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Ignorant silence is not wise silence
January 5th, 2013 (July 16th, 2013)

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Ignorant silence is not wise silence.

In many conversations or comments on Zen, beginners assert that "Zen is beyond words", that "there is no answer", or that "Zen discards doctrines", etc. This is not true!

More often than not, these beginners go on with explaining to me "what Zen is" or "what the Mu koan is"… i.e. they propose their own 'doctrine' of what Zen ultimately is, of what the nature of reality essentially is!

Zen very much focuses on the 'quiet' mind. However, "beyond words" and "beyond doctrines" is different from being 'scared' of words or doctrines, and also different from being ignorant of them.

Zen masters rely on words (spoken or written —and for some like Dōgen, many fascicules of philosophy!), explain with words, know erroneous doctrines (and how to crack them open and show their embedded wrong views) and know wholesome doctrines which may help attainment… Some use kōans, some use Dharma talks or interviews, and virtually all of them play with the 'labels' the students cling to! Zen masters do not hesitate to use their words (including shouting), nor do they hesitate to use the words of others.

As a matter of fact, words are an extraordinary tool for us to realise śūnyatā (notably the śūnyatā of… words!). This is true of kōans (, but also of science (

As previously explained, "being Zen" is not "being a doormat" ( and similarly…
"being Zen" is neither rejecting reasoning, nor acting as if dumb and ignorant silence were profound and wise silence.

"Beyond words" is to reach a point where words have been seen for "what they are" (useful in some ways but also empty of inherent existence, inherent meaning, etc. and not always appropriate).

On the journey to Enlightenment, there is a phase of ignorance and confusion (our 'ordinary' mind). There are also phases of concentration and insight, stages and attainments. And there is a phase 'beyond' (when the raft is no longer needed after crossing to the other shore, when Buddhism —as an '-ism'— is no longer needed!).

To pretend that one's rejection of any doctrine (or reason) is Zen, or is 'beyond', —when it is merely a sign of ignorance, confusion and/or laziness— is a grave mistake.

Nirvāṇa is the extinction of ignorance, lust and aversion. This includes aversion for words and doctrines… When you're truly beyond doctrines, you don't cling to philosophical debates, but you have no reason to reject them either!

The quiet mind is not a victim of words: words cannot fill a quiet mind for no reason, regardless of circumstances. But the quiet mind has no difficulty or aversion to use words and concepts and doctrines when they are useful, when the circumstances demand them (e.g. teaching).

Mahakashyapa did not get Enlightened by simply ignoring the doctrines of the Buddha! 'Beyond' is not ignorant silence. It is free silence: free to break the silence and use words when they're appropriate tools, free to remain silent and not to use words when they're inappropriate.

#Buddhism   #Dharma   #Zen   #buddhistcircle  
[ on Mahakashyapa and the flower sermon: ]
[ image: painting "One shoe Daruma" by Zen master 白隠慧鶴 (Hakuin Ekaku)… who embedded texts in his paintings as a means to teach to people who were merely looking for a nice image! Cf. The religious art of Zen Master Hakuin by Katsuhiro Yoshizawa, with Norman Waddell. ]