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you have to say something

' You have to say something!' This is the title of a book of talks given by Dainin Katagiri, one of the pioneering figures of Zen in the West. He is the author of Returning to Silence. 

In the Zen dialogues that have been passed on to us from China there is often a moment when the teacher exhorts the student to say something about their understanding of the teachings. 

This understanding has to arise from the pactual moment of the exchange and needs to manifest the dharma as an expression of something alive, meaning it cannot be metely a restitution of some acquired knowledge. Knowledge is born out of memory and memory speaks of the past even if to our deluded ears it may seem to speak of the present. Words may continue living in the past but what is asked for here is a word alive by virtue of giving expression to an unrepeatable happening called now . Past wisdom needs to be continually actualized, it cannot become a substitute for the wisdom that wants to emerge from and express the truth of the moment. The truth of the moment is what in the present manifests itself as the unknown.

You must say something, dead words or dormant words, words of sleep though won't do. Say, say the living word!

What is a word that is alive and what is a word that no longer is? A lifeless word is a shadow that does not disturb our slumber as it passes. A word that is alive is a word of great vitality; it arouses, stirs, questions, jolts, irrupts into our dreams, comes from awakening and points to awakening.

A word that is alive is an expression of the inexpressible without ever abandoning the inexpressible. Truth cannot be uttered but we constantly must aim at expressing it. Falling short of expressing it though not tiring of the failing. Not blind to the great virtue that lies in the failing. Failing gets better and better as we pursue ardently the endeavor that creates and arouses expression from nowhere.

We must express in so many ways the deep darkness that cannot suffer expression through words of abundance but also through words of lack, through sound, sign, gesturing, stuttering, shouting, mumbling or pointing, finger pointing. Fragment 93 of Heraclitus reads: " The lord whose is the oracle at Delphoi neither utters nor hides his meaning, but shows it by a sign." Fingers while posturing wordlessness are signs, signs showing, pointing to the moon of language, that unseeable luminosity of logos.

To express it in silence is to attune to the echoes of the rising and fading of myriad earth songs. 

Can we speak though before having listened, before having listened deeply? ‘ Speech after silence is right.’ Yeats writes in one of his poems. Yet, noble silence is present after speech, it is present to speech and within speech for no word would be right without its part of silence. The part of silence that makes a word noble is also what makes a word come alive. 

The height of speaking is a reflection of the depth of listening, their merging the endless shimmering of the sea. 

Whatever we say has to do with this moment, must arise out of this moment as an expression of reality as a seamless whole. To see passingness as a vibrant whole is to awaken.

Seeing, hearing and expressing the whole, the dharma, reality or buddha nature before thinking conceptualizes and fragments it into parts. Thoughts as fragmented reality are the colors of our delusions but do not come to us without their own beauty.

You must utter something that springs forth out of emptiness before thought appears. This is grace and can only be done when the moment seizes our heart. Dogen’s expression ‘penetrating the moment’ speaks of such intimacy. 

Zazen is an unfolding of the practice of learning to take care of this moment whilst forgetting ourselves in its fold allowing the moment in turn to extend its care to us and transform us into expressions of giving, receiving and caring feely. Zazen is to let go of thoughts that arise each moment for these thoughts are encrypted comments about a moment we know nothing about. Returning again and again to the moment or advancing toward it, meeting it and being met by it is an encounter with nothingness. Moment after moment without a moment before or a moment after. Without a before or after the moment is the eternal now that strikes us as an awe.

There is no escaping this moment but escaping the moment is what we mostly do. Catching ourselves escaping the moment is the moment of not escaping from: you have to say something! What is there to do? Nothing, if doing something is escaping the moment. Something, if in whatever is done or undone the moment becomes alive and the unspoken word blossoms out of the empty sky. 


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