Better Silent than Noisy

mushroom-2921176_640

One year, during the summer retreat[1] at Lingshu Monastery, King Liu of the Later Han[2] of the Five Dynasties Period insisted on inviting Chan Master Yunmen and the entire community of the monastery to pass the summer in his palace.

At the palace, several monks received the court ladies paying their respects and inquiring about the Dharma. The women gathered together chattering pleasantly, so it was very noisy. Especially since King Liu was devout and valued the Dharma, not a day passed without the practice of Chan meditation and lectures. The elders of the monastery were also happy to give Dharma talks to the court ladies and eunuchs. However, only Chan Master Yunmen sat alone meditating silently to the side. As a result, the court ladies did not dare to get close and ask for instruction.

There was an official on duty at the palace who often saw this kind of situation, so he asked Chan Master Yunmen for instruction on the essentials of the Dharma. Chan Master Yunmen always remained silent.  Not only was the palace official not offended, he was even more respectful. On the front of Biyu Hall, he posted a poem that said: 

The cultivation of great wisdom begins with Chan,

In the Chan gate, it is better to be silent, not noisy.

All the clever ways of speaking, competing for the Truth,[3]

Still defeated by the “non-speaking” of the Chan gate.

Master Hsing Yun’s commentary:

The great masters of the Chan School have always been like leisurely clouds and wild cranes, sometimes dwelling in the mountain forests, sometimes living by the water.  With three robes and one mat, they follow their conditions and let things follow their own course.  Even when their Dharma conditions are remarkable or they are among royalty, they are not tempted by material gain or moved by power. 

Just as in Chan Master Yunmen’s “a moment of silence, a clap of thunder,” even though no words are spoken, his instructions are like thunder rumbling over our heads.  If we understand the countless insights in our hearts when we are in silence, then it can be said that we have penetrated a little bit of Chan.

Notes:

  1. The summer retreat is a practice that has been passed down as the “rainy season retreat” since Sakyamuni Buddha’s time in India. It refers to the period when Buddhist monks stopped their travels and outdoor activities for the duration of the summer rainy season and gathered at a sheltered location to devote themselves to study and discipline.
  2. The Later Han of the Five Dynasties Period lasted from 947-950 C.E. and was the fourth of the Five Dynasties. The Later Han was a tumultuous period marked by continuous wars and division in the country.
  3. “Truth” means the supramundane truth.

More Featured Articles

Our emotions are a very important part of our everyday life, and they star in a leading role on the stage of relationships. The ability to feel and our freedom to act upon these feelings give us both joy and sorrow, and it is imperative that we maintain our emotional Read more
The Buddhist precepts are here to protect us from wrongdoing, lead us away from what is bad, and towards what is good. Vinaya Master Daoxuan of the Tang dynasty composed the Simplified and Amended Handbook of the Four-Part Vinaya [Sifenlü Shanfan Buque Xingshi Chao], in which he analyzed the precepts Read more
Human beings are social animals; we cannot live apart from community. As Buddhists, we are told to seek the Dharma among the people, for the Dharma does not exist in some other world or far away place; the Dharma is here among us, embodied in each and every being. When Read more
I once copied out a sutra in blood by pricking myself, and once I also burned my arm as an offering. I once remained silent for a year without speaking, and once I also kept my eyes closed for three months without seeing. Later on, I would occasionally open my Read more
One of the great advantages of sitting meditation is that you can take it with you wherever you go. Whether you are in a forest deep in the mountains or beside a stream among the grass and reeds, you can develop meditative concentration just by sitting down and crossing your Read more
Control of the body means that we know when to act, and when not to act and that we know how to behave with moderation. Read more
Trustworthy WordsIf you lie, you will not be trusted. If you cannot be trusted, you will be ineffective in your own life and useless to other people. Lies hurt others because they damage their trust and their sense of what is right and wrong. This is a very serious kind Read more
Chan is meditation throughout our lives. When we live with Chan, the taste of food and feel of clothes will change. We will not feel difficulty when dealing with our affairs. Any matter can be laughed away. The human world has its ups and down, but when we have a Read more
People often ask me, “What ad­versity have you experienced in your life?” And for a moment, I can­not come up with an answer. I have always maintained the attitude of taking things as they come, as in the sayings “When the soldiers come, de­ploy the generals to fight back; when Read more
In the Buddha's teachings, there are four kinds of friends: friends who treat you like a flower, friends who act like a balance, friends who are like the mountains, and friends who are like the earth.Friends who treat you like a flowerWe all enjoy flowers, especially when they are fresh. Read more
Lessen desire and be without any wishes and the body and mind will be at ease.When our desires are balanced and reasonable, we can be content. The Buddha taught that deep wisdom can be found only by following a “middle way” between dualistic extremes. The middle way can always be Read more
Sharing joy with others is not only a virtue, it is also a delightful experience.To take delight in shared joy is to give willing support to those who are compassionate in helping the needy; it is to give genuine praise to those who have dedicated themselves to the highest achievements Read more