In India they had a habit, as a ‘thank you’ present of telling the other party to ask for a boon – and that meant anything. Well that would not be common here for people to be prepared to risk allowing somebody to demand anything, even the life of the one who’s granting the boon. Great emphasis was laid on keeping the exact words of the boon, and that’s why King Dasharatha who had offered Queen Kaikeyi a boon, when she reserved that boon and later on claimed it, which was to disinherit the heir to the throne, that word had to be kept and Prince Rama, though he could have easily avoided it, insisted on following up the words of his father.
So the Gita tells us we are whirled by Maya like marionettes, jerking through a series of reflexes. Shankara in an analysis of this, in another verse of the Gita, the verse says “Even the Knower, the Jnani, acts in accordance with his nature, what will restraint avail?” The opponent says, “Well, in that case, there’s no point in anyone making any efforts at all.” But Shankara says, “No, because we are held to our nature through attraction and aversion. If they can be annulled, if their binding power can be annulled, then we are freed from our own nature, which makes us behave like marionettes. We can be dressed very beautifully as marionettes, we can have a role of a king or a very rich man and we may conclude it’s not so bad. But in actual fact, the Gita points out that all these things are illusory and they end, as our teacher said, “The lower self, expressing itself in ambition, material desires for action and aversion and other limitations, they all end in sore despair.” The man is a marionette and the seeming successes are no successes at all, they’re simply movements of this great wheel.
Now it can be covered up. In France the Zen training has become very popular and a Japanese newspaper sent a reporter to report on what happened. The reporter was not a Zen man at all, so he just reported what he saw. There were a hundred people and they built a temple, or had a temple built, a small one. They met there regularly, once or twice a week. Now he said they were intensely serious about it. All the monks in Japan wear a black robe and these French people, although they were not monks, they all took with them and put on for the meditation period, a black robe, so that they would be, so to speak, honorary monks. Fifteen out of the hundred had had their heads shaved – although, again, they were not monks they had wanted to do the thing properly and be as monks. And his report said they sat there in this silence, which was broken only occasionally by the leader explaining some point of Zen philosophy. He said the atmosphere was very solemn – in fact, he said it was sombre. Anyway, he himself sat through this sombre silence and then a bell rang and he said suddenly the atmosphere lightened. Then he saw that everyone was rushing to the bar. They had a little bar in the temple and everybody in their black robes and their heads shaven were rushing to the bar, and he made one or two rather acid comments on it. The movements of the marionette can be, so to speak, covered up, but in the end the automatic movements will take place.
In Macbeth when the witches are going to manipulate him they tell him one prophesy which comes true immediately, and then another one, and then the witches say, “The charm’s wound up”. In Shakespeare’s time they had watches that were wound up with a spring. They wound him up like a clockwork toy with these prophesies and now he would go through, like a marionette, the actions that were controlled by them.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Yoga in Troubled Times
Part 2: We are whirled by Maya
Part 5: Shankara says we are puppets
Part 6: The highest service