Trevor Leggett

A brief CV

Trevor Leggett’s teacher of Yoga and its philosophy was the late Dr. Hari Prasad Shastri, pandit and jnani of India. Dr Shastri was commissioned by his own teacher to spread the ancient Yoga abroad, which he did in China, Japan and lastly for twenty seven years in Britain until his death in 1956. The Yoga is based on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita but is to be spread on non-sectarian and universal lines. It has a clear-cut philosophy and training method. Trevor Leggett was his pupil for eighteen years and was one of those entrusted with the continuation of Dr. Shastri’s mission. All Trevor’s books on spiritual subjects are dedicated to his teacher.

Trevor  had lived in India and Japan and knew Sanskrit and Japanese. From 1946 he was for 24 years head of the BBC Japanese Service, broadcasting twice a day to Japan in the Japanese language . He was a translator and author of some thirty books mostly on Eastern and Far Eastern yoga and Zen, with some cross-cultural studies, three of them in Japanese. He also held the rank of 6th Dan in Judo from Kodokan, Tokyo and 5th Dan in Shogi, Japanese chess.
In 1984 he was awarded the Third Degree of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, by the Emperor of Japan, in recognition of his services to cross-cultural relations between East and West, through broadcasting, translations and other books, and through active introduction of aspects of Japanese culture to the West. The Third Grade is in practice the highest to be awarded to a private individual.

In 1987 he was awarded the All-Japan Buddhist Association Literary Award for Translations of Japanese.

The sleeve which is carrying nothing is light –
The evening cool!
Hakuin
 

Trevor’s Life and work

 

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Trevor Pryce Leggett was a multi-talented man who excelled in whatever he seriously set his mind upon. His major interests were Adhyatma Yoga, a well-trodden classical path to the realization of the infinite and all-pervasive Supreme Self, and its non-dualist philosophical basis, known as Advaita Vedanta; Zen Buddhism; Judo and Japanese culture.

Trevor’s creative genius gave rise to the production of scholarly and instructive works, Yoga and Zen teaching stories, practical manuals, translations and transcriptions from Sanskrit and Japanese, as well as his broadcasts to Japan as head of the BBC’s Japanese Service. Among the brilliant set of talents that  constituted his personality, two qualities in particular enabled Trevor  to succeed in making a profound contribution, not only in terms of his own life’s productive output, but also upon the lives of others. His intelligence determined the effort, training and discipline necessary in a given field, giving him the ability to clearly envisage the goal. His strength of character provided him with the will, determination and the efficiently directed energy to shape his destiny.

Dr. Hari Prasad Shastri was Trevor Leggett’s spiritual teacher. Dr. Shastri, who had direct experience of what he taught, arrived in England to present the teachings of Adhyatma Yoga (the Yoga of the Higher Self) in 1929 after having spent periods of time in both China and Japan, lecturing on Indian philosophy, translating scriptural works and founding publications, among other things. Dr. Shastri was a Sanskrit scholar and was also versed in Chinese, Japanese and Persian languages and literature. Trevor  later worked with Dr. Shastri on the translation of Japanese poems and texts that Dr. Shastri used in his reminiscences “Echoes of Japan”.

Dr. Shastri claimed that he was looking for ‘teachability’ in his pupils. Trevor  possessed it in abundance. Trevor  looked for authoritative knowledge and experience in a teacher. He saw that Dr. Shastri discouraged personal adulation and interest; the pupils’ sight was to be focused on the highest spiritual goal, transcending limitations of mind, body and personality. Trevor, who had played chess at London University, under the captainship of Harry Golombek, would win when Dr. Shastri invited him to play with him. Eventually, the young Trevor realized that Dr. Shastri was using these occasions to illustrate different teaching points;

Trevor  was under no doubt that this spiritual teacher had mastered, not mere techniques, but the great things of life. Dr. Shastri’s responses to Trevor’s  probing questions revealed first-hand experience that superseded anything to be found in books. The teacher’s indisturbable serenity, too, under adverse circumstances and situations, pointed to a genuine enlightened man. Training under Dr. Shastri, Trevor refined and honed his own mind and character, turning these assets not to egoistic use, but to the pursuit of higher aspirations and understanding. The validity of the Yoga and its philosophy lies in its practical application to the inner search for the supramental realm. Trevor applied the disciplines of the Yoga to awaken his intuitive faculties through profound meditation practice. Dr. Shastri’s daily outpouring of talks, papers, articles, poems and letters was extraordinary and Trevor Leggett inculcated the same urgency and commitment to not wasting time. Trevor Leggett’s actions, thoughts and speech became purposefully constructive and one-pointed.

Two years prior to meeting Dr. Shastri, Trevor  had read one of his books: “Wisdom from the East”. In 1937 he began to attend Dr. Shastri’s lectures on Yoga and Indian philosophy. The 23 year old Trevor was then interested in mastering a yoga technique that would give confirmable results in his worldly endeavours, particularly in Judo. He had derived enormous energy from the meditation and pranayama practice that he had carried out for the past ten years. Dr. Shastri emphasized the disadvantages to spiritual progress of acquiring supernormal mental and physical powers for their own sake. He also told Trevor  that the disciplines of the classical Yoga were complete in their ability to reveal, in the ready pupil, the goal of enlightenment.

Trevor was, at that time, less than enthusiastic about the ethical aspects of the teachings such as ‘purification of the mind’. Under Dr. Shastri’s instruction, together with study of the Yoga classics, principally the “Bhagavad Gita” and “The Upanishads”, and the application of the Yoga disciplines (notably, enquiry, non-attachment and discrimination of the illusory not-Self from the Self, and meditation) the young man grasped the necessity for stripping away the obstacles, in the form of egoism and false convictions of the mind and body. This was an essential discipline that he encountered likewise  in Zen Buddhism. As an indication of Trevor Leggett’s inner change, the subject of purification of the mind – in preparation for the dawn of spiritual knowledge, based on Bhagavad Gita verses – was a major theme in his later lectures and in the retreats that he led. Similarly, the young Trevor had disdained the repetition of verses in Sanskrit, followed by English, until he realized that the complexities of concepts were served best in the original language. In 1978 the mature Trevor Leggett published “The Chapter of the Self”, written in  Sanskrit by Shankara (the great eighth century Advaita exponent) and in 1989 he translated a newly discovered text: “Shankara on The Yoga Sutras”.

An enhanced concern for exactitude and precision, both in thought and practice, was Trevor’s legacy from his legal studies. Teamed with his skills as an interesting, lively and engaging broadcaster, with a keen sense of humour, often self-directed, he disallowed wishy-washy thinking or the temptation to pass over a point in study and encouraged the use of vivid examples from experience to illustrate concepts, as he did himself. In this way, Trevor Leggett brought the ancient texts of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, not only to life, but into significant relationship with students and listeners.

Dr. Shastri, like his own teacher, before him, embraced the universality of spiritual truth. The Sufi teachings of Rumi, the character of Kobo Daishi, the text of St. John’s Gospel were all equally revered as sources of understanding. Trevor  had a sound knowledge of New Testament verses and encouraged meditation on key scenes of Jesus’s ministry in  order to penetrate the hidden meaning in Christ’s parables. It was with Dr. Shastri’s blessings that Trevor Leggett developed a love and understanding of Zen Buddhism. The differences between the two paths of Yoga and Zen are more apparent than real. Bodhidharma brought Buddhism from India to China, where it took its Zen form and from there it reached Japan. The fertile Indian mind has provided the highest of positive descriptors to the hidden, subtle and spiritual substratum of Man and the universe: “Existence, Consciousness and Bliss” it says of the Supreme. Buddhism, without logical predilections, pins the emphasis on practical experience and steers clear of description that might categorize, with the danger of imposing mental limitations. The negative declarations of “Emptiness” and “without definite existence” are traditional. However, the classical Yoga, similarly, declares “Neti, neti” – “Not this, not this”, pointing to a transcendent principle beyond description, or concept and the positive “Existence” transcends the concept of an existing object. Neither “existent, nor non-existent”, Shankara indicates. Both paths are based on meditative search and experience, and both aim at release from the illusory bonds of body and mind identification. Trevor’s translation of “The Religion of the Samurai” by the twentieth century historian Kaiten Nukariya demonstrates a movement within Zen towards the use of positive statements, such as “Creator” and “universal spirit”.

Trevor  studied under Dr. Shastri until the latter’s death in 1956. Trevor  dedicated many of his books to him. His dedication in “The Old Zen Master” runs, typically: “To the late Dr. Hari Prasad Shastri, who introduced me to Zen in its original Indian form, in whom the ancient traditions were always young, these pieces are reverently dedicated by his pupil.”

Trevor’s published books pertaining to Adhyatma Yoga include: “The Chapter of the Self”, “Shankara on the Yoga Sutras” volume 1 and 2, “Encounters in Yoga and Zen” and Realization of the Supreme Self”.

His books include the following titles:

A First Zen Reader
A Second Zen Reader: The Tiger’s Cave and Translations of Other Zen Writings
Championship Judo: Tai-otoshi and O-uchi-gari Attacks
Encounters in Yoga and Zen
Japanese Chess: The Game of Shogi
Lotus Lake, Dragon Pool
Realization of the Supreme Self: The Bhagavad Gita Yogas
Samurai Zen: The Warrior Koans
Sankara on the Yoga Sutras: A Full Translation of the Newly Discovered Text
Shogi: Japan’s Game of Strategy
The Chapter of the Self
The Dragon Mask and Other Judo Stories in the Zen Tradition
The Old Zen Master: Inspirations for Awakening
The Spirit of Budo
The Warrior Koans: Early Zen in Japan
Three Ages of Zen: Samurai, Feudal, and Modern
Zen and the Ways
(Many of these works have been translated into other languages)