Complete text of Jewels from the Indra Net



As with all of Trevor Leggett’s books on Yoga and Zen this his last book is dedicated to his teacher.


To Hari Prasad Shastri, 1881 – 1956, Pandit and Jnani of India, these last offerings of a lifetime are respectfully and reverently dedicated


Jewels from the Indra Net is Trevor Leggett’s last book, completed but unpublished at the time of his death. Our thanks go to Johannes van der Horst and his daughter Ulrike for their inspirational work in putting the raw text into book form for us and to Anthony Dunne both for his work on the text and for producing the glossary.


The Trustees

Trevor Leggett Adhyatma Yoga Trust



These pieces on Eastern methods of inner training and realisation are not intended as theoretical instruction or entertainment. They all point to actual practice in life. For instance, even the little piece A prince reprimanded contains besides the two obvious surface points, a hint at deeper practice.


The title of the book Jewels from the Indra Net refers to the fabled net of the god Indra of which the strands have a jewel of truth at each junction. The jewels reflect each other so that each one has deeper meanings in it.


The pieces are from a variety of traditions, some of them being based on original translations of little known Sanskrit or Japanese texts. Others come from observation or personal experience. A few of these have appeared on my internet sites and I am now hoping the whole book will reflect to its readers some further gleams from the Indra Net.



As with all training, the inner training requires a certain minimum of theory. In this book there is an underlying philosophical structure which, however, stands not as ultimate truth but as a working basis. The Absolute, tentatively called Universal Self or Brahman or by many other names, is beyond concepts. It cannot be known by them: it can be known by being, by becoming it so to say. It is tentatively called existence-intelligence-infinity. Brahman projects universes as fundamentally purposeful and beautiful illusions. As latent consciousness Brahman is in every particle of the creation.

The purpose is that the consciousness, at first unmanifest then latent in primary elements such as rocks, struggles to evolve into semi-consciousness in plants and animals and self-consciousness in man. The programme is that those higher in the scale of evolution should help those in less advantageous circumstances to rise higher. By doing this they also make progress themselves. If they fail to do it they relapse: this is technically called the law of Karma.

The awakening spiritual aspirant does good to others only to make it easier for them to strive to reach universal consciousness; there is no other reason. It may involve the relief of starvation including mental and cultural starvation, but not assistance in gratifying limited personal desires, which have binding effects. Instant pleasures are only for an instant. They correspond to moments of happiness experienced by slaves or prisoners. Silver chains are still chains.

As man becomes increasingly self-conscious, the urge to return to infinity becomes strong. Opportunities arise to enter a path of realisation of the true universal nature, first in the individual body- mind complex and then without limits. These opportunities are provided by the higher spirits (perhaps once in human form) who reflect and transmit the glory of the Universal Self.

The fundamental training is mind control and meditation which in the end have to become one pointed. It is not useful to say much about the higher stages in meditation as this can arouse a distracting “how am I doing?” monitoring anxiety. Allusions to them will be found in several places and will be recognised by those who are approaching that level. Some longer pieces have been put at the beginning to give a survey of some main points.

Part One: Inner Practice


The Pole Star Within

The inner meaning of the title, The Pole Star Within, is that there is something within us which can give us unfailing guidance for directing ourselves in thought, word and deed. By it we can guide our experience in this world, and our spiritual progress.

The Pole Star is in the north. The sun rises in a different place every day. We usually direct ourselves by knowing the marks of the locality where we live. But if we travel abroad, we do not know the locality, so we cannot find a fixed direction. A fixed direction is given to us by the Pole Star, often called the North Star. When we list the directions, we say north, south, east, west; north always comes first. But the Chinese list them quite differently: east, west, south, north. North comes at the end. East (they say) is where the sun rises and wakens the world, and west is where it goes down and the world begins to sleep. South is the direction of warmth and cities and trade and social life. It is full of interest. Only north has no interest: the Chinese say, “What is there in the north, after all? The further you go, you find snow and ice and barren wastes. There is nothing useful or interesting in the north. Why do you Europeans put north first?” Most of us do not know.

A Japanese scholar explained it to me. He said: “You people are voyagers, travelling round the world, whereas the Chinese called themselves the Central Flower Kingdom, and did not want to go elsewhere. They thought other people would come to them, to the superior civilization. But you British, for example, were sailing all round the world, exploring, and then converting to Christianity, and then conquering and then colonizing. You plundered nearly all the countries you went to. The British Museum is the biggest robber’s cave in the world – full of things which you have stolen from other countries. I admit (he added) that you did respect what you stole: it is all beautifully preserved and catalogued and studied. No doubt many of those things would have perished if they had been left where they were. But the fact remains that you stole them. So in a way you were a nation of pirates. That was why you respected the north: your Viking brigand ships needed the North Star to guide them. The crest of your hero, Sir Francis Drake, shows a North Star in the sky, then the water, and the star reflected in it. Did you ever wonder what the Spanish thought of your Sir Francis? Just a pirate, just a robber.”

This is the sort of thing a foreign scholar knows, which we have forgotten, or rather, we never knew it. It was not in our history books. At any rate, it is true that they needed a fixed direction, and the Pole Star gave that. But only at night, and only when it is not clouded over. So they needed something else.

There is a nearer Pole Star, which we now call the compass. That tiny magnetic needle points to the north, or to the south, as the Chinese prefer to think. Even here, some special conditions have to be provided. It has to be kept steady, and it has to be protected from the presence of nearby masses of metal, whose influence will bring it off line.

The Inner Compass

There is an inner compass, which will show itself when the mind is calmed and finally brought to complete steadiness, and free from the disturbing influence of illusions and passions (which are themselves forms of illusion). When these conditions are right, the inner compass, like the outer compass, has a life of its own. It directs the mind to the Pole Star of the cosmic purpose. The meditator comes to know what he is to do in life, and when he faces in the right direction, he also gets the energy to do it.

In his book The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, (published by Shanti Sadan, London) Dr Hari Prasad Shastri gives a secret of meditation:

“Every man must be able to go into voluntary nervous and mental relaxation, and concentrate his mind on a symbol of God … It is this prolonged silence of the soul which brings before man the pattern of what he is to create, the archetypes of his contribution to the inner and outer world.”

What sort of inspirations are these? What comes to him that others cannot think of? These are reasonable questions. The answer is that the inspirations are from the Lord, and cannot be predicted.

However, often it is an entirely new way of thinking, a much wider range than the ordinary man manages to achieve. Individuals in all countries and ages have come to touch the secret of inspirations, though if there is no systematic training, they will tend to be intermittent, or perhaps once only. Dr Shastri used to recommend his pupils to study history with an eye open for such cases.

The Prime Minister’s Quandary

Here is an example from the first half of the twentieth century. It concerns one of the states in India which were ruled by princes, under the umbrella of the Commonwealth. The young ruler of this state had appointed a remarkable man as his Prime Minister. This was originally a brilliant scholar who had decided to serve his state by going into politics. He studied in Britain and then America for several years. When he returned, his policies, enthusiastically supported by the prince, began to transform the state. He set himself to tackle the periodic cholera epidemics, from which this state, like others, suffered.

The true solution was to improve sanitation, and in the meantime he proposed compulsory cholera inoculations for the whole population. He was able to show how these had cleared up the problem in other areas, but he met opposition from some of the ultra-conservative Brahmins. They admitted the force of the figures which he gave, but they said that it was contrary to the ancient traditions. If adopted, they argued, the results would ultimately be disastrous. Those who wished could be allowed to have the injections, but to impose them by law was absolutely wrong. The Prime Minister knew that if these highly respected Brahmins advised against it, few would risk their displeasure.

The ruler, and some foreign advisers, were at a loss what to do. Some recommended using the force of the law, others thought the plan would have to be postponed till the objectors (and thousands of others) died, perhaps of cholera. Both these plans had been tried in other states, but had not worked well. The Prime Minister felt he was beginning to hate the orthodoxy which seemed so mindless.

He was a man of meditation, and he now went much deeper into it. In the silence of his soul, one day he had a strange experience; he felt he had become one of those pandits. He found himself fearless of death for himself, and wanting to save others from the cholera epidemics. He would co-operate in improving knowledge of hygiene among the people. But he was firmly set against bringing in this foreign technique of inoculation so totally against the tradition of the ancient texts. He knew that it might very well save some lives, but the cost would be a breach in the sacred tradition.

If that breach seemed to give some benefits, there would be other breaches and still others. In the end the people would become like the Westerners, always restlessly moving about like people who were looking for something they had lost, or trying to remember something they had forgotten. The foreigners had no peace, though they had some material advantages; the ancient Indian tradition did not give so many material advantages, but it did give peace. Those who died would be born again. Even the foreigners recognized that in India people could live and die in peace; the foreigners lived in constant anxiety in spite of their wealth, and they were terrified of death.

The Prime Minister’s Inspiration

In that state of expanded consciousness, there suddenly flashed the idea of what to do. He had himself been a scholar, and now he sought out three younger Sanskrit scholars and learned from them that though the general principles of the ancient medical science were known, there were some obscure passages which had been little understood. He commissioned them to make a detailed search, explaining what he wanted.

Some weeks later a public debate was announced, on the cholera injection proposal. The Prime Minister asked his scholars to address the assembly. They reported that they had made a minute examination of the ancient texts on medicine, and they produced some passages which implied that there were certain procedures that involved puncturing the skin: they produced a passage in the medical classic of Sushruta, and another from the even earlier Charaka. They also pointed out that in ancient times a whole system of medicine had been imported from the Greeks, which was now called the Yunani or Ionian school of Indian medicine.

The Prime Minister said that this showed that both puncturing the skin for an injection, and the adoption of what was good in foreign medicine, were a part of the ancient tradition of India. The orthodox pandits considered these arguments. To their credit they completely changed their position, and promised their support for the anti-cholera plan.

This is a historical example of the inspiration from meditation, though admittedly in a limited and worldly context. Such problems may be solved, but they return in different forms, and the life- problem remains. Yoga aims infinitely higher, to find immortality in

living experience. Dr Shastri cited such examples of inspiration in worldly things in order to give confidence to pursue the lengthy yoga practice. But man, he said, will never rest satisfied with hearing about external changes. Fulfilment and peace are found only in realisation of the Lord as the great Self.

Making the Desert Bloom

The great Thar Desert lies in what is now Pakistan and is almost completely barren. There is a tradition in the ancient Vedas going back to over 1000 B.C. that a great river, the Sarasvati, which rises in the Himalayas, flows a long way underground. Recent prospecting for oil suggests that this supposedly mythological river flows under the Thar, and thus could make the desert bloom.

Beneath the human mind, even when it seems most barren, there is a spiritual Sarasvati, which can make the desert blossom into inspiration and energy. To bring this stream to the surface of daily life is a main purpose of yoga. To make a desert bloom. This piece is not meant as entertainment; it is for people who are in the desert.

A great Zen master was approached by two men and a woman who wanted to do some Zen, and he asked them: “Why do you come?”

One of them replied: “Well, I was rich and then my business collapsed and I was in jail for a bit. My reputation has gone, I am hated and despised by everybody, and so I have come here.”

The teacher turned to the next man and asked him why he was here, and he said: “I was very fond of my wife, but she died and I don’t know how I can stand the grief, so I have come here.”

And the teacher turned to the woman, who was a brilliant scholar of Buddhism, and she said: “Well I have studied the theories very well, but I thought I would like to do some of the actual practice, so I have come here.”

The teacher considered, and accepted the first man, whose life had been smashed to pieces; yes, he could do something in Zen. The second man, who had suffered this terrible bereavement; yes he could do something in Zen. And the third one, the brilliant scholar who knew all the theory of Buddhism; the one you would think could do something in Zen, was accepted too, but privately the teacher said: “She won’t do anything in Zen,” and she didn’t.

The teachings are meant for people in distress, in difficulty, or in despair – for those in a desert. They are not meant for people who are comfortably off and want to be entertained, and they are not meant for people who are great scholars and want to learn a bit more about being in a desert. If you have ever been in a desert you will know that occasionally, in this mass of sand, you see a tree, and you think: how does it survive? There is hardly any rainfall here, how can it live? Well, its roots can go down between thirty and fifty feet, and they find water under the desert. This water is not on the surface, for there is nothing there, but the tree’s roots travel deep, and it survives. But it is only one tree, and there is not another for miles.

When we look back over our own lives, or observe the lives of other people, we see mostly suffering; even the moments of triumph and great success are suffering. If you are very successful, you will be hated by those who fail, and if you fail, you will be despised and ignored. But sometimes there are moments when we think back, and recall a peace that was not dependent on anything outside. Perhaps it was some walk in the country when we sat on a stone and had no worries in our mind. Suddenly there was peace and a feeling of something beyond.

In one of his poems, Tagore refers to these states and says that he never realised when they came and went before he was back again in the excitements, frustrations and fights of everyday life. But when he looks back he can see that there were moments of peace and transcendence that had no explanation, which did not depend on anything external. Now, when he looks back on them he can see the signet ring of the Lord imprinted on those moments; he realises that was when the Lord visited him. He did not recognise them at the time; he only knew that there was a peace, but now when he looks back he can see these moments clearly.

In the spiritual traditions, we are told that these are just hints. They are hints like the tree in the desert; there is water below the desert of life’s disappointments and frustrations. Now sometimes those moments can come, they can be brought about if we are sensitive enough.

If you went, in the old days anyway, and possibly still, to a traditional Japanese hotel, one evening a maid would come to your room and ask: “Do you want to see the moon rise?” There was a little balcony in the hotel, and on that balcony at a particular time when the maids called you, you sat there in silence, and beyond the hill you looked up and the moon would come. People didn’t talk or fidget, asking, “Is it coming now?” They sat and waited.

There is a poem: “It’s just coming. That’s all. The great harvest moon.”

And the people sat, and then would see the moon come rising, and would have peace without words, for it is too big for words. There are some cultures which understand how to create these moments of peace, and that is one of them, but these things are still dependent on external circumstances, and we have to find something beyond dependence on circumstance.

As previously mentioned, there is a great desert in Pakistan called the Thar Desert, and traditionally there are three great rivers which take their source in the Himalayas; the one we call the Ganges, and one we call the Yamuna. There is also another which we don’t see, the Sarasvati, meaning “swift flowing”, and the ancient tradition from the Vedas is that the Sarasvati travels underground. Some hydrologists in the Thar have been using a system whereby a helicopter flies over a given area. There is an elaborate technical explanation, but briefly: a transmitter sends out radio signals and that produces a current in an aerial, which is received by a radio. It is similar to broadcasting; the transmitter sends out radio waves that strike the ground and set up induced currents. This sets up electric magnetisation that can be sensed by very sensitive instruments carried in floats towed by the helicopter.

With this technique they can find out whether there is water below the surface of the desert. Recently, hydrologists from Germany and Pakistan surveyed a very large area, and they found a huge fresh water aquifer, between thirty and one hundred metres deep, and several kilometres in length. All that fresh water! They could tell it’s fresh because fresh water’s resistance is different to that of, say, lime water. It is now known that there is a vast body of water that could make the desert bloom. The German hydrologist said: “There is enough water here to supply a great city like Hamburg, with 1.5 million inhabitants, all their water needs for over a century.” Now they are drilling for it, at considerable labour and expense, for it is much more valuable than oil.

The spiritual discipline tells us that beneath the desert of our lives there is a living water, a living stream – perhaps like this enormous fresh water aquifer under the Thar Desert. The mysterious Sarasvati’s reputation as a river that travelled underground from the Himalayas was thought to be pure myth, but perhaps it has some basis in truth after all. These analogies can be a useful stimulus, though of course they are not exact in every point. But if we do spiritual study in one tradition over a defined area, not just here and there, and we do it with attention, then we can begin to pick up these very fine signals from somewhere deep within ourselves. Below the surface desert of our lives, there is a living stream which can make the desert bloom.

I just want to say something about study. You have to be convinced, otherwise you will never do the special practices which can sensitise you to the existence of those hidden streams. Unless you are fairly convinced that they exist, you will never have the patience to keep on with the practices. For this reason you must study, not in vast detail, with a lot of names and dates, but study the subject in one main tradition so that you have a grasp of it. I’ll give you an example.

At the beginning of the last century, my mother, who was of a rich family, married my father, who was a poor man. It was a love match. She told me that she had been brought up in this rich family like a doll. The girls were taught to be entertaining and to have graces and so on, but they could not earn their own living, and she rebelled against her strong-minded mother, saying: “I will leave home.” Well there were only two ways a girl could earn a living then: nursing (typing as a profession was not yet available), and the other was something I don’t want to mention, so she chose nursing. She completed the nursing training, although she never practised, and by the time the training was complete, her mother had recognised the same strong will in the daughter as she had in herself, and she was welcomed back into the home.

Later on in her life I looked after her for her last twenty years, and she became diabetic, but because she had been a nurse she followed the instructions exactly. The first year she was diagnosed, we had to weigh everything, even a slice of bread. We had to take tests every morning, and inject the exact amount of insulin. But the diabetic diet is a very healthy one; alcohol, smoking and sweet things are controlled, so, although she was diabetic and had to have these injections, her general health improved – she was very vigorous up to the age of 82-83. Some of her friends were also diabetic, but they could not manage to follow the rules; they knew they should, but they thought: “Oh, just one sweet thing, it doesn’t matter.” I can remember one of them, a brilliant historian, who had a corner cupboard in one room, and she would get up quietly while the others were talking and just open the door a tiny little bit and take out a chocolate. She thought it didn’t count – if nobody saw it, it didn’t count. Well, she and others, who did not follow the rules, died, but my mother and one or two others did not.

You have to do enough study to convince yourself to follow the discipline, and that varies with different people. Some people need more study than others, but it is essential. If you have diabetes you must read all the points on diabetes: don’t smoke, watch your feet, be very careful of your eyes, and so on (a small cut on the foot for a diabetic can be disastrous). You have to read enough to become convinced. In the same way, if you take up a spiritual discipline in order to bring living streams into the desert of your life, you have to study one tradition. You respect other traditions, but you train in just one. As you can understand, the figures which the helicopter scientists bring back mean nothing to the ordinary person, and if they were presented to us, they wouldn’t persuade us to spend money drilling in the desert. It would be just a lot of figures that had to be explained very carefully. It is the same with spiritual study. The analysis of the mind can be very exact, but not everyone can follow it, so, for some things, we should go to a reliable source and be prepared to take some things on faith; not blind faith, but experimental faith. You have faith enough to enable you to go on making experiments, and when you get little confirmations it will seem reasonable to you. If you go on still further you will get bigger confirmations. Here is an example of this.

A businessman made a lot of money suddenly, bought a new house, and wanted to show it off to all his friends. His sister had been abroad, and she had married while she was away. Her return with her new husband was the perfect opportunity for a party, and the businessman invited about fifty people. One of them was a young mathematician, and the host, who was very contemptuous of mathematics, said: “Fiddling about with figures, a waste of time.” The mathematician tried to assert that mathematics could be helpful in practical life, but the host said: “Not the sort of things you study. Why are prime numbers often in pairs, eleven and thirteen, seventeen and nineteen? What good is that? It is useless!” The mathematician, too embarrassed to argue, said nothing.

Then the sister introduced her husband, who was an astronomer, and it turned out that he had been in the East and was interested in astrology. The host, contemptuously, said: “You people just live on superstitions, there are never any scientific tests, nothing definite at all.”

And the astronomer said: “Well how can there be? I can make predictions but you have to wait to see if they’re true. Then, when something happens and I say I predicted it, then you will doubt that I ever did. But there can be occasions where there is a definite test.”

And the host said: “And I suppose that this is not one of those occasions, is it?”

“As a matter of fact it is,” replied the astronomer. “People who are born on the same birthday have a sort of resonance. It does not mean they have the same character exactly, but there is a resonance between them. Now I have had some training in astrology and, as a matter of fact, there are about, how many, fifty of us here now? There are three hundred and sixty five days in a year, so it is not very likely that two of them are born on the same date, is it?”

And the host said: Now fifty into three hundred and fifty – about a one in seven chance.”

The astronomer/astrologer looked around him and said: “Well, as you are keen on definite tests, I’ll make a prediction. I can feel a resonance here. There are two people here who have been born on the same date. Now you know I have just come from abroad and I don’t know anyone here except for my wife, your sister.”

The host was delighted, saying: “Yes, let’s have a test, and when you fail it, no doubt you’ll have some excuse won’t you?”

So the people lined up and passed between two chairs in the middle of the room, calling out their birthdays. When about half had gone through, someone said: “October 10th,” and somebody in the crowd behind, who had not been through, said: “I’m October 10th.”

There was silence until the host said: “Well that is just a fluke, it can happen.”

But the astronomer replied: “It can’t be a fluke – I predicted it, didn’t I?”

The businessman said: “It was a fluke that you predicted a fluke.

The astronomer looked at his host and said: “Remember what you said about finding some excuse?” And the host was silent.

Afterwards the shy mathematician went up to the astronomer and said: “It is about ninety seven per cent on isn’t it?”

The astronomer said: “You’re a mathematician too, are you? I know this is not astrology, but what can I say when I am talking to fools? We have studied astrology seriously, as a science, and while it has had some failures, it has also had some successes, but some people just won’t listen. However, quite a few people in this room will listen now.”

The mathematical proof does seem incredible. There are fifty people, there are three hundred and sixty five days of the year, but it is something like 32 – 1, or 97 %, that two of them will be born on the same date. Most of us couldn’t follow the complex mathematical probabilities argument even if the mathematician explained it to us, but some people were convinced by the astrologer when he said he sensed a resonance and he was right.

So I would just like to say that we don’t have to plunge deeply into scholastic and academic study, but we must have a general idea of the tradition that we are going to follow in order to bore into the desert to find the water that flows. So what I have been talking about is really to illustrate that if we look and study, and we begin to look in our lives for those moments of peace which come for no reason at all, we will begin to get hints that there is something deep beneath the desert which can make it bloom. But to know this, even though it can be comforting, doesn’t solve our problem – we are still in the desert. We need to find some definite practice that we can do, and that is going to take some time. I will now explain one of the meditation practices that I received from my teacher.

Meditation in Crisis

In both Yoga and Zen a time of crisis is a good basis. A tragic bereavement, bankruptcy, public disgrace, ingratitude or even hostility from those who have been helped – these are the times when there is detachment from the world.

These are practices that Dr Shastri recommended; they are well proven and reliable, and the book that they come out of is Meditation: Its Theory and Practice, which was written by Dr Shastri. One can be showered with different practices or presentations, but if one does one thing properly, then there is a chance for a response to come – an invitation to make the practices go further. But unless we start to do something there can’t be any response, there is no rapport.

Lay down a particular time for meditation; he recommends first thing in the morning, when the mind is calm, though it might mean getting up a bit earlier to find the peace. Have a corner where you have a cushion, light a candle, have a picture of something that you revere, then read a text, a holy text. It might be the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, just a few verses, to bring the mind into tune with something greater than we normally perceive as our daily lot. There is something there; we try to bore through, but all that we seem to be getting is a lot of gravel. But with these sorts of practices, particularly the meditation practice which will come later on, there is an affirmation. Focus the mind on the navel, take a deep breath in relaxation, and as you breathe in imagine you are drawing the breath up from the navel so you end the breath by thinking of the space between the eyebrows. Take twenty-one breaths in this way.

Obviously we don’t breathe through the navel, but we can imagine that as we breathe in, we are drawing the breath up as though one is drawing milk from a straw, not straining, just breathing gently and comfortably. So you draw the breath in up the body, draw in the breath up from the navel, and when the lungs are fairly full, the column of light stops between the eyebrows. Then you finish the visualisation and breathe out normally, and then you bring in the next breath. (The practice, in fact, moves the stream of vital energy in the body, but this cannot normally be felt by a beginner, so a visualisation is made, as if the breath were coming in at the navel. The breath is associated, in a subtle way, with the vital energy, called prana.)

When a little facility is gained it creates a calm and a sort of expansion of consciousness. Now largely relaxed but maintaining the posture, peacefully cast off the various clothes you have been wearing for the individual life. It is like an actress at the end of a performance taking off her stage make-up and dress – silk and jewels if she has been a queen or rags if a slave girl. You take off l-am-young, I-am-old, I-am-man, I-am-woman, I-am-Chinese, and so on. Throw away all these roles, not wanted, not wanted.

On some days the moving thoughts will begin to die down, little by little you begin to become aware of an unmoving light which witnesses all the moving things.

Sit in the enjoyment of the peace of that light.

Now the meditation. It is not something which is imagination, though it starts off, and we have to support it as imagination; there is, in fact, a light within us, and that is what we are looking for in the meditation: “In me there is a light that lights the whole world.” How can we tell what it represents? How can we tell what we are looking for? It is radiating peace and understanding. It is not something arbitrary, it is something that one actually finds, but only when one has done the boring and the drilling, we have to go down into ourselves to find it. So the desert begins to bloom with those little reflections of inspiration that can arise in our daily life, the life that can seem like a desert at times. Something begins to stir and resonate, and we suddenly find we are released from habitual trains of thoughts: “I always do it this way, I have to do it this way, it has got to be so.” You become freer, there is opportunity for new ways of looking that come into the mind, there is freedom and ability.

Then the text for meditation: “In me there is a light which lights the whole world, it is radiating now peace and understanding.” We have been talking about light – the light within the body.

The Bhagavad Gita (XIII.17) says: “Light even of light, said to be beyond darkness. Knowledge, the object of knowledge, it is planted in the heart of everyone.” And in chapter XV, verse 12: “The light which resides in the sun illuminates the whole world, that which is in the moon and in the fire, that light know to be mine.” It is an affirmation, a statement.

To start with we have to hold by imagination; we have to take it on the trust of people like Dr Shastri and other sages who have experienced it in their own lives. But what Dr Shastri recommended was that we repeat it to ourselves internally three times, then if one has forgotten it, repeat it another three times. The point is to hold the mind on the flavour of that text. Then you are holding on to an image of a light that is within you, and is now actually radiating peace and understanding. There are many days, particularly on a Monday morning, when one does not feel one is radiating peace and understanding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The teachers of old, in their autobiographies, describe the sufferings they have gone through, and unless they had that inner sparkle, that inner fire, then they wouldn’t have been able to carry on. This is an affirmation of truth, and we have the chance to follow what Dr Shastri and many other teachers of truth offered. Try a session now, for 15 minutes:

“Om. In me there is a light that lights the whole world, it is radiating now peace and understanding. Om.”

Finally, sit in the calm which these practices will bring and give your friendliness and forgiveness to all, to those people you feel you have hurt, and those who have hurt you. In those final moments of the meditation practice, just offer a sense of forgiveness to them.

Though one has to practise on a definite line, we revere all the great traditions and schools; my teacher often used to refer to the great Moslem mystic, Rumi, and this is a little poem on the subject. You will see that the presentation is slightly different, but you will see the light, the water and the living stream which is below the desert. It is presented in the terms of Islamic mysticism.

A certain man was crying “Allah!” all night until his lips grew sweet in praise of him.

The devil said: “Oh garrulous man, what is all this ‘Allah!’ Not a single response is coming from the throne. How long will you go on crying ‘Allah’ with grim face?”

The man became broken hearted and lay down and slept. In a dream he saw the prophet Elijah in a garden, who said to him: “Hark! You have held back at praising God, why do you repent at having called on him?”

The man replied: “No ‘Here Am l’ is coming in response, hence I fear I have been turned away from the Door.”

Elijah said: “Nay. God saith that ‘Allah!’ of thine is my ‘Here Am I’, and that ardour, grief and supplication of thine are my messenger to thee – thy fear and love are the noose to catch my favour. Beneath every ‘Allah! ‘of thine is many a ‘Here Am I’ from Me.”

We pray and we revere externally, but in the yoga and spiritual training we are taught that the Lord is not only outside, he is stirring within us, and that stirring is the spiritual quest. It is wrong to think: Oh, spiritual practice is just when one’s circumstances are favourable and when one has the time and energy and facilities.

No, as it is pointed out at the very beginning, it is when everything has collapsed, when we are disappointed, when our lives have been shattered, then is the time we can no longer depend on external things, they have collapsed and betrayed us. We can easily turn one-pointedly within, and in our turning not just revere what is outside, but find that stirring within us.

The Closed Fist of the Teacher

The closed fist of the teacher is an Indian expression, referring to the handing on of a succession in some tradition. It is illustrated by one of the little stories in the Persian classic Gulistan or Rose Garden, which was several times quoted by Dr Shastri to illustrate some point (not necessarily the same one). Here it is.

The Ninety-Nine Tricks

The story can be summarized: A teacher of wrestling had a promising pupil, to whom he taught ninety-nine of the hundred tricks of wrestling. One rare trick, however, he kept back. As the boy became stronger and more skilful, the time came when he began to boast in public: “Of course in an actual bout I defer to my teacher and allow him to win. But in actual fighting ability I am superior.” Wrestling was then (and still is) a national sport in Persia.

The Hundredth Trick

The King came to hear of this boast and had a match arranged in his presence between the master and pupil. The young wrestler rushed forward like a furious bull, and then the master made use of that one rare trick which the other had never seen. The master lifted him high and dashed him to the ground. “How could you dare to boast that you could defeat your teacher?” demanded the King angrily. The reply was unexpected: “He has not been a true teacher to me. At everything he taught me, I can beat him. But he kept back this trick which he has just used to beat me.” The King grew thoughtful, and asked the teacher: “Yes, why did you keep this back from him?” The master said: “I kept it back for just this occasion.”

One of the points of the story is, that if the pupil had not been so arrogant, in the course of time the master would have retired, and made over the training hall to him. Then, and only then, he would have passed on to him the secret hundredth trick, hidden in his closed fist. These things are popularly called the “tricks of the trade”. As long as cities have existed there have been colonies of experts in a profession or trade – the Street of the Goldsmiths, of the Weavers, and so on. They maintain their secrets against the outsiders; though they are competing with each other for customers, there is a stronger bond which keeps them together. If they separated, their expert knowledge would soon become dispersed and their advantage would be gone.

Secrets of the Upanishads

In spiritual traditions, words like “secret” are everywhere. The word Upanishad can be derived from upa = near, ni = down, and sad = seat (the ‘sh’ gets in by a phonetic rule that when an ‘s’ follows any vowel except ‘a’, it becomes ‘sh’). So the word Upanishad, a sacred scripture of India, refers to sitting beside the teacher, who then whispers it. Socrates refers to a doctrine whispered in secret and Jesus speaks of the secrets told to the close disciples alone.

However, these things were not in fact kept secret. The formal title of the famous Gita, which proclaims itself to be open to all, is: The Upanishads Sung (Gita) By The Lord. At the end of the Gita it is said that to teach it, in a proper spirit and to proper hearers, is the greatest service. Some devotees learn chapters by heart, and repeat them every morning. So where is the secret?

We can understand by comparing other uses of the word. An expert will tell us

“The secret of public speaking is timing”; another will say: “The secret of debate is anticipation”; yet another will say: “The secret of politics is to put into words what people have not been able to formulate”. So what is the secret of a public political debate? If we consider carefully, the three things – timing, anticipation, and the last one – really overlap. One cannot get the timing right unless one anticipates what will suit, and when to say it. Calling them secrets is a way of focusing attention on an aspect of the whole situation. Other elements are for the moment taken for granted. For instance, the ability to speak clearly and with at least apparent conviction.

These things are secrets not as the words themselves, but because they contain a real secret, which is an intuitive art that cannot be directly taught. It has to be brought out by a process of training, shorter or longer. There can be working rules which may give an approximate result: “Pause and count One where there would be a comma, Two for a colon, Three for a full stop”. But this is not the art of timing. Churchill knew just how long to wait, after saying to a fractious House of Commons: “Well, I will not cast any more of my pearls …” and when the uproar had subsided, “before those who do not appreciate them.” He was rewarded with a burst of laughter.

The spiritual secrets referred to in the Upanishads and Gita are intuitions, not the trivial ones of an orator, but concerning the depths of man’s being. The words can be misunderstood and the secret missed. The teachings give many different signposts so to speak, like many co-ordinates on a map. Each co-ordinate starts from a different point, and they gradually converge.

In the same way, spiritual instructions are given for one in a crisis, for one who is looking for happiness, for one who is searching for the reality behind the world-illusion, for one who wants to explore the inner landscape beyond the stream of thought. The instructions overlap to some extent, and their final aim is to awaken a new realisation beyond the mind. This has to be found by the seekers for themselves; no one else can find it for them. But the teaching can equip them with clear, steady and focused minds; then, as the Gita (IV.38) says:

In time, the one purified by the yoga of action and the yoga of samadhi, finds it in himself by himself.”

However the influence of the Hundredth Trick idea, in the various forms in which it may appear in history, has an effect even in spiritual training. There is something in the human mind that hopes for a short-cut, some subtle idea which will solve everything without much trouble.

Hidden Points in Life

We come across such things in life. Suppose for instance that there is a long list of Chinese and Japanese delegates, experts, reporters and so on to a big international conference. There are thousands of the names, and it is desired to put the Chinese all together in some hotels, and the Japanese in others. The computer list, however, has mixed the names together, putting them in alphabetical order, beginning AN, then ANDO, then ARAKAWA, and so onward.

The organisers will have to look up each name in various passenger lists; it is expected that the Chinese will have travelled on the national airline where they will get a discount, and the Japanese similarly. The job is going to take a good many people a good time. But they happen to mention the matter to an orientalist.

He says: “You need not do all that. It’s quite easy. Chinese names are always of one syllable; Japanese names only rarely. So AN is probably Chinese, but could just possibly be a Japanese; ANDO and ARAKAWA are certainly Japanese. So with names of one syllable, try the Chinese passenger lists first; with more than one syllable, you need not look up at all – it is certainly a Japanese.” Armed with this little ‘secret’, the organisers sort the names quickly.

Students in yoga training sometimes get the idea that there is some such neat way of solving all their own difficulties. Keywords circulate: “The whole secret is detachment, detachment, detachment. Nothing else really matters.”

Mysterious slogans are coined: “There’s a tradition that if one can make one complete bow on entering the meditation hall, a bow with the whole heart, that’s all that is needed for instant realisation. For people who can whole-heartedly bow, all the rest is secondary”.

These things are not necessarily wrong, but the idea is to bring them so far into the foreground that they shut out everything else. When this happens, the actions themselves become thinner and mechanical; little remains of their inner life, because the other elements of the training have been largely dropped. They form little schools of practice – one cannot call them schools of thought – which drain away the life of their followers. The tendency takes various forms, supported sometimes by spurious reasoning, sometimes by spurious authority.

“It is no use attempting meditation till you have a perfectly clear knowledge of the truth. If you meditate without that, you will be meditating on untruth, and reinforcing it. You will be practising error.”

These people would presumably say that a novice attempting to skate, and falling over repeatedly, is practising falling over. Others say: “The teacher gives exercises in mental control, but this is really to convince ourselves of our helplessness, and bring us to depend wholly on him, and on God speaking through him.”

In such ways the teacher’s direct instructions are nullified. Again it is a spurious spiritual attitude masking a failure of vitality. Yet such secrets are passed round as hidden truths. It is never clearly stated why the teacher is supposed to withhold them. In the background there is some dim idea of a Hundredth Trick, with all its associations of a fundamental conflict between teacher and pupil. In Saa’di’s original Persian story, there is a chilling couplet which points the moral:

This is the bitter wisdom of an ancient civilization, which has seen centuries, even millennia, of strokes and counterstrokes, plots and counterplots. They have been in all fields: personal, political, and intellectual.

What has it all amounted to in the end? One of their great mystic poets summed it up: “children squabbling over walnuts as counters; shouts and tears over … nothing.” The spiritual course must not become infected with these worldly associations. It is passing on a light, not walnuts. The teacher loses nothing when he gives the light to the pupil, and the pupil is not in competition with the teacher. In one the light may be great, in the other small, but it is the same thing between pupil and teacher. The semi-instinctive attitude, though concealed from the conscious mind, may go very deep.

Concentration and Meditation

It is often recommended, that before we begin to study the Holy Truth, we should bring the mind to the central line of the body, and one of the ways of doing it is to isolate the point in the centre of the chest: just below where the ribs meet. This is technically called “the lotus of the heart”. Sitting reasonably upright, touch that spot; then using the after-sensation of the touch, bring the mind to this point. Keep the attention there, bringing it back if it is distracted, until it becomes continuous.

Here is a text on this practice of samadhi meditation (Bhagavad Gita, VI.7):

“Of the one who has controlled the mind, he is the inner Self, always in samadhi.”

The Supreme Self called Paramatman, within each living being, is always in the peace and clarity of samadhi. By bringing the mind to this point, we control it and tranquillise it. Then Paramatman, the Supreme Self within, who is ever in samadhi, can be at least glimpsed. We shall find that there is something here which is always calm. It is described as being “like a serene ocean”. And, if we have by practice become familiar with it, then even at a time of crisis we can bring the mind back to the centre.

There is something here which is unmoving, immortal, in a different space from our ordinary space, but which can be touched. One method given by Dr Shastri is to take the heart centre as the point of concentration – there are others, but this is a main one, so we bring the mind onto it. Then it wanders off. We recall it and bring it back, it wanders off again, we bring it back and so on and on.

Long Waves and Short Waves

The same thing happens when we take up anything new which requires practice. Before we have got any definite results, we are not sure what we are trying for, and we find that the mind wanders off occasionally. Why am I doing this? Suppose I am not suited for this? Am I wasting my time? To master anything we have to come back from these distracting thoughts. An important point is, that we should try to come back quickly to what we are doing. Dr Shastri said that if we think in long waves, it takes some time for the mind to return to the point of concentration. And soon it is distracted again, and again takes some time to get back to the desired focus. It corresponds to someone working at a desk, who at every sound from the street gets up and looks out of the window. Instead, we must learn to think in short waves. Then though the mind may wander off, the period of distraction is short, and it comes back to the focus quickly. (When watching a favourite TV serial, people have no difficulty in waving away all interruptions.)

A serious aspirant will practise the heart meditation given above for twenty minutes each morning at the same time, and another twenty minutes in the evening. When he can to some extent hold the mind steady during the practice periods, he finds he can begin to control it at other times. When a little control is established by one practice, we can begin to think what we like, how long we like, instead of being at the mercy of whims, of sets of desires, irrelevancies and trivialities.

Mental Twitching

Even physically, if we have to wait an hour or two, and then go into decisive action, during the waiting period our body feels it must do something. We cannot just sit, fighting phantoms of what may happen, and what we will have to do to meet it in the various forms it may take. Generally we get nervous and the energy runs away to the hands, face and feet. We fiddle with something, smoke cigarettes perhaps, chatter if there is the chance, and shuffle our feet endlessly. But if we have learnt to bring the attention to the heart centre, the body will become calm and it won’t twitch. The inner landscape of the mind too quietens down.

When the time comes for it to go into vigorous action, then that action will be well co-ordinated and appropriate, not jerky and spasmodic, which it would be if we were nervous. One who is always twitching can’t do anything. Can a surgeon or a violinist have a twitch? It applies in everything where we need concentration. Worse than a physical twitch is a mental one. By practice, we can learn to control not only the physical, but the mental twitch also.

Practice makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect, but one has to be a perfect practiser, or at any rate on the right lines. People take up this type of practice for a time; they struggle with it for a bit and then give up. And this is because the method is not understood. In Yogic psychology, action is defined as having a “purposive content” when it is planned and performed – and it is this that makes an impression on the mind. The impression is dynamic and wants to repeat itself.

In our lives, we are laying down by our action dynamic impressions at the base of the mind. These are not available to inspection, but they are there. They are called sanskaras, and they produce impulses in us: “I can’t stand this” or “I love that”.

Sanskaras can be controlled and changed; but this can be done only indirectly, not by direct confrontation with struggle and effort. Struggle and effort are needed to confront the impulses when they have risen up clearly before us, but this necessary control of instinctive, or simply irrational, behaviour does not immediately change the basic sanskaras from which the impulse has come. So though conquered this time, it will rise again, with seemingly undiminished force. Experiences like this often lead to despondency; “you can’t change human nature”, people say.

Changing the Nature

There is quite some difference between the popularly held views in the East and in the West on this question. In the West we often think that it is impossible; the basic nature is there and cannot be changed. All one can do is to try to develop means of adapting to it. In the East there are traditions which say, roughly, that it can be done, but not by sudden force. When we wish to establish a pattern of patience for instance, it will not be effective to try to do it by resolutely thinking: “I must be patient, never impatient.” Let us take an example from the history of chess.

In the 1840s, the Englishman Howard Staunton was generally accepted to be the best player in the world. (No one had heard of the Indian masters then.) He designed the chess pieces which are still used in tournaments, and wrote a massive handbook on the game.

He also wrote on Shakespeare, and was a man of considerable intellectual standing. But he sometimes lost, in tournaments, to very slow players, such as the American Elijah Williams. Staunton’s thought processes were quick, and he often made his reply as soon as the opponent had made a move. But Williams used to stare at the board for sometimes twenty minutes without making his move, even when (as Staunton irritably commented afterwards) there was obviously only one move which could reasonably be made. When this obvious move was finally made by Williams, Staunton, fuming with impatience, would make his reply instantly, to try to finish the game quickly. Inevitably he made occasional mistakes which cost him the game. He tried various means to control his impatience, but often failed.

Williams, the weaker at chess, was his superior in self-control. By attacking Staunton’s weakness there, he could sometimes beat him. Some other players, against Williams, would read a newspaper while waiting for the move. The historian Buckle is said to have written a chapter of a book during a match against Williams. Today this would not be allowed, and the best advice that can be given to impatient players is: When it is your turn to move, sit on your hands. Then at least you will have a little time to consider your first impulse, because it will take a few seconds to get a hand out.”

No one seems to consider the possibility of changing an underlying impatience into its opposite. But in the East there have been examples of this very thing. In Japan, a brilliant young chess master was impatient like Staunton, and this cost him many games against old masters who deliberately played very slowly, like Williams. The young master realised his own weakness, and when he was in a winning position and the thought came, “I’ll finish him off now,” he tried to think, “I’ll go slower.” But he couldn’t keep it up. In time, he came to realise that he would always lose in this way.

Now he did something inconceivable in the West. He set up an empty chessboard, and made himself sit for an hour in front of it without moving a muscle. He pictured himself as a big rock, motionless in a Japanese garden. He did this for a week. The next week, he sat for two hours, outwardly motionless but inwardly boiling with restlessness. In the third week however, he suddenly felt a sort of inner calm: “Yes, I can sit here.”

He was no longer fretting, because he had changed the basis of the mind. The impulses of restlessness could not be controlled by direct confrontation (though the outer behaviour was). They were sanskaras, beyond its reach. But they were finally changed by new sanskaras, not of the form ‘I must control my impatience,’ but of the form ‘I am at rest, like a rock.’ Consciously directed and substantially laid down sanskaras, steadily laid down over a period, can finally disperse even long-held habits and convictions picked up semi-consciously throughout life, just as a small but organized force can disperse a rabble.

Yoga Methods

The method in yoga is not to think: “I must not be impatient,” but to meditate on patience as achieved. Meditate in wide concepts: on patience, calm, and serenity. With each meditation, sanskaras are being laid down. For a time we see no improvement. But we must try to understand the dynamics of the mind. Yoga teaches us that the changes are being made in the deep recesses of the mind. When there are enough of them, changes begin to appear on the surface, at first in fragmentary forms. Impatient, or timid, or harassed people begin to find that they can occasionally calm themselves down, by recalling the atmosphere of their meditation.

But that is not all that is to come. Some time later, suddenly, in the middle of a situation which always sweeps them off balance, there comes of itself, without any struggle or effort, a feeling like a cool breeze: “I don’t need to hurry or worry.”

Practice Programme

You have to set up your own discipline, and daily practice is the key to changing the sanskaras at the root of the mind. Learn to meditate on the desired characteristics as already achieved. Characteristics of advantage in purely worldly achievements could also be cultivated, but such achievements are fundamentally illusory, and often leave an adverse reaction. In yoga, qualities such as calmness, clearness of inner vision, and right purpose, are cultivated, as these lead to truth and not illusion. The yogin learns to co-operate with the cosmic purpose, and not necessarily with passing fashions and prejudices of society.


The large part of the mind which consists of unexamined ideas and habits, will often raise objections to Yoga practice: “Waste of time.” Swami Mangalnath’s advice is to bring the mind to serenity at the heart centre for two hours a day. The mind will probably object: “But I’ll have to cut my television time!” Sometimes beginners feel that even an hour’s meditation a day is wasted. There may be a temporary exaltation, but it is soon lost in the rush of life. Would it not be better to use the time in life itself, perhaps doing some good instead of just sitting there?

They do not understand the dynamics of yoga meditation. As a parallel, consider the case of an undeveloped country which wanted to industrialize itself. The government found young, idealistic, intelligent people and sent them abroad on scholarships to main centres of engineering and science to examine and learn about the world. There was opposition: people said, “We need them here and you’re sending them away.” But the government was far-seeing and said, “Send them!”

The young were a great loss, but after a few years, some began to return. Almost at once changes began. At the time, for instance, the midwives didn’t know about wiping the eyes of newborn children and as a result many children were blinded from birth. When the students returned with new training and experience, they called conferences and explained hygiene and sanitation.

At first there was resistance from the old midwives. They said, “We’ve never done that. It’s not necessary.” Again the government intervened, the reforms were put through and the number of cases of the infection fell dramatically.

In the same way when we sit in meditation, we may feel that time is being wasted. The thought arises “I’m only dreaming.” No, the time will come when we find that the basis of our character has been changed and we have become much more energetic, constructive and inspired. It’s called Concentration.

The next stage is Dhyana – translated “Meditation”. When we concentrated, we had to keep supporting the idea or the mind would fall away. When it did, we brought it back. But when the practice has advanced and the new sanskaras laid down have changed the basis of the mind, then the mind can flow in a line of similar thoughts. These become powerful, not on an individual level only, but on a spiritual level. Shankara, in his Bhagavad Gita commentary, says the Gita gives three main meditations on the divine powers which hold the world together, the partial forms of the Lord culminate in the Universal Form of chapter Xl. The absolute is beyond all forms. He gives examples of partial forms such as the fragrance of the earth which we know well in summer after a shower.

He says, “Meditate on this as divine. Meditate on light, the moon and sun, the majesty of mountains.” Another is on the law of karma, which brings the results of our good and bad actions to us. He says it is not a question simply of hoping or having faith, but instead trying the meditations on an experimental basis. In Dr Shastri’s book The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching there is an account of one such experiment, by someone meditating on Rama.

“The physical form of Shri Rama is in paradise, Vaikunta, but his vibrations are ever around and within us. You can even now come into contact with the grace of Rama by praying to Him with a tranquillised mind, divested of vanity and the longing for pleasure and by being devoted to service. Each particle of the holy vibrations of Rama contains His essence. You can have a vision of His materialised personality anywhere and at any time, if your devotion to Him is complete. The saint, Tulsi Das, and Raghunath Das in our own time, had this vision. Surely the privilege is open to each and every one of you …”

One can say, as a sort of self-defence masked as humility: This is very high. I do not pretend to aspire to these states, which are after all a bit unnatural. They are not for ordinary folk.” But the quotation above is directed to “each and everyone “. Shankara takes up this very point in one of his great commentaries: he cites 11.44 of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra classic, to the effect that study of the scripture and repetition of Om, the highest name of God, bring about a face-to-face meeting with the deity of one’s devotion. He also gives an Upanishadic text confirming that this applies not merely to the spiritual giants of the past but to the ordinary people of the present, who must therefore not rule themselves out.

The same warning was given by St. Teresa of Avila to nuns who told her: “We are simple humble persons, and it’s not for me to hope the Lord will speak to us directly.” She would say, “Sisters, if you knew how the devil laughs when you say that!”


The great point is, not to rule ourselves out but to follow the instructions and make the experiments. The sceptic may say, “There is no Rama, no such God in reality. What is the proof? Rama and Krishna were simply mythological dark-skinned South Indian divinities taken up by the Aryans after they found they could no longer believe in the old Vedic gods such as Indra.”

They support their view by inferences from texts, always with the absolute conviction of materialist pre-conceptions. But these texts are to be tested by experiment, not ruled out from the beginning by what Shankara calls ‘forceful assertion’.

In the Brahma Sutras, one of the great text books of yoga, it says (III.2.5), “By meditation, that which is hidden becomes manifest.” His commentary explains that there is divine inspiration and power within every one and, if there is resolute meditation and resolute inner purification, the divine within begins to show itself. Such manifestations are not personal powers, but movements of the God within.

Our teacher often said that nobody is without inspiration. It is raining on everyone all the time, and through meditation they can come into touch with it. Here someone may interrupt: “They always quote Beethoven or Michelangelo for these things; it might be all right for people who are musical or artistic; how is it going to be expressed through ordinary people?”

Our teacher had lived in Japan and spoke the language; sometimes he quoted the tiny Japanese poems called Haiku. One was by a poetess, Komachi, one of the Eight Poetic Geniuses of Japan. She puts into seventeen syllables of Japanese what Chekhov expressed in many more words in his play Three Sisters. “What has happened to us? We were so full of life and so interested in life, but now we have become so bored and boring?” Komachi’s poem is, in Dr Shastri’s translation, which is very literal:

” Alas, it is the flower of the heart that fades with no outward sign”

Though the poem is tiny and is in simple Japanese, it is a masterpiece. All Japanese know these words and there is nothing difficult about the arrangement of them. Our teacher used to say that in everyone there are such inspirations seeking to come, even perhaps in the form of a single sentence, and when they come they can change someone’s life.

One such sentence was: “God will speak to us when we stop shouting at Him.”

Another is by St Francis: “Short prayer pierces heaven.”

Three Gifts

Words may not be needed. There are people who, when you visit them, say almost nothing so that you think perhaps you’ve wasted your time going to see them. But when you get home, you find something you’ve been frightened of doing is now not so frightening after all, in fact it is easy. You have received the holy gift of courage.

Classically there are three kinds of gift: the gift of things, the gift of courage, and the gift of wisdom. You can be given money, which would be the gift of a thing, but that soon goes. There is another gift, not given necessarily through anything physical, and that is the gift of courage. Instances of it were often cited by our teacher.

He recalled how Japanese would seek an interview with the great Saigo, and sit silently in the same room with him but without a word exchanged. They returned peaceful, free from their anxieties, and invigorated. And the third gift is the gift of wisdom.

Swami Mangalnath, a great yogin in our tradition at the turn of the last century, lived mostly in solitude as a monk. But he did sometimes come down from mountains. His talks had a strong effect on the hearers, amongst whom was Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, famous as the founder of the university at Benares. Later, one of these meetings was the scene of an example of inspiration from samadhi, the peak of meditation.

From that very university, a learned man, young and arrogant but with a genuine desire to know truth, came to challenge Swami Mangalnath. He posed two difficult questions with some idea of trapping the mahatma. (A brief account of what happened is in the introduction to Triumph of a Hero, by Swami Mangalnath, translated by Dr Shastri.) The Mahatma made no reply but went into samadhi, and by grace the inquirer found the answers arising in himself.

He prostrated himself and asked to be taken as a disciple. He thus received the gift of wisdom and it was given in complete silence.

The ancient Brahma Sutra classic says: By intense meditation, that which is hidden becomes manifest. The commentator explains that what is hidden is the divine potentiality in the individual. Meditations on objects are performed by Karma Yogis, to whom the world is real. Meditations such as “God is the light of the sun and moon” and “God sends the rain” are on the pure divine attributes which uphold the world; they exalt, purify and clarify the mind of the meditator, to whom they are as real if not more real than his own body.

How real that is to him is soon made obvious by events of daily life. Suppose a splash of boiling water falls on to the hand: if its owner feels “I am burned,” then this world is real to him. So when instructions are given to Arjuna to do his duty in the world, its reality and importance are taken for granted. In the present state, things are real and we are to respond properly to events. For Karma Yogis, the world consists of separate things. God too is apart, to be worshipped and obeyed; from his side, he helps and blesses us.

One of the three main elements of Karma Yoga is samadhi practice, which means penetrating meditation. It has grades. Teachers give as an example the meditation described above, on the form of Rama. The Karma Yogi feels that the Lord is apart. The time comes, however, when the Rama-meditation begins to lose its own character of “I am meditating on Lord Rama.” Patanjali, who wrote the classic on meditation, says, “It is when the meditation loses its own nature, as it were, the separation into subject and object (I am meditating on this) begins to disappear and there is only the object, blazing forth in its own light.”

Patanjali – The World is Real

There are different forms of samadhi. Patanjali lists nine and they are all based on the experienced fact of the reality of the world and its causes and effects. So, when the state of meditation, with its exaltation and freedom ends, the meditator comes back to a real world. In Patanjali’s system the objective is limited to escaping from suffering of being identified with a real body and mind in a real world. To that extent he is like a doctor whose purpose is to get the patient out of the suffering condition and back into society. The doctor does not inquire what the patient will do when the patient is healed.

In the Advaita system of Shankara, there is the same purpose of relieving the immediate suffering of those who are sure that the world is real, and to this extent the Yoga system of Patanjali is authoritative. But in the Advaita there is a further step, namely the penetration into the truth of the world, whether it is real or unreal, and whether the true Self is individual or Universal.

In Patanjali’s system, Prakriti, the world, is as real as the Self, and the aim of the yoga practice is to separate the two. The illusion which has to be dispelled is the idea and actual experience that the Self is entangled in it. Their ultimate samadhi-meditation is on Knowledge-of-the-difference (viveka-khyati). Finally that too is no longer needed, and the released Selves have no involvement with, or finally even awareness of, the world, though it continues to exist for those still caught up in it. But in Vedanta, there is a step beyond Knowledge-of-the-difference and this is the isolation of the Seer.

As Shankara says, when the yoga meditation has made the mind clear and focused, Knowledge arises from the Lord as grace from outside or as a stirring within. What is first known as a witness-self of things apart, finds its fulfilment in the truth of the holy texts as the Universal Self. The world itself is known as what is called “mithya”, of shadowy indeterminate character. It is not wholly real nor wholly unreal. What does this mean? A TV play is unreal, yet it affects us, and if its well done, it can affect us powerfully. So it cannot be completely unreal. The world is like that.

The resemblance between the teachings of Patanjali and Karma Yoga is, that the latter too is based, as Shankara says in his Gita XII.12 commentary, on the idea of a real world. That is the practical conviction. But when the Karma Yoga of Advaita is complete, this conviction of a real world thins out, and Knowledge arises. Then the meditations change into Knowledge meditations; they cannot be complete till the whole world-process is known to be no more than a rainbow or a mirage, or the illusions created by a magician. In the final liberation, as Shankara says, even these shadows melt away and Brahman stands clear in his own glory. In The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, it says, “Try to take your mind above the trio thinker, thought and thinking. To let yourself be in any of these categories is to slip into the realm of maya, the state of illusion and suffering. As long as you have consciousness of time and space, you will not be able to perceive the light of Atman, your Universal Self.

The feeling, I am not the body, is a prerequisite for yoga, and the complete relinquishment of body-consciousness marks the attainment of Samadhi.”

Advaita – The World as Unreal

Though there are some resemblances, when the yogi comes out of Patanjali meditation, the world is as real as it was before. After a successful Advaita Vedanta experience, however, described above, the world is no longer what it was. Knowledge has arisen and though there is a world, it is only an appearance projected onto the Universal Self.

In some cases the one who knows continues to take part in the world as a sort of sport, as we would take part in a game. The yogis give the example of chess, where distinct powers are projected onto pieces of wood. They are all known to be merely wood, but they are treated differently: with a bishop all that is expected and permitted of it is a diagonal move, with a rook, straight lines. We know to win is unreal and yet we try very hard and that is the interest of the game.

Swami Rama Tirtha on Samadhi

Swami Rama Tirtha made a list of samadhi-meditations on Knowledge. In some of these there may still be a shadowy knowing process, and known object, but they are no longer real. He calls them vikalpa, which means a theoretical and illusory construct.

Shankara uses a pair of terms: with-vikalpa (sa-vikalpa) and without-vikalpa (nir-vikalpa). The term Brahman-with-vikalpa emphasises, that supposed attributes of Brahman the Absolute, are in fact Maya-illusion; Brahman-without-vikalpa means the Absolute without illusory attributes. Rama Tirtha adopted the extended use of the terms in his samadhi chart.

One of the with-vikalpa samadhis is merely to watch unmoved the changing world, as it’s Light so to say. He calls this a Phenomenal samadhi. Another, which he calls Noumenal, is to meditate: “I am Existence-Consciousness-Bliss”. Another, the world and its values are accepted as a Sport and the yogi takes part in that world.

In the with-vikalpa meditations, some shadowy appearances still arise from unfulfilled karma-involvements of the past; no new ones are created, but the momentum of the past ones may persist for a time. The individual self, said Dr Shastri, becomes like a burnt handkerchief – the form goes on for a little but there is nothing solid there. The Universal Self alone remains, a mass of light and bliss.

In the text called Gaudapada’s Karikas, that teacher reassures would-be yogis who are frightened at the idea of transcendence and going beyond their individual self. They fear that it would be an oblivion, like falling asleep, or losing consciousness. He explains the point in terms of the sanskara seedbed at the base of the mind.

Sanskaras are dynamic latent impressions, laid down by past actions, and not normally accessible to conscious inspection. He says that a mind trained in samadhi remains in control when it enters the realm of sanskaras, whereas in sleep, there is no control. So the sleeping man’s mind is dispersed, at the mercy of sanskaras of ordinary delusive life, which consequently form a thick veil. But not so in practised samadhi. It may resemble sleep and such states in that the mind is largely withdrawn from the senses and the mind is not moving in thoughts. But the sanskaras are becoming purer and thinned out, so that streaks of the cosmic light of intelligence find their way through. Perhaps Goethe was referring to his own discovery of this when he wrote to Humboldt: “The secret of inspiration is, consciously to enter the unconscious.”

The Universal Self

In Gaudapada’s Karikas, Books 2 and 3, there are several verses on this. The essence of the individual self is not lost but expands finally into the Universal Self. Fear of losing individuality is therefore unjustified. But when first heard, the maxim “Go above thinker, thinking and thought” is a shock. An inner voice says: “These things are my life. If they go, what will be left? I can feel nothing else, there is nothing else.” Here the holy tradition, which embodies the experience of many centuries, tells us that there is something else, as yet realised only intellectually and not in living feeling.

An example of a potentiality, theoretically known but not felt is this: if in sleep you lie on your arm, it goes numb. As you get up, the arm seems dead and you can’t move it. Now though your thought tells you, “This is me,” your feeling says, “It isn’t.” When the blood circulation returns, you no longer have to insist by thinking, you feel vividly that it is you. It is not a matter of knowing by words but of knowing by being. Such an experience can give us a tiny hint about the yoga process; the spirit within seems merely theoretical. By changing the life to centre it on one Avatar-form – holy Rama or Jesus or Krishna – the spiritual circulation begins to return. The meditation image, at first merely a mental creation, becomes in samadhi a channel for the divine. What follows is given in beautiful descriptions, different yet clearly the same.

Krishna says: “I take my stand in the hearts of my devotees, and destroy all ignorance and darkness with the luminous flame of wisdom, as my compassionate gift.” Jesus says: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I am going to wake him.” Then Christ comes to the soul, and awakens the dead.

See, Hear, Understand, and Sit On

The huge body of Chinese Buddhist scriptures, which include not only translations of many Indian texts which have disappeared in India, but also many texts which originated in China, are sometimes put together in an enormous revolving bookcase, in the form of a great drum. There is a belief that modern man – beginning presumably with the modern men in China of the first century AD when Buddhism arrived there – cannot be expected to study them all. Or even half, or even a quarter, or even a fraction of them. But if he has the faith, and stands before that great drum of the scriptures, and simply turns it round a complete revolution – why then, he will get the same merit as if he had studied them.

It is a bit like the Tibetan prayer-wheel, though that has only one scripture, or sentence from a scripture, in it. But it can be revolved many times without much effort. With the Chinese one, you have to give a steady push to the spokes which stick out of the drum. You can’t be expected to read them of course, but you push them, and by pushing the drum on its pivot, which I have done several times, you get the merit of studying them. You get the merit, but I must add from personal experience that you do not seem to end up knowing any more about them than before.

A critic, looking at this little ceremony at the great temple of Narita in Japan, said to one of the priests: “The faith of such Buddhists is thinner than paper. Because it’s all based on what they’re supposed to have read, which is paper-thin after all; and they don’t believe all that is written on the paper anyway, so it’s thinner even than paper.”

The priest replied: “No. These scriptures are not just theories. They changed the lives of those who heard them and founded living traditions which civilized half the world and led also to unparalleled achievements even outside religion – in the arts, for instance. Again, the people who compiled these texts invented paper, and printing, a thousand years before you thought of them in Europe.”

Still, the comment about paper-thin belief has some force. The original texts – of Hinduism and Buddhism and other sects – were preserved by memorizing them. The doctrine was, that impregnation takes place through the ear, not through the eye. Experience shows that in reading, the words of the text are at the mercy of the reader, who can read them very fast, or skip some of them, or simply read down the middle of the page till some word happens to catch the eye. In general, the reader’s mind, which by definition is untrained and has little spiritual judgment, will skim parts of the text which it does not care for. In the same way, those who try to train themselves in some physical activity will tend to avoid what they find difficult, on the ground that it does not suit them; in fact, it is these very weaknesses which the teacher first begins to correct.

When a great text is spoken by one who knows what it is, the listener is held to the pace of the speaker, and also learns from the very utterance itself, apart from words. The former head of a great Japanese training monastery has remarked: “An absolute amateur of Zen can write an essay about it without any mistakes. He is adapting what he has read in the works of expert professionals. But let the amateur speak even a single word, and his spiritual state is clear to all who know Zen.”

An inquirer into yoga, invited to have tea with a teacher, spoke out his doubts forcibly about ancient texts: “I can’t see much point in studying those ancient texts as you recommend. The Upanishads were, I suppose, living truths to those who heard them, and perhaps for some time afterwards. But now they have died. And what is dead cannot live again.”

“It can,” replied the teacher. “I saw you put three teaspoonfuls of sugar in your tea. Why did you put in so much? You do not need all that just to sweeten tea.”

No of course not, in the ordinary way. But I do a lot of strenuous sport, and I need that sugar for energy. I am going on to the sports centre this evening.”

The teacher held out a spoon of sugar. “Look at this. It was living in the plant, but now it is dead. If you just look at it, it does nothing for you. But when you take it into yourself and digest it, so that it becomes part of you, then it is transformed into the energy and vigour which you need for your physical achievements. It was living, then it seemed to be dead, but it lives again.”

The inquirer blinked, and was silent for quite a few minutes.

Inner Scripture

There has to be an inner scripture. The Tibetan prayer wheel enclosed a minimal scripture, or a sentence from a scripture. But the real effect is from revolving in the heart, not from the external whirling. Again, two Chinese Zen monks, in the same monastery, thought they would help each other to remember the urgency of the Buddhist undertaking, by writing on their foreheads the six-stroke Chinese character DEATH.

The idea was, that each time one of them saw the other, he would be reminded that on his own forehead too was the word Death, and he would recall the urgency of the Buddhist aspiration to go beyond life-and-death. A visitor to the monastery saw them, and was much impressed. He asked the abbot about it, and was surprised when the old master said: “Oh, it is all right for beginners perhaps. But until that word is written, not on the outer forehead, but on the inner forehead, ever present before the mind, it will not have its true effect.”

A girl in 18th century Japan was a great devotee of the famous Lotus Sutra, one of the basic texts of Mahayana Buddhism. Every day she used to put the text of the Sutra on an altar in her room with flowers and incense, and recite a section of it with the utmost reverence. Then she would sit in devotional meditation before it for an hour. Gradually the time grew longer, and she also began to do the same thing in the evening. The rest of the time she was a loyal and hard-working daughter and the parents were proud of her.

One day during her devotional period, they were shocked to hear a crash from her room. Alarmed, they went in, and were further shocked at what they saw. The flower vase had been knocked over, the water had extinguished the incense, and the scroll of the Lotus Sutra had been spread out on the floor. Their pious daughter was sitting on top of it, sewing a torn garment. She was quite unabashed by their protests. They realised that something had happened that was beyond them, and sent a message to the Zen master Hakuin, whose temple was not far away. He sent her a riddling message, which she correctly understood to indicate that the expressions of realisation (satori) are best kept within bounds. She sighed: “So even Master Hakuin does not sit down really hard,” but shortly after she went to him and became one of his disciples.

This incident echoes a saying of Master Dogen: “Sit on the Lotus: don’t let the Lotus sit on you.” When the individual self, with all its imperfections and desires, comes before the Sutra, it can feel crushed by the majesty and perfection of the Sutra; but when it gives up its own individuality, and individual desires, it finds itself supported on the rock of the Sutra.

Known to Whom it is Unknown

‘If you think you know it well, then little indeed you know.’ (Kena Upanishad)

With these words, the teacher gives the mind of a pupil a shake. The words are a thrust at self-satisfaction. The pupil has an intellectual grasp of Brahman, Truth, and some experience of it. But he thinks that this shining intellectual experience is the True Knowledge that gives liberation from confinement in body-mind individuality. The teacher gives a thrust: “If you think that this is knowing it, you know almost nothing about it.”

Badly shaken, he leaves the group of disciples and goes to a solitary place. There he sits down in the deep meditation which leads to samadhi, and takes the needle-point of his ‘I’ consciousness beyond associations and memories. In the Zen phrase, the bottom falls out of the bucket. He comes back, and the teacher looks at him; the glance saying “Say something of it.” He replies: “I do not think I know it. Still, it is not that I do not know it, I do know it. He among us here who knows what it means to say ‘Still, I do know it’, he knows it.” The Upanishad sums up: “Known to him to whom it is unknown; unknown to him to whom it is known.”

We can find in daily life a hint of these seeming riddles. When someone sits down to learn to type, the teacher often covers the keyboard so that he cannot see the fingers. In front of him is displayed a map of it and he has to identify the keys under his fingers with the various letters on the map. It is slow, because he does not know where they are. He has to consult the map and then feel for them. He does not know, and he cannot type. After some weeks, he has memorized the plan, and his fingers are getting familiar with the keys. He knows: if asked where the J key is, he answers at once, “Middle row on the right, under the index finger.” He knows, but he cannot really type as an expert understands it.

After some years, that expert can type with perfect accuracy at high speeds; with a computer keyboard it can be almost as fast as a pianist. But if someone suddenly asks this same expert, “Where is the J key?” often he cannot answer at once. He has to type mentally “Joe”, and only then can he answer. He does not know. And yet … he types perfectly at high speeds. He more than knows, in a sense, it is part of him. He does not know; still, he does know.


Part Two: Life Practice

Free Fall

A rock, or a human being, falling from a cliff is said to be in free fall. But they are not free, because they have no choice. Similarly, those dominated by instinctive impulses often claim to be freely enjoying them, but in fact they are no more free than a falling rock. They are not free to check themselves.

Freedom can be a sort of verbal trick. When Henry Ford first introduced mass production, his famous Model T was always painted black. A reporter from abroad asked him whether customers could choose other colours. “They are free to choose any colour they like,” replied Ford, “as long as they like black.”

Another instance which provided a good deal of entertainment in its own way, came about when a successful English abstract painter was being interviewed (of course through an interpreter) on the French radio. The interviewer asked: “Would you explain to our listeners why you found it necessary to break free of traditional representational painting?”

“Couldn’t do it,” was the brief reply, and the interpreter had a job restraining his own laughter so that he could pass this on. A French abstract artist who heard this interview is said to have remarked thoughtfully afterwards,

“Only an Englishman would come out with it like that.” It is in instances like these that the meaning of the word freedom becomes hazy and can even mask its opposite.

One way to test one’s freedom from anger, any kind of greed, or lust-desire, is to rule out any expression of the one chosen for three weeks in the year, and every five years to pass one year completely abstaining from it, and fill the gap with something spiritually constructive.

A disciple of one teacher used to smoke heavily. Though his teacher had not asked him to stop, the disciple recognised that he had to prove to himself that he was free. He decided to stop smoking completely each year for three weeks. He had strong will power and although not having a cigarette was rather annoying, he held to his resolve in the first few years. Then one day while reviewing his diary (his teacher had recommended that a private daily spiritual diary was kept) he noticed that the date for the three week period had slipped each year. He was now hard pressed to complete it by the end of the year – Christmas, when everyone was offering cigarettes. He realised that next year he might not manage it. His supposed freedom was no freedom. If one examines one’s available energy, inner calm and creativity during the time of self-control, it becomes clear which is better: freedom or free fall.

Welcome, Well Come

Extraverts have a reputation for energy, but in fact they find it difficult to remain alert without constant reinforcement from the surroundings. As a result they are always influencing, and influenced by, that environment. If good-natured, they try to have good relations with others. Their inner weather depends on the outer weather, which they can only partially control. Those who can turn within, however, can develop considerable independence – they carry their own weather with them. If it consists of thunderstorms, they are unhappy; but if they have learnt how to create serenity, they can carry a clear sky wherever they go.

Suppose it is a question of coming to attend a serious meeting. The extravert takes a chair, but does not check how it is placed. Perhaps he puts his things on a neighbouring chair. Now when someone else arrives, the extravert will at once sit up and move the chair a fraction, and gather up the things, with a little smile. This is a gesture of welcome, and gets relations off to a good start. It makes a tiny disturbance, but in the form of a welcome. Thus there is a constant little bustle till the audience is complete, and the meeting – a concert or an address – is about to begin. Then with a conscious effort, the audience focuses its attention. It cannot be said that this is bad; many of the members of the audience feel both welcoming and welcomed.

Falling Snow

But there is another way. Someone with a little inner training, checks the position of the chair before sitting down, and is careful not to encroach on any neighbouring space. He settles down silently, and then withdraws and sits still. With audience of this kind, the place fills up without any disturbance; they come in, as the Zen phrase has it, ‘like snowflakes falling’.

The silence can deepen into an almost tangible peace. When the concert or address begins, it is heard by minds already calm, and correspondingly capable of fullest appreciation. They come in this way who have passed through the Zen riddle called The Sound Of One Hand. They have well come.


A noted, middle-aged poet lived like a recluse in a remote area. The country had a strong tradition of poetry; for every public occasion, and some private ones, there would be a commission to write a poem. This poet had, aided by some strokes of luck, established a reputation, and many commissions came to him, so that he became comparatively wealthy. He was an eccentric man, who lived in solitude, and he never visited the capital. He wrote his poems in a little two-roomed retreat he had built in a corner of his large garden. Hardly anybody knew what he looked like; he employed a local, simple-minded boy as his messenger, to go to the local town with his correspondence.

It was popularly supposed that he spent his time in creation and contemplation, but as a matter of fact he had a secret passion for gambling. From time to time he would slip out, incognito, to a gambling hall just across the border. He was an unsuccessful gambler, and in spite of the numerous commissions, he was often short of money.

He put together some of his best poems, and succeeded in publishing them. There was no copyright law, and poets therefore included their own name as part of the poem in order to prevent someone else from simply reproducing poems as their own work. This poet used the pen name Almas, which means Diamond, and each poem had the name Almas somewhere in it. The poems by Almas were received with acclaim and his reputation flourished. But the money was always used up, and he was again sliding into debt.

Then, one day, he received a letter from a village at the opposite end of the country, which said: “I am passionately interested in poetry, and I came across an edition of your poems, which I have read through again and again. Finally, I have been bold enough to attempt to write a few poems myself, following the model of your masterpieces. I enclose a few of them, and humbly request your opinion of them.”

The poet considered the letter for a long time. The poems were indeed talented, and very much in his own style. He sent a message to say that he would see the young poet if he came to his retreat. After the usual greetings and flattery by the young village poet, the older man said to him: “I have more commissions than I can fulfil, but I do not wish to disappoint people. I need somebody who can write adequately in my style, to complement some of the minor pieces. I would give the title of the poem, and the first line or two, and then someone like you, perhaps, would be able to complete it. It is not much more than a copyist’s job really, and I should pay a copyist’s fee.” And he named it.

“But I should be actually writing most of the poems. Surely I should be getting more than that, shouldn’t I?”

“No, I don’t think so. I should be taking a considerable risk anyway, if your work is not up to somewhere near my own standards. But I think the name Almas will see it through. Well, I have made the offer. You could live here, in one room, and perhaps a comer of the house in winter. That’s the proposal, and it is up to you. Accept it or reject it – yes or no.”

The young village poet looked down and said, humbly: “I accept.

All went well, and gradually the young poet was entrusted with whole poems. One day, when the master was ill, he even allowed the young man to send off a poem for an important occasion. To his surprise, the poem was highly praised. A little later, he had a shock when one of his best clients, a rich courtier, referred to that poem and said: “I should have liked that poem – it was, in my opinion, better that the one you have just sent me. Are you sending your best work elsewhere?”

It happened that the king, while out hunting, had a bad fall from his horse, and the physician reported to the Crown Prince and the Chief Minister that His Majesty would probably die. The Minister sent a message to Almas to compose a poem for the contingency, if it occurred. But the Master was again ill with a fever, so the young poet prepared one himself. Almost immediately came the request: the King had died. The young poet gave the manuscript to the boy to take to the appointed contact in the town, and waited with trepidation for the outcome.

The next day, a royal, mounted courier, magnificently caparisoned, rode up to the little retreat. He made a salutation and said: “I was told I would find you here. I am commissioned to convey the appreciation of your poem by our new Royal Majesty.

I am to pass to you this honorarium of jewels and gold for your masterpiece, which is being copied and distributed to every town in the country.” And he presented a small bag on a silver tray.

The young poet was struck dumb – he had never seen such magnificence in his life. The horseman too seemed to be impressed. He made a bow and murmured, “The famous Almas, seemingly so young – living in solitude. Why…? No, please excuse me. It is not for me to ask questions or to have any opinions about one so signally honoured by His Majesty. I shall report to the Chief Minister that the poet Almas has received from me what I was entrusted to pass to him.” He bowed again and streamed off, pennants flying.

When the Master recovered from his fever, the young man told him what had happened, and showed him the bag of jewels and gold, but did not pass it over. He said: “These were for the poet Almas, and I received them for my work. I am Almas. The royal courier will confirm it, if necessary, and in future I shall take on all the commissions. I will take over your house and your debts – they will soon be paid off. But I can see that I am going to have more commissions than I can execute myself. I need somebody who can write in my style, to complement some of the minor pieces. You can live here, in one room, and perhaps a corner of the house in winter. I would pay the same copyist’s fee. Perhaps it is not much, but it will be better than being imprisoned for debt. That’s the proposal, you can accept it or reject it – it’s up to you – yes or no.”

The old poet looked down humbly and said: “I accept.”

A teacher who was asked about this story remarked: “It has many points in it, which you must work out for yourselves, but one important one is: Don’t make ugly faces at the karma-mirror, or it will make ugly faces back at you.” But this was a great poet, and there must have been something more than the account gives us. So, here it is:

The young poet looked with satisfaction at the crushed figure before him, still frail from the repeated fevers. Suddenly he stood up and said: “No. Revenge is supposed to be sweet, but there’s a bitter taste here. We are poets, and our concern is not poetic justice, but just poetics. Come and share the house with me. I

won’t give you any more money to gamble away, but I’ll see you are well looked after to the end of your days.” He took his arm and they went out together.

The Dilemma

What is the difference between action on the individual and on the cosmic plane? Suppose an obsessive gambler once more approaches a better off friend “for a small loan”, perhaps of forty pounds and perhaps of four hundred. He promises it will not be spent on betting, a promise he has made, and broken, many times before. The friend knows what will happen, but often he cannot refuse the bedraggled figure at the door.

Now if he has done some meditation, the awakening buddhi will tell him: “No. To give confirms his habits of betting, drinking, and breaking his promises.”

This hint, in the unfamiliar language so to speak, may be difficult to translate. “I see that and I have tried that occasionally; but when I refuse him, I feel terrible afterwards. He knows this, and turns up every week and sooner or later I give in and let him have the forty or even four hundred pounds he asks for, or some of it. Then I feel good for just a moment, and afterwards feel terrible again. What can I do? I give or I don’t give, but either way I feel terrible.”

The Flash – Hard to Understand

Buddhi says something, but it is somehow difficult to grasp: “Give and don’t give.” What can it mean? Then, something about a box or a bag. He ponders and ponders it for some time. Then there is a partial inspiration. He opens a little savings account, and the next time his friend asks for a loan, he refuses it, but afterwards quietly transfers the exact amount into the savings account. He feels much easier about his refusal now. The same thing happens again

and again; the friend tries to wear him down by persistence, and departs disappointed, but meanwhile the savings account is piling up.

The Action

One day, buddhi seems to be saying “Now”. When the friend shows up, he takes him in, and tells him what has happened. “There is now a bit of capital, and we can set you up in a small business, arranging that you don’t get tempted by access to the cash or credit. Will you try this for a year? Then at the end of the year, you can compare how you feel now with how you will feel then, and make up your mind.”

If this offer is accepted and turns out well, or if it is turned down, or if it is accepted and the business fails, he finds that he is not disturbed at all. His action has been inspired by the cosmic purpose, and he feels a deep inner calm which is not ruffled by any outer turn of events. Later on, he will no longer have to translate from vaguely understood hints given by buddhi; there will be instant inspiration, without going through any medium. This corresponds to the stage where a language student now thinks in what was once a foreign language, but is now his own.

The Ethical Bazaar

A businessman who practised yoga in a group, went to a senior for advice. ‘There is an opportunity for me to do quite a bit of good to some people in need, but it would mean tricking another man. I know that he is quite a rogue, so I feel tempted. The good would outweigh the bad, and he would get no more than he deserves, considering what he himself has done to others. I can’t find this sort of case covered in the traditional books.”

“No,” agreed the senior, “the general principles are sometimes difficult to apply, but let me ask you about something in my own experience. When I was young, my brother was starting up a life assurance business. To help him make a start, I took out a savings policy, at a monthly premium, which I could just about afford, and kept this up for a few years. But then there were some unexpected calls upon me, and I found that I could not meet the policy instalment without going into overdraft. I told my brother that now I was having to borrow in order to save. He laughed and said: ‘Don’t do that. The interest on the overdraft will be far more than what you will save with the policy. Surrender the policy and I will make up the value to what you have paid in. I am going well now, and I am grateful for the help you gave at the beginning. Now you’re a businessman. Would it apply to all loans?” The businessman considered. “Yes, I think the interest on a loan would always be quite a bit more. You can’t borrow to save.”

“Well, try applying this experience to your present case. You can do some good, which will go to your credit, but some harm, which will go to the debit side. In the ethical bazaar, harm done will always be more potent than any good that may come from it. Internally too, it will begin to erode your sense of right and wrong. Meditate, and some other way will suggest itself to you so that you can do the good without using harm as your instrument.”

Translating Behaviour

Learning a Language

When we begin to learn a foreign language, we may learn a few words by the so-called Direct Method. But for anything more than simple meanings, we have to construct an English sentence in our heads, and then search for equivalents and structures in the foreign language. This can go on for a very long time, even when there is a good knowledge of the new language. It takes courage to bring out a foreign sentence without checking it first. Shaw’s remark, that it is impossible to learn to skate without looking ridiculous, can be useful here. If the grip of fear can be loosened, the time comes when in some little emergency, the speaker finds himself producing a foreign sentence without the previous English draft. He has begun to think in the new language. This is generally a decisive moment, and from then the ideas take shape of themselves in the foreign sentences.

Spiritual Translation

Such experience with a language can be a hint for spiritual translations also. The doctrine is, that in everyone there is a faculty, called by the yogis buddhi, which can reflect the cosmic purpose for the situation. It is not merely what used to be called conscience, in the sense of the mass of dos and don’ts imbibed in childhood. Buddhi is far wider, a living original inspiration of divine not individual purpose. But if the mind is clogged or seething with personal fears and hopes, likes and dislikes, the voice of buddhi is heard only faintly, though never completely silenced. Listening to the buddhi is at first like a language student listening to a foreigner. First he has to make out what is said, finding expression for it in his own thinking as best he can. Then he has to construct a response, inevitably in terms of his individual make-up, vocabulary and so on. In the case of responding to buddhi, he accepts its prompting and tries to express it with his limited vocabulary and behaviour.

A Zen master said that when he was young, he used to be sent to console a bereaved family. For some time he was so embarrassed that he couldn’t find the right words, and this made him still more embarrassed. The family, he said, did not know whether he was sorry or angry with them. He later recognised that his mind had not yet been loosened to recognise the cosmic plane. There has to be a ‘translation’ of thought, feeling and action from the individual to the cosmic plane.

Discarding Unwanted Thoughts

A central principle of yoga is to cultivate the power to discard unwanted thoughts. The value of this is sometimes vaguely recognized in ordinary life. A cypher officer working at speed tries not to let his mind become engaged with the meaning of a vital text; it is found that if he does, his operational skill becomes affected. It is well known that a surgeon avoids operating on a member of his own family; his emotions are not merely irrelevant, but may be a positive disadvantage. However avoiding a problem is not solving it. And it means that some unexpected advantages are lost which can come from a solution.

Telepathy in Japanese Chess

In the Japanese form of chess called Shogi, some of the masters do practise special forms of concentration which are almost unknown in the West. One of the great champions of Shogi (which is considerably more complicated than Western chess, played as it is on a larger board with more pieces) was the late Yasuharu Oyama.

When in a championship game Oyama had the first move, he often did not make it at once, but sat confronting his opponent across the board. Then after a few minutes he would make one of his usual opening moves. In these games there is a time limit, and it seemed curious to use up those precious minutes doing nothing.

The present writer knew Oyama and asked him why he did it. He replied: “Many players when they have the first move make it at once, eager to bring about one of their favourite opening lines. But when I sit down, I throw away all thoughts of winning or losing, of tricks and traps, in fact all the things I know about Shogi. I empty my mind and sit in the resulting calm. Then when I am not thinking any thoughts of my own, I begin to sense how he is feeling: whether he is confident or nervous, energetic or dull that day. There is a sort of current across the board (he used the Japanese word ‘nagare’ which is the ordinary word for a current of water), I come to know his state, and then my strategy adapts accordingly.”

What Oyama describes is a fractional application of a general principle of yoga meditation. The application in a limited field, such as Shogi, can show a definite result, whereas in the great world it is more difficult to see, because the result may be masked by other circumstances.

Martial Arts

Another fractional application of the principle is in the field of the martial arts. In a way, these are better illustrations, because the result is so instantaneously apparent. There normally has to be some technical skill as a basis for the experimental field. Armed with his sword or spear, he goes against the opponent, but on this occasion to practise forgetting all his skill, forgetting desire to win or fear of losing, and in fact giving up thought altogether.

What happens? What actually happens is, that the other man scores with a blow to the head or chest, while he stands like a dummy.

What went wrong? It is this: to think of not thinking is itself a thought. So his mind was not clear like a blue sky, but clouded with “I must have no clouds: how am I doing?”

When the practice has been done many times, and if possible in the concentrated form of meditation, it comes about naturally. The results, often surprising, follow when as the ancient saying goes: The Master is not following the Way, but the Way is manifesting through him.

Good, No Good

The Chinese Zen master whom the Japanese call Tozan presents this case: you see a frog sitting on a water-lily leaf; silently moving towards him from behind is a hungry snake. Do you interfere by driving off the snake with your stick, or even killing it? If you do this because you do not like snakes and are sorry for the frog, then you interfere with the great course of nature. If on the other hand you stand back, watching the snake devour the frog, then where is your compassion?

Now, the frog while it is alive is engaged in catching insects by shooting out its long sticky tongue. So if you interfere, it is bad for the snake, good for the frog, but bad again for the insects. If you don’t interfere, it is good for the snake, bad for the frog, but good for the insects. Should one follow the majority, two Goods versus one Bad? If you do, you will stand aside and watch the snake eat the frog alive. But why should the majority be better than the other case? Tozan sums it up by saying that the good and bad are mixed together like the currents of a mountain torrent, twisting and turning as it rushes along.

My teacher said that with the increasing clearness from meditation, a higher dharma stands out and the conflicts usually disappear. The Indian philosopher-yogin Shankara points out that all actions (and deliberately standing back is also an action) have some defective points about them. Even when you directly help someone, it usually means that you are not helping others at that time and place; sometimes they even feel aggrieved. He says that the only purpose of a so-called good action by a Mahatma is, to make it easier for the recipient to realise his identity with the Universal Self. The Mahatma’s actions are those of the cosmic purpose, and he is almost unconscious of them, and feels neither approval nor disapproval. But they create a little stir in the sleeping Godhead of others, beyond calculations of good and bad.


Part Three: Gleams

The Brahmin Thief

In classical India, one of the duties of the privileged class of Brahmin priests was, to speak out the truth fearlessly regardless of consequences, and another was, to give spiritual instruction where it was clearly needed. Some of the great priests confronted and checked the arrogance of kings, and the virtue of Dana or Giving is stressed in classics like the Bhagavad Gita.

An astute businessman, who had foreseen a famine, had collected all the available rice in his granary. He now held on to it to squeeze the highest prices out of the better off. The poor, beginning to starve, consulted a Brahmin equally poor, to plan a raid on the granary next to the businessman’s house. The carpenter had spotted a weak point in one corner, and thought he could make a hole through which a man could wriggle. Once inside he could pass out bowlfuls to the others through the hole. It would be a risky venture; in that area burglary was punished by death.

The Brahmin told them: “I will volunteer. If one of you is caught by the owner or the watchman, you will be killed. But if I am caught, I shall be disgraced and exiled, but they will not kill me. So I must be the man.”

All went well on the night, and the Brahmin was passing out bowlfuls of rice to the waiting bags outside. Then the owner, sitting in his shop looking at his accounts, began to soliloquise: “I am doing well out of this, and shall do even better after a week or so. I shall be able to extend my business.”

When the Brahmin in the granary next-door overheard these words, he forgot what he was doing, dropped the bowl, and straightened up. The owner was thunderstruck to hear a voice booming from the granary: “O deluded man, these things last for but a few moments. Repent, make your peace with God, and use your talents to serve your fellow-men, not to exploit them.”

He called the burly watchman, and together they arrested the Brahmin, and brought him before the magistrate next morning. The magistrate, however, praised the Brahmin for fearlessly doing his duty of giving spiritual instruction where it was needed. He ordered that half the remaining grain should be given to the Brahmin, to be disposed of as he wished, being the remainder of the traditional fee for such instruction. Then he stood up and made a reverent bow to the Brahmin: “May I do my own duty with the same independence of circumstances that you have done yours.”


A yogin who had realised God while still a young scholar, was approached very privately by a scion of a noble house. He knew that the yogin had some skill in the traditional medicine of India called Ayur Veda, and he begged for his help. He dared not go to his family doctor, or to any other doctor in the town because of the nature of the disease; he was well known, and the matter would soon find its way back to his father who was rigid in his moral convictions. He had already told his son that any further falls from the path of virtue would mean his expulsion from the family.

The yogin-scholar agreed to help, and in fact found an effective treatment. The young man professed eternal gratitude, but the yogin said: “Demonstrate your gratitude by upholding your father’s name as he wishes it.” This was promised, but nevertheless in a few months the young nobleman was back with the same request for help.

The yogin refused. To give you help would be no help,” he told him. “It would confirm you not only in disastrous sexual habits, but also in the idea that you can give your word and break it. Look for help elsewhere.” The words of love are not necessarily kindly words.


The Garden

An Indian yogin used to sit, by invitation, in a private garden in the evenings. Later, the owner of the garden threw it open to the public. One evening, an old man happened to sit near the yogin and again the following night. The third evening he brought his hookah pipe, and sat near him, not speaking but quietly drawing on the pipe. As the yogin rose to go, the old man said to him: “I look forward to these meetings. You do not speak, but I find peace in your presence.” “If you come, do not sit near me,” replied the other. “What do I get out of it? Sit somewhere else.”

Many years later, the yogin told this story to a few of his pupils, who were at first inclined to think it rather hard. But they came to realise that in this way he had been giving a lesson: it is wrong to enjoy peace without making any contribution to it oneself.

A Prince Reprimanded

After Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mogul Empire began to decay and India was effectively split into independent states. Their authority was often weak, and much of the country was at the mercy of brigands and freebooters. After the British were more or less invited in to restore order, many of the states retained semi-autonomy, though protected by the central government. Some of the rulers used to send their sons to be educated at a private school for princes run on English lines. This had many advantages besides learning the language of the sovereign power: the youngsters could meet each other without the constraining, and distancing, punctilio of formal court etiquette. They met, and often made lasting friendships, on so to say neutral ground. The school was widely respected till Independence in 1947, when the princes ceased to exist as such. The successive English headmasters had some interesting experiences with these aristocrats, both Hindu and Moslem, some of whose ancestors had fought against Richard the Lionheart in the First Crusade. One of the last headmasters recalled an incident with a new boy of about fourteen from the Royal House of Tewari.

The Head used to visit the class for new boys personally every week. They had to prepare a special weekly essay for him which he read beforehand; then he sat at the high desk, and called the boys up one by one. He gave each one back his essay, with some comments on it. These comments would normally be audible to at least some of the others.

On this occasion, the Tewari Prince had handed in an essay over which he had obviously taken very little trouble. When he came up, the Head did not mince his words: “Very poor. You should be ashamed to hand in a piece of work as bad as this. Now take it and go over it with a dictionary, looking up every word. Give it in again tomorrow with no spelling mistakes.” He recalled how the boy had stood bolt upright and biting his lip.

That afternoon the boy asked to see him. “Sir,” he said, “You are not from our country and cannot be expected to know, but the Royal House of Tewari is never criticized or corrected before others. We cannot tolerate it even if it means that we lose our lives. I know my work was bad, but if I am corrected it must not be before others.”

“You have seen even in the short time you have been here that others are corrected in front of you and other boys. You are all here treated the same.”

“Sir, I have nothing to say about the others. I have been told to obey you while I am here, and if you tell me now to put my hand in that fire there, I will. (And the Headmaster added: And I think he would have.’) Correct me, Sir, and I will do what you say. But we of the Royal House of Tewari are never to be corrected before others.”

The Headmaster said to him: “Your father has sent you to me just for this: that you should learn inner strength. It is not real strength to try to frighten people into silence when in your heart you are afraid of their criticism. You come here to learn how to accept correction and criticism without being upset by it. The honour of the Royal House of Tewari is not touched by proper correction: it is touched if you work badly and disappoint your father.” The Prince became a model pupil.

The Treasury

A monthly magazine Shuzen (Zen Practice) consisting of sermons by Oka Kyugaku came out for seven years until his death in 1953. They were delivered by this famous Zen master in his retirement at Shuzenji Temple in Izu Peninsula, Japan. The Key to the Treasury is one such sermon.

The Giving of the Precepts is a very solemn matter. Originally, these are rules for worldly conduct which are in fact from the beginning natural to man, but it is only when they have been heard from a senior monk and deeply assented to in the self, that they can really become one’s own. This is brought about for the first time at the ordination ceremony. The word ‘senior’ means the Buddhas of the three worlds and the patriarchs of history; and the Conferring means that they transmit what they practise themselves; Receiving means that what has been transmitted by the seniors is the right way to act. The heart of the occasion can be put like this: What is received is the tradition; the tradition is enlightenment; so taking the precepts is enlightenment of the Buddha-heart. So it is explained, and so it is. Thus on the occasion, the Buddha-heart is manifested, in its beauty and radiance in himself. So it is said that the ceremony is the self-opening of the treasury of one’s own self, and again that it is the Buddha-treasure in all beings.”

A Story

Once upon a time there was a poor man, and he happened to meet a kindly rich man, who felt very sorry for him. So he took the poor man with him and entertained him to a splendid meal, including rice wine. The poor man, not used to the wine, soon became tipsy, and finally collapsed into a deep sleep. The friend thought that when the other awoke, he would still be as poor as before, and he thought how he might make him able to live better in the future. So he sewed a precious jewel into a corner of the sleeper’s cloak, thinking that when he sobered up, he would find it and his troubles would be over. With this thought, he left him.

But when the sleeper awoke he did not notice what had happened and went on as before, going from place to place begging for crumbs. So the long months and years went by in his misery, until it chanced that he came again to the place where the kindly man lived.

That man took in his condition at a glance, and said: “How is it that you are still in this situation? That time we met, I sewed a jewel into the hem of your cloak. I thought you would find it.” The beggar’s jaw dropped, and he ran his hands over the filthy cloak. He finally found it, and was overcome with joy.

That is the story. Now at the Taking of the Precepts, the senior is pointing out the treasure with which the applicant is already endowed, so that he will look for it as already with him, and the ordinary man thus becomes a Buddha.



Advaita literally means “not two”. The Advaita philosophy of “not-two”, sometimes called “non-dualism” is known by this name because it holds that Brahman alone exists, without any thing that could be called a second.


A descent or incarnation of God in bodily form. The Bhagavad Gita gives the purpose of the repeated incarnations as serving to protect and save those who have turned to God.

3.Bhagavad Gita, also known simply as the “Gita”

The song of the Lord. It is the title of an inspired poem in approximately 700 verses setting out the teachings of the avatara Krishna to his warrior pupil, Arjuna, who is in the middle of a great crisis. Many of the utterances by the teacher are either quotations from or allusions to sacred texts forming an older but still living tradition. It is for this reason that the Gita is also known as “The Upanishads sung in verse”.

4.Brahma Sutra

The word sutra means a thread and the word “Brahma” here stands for Brahman, the absolute spirit, not to be confused with Brahma, a god among other gods in Hinduism. The Brahma Sutras aim to thread the teachings concerning Brahman in the vast literature of the Upanishads. Consisting of 550 sutras, they are very brief but of such density of meaning that a commentary is needed to illuminate them.

Various commentaries have been made over the centuries, including one by a great genius of interpretation, Shankaracharya the 8th century architect of the school of Advaita Vedanta. Something like 10% of his work on these sutras is devoted to reconciling the apparently conflicting sacred texts that the aphorisms draw upon, to show that their non-conflicting resolution lies in the demonstration that all show the universe to be the product of intelligent and purposeful origin.


The Sanskrit name of the one-who-is-without-a-second as described under the term Advaita, see above. This is intended to convey the impersonal Spirit without attributes. The word derives from a root meaning “to make great, to evolve”.


A member of the highest or priestly caste in India.


The highest part of the psychological equipment of a person. It is the capacity by which one can tell right from wrong, what course of action to choose among those available, the ability to discern what is a good decision and to actually make it and stick to it, and in yoga, the ability to understand the meaning of the sacred texts under instruction and to recognize spiritual truth. Buddhi has the sense of being awake, alert. In the Buddhi lie the sleeping powers of contemplation and insight that are routinely unsuspected by its owner. However if the urge to go beyond what we are now begins to live, accompanied by training in meditation practice and spiritual discipline, this may change. Like the mind in general, it is an instrument that can be darkened or lightened by our choices and by our way of life.


The name of the compiler or author of an ancient treatise on the Indian form of medicine, known as Ayur Veda. The date is uncertain, perhaps between the 4th and 2nd centuries B.C. (See also Sushruta).


What is right – according to time, place and occasion, with the sacred texts as the reliable guide – this is the basis of the order in the universe and the moral behaviour of the individual. It is ‘what is to be done’. Dharma comes with a definite sense of choice, and also encompasses the suitability of the type of person, such as, in the typology of ancient India, a warrior, a priest, the merchant or trader, and one who provides service. However it equally and always comes with obligation, specifically to provide spiritual help to others when we are able to do so, and in a spirit of renunciation. In the great epic of India known as the Mahabharata there is a passage that says, “All other dharmas are contained in harmlessness (ahimsa) just as the foot-prints of all other animals are contained in those of an elephant.” Although ahimsa is a supremely high ideal for human life, according to Shankara the path to spiritual knowledge followed by spiritual freedom is the highest ideal, and to a man or woman on this path, all other dharmas are subservient. However it will be clear to students of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita that the moral and spiritual refinement needed to tread the spiritual path requires degrees of compassion, honesty and harmlessness far beyond the standards usually attained in everyday life.


A stage in meditation.

11.Gaudapada’s Karikas

Verses that are comments on the Mandukya Upanishad, which is dated about 200 AD and is the last of the eleven classical Upanishads commented on by Shankara. Traditionally Gaudapada is held to be the teacher of Shankara’s teacher, and the verses of the Karikas that he composed are of immense authority, and through time came to be taken as part of the Upanishad itself.


The chief of the gods of India known for his strength, control of rain and other cosmic functions, and as a potent slayer of demons.


Action in all its forms, present, past, future with strong implications of merit, demerit and the unavoidability of consequences following inevitably from causes. However the chief point made about action is that the human being by intense application of devotion, will or concentration, can break what may appear to be an inevitable chain of consequences. We can change. Action can be given a spiritual character when applied unselfishly in the way of spiritual training.

14.Karma Yogis

This is the spiritual path followed by men and women who feel a sense of agency in action, based on the experience and vision of life as a real difference between self as a limited individual, and other such individuals, with God, or the spiritual reality, as an outside and other existence. It is in other words the path to be followed by almost all of us who live in the world.

The steps taken on this path are as follows: meditation on prescribed texts such as the Bhagavad Gita (or any sacred text, such as the Gospels) leading gradually to intense meditation, action performed without a feeling of entitlement to the results of the action, brave endurance of the hot and cold winds of life whether externally or internally, all performed as worship of the Lord, or the spiritual principle standing within and also beyond the cosmos.


A great soul


The power of the Lord which causes the entire universe to emerge and to appear as real.


A word that means something wrong, misleading, incorrect, relating to appearance only and not real, for instance a feeling of thirst due to illness. It is used many times by Shankara in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

18.Nirvikalpa, Savikalpa, Vikalpa

The basic term is “vikalpa”, which means a logical construct with no actual object to which it corresponds. One of the examples given is as follows: “The arrow has ceased its flight.” The predicate “has-ceased-its-flight” is not a real predicate, but a purely logical construct to describe the arrow; there is no object to which the non-flight of the arrow corresponds.

The term nir-vikalpa, means “without vikalpa” that is to say without any (illusory) verbal qualification(s). In the spiritual psychology the existence of limits and conditions -time, place, being embodied, cause-and-effect – that accompany our routine experience does not mean that these limits and conditions hold sway over all possible experience.

The state known as samadhi in traditions of meditation practice is generally referred to as a trance-like state. Such a state is at the limit of what the mind, which is the instrument that deals in variety and multiplicity, can sustain before it subsides in the underlying consciousness, of which it is only one manifestation, somewhat like the mind that appears to evaporate just as we enter sleep. Mind is meant to be transcended, but in samadhi it may prevail just like an afterimage of the illumination of the spirit or Brahman. This state is known as Savikalpa, or with – verbal- associations, and after it drops off all associations in words and thought and memory there is a state without such associations, known as Nirvikalpa.

We describe in words something that is without words, like a schoolteacher who says to the class, “Quiet please”: her words are not quiet, but they point to something, and can on occasion bring about something, that is.


As the author says it is the highest name of God.

For an expanded account of the meaning and practice of OM see the one by the author in his book Chapter of the Self,

1978 pp 62-71.


A learned man, sometimes signifying a spiritually learned man.


The supreme self within the human personality, always at peace.


The compiler of the classical Yoga Sutras, the authoritative text on meditation and mind training. (There is also a grammarian known as Patanjali, believed to have flourished in the 2nd Century BCE, once thought by some to be the same person, but following the work of the great French Indologist Louis Renou, 1896 – 1966, they are no longer thought to be so.) The philosophical presuppositions behind the system expounded in the Yoga Sutras are dualistic, and based on the acceptance that the world is real, assumptions that are at variance with the philosophy of Advaita, which see above. Nonetheless the Yoga Sutras are unsurpassed as the classical exposition of mind training in India.


The world in the material sense, actual and potential, subtle and gross, material and energetic, all phases of what is and can be so described.


Samadhi is the peak of meditation, the point at which the sense of two things, the meditator and the object meditated upon, begins to evaporate. Oneness prevails.


Impressions from thoughts, words or actions that are (and will continue to remain) out of sight of the conscious mind, but which still have life and a longing for life in them, like a seed that has been planted. One might call them the Resurrection Impulses. The Sanskaras are often the internal but hidden deciders of what will ensue in any given situation, psychologically speaking, even against the conscious will of the person acting, and to onlookers they almost always give rise to the impression of a person’s character and predictability. Duly transformed by yoga, they can be made harmless.

Instinctive reactions are often manifestations of sanskaras at play, especially when the reactor mistakenly thinks that he or she owns them: “it is how I am, live with it!” Such responses may disclose a person unable to picture themselves otherwise, and consequently unable to work on themselves, which is a denial of our ability to change.

Because Sanskaras are deeply hidden, they have the power to limit what we can see by narrowing our awareness, often by means of what we can call inner traffic lights that have only two registers namely, “I like this” and “I don’t like that”. If a third register could be developed, “Pause, and see where this is leading”, the course of life might change, but this cannot be brought about by a mere decision. A real and sustained wish to change, and deep methods such as meditation, the attempt to live in conscious pursuit of higher goals, and the thinning of selfishness, these are needed to influence and to neutralise the controlling power of Sanskaras. A central practical point of training is that we can drive, or be driven, and the more passive we are, the more the Sanskaras will drive.

When some progress has been made to loosen the hold of these impulses on us, then a new path may open up. To acquire a living awareness that sanskaras exist in us is itself a substantial step

26.Shankara also known as Shri Shankaracharya

The most famous philosopher of ancient India, architect of the system known as Advaita or Advaita Vedanta. He lived in the 8th century and acknowledged that he was by no means the first in the tradition that he represented, one that he regarded as ancient.


The compiler of an ancient treatise on the Indian form of medicine, known as Ayur Veda. See above under Charaka.


Knowledge of the difference between the spirit, which is not an object, and the mind, which is an object.


Some other books by Trevor Leggett

Encounters in Yoga and Zen (also available as an audio-book and e-book)

Lotus Lake, Dragon Pool (also available as an audio-book and e-book)

The Complete Commentary by Sankara on the Yoga Sutras (also available as an e-book)

Zen and the Ways

Three Ages of Zen

A First Zen Reader

A Second Zen Reader ( The Tiger’s Cave)

Samurai Zen ( The Warrior Koans)

The Old Zen Master

Fingers and Moons

Realisation of the Supreme Self

The Chapter of the Self

The Spirit of Budo

The Dragon Mask

Championship Judo ( with K Watanabe)

Kata Judo ( with Dr Jigoro Kano)


Trevor Leggett (1914-2000) studied Adhyatma Yoga in London for eighteen years as a pupil of Hari Prasad Shastri and he lived for a number of years in Japan where he learnt Judo and Zen. He was the first foreigner to gain sixth dan in Judo from the Kodokan and was one of Great Britain’s leading teachers of Judo. From 1946 to 1970 he was head of the BBC’s Japanese Service. In his will he provided for the establishment of a charitable trust to promote the knowledge of Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism, Zen, Judo and Shogi ( Japanese Chess) and the Trevor Leggett Adhyatma Yoga Trust was established in 2001 ( registered charity number 1086172).


Further information about the books of Trevor Leggett as well as a number of articles, teaching and training stories, some recorded talks and much more may be found on the Trevor Leggett Adhyatma Yoga Trust website (