SuttaCentral

Speechless


#1

There is in MN44 a rather remarkable question:

But ma’am, which cease first for a mendicant who is entering the cessation of perception and feeling: physical, verbal, or mental processes?

NOTE: The cessation of perception and feeling is the eighth liberation. There are no more (DN33).

And the answer is:

Verbal processes cease first, then physical, then mental

Exciting stuff! :speak_no_evil:


Putting suttas and liberation aside, I am curious about being the experience of being speechless. I’m curious because I think many of us here might in fact have experienced speechlessness in some form or the other.

There is the one kind of speechlessness standing naked in our minds in front of a crowd, struck dumb in stage fright. I think perhaps too many of us have felt this at some time or another. Yet there are other forms of speechlessness as well. I’ll share one.

I’m a bit obsessive and climbing is immersive emotionally, mentally and physically. On a difficult climb, one needs everything working together in perfect fusion and harmony, working with maximal effort to reach the top. This is candy for the obsessive. It is, well, addictively immersive. It is so immersive that it is common to see a climber blanked out and spent from effort, emulating a wet noodle slapped on the floor.

I had been working on a very difficult climb for weeks and it was elusive and always just a bit too hard. But one day it did not elude. One day everything clicked together, and I disappeared and the climb was done. Just after, my friends asked me, “Cool! How was that?” And I turned to them and smiled enthusiastically and said. Nothing.

I was speechless. I was perfectly aware and present, perceiving senses and feelings, but the names of things had evaporated. I could make sounds like “ooohhhh. aahhhh. errmmm. yeahh.” But I could not articulate let alone summon the name of anything. So I waved my hands and laughed and there were hugs and high fives and lots of mute shrugs. Later, after a minute or so I was able to think profoundly, “Doohickey frubjub globbledy” or somesuch. In other words, I knew the shape of what I wanted to say but not the names, not the words. Shortly thereafter I did say. “It was great. You should try it.”

So I am curious about how others have experienced this oddest of sensations. How have you experienced being speechless?

NOTE: Monastics please observe precepts here, but please do post of non-meditative speechlessness so that we can all understand that common experience and render it less mystical. I have other experiences to share and I’m sure we all do. The purpose of this post is to align experiences to vocabulary so that we start from common experience and agreement rather than dispute. Speechlessness is simply the cessation of verbal processes. The experience of speechlessness is not an attainment in everyday life. In fact, it makes us look foolish. :pray:

Lastly, if nobody posts, this post will have rendered us all speechless. Wait! What? :grin:


#2

I did a 2-month solitary years ago, and forgot how to talk. Does that count? :yum:


#3

Was it different from shorter retreats?


#4

:open_mouth: How long did it take you to be able to speak? Were you able to understand what was spoken to you at first? Did the words form in your head or was it simply a physical inability?
I get the slightest hint of this after meditation.


#9

I think this refer to the stopping of Vitakka and Vicara.


#10

It took me a couple of weeks to remember how to string sentences together again in a coherent manner. The words were mostly there, knowing how to put them together was the problem. I only had cows to talk to on the solitary, they were great listeners. :yum:

I’ve also done a number of silent retreats with others, very helpful in calming the mind and being more aware of others’ needs.


#11

Yes, definitely. I wonder what it would like after a 6-month solitary.


#12

Perhaps. This is what I am trying to understand. Our understanding is informed by experience. And for us to understand each other without dispute, there must be shared experiences we can agree on.

For example, the world has told me I am good at math and verbal processes. The Buddha did not talk about math. He talked about verbal processes. And here a difficulty arises. When I do math, do verbal processes cease? Think about this very very carefully.

Here’s an example of the difficulty.

In the morning I make oatmeal with six spoons of dry oatmeal. I can make this oatmeal in three ways.

  1. I can say the words “one, two, three, …”
  2. I can mentally see the numbers “1,2,3,…”
  3. I can just measure out six being mindful of nothing at all but making oatmeal.

We are talking about making oatmeal, not attainments, so there should be no dispute about this. Perhaps arahants have other ways of making oatmeal (putting aside any precept on food preparation). For me there are three.

So are all these verbal processes? I don’t think so.

  1. Using words “one, two, three…” is a verbal process. I think we can all agree to this!
  2. Seeing the numerals “1,2,3,…” is a little trickier. I’m using math. They don’t let you into engineering university just on high verbal scores. You need high math scores. So now here we start wandering away from established convention into sutta land. Conventionally, counting is not a verbal process. In sutta land I would say that seeing 1,2,3 is simply another language, because I can also count oatmeal seeing “ein, zwei, drei” or “uno dos tres”. Seeing words or numbers is for me a verbal process. With this argument, I feel and think we also could all agree without dispute.
  3. Just making oatmeal is however a different class of activity. If I am mindful I can do this every morning. If I am unmindful I fail at the measurement. There are no words. There are no numbers. So what then do we call this mindful measuring? I call it just making oatmeal.

This is actually what I’m trying to understand by this post. Do others have experiences of speechless awareness doing anything? From Whippet’s post, I gather yes. Whippet was one with the cows and the gentle mindfulness of just being.

:cow2: :cow2: :cow2: :cow2: :cow2: :cow2:


#13

If you are in action in which ever way you have Vitakka and Vicara. ie: Speach. Without speach you can’t have any action.


#14

There is a deeper level of verbal processes in the mind. My studies in this area are now decades out of date, but look up stuff in neuro-linguistics.

Basically, the initial learning of language , determines to a large extent how we think and perceive and even conceive. The types of identification and grouping of things cognised, lead to literal physical programming of the brain.

So when speaking about verbal or pre-verbal, it is much deeper than speech in a particular language.

If one has learned another language to a very high (natural usage) level, one can notice that certain concepts don’t exist etc. That organisation of language actually also organises thinking…

Anyway, as I said my ifo is out of date, there are likely people on the forum more knowledgeable than I, or a quick search of literature would be informative.

And of course all of the many other levels that individuals are aware of and have experienced :slight_smile:


#15

Vitakka: …about to burst into a verbal thought
Vicara: the underlying facility to pontificate

A running commentary on what is happening is verbal thought. If it was said out loud it would be ‘talking to oneself’. I think any symbolic (words, numbers) thought would be ‘verbal’ thought.
We often think of thoughts as our self. In the first jhana talking ceases but an attenuated form of verbal thought is present and this is best understood by experiencing each jhana factor by ‘zooming in’ into each of them.

‘Muttering under the breath’ shows that sometimes we can be unconscious of our conceptual thoughts.


#16

This is very interesting and the first I have seen speech/action linked. And it contradicts my climbing experience of action without being able to speak.

We also have the case of walking meditation that involves action, but from which I emerge with little inclination to say anything.

Please help me understand? This is new to me.

For me learning a language is the exercise of mapping new names to old forms, sometimes creating new forms as needed to suit the language. I learned German in college to help me understand this mental process. It literally gave me a new Weltanschaung.

This leads to a natural definition that verbal processes revolve around naming. When I count when I make oatmeal, I summon the names “one, two, three”. Even with math seeing 1,2,3, it is the same. It is name summoning form.

When I’m just making oatmeal, there is no naming. The mind is placed in the oatmeal form and oatmeal happens. If I make oatmeal in this way and you ask me how many more spoons more I need to go, I would NOT be able to answer you. I just stop when there is “enough”. Indeed, in order to attend to your question, I would have immediately lost track of where I was. Oatmeal would break as the mind would no longer be placed in oatmeal. If on the other hand, you ask me how many more when I am counting using verbal processes, I would immediately say “2” and keep counting. This subtle difference I find puzzling. Counting ceases but I “know the place to stop”.

It’s like when brushing our teeth we know when to stop. If I asked you how many brushstrokes you had done so far, you might roll your eyes at me for being annoying and you might be annoyed because you wouldn’t know how many brushstrokes. If our verbal processes are engaged with anything while brushing teeth, it’s probably the day’s events past, present or future. But if we are just brushing teeth, there no chatter, just the doing. No counting, no naming, just brushing. This is the exhortation during retreat, the exhortation to be mindful in the doing.

When speechless after climbing exertion I was nowhere near “about to burst.” This is what made it so funny to me that I barely understood the question (“How was it?”) and could not figure out any response. It felt exactly the same as if someone had said to me, “You will now fly as I am doing”.


Probably the most interesting thing about the above is that if we have some disagreement on the definition of “verbal processes” in the context of everyday activity, how could we then discuss the suttas with any precision?


#17

Is this similar to driving a car?
Some times you drive a car many killo meters without knowing that you are driving.


#18

But we talk in the car while driving, so, perhaps this is different? I literally could not communicate, but I had been engaged in immersive action when I lost that ability to speak. It was as if I put my “speech jacket” on the floor and lost it for a while. I would guess that talking to marathon runners at the finish line would be similarly difficult.


#19

"When a monk is attaining the cessation of perception and feeling, friend Visakha, verbal fabrications cease first, then bodily fabrications, then mental fabrications.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.044.than.html


#20

Pethaps this could be a state without verbal fabrication but only the bodlyfabrication similar to breathing (bodly fabrication)


#21

Yes, I think that is how it felt to me. It felt like the verbal fabrication was lost and had to be found again after much fumbling around. I literally could not fabricate anything verbal. The bodily fabrication was busy breathing and waving its hands. And the mental fabrication had much to share but the words just were not there.

This happened to me rarely and always took an immense, immersive, exhausting effort.

Are the verbal fabrications the same as the verbal processes?


#22

I would say no.
In first Jhana speach ceases but there is Vitakka and Vicara.
In second Jhana Vitakka and Vicara ceases. The way I understand the verbal fabrication ceases in the second Jhana.


#23

Hmm. Wait. We are both quoting MN44? Here is Bhante Sujato’s translation:

13.1“How many processes are there?”“Kati panāyye, saṅkhārā”ti?
13.2“There are these three processes.“Tayome, āvuso visākha, saṅkhārā—
13.3Physical, verbal, and mental processes.”kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro, cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

Perhaps we are both referring to vacīsaṅkhāro?

This is how Bhante Sujato proceeds to V&V:

First you place the mind and keep it connected, then you break into speech. That’s why placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes.
Pubbe kho, āvuso visākha, vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati, tasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro.

And the cessation of verbal processes is translated as:

Verbal processes cease first, then physical, then mental.”
“Saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ samāpajjantassa kho, āvuso visākha, bhikkhuno paṭhamaṃ nirujjhativacīsaṅkhāro, tato kāyasaṅkhāro, tato cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

If I lost my speech, I literally could not “place my mind to speak”. I wonder if we can say that? It was almost as if I had to relinquish my speech so that I could climb a very difficult climb. And after I relinquished it I could not find it. I had mis-placed it.

This would help my practice because now I could understand how to meditate until my speech disappeared as it had with climbing.


#24

Agree.