On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 13, 2019

Questions of Bodhisattva Mahamati – Not a Word Uttered

Discourse of Buddha and Mahamati

The Bodhisattva Mahamati asked the Buddha to teach him the way of practice of the sages and those who follow the way of the One Vehicle.

To this the Buddha responded, “Mahamati, the bodhisattva does not bring forth discriminations according to various teachings. The bodhisattva meditates on the Dharma while residing alone in quiet surroundings and attains enlightenment alone without relying on anyone.

“The bodhisattva frees himself from all discriminations, advances onto higher spiritual planes, and enters the realm of Buddhahood. This way of practice is called the practice of the sages.

“Next, the way of the One Vehicle is for the pursuer to realize fully the truth. It means for one to dwell in complete freedom in the Dharma, being away from the duality of subject and object.

“If one becomes conscious of the vehicle, there is no vehicle. Once such consciousness subsides, the separation between the vehicle and the vehicle-rider disappears; and this state is truly the One Vehicle. Other vehicles are means to lead those who are of lower capacities. Greed and passion are the mother, basic human ignorance is the father, and it is by these two that the world comes into being. Those who realize this are to be called buddhas.”

The Bodhisattva Mahamati asked the Buddha, “…you once taught that from the time of the Buddha’s enlightenment to the final nirvana not a word will be uttered. Please enlighten us as to what was meant by this.”

To this the Buddha responded, “I taught you thus with two thoughts in mind. First, in relation to the Dharma that I have realized, I have realized the same goal of enlightenment that all the buddhas of the universe have realized. This enlightenment neither increases nor decreases. This wisdom transcends words, discriminations, and names.

“Second, in regard to the Dharma that underlies everything, just as pure gold is found in an ore, whether a buddha appears in this world or not, all that exists has, as its basic nature, the everlasting truth.

“If one continues one’s way along in a wilderness and follows an old path, one may rediscover an old castle. Likewise, I have discovered the everlasting truth of the Dharma that the buddhas of the past had all realized, and I say to you that the nature of the Dharma is everlasting and unchanging. It is for this reason that I taught you that a buddha, from the time of realizing enlightenment up to the time of nirvana, will not utter even a word.”

The Bodhisattva Mahamati then asked the Buddha to teach him about not being concerned with words but taking the meaning seriously.

To this the Buddha answered: “Mahamati, discrimination and the practice of discrimination are the causes of words. A great variety of sounds are produced by the throat, teeth, and lips, and these sounds are used by people to speak to each other.

“In contrast, there is a seeker of the way, who alone in a secluded place directs himself toward enlightenment. In doing so s/he employs three types of wisdom, that is, the wisdoms of listening, thinking, and practicing. S/he is fully aware of the world that we inhabit; extinguishes the defilements within; and practices the various practices on the path of spiritual training.

“Mahamati, those who practice the way to purity must see that words and their meanings are not one nor are they entirely separate. If the meanings and the words were totally different, then the meanings could not be expressed by the words.

“To perceive the meanings through words is like revealing an object by directing a light at it, and it is through the light of words that the realm of enlightenment can be entered. This realm is beyond words.”

Dialogue between the Buddha and Bodhisattva Mahamati

Excerpted from Buddha Dharma – The Way to Enlightenment -Numata Center for Buddhist Translation 2003

“…whether a buddha appears in this world or not, all that exists has, as its basic nature, the everlasting truth.”

“Not a word uttered” is a very early version of an ancient koan, before the word koan was even used as a teaching method.

“It is for this reason that I taught you that a buddha, from the time of realizing enlightenment up to the time of nirvana, will not utter even a word.”

Most of us will stop at that sentence and wonder, realizing, once again, how little we know. This points clearly to the limits of knowledge and reminds us about other kinds of knowing.

The stopping is an important part of the process; we leave business as usual which would be to keep reading or listening as if we get what is being talked about.

The Way of the sages also requires a stretch in the times we find ourselves in….very few experience the luxury of residing in quiet surroundings to contemplate the Dharma.

However, many of us practice alone and face the challenge of attaining enlightenment without relying on anyone’s certification. This becomes one of the koans of modern practitioners.

Thus, we continue on this Way of the sages no matter where we find ourselves and in whatever time we are born into. It has probably always felt this way….

May our intent remain clear and strong,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

Recent Journals