The title of the talk is The Ways, and they’re not presented in Japan systematically at all. So this won’t be a systematic talk and you’ll be able to say, in the question session tomorrow, “I was amazed that the lecturer didn’t present it in a more connected form”. The Ways are isolations so to say of Zen in some human activity. Certain activities can show Zen more clearly. Gravity is pulling things down all the time, but if a golf ball is driven, and it has backspin, the air pressure will send the ball upward in a curve. The effect of gravity is masked by something else, although it’s there all the time. If you want to demonstrate gravity, you drop things, preferably in a vacuum. Then it stands out clearly. In the same way, the Ways are human activities for ordinary human purposes. They have been formalized so that the principle stands out very clearly and the absence of principle stands out just as clearly.
These things are meant to be taught. When using a brush, when serving tea, when practising Judo, when writing poetry, they’re meant to be something active, and it’s pointless simply to speak about them when we’re all sitting still. In fact, the purpose of writing books or giving lectures about them isn’t to give direct instruction, which has to be given in the activity concerned. But they’re not quite useless. A book or a lecture or a conversation can interest us and make us feel there is something there. To know that, is already to know a great deal.
If you look at the fifth game in the Spassky-Fischer chess match, in the very end, Spassky, the world champion missed a move which Fischer made, and Spassky immediately resigned. Now, if you take that position and show it to quite a weak chess player, and you tell him, “Fischer made a move and Spassky had to resign at once. Can you find it?” He nearly always finds it. We have a problem – how the world champion failed to find it, not in time pressure, not under fatigue; and yet a very mediocre chess player can find it. The answer is that he finds it because he knows it is there, and Spassky didn’t know it was there. When you know something is there, your attention is directed. You are much more alert, and you have the chance to find it comparatively easily.
This is the first point. The second is that sometimes the books or a talk can give a person the confidence that an ordinary man can come into touch with something which is there. The Japanese and Chinese hints and the Indian hints appeal generally to examples of lives which have been transformed by this practice. Western people find the cognitive demonstration much more convincing.
I’m not a physicist but, if you read the account of the crucial experiment that first showed the existence of the slow neutrons, Fermi, the Nobel prize winner, put paraffin wax in the path of the beam. Now, he’d originally, he said, no idea of paraffin wax at all, he was going to put lead, which wouldn’t have revealed a thing at all. In a conversation of his with the Indian physicist Chandrasekhar, he said, “I was going to put the lead there. Then, very extraordinarily for me, I fussed about that piece of lead. I had it especially shaped. I even had it polished. I couldn’t think why I didn’t want to put it there. Suddenly, I thought, ‘I don’t want lead, I want paraffin wax.’ There was no previous conscious thought at all.” This kind of thing, if you keep your eyes open when reading the history of scientific discovery, is very common. It can be an indication that a human being who concentrates can come into touch with something which is inspirational.
The Japanese appeal to archery, and the crucial moment is the release of the arrow. If a man makes a movement to release the arrow, then that very movement will disturb the aim. If he doesn’t make a movement, the arrow will not be released. This is dealt with in the texts, the so-called Hiden, the hidden scrolls. They have some interesting remarks to make. “I do not know. The bow does not know. The fingers do not know. The arrow is released as if the bowstring snapped. It is not a movement of mine. It is not a movement of my hand. It is a movement of the universe.” These are the examples they give.
This leads to the third point where books or talks can be useful. It is to make us notice something in our own experience. In the doctrine of the Ways, they say the ordinary person at certain times does experience the Way acting through him. He only knows that when he was polishing something or sweeping something or doing something, suddenly he felt at one with it. It is just a flash and then it passes. You think, “Yes”. And then it’s gone. The purpose of the talks and so on is to alert one to some of these experiences.
I heard a Japanese Zen teacher speak, and he said, “When the man who becomes a hopeless, captured alcoholic, his first drink of whiskey is nothing. He often doesn’t like it very much, but that is going to become something so enormous that will dominate his whole life and kill him.” He said in the other direction, the first experiences of Zen are very passing. They’re almost lost. They seem like nothing, but when he looks back later on, he will be able to realize there were these flashes. As he looks back over his life, he’ll be able to identify a certain number of them.
The method of instruction then is meant to awaken, to alert us to something already in our own experience. They speak of it in terms of a sort of ‘feel’. To describe it in words is generally not very helpful. Anyone can use the words, “Make the hand supple.” But he can’t get the feel, he can’t get the feel at all. Whatever you say in words, you [have to practise] and then one day you may get the feel of softening the hand. It’s the same with the shoulders. They’re told to soften the shoulders, and they lift them up, but they can’t get the idea of making the shoulders soft. It’s a feeling. A musician does a trill perhaps 10, perhaps 20, times a second – much too fast for any feedback. It’s a feeling. He tries the notes individually for a long time, faster and faster. He has to play each note separately and then one day, quite suddenly, the feel of it comes. Then he sets the hand off, and it goes [naturally]. These are just hints. There’s a technique and there’s something beyond the technique, which comes suddenly.
Now, the Ways, called Dō (which is the same word as what we pronounce Tao in Chinese) is contrasted with jutsu, meaning technique. All the Ways have a technique. There’s a technique in making tea. There’s a technique in polishing wood. There’s a technique in all these things. There’s a technique in speaking. There’s a technique in listening – but afterwards, he can reproduce, from memory, the main points. That technique, if it’s only art, is used in the service of the personality, and is not yet a Way. While the technique is for the service of the personality, to express the personality, it’s not yet a Way.
A man can use the technique of listening to express his aggressiveness. At the end of the lecture, he can say, “The lecturer’s mentioned the Chinese calligrapher, Mi Fei several times. I know him only in passing, but to my surprise, he called him Mi Fu. I would suggest that if the original Chinese documents are not accessible to the speaker, he could consult Chiang Yee’s Chinese Calligraphy, which is in England.” Well, this is a way of using the technique of listening for one’s own aggression, and that’s all. It may be that the speaker too uses this technique. Perhaps he’s laid a little trap and he says, “Yes, lots of people still think it’s Mi Fei. When Chiang Yee revised his book, which of course was published more than 40 years ago, he didn’t correct it.” In both these cases, the art is used in the service of the main element in the personality. It has no value at all.
Instead of aggressiveness, perhaps the technique is used in the service, say, of aesthetics. A man who plays Judo may develop a very beautiful style, but somehow he always loses. One of them said to me, bitterly, “As I pick myself off the floor, they say, ‘Oh, but you’ve got a lovely style.’” This too is a mistake. It’s not that the lovely style is wrong – but when the man wants to use the art only to express this aesthetic side, he forgets the human purpose for which the art is learned. Then it’s not yet the Way.
All these things are arts. They can be very highly developed. The personality is using the technique to express something in itself; or, in a case of a Way, the Way is using the personality to express itself. This is something quite different. Then there gradually becomes a freedom from the rigid form of the habits of the personality, from the rigid attitudes. People who practise an art, their basic attitude comes through all the time. If it’s energy, they’re frantic all the time – even when they’ve got to wait, if they’re playing chess, or if they’re playing judo, or if they’re fencing – they can’t keep still. Whatever it is, it’s a suppressed energy just held in, waiting to burst out. Or he’s a bit careful, very cautious. Now, whatever the man does, in everything he does, this basic attitude is reflected. That means whether he’s skillful or clumsy, it’s not yet a Way. For those, and there are not many, who enter a Way, they begin to change.
You can’t predict a man who practises Judo, when he begins to know the Way. He may be suddenly like a typhoon, or he may be as if he’s asleep. It’s very unnerving practising against that kind. You don’t know what it’ll be. With the man who’s always on the attack, at least you know; but you can’t prepare yourself against two different things. It’s very difficult to meet a man who’s entered the Judo Way, so that it’s no longer a reflection of one aspect of his personality. It can be any. Some grim old Zen man, when he’s entered the Way, his Zen isn’t all. To your surprise, he shows you a picture of Kwannon done in perhaps 14 or 15 strokes. He says, “I draw this every morning.” They’re just strokes, it’s a stylized thing. He says, “Over the years, these pictures have changed.” They reflect his inner state. Before that he won’t draw a Kwannon, he’ll draw a Bodhidharma if he’s that type. Afterwards, all the aspects of the personality are used by the Way, the Way of Painting, in order to express themselves. He is being used by the Way, he’s not using the Way for his own glorification, or his aggression, or his anxiety, or whatever it may be.
It is said in one of the devotional schools of Buddhism, that the devotion in public is no devotion. There was a school of saying the mantra. There are two main mantras in Japanese Buddhism, the Mantra of the Lotus and the Mantra of Light. One party about 1,000 AD began dancing through the towns and villages repeating the Mantra of Light and dancing, and many followed them. There was a great wave of devotion over the country. On one occasion, they came to a small town and a professional thief and one of his followers was watching. The follower said, “They’re very holy men,” and the boss said, “No, I don’t like it. These people, they’re dancing. They’re showing their devotion to Amida Buddha, but they are not sincere. It stands to reason. If you felt anything really deeply, you wouldn’t go dancing about the streets. If you fell in love with a woman, you wouldn’t be making love to her in the middle of the street, would you? It’s got nothing in it at all.”
That night, Kuya, the Nembutsu leader, happened to be staying at the same little inn where the thief was. The thief in the middle of the night got up and had a feeling, “I’ll creep round on the veranda.” He looked in and saw a tiny light and Kuya in front of the light. He was repeating the mantra with his lips, but no sound. He was just moving in the movements of the dance, very abbreviated so that he made no sound or disturbance. The thief watched him. It went on for hours and then the thief sneezed and immediately Kuya blew out the light and went to bed. The next morning the thief asked him, “I’ve had my doubts about you, but I must say that I was watching. I would like you to explain this to me.” Kuya said, “You were right in what you said. The devotion we do in public is only for the sake of the public. It has no meaning for us. It’s the devotion we do in solitude, in concealment, that nobody knows about, that has any actual value for us.” There are many who show devotion in public, and they attain a reputation, but this is not the Way. It is what is in secret that is the Way.
Movement and stillness. One should be able to alternate movement and stillness – to be able to speak very energetically for a cause for six months, or a year, and then to remain absolutely silent for years together – to be able to do both, not only one. We don’t go into the practices here, but one element is, not control of the breath, but to bring the breath back to the natural state. One example they give is to look at people who are sleeping deeply. Note the breath, then reproduce that very deep, slow breath, often with a long check between each breath. This will bring the mind to calmness. One of the doctrines of the Way is that, however good your technique may be in music, or in painting, or in the tea or anything, unless you control the breath habitually when you’re doing it, then in a crisis, that technique may disappear.
The technical details are not appropriate now, but one should take the attention down to just below the navel. At the beginning, in some schools, they wrap a sash round, and they put a little pebble just at the navel, and then they keep the attention on the pressure there. When they breathe deeply, the pebble presses in, and it’s easy to keep the attention there. This is something that we can just consider. If we look at a sleeping person, when we feel disturbed, we bring our own breathing back to that very deep and very slow rhythm. The techniques of the Ways are made to yield hints as to the spiritual principle. The details of the technique are gone into just as with a golf ball – whatever its action, a slice or a pull, gravity is equally acting on it. Even where it goes up, and it seems to be going against gravity, if we can become expert in the doctrine of gravity, the effect can be observed.
In the techniques of all the Ways, the doctrine of space is very important one. If you want to push the table strongly when my hand is resting on it, it’s quite difficult. It can be done, but it’s quite difficult. But if I make a space, it’s much easier. In the same way, they say, make a space in your life when you want to do something. If it’s essential to learn adding, because you have been given the job of accountant, and you’re no good at adding, don’t just think, “Oh, I’ll pick it up as I go along.” Make a space, cut half an hour or an hour from the television or whatever it is. Buy a book on rapid calculations. You’ve then made a vacuum with the time you have taken out from the ordinary day. In that vacuum, your study will have tremendous power – but if you just fit it into the ordinary day, it won’t.
To make a space – a teacher of anything tells you that at the very beginning, people make enormously fast progress because they don’t know anything. They come and they say, “I don’t know anything.” There’s no obstacle. You tell them to do this, they’ll do it. Tell them to do that, they’ll do it. They make tremendously quick progress; but quite soon, they’ve got ideas. When a golfer’s been learning for about six weeks, he starts talking about his swing. Then he starts saying, “What the pro’s telling me, I suppose it’s all right and all, but I don’t know that it suits my swing.”
Now one of the teachers says, “When you first come to a Way, you make a vacuum. You sacrifice your time. You come to the dojo, the practice hall. There’s a vacuum, and because it’s empty, the progress is very fast. But quite soon, you fill that vacuum with all sorts of ideas about yourself. “I’m not good at this, but I’m pretty good at that. I don’t know that the teacher fully understands me. Of course, every individual is different. I don’t think what he’s telling me is quite my path.” If there’s sincerity, the skilful teacher of the Way knows how to overcome these things.
There are people who perhaps are silly or over-aggressive, but when they practise against somebody, and they try something new, of course, his attempt is very feeble. Then the others take advantage of that because he’s trying something where he’s very weak – they pick him up and smash him down. As a result, the he stops trying these new things and settles down to the things where he’s comparatively safe. He doesn’t learn anything new, and the others learn nothing new either. Sometimes, with this extreme competitive spirit, the man having tried can’t get over it. Very often, it’s not sincere at all, it’s just the desire to beat somebody. He says, “I can’t help it. It’s my fighting spirit. I have to do it. When I see the chance, I’ve got to throw him, haven’t I?”
The teacher waits, and then one day there’s a contest. The man’s thrashing about, and he bangs his toe against something and shouts, “Oh.” The teacher says, “Go on, come on.” “I think I’ve broken my toe.” The teacher says, “Let’s strap it up the next one.” But he says, “No.” The teacher says, “Come on, now. Now’s the time for the fighting spirit. Now’s the time.” When it’s not sincere, there’s not much can be done except to [give up]. But when it’s sincere, the teacher finds means to overcome it. With this very competitive spirit or obstinacy, the teacher has means.
Some of us are told that if we hold on when the opponent’s throwing us, he will either let us go, in which case we can get on our feet, or he’ll make the throw, and he’ll fall right on top of our ribs, and our ribs will be broken. You’re told that, when he comes to throw you, if you hang on like mad, he won’t throw you because he doesn’t want to fall on you and hurt you. There are some people who, in theory, know they should take the fall, but they can’t. Then the teacher goes on with them and makes the throw. He comes down – he breaks a rib, or perhaps he doesn’t quite break it. Anyway, it’s a terrific shock. Then the man sees it. Now it’s a question, perhaps, of intelligence; but there are people who have to go through it to understand it.
One Judo teacher I knew – a very experienced man – he said it’s the same in life. He said, “They say, ‘I can’t stop gambling’. I say, ‘Alright, gamble then, but gamble properly.’ I make him gamble for two nights running. Then I make him go into a contest against 16 or 20 people. He’s absolutely exhausted, and sometimes he’s sick, but I make him come back. I say, ‘No, no, you wanted to gamble. You’ve done it. Now come on with your Judo game.’ When the man practically passes out, I leave him. I say, ‘Now, do you understand? This is what you’re doing to your body by gambling all night.’ Then he comes to see it.” A lot of people are more intelligent, and they can understand. If you sit out all night gambling, you will not be able to do the Judo which you want the next day. If there’s sincerity, all these psychological difficulties, and habits, and fixed attentions can be dissolved, but they have to be sincere. The man has to be prepared to go through with them and not whine.
The principle of the Ways is called ri. The individual technique is called ‘ji’. Ji is the actual technique of doing something, of boiling the water and pouring it in, and how to offer the cup. The spirit is ‘ri’. The fencing cut is the technique. Many of us in studying the Ways, or in our ordinary lives simply use technique. Technique is something that has to be practised and practised to become expert at it.
There was a painter in Japan, who had the idea of getting a signature that no one could forge. That’s quite difficult. Anyway, they have teacups everywhere, and you have tea at all occasions. As he talked and listened, he would take one of the cups and run his finger around it. He would just sit there running his finger round, every time, not ostentatiously. At the end of three years, he could take a brush and draw a perfect circle. He used that as his signature. It can’t be duplicated. This is an illustration given about technique, it has to be practised and practised and practised. Technique alone is what is generally used.
Now, the excellence of technique is its own undoing. The very excellence of a man’s technique is his own undoing. [TPL describes how a certain technique of holding a knife, if mistaken by his opponent, can result in his death.] The posture of an opponent who knows the knife is in the man’s right hand will be indefinably different where the knife is in his left hand. But a man who’d studied the Way would know there was something different, he would feel it. He wouldn’t consciously think it. He’d feel. He’d have a wide span of attention, not fixed on the one technique.
There are many instances in the history of the arts, where a man who doesn’t know any technique has to meet a technical expert in a fencing duel. He has no chance, no hope; but he goes to an old fencing teacher and one such story is this. The old man says, “You’re prepared to die, you know you’re going to die anyway”. So the farmer says, “I’ve got to be, yes. I just want to die with some sort of honour.” The old fencing teacher takes him to the place where they’re going to duel.
He draws a line and says, “Stand here. You’ll be facing the sun, but he won’t object to that because to face the sun is a disadvantage. Stand here.” Now, he shows him a particular attack, which is the most dangerous thing you can do in fencing. It depends on taking two very long steps right under the opponent’s sword, and then just making a side cut that doesn’t demand any technique at all, But the two steps are almost impossible to make – even in practice, we think we are making long step.
So the old teacher said, “Look, I’m going to put some magic into the ground. I’m going to put magic into these two pebbles. You stand on this line.” Then he put one of the pebbles down and he recited one of these words; and then the other one further away. “When your feet go on these, jump and jump. A magic will come into your body, which will paralyze him.” The next day, the farmer stood on the line and jumped and jumped, and killed the other man. There is a sort of magic in those pebbles – it consists in getting the man to make the long steps, because he must jump on the pebbles.
Now, this is an example where the ri principal conquers technique. The fencing opponent wasn’t conditioned to expect this sort of attack from a mere beginner. It’s quite unthinkable. Ri and ji, they must be combined and interpenetrate. The whole principle is present in the smallest technique; and in the principle all the techniques are contained. Courage goes through all the Ways. You think, “What courage do you need to paint a picture?”
Musashi was one of the greatest swordsmen and duelists of his time. I don’t want to praise him up, he killed 56 or 57 people in duels; but he was also one of the best artists of his time. Some his work still survives, and he was a great genius. He was quite fearless, sometimes he took on several people. He was asked one day to paint a picture in the hall of the local nobleman. He said, when he started to paint, that the paper seemed his enemy. The first movement of the brush is the crucial thing, when the brush comes down on the paper.
A traditional Chinese or Japanese artist makes the whole picture in his mind first. There are never any alterations. The picture doesn’t grow under the hand. He’s not like Leonardo, who went and looked at the half-completed picture for two hours and then added one stroke. The whole thing is done very quickly, in a sort of calligraphic style using artistic convention. He said, as he was going to put the brush onto the paper, he felt the paper was his enemy. He felt fear, which he’d never felt when handling a sword.
He made a few strokes, and he tore up the paper and went home. He said, “My Lord, I’ll bring the picture tomorrow.” He said, “I went home, I felt confused.” Then he put on his fencing gear, and thought, “I have never feared anything.” – and then he painted the picture. He said, in that spirit, he was able to paint it. The principle runs through all the techniques. We’re expected to master or become reasonably expressive with one technique, and then we look at the other techniques to recognize the principle in them.
Dr. Kano was the founder of Judo. He was a very big figure, of brilliant intellect, in Japanese education. The maids used to soak the laundry in soap and then beat it with the fists to get the dirt out of it. They still do this in some parts of the East. It doesn’t make for long life in the garments, but it gets the dirt out. In his kitchen, he taught one of the maids to strike the cloth with the edge of the hand. He used to go back every few weeks to see her doing the laundry, and taught her how to use the whole body. She did the laundry like that. Then one day, one of her parents was sick. She had to visit from across the city and had to stay late. She came back and, as she passed an alley, a tough jumped out and grabbed her sleeve. Without thinking, she broke his arm. The next day she came back and Dr. Kano called on the police chief and said, “Will you go around the hospitals and find a young man with a broken arm. That’s the man who attacked her.”
This is an example. In the everyday things, the principle of self-defence can be found. In the principles of self-defence, principles of aesthetics, and others can be found. In the Ways, the whole personality has to be employed. Technique only uses one part. In the Way, the whole personality has to be used and it is always in a human activity. The Way is concerned with ordinary things like writing. Some people force the pen onto the paper, some people write very cautiously, others scrawl. It’s a particular aspect of the personality that comes out. If you watch an expert writer, a speed shorthand writer, they balance it. They balance the pen halfway up.
We have traces of this principle in the west. There’s a tradition among the pianists that certain section of the Hammerklavier Sonata must be played with the hips. Nietzsche used to say, “I write with my whole body”. These are just little fragments, there’s no tradition at all. However, one important thing is that, in keeping to an activity which is a human purpose, it’s possible to change the consciousness by distorting the body image. In India, they sometimes twist, and they remain in a twisted posture until the orientation is lost. Then the consciousness can change. The training of the Ways is against this, strongly against it. The change of consciousness must be attained in the human activity. Not in unusual situations, artificial situations, but in the human activity and human purpose behind it.
For instance, the criticism of our exercises is that not all the personality is used. I just give this as an example. Dr. Kano used to say (I heard him in his old age, he was a remarkable man at 82, still remarkable in his Judo, which he could do better than I can now at 60), “In the West, you have your Swedish drill. The personality is not employed, you’re told to stretch up but that’s all.” In the Chinese system, they tell you, if it’s a question of stretching, think you’re on horseback, you’re going underneath overhanging willow trees, and you stretch just to touch them. You’ve got to stretch more and more and more, just to stretch, to touch them. If you make that imagination vividly, your whole personality is brought in. In fact, the stretch is greater. They stretch further than they think they could.
In the same way with this Swedish exercise, just to do that may develop a stronger muscle, but it does nothing for coordination. In fact, it spoils it, because you’re simply making an uncoordinated movement. Choose a point in the air, feel there’s something to hit, then not merely the muscles, but the balance and the coordination, and the intention, are sharpened and vivified.
In this training, they used to say when Rikyu made the tea (and with this in view, I have watched the present head of the school which derives from Rikyu, making the tea ceremony) never for a moment was he off balance. I did watch him with this in mind. There are various stories about it of course. In the Ways it’s possible to imitate. We’re warned against this. We always imitate the easiest thing to imitate, which is something completely worthless. A very experienced Judo man, a coach, is here and the opponent is perhaps going to grab his jacket very quickly. But it’s a tiny bit loose so, when he grabs it, there’s just a moment before the pull takes effect. In the bad old days, they used [wear the jacket loose], but you’re not allowed to do that now. Very experienced, and only very experienced, contest men, when they come out, they’ve got the habit [like this]. The interesting thing is it becomes a habit which a very experienced man does, and when such a man teaches class of small children, six, seven and eight you see those tiny little children, they come out for contest in the same way.
This is only imitation. It has no meaning at all. We think that perhaps it has some meaning for us. To cover the imitations, to have to practise austerity, to practise your Way under very unfavourable conditions. If you’re a poet, you get up at half-past three in the morning in the winter and open the windows. When you’re freezing, with no heat, you write the poem. I’ve seen some of those poems. One of them says, “Meditating that the Buddhas of the three worlds are seated all around us, we do not feel the cold.” In this way, they bring something out, which otherwise doesn’t come out. The Archers get up same time, when it’s very cold and they shoot. They know their body is only 60 or 70% effective. But that 60% or 70% they have. If you haven’t trained in that method, you can’t do anything under those terrible conditions. There’s a collapse. These things can be very useful.
Now, most of them we can do by ourselves. (I don’t recommend it.) If you want to practise one of the Ways, choose something that you do. You paint – then paint all night on a cold night. Then in the morning, you will have learnt something and you will have experienced something. If you look at your paintings, just make sketches. You may learn something. Anyway, this is one of the practices given. (I don’t recommend it in case somebody catches cold and says, “You told me to do that!” No.) There are other forms of the training which can only be given by a teacher.
In Tokyo, they have real riots. They have a special riot police to deal with them. Those police train, of course, in all the things like Judo, grappling, and wrestling. One of them was telling me they have a month’s intensive training every year when they do Judo perhaps six or eight hours a day. That tends to be in the summer when it’s hot. He says that they do it for a month continuously, but they get one or two days off. If the old grim old teacher suddenly realizes they’ve all just about come to the end of their tether, then he says, “Alright, this afternoon, you can change and go into town. You’ve got to be back on time, and no trouble – but you can go in.” He said that one of these sessions he thought would kill him. Suddenly the teacher stopped in the middle of the practice and said, “No, you all need a break now, take the rest of the day off.” They couldn’t believe their good fortune and the wintery smile on the old man’s head. Anyway, they hastened to change, were given their passes, and all went out. “Goodbye, we’ll be back.” But they got a hundred yards down the road and one of them came back: “There’s been a mistake” – and all were brought back to change into Judo.
Now when you hear that you just think this is meaningless. This is just cruel. “That man told me, “No. You know, when you’ve been on duty, perhaps for a day and a night, and then you get home, and you think “Thank goodness”. Then suddenly you’re rung up by a call for emergency duty.” He told me that the previous experience that he’d had of coming back, that crushing disappointment of coming back, was a great help to him. When you’ve experienced it once, you’re familiar with it, and you know that it won’t actually kill you. You’re able to do it.
As I said, this is not a systematic talk, because I told you, there’s no gradation where these things are told us; but it’s expected that one or two of these examples will strike something in us, perhaps alert us to something in ourselves. Then it’s something that can lead, perhaps, to inspiration. What sort of inspiration? Without explanation, I’ll just tell you these four stories. You can make something out of them perhaps.
This was a boy, who was mad on Judo, as they sometimes are at 17 or 18. It goes on until they’re 23 or 24 and then generally stops; but he was mad on it and very promising, very skilful. Then in an accident, he lost an arm. Normally in time they recover, but the parents found that he didn’t recover. They consulted his Judo teacher and told him, “We’re sure he’ll commit suicide if he can’t continue with the Judo, but he can’t.” They went to a very old, experienced teacher. He saw the boy, talked to him for a bit and then he said, “Yes, I see you’ve got to do Judo. You got to do it.”
Then he said, “What’s the standard in the county?” So they told him it wasn’t particularly strong but, anyway, a good county standard. He said to the boy, “County champion, would that satisfy you?” “Oh yes, but they’ve got two arms and they’re practising. How can I become county champion with one arm?” The old man said, “I’ll do it, but you will follow my instructions. You’re going to lose completely, all the time. I want you to just practise defence. I want you to come here and I’ll make arrangements for a teacher for you.” The boy did this in his own Judo hole. He just practiced defence; but, in spite of that, with his one arm, he was often thrown. Then finally he was able to hold them off with one arm; but, of course, not to make a throw.
Then he was told something secret. Again, there’s no use being too technical, but there’s a particular thing. It’s rather rare, a great surprise and it’s rather difficult. The man comes hurling in and has to get his chest smack against the opponent’s chest very, very quickly. The reason it isn’t very popular is that it’s very easy to stop. You’ve got to get right in and well on your way before he can just do that. It’s very easy to stop. Well, he trained him up in this, and when the time came, the boy went through and won the county championship. The reason is that he didn’t have an arm. You can see that with your eyes, you know? “Yes, there’s no arm there.” But when these things happen very quickly, your technique simply takes over. You tap the opponent’s arm, but you’re tapping nothing. This is very a important point – how to turn, by inspiration, a disadvantage into an advantage. This is something that everybody studying the Ways has to ponder very deeply. Instead of whining about our disadvantages, one should find an inspiration to make the disadvantages into advantages.
Well, I’ll just tell the last two, this one is on music. A new flute was brought in from China. It came to the capital and one flute master learned to play it from the Chinese musician who made a visit. He was a great genius and he visited Kyushu, the Southwestern Island, and they arranged a concert for him. He played the flute among the assembled musicians and everybody who had any interest in culture. Now in our Western music, a lot of it excites the audience and at the end, we all clap enthusiastically, and they have this music too. But the highest form of music is that which tranquilizes the audience. He said, “Real music will throw the player and the audience into a state of meditation.” It’s said he played and after playing, he remained perfectly still, and the audience remained perfectly still. Then one musician said, “Like a God.”
They arranged a fund among all the musicians. They chose the most promising, brilliant young musician and they said, “We will pay for you to go to the capital for three years to study under this master.” The master said, “Yes, I’ll take you.” He went to the capital and he began studying this flute, but he found that he had to play the same tune every day. The master never changed the tune and never gave any approval, but never told him what was wrong. He simply practised for eight or ten hours, went and played and the teacher said, “No.” Well, after a couple of years he broke (the Japanese can keep things up), he collapsed and he broke, He didn’t go home; instead, he took to drinking in the capital and he spent all the money. In the end, when it was all spent, he had to go home. He tried other tunes on the new flute, sometimes played the old flute, but none of it was good. He went home and he lived in disgrace, away from the town – more or less like a beggar hermit. He just gave a few lessons on the flute to beginners. He sometimes played, but he realized it was no good.
Then one day they had a great festival of music, and they sent a little deputation to him. They said, “We are holding a great festival. Everything’s forgiven. We’ll forget it all. But come to our festival, we won’t hold it without you.” In the end, he was persuaded. They said, “Bring your flute and play.” He just picked up the flute and they went, when he got there, he found he’d got the new flute. He was now a beggar, he had nothing. They said, “Now play”. So he played the same tune that he played the master and, at the end of it, the audience remained absolutely like statues. Then one man said, “Like a God.”
The last story is concerned with a pencil stub. There was a master of calligraphy with the Way of the brush. He retired to a small village where there was an old grandmother who was bringing up her grandson. Both the parents had died and she just scraped a living. The old teacher saw the boy was very bright and he gave him lessons. The boy passed his exams and, finally, the time came when he would have to go to a college if he was going to get on in the world, as the teacher wanted. The teacher explained this to the old grandma and she said, “Oh yes, I’ve sacrificed myself. I’ve slaved to bring him up and now I’ll have to sacrifice and be all alone. I haven’t got many friends and now there won’t be any at all.”
The teacher said, “Well, anyway, I know the principal of one of the colleges in Tokyo. This is a very bright boy. I’ll write a letter of introduction to him, and you can take the boy up to Tokyo and see him established in the college. She thought, “Well, anyway, I’ll have the letter of introduction.” She really expected to see something, from this famous calligrapher. But he didn’t touch the brushes or make any ink. He picked up an old stub of pencil, blunt. He said, “You know, this is nearly worn out, but I like it. You just cut two little bits of wood and then you sharpen. He took an old bit of paper and just scribbled a quick introduction, handed it to her and said, “Take that.” He gave the address, but she was horrified because there was no seal on it, nothing to identify what it was, anybody could have scribbled it. She thought, “They will simply throw me out!” and she was bewildered. Anyway, they went up to see the principal of the college who looked at this thing. As she began to make her apologies, he said, “No, no. This is a masterpiece of writing. With this blunt pencil he succeeded in showing the speed of the brush over the paper. I shall keep this very carefully. No one else could have written it.”
The boy was taken on and she came back to the village. She wasn’t left alone – she had many visitors. She said to one of them one day, “I used not to have many friends. Now I’ve got many.” The other woman said politely, “Oh, well, of course, you always used to complain; and you were always saying how much you sacrificed and what you’ve done. Now you don’t say so much – but when we come here, we feel a sort of strength. When we go away again, we find there things we’ve been frightened of or haven’t liked to do and we’re able to do them. Can you tell me where that strength comes from?” She said, “It may be the pencil”. So she told the story of the pencil.
She said, “I kept thinking why did he do it? Finally, the pencil was everything.” (Now those of you who are interested in Zen will recognize these Zen stages.) “The pencil became everything. The whole universe was wrapped up in the pencil, in the blunt stub of the pencil. I thought and thought, the pencil was before my mind. When I closed my eyes, I used to see that stub. Then I had a sort of flash and I thought, ‘I am the pencil. I’m old. I’m nearly worn out. I have no point, no sharp intellect, nothing. Yet in the hands of the Buddha, a masterpiece can be written.’”