You cannot live on sweets


The roshi, when he comes here he says, ‘It’s almost like heaven, your country, with your freedom, and your open spaces, and your facilities for the old, and your marvellous adult education facilities here, and the general kindliness of people. Almost like heaven! He said to me, ‘Don’t the people here feel these green fields in their heart?’

I said, ‘Well, if they could see under the complaints you know, they might be able to find them. We live in a bed of roses but the trouble is some of the leaves are crumpled, aren’t they? And we don’t like pink!’

Well, we are angels, or we ought to be, living in heaven, but a Chinese who knew the British well, said, ‘There is a lot of goodwill among them. They are angels, but they are lazy as hell!’

These things, the kind of pieces that I’ve been presenting, which I myself, got from various sources presented to you, they’re like sugar on the fruit. It’s not the main thing, but it does improve digestion and can make things a bit more tasty and the proper, the formal instruction, on an intellectually and emotionally convincing basis and then the practice, are the actual food, and then these things are like the condiment, or the sugar or pepper and salt, whatever it might be.

It can improve digestion and it’s got a function but you can’t live on sweets. It’s quite an important point to remember. These things can give one a little lift and the excitement to get going, but then you have to have something to get going on, and it assumed, in all these cases, that people are practising seriously.

The sort of Japanese Napoleon was Hideyoshi who began the conquest of parts of the mainland. He died abruptly, but he was a very talented man from the common people, not an aristocrat. He had a rather short temper and his ministers and generals suffered a good deal from this. In spite of all their efforts, they used to get scolded and cuffed or punished, whatever it was .The only man who really got away with things was his sort of jester, Saru, and he got on very well with Hideyoshi. He had responsibilities, executive responsibilities, but they got on very well. He was a clever man and he discharged responsibilities well.

The others, though doing it just as well or better, used to get Hideyoshi irritated with them and they couldn’t think why. So they formed a little deputation to ask Saru how it was that he could get on with the dictator, Hideyoshi, so well and they couldn’t, in spite of all their efforts in their care, and Saru refused to reply, but he invited them to dinner. Well, putting it in Western terms, they came to the dinner, and then first of all soup was served and it was liquid honey and then they had the sort of hors d’oeuvre and they were all various confections, sugar and sweet things, what would correspond to chocolates and marzipan and so on with us.

Then the main dish was served and this was enormous lump of sugar carved into the shape of a swan most beautifully, and he cut it up he and handed it round and they looked, and he said, ‘You don’t like these things?’ They said, ‘Well, everyone likes sweet things but not a meal of sweet things!’

He said, ‘Well, now, that’s it; you’re always flattering the general, Hideyoshi, you’re always very courteous to him, you’re over-polite. You fawn on him and, for him, it’s like eating sugar ceaselessly. Now, I’m rice. I just say, ‘Your excellency I’ve done this, I failed to carry that out. Do you want me to try again or should I give it to someone else? I’m rice. He likes rice. You like rice, don’t you? It’s the mainstay of our meals. So don’t try and smarm him down with sugar all the time, just be rice!’

Well, it’s a little bit the same. One can’t live on lollipops and this is worth remembering, one can be stimulated, entertained, but it has to carry us back to our practice, to our serious practice, and study, or it misses its purpose.

I mentioned yesterday about the karma fan. This is it, you can see the word three. When we write three in the Roman numbers we have three upright fingers. The Chinese and Japanese write it with three horizontal fingers but you can see three moves. Look ahead three moves. If I do this, the karmic response will be that, and then where shall I be?

Just look ahead three moves in life. These fans are used often in illustrations. Fan corresponds to the mind, and one of the traditional stories about them is, that, of course, these things wear out, and one man is very mean and he used to close the fan up and just use one little bit of it, and then his idea was next year he would use the next little bit of it, so he would save the fan like that!

But there was another man who was even meaner. He spread the whole fan out, but he

went…….Well, this tends to be what we do with the mind. The mind is meant in hot weather, to cool us. When it’s not wanted, we should be able to lay the mind down. This is a tool, an instrument, a very convenient one, and it can be made beautiful, but if the mind becomes a sort of god, I’m sacrificing myself to appease the mind. The mind should be capable of being used very vigorously and then put away. We think, oh, nothing left then! The awareness is left when the mind is put away.

We come to the edge of the picture.

Oh, no! Let’s go back to the colours and shapes and forms of the picture.

1.    Rinzai Zen Buddhist nun, Venerable Myokyo-ni, was head of the London Zen Centre. She died in 2007.

2.    Joshu Jushin, great Zen Master in ancient China, 778 – 897

3.    Rinzai Zen Master, Dokuon, teacher at Shokokuji, Kyoto. The meeting was in 1869.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Flower of the Heart

Part 2: Pointing directly to the human heart

Part 3: The concealment of realisation

Part 4: Reaction from the universe

Part 5: You cannot live on sweets

Part 6: Some essential thing is missing

Part 7: Naming a thing is not knowing it


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