I’m no theorist of Buddhism (I have translated some books, perhaps without understanding them) but in some schools there is the view that there is a sort of cosmic flow, a cosmic current in the whole universe, and that by living in accordance with calmness and serenity, disciplined activity, reduction of desire and prejudice and by meditating, we can come into that flow. That flow will in the end be realized to be the self, the self will be the flow.
Now, there is a view that we have one ideal role which we can play in life and if we play it we shall have inner serenity. Even in very difficult circumstances there will be an inner serenity and there will be an inner peace.
This awareness of the cosmic flow may not be continuous for some time, but it will be there and it will return. And we don’t know what the results will be of the inspirations which come to us from this flow; we can’t see the grand pattern, as it were. However, one view is that it is possible, in meditation or naturally, for the great pattern also to begin to unfold. The comparison is made with a game called ‘living chess’, and this is played on a huge lawn. It is sometimes played on university campuses. They mark out these enormous squares, the blacks and whites, and then the students dress up as knights and so on. The black queen is a tall girl with magnificent black hair going right down her back, and the white queen is the same with blonde hair and a white dress, and it all looks very realistic. They glare at each other when they’re opposing, or nod to each other when on the same side, and so on. Two experts sit at each end, but the board is too big for them to be able to play with those pieces, so each has a little board in his hand. He works out his move on that, and then he says it, and the crier calls, ‘Knight to king’s knight fifth’. The knight then goes up to king’s knight fifth. If there’s another piece there he hits him with his chopper. The other fellow is most unhappy about this and he’s carried off by the stretcher-bearers. This is magnificent.
Some of the students, of course, have a long time to wait before they move, and some of them never move at all throughout the whole game. Anyway, they all enter into the spirit of it and you notice that some of them have a little board of their own. They are intensely interested and can see not only their surroundings, but the whole board, in miniature. So they understand the role of their moves in the strategy. The teacher says, and I’m quoting, ‘It transforms the interest of life, when you begin to see there’s a grand flow of life which is available and possible to see in meditation.’
Another example of almost the same thing, but given in completely different terms and in more modern terms (‘living chess’ is very old and was played in India) is the piano. Sometimes rather naive people, or perhaps they just want to use flattery for their own purposes, tell a pianist, ‘Aren’t you pianists w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l!’ And the pianist says, ‘Oh, no, not as good as that, you know, I mean, good, yes, but not wonderful.’ ‘Oh, but I think you’re so wonderful because, you see, well, those people on the flute, they’ve got one line of music and they just play one note, and they go along, but you’re playing with two hands, chords, lots of different notes and no mistakes, you can sight read it… it’s almost unbelievable.’ Well, pianists like that and they always say, ‘Oh no, I won’t hear a word against flute players. They’re very good musicians, er, in their own way, and some of my best friends are flute players.’
But this is not the real answer. The real answer is, if there were just two lines of notes, no chords, which had no connection with each other, — he couldn’t do it. It can’t be done. The chords and the full activity of the hands is integrated, it forms a unity, and a pianist can look along these two lines and see the whole thing as a unity; he plays it as a unify and so can do It.
Well, in the same way, the teacher said, ‘If your meditation is done well, then it will often happen that you begin to see life as a unity. And then you’ll be able to play your part in it even if it is very difficult and requires a lot of different activities. Or, if there is just one line, you’ll be able to play that.’ He said, ‘Otherwise, when life is a number of quite separate things with different activities required for each, you can’t do it.’
The teacher said that people today, and always, sell themselves cheap. Somebody who is always saying, ‘I’m no good,’ won’t try at anything because, ‘Things always go wrong for me. And if I do happen to succeed in something, it’s never appreciated; it always goes badly. And is life worth living anyway?’ Such people are selling themselves cheap. They have a treasure in them. The Koran verse says, ‘I was a treasure concealed, and I desired to be revealed.’ There’s a treasure within them and they sell themselves cheap, And then the teacher added, ‘And Napoleon sold himself cheap. He was the emperor of Europe, but what was within him was worth much more than that.’ He said of the people of the world, ‘The most successful and the most unsuccessful and despairing, they’re all selling themselves cheap; they’re worth more than that.’
There’s another thing. He said that people want to see a miracle, but they don’t know that, if they saw one, it would upset them and might paralyse them for life. You see this sometimes in people who are superstitious, who believe in lucky days and unlucky days very strongly. They become paralysed because on an unlucky day it’s no use trying to do anything is it? It’s an unlucky day! And on a lucky day, there’s no need. You don’t need to do anything because the day is going to turn out well anyway. So he said, ‘We make a mistake in looking for the miracle.’
And one sort of example that’s given is this — switch on this little tape recorder and play some music. This is a well known piece of Wagner. We can listen and predict what the next note will be. So we feel, ‘Oh well, there’s nothing miraculous about that,’ because we know what the next note will be. It’s like picking something up and dropping it. We know what is going to happen — it falls to the floor. But in ourselves we know that is quite a wrong view. Every note of this music is a free action played by the members of the orchestra. The miracle is that they all play together. There would be no miracle in a cymbalist, say, suddenly bashing somebody over the head just to prove that he can.
Now, the teacher said, ‘The miracle is that this music is put onto this tape reliably, and through this tiny machine, can be reproduced, though not perfectly.’ He said, ‘We fail to see that that’s the miracle. We fail to see the miracle of life around us. Something is holding things in order; they don’t hold themselves in order. The notes follow, they’re predictable. If you’ve got the score you can tell what’s going to happen next, but it’s not mechanical.’ ‘In the same way,’ he said, ‘we fail to see the miracle of life.
Nowadays some scientists are saying, “The world is uniquely adapted for human life and experience.” There are too many coincidences to overlook — for instance, the distance from the sun, and gravity. If the gravitational constant had been slightly greater, all stars would have been red dwarfs; if slightly smaller they would have been blue giants. In either case life would have been impossible. There are many other coincidences making life possible.’ And the teacher says, ‘This is the miracle. And if we open our eyes and look, we shall see the miracle, and then we shall begin to see our own part in it.’
More by Trevor Leggett
Buddhism Now November 1991