Words of love are not necessarily only Kindly words, by Trevor Leggett

Buddha, Japan, Asuka Period, 7th century, Horyuji © Tokyo National Museum

This is one of the first things to recognise ― that the heart is a flint. Then try to apply these methods. They are a bit like jokes. Sometimes people see a joke and it is enough. But if they don’t see it, or if it is an inappropriate joke, or if they have no sense of humour, then it is no use labouring it: ‘You must see this!’ or arguing about it. Just pass on to another one.

The next point comes when the spark is struck. You hold the flint in the left hand and you have some tinder (which is like dried grass) held on the flint under your left thumb. You strike, and the spark must catch the tinder otherwise it has gone im­mediately. If it does catch the tinder, you blow very carefully ― not too much, not too little ― and it will glow. Then you can light your cigarette with it, or whatever ― flint, steel, and tin­der.

Now, these spiritual stories, incidents, and things that happen, can strike a spark from us, but unless there is some tinder for it to catch, that spark is lost. We may feel a momentary exaltation, a momentary flash, but then it is gone. The tinder can be some persistent situation, some vivid past association, some fixed habit, some problem or obsession. When that is struck ― when the spark strikes the tin­der ― it begins to glow.

We can tell what is happening from our own reactions. Suppose something malicious is done. Some people, for example, have unselfishly performed a great service and built something up. And then somebody comes along and ― for no reason at all ― just breaks it down and destroys it. When that happens to others, I think, ‘Oh, deplorable! So sad!’ And then I go all psychological and say, ‘Of course, you know, the real sufferer is the man who has done this mindlessly spiteful thing. He is the real sufferer.’ But if it happens to me, then it is quite different!

Now, that is a tinder situ­ation ― when it happens to me ― when what I have built up unselfishly and not for personal gratification, glory or power, is wantonly kicked to pieces out of sheer devilment. This is one of the cases given in Zen. The teacher says to a man to whom this has happened, ‘What is your feeling now?’

The man struggles with himself and says, ‘Well, I suppose I’m telling myself that that poor fellow is making very bad karma for himself; and I feel sorry for him.’

Avalokitesvara,Japan, Asuka Period 7th century Horyuji © Tokyo National Museum

The teacher says, ‘No good at all.’


‘That is no good at all. You’ve got to drink him down to the last drop of poison.’

When the teacher says something like that to me, I think, ‘Ugh!’ Then he says ― and this is in one of the old Zen books ― ‘You’ve got to drink him down to the last drop of venom:

‘Let the bird fly in the vast sky of your serenity;

Set the fish free in the bottomless ocean of your tolerance.

‘Do that! Love has to be brave enough to drink up the person entirely ― poison and all.’

And I think, ‘Oh, you can’t expect me to do that.’

Well, that is the tinder. If that spark strikes, then there is a chance, just a chance ― if it is preserved ― that my attitude can change and I can move out of that cycle of grudging acceptance, into something differ­ent.

Then I say, ‘Well, what am I sup­posed to do? Supposing I do drink him down. Am I just to let it go, encourage him to do it again?’

The teacher says, ‘No, words of love are not necessarily only kindly words.’

Read more teachings from Trevor Leggett here.

Fingers and Moons, by Trevor Leggett

From Fingers and Moons: Zen Stories and Incidents.
by Trevor Leggett
ISBN 978-0946672073
Buddhist Publishing Group

You can buy Fingers and Moons from the Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.

Categories: Beginners, Chan / Seon / Zen, Trevor Leggett

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1 reply

  1. Fabulous and very timely. Thank you.


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