dead words

The Master, whom he had expected to be the very soul of compassion, begun to shout at him, “How dare you come here seeking the dead words of men! Why don’t you open your ears to the living words of nature?”

(from Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn)

At first, these were in fact dead words to me. I recognized the presence of wisdom but didn’t really get it! I took it too literally, something that’s never got me very far in Zen understanding… I thought to myself, “So, how do I know which words in this book are dead, and which ones are still alive?” Well, they all seemed like worthwhile teachings, so maybe they’re all alive, but they’re just printed words on paper, maybe they’re all dead??

It was a while before another experience led me back to this teaching with better understanding, and it was just that which did it… experience!

Until I had that inner experience, changing my “dead word” conceptual knowledge into the experiential knowledge of life, no book, no teacher, no amount of thinking was going to teach me.

As we open our perceptions to the fundamental experience, then words will leap to life before our eyes!


Searching for the Dharma

You’ve traveled up ten thousand steps in search of the Dharma.
So many long days in the archives, copying, copying.
The gravity of the Tang and the profundity of the Sung make heavy baggage.
Here! I’ve picked you a bunch of wildflowers.
Their meaning is the same but they’re much easier to carry

~ Xu Yun ~

from Empty Cloud: The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master, Trans. Charles Luck, ed. by Richard Hunn