Beyond Words and Phrases

Zen Master Dogen“Explanations of mind and explanations of the nature are not affirmed by the Buddhist patriarchs. Seeing the mind and seeing the nature is the animated activity of non-Buddhist. Staying in words and staying in phrases is not the speech of liberation. There is a state which has got free from states like these.” - Master Dogen, Shobogenzo, Sansuigyo

What is Dogen discussing here? ‘Not affirmed’? How does the speech of liberation sound? How does one access the states beyond Explaining and Seeing?

This Sutra is called Sansuigyo, which is our first hint. Sansuigyo means Nature. It means the natural world is the true Buddhist Sutras. Anything outside of ‘being’ is not yet Perfected Enlightenment. Using Nature as the store of Sutras says that by looking at and examining Nature, we look at Truth itself. Dogen points us to a world before thought, by pointing us towards Nature.

‘Not affirmed’ is interesting. It evokes images of philosophers and psychologists offering the Buddhist patriarchs complex theories. The patriarchs, however, they’re cool. They simply smile. They don’t deny the explanations, they don’t affirm. The key, however, is that they do answer the question. Their answer is timeless, with their very non-affimation pointing to reality itself.

When ’staying’ in words and phrases, we are trapped. When we have fixed ideas and concepts, we stray from the real, and bounce around in man-made concepts. The Speech of Liberation, in this context, I feel isn’t so much our speech, but our listening. The Speech of Liberation is Nature’s voice. When we become wholly present, when our minds are settled, we are open to listen. When we are open and listening, we hear Nature is constantly singing her Speech of Liberation.

Nature exists in states beyond words and phrases. It’s before Ego. What Dogen is not saying, however, is that Nature is not without. This is the very first Zen Koan: does a Dog have Buddha Nature? Mu, or nothingness is the answer. Through meditation, we rest in the space that transcends all ideas and words. In this space we are no different to Nature, we are not just in Nature but are Nature.

By sitting and ‘not-doing’, we share the timeless smile of the Buddhist patriarchs. We realize our true nature, and go beyond words.

For more reading on this Sutra, there’s online commentary by the Book’s translator here. (I’m amzed and thankful that the translator is not both alive and blogging. We live in amazing times.)

Update:The Alan Watts Podcast has just started a series on The Wisdom of Mountains, which is what this post is about. Well timed.

3 Responses to “Beyond Words and Phrases”

  1. 1 Terry

    nature mind~from or photography/martamlove/photography.jpg


  2. 2 Liara Covert

    To internalize the term, “maybe” and to use it inresponse to everything is a way to linger in that timeless realm beyond judging. This points a being toward the nothingness of its true nature.

  3. 3 Dawg47

    I am not a practitioner of any singular path… yet the Buddhist way always resonates deepest within me. Thank you for this affirming post!

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