In creative work, facing a blank page or canvas calls for patience as we attune and express ourselves—a patience much like the receptive stillness of zazen. In zazen itself, we renounce our storytelling and let contact with mind deepen. The instructions to “let thoughts go” seem to defy the impulse to create, to narrate, to write the next line. And yet, language can also reveal the universe, our home beyond words.
In this issue of Mountain Record we explore the spiritual etymology of Words and Phrases—how we use language, written and spoken—to seek and clarify our spiritual path. Close to the heart of Zen is the use of words to skillfully turn the mind and open the heart: A koan such as “Mu,” a single negation that reveals the entirety of being; the sutras; the weekly teisho given in the Monastery zendo, all use words to communicate the ineffable truth of reality.
In his discourse Shugen Roshi explores the creative mind, the source of all language, as the non-abiding nature of all things. Using a fundamental teaching about reality—nama-rupa, or name-and-form—he describes how grasping functions by naming. Being named, he says, we posit ourselves as fixed and known. We can open our minds to the enlightened path, but we need to study Dharma words and what they point to within our own lives. Zuisei Sensei picks up this thread by looking into words and their impact—both wholesome, beneficial words and grasping, hurtful ones. Writers Toni Morrison and Robin Wall Kimmerer explore spiritual words which animate our stories and their power to affirm life, as well as suppress and destroy it. Dogen Zenji evokes the miraculous nature of communication, illustrated with photos by John Daido Loori Roshi, and Uchiyama Sensei teaches us how to practice the open, supportive awareness of mind as an open hand, releasing whatever it touches. On the cover we offer an early painting by Hojin Sensei that explores her own spiritual questions at the time when she first crossed paths with Zen Buddhist teachings, her teacher Daido Roshi, and the Monastery.
In Bodhidharma’s teaching, Zen practice is called a special transmission outside the scriptures, not relying upon words and letters; a direct pointing to the human mind, and the realization of Buddhahood. Not relying on words, our wordless words can nonetheless speak. We listen to the Dharma teachings, and hear each other above the noise of samsara, with the heart-mind language of wisdom and compassion.
Suzanne Taikyo Gilman
Mountain Record Editor