A few examples from life that can teach us something
by Trevor Leggett
(Volume 72: 3) November 1997
The Middle Way
The temperature last week was very hot - so hot that I was using a paper
fan; in fact I had two fans. It was appropriate then, but not today when
it's much cooler: if I were to go on fanning myself there would be something
wrong. But this can happen to us very easily in life. We can take up some
attitude or method of meeting a present situation which is appropriate at
the time; maybe the situation requires us to " answer back ", in order
justly to support a principle. But some people are always answering back,
appropriately or not: still fanning themselves when it is no longer hot. We
should be able to take out our fans, use them, but then put them away
instead of repeating the same idea or attitude when it is quite
Those of you who have had a reasonably well trained dog will know well that
moment when out on a walk he picks up a scent and has to follow it. As he
dashes off to investigate he becomes deaf to your cries calling him back: "
If I could hear you I would come ", he is telling you as he disappears with
his ears lying flat, but unfortunately just at the moment I can't hear you!
" Of course, when he has investigated the smell he will happily return to
It is very easy for us to behave in this way. " The flaming passions without
limit, I vow to quench, extinguish or cut them off " is the second
Bodhisattva vow; yet we might prefer to hear differently: It seems to me
that to " cut off " the passions is an extreme. Indians are an extreme
people aren't they? All those fakirs on beds of nails . . . to speak their
language the Buddha had to use exaggerated terms. What is really meant by "
cut off " is reduce. " Thus with convenient reasoning we cover our ears. But
it is a fundamental instinct and on these occasions we are all liable to be
dogs choosing to hear when and in the manner it suits us!
I took away a copy of some sermons from a small village in Japan by a
retired Zen Master called Oka. Reading them later I discovered what a great
man he had been. The Sanskrit sila translates as morality, discipline, or
the rules, and literally means something that is constantly done. For
example it would be sila to practise constantly the drums, or to slander
others regularly. Sila therefore is to do something " habitually ". In Oka's
sermon he said: " People think the rules of sila are imposed, that we are
bound to observe them, but actually the rules are a natural expression -
they are what we would naturally do. "
When we are born we are naturally right or left handed. If it is not checked
I will go on using the right hand more and more - or if I am one in ten it
will be the left hand. In either case the body gets distorted. The control
and precision of the inferior hand becomes dwarfed; it becomes natural for
me to use my superior hand, and if I have to do something with my inferior
side I am very poor at it. It feels unnatural to use that hand. But to be
effective physically we have to bring both sides of the body into action,
training them equally. At first a trainer gives exercises that seem
unnatural, but when the inferior side has been brought to life the whole
body is flexible and free. Now this is natural, this is the true nature.
Before, doing everything with our superior side seemed to be natural, but it
wasn't the true nature. In the same way Oka says: " Morality is correcting
the distortions that are not natural to us and, when they have been
corrected by force, so to speak, and become careful actions, we find to our
surprise that they are natural. "