what is in the child,” and an irritable don, I suppose, spoke up and said, “Well, madam, I’ve got to tell you that the word ‘education’ does not come from ‘e’, out and ‘ducere’, to lead, because the word from those two is ‘eduction’, to lead out but education comes from the Latin educare meaning to educate.”

Its meaning is ‘to train’. Iida Toin says on this, “Words of love are not necessarily kindly words”. Supposing I’ve never been healthy, and now I’ve really got to do something about it and the doctor, or whoever it is, will give me a programme. Now, that programme, perhaps, will be a cold bath in the morning and a run and various other things and the body crumbles like mad, ‘Oh, I can’t stand it, not again.’ It has to be imposed on the body, imposed by force: something the body doesn’t like but the basis is love and there’s a poem. “If there is love, then when the mother kisses the child or when the mother slaps the child or when the mother spoils the child with a lot of attention, or whether the mother ignores the child, it’s right, and if there is not love, then when the mother kisses the child, or slaps the child, or ignores the child, or makes a fuss of the child, it’s wrong.” He gives these as an example.

The life is not going to be easy always. Even things we like, even a child who’s very talented musically, he doesn’t want to practice the scales. He wants to play the waltzes of Johann Strauss or something. He doesn’t want Beethoven or Haydn, or one of those. He wants to play jazz. In my time, it was jazz we wanted to play. Well, force has to be used but that force is based on insight and love but there is a difference between them.

At least this is my impression, you can tell if I’m wrong, between the Eastern and Far Eastern attitudes to morality and the Western ones. There’s an example given by Tozan, a Chinese Zen master. You see a snake, a hungry snake pursuing a frog. Now, what do you do? Well, you don’t like snakes. So, you get a stick and you beat the snake off or maybe kill it and save the frog. Then the frog immediately goes on to catch flies on his long sticky tongue. On the other hand, you don’t interfere. Well, then the snake will eat the frog and the flies will be safe from that frog anyway. If you interfere, the snake loses, the frog does well, the flies lose. If you don’t interfere, the snake does well, the frog loses and the flies do well. It’s two to one. So you’re better not interfering.

My impression is that, for instance, the rules in the Vinaya are mostly negative. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t get drunk, don’t slander people. They’re negative: don’t do harm to people, ahimsa, and you can compare it with the so-called golden rule: What you would like people to do to you, that do to them.

Jesus is reputed to have said this. About 50 years before Jesus, the great Rabbi Hillel, who anticipated some of his sayings, was asked by some idiot, “Can you sum up the whole of the law while I stand on one leg?” Well, most people can’t stand on one leg for more than a few seconds but Hillel nodded, so the chap stood on one leg and Hillel said, “Don’t do to other people what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. That is the law, all the rest is commentary.” Don’t harm them. Don’t harm people.

Whereas the other one is do positive good to them. Well, that has been criticised on the ground that my idea of positive good may not be your idea. When Einstein was young, he used to feel lonely. He would have liked people to come and talk to him but, later on in years, he was saying the great benefit, the great boon is to be alone.

If somebody had come up then and said, “Well, I like being talked to, so Einstein must like to be talked to,” chattering, chattering, chattering – no. This is just suggested to you. I’ve noticed this, that many of the precepts that are given are negative – not to do harm – but it’s not simply that. A man who’s not doing harm is setting an example of peace and calm and often a man who is doing positive good is setting an example of extreme agitation and not very good insight quite often.

One can have these ideas, and then they can practise but practice has to be done until it’s past practice, until it’s no more practice. Now, the example is this and I knew the master who gave it. He was in the kitchen one day, and this is about the turn of the century, and he saw the maids were washing the laundry and they did it as they still do in some part of the East. You soak the thing in suds and then you hit it with your fist and that knocks the dirt out of it. You can pick it up and smash it down on the stone as they do sometimes in India but anyway, he saw them doing this and he gave them instructions on how to use the edge of the hand and how to use the whole body, not just the arms but the whole body. He’d go out every month or so and see what they were doing and correct them.

After about a year of this, one of the maids’ parent was sick and she was to go across Tokyo in the afternoon and come back but she was held up longer than expected. She came back alone through the dark streets and she came past a little alley. In those days, they had long sleeves and a tough jumped out from the alley and caught her sleeve and without thinking she broke his arm.

Now, there’s no thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ Without thinking: that’s practice, which has gone beyond practice and is now part of the person, that’s part of me. The teacher gave that as an example often of how things are to be practised, to go on until it is no longer practice, it’s natural. Then it will come in a crisis, it will come. To practice the space until it’s no longer practice, until it becomes natural. Then in a crisis, suddenly, you feel that there’s a sort of coolness inside, a sort of calm inside.

One other thing is that we can become experts in the holy texts and we can recite them. They’re true, and beautiful and wonderful. We can become like the keen chess players who learn the opening moves, sometimes up to 12 or 13 by heart. When you play one of these, sometimes, if you don’t know how he plays, you play against him, and he plays like a sort of super champion up to move 12. Then you’re playing very, very carefully and cautiously, and then to your amazement, he does something absolutely pointless and you realize he doesn’t understand his own position. He’s got almost a winning position, but he doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t know what to do with it.

And in the same way, one of the teachers said that you can get religious ideas without actually understanding the power that’s in them. You haven’t got access to the power that’s in them. It’s worth knowing that one can get sort of hypnotised into thinking there’s only one way of doing things. It’s the right way.

At All India Radio, where I did work for a short time, I saw the Indian violinists and my father was a professional violinist, one of the best of his generation. He led at Covent Garden for a number of years, and he led for Thomas Beecham. So, I  thought I knew about the violin. I saw this chap playing; he looked pretty good.  He was tucking the violin under here [his left chin], but to my amazement then he laid it along his arm and he was still playing. I thought, ‘You can’t do that!’ and he was still playing pretty well, as far as I could judge, and then he stood it up like a little cello. I thought,’ No. No, no, you can’t!’ But he was.

My father said, at the beginning, you’ve got to hold the thing set under your chin so firmly that when you take your supporting hand away, the violin will still stick out. They still teach you this way, but you’ve got to do this to have the precision, 60 notes to a second. He said, if a man has got the great skill to hold it loosely, and still be precise with the 60 notes to a second, then the tone won’t be muffled as it’s muffled when you hold it firmly. It’s muffled to some extent.

He hinted to me, that Mischa Elman, who was a virtuoso from Russia in the early part of this century who came across [to the UK] and Elman had discovered this individually. There’s no tradition of it. He had this wonderful ‘Elman tone.’ When he first appeared and made his first appearance in London, in the audience was old Jan Kubelik, who was then a great violinist at the time, but getting on in years. He’d gone to hear this new man play with a friend who was a pianist, and they sat in the box, and Elman played and this wonderful ‘Elman tone’ filled the auditorium and in the end there was a wild applause and old Kubelik turned to his friend. He said, “Hot in here, isn’t it?” and the friend said, “Not for pianists.”

One can be dominated by illusions. Illusions take time generally to disperse. It takes quite a time to get rid of certain illusions. You have a certain awe of something or a fear of something. You know it’s unreal. You know you could do it, but somehow it takes time to disperse the illusion but because it’s an illusion, it could go any moment. It could go any moment. One of the teachers said this must never be forgotten. He was an Indian. He quoted a Tibetan account of the life of Buddha, that Mara appointed a demon called Red-Eye, I think it was, to watch the sacred tree, the Bo tree, below which the future Buddha would come. He had this demon simply to watch. Hundreds and thousands of people went, came, went, came and went, came and went. Then, the demon saw a man walking towards the tree. He rushed back to Mara, who said, “Well, what is it?” He said, “There’s a man walking to the tree and the way he walks, I think that man, whatever he sets out to do, he will do. Let Your Majesty beware of what is taking place.”

The Indian comment on this case was, Normally we practise and we are like, perhaps, in the example, the people who walk to and fro near the tree, but the time will come when we have a terrible disappointment or a great fear or great temptation and we should become like that man, walking towards the tree in a way that shows whatever he sets out to do, he will do.

This teacher said, When you approach, when you sit down for your meditation, normally yes, years, process of years, but remember, he said, this is an illusion and it can go anytime and you walk to your meditation cushion like the Buddha, the Buddha-to-be walking towards the Bo tree, saying Today! Today! Today! Well, thank you for listening to me.

This talk given by Trevor Leggett: short pieces and teachings under the talk title, The Space within the Heart can also be found in his book The Old Zen Master,  published by the Buddhist Publishing Group, 2009. The talk given here contains colloquial word differences to the fuller printed material in the book.


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