Three Upanishadic Riddles – Part 1

(29 November 1992)

[This Upanishadic riddle concerns] Indra and Virochana and the teacher. The riddle is that they were set a sort of answer to their enquiry, to their search, but not a complete answer. They arrived at a partial solution which satisfied them and the teacher let them go. We have to ask about this partial solution which he gave and why he let them go knowing that they were not yet aware of the true nature of his teaching. It is said that that Prajapati, the great teacher, made a declaration: That Self that has no sin, no age, no death, no grief, no hunger, whose desire is Truth, whose will is Truth, that is to be known, to be sought after, to be realized. He who knows and realizes it attains everything. This was Prajapati’s declaration.

These are holy texts which express, as far as words can do, a realization. The heart in a sense leaps towards them, ‘Yes, it is so. There is something in us which says, ‘Yes, there is a Self which has no age, which has no death, which has no sin, which has no hunger. I am ageing but there is something in me which does not age. I am dying but there is something in me which is not dying. There is something which has no sorrow. When I’m overwhelmed with grief and sorrow, there is something which is not. There is something whose will is Truth, by whose will the whole universe is as it is. This corresponds to something in me’. We hear these texts: “This is the support of all.” We feel, ‘Yes, it is, yes.’ Then something in us says, ‘Well, where is this Self? Don’t see it. Where? Where? Where is it?’ The teacher says this is to be sought after and then to be realized.

I don’t know whether they still teach swimming in this way but when I was a boy we were taught to swim by lying on our back trying to float. When you go into the water, you get water up your nose. You try to climb out of the water and that means you sink. You’re told, “No, the body will float.” You think, ‘What absolute nonsense. If the body floated, nobody would ever drown!’ but they persist. They say, “No. Try to find it. Now lie on your back” and they hold you with their hands and you lie there. Then they slowly take their hands away and as you feel the support going, you panic, and you just lift your head, and down you go. Lift the head, lift the hand, looking for support. Where is this support in the water? You can’t find it. You try. There’s no support but if in calmness, you can be persuaded to lie still, you feel water coming up around the cheeks and you panic. Finally, you stop panicking for a little bit and then you find that you do in fact lie on the surface of the water. It’s easier from there. Lie on the surface of the water and you can breathe, keeping still.

This is an example. It’s just a little bit of a hint. While we seek for support in friends, and a bank balance, and a house, and armed force, we should sink. If it can be kept calm and still, not seeking some external support then the Self, the universal Self will support us. These are questions of experiment. It’s not a question of saying, “Oh yes, yes.” They’re questions of actual experiment. The time to experiment is when the water is calm.

When the water is rough, it’s very difficult to learn to swim in rough water. You can’t call yourself a swimmer until you can swim in rough water. At the beginning when the water is very calm, you can first feel that support. Well, in the same way in meditation, when it’s very calm you can begin to feel the support from the great Self – not in external things, not in internal thoughts – but in stillness. Then there’s a realization.

Now, could you read a little bit of the text? The purpose of this sort of talk is not to scamper through a text. You can just get the picture and then discuss one of the points.

Reader: Prajapati said, The Self which is free from sin, free from old age, from death and grief, from hunger and thirst, which desires nothing but what it ought to desire and imagines nothing but what it ought to imagine, that it is which we must search out, that it is which we must try to understand. He who has searched out that Self and understands it, obtains all worlds and all desires. The gods and demons both heard these words and said, “Well, let us search for that Self by which, if one has searched it out, all the worlds and desires are obtained.”

Thus saying, Indra went from the gods, Virochana went from the demons. Both, without having communicated with each, other approached Prajapati holding fuel in their hands as is the custom for pupils approaching their master. They dwelt there as pupils for 32 years. Then Prajapati asked them, “For what purpose have you both dwelt here?” They replied, “A saying of yours is being repeated: The Self which is free from sin, free from old age, from death and grief, from hunger and thirst, which desires nothing but what it ought to desire, and imagines nothing but what it ought to imagine – that it is which we must search out. That it is which we must try to understand. He who obtains, who has searched out that Self and understands it obtains all worlds and all desires. Now, we have both dwelt here because we wish for that Self.”

Prajapati said to them, “The person that is seen in the eye, that is the Self. This is what I have said. This is the Immortal, the Fearless. This is Brahman – God.” They asked, “Sir, he who is perceived in the water and he who is perceived in the mirror, who is he?”

He replied, “He, himself, indeed is seen in all these. Look at yourself in a pan of water. Whatever you do not understand of yourself, come and tell me.” They looked in the water pan then Prajapati said to them, “What do you see?” They said “We both see the self thus altogether, a picture even to the very pairs and nails.” Prajapati said to them, “After you have adorned yourselves, have put on your best clothes and cleaned yourselves, look again into the water pan.” They, after having adorned themselves, having put on their best clothes, and cleaned themselves, looked into the water pan. Prajapati said, “What do you see?” They said, “Just as we are, well adorned with our best clothes and clean. Thus, we are both there sir, well adorned, with our best clothes and clean.” Prajapati said, “That is the Self, this is the Immortal, the Fearless, this is Brahman.”

Then both went away satisfied in their hearts and Prajapati, looking after them, said, “They both go away without having perceived and without having known the Self and whoever of these two, whether gods or demons, will follow this doctrine, will perish.”

TPL: One gets a feeling of confusion. What are they talking about? You feel it’s all very holy and so on, but he who is seen in the eye, that is the Self! What does it mean? The eye sees. “He who is seen in the eye” and it’s easy to sort of skate over it and think well, it all means something, I forget what. This is only one of the methods of spiritual training but it is an important method and it was the method in ancient India and it’s also the method called Zen, to present these things as riddles, in a form which will catch the mind. The mind is meant to ponder and think over these things and then to meditate on them and go into them in one’s own Self.

I’m going to just take one or two of the things from this text we’ve just heard. Remember the translation was slightly different. Most of these translations are done by scholars who have not themselves experimented and that means that, although they know the words, they’re translating a meaning which they don’t themselves experience. It would be like a first-rate scholar of the German language translating Einstein who doesn’t know anything about relativity or the photoelectric effect. He translates the German accurately but as he doesn’t know what Einstein is writing about, there’ll be places where Einstein doesn’t explain everything, he takes certain things for granted. There, the translator will have to guess and the translator will make mistakes. In all these translations, and it applies even to the best translations because they cannot be exact. The original is not exact. They are meant for our minds to catch onto and then go in. In China, where periodically the central government used to collapse and you’d get anarchy, then there’d be a new Mandate of Heaven and sometimes a new emperor, or new people like the Manchus, who would re-establish order throughout the central kingdom, as they like to call themselves, Centre of the World.

They found that the technological advances which had been made in the past had now been lost. For instance, they invented paper, they invented a movable print, long but long, long before we had anything like that in Europe. These things were described in manuscripts which survived but the things themselves hadn’t survived. When order was re-established, the artisans tried to reconstruct again, these technological advances. For instance, they sank very deep wells, sometimes 1500 foot deep. Sounds incredible but they were much deeper than those according to some of the records. This was done with a churn drill. It’s a special technique – the ancient Egyptians had core drills – this is a churn drill. When the artisans of the reconstructed empire wanted again to dig wells, they tried to find descriptions of how their predecessors, before the collapse of order, had dug the wells and the manuscripts had survived. The artisans themselves weren’t expert in the Chinese ideographs, as they’re called, the Chinese characters, so they got the scholars, the scholars tried to help them. The scholars knew the meaning of all the words and could put them into modern language for the artisans, but the scholars did not understand what was being described.

They could translate ‘churn drill’ for instance, but ‘churn’ –  you churn something if you make butter, don’t you? ‘Churn’ and the ‘drill’? It was used in surgery and you drill through wood but what’s this got to do with well digging? They could translate the words ‘churn drill’ but because they had no picture in their minds of what was being described the artisans were unable to learn very much from the scholars and quite a lot of these things had to be reinvented as they were unable to use the old descriptions. In spiritual terms, it’s a little bit similar.

The words exist – they can be translated, they can be understood as words or they can be completely misunderstood as words. In Jung’s famous book, The Secret of the Golden Flower – it’s in fact a Chinese text, translated by Richard Wilhelm, a great scholar – but he refers there to a Buddhist method which he calls ‘Fixating Contemplation’. It’s got two Chinese characters, ‘Stop’ and ‘Look’. He thought that meant to make your vision fixed but it doesn’t at all. It means something entirely different. Stop and look means to quieten the mind, so that the furious activity of the mind becomes peaceful and still and then to look. Stop and look.

That part of The Secret of the Golden Flower, where Wilhelm translates this, is completely misleading. Not because he didn’t understand the Chinese characters, but because he didn’t understand what they were referring to, and these texts are a little bit the same. I’ll take one example from this. They ask about the Self. They’ve been disciples for 32 years and the commentator says this meant they had to give up their jealousy and hatred of each other and become fellow disciples. One was the king of the gods and the other was the king of the demons. They hated each other. They had to give up, set aside that hatred and jealousy and become fellow disciples.

The disciple didn’t shave and his nails grew long and he was working and this was to purify his intention, so he’d find out whether he really desired this or not and the commentator says when Prajapati saw that they had purified their intention, that they were really determined then he gave them the instruction. Now, he said, one of the instructions was this, “Look at yourself in a pan of water.” They looked and they saw these beards and these long fingernails and the long hair and he said, “Anything you don’t understand about the Self, ask me.” They didn’t ask any questions. Then he said, “What do you see?” They said, “We see ourselves, I see myself.” He was seeing the reflection. He said, “I see myself.” He was taking the reflection as the Self, “that’s me”. Then Prajapati said, “Now clean yourselves and put on ornaments” which they couldn’t wear, of course, as disciples but they had them in their luggage, evidently and so they put them on and they were like royal princes. He said, “Now look again in the pan of water. What do you see?” They said, “We see ourselves but,  this time, well adorned and clean.”

Prajapati waited. That was all. He said, “Well, that’s the Self.” Now, what was he saying? They were seeing in the reflection, one with long fingernails, long hair, and not very clean, hard work. The second case: beautifully shaved and with ornaments and short fingernails. He said, “Now, that is the Self. What does it mean?” There is something which, when it has long, dirty hair and fingernails and is in very poor clothes and when it is beautifully clean and the fingernails and the hair are cut and it’s got ornaments on, is the same.” He waited for them. They didn’t understand. Ourselves, as we know it – we are reflections of the great Self, the great Self is reflected.

This which we feel ourselves to be – as they said, “we see ourselves” – that which we feel ourselves to be is only a reflection and that reflection seems to change, seems to be poor, seems to have long, dirty fingernails, seems to have long, unkempt hair and then seems to have wonderful decorations but the Self, as reflected there, which they saw, isn’t changed by losing the fingernails and the hair. It isn’t made rich by this reflection of the ornament. He expected them to be able to meditate on this and find in themselves that there’s something which is a reflection and which doesn’t change when I’m very rich, when I’m very famous, when I’ve had a great success, when I’ve got a fat bank balance, when I’ve got many friends, when I’m admired, or when I’m sick and ill and despised and lost all the property, it isn’t changed. It is separate from these things. He expected them to find it. Why didn’t he say, “You’ve got it wrong”? They went away thinking, ‘this body is the Self and therefore we should, by all means, get power, wealth, and fame, and that will be our Self and this is what’s to be done’, but that’s not what he’s saying at all. That is not immortal, that is not fearless. One of them takes this view, the other takes the same view and they go away, and he looks after them and he says, “They’re going away without having understood.”

Why didn’t he tell them? Because it’s no use in spiritual matters, saying, “Oh, no, you’ve got that wrong. Oh, no, it’s like this”. Then they say, “Oh, I see. Oh, yes,”. That doesn’t make any difference at all. Not at all. When I’m told I have a fatal illness and somebody comes up and says, “Oh, but you know the Supreme Self is not ill”, I say, “No, I suppose it isn’t.” That’s no good at all. That’s no use at all. There has to be a realization which will, when that news comes, “You’re going to be executed tomorrow”, something will leap up and know, ‘Yes, the body will be executed tomorrow, Self will not be executed. It cannot be killed, cannot be changed.’

When that spontaneously leaps up in answer to the sentence of death, that will be a realization. So, he doesn’t tell them but he says, “They’re going away without having perceived.” He expected that they would hear of this. They heard of it but one of them thought, “No. I have attained a realization, the body is the thing that’s to be preserved, to be made strong and famous and rich but the other one saw, ‘No, this is not the immortal, this is not the fearless.” He went back to the teacher and he didn’t say, “You’ve taught me wrong.” He said, “The body perishes. How can the body be the Self?”

The teacher said, “I will teach you.” Then he gives further instruction. He says, “There is something in man which is his thinking and his feeling, his inner consciousness, his inner awareness. This is what transmigrates, this passes on and although the body is struck down, this is not struck down because It will be born again”. So, Indra says, “Ah, yes, I have an immortal soul so I should purify that soul and make that soul strong and live in the knowledge that my soul is immortal”. Then he goes away satisfied. The teacher doesn’t stop him. But then he thinks, ‘There, but the soul too suffers. The soul is anxious, the soul is not fearless. Even though I know I’m immortal, the circumstances may be bad. I may be thrown into grief and sorrow. Uncertainty – this is not the pure, immortal, fearless Self’.

He goes back again to the teacher. He explains, “Look, the soul may be immortal but it’s not free from fear and change and anxiety and grief. It seems to feel these things.” The teacher says, “Yes”. Then he asks, “Teach me. Teach me the true Self,” and he says, “There’s something which is in you which is beyond thought. When you fall asleep, deep sleep, then there is no anxiety, no fear, neither in body consciousness nor in soul consciousness.” Indra, the King of the gods is satisfied with that, and then he goes away, then he thinks, thinks, thinks. ‘No, this is not fearless, because he doesn’t know anything. It’s gone, so to speak, to annihilation, when I’m in deep sleep, the state of deep sleep’. He comes back, and he says, “Yes, it’s true it’s free from all the sufferings of the body and free from the sufferings of the soul but it doesn’t know anything”. “Stay here just a few more years, and I will tell you.” He stays a little bit more, then the teacher tells him the same that he told him at the beginning, of this great Self, but now, the mind of Indra has become clear and pure, and one-pointed.

He says, “Beyond the consciousness of the body, beyond the consciousness of the mind, soul, beyond the darkness of the unknown, there is that Self which is immortal, fearless, and the support of all, the creator of all.” Then he has this flash of realization within himself, when it’s no longer a theoretical question, “Oh, yes. Of course, yes.” Something springs up within himself. Now, the texts are helps, but they have to be gone into. Theoretically, I can see, that there is something which witnesses all the changes of the body and the mind and which witnesses the change called deep sleep. There is no body consciousness or soul consciousness. In theory, I can agree, yes, but not in practice. The point of the text is to engage ourselves so that when the changes happen, we can see the things which are added to me, from the world, are no additions at all. The things which are taken, which seem to be taken from me, are not taken at all, I lose nothing. There is something which is joyful, which is blissful, within, which is not cast down when the body is cast down. Which is not cast down, when the soul is cast down with grief, which is not annihilated when we seem to be annihilated in dream sleep.

There is something which is radiant, intelligent, which supports the whole universe, and we are asked to realize that. When we are studying the texts and reading them, we can think, “Yes, yes, it is so.” Then when we leave it, it’s gone. Now, I give an example from life. My elder brother was a wonderful golfer. He had a handicap of  plus 3. Consequently, he was the captain. His advice was constantly sought by fellow members, and they don’t want to pay for a lesson from the professional. It’s a bit like being a doctor, everyone’s trying to get a free consultation from you when they meet you socially. There was a man there who was mad on golf but he had a fatal fault in his swing. He moved his head as he swung, which is one of the worst faults that a golfer can have. The only way to stop it was for him to revise his swing, but he was not willing to do that. Our faults are ourselves. He used to talk about “my swing”. My brother thought, ‘his swing as he calls it, is nothing but a collection of faults. He’s not willing to change them’. Anyway, he used to pester my brother. So, my brother told me once, “I’m going to shut him up for a bit.” He told this chap, “You’ve got to keep your head still, when you’re swinging. You’re not willing to change your swing, but perhaps there’s another way.”

The chap was a ‘do-it-yourself’ type. In his shed, garden shed, he fixed a rod out, which came to a metal ring, and then he would stand there with a golf club and just press his head against this metal ring, then he would swing. Well, now, at first of course his head simply moved off, but my brother said, “No, you’ve got to keep your head without moving, touching this metal ring.” He’d do that, and it did stop him moving the head, despite his bad swings, while he could keep his head in place with that metal ring there. My brother told me, “He’s begun to hit a few straight ones. So, what he’s done is under his golf cap, he’s put a metal ring when he’s on the course. I said, “Well, it’s idiotic. It will simply move as he moves.” He said, “No, no, it’s not so idiotic, you see, because it reminds him of that sensation he had when he was in front of the garden shed, and he’s beginning to play quite well, but it won’t last.” Sure enough, it didn’t last. I asked my brother for his analysis and he said, “You see, at the beginning, when he learned that that ring pressure was associated with not moving the head, at the garden shed, he began to hit the ball well because he wasn’t moving his head. But when he was on the course, occasionally, he’d move in the old way, and then the ring would become associated with movement. Then it would cease to have any effect because at the beginning it was only associated with stillness, but quite soon, it became associated with both with stillness and with moving the head, and then it stopped having an effect.” In the same way, the texts – at the beginning, we nearly all have this experience. There are some holy texts, which affect us deeply, and it affects our lives and then it begins to wear off. People say, “That’s all I need. That was just that one phrase, it’s changed my whole life. Now it’s with me all the time”.

For a time, the life does become controlled and calm and satisfactory, but then quite soon that text becomes associated also with having a row or with depression, or anxiety, and then it begins to loosen. Nearly everybody has this, and it’s because while we rely on some external thing, which is not yet a matter of realization, inner realization, keeping the steadiness, but while we rely on some reading, some text or some association or go to Canterbury’s beautiful cathedral, like an angel, yes, and then you come back and you give everybody hell. These are passing things. Now, they’re not wrong, but we have to realize it’s got to be something which springs up from inside, not something which is imposed from outside. This, then, is one of the points of Prajapati’s instruction. He expects them to think of the body consciousness as a reflection. I feel it now as a direct consciousness. If you stick a pin into me I feel I’ve been pierced. If you burn me, I feel I have been burnt. Actually, the body is a vehicle. It’s as if one was in a car. Of course, the old word was a ‘chariot’. People in their cars, they do say, “we” – “We were going along,” and they feel a oneness and when the car is bumped the feeling is as though oneself was bumped. There’s a certain identification with the car. Ultimately, the man gets out of the car. He can get out. We have to practise meditation. Slowly reject the unreal thoughts, the unreal feelings, one by one as they come up, and then gradually we should become aware of something else.

Now, if you’d just like to try, one of the traditional methods of doing this. Sit reasonably upright, think of yourself sitting on top of a hill, on a seat on top of a hill. Nothing around you, just under the blue sky with emptiness in front of you. In your lap, you have a cloth full of little pebbles. Now, you’re sitting there and a thought will come up about a holiday or something like that. “I wonder if I’ll be able to get away soon.” Now, throw that thought away. Feel your hand is taking hold of a little pebble and throw the pebble and the thought away. It goes away down the hill. Then another thought will come up about a row I had yesterday. ‘Oh, I could have said this.’ No. Pick up a pebble mentally and throw it away. Another thought will come up. ‘I wonder if I could arrange…‘  Throw it away. Not wanted. Another thought. Pebble. Throw it away. Not wanted. Calmly sit on the hilltop. As the thought comes up, throw it away with a pebble. Now, if you’d like to try, I’ll just ring the bell at the beginning, so we can do it for about five minutes.


Just for a minute in the completion of this practice, no more thoughts, sitting on the hilltop under the blue sky. The disciples stay with the teacher for a time until their minds become relatively peaceful, relatively focused, relatively straightforward. It means reducing the thoughts, the imaginary attractions, and diversions. This practice which we’ve done is a fundamental one. There are many things which influence our lives, which we see that simply don’t matter at all. We know that, and yet we go on being influenced by them because we never look clearly into what they are.

These texts which are given to us, they tell us to reduce the casual thoughts, which we have. It’s not so much the great passions. They lead to great suffering, but quite often, one can learn something from them. Some great disappointment. One can learn something from it, but it’s the silly casual little things, which we know are meaningless and pointless, but which, nevertheless, take up so much of our lives in the form of pointless little habits.

Now, we make our minds calm and if we look into some of these things we can begin to see them clearly. My teacher used to give, sometimes, some examples from daily life as his predecessors did. The ancient rishis gave examples from daily life in India. For instance, one common example was the snake and the rope. In the half-light, you’re walking along, say at dusk with a lantern, and you see something lying on the ground and you see it move. ‘I see a snake’.

Snakes are not normally aggressive. In this country, if we saw a snake, we should call the police, but normally, the main thing in India is the other one because they’re often in pairs. When you’re jumping back from that one, you’re probably going to tread on the other one, and then you may get something. If you look carefully at it, keep still, and look carefully at it, then you’ll see that it’s not a snake. It’s a rope. It moved because the lamp you’re carrying casts a shadow from the rope. The rope cast a shadow on the ground. As you were moving, the shadow, of course, changed, and that made the whole snake, the imaginary snake, seem to move. Actually, it’s an old piece of rope. That’s very telling in India, you don’t forget that sort of experience, but here, nobody’s got this experience at all. Our teacher used to give some examples from life here. One such example which I give you – he didn’t give this one – but it’s a similar sort of thing:  heavy smoking. As Bertrand Russell remarked: “It’s not that I liked the cigarettes, it’s just that I can’t stand being without one.” The cure was in this form. You had an hourglass – you were asked to buy one of those little five-minute hourglasses with the sand. You would have a cigarette whenever you want. That’s the first – no willpower needed, but you’re just asked one thing. When you decide, ‘I’ve got to have a smoke,’ you take out your hourglass and you stand it up, and you wait until the sand has gone down for the five minutes.

‘That’s not so bad’. You wait, then you have your cigarette. ‘Well, that’s not much difference’. You’re told to wait for five minutes, then have your cigarette. Then the next thing is that when you have your cigarette, you’ve got to enjoy your cigarette. Nothing else. You’re not to talk to anybody, you’re not to read, not to look at television, or listen to radio, you’re not to look out the window at all. You’re to sit down, go away and have your cigarette, and just enjoy your cigarette.

It used to work quite well. People didn’t feel frustrated because they knew they could always have a smoke if they wanted. They had a little hourglass, but then you’d go away and you are asked to go into a corner or somewhere you can’t see anyone and you smoke and you’re now doing nothing but feeling the smoke coming in.

It gets pretty boring and you realize, ‘I’m not really enjoying this’. Generally, they begin putting it out when it’s halfway through and gradually it gets less and less and less. When the actual thing is analyzed, it’s not really enjoyable at all. It’s puffing the smoke while you’re talking or waving the cigarette. It’s a lot of trivial, little, meaningless things. I just give that as an example. If we sit calmly and we look at some of these mechanical things which we do which are pointless, and we look at them steadily, and they will begin to drop away.

Then our lives will become much simpler, what’s called ‘purer’, but it means clearer. There’s not a lot of rubbish. One teacher used to compare it to boxing gloves. He said, “If you’ve got a lot of prejudices and aversions and likes and dislikes always with you, then you’re like somebody wearing boxing gloves all the time, trying to play the piano in boxing gloves, trying to cook in boxing gloves, trying to write in boxing gloves, you’ve got these things as prejudices.”

How many of us were asked, “How well did you do? How’d you get on in mathematics in school?” “Oh, well, I did do rather well, I liked the teacher, and then we got another teacher. I didn’t like him. Well, it’s another country. I’m from the West and I’ve got a bit of a Western accent. Occasionally, I’d say, Tsunahachi instead of Sunawachi, and sometimes when he was explaining, he’d say, ‘It’s Tsunahachi for our Western friends’ then I didn’t make any progress in mathematics. I didn’t like him.”

“Was he a good teacher?” “Oh, yes. He’s a good teacher, but I didn’t like him, so I didn’t get on.” It’s nothing. It’s absolutely nothing. Yet, these things can influence our lives very powerfully. By these calming exercises, the thoughts become fewer, and then they stand out clearly. Then, without making a heroic resolution, ‘I’ve got to do this,’ but to see; things stand out, become clearer, and we can see much more easily our way around things, and in and out of things.

To practise humility, well, it’s said to be a great virtue. There’s nothing worse than when somebody is very good at something and they keep saying, “Oh, of course, I’m no good at this.” You think, ‘Don’t practice your blasted humility on me. If you’re good at it, you’re good at it. No need to boast about it, but don’t keep saying you’re no good at it when you are good at it’. “Humility’s question”, as one teacher said, “is simply look at the facts. You can have great success which makes you conceited, but it’s only a success in a tiny little field.”

There’s a Japanese poem, it’s rather telling on this. It’s by a three-year-old boy. I thought the hill at the end of our village was the biggest thing in the world. Then one day, I climbed it. Ooh, Mount Fuji. His little hill had shut out the great mountain that lies beyond. When he climbed it, he had his little success. It didn’t make him conceited, thinking, “I have climbed the biggest thing in the world.” He suddenly realized it was nothing at all.

In these ways, to reduce a lot of meaningless rubbish which we have in our minds – we know it’s rubbish – and to have a spring cleaning, as some of the teachers have said, to throw the things away. We can practise humility, but it’s best that it should come from a natural recognition. In a Japanese monastery, they have their formal sitting period, but also, sometimes a monk will sit in the corridor, (he can sit there at any time) in a little alcove sometimes, and he can just put a cushion there and sit.

It’s called an informal sitting, and in some of the sects they attach quite a lot of importance to it – several times a day, just to bring the mind to calmness, sit down. A devout Catholic whom I knew was a very fine man. He quite often visited the Catholic monasteries here. He asked me sometimes about the monasteries in the Far East, and I told him, that there was this thing that was happening. That they, besides the formal sitting, quite often will go and just sit down.

He said, “That shows the difference. In a Western monastery -” he named the group, I forget, Benedictine or whatever it was, he said that there, “the monk will sometimes, yes, he’ll just kneel down and pray where he is, but when he does that, he pulls the cowl over his head. It could be anybody there. It could be any of them. That’s real humility, don’t you think? It could be any of them, whereas the other man is sitting there visibly”. I didn’t know what to say, but I mentioned this to a monk in the Far East. The monk laughed. He said, “If you’ve got to pull a cowl over your head to feel humble, then your humility doesn’t go really deep, does it?”

Sometimes these things can be a help, but finally, the artificial helps must be discarded, and one must be able to sit there and realize, ‘No, I’m not showing off. I’m simply calming the mind quietly’. Another point that they raise is we tend to feel that ‘In those old sages, well, no doubt they were already elevated and so on, but the fact is, these were primitive societies. Nowadays, we’ve gone a good deal beyond that, haven’t we? With our dentistry, for instance, it used to be agony, didn’t it? Then in general, the whole thing – at the turn of the century, our average life was 50 years in London. Now, it’s between 70 and 80. Well, if that’s not an advancement!’

It’s true, they didn’t concentrate on manipulating the materials of the world in order to make things better, more comfortable. They thought of the world as a school. They thought of one’s life as passing through a school, and one was supposed to graduate in that school. To make a school more comfortable is a different thing from going to the school to study. We feel now, here, there’s only one life, so we better make this as good as possible, but, actually, we’re not very good at it. We concentrate on manipulating the physical things and we’ve become fairly expert at it, but we can’t say that the human suffering is any less because we have these mass wars and these mass campaigns.

We sneer at the animal sacrifices which the primitive people made, but if you think,  well, perhaps it was 10 million people who died in China with “The Great Leap Forward”. These were human sacrifices. All those who were killed by nationalists in Germany and elsewhere, these are human sacrifices. Not sacrifices of animals. Their knowledge of the physical sciences was relatively primitive compared to ours, but our knowledge of the psychological laws and the spiritual laws is primitive compared to theirs.

We don’t know how to teach. We have no idea. We think we have. We think there’s a natural age at which one should begin to read and so on. Thomas Young was educated by his father at the beginning of the 19th century. He was doing Latin and Greek when he was three. He was beginning those languages. He was a marvellous genius. He was brought up by what we would regard now as pressure, but he produced this wonderful genius.

Mozart is another example. He never actually had a childhood. We would say, “Oh, no, he wasn’t a well-rounded person.” No. He was a musical genius. There are many things which we don’t know, which they did know. We have no memory at all. We’ve lost the capacity to memorize. They could memorize books. Deussen, the great German scholar of Sanskrit, he went to India and he had lessons from Rama Mishra Shastri. He says he arranged the lessons and he came with his copy of the book, Tattva-Kaumudi. It’s about 150 pages. At the first lesson they exchanged compliments, and then he waited for the teacher to produce his book. [The teacher had memorized it].