Yoga, Zen and Peace (part 2)
In the Middle Ages in Britain the church was the only way in which a peasant boy could rise and at one of the big synods in the 14th century they kept a record of the origins of the bishops – I think it was about 60 or 70 of them – and more than half of them were of peasant origin. Well, that must be good, otherwise that intelligence and that ability would have been simply locked into the soil and lost. It must be good and the church is doing a great thing there. It was not as it was in some countries: mainly the preserve of the aristocracy but it was open to the peasant who had this Christian call, to rise. Splendid! But what actually happened in quite a lot of cases was that a bright and ambitious peasant boy saw that his only chance of getting any actual power was through the church. He therefore imitated being a very devout Christian and got up as Cardinal Wolsey did. He was a son of a butcher and so the church did tend to become at one time, not exactly dominated, but very strongly influenced by people who were purely ambitious power-seekers. That was the smoke. Even the best deed is accompanied by some defect as a fire by smoke as the Gita says.
Will it be any better, how can it be any better if there’s a cosmic few? How can it help our lives? Who is going to deliver the milk? Boring job. Well, I quote a case I actually knew. This was a brilliant Japanese who was studying in America and he took his doctorate and he belonged to a religious organisation and when he came back he never found out exactly why, although I did, but he never knew why he was deputed to carry round the milk. They have a sort of city, this sect, and his job was a milkman and I got to know him and he told me something of the feeling he had. It was jealousy. He had done brilliantly and marvellously in America and they were going to demean him. Well, then he tried. He thought, no I’m in this religious sect, it’s a fairly simple one and he began to pray and meditate and then he said one morning he suddenly felt ‘I’m not doing this demeaning job for a scholar. I am carrying God’s milk to God’s children’ and he began to feel that he was performing God’s work and he was putting these milk cartons in front of the little houses and on the little box.
And then it changed again and he said, “I began to feel that this was God’s hand moving through me” and he said, “I began, quite unconsciously, but I began to put the milk bottles very exactly in exactly the same place. There was no-one there in the early morning to see but along the street there were these little fronts of the houses and these two milk bottles, this little bright spot, and it made a beautiful picture”. Then things changed and he was offered a very good job in the organisation and, at first, he said he was hesitant about taking it. He thought, ‘No, this is God through my hands, bringing this milk’. Then he realised, ‘No, I’ve got to do my new organisational and scholarly job in the same way as I carried the milk’. Well, that is an example that I did come across.
Now, in concrete terms, and there is an account of this, the merchant in classical India is rated below the warrior and a warrior, by chance, made the acquaintance of a merchant who rather impressed him for some reason, and then there was a fire and the warrior, as was his duty, he dashed in to save the people and to his amazement the merchant who were supposed to be timorous people was there, was calm and daring. So afterwards, he said to this merchant, “That was most unexpected, you know. It’s not your role in life, is it? I’m supposed to protect people from perils at the cost of my life but your job is organisation of trade and so on and honesty in matters,” and the merchant said, “No, we merchants have our own way”. “So, what is that way? I suppose you worship Ganesha”. Ganesha is the god of prosperity in India. He is the one with the elephant head and the trunk. The merchant said, “I do worship Ganesha but I would never ask him to protect me or anything like that because if I asked for anything from him, I’d always be wondering if he wasn’t going to do it or not and that would disturb my meditation on Ganesha”. “Oh”.
Then the merchant said, “We have our own way”. “So, what is this way you talk about?” He said, “Well, I’ll show you. There’s a small merchant here. He’s a rascal. We call such people, however rich they are, we call them small merchants. There’s a set of bowls, they’re quite rare, in a set but they somehow got dispersed and he’s a chap who goes around after somebody dies and descends on the confusion of the household and sometimes he can buy up little things quite cheap because the people don’t really realise what they’re doing. And he’s got a bowl. I’ve got the other ones of the set and I need that one just to make up my set. Now, I’m sure he doesn’t know exactly what he’s got but I’d like to get that now. I’ll have to apply the way of the merchant so you can come with me”. So, they go together to this small merchant’s place, you see, and the great merchant looks around, then he picks up one or two things and then he comes to this little bowl and he says, “Oh, how much for this?” and the small merchant says quite a high price so the great merchant says, “Oh, it’s not worth anything like that. I wouldn’t pay more than a quarter of that”. So, the little merchant says, “It might be one of a set, mightn’t it?” The great merchant says, “Ah, I’m not buying a set. Well, you can keep it. I’m done with it”, and they walk out together. They go on for half a block and the little merchant comes running after them with the bowl. He says, “Look, sir, I’ve always had a respect for you and I’ll let you have this for the quarter price you offered, and I do hope you’ll remember this in the future”. The great merchant takes this without comment and pays and the warrior says, “Look, that’s just a trick, that’s all, it’s just a trick!”
So, the great merchant said, “Well, you can see whether it’s a trick or not. Is there anything that you thought that you’d like?” And the warrior said, “Yes, in one of the swords shops here there’s one of the old swords. It’s one of the old Rajput swords and it’s got a very small grip, a very small handle. We pride ourselves on our small hands, and, although we may be killed in battle, the enemy may take the weapons from our dead bodies but they can’t use them. I don’t think he knows what he’s got but if I go in…” So, the merchant said, “You can try the trick and you can tell me what happens”. He goes back and the warrior goes in and then he comes back rather crestfallen after a bit. The merchant said, “What happened?” “It didn’t work! I went in, I said ‘How much?’ He named quite a high price and I couldn’t afford that, although I’m sure he doesn’t know what it’s really worth. He saw my clothes. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t dream of paying more than a quarter of that. Well, you may keep it. I’ve no concern with it’. I walked away and he just let me go”. The merchant said, “It wasn’t a trick, was it?”. The warrior said, “No. What was it?” The merchant said, “Now, sit down”. He sat down. “Close your eyes. Now let go that sword, let it go completely”. After a bit, the warrior said, “I can’t. I’d like to have that in my house. It’s one of the old ones.” The merchant said, “That’s the way of the great merchant. Every night I meditate that I’m sitting. My warehouse is there and it all catches fire. It all goes up in flames and ashes and there is nothing left but the figure of Ganesha, and me, me and Ganesha, Ganesha and everything else is ashes. That is the way of the merchant”.
These traditional stories sometimes can make it quite vivid and they are examples – my teacher used to use such stories as examples – of how to become free, of what freedom actually means. When he (the merchant) says “Give that sword up” and he (the warrior says, “I can’t”. The discipline of Zen comes from India originally, there are quite considerable differences between the Yoga I’ve been presenting to you, the Yoga of the Gita, which was the Yoga of kings and people had active responsibility in the world to protect communities. This was the job of the king. He was the hardest working man in the kingdom. According to Manu, he had only three hours allowed him for sleep every night and there was no sinecure of the job. The karma yoga of Shankara is for kings, those who have responsibility, those who are engaged in organisation, those who engage in agriculture and those who want to do service in their lives. There are people, it’s quite wrong to suppose that the castes, the so-called castes – it’s a Portuguese word, it’s not a Sanskrit word at all – the castes in the Gita were originally hereditary.
The Gita said nothing about a Brahmin being the son of a Brahmin father or mother, but the Brahmin is one whose actions naturally tend towards seeking for peace, seeking for truth, seeking forgiveness. Uprightness; he had to speak out the truth. The warrior is the born leader of men. He is energetic, he’s very courageous and the essence of his job and his calling is to protect the weaker and to protect the Brahmins, those who have a calling for the higher spiritual truth. The Vaishya, the organisational man and the so-called Shudra – which simply means service – many of us want to join some movement or follow some person and give service to the community, to the movement; we have this phrase of public servant – and the Gita very roughly divides these four groups and says that people are born with these tendencies but, of course, the tendencies have to be cultivated. If not, they lapse, as the Gita also says, and they’re not exclusive either. Those who are of the so-called Kshatriya – it is not found in other Indo-European languages the word Kshatriya – it can mean a leader. Their job was to uphold and protect so they fought when there were invasions. The Indian tradition never launched invasions outside India. They didn’t have this mania for conquest of the world. The kingdoms within India before it was unified, under Ashoka, did fight so their job was to be active, have responsibility and they had to practise generosity, especially, sacrifice and tapas, this austerity. Then when there’s a glimpse of realisation of the cosmic Lord, whom they all have to worship, they have to do their actions in worship of the Lord to try to come into touch with this cosmic flow. When they do that and they have a flash of this cosmic intuition then they may become monks. The monks give up all human rights. They’re pacifists and most of the traditions were wandering traditions in India, but monasteries were established from the time of the Buddha, the Buddhist order, the Jains established monasteries and so did the followers of Shankara and those monasteries still exist, many of them.
So, there was this idea that the king, as in the Gita, without renouncing, but internally renouncing action, his actions could become those of the cosmic force. He would no longer be acting, but it would be acting through him and then he would be a renunciate. But Shankara expected that many of them would give an external picture of renunciation by becoming monks and by adopting this robe and the single staff and shaving the head and so on. In Buddhism the stress was on becoming a monk and it was thought that you could not obtain nirvana unless you did become a monk and the best the lay-people could do would be to qualify themselves to become monks but there wasn’t all of this tremendous difference when the Mahayana – the Northern school of Buddhism – began to encourage lay Buddhists to seek for realisation instead of simply seeking for heaven as they had done. They don’t like, the Buddhists in general, don’t like to talk about God because the moment you do they say people form a picture of this old man, irritable old man in heaven, setting down impossible rules and then condemning people for not following them.
So, they try to avoid this. They speak sometimes of the cosmic life and they talk of the absolute which is beyond all attributes, beyond all descriptions and that is seen through the human mind as having these semi-divine attributes of the cosmic intelligence and so on, cosmic movement, but, in general, especially in China and Japan they avoided – they don’t have the intellectual acuteness of the Indian tradition – they try to avoid being too specific and so the tradition is self power and by that alone. You must not pray to some external God but in actual practice there’s not quite so much difference. They do sometimes talk about inviting the Buddha into one’s heart. Hakuin, one of the greatest Japanese Zen masters, he met an old lady who belonged to the devotional school – there’s a Buddha in the Western Heaven and if you pray to him regularly you will be born in the Western Heaven and from there it will be very easy to attain nirvana by the grace of this great Buddha. Hakuin was walking along and he passed this old lady and he said, “Well, Grannie, off to the Western Paradise, are you?” Then he said, “The Buddha is there waiting for you, isn’t he, I suppose?” And she went, (nodding head in negation). He said, “What? Buddha’s not in his Western Paradise? Where is he then?” She went, (pointing to her heart?) and went on. He turned round and he bowed. He said, “You’re a real Pure-Lander – the Buddha’s Pure Land in the West – you’re a real denizen, you’re a real inhabitant of the Pure Land”.
In the Yoga the prayers to God to change this or do that are not encouraged at all. If people practise yoga seriously they are not encouraged to do this. One idealistic schoolmaster, he’d been working very hard in a small village school and he wanted a bigger one because more children were coming to the school and he asked the (spiritual) teacher, “Can I pray to God to have a bigger school so that I could take in all these?” and so the teacher said, (negative noise). “Isn’t there some way?” The teacher said, “There is a way of praying to God for these things but it’s rather difficult”. “Tell me what it is? How do I pray to God for this bigger school?” The teacher said, “You mustn’t be conscious of the prayer – you’ve got to not be aware of it and, furthermore, it’s got to be uttered by a by mouth through which you have never spoken ill of anybody”. He said, “Well, how can I pray, if I’m not conscious of it? Anyway, I’m afraid, in my life, I’ve said some…” So he went back and he didn’t pray for this [larger school] but he prayed to God, but not for anything. Then, quite suddenly, the wife of the Minister was held up and had to stop in the village for a little bit and she saw the school and asked [about it]and thought, ‘Oh, well, he’s attracting [people to the school].’ She heard how hard he worked and [was] attracting people and some of the village people said, “What a wonderful …” She went back and she saw her husband and she said, “You know…” and, sure enough, then the school was made much larger. So, then the man went to his teacher. He said, “Well, I didn’t pray for it, I couldn’t do the prayer.” So, the teacher said, “Yes, you did. You were unconscious of the prayer. The prayer was being made by the parents of the children and it was being made by mouths through which you had never sinned, because it was made by their mouths, and you have never sinned through their mouths.”
Well, this is a story – there’s a hint of the Yogic prayer. It’s a prayer to God, in a way, but it isn’t a prayer, and, to that extent, it’s more like the Zen. They treat these things sometimes [in this way]; these electric lightbulbs – this is a Yogic concept, too, among the modern teachers – there’s electricity. If you think the bulb is giving the light, it’s true in a way, but it’s not true. In the same way, through inspiration, through meditation, the Zen meditation and inspiration, although the man seems to be giving out these creative masterpieces or these strokes of inspiration in daily life, it’s not the man, it’s this current acting through the man. They lay a lot of importance on the sitting still. Zen is, or is said to be and it’s possibly true, an approximation to the Chinese Chan which is an approximation to the Sanskrit Dhyana. Dhyana is one of the technical words of yoga and it means meditation. It means the state in which the thoughts, the successive thoughts, as Patanjali says, ‘are similar’. There’s a stream of thought and it’s all similar. The thoughts are all the same. So, it’s a state of one-pointedness.
Now, they lay quite a lot of stress on the physical help in producing this. They recommend learning – for people who are under 30, or for children, especially – to learn to sit on the ground and sit in a balanced position. It can be acquired by most people, if they want to acquire it, unless they’ve got a physical defect. It has, undoubtedly, an effect. That posture has an effect on the mind and, as a matter of fact, there’s a fairly big, and very successful, hospital, for mental or mentally disturbed patients, in Tokyo and I’ve been there and talked to the director and there’s two things he told me that he relies on. They cultivate roses and all the patients have to take part in the cultivation of these roses in the garden. They are shown what to do. The other thing is, to practise sitting. He said, “A lot of them, once they’ve got past the discomfort of the first week or so, they like it.” He said, “I don’t ask them to meditate, but they like sitting there, in this posture, and it calms the mind. They, themselves, find, that it calms the mind.” Then he said to me, “And, you know, it’s very useful for the nurses, they know just where the patients are, and they are being no trouble at all and that’s good for the hospital. That’s the second point about the Zen. Then they say to try to find – for lay people – to try to find a significance in life.
One of the richest men in Japan, Konosuke Masushita, built up Masushita Electric and he’s written several little books. He left school at 13, so, he can actually think, and they’re full of original thoughts. One of the things he said to his staff – I read the presidential speeches by the presidents of the biggest companies – one of the things he said one year, he said, “You’re getting quite a big bonus at the end of this year. You all think – and a lot of you are a little bit in debt, you’re overdrawn, you’ve got this and this – you think that this bonus is going to make you happy. But it will make you happy just for three or four weeks. And then you’ll extend your aspirations and expectations to include this bonus. So, you’ll still be just as short of money as you are now, and it won’t make you happy. What will make you happy is working hard, in our factories, to make cheap, reliable, well designed, electrical goods, for the Japanese housewife. That’s what will make you happy.”
Now, one of the things the Zen people say is that most of us are like ice. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried, if you want to load [a container] – say you’re going on a journey, or picking up something, where there isn’t going to be any water – you have to put the water in a container. Quite often they freeze it first but these blocks are often not frozen and they’re not, sort of, square. When they go in, you don’t get very many of them in, because they’ve all got these angles and, so, you get a lot of space between the different blocks, you see. Generally, you have to melt it a bit. Then, when it’s liquid, you can fill the thing. Now, life is like that, it’s said. If we’ve got these angles of, “Why the hell should I? Why should you dictate to me?” “Well, why shouldn’t you do what I say?” “It wasn’t like this when I was young.” “Well, you ought to be shot dead when you’re forty. You’re no good anymore”. They’re all angles and they’re sticking out. It means that the house is not big enough for the people, because they’ve got so many angles. They’re frozen into these attitudes. So, the sons, they make a lot of noise and the parents don’t like it and the parents can’t be tolerant of this and that, and so on. They [the spiritual teachers] say, “We have to learn in meditation to melt these things.” The Yoga says, “Our likes, our clutching desires, and our hates and fears are ghosts”. The Zen people go from the very beginning what the yoga says later on, that the man himself is a ghost – and for a time, every day, to die, so, the ghost is laid to rest. Then spring up, fresh and new – all the memories gone, all the fixed attitudes have gone, they’re loosened. So, this is one of the things they stress.
Now, they try to put these things, as they do in Yoga, into physical practice. If I’m a scholar, and, although Zen doesn’t attach much importance to scholarship and learning as a means to realisation, they are mostly learned men. They don’t attach importance to it, for realisation. It’s important, later on, for spreading the Buddhism. If one is a scholar, then scrub the floor. Otherwise, you start freezing into this scholar – “I don’t scrub floors, I serve in other ways”. The man who scrubs the floors is liable to freeze into the, “Well, where would they all be without me? I’m the one who actually does the work around here.”” Strutting and posturing on the stage – it’s our stage-hands who put the thing up. Where would they be?” That’s frozen too. He should bring out the potentiality in him, and he should not think, “Oh, study is not for me. Painting pictures is not for me.” Now he can. These are freezing, but the liquid water can take any form. So, we should practise to dissolve, every day, the fixed attitudes, prejudices, the boastings, and, also, the feelings of, “Oh, no, I can’t do that, I could never do that.” To dissolve them and become liquid. Then, to take it up again.
The Abbot makes a point in most monasteries of sweeping the ground, somewhere in front of the gate. Now, that can become an attitude too. I had a job of sweeping one thing. It’s quite difficult to sweep because it’s moss – they cultivate moss. We think moss here is dirty but they cultivate it as spiritual, a symbol of spiritual enlightenment. It can’t be forced, but you remove the weeds. When you sweep it, if you press too hard, you tear up the moss, and if you don’t press hard enough, you don’t get the leaves up. Well, I had quite a sizeable area to sweep and I thought, as you do, when you’re foreign, you think, ‘I’ll leave this spotless’. You see, ‘I may not be so good on the chanting of the text in Chinese, but I’ll make this really good.’ Well, as you do, as you sweep, you sweep it absolutely clear and then the wind goes, “Shhhh.” Then if you come down, [and see] where you’ve swept, you think, ‘Oh, for God’s sake!’ Anyway, you go back and you pick them up and then a few more come down here. Well, that meant always that when you leave, there are always a few leaves there, you see, which means the job hasn’t been done.
So, what I did, I took hold of the trees and went, “Rrrrr”, like that. I know how to use the strength and I was fairly strong then so all the leaves that were a little bit loose came down in a terrific shower and then I swept them all up. They all [fell] and the whole thing was absolutely spotless. I finished then. As I came off, one of the monks was watching me. He said, “Leggett-san, don’t you think that was a bit extreme?” I said, “Well, it got the leaves up, didn’t it?” He said, “Yes, it got the leaves up but there’ll be some more down tomorrow and we sweep every day, and a few come down.” Well, I still didn’t understand. Then later on, much later on, I came across a poem, a two-line poem: “We sweep the leaves up every day/but we don’t hate the trees for dropping them”. I realised I had hated those trees. Well, it’s a clue for life. When there are people who are dropping leaves all over the place, we sweep them up but we mustn’t hate the trees for dropping them. Then, when I look round, I find that about myself as well. Well, that’s the sort of example they give. [They say] one of the advantages of a monk, and this is so in India and in the Far East, generally, is that he visibly shows that he hasn’t got possessions, and this can be a help to us when we’re absorbed and obsessed and caught in our possessions.
To give one example. You get monsoon in India and in the rainy season in Japan, too, it can come down like a wall and you can suddenly get caught in it. Well, when that happens, you rush – if you haven’t got an umbrella, and, perhaps, you haven’t – you rush to the nearest house and you crouch under the eaves there, but, of course, the rain comes down the eaves. Anyway you’re sopping, whatever you’re doing, and muttering, “Damn rain!”. Well, then, I remember seeing a monk, he was walking down the middle of the road, as if he was having a shower, and enjoying it. He knew he was going to be absolutely soaked. If he had to carry a paper, or anything like that, he would have rolled it up in the paper so thickly and just put it inside [his coat].
Now there’s one account of a man who was doing a job and doing a very good job in local politics. As very often happens, when you do a really good job – unselfish, efficient – you get hated by a lot of people. There was an absolute torrent of slanders and bad mouthing about him, but he was carrying on with his job but he felt this rain of spite, and hate. ‘Where has it come from? Why? I’m doing…’ Then, he says that he saw this inner monsoon and he saw this monk walking down with nothing and this torrent raining on him. He said that vivid picture remained with him, the very striking picture. Then, afterwards, when this torrent of abuse was raining round him, he suddenly felt independent, and he suddenly felt this inspiration and took a walk through this. ‘It’s going to rain on me. There’s no cause; it doesn’t have to have a cause. Just, it’s going to rain’. He walked through it and he said it was an inspiration to him, not preaching very often.
By these physical demonstrations of, for instance, scrubbing, it will have an effect, and, it’s quite true it can make a very vivid picture which words don’t create. There was a temple where they had a lot of very rare manuscripts, that had never been catalogued. This happens. Then you get a very learned and intelligent librarian who joined as a young monk and he mastered the contents to them. Well then, he starts to transcribe them and he finally gets them published and then he becomes famous. So, in this monastery, the librarian was a world-famous scholar and people came to the temple from this field to look at the manuscripts and consult with him, you see. One foreigner came there. He congratulated the librarian on this wonderful work that he had done. The librarian said, “Well,” and they went to the window and he pointed down, “there’s the head gardener there. He has got this very humble job. He is sweeping up the leaves. He is doing a very humble job. I’m doing a job that brings a lot of recognition and praise and fame. The fact is, we’re both in the same monastery and it’s, so to speak, one monastery, one temple. It’s not a question of those individuals. I may be in a famous position, he may be in a very humble position but that’s not the point.”
The foreigner was very impressed with this. He thought, “Oh, that’s something.” He spoke to the Abbot about it afterwards, what the librarian had said. The Abbot said, “Well…” The foreigner had said, “I saw that humble man sweeping the leaves, you see, and the famous librarian.” The Abbot said, “Well, he’s not exactly humble, you know. That gardener is thinking that when the truth is known – and, if he has anything to do with it, it soon will be – it will be the humble gardener who is recognised as the truly realised saint, and it will be the proud librarian who is dismissed as the pedant that he is. In the meantime, he gives the assistant gardener hell.” He said, “Both those two have still got some way to go. It’s not a question of a famous librarian being humble or a humble gardener getting free from resentment. It’s not a question of that at all. The same Buddha current, the same Buddha life, is turning the leaves in the library through the fingers of the librarian as is turning the leaves in the garden through the broom of the gardener. It’s the same Buddha life. There’s no distinction.