Language and silence are two concepts, which are on the opposite sides as they reveal the double nature of the perception of man of the world. The harmony, which is preserved in silence, helps one not to be distorted by the reality of life. According to Bodhidharma, ultimate truth is understood not through verbal explanations but only understanding and acceptance from the heart. Verbal representation includes the product of subjective comprehension where reality becomes distorted (McAra, 2007). It is distorted and changes by the inaccuracy of the human expression where the truth becomes an imaginary concept instead of being a universally systematized thinking.

In Huineng teachings language is an external intermediary code, which is often, fails to be understood. This is because the only way to the comprehension of the truth is through the internal perception of the truth (Quli, 2008). However, language plays its own role and is highly appreciated as a form of realization. Chinul argues that the personal ultimate subjectivity of the Buddhism comprehension is a possible misleading for solipsism, which rejects the ultimate reality. The ultimate subjectivity is the crank link to ultimate subjectivity but not its final destination (Seager, 1999).

Wohyo explains that the transgression of the individual is the burden for the consciousness. It should be realized and removed from one’s mind. Further, analysis of the ethical aspects of the actions of an individual, a human being belief is that there is only right decision. However, individuals do not have ultimate accessibility of ultimate reality and as a result, ethics becomes a conventional notation (Prebish, 2011).  This is the reason why there is a connection between reality and notational objective laws, which form the interrelation between absolute as gist and practical organization of the rules and values (Spuler, 2000).

In conclusion, one can be able to see the interdependence between Zen appreciations of the language and silence realized in individual’s perception, which is distorted by subjectivity of verbal realization. Huatou argues that there is a possibility to overcome this miscomprehension. Codification is the limitation of the inner sense, which is released to understand it properly. The complete comprehension is only possible only after releasing transgression (Rocha, 2006). The reality, which cannot be universally systematized, but should be understood as the nominal formal organization of ethical laws, which should be apprehended only by heart (Vasi, 2004).

The paper discusses Zen Buddhism and its history and its interrelation with modernity and western philosophy.

Zen Buddhism

Zen is a concept of Mahayana Buddhism, which emerged in China about 15 centuries ago. In China, the concept is known as Ch’an Buddhism. Ch’an refers to the Chinese rendering of the Sanskrit word dhyana, which is a concept, which refers as the absorbing of the mind in meditation. Zen on the other hand is a term used by the Japanese of Ch’an (Park J. , 2009). Zen was referred to as Thien in Vietnam and Seon in Korea. To sum it up all, in any language the name could be translated to Meditation Buddhism. .  One has to give up logical thinking to avoid getting tangled up in a spider’s web of words. A human being is made up of different perceptions, which can change from time to time, and from different situations (Park J. , 2008).

Zen History

Zen began as a distinctive school of Mahayana Buddhism when the Indian Sage Bodhidharma taught at the Shaolin Monastery of China. Bodhidharma has thus come to be known as the first patriarch of Zen. Zen Buddhism is a mixture of the Indian Mahayana and Taoism. It developed from China, spread to Korea and Japan and have become very popular in the west from the mid 20th century. The basic essence of Zen is to have an understanding on the meaning of life directly without being influenced by human logical thought or the disruption brought in by language. Zen techniques and tools are compatible to other faiths and for example are used by Christians as they seek the mystical understanding of their faith (Park J. , 2009).

Zen is an intense discipline, which is often regarded to as paradoxical but when practiced properly, will results to total spontaneity and an individual’s ultimate freedom. This however, should not be confused with impulsiveness. A scholar of Buddhism in Britain explained that Zen is a subject, which is extremely easy to misunderstand. For an individual to completely understand the concept of Zen it should experience it rather than merely reading it from words.  The concept of Zen Buddhism is on the basis that all human beings are Buddha and they each have to discover the truth by themselves.  The argument of Buddhism is that individuals cannot learn the truth by philosophizing or thinking rationally, or by studying scriptures or taking part in religious rituals and rites (Seager, 1999). The first step to Zen Buddhism is learning to control our minds through meditation and other techniques and tools, which involve the body, and the mind working together.  One has to give up logical thinking to avoid getting tangled up in a spider’s web of words (Quli, 2008).

A human being is made up of different perceptions, which can change from time to time, and from different situations. A scholar by the name of Hume was of the opinion that you cannot look at the self in isolation but as a combination of external perception and is combined with internal retrospection (Vasi, 2004). He tried to explain this using a comparison of the self and a commonwealth which retains its identity not because of a fixed set of elements but made up of different related elements which are constantly changing.

Another scholar by the name of Dennett’s from many of his published works held an opinion that the self is a center of a type of gravity whereby we are constantly reviewing and changing it depending on the many things and experiences we are undergoing. He attributes the self with the ability to explain and communicate among ourselves (Numrich, 2003). If we were unable to communicate to our self, the self would not exist. He goes on to explain that the self-came about when an individual asked a question about himself but no one was there to answer and as a result he responded to himself there by establishing a link between different parts of the brain (Tweed, 2011).

Attainment of Buddha hood

In Asia, Buddhist theoreticians regarded Buddha hood as the state in which two basic faculties are perfected. These faculties are the noumeral wisdom and the phenomenal wisdom. Noumeral wisdom refers to the wisdom, which is centered to immutable self-nature of suchness. Phenomenal wisdom on the other hand refers to one with perfection of a wide range of spiritual elements, which are important in that self-nature, and use of these spiritual qualities is for the benefit of all sentient beings (Spuler, 2000). There is a general definition to the concept Buddhahood but when Chinese Buddhism is incorporated, many different descriptions of Buddhahood arise. There are four major approaches and categories, which have been singled out to go hand in hand with the four divisions of Mahayana scholastic teachings (McAra, 2007).

The first approach is the Mahayana inception teachings, which refer to the encyclopedic Vijnanavada School, which assumed that Buddhahood is achieved gradually over time. It involves the complex stages of practice but was ignored by the Chinese people, as it did not appeal to their imaginations (Quli, 2008). Second is the final teachings of Mahayana which proposed that all individuals are endowed with an inherent Buddhahood which would be revealed gradually. Attainment of Buddhahood involves attaining and restoring the Buddha-nature and bringing one’s thought and conduct to be in harmony with it. The concept of gradual teachings of Mhayana appealed to the Chinese people and it is the basis of the development of Chinese Buddhist doctrine (Quli, 2008). Thirdly, the sudden teachings of the scriptures, Complete Enlightment Sutra and Surangama Sutra, which advocated that Buddhahood means that it’s a state, which is undifferentiated whereby all words, and thoughts are transcended. To sum it up, if one thought does not arise in mind, which means that all discrimination will be cut off if through for a few seconds, Buddhahood would be restored and attained (Spuler, 2000).  Fourthly is the complete teachings of Avatamsaka Sutra which proposed that Buddhahood is achieved at the commencement of bodhisattva’s career when the stage of bodhisattva of the ten abiding aroused. In this point, the students understand that fruition is already developed. This is possible as the Hwaom concept of the unimpeded interpenetration of all the phenomena in regard to the whole universe is portrayed as a independent network where individual phenomena creates and sustains the very existence of all the other phenomena’s. Due to this ultimate opinion on existence, Budhhahood is the cause as well as the results of continuous practice (Wilson, 2009). Thought, bodhisattva cultivates the remaining stages of the path, his practice is finished when the inception of cultivation is attained. Of all these different approaches to Buddhahood, the complete teachings came to win most adherents among followers due to offering the most sophisticated and thorough description of the process, which involves the attainment of Buddhahood (Spuler, 2000).

Most scholastics seems to be of the opinion that Zen Elightment involved nothing more than the realization of the noumenal nature which goes beyong thought and words, which is a description which is parallel to the sudden teachings. Chinul illustrates that Zen Enlightment involves the awakening and realization of the impeded dharmadhatu, which is the goal of Hwaom practice. Showing that they have the same goal in practice, Chinul realizes that direction of understanding descriptions of Hwaom lies with the practical stance of the Zen school. The thoughts of Li T’ung-hsuan are the ones responsible of linking Hwaom teachings to the Zen teachings (Numrich, 2003). Li’s arguments are that in getting an understanding on the fundamentals of universal brightness, which occurs on the first level of the ten faiths, Buddhahood is attained perfectible. This renders unimportant the developments, which are gradual, attained din the teachings of Mahayana. This is an argument, which is also used by Chinul. As this understanding is the fundamentals and foundation of noumenon and phenomenon, as well as Buddha and sentient beings, there is a identification between the absolute and mundane can be realized.  This realization is identified by nature origination, which Chinul considers superior to the Hwaom theory of the origination, which is conditioned by dharmadhau (Rocha, 2006). When an individual understands and recognizes this identification through the initial awakening of understanding, the state of unimpeded interpenetration of phenomena is realized and Buddahood is instantly achieved (Seager, 1999).

Huayan Buddhism

As a culmination of the phenomena on Chinese Buddhism, Huayan Buddhism has been best viewed through its fourfold view also known as the fourfold realm of reality. The paradigm theorizes the Huayan version of the theory of co-arising dependence, which is illustrated by the relationship between noumenon and phenomena (Park, 2008). The fourfold view explains the nature and structure of existence through its illumination of the relationship between phenomena and noumenon. The fourfold worldview of Huayan Buddhism has been illustrated without clear evaluations of the consequences that the vision entails (Park J. , 2009). The nature of Huayan Buddhism is characterized by the basic Buddhist element of dependency especially in the form of emptiness, which is portrayed by the Madhyamika school of Buddhism. Buddhist traditions argue that the lack of self-nature to sustain an entity which is separated from the other existence. Existence in this case is viewed to as the interrelationship and subjectivity, which is viewed to as inter-subjectivity (Spuler, 2000).

Huayan Buddhism support and advocates for the relationship whch is illustrated by the part and the whole, whereby the part bears no meaning in the absence of the whole. For instance, we take it for granted the fact that the whole body is made up of different parts of the body working as one. Huayan Buddhism argues that one specific part of an individual’s body is the sole cause of the whole body and when given reference, the same is true for all the parts of the body. Several arguments ate implicated by this argument (Spuler, 2000). First, the Huayan paradigm challenges the essentialist view of identity by distorting the demarcations between two different identities. A simple question arise, where does one draw the line between one’s nose and the other parts of the body, which are not the nose. If each of the body parts in an individuals’ body is assumes a separate existence, combine how the whole body can then to get a single object (Wilson, 2009).

This approach argument is that a nose is a separate entity as much as the individual is a separate entity. However, an attempt to draw a dividing line between the nose and other part of the body, which are not the nose, brings out the ambiguity, which is involved in this argument. Along this argument, so does the ambiguity in the division between the self and the non-self. The non-self element of a person existence emerges as a fundamental element of an individual’s identity.  When the Huyan Buddhism argue that a part i.e. the nose is the sole cause of the body, give no implications that the nose s exclusively the only supreme cause for the existence of the body. A nose is the whole reason for the body as a given moment for a given purpose and so is all the other parts of an individual’s body (Prebish, 1999).

Modern Buddhist scholarship has been aware keenly of Huayan tendency bon the element of privileging noumenon and negating phenomena. A claim has been made that Huayan acceptance of the fourth level of mutually non-interfering phenomena as its basis for teaching, they were more interested in the third level of mutual interpenetration between noumeron and phenomena and as such can be contradicted as the basic promise of the school’s doctrine (Spuler, 2000).

Language and Thinking

Traditionally, Zen has been considered strange, a mystical tradition and illogical as it is subjected to various types of misunderstandings and misleading perceptions. At the centre of this confusion is the language element of Zen. Buddha silence is not an indication of the literal silence but is an illustration of the inadequacy of the language (Numrich, 2003). Zen Buddhism best illustrates the importance of silence and this silence is turned into language. The complication lies in the fact that asserting silence by not maintaining silence has been a paradox to Zen Buddhist scholars.  To understand fully Zen Buddhism, there is a need to understand the relationship between silence and language (Park, 2008).

Silence is a word, which can be simply described as absence of noise and sound and as such absence of mention. The range of the deeper meaning that this phrase offers is quite large.  For instance, the absence of can be a representing a sense of happiness or despair, of difference or resistance among others. One can opt to keep quite or can be forced into silence. As such being silent never really means silence. Despite the wide range of meanings, there is the common shared aspect whereby there is silence as a speech act where the object and subject have a gap.  The lack or delay of an immediate verbal response does not properly fit to one’s thought. The Buddhist silence takes a new turn to the word silence to the Zen Buddhist meaning. Zen Buddhism have illustrated the best way to acting out silence, speaking out silence and at the same time denying the use of language (Seager, 1999).

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Silence is described as the absence of sound and noise, the simple dictionary definition.  The silence of Vimalakirti brings out the non-duality of Buddhism philosophy by keeping silence. Zen Buddhism brings out the best acting out silence, which leads to speaking out silence and at the same time achieving the non-use of language. One of the approaches is the non-consideration of the dual nature of the Zen Language and Zen Buddhist attitude become a source of conflicting contentions concerning the use of language in Zen Buddhism (Prebish, 1999). Various questions have been raised about the relationship between language and thinking. Some of those questions consider whether language is a tool to communicate our thoughts or whether it’s merely our thinking. In regards to this, Zen Buddhism in the west can be classified into two approaches; linguistic and the non-linguistic approach (Tweed, 2011).

The linguistic approach in Zen Buddhism rejects the linguistic system. Zen observes a distortion as inevitable when words are used. It considers that enlightment is an experience of human reality, which takes place past the realism of linguistic communication. This approach clearly demonstrates the need to seek pure experience where an individual views himself from the linguistically constructed view of reality of the world (Spuler, 2008).

As far as the linguistic approach is concerned, Zen Buddhism is rejected. From this perspective, Zen looks at distortions as the inevitable use of words to explain one self. Verbal representation includes the product of subjective comprehension where reality becomes distorted. It is distorted and changes by the inaccuracy of the human expression where the truth becomes an imaginary concept instead of being a universally systematized thinking. When an individual tries to represent himself or herself through the use of verbal communication through the use of language, Zen Buddhism perceives this as a distortion of the truth (Spuler, 2000).

Describing an event, will be mixed up with one’s emotion, attitudes, expectation as well as prior knowledge of an event leading to a distorted version of reality. For one to really, observe the realm of reality, there is need for absolute silence when an individual listens to him or herself and block out the world’s perception (Vasi, 2004).  When a reality goes through the human expression, it becomes more of an imagination due to the high rate of distortion from the truth. Zen Buddhism advocates that for reality to be understood, an individual needs to be one with the world. The process and practice of Buddhism takes a gradual process and might takes a long time for it to be mastered. The students being trained for Zen Buddhism at times is exposed to violence to ensure that they grasp the principle of silence and concentration (Quli, 2008).

The non-linguistic view rather than accepting the use of language develops its own language that has been referred to as a monastic language game. Scholars have argued that in this approach, language is a non-optional part of our life. They propose that rather than the western language interpretation of the Zen experience, the monastic language game should be adopted. This is where Zen enlightment is an undistorted pure experience of reality beyond the shaping power of language.  This approach not only illustrates the role of language in Zen enlightment but the special role it plays. Language is allocated the role of forming commonality and shaping the concerns of the awakening (Vasi, 2004).

These illustrations range from the complete denial of the use of language to the full acceptance of it. The linguistic and the non-linguistic approaches explain different stages of use of Zen language in Zen practice. The non-linguistic approach is mainly concerned with the role of language during enlightment where on the other hand the linguistic approach focuses on the role of language in the process of attainment of enlightment. However, our focus is not the distinction between the two approaches rather in the fact that the two contradictory understanding when it comes to the role of language in Zen Buddhism are not mutually exclusive rather that they coexist in the various Zen discourses (Quli, 2008). This is a cause of confusion to Zen scholars when it comes to the understanding on the role of language and its place in Zen Buddhism.  This confusion is not a modern element but has been a difficulty facing traditional Zen scholars.

 For instance, the definition of Zen Buddhism by Bodhidharma is a special interaction outside words and letters and directly pointing towards the human mind. This view and definition has been repeatedly as proof to Zen’s school rejection of the linguistic system.  The history of the evaluation of Zen Buddhism has numerous examples of expressions, which support the negative evaluation of language and its role in Zen Buddhism. However, there are issues, which are dismissed when one chooses to accept this view of linguistic system. First is that the rejection of a linguistic system in Zen Literature is mostly accompanied by a complete acceptance of the system (Rocha, 2006).

According to Bodhidharma, the ultimate truth is beyond words. As such, theories and doctrines are only words and not the way. The way is wordless originally. In this view, the linguistic expressions are merely illusions the like experienced in dreams at night (Numrich, 2003). In this view, the non-linguistic approach will offer a solid ground for the argument. The truth is beyond linguistics with the basis that language is a s unreliable as the things experienced when dreaming. However, Bodhidharma also says that there is no language, which is a not Buddhist teaching. The stand here is that liberation is the originally nature of language and as such cannot cause attachment. This contradiction as to the function of language is also present in Diamond Sutra, a major text in Zen Buddhism. This is also in the text Heart Sutra. Both texts identify acting out in silence by refuting language. A linguistic expression must therefore contain within itself the other part where articulation cannot be brought forth by language as the function of language is based on its capacity to make distinctions. Secondly is the issue of why language is considered unreliable in Zen tradition (Tweed, 2011).

Zen Hermeneutics

In the Zen Buddhist discourse, there are two themes, which seem to occur repeatedly. This is language and violence. Language as discussed above is a major element in understanding Zen Buddhism and has played a major role in constructing the Zen identity. Violence however seems hidden and many scholars have not studied it despite the fact that the narrative of violence is dominating in Zen Buddhism literature (Numrich, 2003). Non-killing therefore non-violence is the first element for both lay and ordained Buddhist practitioners to observe. It is also commonly shared across different Buddhists schools (Vasi, 2004).

There are several examples of violence in Zen Buddhism literature. There is a legend that Bodhidharma once dozed off in his meditation. He was so upset at this that he cut off his eyelids to ensure that this would never happen again. All portraits of Bodhidharna describe him with big eyes and no eyelids.  This violence was interpreted and symbolically translated to the features and importance of the rigorous meditation practice. Another violence case inn Zen Buddhism is the story of Huike, the appointed Second Patriarch of Zen school. In an effort to illustrate his resolution to receive the teachings from Bodhidharma, he cut off his left arm and presented it to Bodhidharma (Numrich, 2003).

Zen Buddhism, Modernity and Western Philosophy

Since the entrance of Zen Buddhism in the Western world, the ethical element of Zen Buddhism has become a deeply discussed issue. There have arguments that there is a need for a clearer blueprint on social issues and as such a demonstration of the its appropriateness as an ethical concept for this tradition to be sustainable and accepted in the west (Spuler, 2000). James Whitehill for instance, argues that Buddhism must demonstrate a more moral form and appropriate ethical strategy, which can be found among the western representatives and interpreters for its success in the Western world.  It is still debatable on the importance of ethics for the survival and prosperity of Buddhism in the Western world (Spuler, 2000).

The most common element and basis of Zen Buddhism is that very sentient human being is the Buddha.  The meaning behind this is that every sentient human being is Buddha and every Buddha is sentient. A concern for the meaning of ethical has become a debate in the twentieth century because of technological advances.  Occasional interactions have been occurring between the Western civilization and the Buddhist world. With the colonization of the Western world to Buddhist countries in Asia, it led to increased interactions between the two cultures.  The earliest known encounter is when Alexander the Greta conquered most of Central Asia interacting with Buddhism in India, which led to the development of Greco-Buddhism (Seager, 1999).  The finest example of the interaction of the Western World and Buddhism is the Great Stupa of Sanchi in India. It was constructed in the 3rd century BCE and later improved and enlarged. This included Toran, what has become to be considered the finest example of Buddhist in India (Rocha, 2006).

Buddhism has been accused of lacking an adequate ethical strategy when it comes to social issues and developed through misinterpretation led by Western philosophers which culminate Hegel’s recasting of non-substanntialist position which can be see through the lens of metaphysics.  Park as discussed above tries to see Zen ethics by looking it through Huayan phenomenology and a proposal of dialogue.  These discussions have been to bring Buddhism as close as possible to the Western Philosophical discussions and debate on ethics. The discussion has helped put light to the problems, which have been encountered when Buddhism has met with the West (Rocha, 2006). There is also a discussion of violence as the two generations of scholarship on Zen in the west.  One pinion is romanticing it a bit while the other try to put it down. The problem, of ethics and where Buddhism in particular Zen due to the challenge to dualistic categorization and antinomiam tendency.  In trying to deal with this problem, there is a defense on the postmodern philosophy. For Buddhism to be accepted in the Western World and to become sustainable there is a need to define the ethical standing it takes especially when it comes to social issues (Quli, 2008).

Buddhism and Mindfulness

Our Internal understanding of the mental processes is a factor affecting our relationship with different element within us and surrounding us. When we are able to alter our views and perceptions about the working of the brain, we have the power to change how the brain views and handle different situations facing us (Tweed, 2011). When we have a clear understanding of the working of a system it will be very easy to change how it works because the procedures involved in its working we will be able to understand. In the case of the brain, when we look at the brain with depth, an understanding on how it works and clarity, it becomes possible to alter and change its perceptions intentionally and this will affect greatly our personality, emotions and way of dealing with different situations (Spuler, 2000). This process involves the way we can channel our attention and focus on the energy flow within the brain, how the information we feed to the brain is internalized, and the patterns within the brain will be changed (Spuler, 2000).

When an individual acquire this new skill of manipulating and changing the brain, we can easily disengage the brain from what we do not want it to process. For example, one can keep the brain of negative thought and use positive information to ensure that the brain only thinks positively. Thus, self-defeating behavior will not have a chance to develop in the brain (Vasi, 2004). The brain can easily differentiate the negative thoughts and emotions and the positive thoughts that is entered into the brain and eliminate the negative emotion and emphasis on the positive emotions.

When we get the distinction of the positive and negative thoughts, and how to differentiate the two thoughts and enforce them; put emphasis on the positive ones and eliminate the negative ones, we have acquired the formula for changing the brain and we are thus in control (Vasi, 2004). We will have the power to overcome bad habitual patterns such as substance abuse, procrastination, negative autobiography narratives, self-defeating behavior patterns etc. Being in control of our brain will enable us to avoid the mental processes that are negative, which often enslaves our minds to thoughts of the past while still worrying about tomorrow and forgetting to deal with the present. This is the first element and step I mindfulness, which creates awareness of the bottom up experiences and the top down process of our narrative minds (Spuler, 2000).


Zen Buddhism is a concept which is becoming widely practiced in different parts of the world other that where it originated from. The concept originated in China, spread to Japan, India and Korea.  The practice of Zen Buddhism involves the understanding of the meaning of life without being biased by human emotions or being interrupted by language. Zen is an intense discipline, which is often regarded to as paradoxical but when practiced properly, will results to total spontaneity and an individual’s ultimate freedom (McAra, 2007). The concept of Zen Buddhism is on the basis that all human beings are Buddha and they each have to discover the truth by themselves.  The argument of Buddhism is that individuals cannot learn the truth by philosophizing or thinking rationally nor by studying scriptures or taking part in religious rituals and rites (Prebish, 1999). The first step to Zen Buddhism is learning to control our minds through meditation and other techniques and tools, which involve the body, and the mind working together.  One has to give up logical thinking to avoid getting tangled up in a spider’s web of words. A human being is made up of different perceptions, which can change from time to time, and from different situations.

Zen Buddhism is being practiced in the Western world. The practices and techniques of Buddhism can be used in professional counseling, where by the patients can be taken through the techniques, which are under the right instructor. This can be used to help the patient review his brain and be able to eliminate the negative thoughts from his mind and reinforce and encourage the positive thought, which will lead to the development of up lifting beliefs and behaviors (Quli, 2008). This process involves the way we can channel our attention and focus on the energy flow within the brain, how the information we feed to the brain is internalized, and the patterns within the brain will be changed. Its acceptance in the west is dependent on its description and understanding on ethics and its ethical position on social issues. The paper discuses Zen Buddhism, its organ and practice and how it is practiced (Quli, 2008). It also describes the interrelation of Zen Buddhism and ethics and importance of the social standing of the concept on ethics for its sustainability in the western world.  Reality and its distortions by language and human emotions is also discussed. It illustrates the importance of silence in the practice of Zen Buddhism.

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