9: Banish words, banish thinking

多言多慮     Too many words, too much thinking

轉不相應     Do not go round and round

絶言絶慮     Banish words, banish thinking

無處不通     And there is no stage you can’t enter


The wise should always be one with that silence from which words, together with the mind, turn back without reaching it. — Adi Shankara (Self-Realization)

The character 慮 ( lǜ ) means to think, but it also means to worry, to be anxious, to be concerned, to care. This is the activity of the left-brain, the limited mind; it is the opposite of wisdom or knowing. It is said that the Dharma blocks the passage of words and thoughts; turning this around, words and thoughts block our passage to the Dharma.

Adi Shankara:

Who can describe that from which words turn away? Or if the phenomenal world were to be described, even that is beyond words. This may also be termed silence known among the sages as present from the beginning. (“Self-Realization“)


Question: “What is the mind of simplicity?” What is the mind of cerebration?” Answer: “Spoken and written words are called cerebration. Things and concepts are the same. Walking, standing, sitting or lying — maintain the mind of simplicity in all that you do. Even when it encounters unhappy or joyful events, the mind remains unmoved; only then can it be called the mind of simplicity.”

Erich Fromm:

Another aspect needs to be mentioned which does not lead to distortion, but to making an experience unreal by cerebration. I refer by this to the fact that I believe I see — but I only see words; I believe I feel, but I only think feelings.

This process of cerebration is related to the ambiguity of language. As soon as I have expressed something in a word, an alienation takes place, and the full experience has already been substituted for by the word. The full experience actually exists only up to the moment when it is expressed in language.  This general process of cerebration is more widespread and intense in modern culture than it probably was at any time before in history. . . . Yet the person is unaware of this. He thinks he sees something; he thinks he feels something; yet there is no experience except memory and thought. When he thinks he has grasped reality it is only his brain-self that grasps it, while he, the whole man, his eyes, his hands, his heart, his belly, grasp nothing; in fact, he is not participating in the experience which he believes is his. (p. 109)

Lester Levenson: (1993)

Mind is Beingness that has assumed limitation. We are naturally unlimited until we assume a mind. Then the evolution begins of progressively limiting ourselves until we can no longer bear it. When life becomes altogether unbearable, we then start the devolution. We reverse the process by letting go of thoughts more and more until the complete peace and total freedom from thought is reestablished.

The whole process of growth is letting go of thoughts. When our thoughts are totally eliminated, there is nothing left but the Self.

Lester Levenson: (1998)

The most correct thinking is “no thoughts.” Truth is in the realm of knowingness. It is when all thoughts are stilled that we remove the blanket covering the omniscience that we all have now. Pure Mind is mind with no thoughts. It is knowingness.

Sermon by Master Ying-an T’an-hua: 

Students of Zen should by all means avoid wrong applications of mind. To attain enlightenment or to see into one’s own inner nature — this is a wrong application of mind. To attain Buddhahood or to become a master — this is a wrong application of mind. To recite the sutras or to discourse on the philosophy — this is a wrong application of mind. Walking, standing, sitting, and lying — this is a wrong application of mind. Putting on the habit and taking meals — this is a wrong application of mind. To attend to the calls of nature — this is wrong application of mind. In fact, every movement you make, whether turning this way or that, or whether walking on this side or that — all this is a wrong application of mind. Kuei-tsung* has never given you a discourse on the Dharma. Why? Because “when one word passes in through the gate of the government office, even nine bulls are unable to get it out.” (Suzuki, 1965, pp. 58-59)


[D. T. Suzuki translation]

17.  “Good friends, our teaching, from ancient times up to the present, whether of the “Abrupt” school or of the “Gradual”, is established on the foundation of no-thought (wu-nien).

“To be free of defilement at all times is called no-thought. This is to be detached from things even as they are present in consciousness, for consciousness is not engaged in weaving thoughts concerning them. When thus all thoughts are cast out, consciousness is cleared of all its defilements. When consciousness is swept clean once and for all, there will be no new birth. Hence no-thought is made the foundation of the teaching.

“When names are grasped, various thoughts about the world arise; these thoughts lead people astray. All erroneous ideas about the world arise from this. So it is that our teaching is established on the foundation of no-thought. Views must be gotten rid of in order not to become entangled in thoughts. If thoughts are not aroused, no-thought is no place. ‘No’ (wu) is no what? ‘Thought’ (nien) means thinking of what? ‘Wu’ is no dualism, no passions. Thought rises from original nature (tathata). Original nature is the body; thoughts are the functioning of original nature. Thoughts, which are of your original nature, function in seeing, hearing, perceiving and knowing, but your original nature itself is not defiled by the myriad things; it remains forever free. So we read in the Vimalakirti, ‘He who is adept in the discrimination of the manifold phenomena abides immovably in the First Principle (the One).'” (Essays in Zen Buddhism, Third Series, pp. 33-35)

The Buddha: Anatta-lakkhana Sutta (‘Sutra of the Characteristics of No-Self’)

“Mental formations, O monks, are not-self; if mental formations were self, then mental formations would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding mental formations: ‘May my perception be thus, may my mental formations not be thus’; and indeed, O monks, since mental formations are not-self, therefore, mental formations lead to affliction and it does not obtain regarding mental formations: ‘May my mental formations be thus, may my mental formations not be thus.’

“What do you think of this, O monks? Are mental formations permanent or impermanent?”
“Impermanent, O Lord.”
“Now, those that are impermanent, are they unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”
“Unsatisfactory, O Lord.”
“Now, those that are impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard them thus: ‘These are mine, this I am, this is my self’?”
“Indeed, no, O Lord.”
“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever mental formations, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all those mental formations must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: ‘These are not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’


*A story about Kuei-tsung: A lecturer-monk had come to see Kuei-tsung, who happened to be chopping weeds. As Kuei-tsung was chopping with his hoe, a snake suddenly appeared: Kuei-tsung immediately killed it with a chop of his hoe. The lecturer said, “I have long heard of Kuei-tsung, but now that I’ve come here, he’s actually a crude-acting monk.” Kuei-tsung said, “Is it you or I who is crude?” The lecturer said, “What is crude and coarse?” Kuei-tsung held the hoe upright. The lecturer asked, “What is subtle and fine?” Kuei-tsung made a chopping motion. The lecturer said, “If that is so, then you act according to it.” Kuei-tsung said, “Leaving aside acting according to it for a minute, where did you see me cutting the snake?” The lecturer had no response.


Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic, translated from the Pali by N.K.G. Mendis, 2007. https://accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.mend.html

Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki, et al. Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. N.Y., Harper Colophon Books, 1960.

Levenson, Lester. Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Sedona Institute, 1993.

Levenson, Lester. The Ultimate Truth. Sherman Oaks, CA, Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc., 1998.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. Essays in Zen Buddhism (Second Series). London, Rider and Company, 1953.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk. New York, University Books, 1965

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