(… continued from ‘He said “I had real power once”‘)
Throw away the thoughts as they come up. The thoughts will become fewer and, finally, selfishness will be discarded, just for a short time. Then there’s a peace, momentarily. In that peace he can become aware of what they call, or what I translate very roughly as something like, ‘The Buddha current in the world’. There is a current of the Buddha nature in the world, which is seeking to express itself in awe, in the grass and the trees, in the mountains and the streams and the animals and the human beings. To come into touch with that current means the actions will become spiritually effective.
You can say, “Well, they’re just sitting there in a room, one person by himself. You might think of something vaguely clever but that might turn out to be wrong.” One example that is given is of the magnet. You can hang a magnet by a thread and it will oscillate for a long time and will give us direction. The Romans used to do this – there were natural magnets. In Burma they had cheap lighters which had a tiny, little compass at the end, concealed under the cotton wool. They were so cheap that they weren’t worth stealing. But if a man was cut off in the jungle, it told him where he was. Slowly it would settle to tell which is north and south.
If there’s anything metal near it, it will be distorted. Once the passions come in – attraction, repulsion; attraction and repulsion – when hatred and desire come in, they will throw out this delicate inner instrument of precision. Then the direction which will be given will be the direction of our passions, or our hatreds. We think we can navigate and we think this is the true north, but it isn’t. So, the ship will end on the rocks. Well, we can say, “Oh well, this is a theory. What sort of demonstration are you going to have of it?” Well, illustrations are given.
In the West we are generally convinced by the extraordinary scientific discoveries which depend on inspiration. In the East they’re not so impressed by those. They say that people can guess. In the East they’re more impressed by masterpieces of art that can’t be copied. In the West we tend to say, “Well, after all, who is to say it is a masterpiece?” Take a man like Rutherford who lived a very pure life. As he said, “I live like a monk.” He voluntarily chose poverty even though he could have patented and made a fortune, as Kelvin told him. One of his major discoveries arose when he was shooting the alpha particles through gold foil. It’s recorded in all the books. Out of this prolonged meditation and this very pure life, suddenly, this inspiration rose.
These are examples in science and art and so on, and we think, “Well, we’re not scientists and we’re not artists.” They come back from school or whatever it is and they have the evening meal. Then the boy has got to go upstairs and study, or into his room and study. The parents watch television. They turn it down but he knows it’s on. After a bit he gets fed up, especially when it comes to autumn and winter and it’s getting cold. They have heating but it’s still rather cold and draughty. They’re sitting there watching the television, and he’s got to study. Then he starts staying on a bit to watch the television himself; and then some evenings he doesn’t study and so on and it begins to collapse.
There’s a Zen illustration. In Japan at a Japanese traditional inn you have a private room of your own and the maid brings the meals. One day the maid comes in and she brings the meal, and as she goes out she’s tired and overworked and she doesn’t shut the door properly. So, a self-made business man who works hard himself and doesn’t see why others shouldn’t, he yells out, “Shut the door!” She comes back. A scholar, might call out, “Please shut the door would you?” “Oh yes, sir.” She comes back and she shuts the door. But somebody who has done some Zen gets up and shuts it himself. How does that apply to the A levels the boy studies? How do you apply this teaching? It’s never been made by gangsters assuming power, even though they were successfully protecting the people in the trade groups and so on.
Finally, a real Buddhist, the Emperor Ashoka, assumed the throne. He’d been a conqueror and then he became a Buddhist. Then, he decided to rule by dharma, by righteousness. Even the rather sceptical H G Wells, in his ‘History of the World’, reckoned this was one of the high water marks of human achievement, or human life – the Indian empire and Ashoka. He had a welfare state and maternity benefits and hospitals for animals, and the trees were planted along the long roads and wells were dug. These great edicts were put on stone and raised.
When there were important transfers of land as gifts to the people, for instance a big school and playground, that was engraved on stone. Documents can be destroyed or forged, but not a great big stone thing that everybody sees each day. It was a good idea and a clever idea, on such a large scale. The empire didn’t last forever because of the passion of one of the queens. She fell in love with the eldest son of the king and when the love was not returned she arranged that he should be blinded. The natural successor was knocked out. But Ashoka’s reign was a high water mark and it showed what could be done. There was no religious persecution and he made the donations equally, even to the atheists – there were sets of them and he made donations to them too. There was absolute freedom of discussion and freedom of thought and freedom of speech. It was very successful.
The Buddha’s main point was that the peace must come in our own heart, otherwise there will be no inspiration. I may have the best will in the world to do good – but in the end, unless my heart has been pacified, the good that I do will be dictated by my passion and it will be counter-productive.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 2: He said, “I had real power once