Tesshin used his talk this week to contemplate how people can interact without words getting in the way. This is very important in Zen as our practice is about experiencing immediacy in this very moment. We only have to recollect the parable of Mahākāśyapa recognizing all of reality when the Buddha simply held up a flower. Part of slowing down our discriminating mind is to see how we can be with and for other people without the constant onslaught of words and thoughts. No Chatter! No Babble!
The first example our teacher shared was about a recent NPR story about how the country of Columbia trained children in the seventies who could not speak or hear. Initially the authorities brought in experts to teach the children, but with little success. The choice was then taken to allow the children to “teach themselves.” Very quickly the children developed their own language and even went as far as teaching the teachers how they wanted to communicate. Remember, they did this without the ability to hear or speak!
Even more interesting than the fact that the children spontaneously created a non-verbal way to communicate was the evolution of the language over a number of generations. Initially, the language was crude. For example – “Child wants to fly” became “The curious small child desired to be free by imaging flight through the sky” over a short number of years.
Tesshin next used an example of a Japanese concept called “emoji-yori” This roughly translates to “emotion projection,” but means much more in practice. As a way of example, our teacher related his time as a Zen student while in Japan. During this time, he was really poor and scraping together enough money for food was a challenge. The monks in the temple realized this and wanted to act. They could have simply given him money or temple food, but they realized that Tesshin had the dual challenge of not having enough money and being a stranger in a strange land. With this insight, one of the monks left bananas for Tesshin. While this sounds really minor, we need to understand that in the 80’s bananas were rare in Japan – they were really only sold to US tourists and visitors. This act of compassion was really a silent gift to feed the mind and the body. This was done with no words and ceremony – simply bananas left on a table to give a small taste of home. To this day, Tesshin does not even know which monk put the bananas on the table.
It is moments like this that humanity communicates compassion without a single word. This is the right action we strive to do in our practice. This is real Zen practice we all should aspire to.