Yoga and the Zen training points to what’s in our heart


One of the ‘purposes of the Yoga and the Zen training is to find out what is in our heart.

In judo, when people get to a particular high grade, although it’s not done now I believe, certain things are taught, and there are certain ways of despatching people without leaving any mark at all.  There are anatomists in Japan who have studied this oral tradition, and they confirm it.  It takes a good deal of skill of course to exercise these things, but they can be done. Now supposing I have a neighbour or a  boss who is a tartar.  ‘Old Cumberbatch, he’s a shocker, always nagging and bullying and boasting, a pain in the neck, interfering with my work, interfering with the house’.  Then I practise, I can’t do anything about it, so I practise patience.  I get, well I’ve got to put up with it.  Then I might even advance to the stage of forgiveness.  I think, ‘Poor old boy, he’s coming to the end of his life, he wants to feel himself still significant.  Very good, I forgive him.’  Now perhaps I learn one of those things, and something quite unexpected happens in my heart.  I begin to think, ‘We could do without Old Cumberbatch, it’s so easy, he’d just fall dead one day in the office, of a heart attack or something.  The doctors wouldn’t find anything wrong.’  Something would appear in my heart. Now I can find those things out by practising Yoga or Zen.  But otherwise I should be unconsciously worshipping something, which will control me.  I won’t know.

The life of the Emperor Nero, who’s the bad man, but when he started he was the best of Roman Emperors, an artist and a musician, who replaced the bloodstained Roman triumphs with a triumph of art, in which the people who got the laurels, the victors, were singers and poets, sculptors.  He wanted to civilise the Romans.  He passed an act under which any slave who had been ill-treated could show the marks to a magistrate, and the magistrate must then instantly order a sale of that slave to a better master.  So at one stroke Nero took away the fear of torture from at least a million people.  There were a million slaves at that time it’s estimated.  A wonderful man, but in seven years time he was himself personally taking part in the tortures.  He didn’t know what was in his own heart, and he practised no spiritual discipline at all.

So the Zen and the Yoga is to enable us to find out first of all what’s in our own heart, what we worship, and then to lessen it, and then to thin out the barriers, and so to have first the passing of freedom, of oneness with the universal spirit.  Now Zen doesn’t like to give a name to that universal spirit, so it speaks of emptiness, void, cool, but in actual fact their experience has been similar, because in their meditation experience they have the same thing that the sages of Upanishads had, and so increasingly they’re tending to speak, not in terms of emptiness and the void.

Now for your interest, I said I would do things that you couldn’t find in the books, but there’s a passage which I translated from a recent book by a historian on Zen, and he says about this – in this century a great figure in Zen was Nukariya Kaiten, and he speaks, not of the emptiness and the void, he says,

‘There is something which is subtle and spiritual, not to be named, not to be categorised, which, seen from without, is material, but seen from within is spiritual, divine.  It is the source of the universe, its greatness pervades the whole world.  In Heaven, it is sun, moon and stars, illuminating everything with their light.  As Earth, it is mountains, rivers, grass and trees, variously manifested.  As Man, it shows itself in life and death, in his passions, and in his spiritual inspiration’.

Now the historian who wrote this book, he says that such things are far from the idea that we shouldn’t specify this which lies beyond.  The Buddhist idea was, ‘No, don’t name it, don’t put a category on it, otherwise the mind will seize on that and make it something limited’.  But now they’re beginning to speak in these terms and he says this is different from what’s taught by the ancients, such as  Tozen and Rinzai.  They exemplified the ultimate principle as emptiness without definite existence, whereas here Nukariya is calling it the ‘Creator’ and so on.  In fact, his idea of the nature of the heart of Man, and the universal spirit, is like the ancient Indian  Brahman and Atman- Self, which is taught as having definite existence.

Well, there’s considerably more of it, but I just thought I’d read that passage for your information, that although externally the Zen with its negation, we won’t name it, for fear you should stick at a name or a concept.  If we call it the Universal Buddha you’ll be thinking of a cross-legged figure up in the clouds.  If it’s called Jehovah you’ll think of a white-bearded figure up there in the clouds.  So we don’t name, we won’t categorise it.  But now more and more they’re speaking in terms of, they’re specifying their experience in terms of a universal spirit which vitalises and inspires the whole universe, including Man.

Well this is not quite by the way, but bringing together two things like Yoga and Zen, the formal philosophers in Yoga criticise the Buddhist explanation as emptiness because they say, ‘Well, there’s nothing, is there, there’s nothing’, and the Buddhists criticise the Yogic formulation in terms of a god, an Ishvara, as Brahman, as Atman, the universal self, by saying, ‘Oh, these are named’, and you start getting the idea of Brahman the Universal like a huge sort of pumpkin, and you start forming pictures, and then immediately you form pictures you’ll imprison yourself, ‘I’m here, and it’s over there’.


© Trevor Leggett

Talks in this series are:

Part 1: Release from illusory bonds of identity with body and mind

Part 2: Yoga and the Zen training points to what’s in our heart

Part 3: The seeds of karma are laid down by what we do

Part 4: Yoga and Zen both say we can begin to see and express beauty

Part 5: The true nature of man is that he wants to create beauty

Part 6: Kobo never chooses the brush


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