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 cannot 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)

We cannot serve this Word better than in stillness and in silence: there we can hear it, and there too we will understand it aright—in the unknowing. To him who knows nothing it appears and reveals itself. – Meister Eckhart, Sermon Two


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 prevent us from knowing 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.”

*dharmas and adharmas

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 the mind. To attain enlightenment or to see into one’s own inner nature—this is a wrong application of the mind. To attain Buddhahood or to become a master—this is a wrong application of the mind. To recite the sutras or to discourse on philosophy—this is a wrong application of the mind. Walking, standing, sitting, and lying—this is a wrong application of the mind. Putting on the habit and taking meals—this is a wrong application of the mind. To attend to the calls of nature—this is a wrong application of the mind. In fact, every movement you make, whether turning this way or that, walking on this side or that—all this is a wrong application of the 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)

*A common metaphor for the executive function of the mind, which Freud called the ego.

Hui-neng:  (No-thought is the foundation)

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 defilements 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 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: thus it is that our teaching is established on the foundation of no-thought. In order not to become entangled in thoughts one must cast out views. 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. Original nature is [like] the body, and thoughts are the activity of original nature. Thoughts arise from original nature and are manifested in what is seen, heard, believed and known (drista-sruta-mata-jnata), but original nature itself is not defiled by the myriad things; it remains forever pure. So we read in the Vimalakirti,* “Adept in the discrimination of the manifold phenomena, he abides immovably in the Dharma.” (Suzuki, 1971, pp. 33-35)

*They had learned to accept the fact that there is nothing to be grasped, no view of phenomena to be entertained. . . . Expert in comprehending the characteristics of phenomena (dharmalaksana), able to understand the capacities of living beings, they towered over the others of the great assembly and had learned to fear nothing. . . . In fame and renown they soared higher than Mount Sumeru; their profound faith was diamond-like in its firmness. (Wisdom Library)

The Buddha: Anatta-lakkhana Sutta (‘Sutra on the Characteristics of That Which is Devoid of Self-Nature’)

“Expectations (samskara), O monks, are not-Self; if expectations were Self, then expectations would not lead to passions, and it should obtain regarding expectations: ‘May my expectations be thus, may my expectations not be thus’. And indeed, O monks, since expectations are not-Self, therefore, expectations lead to passions and it does not obtain regarding expectations: ‘May my expectations be thus, may my expectations not be thus.’ ”

“What do you think of this, O monks? Are expectations permanent or impermanent?”
“Impermanent, O Lord.”
“Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”
“Unsatisfactory, O Lord.”
“Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard it thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my Self’?”
“Indeed, not, O Lord.”
“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever expectations past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all those expectations must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: These are not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self. ”


* * *

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

Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki, et al. (1960). Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

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

Levenson, Lester (1998). The Ultimate Truth. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.

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

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

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