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Dogen’s 8th Awareness:  Not Engaging in Vain Talk


Flee the chit chat with others,

except as an act of charity.

Love people very much.

Talk with few.

Talk with moderation.

Put nothing or no one between

you and the Source.

Do not let the love for the creature

get in the way of love for the Source.


Love, in a Disciplined Way.

Compilation of Zen Buddhism and Katherine of Siena, 14th C.


This advice is at the heart of love, discipline and fleeing vain talk. If only we could remember, that vain talk aggravates the mind and leads to suffering. AND that…fleeing the chit chat of vanity is an act of charity. Chit chat gets in the Way of love for and from the Source.

What would it be like to speak from the Source, from the immutable, Supreme eternal?

When I contemplate this Awareness, I imagine Dogen’s 13th century world.  I imagine it to be very quiet.  No planes overhead, no background traffic sounds, no pushing a button to get a movie or TV show, no phones to call someone anytime day or night to talk to.  It sounds wonderful, the silence which quiets the mind.

During this pandemic, however, many of us are struggling with staying put; not jumping into our cars to go somewhere.  In Dogen’s time most people lived their whole lives not leaving the place where they were born or if they went somewhere, they walked.  So, in this ‘silent’ world, what was the vain talk Dogen wanted people not to engage in?

I don’t think he was saying ‘don’t talk.’  I think he was saying don’t engage in gossip, demeaning or condemning talk. Don’t get caught up in opinions or judgments.  This kind of talk must have been as present in the 13th century as it is now.  This talk is all about ‘me-my-mine.’  This kind of talk engages us in picking and choosing…right or wrong…good or bad, making judgments, reaching conclusions.  We take a stand and make our mind small and stingy. We speculate about the future and yearn for past that lives only in our minds.

What I think Dogen is encouraging us to do, is to talk from awareness.  Pay attention to the words that come out of our mouths.  To paraphrase a line from the movie Bambi:

‘…if you can’t say something

inspiring, comforting, encouraging,

sobering, enriching, unselfish,

informing, clarifying, questioning,

wise or nice,

don’t say anything at all.’

This is where we start, better to step away from ‘me-my-mine’ talk, than be a blow hard of opinions. We stop the worrying about whether it is the right thing to say…the worrying about what someone else thinks about what we say.

It releases us from wanting to look smarter…wanting to impress…wanting to have the last word.  We are free to concentrate and focus on what is right in front of us…not looking backward to defend or to the future to protect.

In this last Awareness, Dogen is doing what he did in his seven other teachings. He is encouraging, exhorting us to be aware. Right here, right now.  He wants us to have few desires, be content, enjoy quiet, be diligent, remember, meditate and concentrate, be wise and watch how we talk.  Unless or until we do this, we are stuck in the material world.

Without continually practicing these Awarenesses there is no ‘jumping clear.’  Without practicing these Awarenesses we cannot begin to study the self in order to forget the self to be awakened by myriad things.

Dogen shows us eight ways to know deeply that whatever comes into our lives comes to awaken us. It is a simple teaching. Flee the chit chat, the vain talk with others, showing off what we know or how to do something, blowing our own horn, or lording it over someone else with the latest news or the most entertaining gossip.

It is love to stop our babbling. We stop the babble and love in a disciplined Way not in the way of the material realm of fascinating subjects or juicy gossip, or the latest bad news.  We keep our nose out of others business. We offer succor when asked. We offer our words from the higher source of knowledge and not from our puny ideas and beliefs.

It’s a practice. A disciplined practice which is difficult to do, but not impossible. Discipline, our restraint of our mouth, is needed to do this practice. My encouragement is for each of us to consider it and begin to use our self-control. To watch how we often jabber needlessly and feel sickened afterwards. This is love – and to love in a disciplined Way.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

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