The Anti-Sermon of No Words

In Mahayana Buddhism, emphasis is laid on what is called the Sermon of No Words. This is a sermon preached by mere behaviour, by demonstration of one pointed spiritual effort in calmness, by the absence of instinctive reactions to events, and by what is called a spiritual atmosphere generated by the presence. It is a sermon not by exhortation, reasoning or threats but by example.

There is also the reverse of The Sermon of No Words: one might call it the Anti-Sermon of No Words. People become irritated when warned about the evils of drugs, of promiscuous sex or malicious gossip by those who have heavily indulged in them. Perhaps they are speaking of vices they’re tired of and often the words go unheeded. But in fact they are putting out something else as well: an Anti-Sermon of no Words. We can see that their behaviour, reactions, sometimes even the face, to say nothing of the atmosphere they create around them are telling the world, more forcefully than any words: “Don’t do what I have done”. They often try to cover up, with a threadbare cloak of cynicism and triviality, black despair.

An Indian teacher was sometimes asked to give some advice to the free living and loving (as he put it) son of a devotee. The young man sometimes said with engaging candour: “I come here to accompany my father but I may as well tell you I’ve no intention of listening to any sermon.”

“And I’ve no intention of giving any,” the teacher would tell him. “But look around at people you know who have gone in for this sort of life for fifteen years, and have a good look at their ugly faces. When you realise it will happen to you too you might pick up a sermon or two from that.”

The teacher remarked once that he quite often heard from the father that the son had taken in the sermon, or rather the anti-sermon of no words.


© 2000 Trevor Leggett

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