Chesterton remarked that when they don’t worship the traditional gods and religion, it’s not that they worship nothing, they worship anything, and as an example, Djilas, who was Vice-President of Yugoslavia and knew Stalin well, he said, Stalin knows everything, Stalin can do anything.
No problem he cannot solve. And when the interviewer said ‘But these are attributes of God, knows everything and can do anything’, he said, he was a militant atheist, he said, ‘Yes, I think then I did worship Stalin’. They are worshipping lesser gods with faith and devotion. Lesser gods – another example given by Shankara of the lesser gods worship – the god of property.
The temple in Jerusalem was a mass of gold when the Romans finally captured it and despoiled it. The price of gold in the Middle East went down by half. There was so much gold suddenly on the market, it was enormously wealthy. It was a huge organisation. The vestments of the High Priest were made from linen which was imported from India – that was the best. Then in the time of Jesus we know the incense-makers went on strike, and they had to get incense from Egypt, which wasn’t so good as the traditional incense, and there was considerable difficulty. So that property gradually absorbed the worship until it became more valuable, till one man, perhaps, who was very busy, a quarter of a million people came every year to the Passover at Jerusalem – they had to be quartered somewhere – a tremendous job of organisation. And perhaps he thought, ‘Yes, they’re holding an enquiry into this man Jesus. I like some of the things he said, I’d like to go. But I’m too busy. I can’t get away.’ So the truth was crucified outside and the property was looked after inside.
Then there’s an attraction to build ideas from other systems, other traditions, and one teacher said that whichever system or spiritual tradition you’re in, the others look better, just as when you go on holiday, the place you go to looks wonderful, and you feel you’d like to move there. But it only looks wonderful because you’re not doing any work. You’re just enjoying the scenery.
There’s the famous remark of the man when the tourist said ‘Oh, isn’t Paris wonderful!’ he said, ‘Yes, so long as you’re not a Parisian’. You have to keep it up when you’re there. So the other traditions that we read about and hear about and perhaps see, we don’t have to do any work there, so they seem very attractive. But we may find if we enter it that it’s something different. The Sufi seems such wonderful devotion to the teacher. If the teacher says, ‘Soak the prayer carpet in wine’ (which would be a terrible desecration to a Muslim) do it. Because he knows the way. Then they enter in say in a traditional Sufi school in India, and some of the schools do this turning dance. Well, the feet get very sore, so we would like to rest till they heal up, but the teacher says No, go on. ‘But my feet have blisters.’ ‘Well, go on.’ The blisters will burst, and then perhaps the feet will get a wound. But in the end it will harden over. You get something like the pad of an animal on your foot.
But oh no! The Gita says distinctly that austerities are not to damage the body. Ah, but this is not the Gita.
Now you’re listening to the Sufi teacher who’s telling you to do this. And then one thinks, well, prayer carpet, yes, but sore feet, no. We think perhaps, well, we won’t stay in a school where women are not honoured, where the great Rumi says repeatedly ‘If a woman says something, do the opposite’. So let’s go to Zen, where women are highly honoured. In one of the classical Zen stories, the monk is on the mountain. He meditates on Prajna Paramita, the supreme wisdom, the transcendental wisdom, who is always represented as a woman. He meditates on the mountain and he says the mantra. Does it for three years, but he finds no effect, so he’s going to give it up, he’s going to leave. And then the god of the mountain appears to him in a dream and says, ‘Stay one more day’. So he stays one more day.
As he’s sitting in his meditation a wonderful old woman comes down the mountain.
There’s a description of something like this in Dr Shastri’s “Search for a Guru”. She comes down to his hut, and without saying anything she walks round him ringing a bell. And a realization and enlightenment come over him. But he wants her to teach him, so he says, ‘Teach me’. And she says, ‘If you can say a word, I will.’ But he can’t think of anything to say. So then she’s going out of the door, and he says ‘Well, it looks as though there’s a storm coming on; please stay’. But she said ‘If you can say a word, I’ll stay’. He can’t find a word.
Well, later on he searches, and he finds where she comes from, and then he attains it. He attains the realization.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Half-Gods and Gods
Part 2: Worshipping lesser gods
Part 3: Remove illusions by study
Part 4: Yoga is described