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Non verbal transmission of Dhamma


#1

I know there are some other Buddhists schools which use this transmission as very important. Is there anything in EBT about this?

I am asking because of my personal experiences during retreats with some teachers. Particularly with Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Pasanno there was some sort of radiance, peacefulness which helped me with my meditation, my peace(?)
In a few Dhamma talks I came across similar statements from Ajahns visiting some famous monks (in Thailand?)


#2

I am interested in this question as well. It’s a familiar idea in western social science that we all know more than we are capable of putting into words. Anyone can verify this by simply trying to put into words the process of tying a shoe or catching a ball. It’s not easy to provide anything like an adequate explanation, even for these comparatively simple actions.

Might a system of ethical living, one that operates in all aspects of life, have qualities like that? Certainly. And might the best way to learn them be through watching and spending time with someone who had mastered them? Certainly, I would think. But it’s much more doubtful to me whether this tacit dhamma knowledge has been successfully transmitted from the earliest times. I’m not sure how we could even verify the claim. It’s somewhat more likely, I think, that the tacit knowledge has been found, lost, re-found, and lost again many times over.


#3

I personally haven’t come across anything like the Zen Flower Sermon in the EBTs—where a teacher does something non-verbal that transmits the Dhamma or facilitates a stage of Awakening.

I have, however, seen examples where situations or contemplations of phenomena lead to insight, like in Therigatha 1.17:

Wandering for alms —
weak, leaning on a staff,
with trembling limbs —
I fell down right there on the ground.
Seeing the drawbacks of the body,
my mind was then
set free.

Also in Therigatha 3.4, where a mendicant concentrates her mind after observing an elephant:

…Seeing what was untrained now tamed
brought under human control,
with that I centered my mind —
why I’d gone to the woods
in the first place.


#4

Indirectly we have from MN44:

Verbal processes cease first, then physical, then mental.”

And the following from DN33:

Three demonstrations:
A demonstration of psychic power, a demonstration of revealing, and an instructional demonstration.

We are all familiar with the experience of turning down the sound on YouTube yet still learning something by watching a demonstration. That is an instructional demonstration. And nun Dhammadinna talks about the cessation of verbal processes. They cease first as immersion deepens.

Finally, we have that the Buddha at his death cycled through all the jhanas and more and then died. He could have just died, but instead he gave one last demonstration for us. See SN6.15:

‘Conditions fall apart. Persist with diligence.’”

These were the Realized One’s last words.

Here is his last instructional demonstration:

Then the Buddha entered the first absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the second absorption. Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the third absorption, the fourth absorption, the dimension of infinite space, the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of nothingness, and the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. Then he entered the cessation of perception and feeling.

Then he emerged from the cessation of perception and feeling and entered the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the dimension of nothingness, the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of infinite space, the fourth absorption, the third absorption, the second absorption, and the first absorption.

At this point all watching understood what had happened non-verbally. There was a transmission of the Dhamma.

And then he departed.

Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the second absorption and the third absorption. Then he entered the fourth absorption. Emerging from that the Buddha immediately became fully extinguished.


#5

I appreciate this. Everything is teaching us. But I remember one of Ajahn Brahm (or was it Ajahn Achalo?) talks about visiting one famous monk. He felt such peace and acceptance that didn’t even ask any questions, just sitting in the presence (what apparently annoyed the attending monks - move on, if you don’t have any questions:)


#6

Being able to teach and having deep jhanic attainments are possible for the same monk.

(1) “Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu may be endowed with faith but he is not virtuous … (2) … endowed with faith and virtuous, but he is not learned … (3) … learned, but not a speaker on the Dhamma … (4) … a speaker on the Dhamma, but not one who frequents assemblies … (5) … one who frequents assemblies, but not one who confidently teaches the Dhamma to an assembly … (6) … one who confidently teaches the Dhamma to an assembly, but not an expert on the discipline … (7) … an expert on the discipline, but not a forest-dweller who resorts to remote lodgings … (8) … a forest-dweller who resorts to remote lodgings, but not one who contacts with the body and dwells in those peaceful emancipations, transcending forms, that are formless … (9) … one who contacts with the body and dwells in those peaceful emancipations… SuttaCentral


#7

There are, Ānanda, these eight assemblies. What eight? The assemblies of aristocrats, brahmins, householders, and ascetics. An assembly of the gods of the Four Great Kings. An assembly of the gods of the Thirty-Three. An assembly of Māras. An assembly of Brahmās. I recall having approached an assembly of hundreds of aristocrats. There I used to sit with them, converse, and engage in discussion. And my appearance and voice became just like theirs. I educated, encouraged, fired up, and inspired them with a Dhamma talk. But when I spoke they didn’t know: ‘Who is this that speaks? Is it a god or a human?’ And when my Dhamma talk was finished I vanished. But when I vanished they didn’t know: ‘Who was that who vanished? Was it a god or a human?’


#8

The ‘radiance’(?) and peace are the qualities that You were experiencing ; or Characteristics/signs that You were picking up from the features in your environment i.e being on a ‘spiritual retreat’, being around people who invoke the sign of renunciation and peace.
Clearly those signs or qualities need to be made much of and valued, as I am sure you know but to attribute them to a particular situation or person, or to think that it’s an energy radiating from a place , is to be setting oneself up for disappointment and missing the opportunity to develop those valued qualities in your mind, where they arose.

Of course, one might forget about those qualities if they were not developed and so need some external reminder, something to invoke them again within our mind, but discerning them in our mind is what’s important because that is the developing of them.
When the sign of peace arises(in your mind), all that one should do is discern it, investigate its features and it will be harder to forget, it will become recognised and so you be able to access it again with ease. ( E.g Like someone who abides in the jhanas at will).
It is quite a common that people attribute some special powers to elder monks or famous teachers…or celebrities. Even when that person is doing things which are quite unwholesome.

Relying on a teacher to Grant you peace through magical transmission is wishful thinking and putting oneself in a dangerous position, because this is were abuse of power can take place, or one might get quite jealous that the teacher is not transmitting to you enough peace but instead giving it to someone else etc.
The traditions who claim to pass on the teachings through ‘transmission’ are quite often the ones accused of actually passing on sexually transmitted diseases instead. ( Not that everyone in those traditions are unwholesome of course)

One cannot attain freedom or understanding through osmosis.

I have met many people in Sri Lanka who believe that just being around a monk is purifying their ‘kamma’; they couldn’t care less about what the monk has to say, just as long as he is saying something and is there, that will be good enough for them to attain Nibbana.


#9

I’m not familiar with western social sciences, but I think that if you cannot describe your understanding ( about whatever) in your own words, then you have not understood it, it’s simply not clear to you. Of course this doesn’t mean that others will be able to understand you, but that usually only takes others time to get to know what you mean by the words you use.
The Buddha says that to be able to understand where a person is coming from or what he means, that one should live with that person for 3 months( a while), to question him, to observe his lifestyle so as to understand what he means.

It is common that people who do not have clear understanding, try to hide that fact from others and themselves by saying that their understanding/knowledge is ‘beyond’ words, or that they just don’t have the proper communication skills etc.

If the Dhamma is clear to a person then that person could describe it, it will take time to get to know their meaning bu through persistence things will be clearer.

It is also helpful to write down what you think you know, so that you can see if their are any contradictions or points that don’t fit together or make any sense; in this way one can become clearer with one’s own understanding.
If you cannot write down your thoughts, it’s probably not clear to you what you think. You don’t have to be some great writer to write down what you think.

I have even come across the idea that if you cannot describe the Dhamma ,which is apparent here and now, then it’s because you might be like a pacceka Buddha. As if a pacceka Buddha is some sort of idiot who cannot put a sentence together.

This is why I use this forum app, to describe and to respond with what I think so as to see clearer, also to try and see what others mean.


#10

I’ve listened to more than one recording where Ajahn Brahm tells this story, tho I don’t recall anything abut the reactions of the other monks.


#11

Certainly there are individuals who have a very strong ‘aura’ of peace and tranquility about them.

I knew a lady like this: she had spent many years in intensive retreat in Burma and Sri Lanka (including a long stint in a cave). Although she was full of character, there was also something totally empty about her. Very hard to describe but by simply being around her one’s mind would still (even when discussing very mundane topics).

I wouldn’t call this a transmission of Dhamma, though.


#12

Yet it is not without merit.

They are keeping good company. And probably keeping (accidentally) many of the precepts in such good company. They might eventually also be inspired by example to walk the path.

Compare those people to a westerner who walks around a monk on a street thinking the robed one cultish and weird.

Actually, I would call it a transmission of the Dhamma. When I felt the same around Tanouye Roshi it was startling and humbling. That feeling inspired me to sit and meditate.


#13

Not in words, anyway. But we all know more than we can tell in words. Particularly when it comes to meditation, and to an intuitive understanding of ethical behavior, I think there are probably aspects of the dhamma that are like that, and that need to be cultivated outside textual transmission. This is not necessarily to say that they are transmitted by a flower and a smile, however. Only that non-verbal knowledge is real, and we might pay a considerable price for ignoring it.


#14

I understand what you are saying as I more down to earth kind of guy, less abracadabra magic fairy myself:) But recently trying to stay open to whatever is happening. It is not my wishful thinking of receiving ‘‘radiation’’ but I am talking about my experiences. Two of my friends-practitioners told me they’ve seen ghosts (I think Ajahn Brahm was saying something about it as well). It doesn’t mean that I believe they exist (ghosts not my friends:) but I doesn’t believe they don’t exist. The same with devas, levitating monks or other iddhi powers. So if teachings saying frequently of spreading BV in every direction there is possibility that ,something’’ is spread.


#15

Shame. Osmosis meditation sounds quite interesting:)


#16

What do you mean by non-verbal knowledge?


#17

Well, I don’t think it is easy to write clearly about many things ie feelings (love, despair, hope) or dreams, wind or insights. I guess for some people it is easier than others.

I agree. I do the same and it is interesting to observe the change of my own view after reading other people replies:)

I agree. Actually after a few years of sticking to Theravada I feel a need to check other things. I listened to Thich Nhat Hanh recently and I liked very much his kind of poetic description of emptiness (no-self). It is like looking from different angle (but I am very grateful to have a base in Suttas).


#18

I mean the kind of knowledge you need to catch a ball, to swim, or to paint a beautiful painting. You can read about how to do all of these, but none of them are well-learned by reading. You can only really learn them by trying and failing a whole lot, and then if you work at it you eventually succeed. But even after you succeed, it’s difficult to put your knowledge in words, such that someone could read your words and become as good as you are.

This kind of knowledge is often described as “knowing how.” It differs from the kind of knowledge that we call “knowing that.” An example of this latter kind of knowledge would be something like “George Washington was the first president of the United States.”

Once I’ve told you something in that latter type of knowledge, you know it exactly as well as anyone else on the planet. It’s easily put into words, and you’re done. Both are knowledge, but they’re of two different types.


#19

Not in the sense of an actually invisible ray beam of love or indifference.
Suffusing your mind with certain attitudes in regard to others (including oneself), is what is meant. Since the Dhamma is not for healing the world, it’s for you to get yourself free from suffering.

The idea that one could radiant a beam of upekkha( made of what exactly?) Into another person is comical. What would be the point? Would the beam of peace make the other person free from lust?

One could even ask some of the Ajahns who one might think are beaming Dhamma transmissions,if they are doing that and if they are, then how is it done?

There is a possibility for iddhi, rebirth, etc but we could go on forever with imagined possibilities( that are not mentioned in the suttas). The Buddha, being foremost in teaching the Dhamma, would have explained how to beam a ray, or how to transmit Knowledge ‘non-verbally’…or that there is even such a process.
He could have said " I transmit wisdom non-verbally", at the very least.


#20

It’s not easy to get clear about those things, but if you can imagine beaming rays of Dhamma, then the possibility of becoming verbally clear about feelings or dreams etc through writing about them, describing them in detail etc is not such a leap.
One just needs to persist, and it in no way can become an obstacle for the development of wisdom.

The Buddha encouraged his disciples to question each other and press for the meaning, so that they can uproot all ignorance, not just hang around each other with the HOPE that some intuitive knowledge would emerge and free them…through osmosis-bhavana.