The first chapter “Mindfulness of the Buddha” of the Great Treasury Sutra [Tripitaka] says,
The Buddha told Shariputra, “Those who fail to understand all dharmas are obstructed by words. Therefore the Thus Come One knows that words are evil. Even with very little words, one cannot attain the truth.”
The Buddha was telling the Venerable Shariputra that people cannot understand all dharmas because they are hindered by language. They haven’t emptied their attachment to dharmas. Thus the Buddha knew that all forms of speech are wrong. As long as there are words, they cover up and block our inherent wisdom. Not a single sentence or word is real. While speaking even a word, we still have attachments. “Not one Dharma is established” means there’s not a single word.
People who really know how to recite Sutras can recite not only written Sutras, but also wordless Sutras. Knowing how to read wordless Sutras is truly understanding the Buddhadharma. Reciting written Sutras is just something to keep you busy. The ability to read wordless Sutras is genuine skill. But can you do this? If not, then you have to read written Sutras first before you can understand wordless Sutras. After you understand the wordless Sutras, you need not read written Sutras.
Doing what you know how to do is
What’s difficult is doing what you
don’t know how to do.
That’s what studying the Buddhadharma is like.
What is a wordless Sutra anyway? It’s the state in which “not a single thought arises.” If you can be without a single thought, you naturally return to empty stillness. That’s what the Buddhadharma is all about; there’s nothing else to it. If you can’t be without a single thought, you still need to do meritorious deeds, nurture the good roots of Bodhi, and practice the Bodhi Way. When you have perfected the Six Perfections and the myriad practices, then you will naturally be without a single thought and the state of empty stillness will manifest.
Why did the Buddha deny that he spoke Dharma? Many Sutras and commentaries say this. Did the Buddha speak the Dharma or not? If we say he didn’t, then where did the Avatamsaka Sutra, which we are now lecturing, come from?
If we say he did, then why did the Buddha himself deny having spoken Dharma? If we say the Buddha did speak, we are slandering the Buddha. However, if we deviate from the Sutras by even one word when we explain them, we are engaging in demonic speech. How is this to be explained? Why did the Buddha deny having spoken the Dharma? Because anything spoken cannot express the true meaning. True Dharma cannot be spoken. The Buddha spoke only expedient Dharmas. Although they were used to help reveal the real truth, if the truth could be revealed, it wouldn’t be real.
A talk given on November 22, 1980