Encounters in Yoga and Zen extract

The Preface to Encounters in Yoga and Zen

Preface   Stories of the type presented here are used in many spiritual schools, to a greater or lesser extent; nearly all teachers make some use of them. I have collected these over the years from a variety of sources: sometimes reminiscences of a former teacher are buried in an old book, or a temple magazine; one or two are folk stories, some are verbally transmitted, some would be difficult to trace to a source. There are one or two incidents personally experienced, and I have occasionally put a few introductory remarks.  Their function is to act as flint and steel in making a light. In this, the flint is gripped in the left hand, with some dry tinder (usually a herb) under the thumb near the edge; then the steel is struck with a glancing blow across the edge of the flint. There may be no spark; then one…

The Introduction to Encounters in Yoga and Zen

Introduction   Cloth against cloth, or stone against stone: No clear result, and it is meaningless. Catch the flung stone in the cloth, Pin the wind-fluttered cloth with a stone.   This verse comes in a scroll of spiritual training belonging to one of the knightly arts in the Far East. In these traditions, instruction is given in the form of vivid images, not in terms of logical categories; it is meant to be a stimulus to living inspiration, not dead analysis. The apparent exactitudes of logic turn out to be of very limited value when applied to life, because then the terms can never be precisely defined. In the verse, the catching cloth stands for what is technically called ‘softness’, which is not the same as weakness; the stone stands for hardness, not the same as strength. Softness has a special meaning: it is not merely giving way or…

Iron Rods in Yoga and Zen

Iron Rods   A boy of twelve in Japan lost his father, to whom he was much attached. The shock and desolation turned his mind to Buddhism, and he asked his uncle, now looking after the family and himself a devout Buddhist, whether he could enter a temple. The uncle believed that the change in the heart was permanent, and took him to a training temple where the famous teacher accepted him.  The boy was very keen, and when the uncle made one of his monthly visits to see how he was getting on, the teacher remarked, ‘He is trying with everything he has: he is making good progress.’  In this temple there happened to be at the time a monk of about nineteen, whose family owned a rich temple, for which he was destined to become the priest for life. As can happen, his initial interest in Buddhism had…

The Preacher in Yoga and Zen

The Preacher A famous preacher of Vedanta had a pupil of sixteen years who, under his instruction, acquired a very fine knowledge of the philosophy. He did not teach him rhetoric, as he did not consider that the boy would make a good speaker. One day however the master suddenly became ill just before he had to address a gathering. On an impulse, he sent the boy to speak in his place, telling him to explain the circumstances, and then try to give a plain exposition of the fundamentals, as he had been taught. To his surprise, it was reported to him that the speech by his pupil had been a great success. A little later, kindly friends hinted that it had even been said that the pupil was a better speaker than his master. (‘Absurd, of course, but we felt you ought to know.’) The preacher pondered for a…

The Wine Pot in Yoga and Zen

The Wine Pot The final word of Mahayana Buddhism, as expressed in the Garland Sutra of China, is that Samsara, this world of suffering, is Nirvana, and the passions are enlightenment, bodhi. It is only illusion that causes us to see differences between them. ‘Samsara is Nirvana, the passions are enlightenment.’ This formula has sometimes been taken as a sort of slogan, in isolation from the spirituality of the rest of the Sutra, like the remark of St Paul, ‘To the pure, all things are pure.’ A man who set himself up as a Buddhist teacher began preaching the slogan that passions are enlightenment, claiming to exemplify it by himself drinking heavily and frequenting brothels. This was reported to a real saint who remarked briefly, ‘No one who is a slave to passions can claim to see them as enlightenment.’ The teacher came storming round to the home of the…

Mirrors in Yoga and Zen

Mirrors A young and able businessman was hampered in his career by sudden outbursts of fury when he was contradicted in front of others – at a board meeting, for instance. He was making some attempts at spiritual training, and he consulted one of the senior members of the group. ‘I know you’re going to tell me to count backwards from twenty- nine or something like that, but the fact is that it’s so strong that all that just gets blown away. I see a sort of red mist coming in front of my eyes. Isn’t there something a bit more positive for people like me ?’ The senior looked at him, smartly dressed and clearly very careful about his appearance. ‘There might be, for someone like you as you say,’ he replied, ‘but you have to be willing to get a bit of a shock. Keep a little mirror…