Question: I wonder, Mr Leggett, when someone who is fervently religious wishes to cut off the head of someone whose religious views differ from his own, what is active within him? Is it religion? Or is it something other than religion?
Trevor Leggett: It’s generally a sort of herd instinct, isn’t it? I mean, it just happens to have a religious name to it. But it’s like the tribe instinct, or something like that. With some of the very fanatical religious people, if you ask them about what they actually do believe, they’re pretty vague. But they know the slogans.
The story is one of a usurping king, who, by a trick, claimed the whole kingdom, and ruled extremely badly. Well the righteous king had been tricked out of the kingdom, you see? So in the end, after many peace negotiations that they tried to get back by legitimate means, there had to be a war. Arjuna then had made promises to be the central figure on this side. He’d promised all the others, and they’d come together on the basis of that promise. Then at the last minute he wanted to withdraw. And Krishna said, “No, either you shouldn’t have promised at all or, having promised – and all these people are staking their lives on you – now you must fulfil your promise.” There were other warriors – like Krishna, who was also a warrior; but he didn’t take part in the actual fighting, because he hadn’t made promises: but Arjuna had. The Gita has many examples of psychological insight.
Now, Arjuna has this great vision of the Lord. He sees the whole universe there, and all the people in it, and then he’s also granted the vision of the immediate crisis: the battle scene, and what is going to happen in the future. His great rival is a man named Karna and by a complicated business, which we needn’t go into now, Karna is not of the warrior caste, but is the son of a charioteer, which rated considerably lower. Now, in the moment of that great vision, Arjuna sees the people, and calls out, “I can see him and him and him, Bhishma, Drona, and that son of a charioteer.” Even at that moment he hadn’t lost his snobbery – and that’s why he comes back: the vision passes. He does get the vision, and it supports him, but he still has to train in yoga, because he hasn’t given that up. This shows – and it’s a very important point – how deep these biases and prejudices are.
Another one is about tamas – inertia and darkness. The Gita says it has a strength. You think, “Oh, what is this strength of inertia and darkness?” It says, “The strength by which a man holds fast to despair and suffering.” What? ‘Holds fast to despair and suffering’? People think, “Yes. No one can help me. It always goes wrong. Whatever you do, it’ll go wrong for me. It’s no good.” They’re holding fast to despair and suffering. This is a very acute observation. Freud made it about 2,500 years afterwards. He said, “The neurotic clings to his neurosis. The Gita makes this point.”
Now, my teacher was brought up in the old tradition of pundit-hood. He told me he’d stand in the middle of some boys, who wanted to train a phenomenal memory. So he’d stand in the middle of about six or seven around him. One boy has a number; this one rings a bell a certain number of times; another says a line of a poem, but it’s not stated which line it is and one more will describe some scene or something like that. Then it will go round again, and then again. At the end of it, the one in the centre has got to have totalled all the numbers that have been said in his head. He’s got to have reconstructed the poem in what must be the correct order of the lines and at each line, he’s got to say how many times the bell was rung.
Now, he gave that as an example. He said, “This is just gymnastics and it doesn’t have a real importance”; but he gave it as an example of what can be done. We think, “Oh no, it’s impossible; it can’t be done.” But it can. They have quite phenomenal memories and it’s something that Victorians had here. But it’s been lost now, and we tend to think, “Oh, it’s impossible.” But it isn’t. We can recover it.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Yogas of the Gita are Yogas for when life is in crisis
Part2: What does non-attachment to the results mean?
Part 3: The first element in the Karma Yoga
Part 4: There should be some creative expression
Part 5: Inspiration in science
Part 6: Zen & Gita Q&A 1 01.08.1984
Part 7: Zen & Gita Q&A 2 01.08.1984