When people ask a question that we hastily answer, it may not be right speech. When people ask a question and we sit still and don’t answer, it could be right speech. Because there are questions that should not be answered.
That silence is the thunderous silence of the Serpent Catcher. Just being silent is eloquent enough to show the other person the truth. Especially when the questions are meant to provoke metaphysical discussions, not really helpful.
Buddha taught: What should be said and how to be silent?
We often hear about the disciples asked the teacher in the past: Master, what is the sound of one hand clapping?
Or: You say that all dharmas refer to one, then where does the one point to? These are meditation koans, and people tend to want to analyze, investigate, reason about them. We can spare an hour or two for endless exercise. Speak and feel happy in your heart, because you have the opportunity to display your knowledge. But all those sayings may not be right speech, because it doesn’t help the listener. So when listening to the disciple’s question, a teacher just sat silently and smiled, looking at the disciple with very compassionate eyes. Another teacher said: Drink tea. Or: Do you think the pine tree in the front yard is so beautiful?… In fact, it’s an order: Don’t ask silly questions! There is a cup of tea in front of you, but you don’t drink it properly, but ask stupid things!
If you are an artist, you should draw a picture in which there is a steaming cup of tea and the three words “Drink your tea!” are added. Those are paintings that can be hung in the monastery. Drink your tea means do not lose your life in thoughts, and metaphysical discussions, live deeply in the present moment. Drink your tea is a right speech. If we analyze the words “Drink the tea”, what is the Buddhadharma in it? In “Drink tea” I don’t see no-self, impermanence, Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, nothing at all! But the truth is that drinking your tea is right speech, because it brings the other person back to reality, and lives deeply in that moment.
Zen masters often have their own special language. They can stop the momentum of thinking and delusion of meditators. Sometimes they use very strange sayings. In the old days of the Ly dynasty, there was Zen Master Thien Lao (died 1073) at Trung Minh pagoda, Thien Phuc mountain. Although he lived in the mountains, his fame spread from within the court to outside the county. So King Ly Thai Tong went to visit the Zen master. When he went to visit, the king asked: Master, how long have you been on this mountain? The question is very simple, you can answer: I have been here for almost 22 years. But the Zen master said: The poor monk only knows today, has no time to think about yesterday, so the poor monk does not know how many years he has lived here! Trial Kim Sun Moon. The former Ha Tinh Xuan Thu is the Zen master’s answer. These two lines are poetic and full of meaning, but they only mean: Please drink tea, your majesty, what a waste of time these things are! I’ve been here 20 or 30 years, it doesn’t matter! The problem is that coming up here is a huge opportunity, let’s have tea together! There’s no great philosophy in that answer either, it’s a bell, and if it’s a bell, then it’s true teaching.
So we are the ones “with knowledge”, the “contained” of the doctrine, we can’t do the work of a bell! When the bell rings, everyone must obey, return to drink tea and practice breathing. That bell may have more merit than we do, and we must transmit it to it first. Therefore, every time we ring the bell, we must ring the bell first.
We all have pain and suffering passed down from our grandparents and parents. It may not be the suffering we have accumulated in this life. In us there may be a volcano in the depths, the troubles, the sorrows, the anger, the resentments from the past. So we have to know that there is a volcano in us, and when that volcano stirs, we start spewing fire, we turn into a mountain of flames, and we burn. When the volcano is about to erupt, it has symptoms. People who know about volcanoes, when they hear these symptoms, try to run away.
Buddha ‘silent’ to answer is there a self?
When we have mindfulness, we know the volcano is about to erupt, we have to run for security. It spits out words that don’t speak right, causing the speaker to suffer, and creating suffering and destruction for those around them.
So we must learn to recognize the volcano in ourselves and in others. Recognize to love, because not only the other person has a volcano, but we also have a volcano inside of us. When the volcano in us erupts, everything is destroyed, so we must have a policy to be able to deal with the volcano inside us. We have frustrations, repressions, and we have the feeling that if we don’t speak out, we will die. Why so? Because we don’t know how to manage it, we don’t know how to manage our volcanic energy.