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Discussing the Dharma, as on this site -- looking for and sharing information -- is it really beneficial or could it be a waste of time or even counterproductive?

Several quotes come to mind, e.g. this one from Wumen Huikai:

The instant you speak about a thing, you miss the mark.

and of course, Fen Yang:

When you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough. When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much.

From this and other sources (like Chogyam Trungpa's warnings about spiritual materialism) one might conclude that spending time on a site like this could be a path to illusion and a way to develop the subtle "enlightened" ego.

What are the dangers of discussing Dharma on an online forum? How could it be worthwhile, if "speaking about a thing misses the mark" and "even one word is too much"?

  • Thank you all for your help here <3 ^_^ You were amazing ^_^ – bbozo Jan 30 '17 at 17:52
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Both quotes you cite come from the Chan/Zen tradition. It is very typical for Chan to emphasize "transmission beyond scripture" and "silent illumination". Not all of Buddhism is like that though.

Gautama Buddha for example spoke about Dharma for 40 years. Tibetan Buddhists wrote hundreds of volumes about Madhyamaka, Tantra and Lam Rim (Stages of the Path). Even Chan/Zen masters themselves left a massive library of texts - koan collections, sutras, treatises, commentaries, lecture drafts etc.

Why talk about Dharma at all? As Buddha taught, the more we give our attention to something -- the more our mind gets tuned to that -- the more it becomes part of how we see the world -- the more it shapes our thoughts and actions. So the idea is, at least in theory, that the more we talk about Dharma, the more it penetrates our minds and actions.

At the same time, Buddha himself compared Dharma to a raft. It is useful as a vehicle for taking you to the other side - but once you are there you don't have to carry it with you. In fact, holding on to the raft could be an obstacle to one's Unbinding. In other words, obsession with Dharma could easily become Anti-Dharma. There are examples documented even in Pali Canon of people quarreling about particular Dharma point with Buddha having to step in and teach non-attachment to views. Second Anuruddha Sutta (A 3.128) shows how thinking about Dharma can go contrary to fulfilling Dharma in practice. The Theravada tradition warns about getting lost in quasi-dharmic intellectual proliferation, what they call "papanca".

This is exactly the same point Chan masters emphasize. The period when Prajnaparamita and Chan developed was the time when people obsessed over the raft. The Abhi-dharma movement chewed the original suttas to the bone - and came up with what they thought was a neat distillation of Dharma - the matrikas (bulletpoint lists) of Four Truths, Three Poisons, Four Efforts, Five Skandhas, Sixteen Levels of Knowledge and so on and so forth. Several centuries after Buddha's Parinirvana, people started grasping onto the specifics and missing the forest behind the trees. Some schools seriously argued how many dharmas the world is made of, 76 or 89.

As a reaction to this extreme, there emerged the Mahayana tradition - spearheaded by the Prajnaparamita movement - whose entire method is built on the contrast between the literal meaning of the teaching, with what it points to in the actual practice. At the same time, both at the peak of Chan's popularity and today, students keep on studying texts and Chan Masters keep on giving the Dharma lectures. Knowledge of Buddhist fundamentals, in their basic conceptual form, was and remains a prerequisite for receiving the more advanced instruction.

Tibetan Buddhists go as far as to say there are in fact two Dharmas - Dharma of Transmission and Dharma of Realization. Transmission consists of memorizing and passing on the texts of the three baskets: Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma - or more broadly the conceptual aspect of Buddhism. Realization is the actual training in Discipline, Meditation, and Wisdom - as they apply to one's daily life. The two relate as getting the map and walking the path. While mere owning the map does not get you anywhere, without the map the next generation would simply have no idea which way to go.

Another way to see this, while Buddhism teaches "liberation through wisdom" (liberation from what? wisdom about what?) not everyone can jump straight from Avici Hell to Nirvana-with-no-remainder, not everyone even wants to - so there is gotta be a way to motivate people who are not exactly on the right track. This is another reason Dharma of Transmission is necessary.

This is kinda how I myself see this site: while it can't replace a face-to-face apprenticeship with a live master, at least it can provide inspiration and positive motivation to people who have no idea what Buddhism is even about. If in addition to that it can clarify some confusion for more advanced students and point them in the right direction, I will feel verily gratified :)) One of my biggest pains growing up was overuse of upaya by teachers I learned from - mostly due to my own bad karma - so the vow I gave to myself is to share liberating realization and basic sanity openly to help new people avoid pain and confusion I went through.

Anyway, to come back to your quote, The instant you speak about a thing, you miss the mark. - I believe this refers not as much to the horrible dangers of speaking (after all you can totally "miss the mark" while staying perfectly silent!) - as to the fundamental confusion between reality and its models. Our mind keeps on building these models trying to understand reality based on our past experience - but as we project the model back onto reality we see the pant monsters we ourselves created - not the actual reality! Attachment, aversion, and reification of such mind-made phantoms - and the mental/verbal/physical action based on these three - is the fuel that feeds the fire of Samsara. Liberation from suffering caused by such phantoms, through understanding the nature of mind, is the main point of everything I am talking about here, and when it comes to this basic point,

when you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough. When you have realized [this] understanding, even one word is too much.

It's not like understanding this point makes you instantaneously Enlightened - there is still a lifetime of practice, overcoming one's reification/attachment habits - but at least knowing this you can relax about the whole thing and not feel like a donkey chasing the carrot of Nirvana while secretly hating this world.

Of course if all we do is talk about Buddhism in the way of entertainment while holding on to our models in the daily life - we would be totally missing the mark.

  • Sorry: "the pant monsters" is funny but was that what you intended to write, or a spelling mistake? – ChrisW Jan 11 '16 at 15:15
  • That's what I meant, pant monsters - like when a child imagines a monster and projects it on the pants hanging on chair? – Andrei Volkov Jan 11 '16 at 15:50
  • okay! :-) I hadn't seen that expression before: I'm used to "monsters under the bed". – ChrisW Jan 11 '16 at 16:02
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    that's because I made it up – Andrei Volkov Jan 11 '16 at 16:23
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    Well I understood it as soon as I read it, then. But I thought it might have been a spelling mistake because it's a unique phrase. – ChrisW Jan 11 '16 at 16:25
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Fine that bbozo embryo got at least birth :-)

- Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammā-sambuddhassa -

An Invitation to the Devas

Definitely, if the intention is Dhamma and practice for Nibbana. (see below)

Talking about Dhamma is all about straighten right view and right view is the prerequsite for any pratice which is merely useless if there is no right view. One also learns about the other factors and therefore listening to the Dhamma is a high merit not to speak about teaching the Dhamma and all services and possibilities around it. There have been many people, countless people, who have gained all kinds of pathfruits, "simply" by listening the Dhamma or by disussing the Dhamma together.

Actually nearly ALL 10 kinds of meritorious deeds can be done here (aside of material dana).

Some years ago Atma wrote a little about Googlyana - a Dharma practice approach on internet-realm which, including the understanding of the 10 meritous deeds can be easy adopted everywhere on web.

Its even no problem to practice mindfulness on the frame of reference and there are really best possibilities for every kind of wholesome deed.

If one takes for example the only or main task of a monk/nun, if not being in noble silence (2. Jhana) that it is to discuss the Dhamma.

Once there also having been a dispute of which is the proper time to approach the teacher and after arguing a lot the Buddha told that every time when greed, hatred of delusion arises, no matter what time, it is proper to approch the teacher (that also says to help the questioner at every time).

As for those who are caring on such places or answer questions in accordance with the Dhamma:

"There are these two kinds of gifts: a gift of material things & a gift of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: a gift of the Dhamma.

"There are these two kinds of sharing: sharing of material things & sharing of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: sharing of the Dhamma.

"There are these two kinds of assistance: assistance with material things & assistance with the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: help with the Dhamma.

"There are these two kinds of mass-donations: a mass-donation of material things & a mass-donation of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: a mass-donation of the Dhamma." Iti §100

But Atma aslo has to remark that he is not happy about the environment here, since it is not freely given and for commercial purpose. When ever one spends time and effort on Dhamma one should not misuse things which are not given for that or with strings. Its like teaching Dhamma in meditation centres which charge for certain services.

Most social or content pages do not serve such proper but have commercial purposes. Also take care to do not misuse third part energy and means.

So one does good to seek for a place which is actually given.

Also in regard of using for example ones boss time and money or what ever to spend on Dhamma is not good. So it should be your good earned free time and your given means.

Individual it depends on ones motivation, so if Mr. bbozo would add it, it would be easier to tell.

Always thinking on the kamma of questions.

As the author writes in the Introduction: "There's no such thing as a totally idle question. Every question, even the most casual, carries an intention." Since one's intentions shape the course of one's entire spiritual journey, learning to ask the right kinds of questions plays an essential role in any spiritual practice. This collection of essays explores the nature of questions in the Buddhist path.

As for the introduction and its notion "To say the word is to miss the mark, said a monk, one would assume same is implied in writing it?", aside of certain motivation, two Suttas may help out: Chavalata Sutta: The Firebrand & Sikkha Sutta: Trainings

Monks, these four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four? The one who practices for his own benefit but not for that of others. The one who practices for the benefit of others but not for his own. The one who practices neither for his own benefit nor for that of others. The one who practices for his own benefit and for that of others.

To your question:

What are the dangers of discussing Dharma on an online forum?

Of cause teaching others for example of know much, can be a huge trap of conceit and pride. But even if one is trapped in such, he would not easy abound it, if not next to others who give hints about it and cross-question.

Those seeking for heartwood and missing it very good displayed here:

He is intoxicated with that gain, offerings, & fame, heedless about it, and falls into heedlessness. Being heedless, he dwells in suffering & stress. This, monks, is called a monk who grasps the twigs & leaves of the holy life, and with that he falls short.

..."Just as if a man in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood — passing over the heartwood of a great standing tree possessed of heartwood, passing over the sapwood, passing over the inner bark, passing over the outer bark — cutting away the twigs & leaves, were to go off carrying them, thinking, 'heartwood.' A man with good eyesight, seeing him, would say, 'Ah, how this good man didn't know heartwood, didn't know sapwood, didn't know inner bark, didn't know outer bark, didn't know twigs & leaves! That's why he, in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood — passing over the heartwood of a great standing tree possessed of heartwood, passing over the sapwood, passing over the inner bark, passing over the outer bark — cutting away the twigs & leaves, went off carrying them, thinking, "heartwood." Whatever heartwood-business he had with heartwood, his purpose won't be served.'...MN29

But for now, try to get a punch of reputations and if you come to a peak, that be remembered to let go, there where you start to get comfortable with your gain.

To speak, I don't do that, I don't participate in that, that is pride, for the most cases, its not different but often the quote of the "The Fox and the Grapes". So more often, those who claim to do not participate (know already enough at the same time) as often more trapped it that so called "Spiritual Materialism", jet even clearly to greed to give a share of their possession.

Wrong grasping or for wrong purpose:

"Monks, there is the case where some worthless men study the Dhamma: dialogues, narratives of mixed prose and verse, explanations, verses, spontaneous exclamations, quotations, birth stories, amazing events, question & answer sessions [the earliest classifications of the Buddha's teachings]. Having studied the Dhamma, they don't ascertain the meaning (or: the purpose) of those Dhammas with their discernment. Not having ascertained the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment, they don't come to an agreement through pondering. They study the Dhamma both for attacking others and for defending themselves in debate. They don't reach the goal for which [people] study the Dhamma. Their wrong grasp of those Dhammas will lead to their long-term harm & suffering. Why is that? Because of the wrong-graspedness of the Dhammas. ...Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile

There are still the dangerous of bhava-tanha (craving for becoming and to be) and since intellectual contact is also a kind of sensuality one can be pretty addicted to this sensual pleasure by building concepts and thought and then enjoy and dwell in it. This ways are pattered by lose and gain and even if caught one would have a chance to become aware of it, like the monk in the story having come in contact with rebukes of his fellows and his teacher. Something, if one turns away of being confronted in discussions, or discusses just with like-minded people with similar wrong views, would not be possible be corrected. So the more critic you are possible able to get, the more you have chance to correct your views.

As for "looking for", its pretty good to know and understand the mechanic of Dhamma: Better to Give (dhamma) than to Consume (dhamma) one is not able, not capable to gain Dhamma, if still having a consumers attitude an is not willing to give at first place and in advanced (not even with the desire to gain something in return). A famous Zen-teacher defined people who are spending times in Dhamma-centers but are not capable to understand the Dhamma as hungry ghosts. Of course, becoming a hungry Dhamma-Ghost has its reason. Those are the people who hardly would give but seek and load down where ever they can.

So when ever you spend some times, its good to take on a task and if you run a place give people a task (in Dhamma) so that they would keep things balanced or even to service and other things as their primary focus. So different of marketing places its good if you see such honest approach right at the door and beware of people telling you that it is "free". Even the Dhamma is actually not free but will either call for you (to put it into action) or never graspable but causing one much dept at least, if just for entertaining and livelihood.

So ways to be on the good side here would be:

  • pay respect where it is proper (Apaciti)
  • using the possibilities to show appreciation and gratitude, either by words or by voting (Abbhanumodana)
  • Helping to clean of typos and obliviously faults (Veyyāvaca)
  • Add of what is missing (Veyyāvaca)
  • Take on tasks other would be not able to do (Veyyāvaca)
  • Feeding such things as tag-infos (Veyyāvaca, Desana)
  • Share of what you are able to share (Dāna)
  • Give your work a dedications and share your merits, invite others (Pattānuppadāna)
  • Stay mindful on your body, feeling, mind and Dhammas (Bhāvana)
  • Keep precepts while you share and "take" (Sīla)

This done, there will come

  • Listening to the Dhamma (Savana)
  • Correcting one’s View (Diṭṭhijju-kamma)

But once again in regard of BuddhismSE. Atma has doubts that it is at least most beneficial, since all service you give, you give actually (mental cold be different but would cheat the Inc. you made a contract with) and then, after that, the ones give his share (for his what ever purpose). So it has its limits to make service to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha in line with Dhamma and Vinaya. Different would it be, if there are no commercial or worldly interests and a place is actually really given for its real purpose. People who dedicate such places and make scarifies are less, because they prefer to gain and to have it easy. One would not be happy afterward, having put much effort into giving just to see it flow down on the rivers of the world and Samsara, having been just food to nourish death and size up the mountains of corps. So also here, even certain path elements can be seen, are lacking of the prerequisites which are against the grain and subject of real generosity.

Do not throw the Dhamma as it it would be a entertainment and trading good and be aware and grateful of what you maintain your livelihood (certain joy to be willing and able to live on, that includes mental food)

Atma is not really able to stay here long out of that reason, since one needs to overstep virtue in regard of the Dhamma and Vinaya or cause the owner here to get his demand of his wished contract not repaid. Even if invited and welcome by its user does not means that certain approaches are welcome with whom one has a contract and its sad that users do actually don't have such with each other exclusively which give others also the feeling being to dependent on them. But you will, if you see that problem, find ways although the chance is less that runners of such places would scarify just for this "Dhamma-Vinaya" possibilities to gain.

The Seven Noble Riches

Concerning saddhā or faith, the person who has it

(a) likes to meet virtuous ones,
(b) wishes to hear the true dhamma (saddhamma), and
(c) lives at home with stinginess removed from his mind.

Endowed with these three qualities he indeed is called ‘one who has faith’.

What one should be strongly be aware of, is not to develop a notion of being ones home or ones own, when dwelling on a Dhamma place and get attached to his/here monastery, group...

As for those who think that they can do without Dana, Service, an so on, and even think that they are beyond that child stuff, Atma tells you that they dwell in anything but not on the path:

"Without abandoning these five qualities, one is incapable of entering & remaining in the first jhana. Which five? Stinginess as to one's monastery [lodgings], stinginess as to one's family [of supporters], stinginess as to one's gains, stinginess as to one's status, and stinginess as to the Dhamma. Without abandoning these five qualities, one is incapable of entering & remaining (even) in the first jhana. Macchariya Suttas: Stinginess

(Note: this answer has not been given with the agreement to be means of trade or the purpose of/for trade and/or keep people trapped and bound. How you handle it lies in your sphere, but does not excuse the deed here either.)

May all beings — without limit,

without end — have a share in the

merit just now made,

and in whatever other merit I have made.

Dedication of Merit

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    FYI (not that you have to care for my opinion) I liked parts of this answer but not others. I'd like to upvote it (+1) for mentioning "right view" at the beginning; and there was more, later, that was good. But there are several paragraphs I didn't like, which were the complaints about commercialism: I thought that these were incoherent (i.e. wouldn't be understood by someone who hasn't seen your arguments on that topic before), and off-topic (i.e. barely relevant to this question), and not constructive (by which I mean not "actionable"). – ChrisW Jan 11 '16 at 17:37
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    I'd suggest that you work on defining a single, clear, coherent argument on this topic, but do it elsewhere. For example perhaps you could post a brief question on Meta like, "Does this site's ToS make it immoral to discuss and/or quote Dharma here?", and a long answer which explains your point of view. People could comment on that answer and you could then add to or clarify it. Then if the topic comes up again (e.g. if you want to repeat that in your answer to this question) you could simply insert (in your answer to this question) a reference (a hyperlink) to your well-argued answer on Meta. – ChrisW Jan 11 '16 at 17:42
  • I'd like to echo @ChrisW remarks – Thiago Jan 11 '16 at 22:52
  • Its not needed to dislike parts what one is not able to take for now, but it would be inhonest and oppressing something that is very relevant: using things which are not given for certain purpose. That reaches from the money and time of your company, environment with other purpose, till using third part energy. It also makes one aware that even to talk with each other needs scarifies. Would you walk? Would you organize a teacher to come? And rather to lift up certain other cases (80% of Dhammatalks are not made in a proper environment), its better to stay where we are. So those are samples. – user7586 Jan 12 '16 at 1:07
  • The reason why it is so, that people use certain "free" stuff rather to sacrifice own material possession, time and effort, is because they don't like to sacrifice. And as we know, the prerequisite for listening to Dhamma is Dana. If you can not give up the raw stuff and hold on it, how would one see a benefit in letting go the fine stuff. What ever is comfortable for one self has an unpleasant cause on others. Yet asking, did they give or do we misuse them? Or do we need to misuse the Dhamma, so that it fits to that others would make a deal? – user7586 Jan 12 '16 at 1:13
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I would say that you are mixing the methods a little bit. While Women Huikai and Fen Yang belong to the Zen (Chan) branches, Chogyam Trungpa represents the Vajrayana (Kagyu) branch.

So, these two branches represent two different methods (to the best of my knowledge, only Kagyu as compared to Zen has the tantric practices and yogas of Naropa, but otherwise these two teachings are identical in their Buddhist nature).

Therefore there are no, as far as I know, any dangers whatsoever in discussing Buddhism at online forums in Zen paradigm or as a part of intellectual discussion (but there a lot of things depending on motivation, of course).

As for persons having tantric initiations, the dangers do exist, but they depend mostly on the vows taken by a certain person within a given lineage.

  • Chogyam Trungpa was not in the OP's question - I added it myself to clarify OP's "path to illusion and a way to develop the subtle "enlightened" ego" - so please don't build your answer around that. I can remove C.T. if that will help avoid confusion. That said, I don't see how you connect the two different methods point with "therefore there are no dangers" point? – Andrei Volkov Jan 10 '16 at 21:09
  • Methods do differ, but at long as the teachings are Buddhistic and they are identical in their Buddhist nature, there is no danger. The danger might be about mixing the methods, yet the reasoning (the wisdom) has the same nature and therefore there is no danger. – Manjusri Jan 11 '16 at 7:24
  • @AndreiVolkov Yes I noticed you do that and 'let it go' then, yet it might have been better to put C.T. as your clarification in your answer, than inserted into the OP's question. – ChrisW Jan 11 '16 at 13:02
  • Yup, I figured - but now it's too late, since it would drive this answer meaningless. OMG I've caught myself in a karmic trap. – Andrei Volkov Jan 11 '16 at 13:37
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I'm going to try to answer this version of the question.


Is it a good idea to spend time on this website?

There are people who have tried it and no longer do.

  • Not worthwhile
  • Was worthwhile but their mission was accomplished
  • Would be worthwhile except there are other things to do in their life and only finite time

To say the word is to miss the mark, said a monk, one would assume same is implied in writing it?

I suppose so except that writing might be a bit more thoughtful; and, when we're tele-remote from each other (unlike being together in person), an exchange of words is our only medium of communication.


this one from Wumen Huikai

Wikipedia says,

However, it was Zen master Yuelin Shiguan (月林師觀; Japanese: Gatsurin Shikan) (1143–1217) who gave Wumen the koan "Zhaozhou’s dog", with which Wu-men struggled for six years before he finally attained realization. After his understanding had been confirmed by Yuelin, Wumen wrote his enlightenment poem

So (given "Zhaozhou’s dog") it might be called unsurprising that he'd say something like, "The instant you speak about a thing, you miss the mark", because note this commentary to this koan,

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.


When you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough. When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much.

Well I suppose these are two extremes, if you know what I mean, conversely a doctrine of the middle way might suggest that if you're a bit deluded and/or have a bit of doubt, then a bit of scripture might be part of what's helpful for finding a way towards understanding.

The Buddha was persuaded to teach for the sake of those who had "little dust in their eyes".

A statement like "burn your Dharma books" is all very well, but maybe only if that is already internal?

My version ("If you're a bit deluded and/or etc.") is really wordy, though, and I'd guess not idiomatic in Chinese. It might not even be necessary, either: my current Tai Chi teacher claims that the Chinese don't see things in black and white, but only as shades of grey.

I haven't found the original Chinese version of that phrase you quoted, but I wonder (a complete guess on my part) if it might be something like,

Great Doubt | Thousand Books | Not Enough
Kenshō | One Word | Too Many

To understand that better (albeit understand it in a mundane way) it might help to know some context: that "Great Doubt" (as well as "Faith") is (I think) an ingredient in Zen doctrine/practice; that though other people might have written a thousand books of commentary but students are expected to demonstrably understand (and not parrot a book).


From this, and other sources, one might conclude that spending time on an online forum looking for, or giving wisdom, is one possible path to illusion for the subtle "enlightened" ego

That might be what some people call "spiritual materialism" (I haven't read about that in detail, but I guess that it might mean trying to accumulate spirituality like others try to accumulate material wealth).

Also I'm not sure that people can "give wisdom", exactly, but they might try to behave themselves wisely and to share information, references, understanding.


On the other hand, here I am writing enlightening things on an online forum but yet I feel it is worthwhile

Thank you for trying. :-)


So given this problem -- this context and these concerns -- my question is: Is it a good idea to spend time on this website? How could it be worthwhile, if "speaking about a thing misses the mark" and "even one word is too much"?

Well if I read Dharma I haven't always understood all of it. Or something might sound plausible in a superficial kind of way but I'm not sure I understand what's said, in depth.

If that happens then I like this site because I could ask questions which are personalized towards my own particular doubts and misunderstandings, and people try to understand the question and address their answers accordingly: for example I can ask, "What does 'this word' mean? It's used 'here' and this dictionary describes it as 'such and such', but how you you understand that?"

Another thing is I suppose my first introduction to Buddhism was someone's biography of the Buddha: including, you know, the sights before he left home, the struggle for enlightenment, the first sermon (at Benares), and so on. My next exposure to Buddhism were more or less Three Pillars of Zen and Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.

There's a big gap, between those two: all the suttas, for example!

I suspect (I believe although I don't know) that many Zen monks and/or their patriarchs said that kind of ("not a word!") thing as well as (and/or, maybe, 'after', not 'instead of') learning Dharma.

I think it's quite Tao-inspired too: "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao"; and maybe ideals like Wu wei. I thought I recognized the provenance of your quotes even if not the quotes themselves.

Anyway, another thing to note is that there's a big gap after that traditional Zen. There's also (a slightly separate development) Tibetan/Northern Buddhism; and, lately, Buddhism in the West.

One reason why this site can be worthwhile is that (perhaps unlike in 'real life') you'll get input from people from several schools (or no particular school). There's often input from a Theravada perspective and sometimes also input from other perspectives too.

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