I have been reading through the koan collection The Blue Cliff Record and came across an interesting (to me) set of three cases. As you may know, in Buddhism it is taught that self and other are not different, but are merely two parts of one unity. Subject and object are not different, but are all part of one action. Given this, it seems remarkable that communication can exist at all, as there is no one to talk separate from the one being talked to; there is no talker and there is no listener. Because of this, it is said that when two masters are together, there can be no communication whatsoever. And yet, they are speaking all the time.
Further, words don't capture reality, and silence does not express the truth. So how does one speak without words, and in fact, should one? This dilemma is illustrated in a Chinese story.
Kuei Shan, Wu Feng, and Yun Yen were all students of Chan Master Pai Chang. One day, Master Pai Chang called them all together and asked each of them the same question.
Pai Chang first asked Kuei Shan, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?"
Kuei Shan said, "Please, Master, you speak instead."
Pai Chang replied, "I don't refuse to speak to you, but I fear that if I did, in the future I would be bereft of descendents."
Pai Chang then asked Wu Feng, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?"
Wu Feng said, "Teacher, you should shut up."
Pai Chang replied, "Where there's no one, I shade my eyes with my hand and gaze out toward you."
Pai Chang finally asked Yun Yen, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?"
Yun Yen asked, "Master, do you have any way to speak or not?"
Pai Chang replied, "I have lost my descendants."
Even supposing that I understand all this, should I use words to try to explain it? And if so, what kind of words, and how? That, I think, is the heart of the koan.