Language and Silence


The Seal of the Unity of the Three

Quoted from:

The World Upside Down: Essays on Taoist Internal Alchemy, by Isabelle Robinet, pages 17-18

Mindful of the words of Zhuangzi, according to whom one could speak for a whole day without saying anything, but also be speechless for a whole day without ever being silent,(1) they resort to a language that leaves space to silence, which they always evoke, to the unspoken, and to the additional meanings. . . .

The alchemists' undertaking, nevertheless, consists in methodically relying on language in order to transmit and to instruct. Reminding the value of silence is not sufficient: they try to introduce it in their discourse. They reiterate that their discourse is only a vehicle that leads to the wondrous, or—using another image of the Zhuangzi—a net that must be discarded once the prey has been captured.(2) They intend to "give form to the Formless by the word, and thus manifest the authentic and absolute Dao," says Li Daochun (fl. ca. 1290), who adds that words are only steps to be climbed, and that once the highest point has been reached, no word applies anymore. "There is a mechanism that surpasses them. This is not easy to explain, but one should comprehend beyond words."



(1) Zhuangzi, chapter 27: "With words that are no-words, you may speak all your life long and you will never have said anything. Or you may go through your whole life without speaking them, in which case you will never have stopped speaking." (Trans. Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, p. 304).

(2) Zhuangzi, chapter 26: "The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?" (Trans. Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, p. 302).


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