Results 1 to 17 of 17

Thread: Words

  1. #1


    "There are many misconceptions about the nature of Zen teaching and practice. Zen teaching simply means not attaching to language… Zen meditation points directly to our minds so that we attain our true nature. Because of this emphasis on attaining mind over mere conceptual understanding, people often think that Zen is anti-intellectual. Actually that view is not correct…

    If you read the sutras with a not-thinking mind, then the sutras can help; but if you are thinking and checking, and holding, and wanting, then even the sutras can send you straight to hell."

    - Seung Sahn 'The Compass of Zen', p244, 246

  2. #2
    Not attaching to language is the key, in my humble opinion. But, we still need language as a means to communicate with each other and convey ideas.


  3. #3
    Ideation can be extremely subtle, wordless, and silent. I have experienced a completely still mind, with only the touching of thumb-tips and ambient environmental sounds, and still been completely within a conceptual bubble. It is subliminal, "below threshold". In my experience feeling the urge to attain "mind" and "true nature" right down to my gut, right down to the boots, and dropping it, is the only practice prior to even subliminal ideation. Is that realizing "mind" or "true nature" ? Don't know, and can't say.

    Gassho. Daizan
    Last edited by Daizan; 06-03-2013 at 02:19 PM.
    As a trainee I ask that all comments by me on matters of Dharma be taken with "a grain of salt".

  4. #4
    Thank you Karasu,
    I yesterday had the opportunity to talk to German teacher Yudo Seggelke, and he said the very same. Just if we take the words for the real thing, this is not right, but using words is perfectly ok. Just find the middle way and all will be good

  5. #5

    Words and Buddhist Ideas alone are not barriers! There is a time for all words and categories to drop away. There is a time for the dropping away of words and categories right in and through words and categories.

    Dogen ... the master wordsmith ... held well expressed language to be the very essence of Buddhist Truths. For Dogen, suchness was not a matter of rejecting or embracing silence or speaking (there are right moments for each) ... but of how what is said, the well turned and turning phrase. The right words and Buddhist ideas do not simply describe Truth, but dance Truth itself, are True Dancing. The moons illuminates all things ... words no less ... and words illuminate the moon.

    Properly Illuminated words are not simply 'the finger pointing at the moon which cannot be described in words'. Enlightened words are the Very Moonlight.

    Open any page of Shobogeno, sentence by rich sentence, and one realizes that Dogen did not see words as an obstruction ... but only words of ignorance as obstructing, and Wise Words As Realization Realizing!

    Zen Teacher David Loy talks about this, quoting the great Dogenologist Prof. Hee-Jin Kim ...

    Dogen's revaluation of commonplace Buddhist metaphors in particular leaves us no doubt about his understanding of language .... Concepts, metaphors, parables, and so forth are not just instrumental, convenient means to communicate truth, for they themselves manifest the truth-or rather, since that is still too dualistic, they themselves are the truth that we need to realize. "Metaphor in Dogen's sense is not that which points to something other than itself, but that in which something realizes itself," summarizes Kim. "In short, the symbol is not a means to edification but an end in itself-the workings of ultimate truth." As Dogen himself puts it in the Muchu-setsumu ... : "The Buddha-dharma, even if it is a metaphor, is ultimate reality." If I do not try to get some graspable truth from the metaphor, it can be a way my mind consummates itself: although symbols can be redeemed only by mind, the mind does not function in a vacuum but is activated by-or as-symbols.

    In the Sansuikyo fascicle, Dogen criticizes those who have only an instrumentalist view of language and who think that koans are simply nonsensical ways to cut off thought: "How pitiable are they who are unaware that discriminating thought is words and phrases, and that words and phrases liberate discriminating thought." What a challenge to the traditional Buddhist dualism between language and reality: the goal is not to eliminate concepts but to liberate them! Despite their problematical aspects, "words are not essentially different from things, events, or beings-all 'alive' in Dogen's thought."

    ... [Dogen] shows us that words and metaphors can be understood not just as instrumentally trying to grasp and convey truth (and therefore dualistically interfering with our realization of some truth that transcends words), but as being the truth-that is, as being one of the many ways that Buddha-nature is. To the many dualisms that Nagarjuna deconstructs, then, Dogen explicitly adds one more: he denies the dualism between language and the world. If we are the ones who dualize, why blame the victims? A birdsong, a temple bell ringing, a flower blooming, and Dogen's transpositions, too, blossoming for us as we read them: if we do not dualize between world and word, then we can experience the Buddha-dharma-our own "empty" nature-presencing and playing in each. ... gainst.htm
    And what is more ... traditional Rinzai "Koan Zazen" training is perhaps even more "word based" that most people imagine. Historian and Rinzai Priest Victor Hori writes ...

    Rinzai kõan practice, as it is presently conducted in the Rinzai monasteries
    of Japan, involves an element of literary study. Zen monks all have books. They
    need them to support their kõan practice, and the further they progress, the more
    their practice involves the study of texts and the writing of words. The Zen school,
    however, describes itself as “not founded on words and letters, a separate tradition
    outside scripture.” ...

    Why then do Japanese Rinzai monks study books as part of their kõan practice? What
    books do they study? How can the study of such books be compatible with the struggle
    to attain the awakening that is beyond language?
    If one begins from the assumption that the Zen tradition has a single, fixed attitude
    to language—namely, that Zen is not founded on words and letters, and that language
    cannot express the awakened mind—then Rinzai literary kõan practices can
    only seem totally misguided. But once one recognizes that Rinzai Zen, like the Chinese
    literary tradition from which it developed, works with more than one paradigm
    of language, then the inclusion of literary study as part of kõan practice will be both
    natural and desirable. ... In fact, those who successfully complete the Rinzai Zen curriculum
    need to develop many of the same skills that were required for successful
    completion of the imperial examinations—a prodigious ability to memorize long
    passages verbatim, the ability to compose elegant classical Chinese verse, a beautiful
    calligraphic hand, and so on. The closest present-day counterpart of the classical Chinese
    Confucian literati scholar is the Japanese Rinzai Zen rõshi. He is one of the last
    remaining examples of those whose daily lives involve use of the literati scholar’s four
    treasures: writing brush, ink stick, ink stone, and paper.
    According to the widely accepted stereotypical image, Zen completely rejects language
    and conceptual thought. Zen enlightenment, it is believed, breaks through the
    false dichotomies imposed by language and destroys the artificial categories
    implanted in our minds by social conditioning. Zen enlightenment, it is assumed,
    directly apprehends things as they are in an ineffable pure consciousness outside the
    realms of language and intellect. This stereotype, with its crude dichotomy between
    a realm of intellectual thought and a realm of pure intuition, topples on close inspection
    from its own internal inconsistencies.

    But as [this book] Zen Sand makes clear, the kõan practice is not a breaking out of language
    into a realm of silence but a sophisticated use of language to express and realize awakening.
    The study of the capping-phrase practice makes explicitly clear that Zen
    seeks not freedom from language by rejecting it, but freedom in language by mastering
    Rev. Hori and other sources point out that many Western students have a very one dimensional and naive view of "a way beyond words and letters".

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-03-2013 at 04:48 PM.

  6. #6
    Jundo - thank you.

    It's really easy - as a westerner - to fall into a stereotypical trap of thinking Zen is totally anti-intellectual. I think I fell into this trap myself because I didn't understand Zen at all before joining Tree Leaf. My misunderstanding set up an unnecessary internal struggle, but I think I'm beginning to understand now that (within Zen) it's Ok to recognise that language can be a precious gift to humans if used well - and can be truly liberating.

    I also feel that Zen has it's own language which takes a while to feel comfortable with. I've often made the mistake of falling into wanting to 'master' it - which isn't a good route to take because it just leads to an inauthentic type of intellectualizing which fails to reveal anything of any importance - just self-importance.



  7. #7
    Thank you, Jundo _/\_

    Willow, I think Zen seems anti-intellectual (and more so than other Buddhist paths that often explicitly encourage scholarship) because of all the stories that we are so familiar with of teachers slapping their students into enlightenment and the often nonsense-seeming dialogue that can happen in shosan. Finding out that it is okay to want to read Dogen and enjoy poetry is an immense relief for me! I should probably also learn to shut-up at times, though...


  8. #8
    Thank you Jundo! Words, while symbols, can inspire us. They can be very mind expanding and allude a silent and subtle Truth that can often be seen in the way that they dance with each other. I used to have an unshakeable attachment to words. After practicing Zazen for awhile and reading the Sutras I almost began to go to the other extreme, which is merely attachment to non-attachment.

    I also feel that Zen has it's own language which takes a while to feel comfortable with.
    I agree Willow, when I first started diving into Zen there were times when I had no idea what was trying to be expressed. It seemed to paradoxical, but that was mostly my attachment to dualistic thinking that hindered me. At times, there are still some texts that cause me to go But I know with practice, all things click into place.


  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Karasu View Post
    Thank you, Jundo _/\_

    Willow, I think Zen seems anti-intellectual (and more so than other Buddhist paths that often explicitly encourage scholarship) because of all the stories that we are so familiar with of teachers slapping their students into enlightenment and the often nonsense-seeming dialogue that can happen in shosan. Finding out that it is okay to want to read Dogen and enjoy poetry is an immense relief for me! I should probably also learn to shut-up at times, though...

    It is often said that Zen ... Mahayana Buddhism ... has a logic to it. It is simply not the ordinary logic that one usually encounters thinking about things in our day to day, "common sense" way.

    For example, in a Buddha's Eye:

    A is not B, because A is A and B is B ... yet A is precisely B in the most intimate sense ... when there is A, there is nothing but A and no B at all (likewise when there is B, there is just B and nothing else) ... A and B are both All are Buddha thoroughly just by being A or B ... when there is Buddha there is just Buddha, no A or B ... and, anyway, what A what B what All what Buddha?

    (stick you and/or any two things in the world in the above equation, all works the same).

    Dogen, the Koans and such, are using the music of language to express in some way the total experience of the above and other like "Buddhalogic". So, thus one can dip into Shobogenzo about anywhere and find Dogen dancing with words like this (from Shobogenzo Bussho ... Buddha Nature ... ) ...

    The Twelfth Ancestor, the Venerable Aśvaghoṣa, in teaching the ocean of the buddha nature to the Thirteenth Ancestor, said,

    The mountains, rivers, and the earth
    Are all constructed dependent upon it; ...

    Therefore, these “mountains, rivers, and the earth” are all “the ocean of the buddha nature.” To say that they “are all constructed dependent upon it” means that the very time they are constructed is the “mountains, rivers, and the earth.” Since it is said that they “are all constructed dependent upon it,” we should realize that such is the shape of “the ocean of buddha nature”; it has nothing beyond this to do with inside, outside or in between. If such is the case, to see the mountains and rivers is to see the buddha nature; to see the buddha nature is to see “an ass’ jaw and a horse’s mouth [Note: A Chinese colloquial expression, appearing often in Chan texts, for “this and that,” “every sort of thing,”]” “All . . . dependent,” we understand — and we do not understand — as “wholly dependent,” as “dependent on the whole.”
    Or any Koan, much as we pierce in the Book of Serenity, or this from the Mumonkan ...

    A monk asked Fuketsu, "Without words or without silence transgressing, how can one be unmistakably one with the universe?"
    Fuketsu said, "I often think of March in Konan (Southern China). The birds sing among hundreds of flagrant flowers."

    Now, most of the time the reason for old Zen Masters (between picking up an ink brush to write words or offering a talk) to offer silence, a slap, a blowing out of a candle, a shout is to teach us that one must come to break through our ordinary "common sense" logic (where A is never B, end of story) ... but also feel and see this in our bones, AS our bones, bring it to life in our life.

    Otherwise, it is like sitting in a living room chair philosophizing about cooking tomato sauce without ever actually setting foot in the kitchen to make the tomato sauce. Mama Mia gives a slap, tells you to get off your butt and start chopping garlic, taste it, feel the heat ... stop just talking and philosophizing on how much salt to add.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-04-2013 at 03:35 AM.

  10. #10
    The problem is not about words. Where do words come from? Words can speak eloquently the deepest silence, a silence can be quite wordy.

    Mountains, rivers, pipes, streets, all these guys express the Dharma. Beings of light, steel, rock, water, ink, bodies and buddies, no junk here.

    Idle chatting and dharma blablabla arent really necessary.

    In the case of Dogen, he deconstructs the language using the language itself, he gives old koans a complete new twist and in the process he turns his poetic prose into a body of teachings that merges with mountains and rivers and the rest of it, painted cakes given for food and not just food for thoughts.

    Swimming the sea of words, flying through clouds and sky painted by a brush, you truly are a fish or a bird.

    A human through shobogenzo is but a human, truly human. Truly Buddha.


    Taigu, lover of words

  11. #11
    My friend Taigu, quite the wordsmith too!

    In the case of Dogen, he deconstructs the language using the language itself

    He also builds something new, new but there all along ... Buddha Street, Mountain Ink ... using the language itself.

    Gassho, J

  12. #12
    Yeap, Bro, exactly what I pointed at in the second part of the sentence quoting his painted cake recipe.

    In sitting self dropped is original face showing.

    One is ipso facto the other. Same with writing.



  13. #13
    Judo's post above reminded me of the Loy article and in the article he makes comparisons ( tho' I heard that Gary Snyder offered that "comparisons are odious') with Dogen, Nagarjuna and the philosopher Wittgenstein. This is interesting for Wittgenstein (the darling of western philosophy and to whom the birth of linguistic philosophy is often attributed: linguistic philosophy being crticised as merely talk about talk) writes:
    “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)” {Wittgenstein, Tractatus 6.54}
    Now one might rightly argue that Wittgenstein was being philosophical and after all doesn't all philosophical inquiry prove to be useless, and if one considers it leads to answers, one is deluding oneself. This may be true but Wittgenstein understood this I think what he says above is echoed in the words of a Zen teacher:
    The most important point is to establish yourself in a true sense, without establishing yourself on delusion. And yet we cannot live or practice without delusion. Delusion is necessary, but delusion is not something on which you can establish yourself. It is like a stepladder. Without it you can’t climb up, but you don’t stay on the stepladder.” {Shunryu Suzuki, Not always so, p.41}
    This point is also emphasised by Kategiri Roshi when he urges us to 'return to silence' but is realistic in realising that 'we have to say something'. Again this reminds me of something Wittgenstein when he advises "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" Thus reading, writing, speaking all have their place in human life but there are things which can only be expressed in silence, activities that can only be realised in stillness. Perhaps the last word is Dogen Zenji's:
    What good is there in reading the Discourses and saying the Nembutsu? It is futile to think that merely wagging the tongue and raising the voice leads to the virtue of the Buddha’s work. To think this is the Buddha Dharma is far from the truth. The purpose of reading the Discourses should be to learn thoroughly what the Buddha taught of sudden and gradual practise and that by practising the Teachings you can realize Awakening. Idle intellectualization and thinking about it has nothing to do with the virtue of wakefulness. To strive for the Way of Awakening by moving the mouth thousands or tens of thousands of times is like steering a cart north but intending to go south. It is like putting a square peg in a round hole. Looking over words and phrases but not practising is as worthless as reading a prescription but forgetting to take the medication.” translated by Anzan Hoshin roshi and Yasuda Joshu Dainen roshi
    It is said the Buddha Dharma has many gates, and reading sutras and discourse, intellectualizing and philosophizing is often a path if not a gate for some if not all of us but, again Dogen "zazen is the main gate"



  14. #14
    Taigu mentions painting, visual language. Painting is “the dance of truth” and “empty nature-presencing”. However, genuine painted expressions of this are not about “the dance of truth”. They are just paintsky , paintblue , and so forth. There is no painted story about “empty nature presencing”. A conceptual painting (like a narrative painting) reduces the paint to a means, and separates heaven and earth.

    This may not be neatly analogous to painting with words, but it should be mentioned.

    Gassho, Daizan
    As a trainee I ask that all comments by me on matters of Dharma be taken with "a grain of salt".

  15. #15
    Daizan, Taigu spoke about a chapter you are invited to read, digest, spit and play with: Painted rice cakes, Gabyo Shobogenzo.

    And of course it is not about painting...

    As to heaven and earth, let's leave them alone. They do pretty well by themselves.

    illetarate and clumsy with brushes, Taigu

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu View Post
    Daizan, Taigu spoke about a chapter you are invited to read, digest, spit and play with: Painted rice cakes, Gabyo Shobogenzo.

    And of course it is not about painting...

    As to heaven and earth, let's leave them alone. They do pretty well by themselves.

    illetarate and clumsy with brushes, Taigu

    Hello Taigu.

    I will read, digest, spit and play with: Painted rice cakes. Thank you for the invitation.

    As to heaven and earth, let's leave them alone. They do pretty well by themselves
    Thank you.

    Gassho. Daizan
    As a trainee I ask that all comments by me on matters of Dharma be taken with "a grain of salt".

  17. #17
    Sometimes Zen Teachers say things that sound strange and mysterious because the Buddha's Way of encountering life is not our ordinary way of thinking about it. In Zen, sometimes a river is a mountain. Sometimes a poem or a gesture or a scream is needed to remind us to get past ourselves and the "ordinary way of thinking". A Koan.

    But sometimes a lot of Zen Wisdom can actually be written in clear and simple prose that people can understand with the ordinary mind. Not every darn thing that is said about Zen Practice has always to be "strange and mysterious". Some of it actually "makes sense" even to our usual way of understanding. Even some of the stuff beyond our "normal way of thinking" can be explained directly in ways which make sense to our "normal way of thinking". Yet, some folks think that ... if they can clearly and fully understand what is being said, and it does not sound like an exotic and somewhat off the wall-ish Koan, then it "can't be real Zen" because it is as simple and understandable as a recipe for tomato soup! But some of this Way -is- as simple as soup. I call such direct, helpful & simple prose statements "Koan-swers".

    Sometimes supposed Zen Teachers and Practitioners say things that sound strange and mysterious because they are themselves not so clear in their own heart-mind on the Clear. They are sincere, but think that any strange and mysterious thing that rolls out of their mouth, stream of consciousnessly, is Zen Wisdom simply because it sounds strange and mysterious. They are just confused. Such folks are all over the internet babbling Koan-ish nonsense ... I call these babbles "groaning Gro-ans" and "No-ans". Some others just throw onto their Buddhist blogs whatever silly or half baked thing they seem to pull out of their Buddha-butt. I call such silly and crazy things ... "Come-ans!" These are -not- the same as the strange and mysterious ... yet insightful ... ways described in the first Paragraph above.

    Even worse, sometimes supposed Zen Teachers know somewhere in their hearts that they are not so clear and don't really have a clue, but try to intentionally obfuscate that fact by babbling all kinds of strange and mysterious sounding non-sequiturs just to sound like they are saying something wise, maybe just to amaze their "students" or sell a book. I call these "Koan-cons" or "Put-ans". It is very hard for poor students, especially new comers, to tell the difference (even sometimes old comers around these people can be fooled for decades!). For example, there is one Zen Teacher on another internet forum who regularly says things like this. I just scratch my head and go sit ...

    It is so hard for you poor Zen Practitioners to try to discern what is Buddha and what just Bull.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-06-2013 at 09:51 AM.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts