Noble Silence?

Thursday May 22, 2008


According to the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, The householder Vimalakirti once put a question to a large company of bodhisattvas. “Good sirs,” he said, “please explain how the bodhisattvas enter the Dharma-door of nonduality!”

In response this somewhat baffling question, Vimalakirti received thirty two answers (not one of which was that all one has to do is turn the Dharma-handle of nonduality and give the said door a bit of a shove). When they had given their answers, the gathered bodhisattvas turned to ask Manjusri for his opinion. The text reads as follows (in Robert Thurman’s translation):

Manjusri replied, “Good sirs, you have all spoken well. Nevertheless, all your explanations are themselves dualistic. To know no one teaching, to express nothing, to say nothing, to explain nothing, to announce nothing, to indicate nothing, and to designate nothing – that is the entrance into nonduality.”

Now I am sure that all of this is extremely clever. Or I imagine that it is, but I can’t be sure because I don’t really have a clue what any of it means. But the text doesn’t end here. Instead, it continues in this fashion:

Then the crown prince Manjusri said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “We have all given our own teachings, noble sir. Now, may you elucidate the teaching of the entrance into the principle of nonduality!”

Vimalakirti the householder now trumps Manjusri’s ace like this:

Thereupon, the Licchavi Vimalakirti kept his silence, saying nothing at all.

All of which reminds me of a nice story at the beginning of the book I was recently reading by Bernard Faure about four monks meditating in a mountain temple. In the story the temple lamps are about to burn out, so one monk cries, “Attendant! Raise the taper!” Another monks replies, “There is to be no talking in the hall of silence.” A third monk, annoyed at their speaking, mutters, “You have lost your senses.” Then a senior monk smiles smugly and says, “I alone have said nothing.”

So there you have it. Make of it what you will. But it is good to have broken my (almost certainly ignoble) silence of the last couple of weeks. And it’s nice to see you all again!

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#1 · ramon sanchez

24 May 2008

hi will….enjoyed the monks story/joke…..dao that can be spoken is not the true dao. this is truish:: some things must be felt/experienced some things arent things…i just read .the zen doctrine of no recomended).’.from the first not a thing is’….didnt realise there was a zen that denies the way of meditation.(wouldnt accept being hit by zen master either)i enjoy(am habituated?)to meditating anyway so my opinion of non…………(:(:(:(:………………

#2 · phree

24 May 2008

This post was awesome and timely. There must be something in the air about lay Buddhism because Robert Thurman is doing a series of pod/vlogcasts on this sutra ( Scroll down to #48 & #49.

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