Friday, November 19, 2010

Words in Dokusan

“What books on Buddhism should I read?”
“All of them.”
“No really, which ones specifically?”
“None of them.”

Zen is the path of direct experience and to me this includes the direct experience of the copious writings beginning with the sutras. Those many times when I was practicing in solitude; books brought me the words of the Buddha as well as the countless teachings that have come since.

It is said that Zen is "not founded on words and letters” but this does not mean avoiding words and letters. If this were true, Zen would be a totally silent practice without dharma talks, gathas, koans, dokusan or sanzen. All of which are dependent on words. Who among us today would have come to Zen if we had never read anything about it?

I think I like Chuang-Tzu’s perspective on this-

The purpose of a fishtrap is to catch fish, and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten.
The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten.
The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten.

Where can I find a man who has forgotten words?
I would like to have a talk with him!


  1. Indeed, we're taught not to be attached to anything, including to words. Either dependency, or avoidance, is a form of attachment. Non-attachment resists and indulges nothing.

  2. I'm trying, most painfully, to teach myself German. I am the man who has forgotten words. I'd be delighted to have a talk with you, preferably in English.

  3. Michael, I'm learning Chinese now. I know how you feel :P

    I think the urge to avoid word/books comes from the need to find the Dharma inside, instead of outside. I know many people who have read thousands of spiritual books, but still suffer like the first time, because they don't do anything except read.

    Practice comes first, and words are there to inspire us, teach us, etc.

    But I agree with you, :)

  4. But, Koro Kaisan, you might have met such a man. The question is: how would you know?