Oakville Zen Meditation

#31.ZEN on words.

Words are wonderful thinking and communication tools and we are addicted to them non stop.

1- We are thinking through words. No other choice.

  • Words are the fuel of our mind producing our thoughts, concepts, ideas and opinions. No word, no mind.
  • When we think we talk to ourselves and we talk to ourselves all the time during day and night (dream)

2- We are communicating with words. No other choice. Listening, talking, writing and reading.

In short we are words slaves, rapped with them by necessity.

Unfortunately words are also very powerful and deceptive instruments to dissociate ourselves from others and to be fooled by our mind.

At the same time improper or displaced words can be the basic building blocks to improper communication. They can be lethal weapons not only to the receivers but also to the senders and they cannot be retrieved.

This is a perfect catch 22 dilemma:

  • Words are the basic tools for thinking and to communicate and yet there are also the impediments to efficient and effective relationship when used in the wrong way.
  • Words facilitate our daily life but there is a significant cost to pay. The use of words to express concepts, idea and opinions may distort reality, making us unable to see and perceive things as they really are.

Words are at the same time food and poison of the human mind dividing people.The French painter Monet said “To see is to forget the name of what one is seeing”. What does that mean? When you see a flower and call it a flower the word flower is not the flower since the flower is far more than just a word. The sound made by a Korean cat is “nyaong”, by an American cat it is “meow”, by a French cat it is “mi-a-ou”. So what is the sound produced of a cat? Based on these different words it seems that cats are speaking different languages like humans...crazy isn’t it.

It is a naive assumption, misunderstanding, delusion and ignorance to think that each name, word or concept has a corresponding reality. Because words may block us from seeing the reality as it is they have become almost taboo in many Zen Buddhist traditions. A flower is more than a name.

In Zen tradition achieving a “don’t know mind” also called “free mind”, “ empty mind”, “ beginner mind”, that is an open mind is critical to discover and experience our True Nature inside self and eventually our awakening. A “don’t know” mind is a mind free from words and when the mind is free from words it is free from preconceived ideas, concepts, opinion and judgment. The don’t know mind is a free mind not a stupid mind. Zen teachers have warned their students that too much readings may or will distort their perception of reality. The Buddha said in one of the Sutras

“ If you decide to embrace the Middle Way through much learning, the Middle Way will be hard to reach. When you guard your mind (filtering our thoughts) and cherish the Middle Way, the Way is truly great”.

Our Western education and modern life are making us thinking zombies. Our jobs are mentally demanding and without proper thinking we cannot succeed in today’s world. Now it is a must to think continuously and because our minds are always occupied producing over 45,000 thoughts and millions of words every day we have the strong tendency to identify ourselves with our thoughts, concepts, ideas and opinions. In fact we strongly believe that our thoughts are real and they define and carry our specific personalities, values systems and socio-professional behaviours. There is some truth here since how our minds relate and react to certain things, events and situations is quite unique to each individual just as our physical appearance is different.

The fact that we have thoughts does not mean that they are real or that there is some sort of thinking entity behind them. Just like our emotions and other mental faculties our thoughts arise from external causes and conditions.

The concept of a “thinker” is just a concept. Descartes said: “ I think therefore I am”... but if I do not think who am I ? Am I dead? What is happening to the walker when she/he stops walking? Does he/she disappear? Likewise when the thinking stops does the thinker vanishes? NO. When the breathing stops does the breather disappears? Of course not.

Imagine ourselves as an oil lamp where:

  • The wick is our real nature also called True Nature inside self.
  • The oil is your ego centered mind fueling the wick with your thoughts.
  • The flame is the metaphor for suffering that is dissatisfaction, unhappiness, attachments, desires, anger, fear, suffering.

When the flame is gone ( Nirvana = " blowing off the flame) suffering disappears and true Nature appears.

Few words about meditation.

Since our thoughts are the fuel of our ego, controlling them is a great way to extinguish it (extinction of the flame is also called Nirvana). This is essential in reaching Awakening or Enlightenment and this is why the practice of meditation is so important as a tool to control our thoughts. Without meditation Enlightenment /Awakening becomes almost impossible.

To put in different words meditation is a process of deprogramming the ego mind whereby the brain is the hardware and the mind/thoughts the software.

For Christian believers if Jesus did not die he could not have resurrected. Same thing with our ego mind. It has to die i.e. being still and quiet through meditation practice in order for us to discover and experience our True Self and realize Enlightment. We will become a universal human no longer living as an independent and separate self entity in an isolate world.

This is the path of prajna paramitas or perfection of wisdom.


Ven. Ji Gong Sunim. February 22nd 2014