Yoga practice (Q&A)
Damascus House Talk: 4 August 1988 – conclusion
People say they can’t touch-type. To learn properly, the keys are covered over, you’re not allowed to look. You think it’s much better to be able to see and start with two fingers. “It’s much quicker, isn’t it? Then gradually, it’ll extend, won’t it, from two fingers to three fingers, four fingers, five fingers.” No, it doesn’t, instead the two fingers become like mad hens. They never learn to touch type and it’s always an effort – because they can’t control the mind over that first period to learn how simply to do the action. If you want to learn to touch type, then to learn like that – without the fear, without the desire hankering for results. Then the action becomes smooth and begins to change in quality.
Like the old man polishing the temple, something began to move in him. In the story, it says the God begins to polish. He begins to feel something in himself – not lonely anymore, not neglected anymore, not feeling, “Oh, they’ve all gone away and here I am at the fag-end of life, polishing this temple which nobody sees.” Something begins to come to life. It’s pure action, and that action will lead to inspiration.
Of course, there has to be the formal sitting in meditation. But at certain times in the day, give it all up. When we’re hunched over a job, or fiddling with this, or worrying about that, then sometimes you think, “I’ll, just make a break.” And you stretch the body. Well, the mind can be stretched like this too. Then we can go back to whatever we were doing or thinking, but it’s being stretched. Throw the thoughts away, and gradually they become less, then there’s something like a blue sky. Well, these things mustn’t be theoretical words.
Now, he says, if there will be a sort of inspiration, well, it’s at this point that everyone brings in Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci and so on, all those wonderful inspirations, and we just think, “We’re not like that, we can’t do that.” I give one example which I know of, although it’s not from this country. It’s a traditional story which my teacher used to use. In certain places in the east, you stay in a hotel and you have a little room of your own. You don’t eat in a common restaurant but the maid brings the meal.
Well, one day a maid comes and she’s tired, overworked and so on. She serves the meal, she goes out, she doesn’t shut the door properly. Well, if you’re a tough businessman who works damn hard himself and doesn’t see why other people shouldn’t work too, he calls out, “Oi, shut the door.” She comes back and shuts it. If it’s a scholar, he calls out, “Oh, please shut the door.” She comes back and she closes the door. But if it’s a man of meditation, he gets up and shuts it himself.
You might think, “Well, isn’t that a beautiful little story? How sweet.”, but it just doesn’t have any application to life – unless it was meditated on; unless it was meditated on. Then something quite new would come out of that. To give one actual example, in countries where educational competition is very severe, and in this country too, you want to get a decent place in a university for your gifted child. The time comes when there’s to be, what corresponds, in this country, to say A levels.
The boy is bright. His teachers say, “Yes, if he worked hard, he could get a really good place, and he’s very ambitious and wants it.” The parents say, “Well, what would he have to do?” “Oh, he’d have to work, for a year, every evening for two or three hours, five evenings a week.” They say to the boy, “Do you want to do this?” “Yes.” So it starts and the arrangements are made for the extra study in the evenings.
Now what happens is, the year starts and he gets back from school and he has his meal. Then the table’s cleared about six. Now he’s got to go up to his room and study for three hours. Well, the parents turn the television down, but he knows it’s on. After a few weeks, he begins to get fed up going up always. He begins to stay on a bit to just watch TV a little bit – and then it goes on a bit longer.
Now the father has a row with him. He says, “You’ve damn well taken this on and you’ll damn well see it through or I won’t lift a finger to help you in your life afterwards.” They have a real row and, finally, the boy reluctantly goes up. Well, perhaps he manages to do it on that basis, but it means very often, there’s the father that can last the whole life. Or perhaps mother has a go. She pleads and she says, “Look, it’s only a year, dear. It’s only a year and the month has gone already. I’ll bring you up tea and biscuits at half-past-eight. Just tell yourself, that it’s your will. All our hopes are on you, but you want to do it too.”
Well, maybe that gets him going in a sort of way, but supposing they’ve meditated on the story about shutting the door. If they meditated, then suddenly, something comes. The father says quietly to mother, “You know, there was that diploma. I’ve often thought of going in for it. It’s not directly in my line, but it would help me in my career. It would take about a year. Is there anything you’ve thought of doing?” She says, “Yes, I’ve always been interested in that Western embroidery, and there are classes, I heard.”
Without saying anything, the next evening, when the things are cleared away, the television isn’t put on. The father begins to get out some books of his own on the table downstairs and mother gets out some of this embroidery stuff and starts working. So the boy goes up, and it’s the same every evening. Everybody is studying. Now he can study without any feeling of resentment. In fact, he’s brought together with the parents.
The father shouting, “You’ll damn well do this,” that’s the businessman shouting, “Shut the door.” The mother pleading, “Dear it’s only a year, try and do it,” that’s the scholar saying, “Please shut the door.” When the parents themselves begin to study, that’s when the meditator shuts the door himself. This is what has the effect. Well, this example was given as an instance of inspiration in daily life, in the situations of daily life. That inspiration has to be not just in special circumstances but to go down to everything we’re doing.
When we’re writing, we’ve got fountain pens now and they are wonderful things. Writing with fountain pen, there’s a line of ink coming out on the white paper. The beauty of that will begin to manifest and there’s something beyond. In the old days, I was told, when the changeover from the pen and ink to the fountain pen took place, some of the old scholars, they were given fountain pens, but they kept dipping them in ink. They didn’t realize and the ink would blot and so. So, one scholar, they provided him with an inkwell, which was empty. Then gradually he stopped and he began to appreciate the fountain pen.
These were some of the things that our teacher told us. He said, “There’s peace in the world. People think there’s only peace on great occasions or special occasions. You happen to walk here, or you happen to walk there, and it’s beautiful. It’s calm or some difficult situation is resolved, and you feel peace. We’ve done something and it’s taken years and years, and then – peace. But then, something happens. There’s another thing. Then the peace is gone.”
Now, he said, “We must be able to lay down these fevers and these movements of the mind, into peace – at any time, not because of the outer circumstances, but at any time. Then we shall begin to feel (something).” He didn’t like talking much about the results of practice, because we should practice meditation ourselves and see. He told us sometimes, “Look, do as you like, but if you think this is worth trying, then try it for at least 6 weeks, 20 minutes in the morning. Then practice, sometimes in your action in the day. Throw away the result and be absorbed in what you’re doing, in the beauty of what you’re doing. Then you’ll see.”
I’ve passed on to you some of the things I’ve heard, they’ve helped me. Perhaps they’ll help anybody who’s interested to try them. Anyway, thank you for your attention.
TPL: I was saying about illusion, that we tend to project illusions and be ruled by illusions in our lives, instead of seeing things clearly and calmly. These (Chinese balls), they’re ornaments. The Chinese, so-called, singsong girls in the bars, pre-war and Shanghai, used to carry them. They had long sleeves and they used to carry a couple of these, one in each sleeve. If there was a fight in the bar, she could catch her sleeve and swing it. That’s could knock you out, yes. That was called being loaded.
There’s an interesting story on this. When there was a wave of anti-foreign feeling in China in the early part of the century, the Christian missions were still all part of the foreign spying influence, you see. So, occasionally, some toughs used to roll some nuns, or throw them into a pond or something like that.
On one occasion at Shanghai monastery, there were a few toughs outside the gate. They couldn’t go in, they were frightened to go in, because they thought something might happen if they did. Then two nuns were coming down the road and they were going to make for them and throw them in the pond. The nuns have these old-fashioned style, long sleeves, and they had the prayer books in the sleeves. One of the toughs saw this and he shouted, “Guys, look out, they’re loaded.” The little gang stepped back and the nuns went in. They were surprised, and then somebody explained to them what had been said. That was an example I was giving of illusion.
Question: Did you know those nuns, sir?
TPL: Oh no, that’s since before my time, but I knew the man who – he hadn’t seen it – knew the mission. Very often, one feels, this one’s just got to imitate good, and everything will be well. But, actually, if you just imitate good, what you think is right conduct, things often go quite badly wrong. There’s got to be a living inspiration.
About imitation – just after the war, I visited Japan, when things were pretty well in ruins. The people there realized they must now learn English, that it was an absolute top priority, but of course, there were no proper colleges where they could get tuition. So they learned English wherever they could. I visited there, in the southern island, Kyushu. I was to visit a broadcasting station there which had recently been set up. I was on a tour and I was to go there. The train was late and it didn’t get me into the station until half-past 10:00. I was told the president’s secretary would make meet me there.
This young Japanese chap, a bright kid, he met me at the station. Well, he welcomed me in English, but was a bit drunk. I didn’t blame him, he had to wait about four hours there. He said (spoken with a drunken accent), “Oh, how are you? Come along. I’ll take you to the hotel.” We talked there. Then in the taxi, he said to me, “Oh, I have heard you speak a little Japanese too.” So I spoke to him in Japanese and he went on in Japanese, and he was perfectly sober! Then we went back to English, and he was drunk!
I found out he was very ambitious, very bright, very sincere, and he’d had to take lessons from the only person he could which was a drunken GI. He thought this was the way to speak English and he spoke it very well. I did manage without upsetting him to put him right. I said, “The man who’s been teaching you must come from a remote part of America where they rather slur their words. Of course, this is one way, but it’s better perhaps if you speak standard English.” I showed him how he could get some records. That was a good example to me about imitation. If you just imitate, you may imitate very well, but somehow things will be wrong.
Question: I think a number of people have wondered, sir. if I may ask, if your long-standing interest in judo has been compatible with your interest in meditation, or conducive to your interest in meditation or vice versa, have you found a relationship between the two or are they separate compartments?
TPL: Ideally, they should come together. There’s a judo tradition, when we practice, normally, we develop certain techniques. Even top champions, though they know hundreds of complicated tricks, in actual practice, against good opposition rely on special skill in two or three. That means you’re limited, and it’s called the ‘bull’s horns’, they’ve got very sharp horns. But all a bull can do is (move his head). If you rely too much on certain techniques, you limit the rest of your freedom of movement, and you become predictable.
There comes the time when you’ve got to cut off the bull’s horns – give up the favourite things you can do and practice without them. Then you’re going to look a fool because people whom previously you could throw can now throw you. You’ve been invincible and now you’re thrown – who can get past that? But if you persist with that, and are willing to look a fool while you’re practicing, then your technique widens – and there are very few people who have a wide technique.
This is the first thing – you have to be able to give up that sort of prestige. Quite often when people get fairly high, they’re very reluctant to look an idiot or a failure. They’re thinking about their prestige and their reputation. That has to be given up. The next thing is to be able to make the throws without consciously thinking, “Now I’m going to do this.”
A very old teacher, who’d been very expert, told me, “It’s the god of tricks. When it goes well, it’s not you doing it, it’s the god of tricks. If people are able to practice by giving up this feeling of, ‘I’m going to do this and I’ve got to watch out for that one,’ and manage to give it up, then something rises in you.” People think, “Oh, it won’t rise. You’ll just do nothing.” No. So there are applications there. They don’t talk much about them, but there are applications there.
We were told that we should try to apply it in the things we do. It’s not so easy, but we should be able to look at both the things we don’t want to do, and the things we do want to do. There’s a beauty in the things I don’t want to do; and with the things I desperately do want to do, that special desire of mine is illusory. So to see them both. Clearly in common, it’s not so easy but it makes the mind flexible.
We have these bull’s horns in life. There are people who always shout to get their way. That’s their bull’s horns. Then there are other people who don’t. They wait. “Wait. If they make a mistake, then jump.” There are people who, in a turbulent meeting, don’t say anything for the first two hours, then come in strong when everyone’s tired.
It’s the same technique. It’s the same thing. “I always look at things scientifically.” “Oh, but what about people’s feelings?” All those things are alright, but they become habitual. To that extent, they’re like people with a very strong right arm who have no left arm at all. People who go by feeling should learn to look at things scientifically, just sometimes. The man who prides himself on being so scientific, he should learn how to feel a little bit. In that way, he develops.
Well, we’re told these things, but it must lead to inspiration; otherwise, it’s all just theory.