Reading the Book without Words
(Translated by Transn and Edited by Kaer)
There are three types of books. The first one is with words, such as newspapers, magazines, journals, and other publications, both paper and on line. The second is with symbols, such as sculptures, paintings, and music. The third kind includes everything in nature. The so-called “book without words” refers to all images and things in nature with neither words nor symbols.
The most esoteric of the three books is the one without words but the simplest is the one with words. People with low spiritual natures can only read books with words but only people with high spiritual natures can read the book without words. What the Gods, Buddha, Celestial beings, and saints read is the book without words. The sixth Zen Patriarch, Huineng was illiterate but became the Patriarch because he could read the book without words. Therefore, if a person wants to become a master, a Celestial Being, or Buddha, they must read the book without words. Reading things, phenomena, and people is reading the book without words; let us try to read it.
A person with body odor or halitosis (bad breath) might not be aware of it. When we eat garlic or green onions, we do not smell them ourselves, but others will smell them and will know it. The natures and attributes of things give off their corresponding smells. Those who have smelled or eaten durian know it by its smell. We can learn this truth from the book without words: The essence is revealed from the phenomenon. For instance, if we want to know a person’s nature, we can learn their internal natural structure from what they have said and done before.
Many allusions in Chinese history are full of wisdom, such as the relationship between Su Dongpo and Master Foyin. Su Dongpo always wanted to outsmart Master Foyin, but he never succeeded. Once, Master Foyin told Su Dongpo that he looked like a statue of Buddha, but Su Dongpo replied that Master Foyin looked like a heap of cow dung. To this, Master Foyin just smiled and walked away silently. Su Dongpo thought he had taken the upper hand this time, so he joyfully told his smart sister Su Xiaomei about it when he got home. Hearing this, Su Xiaomei said, “You are utterly defeated this time. Because Master Foyin has Buddha in his heart, he sees a statue of him in you, but you have a heap of cow dung in your heart, so you see that in him”.
Nature reveals what it is. The benevolent see benevolence and the wise see wisdom. A person who is filled with love can feel nature’s love and others’ love, but a person with no love in their heart can never feel your love regardless of how much you show it. Those who always compliment others have rich and beautiful spirits and souls, but those who always demean, mock, criticize, insult, and attack others, and who always speak badly about them, both to their faces and behind their backs, most clearly have ugly souls and extremely poor spirits.
Speaking well of others shows that one is good but speaking ill of others shows that one is not. Flowers always emit lovely fragrances wherever they are but dog droppings always give off undesirable stench in spite of their surroundings. One who accuses others of heresy exposes that they themself are heretical. As with Su Dongpo, he had cow dung in his heart, so he saw Master Foyin as such. Therefore, people should not care about others comments and judgements. Flies and mosquitoes will consider you disgusting because they are disgusting but butterflies will find you beautiful because they are beautiful.
An artist painted a picture which he believed to be fairly good but he wanted to know how people would react to it, so he left his picture in a public place with a brush and some ink next to it and wrote on top of the painting, “Please point out any faulty strokes in this painting”. At day’s end, he recovered his painting, but the painting was completely different. Each stroke was criticized as being faulty. The painter was so sad and distressed that he barely slept that night, but the next day he painted the exact same picture as before and took it back to that same public place, except this time he wrote, “Please point out the superb artistry of this painting”. At the end of the day, the painting was again completely different, except that now all the comments described its elegance and beauty. He sighed with emotion: “The good or bad of the painting was determined by the viewer’s state”. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Quantum mechanics also explains the same principle. The movements of fundamental particles are decided by the consciousness of the persons watching them. The Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto found that the structures of pure ice crystals can be shaped by the mentalities of people observing them. If the observer’s heart is full of love or if the freezing water is exposed to positive emotions, such as love or gratitude, or to music, prayers, or art, the ice crystals become symmetric and perfect, but if the observer’s heart is filled with hate or if the water is exposed to negativity such as mean words or destructive images, they appear very disorderly and irregular.
Therefore, we should not be affected by others’ comments about ourselves or we will be fooled. The Pygmalion (or Rosenthal) effect on psychology illustrates this point well. People develop in line with others’ suggestions and expectations. We must only be committed to ourselves and ignore other people’s comments in order to live out our own lives. If someone accuses you of being mentally disordered, just smile and do not get upset, for it is they who are mentally disturbed, but if someone praises you as being a saint, do not be blindly proud, for it is they who are the saint.
Let us read the book without words as such.
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