Trevor Leggett

Literature & Zen Site


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Pearls Before Swine


..the phrase about pearls before swine came up in one of our discussions on the Japanese radio: 'Give not what is holy to dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine; lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you.' Like many Buddhist priests, he knew the Gospels, and he said: 'Yes, they trample the pearls, but why do they turn and rend you?' I never heard any Christian speak of this, so I improvised: 'It shows the mindless spite towards what they feel is superior but cannot understand.'

He said: 'Not at all. The pigs cannot understand that the pearls are superior. You are blaming the pigs, but Christ is blaming the man who throws pearls to them. Naturally they think it is food and try to eat it, but find it is pebbles. So of course they are angry and want to bite him. It is no fault in the pigs. Don't throw pearls to swine: it is not fair on the swine.'

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Picture of the pig reading a book by Jacques Allais, a distinguished master of the Japanese Sui-boku style of brushed pictures.



A man said to his yoga teacher: 'I have tried to break my habit of going to wine-shops and brothels, but I can't do it. I am in chains to my nature. You can't expect a man in chains to do anything.

The teacher met him going to the town one evening. He was smartly dressed and walking briskly in anticipation.

The teacher said: 'You don't look like a man in chains.'



The book of 108 pages contains fifty incidents showing applications of Yoga and Zen in life. Half are from the Indian tradition and half from the Japanese. There are tales from long ago, preserved orally or in temple magazines and so on; others are modern, some of them observed or participated in by the author.



It is not, I think, necessary to have a knowledge of or even interest in, either yoga or Zen to find pleasure and learning in this book. Unlike much that has been written on these subjects, the text is unpretentious, easy to read, and for the most part hugely enjoyable....The aim of such stories is to help a serious student to find realization and inspiration in everyday life. As the book jacket puts it:

'Just as flint and steel are used to make fire, so these stories can be used to create sparks within the reader's mind, which can, with care and attention, be nurtured into the strong light of realization.'

Care and attention are qualities which Leggett brings to his work. Each short episode is exquisitely unfurled. At first reading, some appear inconsequential: others score direct hits. All, however, are deceptive. Leggett himself says in his fine introduction, 'Reading a story like one of these, a reader may come to the end and think: 'Ah yes, yes indeed, and then move on. But a real seeker will find that some particular one may keep recurring to him. That is a sign .. that it has to be read in a different way - slowly, sentence by sentence and ultimately word by word.'

The design of the book also shows signs of care and attention. The headings are in beautiful calligraphy that is very satisfying, and there are a number of pictures in the Japanese Suiboku style - suggestion rather than depiction. This principle, Leggett believes, can give hints at meditation.