A ZEN KOAN, BEYOND WORDS
May 23, 2006 07:37 AM
There is a challenging Zen koan on silent attention, published for the first time in 1783.
The story goes that Zen master Hsüan-sha sent a monk to his own old teacher, Hsüeh-Fêng, with a letter of greeting.
The old master Hsüen-feng gathered his monks in the Zen-do and opened the letter in their presence. The envelope contained nothing but three sheets of blank paper. Hsüeh-fêng showed the paper to the monks and said:
“Do you understand?”
There was no answer, and Hsüeh-fêng completed the lesson of the day:
“My prodigal son writes just what I think.”
The 20th century master Nyogen comments the episode thus:
“Zen is like lightening. No human eye can trace it.” (1)
Indeeed, words play a limited role in learning. Zen or Wisdom cannot be transmited by words only. There is a passage in the “Mahatma Letters” which explains this need for an inner transmission, which is independent from scriptures or speech. An Adept-Teacher writes:
“The Occult Science is NOT one, in which secrets can be communicated of a sudden, by a written or even verbal communication. If so, all the ‘Brothers’ should have to do, would be to publish a HAND-BOOK of the art which might be taught in schools as grammar is. (...) The truth is that till the neophyte attains to the condition necessary for that degree of Illumination to which, and for which, he is entitled and fitted, most IF NOT ALL of the Secrets are INCOMMUNICABLE.” (2)
Hence the blank pages. Hsüan-sha most frankly expressed in the letter to his old Master Hsüeh-Fêng all of his lower-self thoughts. They were none. And Hsüeh-Fêng was happy about that: “That’s just what I think.”
Understanding comes in silence. It emerges due to the acceptance of – and in the diving in – blank space or the void.
By studying and contemplating Theosophy beyond words, we can get to the right kind of silence and understanding, and this will expand our consciousness.
But what is “Theosophy”? Well, it transcends any particular set of concepts, though universal concepts are a starting point to get to it. Theosophy is but the common Wisdom present in different Traditions, and words can only point to it.
Best regards, Carlos Cardoso Aveline
(1) “The Iron Flute”, 100 Zen Koan, Translated and edited by Nyogen Senzaki and Ruth Strout McCandless, published by Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan, second printing, 1985, 175 pp., see p. 77.
(2) “The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett”, Facsimile Edition, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, CA, USA, 1992, 493 pp, see Letter XLIX, pp. 282-283.
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