Newsletter... 5-29-02

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 inappropriate.

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 your call.

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. "