Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat acros the sea, or drive a horse over the earth until they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind – filled with a strong desire to wander.

It was only towards the end of last autumn that I returned from rambling along the coast. I barely had time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house on the River Sumida before the New Year, but no sooner had the spring mist begin to rise over the field than I wanted to be on the road again to cross the barrier-gate of Shirakawa in due time. The gods seemed to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out, and roadside images seemed to invite me from every corner, so tht it was impossible for me to stay idle at home. Even while I wa getting ready, mending my tall trusers, tying a new strap to my hat, and applying moxa to my legs to strengthen them, I was already dreaming of the full moon rising over the islands of Matsushima. Finally, I sold my house, moving to the cottage of Sampii for a temporary stay. Upon the threshold of my own home, however, I wrote a linked verse of eight pieces and hung it on a wooden pillar. The starting piece was:

Behind this door,
Now buried in deep grass,
A different generation will celebrate
The Festival of Dolls.

Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, transl. Noboyuki Yuasa, Penguin, 1966.

This tale is of great importance because it belongs to an instructional corpus of mystical materials with inner content but – beyond entertainment value – without immediate external significance.

The teaching-story was brought to perfection a a communication instrument many thousands of years ago. The fact that it has not developed greatly since then has caused people obsessed by some theories of our current civilisations to regard it as a product of a less enlightened time. They feel that it must surely be little more than a literary curiosity, something fit for children, the projection, perhaps, of infantile desires, a means of enacting wish-fulfilment.

Hardly anything could be further from the truth of such pseudo-philosophical, certainly unscientific, imaginings. Many teaching-stories are entertaining to children and to naive peasants. Many of them in the forms in which they are viewed by conditioned theorists have been so processed by unregenerate amateurs that their effective content is distorted. Some apply only to certain communities, depending on special circumstances for their correct unfolding: circumstances whose absence effectively prevents the action of which they are capable.

So little is known to the academics, the scholars and the intellectuals of this world about these materials, that there is no word in modern languages which has been set aside to describe them.

But the teaching-story exits, nevertheless. It is a part of the most priceless heritage of mankind.

Real teaching-stories are not to be confused with parables, which are adequate enough in intention, but still on a lower level of material, generally confined to the inculcation of moralistic principles, not the assistance of interior movements of the human mind. What we often take on the lower level of parable, however, can somethimes be seen by real specialists as teaching-stories, especially when experienced under the correct conditions.

Unlike the parable, the meaning of the teaching-story cannot be unravelled by ordinary intellectual methods alone. Its action is direct and certain, upon the innermost part of the human being, an action incapable of manifestation by means of the emotional or intellectual apparatus.

The closest that we can come to describing its effect is to say that it connects with a part of the individual which cannot be reached by any other convention, and that it establishes in him or her a means of communication with a non-verbalised truth beyond the customary limitations of our familiar dimensions.

Some teaching-stories cannot now be reclaimed because of the literary and traditionalistic, even ideological, processing to which they have been subjected. The worst of sucuh processes is the historicising one, where a community comes to believe that one of their former teaching-stories represents literal historical truth.

This tale is given here in a form which is innocent of this and other kinds of maltreatment.

Introduction to "The Magic Horse" from Caravan of Dreams, by Idries Shah, Quartet, 1973.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

No 1 ("A cup of tea") of "101 Zen stories", from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps, Penguin, 1971.

. . . But on Saturday 19 Septemer 1931 they [C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien] met in the evening. Lewis had invited Tolken to dine at Magdalen, and he had another guest, Hugo Dyson, whom Tolkien had first known at Exeter College in 1919. Dyson was now Lecturer in English Literature at Reading University, and he paid frequent visits to Oxford. He was a Christian, and a man of feline wit. After dinner, Lewis, Tolkien and Dyson went out for air. It was a blustery night, but they strolled along Addison's Walk discussing the purpose of myth. Lewis, though now a believer in God, could not yet understand the function of Christ iin Christianity, could not perceive the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. He declared that he had to understand the purpose of these events – as he later expressed it in a letter to a friend, "how the life ad death of Someone Else (whoever he was) two thousand years ago could help us here and now – except in so far as his example could help us."

As the night wore on, Tolkien and Dyson showed that he was here making a totally unnecessary demand. When he encountered the idea of sacrifice in the mythology of a pagan religion he admired it and was moved by it; indeed the idea of the dying and reviving deity had always touched his imagination since he had read the story of the Norse god Balder. But from the Gospels (they said) he wass requiring something more, a clear meaning beyond the myth. Could he not transfer his comparatively unquestioning appreciation of sacrifice from the myth to the true story?

"But," said Lewis, "myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver."

"No," said Tolkien, "they are not."

And, indicating the great trees of Magdalen Grove as their branches bent in the wind, he struck out on a different line of argument.

"You call a tree a tree," he said, "and you think nothing more of the word. But it was not a 'tree' until someone gave it that name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth."

"We have come from God" continued Tolkien, "and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil."

In expounding this belief in the inherent truth of mythology, Tolkien had laid bare the centre of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heard of The Silmarillion.

Lewis listened as Dyson affirmed in his own way what Tolkien had said. "You mean," asked Lewis, "that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case," he said, "I begin to understand."

From J. R. R. Tolkien: the Authorised Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter, George Allen and Unwin 1977 (partly based on "Mythopoeia", by J. R. R. Tolkien).

There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he wouuld have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations.

From "Leaf by Niggle" in Tree and Leaf, by J. R. R. Tolkien, George Allen and Unwin 1964.

I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant –
Among other things – or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
And the way up is the way dow, the way forward is the way back.
You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.
When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief,
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.
Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left the station
or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think 'the past is finished'
Or 'the future lies before us.'
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
'Fare forward, you who think you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here, between the hither and the further shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
The mind of man may be intent
At the time of death" – that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.
      O voyagers, O seamen,
You who come to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.'
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
      Not farewell, But fare forward, voyagers.

From "The Dry Salvages", in Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot, Faber & Faber 1959.

There was a delay getting off the ground at San Francisco: the slow ballet of big tailfins in the sun. Now here. Now there. A quadrille of planes jockeying for place on the runway.

The moment of takeoff was ecstatic. The dewy wing was suddenly covered with rivers of cold sweat running backwards. The window wept jagged shining courses of tears. Joy. We left the ground – I with Christian mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wondering and fooling around.

May I not come back without having settled the great affair. And found also the great compassion, mahakaruna. . .

From The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (ed. Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart and James Laughlin), New Directions, 1968.

For there is no man on earth so proud of spirit, nor so generously gifted, nor so spurred by youth or brave in deeds or dear to his lord hat he shall always have no anxious thought for his voyage.

Then his thought is not on harping or on receiving rings: his delight is not in women or in worldly bliss, or anything else at all unless it is the tossing waves. He who is impelled to set out on the sea is always restless with longing. The groves burst into blossom and make the dwelling-places beautiful and the meadows fair. The world moves along. All these urge the eager spirit and the heart to its journey in one who indeed intends to depart along the far ways of the sea. Thus the cuckoo urges in sad song: summer's herald sings, foreboding bitter sorrow i the breat. A warrior blessed with comfort does not know what some then endure who lie most far away on the path of exile.

Thus my mind now turns beyond the confines of my breast, and my thoughts turn wildly with the flowing sea, over the home of whales and the surfaces of the world; it comes back to me eager and full of longing – the lone flier cries out irresistibly, inciting the heart forth on the whale's road, over the boundless sea, for to me the joys of the Lord are warmer by far than this dead and transitory life on land. I do not believe that earthly riches will stand firm for them forever. One of the three things that always lies in wait for each retainer before his time is done: illness or old age or the sword of an enemy wrests life away from the man doomed to go forth. Therefore for every nobleman the best of reputations is glory given by the living speaking of him afterwards. This he can earn before he must take his way, through action on earth against every foe, brave deeds against the devil, so that he may afterwards be praised by the sons of men and his glory then live among the angels to eternity: eternal fruit of life, joy among the host.

From "The Seafarer", transl. Constance B. Hieatt, in Beowulf and Other Old English Poems, Bantam Books, New York, 1983.


(Another version of the preceding)

For this there's no mood-lofty man over earth's midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed;
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful,
But shall have his sorrow for the sea-fare
Whatever his lord will.
He hath not heart for harping, nor in ring-having
Nor winsomeness to wife, nor world's delight
Nor any whit else save the waves' slash,
Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
Bosque taketh the blossom, cometh beauty of berries,
Fields to fairness, land fares brisker,
All this admonisheth man eager of mood,
The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
On floodways to be far departing.
Cuckoo calleth with gloomy crying,
He singeth summerward, bodeth sorrow,
The bitter heart's blood. Burgher knows not –
He the prosperous man – what some perform
Where wandering them widest draweth.
So that but now my heart burst from my breastlock,
My mood 'mid the mere-flood,
Over the whale's acre, would wander wide.
On earth's shelter cometh oft to me,
Eager and ready, the crying lone-flyer,
Whets for the whale-path the heart irresistibly,
O'er tracks of ocean; seeing that anyhow
My lord deems to me this dead life
On loan and on land, I believe not
That any earth-weal eternal standeth
Save there be somewhat calamitous
That, ere a man's tide go, turn it to twain.
Disease or oldness or sword-hate
Beats out the breath from doom-gripped body.
And for this, every earl whatever, for those speaking after –
Laud of the living, boasteth some last word,
THat he will work ere he pass onward,
Frame on the fair earth 'gainst foes his malice,
Daring ado,
So that all men shall honour him after
And his laud beyond them remain 'mid the English,
Aye, for ever, a lasting life's blast,
Delight 'mid the doughty.

From "The Seafarer", transl. Ezra Pound, in Personae, Faber & Faber, 1926.

"One of the virtues of this simple but at the same time complex design," said Bembel Rudzak, "this design in which we see the continually reciprocating action of unity and multiplicity, is that it suits the apparent action to the mind of the viewer: those who look outward see the outward pre-eminent; those who look inward see the inward."


"There is transitive motion and there is intransitive motion: the motion of a galloping horse is transitive, it passes through our field of vision and continues on to wherever it is going; the motion in a tile pattern is intransitive, it does not pass, it moves but it stays in our field of vision. It arises from stilness, and I should like to think about the point at which stillness becomes motion. Another thing I should like to think about is the point at which pattern becomes consciousness."


"When a pattern shows itself in tiles or on paper or in your mind and says, 'This is the mode of my repetition; in this manner can I extend myself to infinity,' it has already done so, it has already been infinite from the very first moment of its being; the potentiality and the actuality are one thing. If two and two can be four then they actually are fourm you can only perceive it, you have no part in making it happen by writing it down in numbers or telling it out out in pebbles."

Three extracts from Pilgermann, Russell Hoban, Pan, London, 1984.

Three invocations of the Lotus Sutra, with commentaries

1. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the expression of the ultimate truth of life. It also pronounces the essential reality of life. Nam derives from Sanskrit and means dedication, or the perfect relation of ne's own life with eternal truth. Similarly the word "religion", which was derived from Latin, originally meant to "bind strongly to something", and so it is also encompassed by the word nam. Yet the sigificance of nam is twofold. One is, as mentioned above, to dedicate one's own life to, or to become one with, the eternal truth of life. The other is to draw infinite energy from this source and take positive action towards relieving the suffering of others.

What is the eternal truth that one can identify with one's own life? It is Myoho-renge-kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra as it was translated into Chinese. Myoho literally means the mystic law. Myo (mystic) signifies "incomprehensible", and ho means "law". Myoho is the law which lies behind the incomprehensible realm of life. However, this is but one interpretation of Myoho. In another, myo indicates substance of eternal truth, and ho means all of the phenomena brought about by myo. In terms of the principle of ichinen sanzen (three thousand conditions of life within each moment of one's existence), the three thousand changing aspects correspond to ho, and the underlying reality (ichinen) of these changing aspects is myo. All existence at one time or another assumes a physical condition with shape, size and vital energy, and at other times assumes an incorporeal state (called ku in Buddhism). No matter how the fundamental reality may change, it is itself eternal. Phenomena (ho) are changeable, but deep within all phenomena there lies a constant reality. This reality is called myo.

Renge means the lotus flower. Buddhism takes the lotus to explain the profound law of causality because the lotus produces its flowers and seeds at the same time. The lotus is therefore the symbol of simultaneous cause and effect. Simultaneous cause and effect means that essentially our future can be determined by present causes. Thus the law of cause and effect is also the principle of personal responsibility for one's own destiny. However, because the innermost depths of our life are independent of the karma accumulated by our past deeds, we can create true happiness, irrespective of karma. This is also represented by another quality of the lotus. Its pure blossos spring forth from a muddy swamp, yet they are undefiled by the mud. In other words, the innermost nature of our life remains untainted despite the evil causes we may have made. Renge thus means to reveal the most fundamental nature of the reality of life.

Finally, kyo indicates sutras, or the teachings of a Buddha. In the broader sense, it includes the activities of all living beings and of all phenomena in the universe. The Chinese character for kyo also means the warp of cloth, symbolising the continuity of life throughout the past, present and future.

Yasuji Kirimina, Fundamentals of Buddhism [sic], Nichiren Shosu International Center.


2. Om Mani Padme Hum

Pronounced in Tibet Aum-Mani-Pay-May-Hung, this mantra may be translated: Om! The Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus! Hum!

The deep, resonant Om is all sound and silence throughout time, the roar of eternity and also the great stillness of pure being; when intoned with the prescribed vibrations, it invokes the All that is otherwise inexpressible. The mani is the "adamantine diamond" of the Void – the primordial, pure and indestructible essence of existence beyond all matter or even anti-matter, all phenomena, all change, and all becoming. Padme – the Lotus – is the world of phenomena, samsara, unfolding with spiritual progress to reveal beneath the leaves of delusion the mani-jewel of nirvana, that lies not apart from daily life but at its heart. Hum has no literal meaning, and it is variously interpreted (as is all this great mantra, about which whole volumes have been written). Perhaps it is simply a rhythmic exhortation, completing the mantra and inspiring the chanter, a declaration of being, of Is-ness, symbolised by the Buddha's gesture of touching the earth at the moment of enlightenment. It is! It exists! All that is or was or will ever be is right here in this moment! Now!

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard, Chatto and Windus.


3. Om Mani Padme Hum

OM, symbolising the origin, the Supreme Source, the Dharmakaya, the Absolute, is a powerfully creative word often held to be the sum of all the sounds in the universe – the harmony of the spheres, perhaps.

MANI PADME (jewel in the lotus) signifies such pairs of concepts as: the essential wisdom lying at the heart of Buddhist doctrine; the esoteric wisdom of the Vajrayana contained within the exoteric Mahayana philosophy; Mind contained within our minds; the eternal in the temporal; the Buddha in our hearts; the goal (supreme wisdom) and the means (compassion); and, if I may be permitted to draw an inference, the Christ Within who dwells in the mind of the Christian mystics.

HUM is the conditioned in the unconditioned (being to OM as Te is to Tao in Taoist philosophy); it represents limitless reality embodied within the limits of the individual being, thus it unites every separate being and object with universal OM; it is the deathless in the ephemeral, besides being a word of great power that destroys all ego-born hindrances to understanding.

John Blofeld, Mantras.

[He follows this by saying:]

Such interpretations are naturally of interest, but it is necessary to stress that reflection upon the symbolism forms no part of the contemplative practice. The mantric syllables cannot produce their full effect upon the deepest levels of the adept's consciousness if his mind is cluttered with verbal concepts. Reflective thought must be transcended, abandoned.

When he was young his cousins
    used to say of Mr Knight:
"This boy will write an Algebra
    or looks as if he might."
And sure enough, when Mr Knight
    had grown to be a man,
He purchased pen and paper
    and an inkpot, and began.

But he very soon discovered
    that he couldn't write at all,
And his heart was filled with yearnings
    for a certain Mr Hall;
Till, after many years of doubt,
    he sent his friend a card:
"Have tried to write an Algebra
    but find it very hard."

Now Mr Hall himself had tried
    to write a book for schools,
But suffered from a handicap:
    he didn't know the rules.
So when he heard from Mr Knight
    and understood his gist,
He answered him by telegram:
    "Delighted to assist."

So Mr Hall and Mr Knight
    they took a house together,
And they worked away at algebra
    in any kind of weather,
Determined not to give it up
    until they had evolved
A problem so constructed
    that it never could be solved.

"How hard it is," said Mr Knight,
    "To hide the fact from youth
That x and y are equal:
    it is such an obvious truth!"
"It is," said Mr Hall,
    "but if we gave a b to each,
We'd put the problem well beyond
    our little victims' reach.

Or are you anxious, Mr Knight,
    lest any boy should see
The utter superfluity
    of this repeated b?"
"I scarcely fear it", he replied
    and scratched his grizzled head,
"But perhaps it would be safer
    if to b we added z."

"A brilliant stroke!" said Hall
    and added z to either side;
Then looked at his accomplice
    with a flush of happy pride.
And Knight, he winked at Hall
    (a very pardonable lapse)
And they printed off the Algebra
    and sold it to the chaps.

Hall and Knight, or z + b + x = y + b + z, by E. V. Rieu, from "A Puffin Quartet of Poets"

A stone lies in a river; a piece of wood is jammed against it; dead leaves, drifting logs, and branches caked with mud collect; weeds settle there and soon birds have made a nest and are feeding their young among the blossoming water plants. Then the river rises and the earth is washed away. The birds depart, the flowers wither, the branches are dislodged and drift downward; no trace is left of the floating island but a stone submerged by the water;–such is our personality.

Palinurus (Cyril Connolly), The Unquiet Grave, Horizon, London, 1944.