22. On the Value of Speaking and Not Speaking

Philosophy of Language in Zen Buddhism

  1. Steven M. Emmanuel
  1. Steven Heine

Published Online: 5 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch22

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

How to Cite

Heine, S. (2013) On the Value of Speaking and Not Speaking, in A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (ed S. M. Emmanuel), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch22

Author Information

  1. Florida International University, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 FEB 2013
  2. Published Print: 25 MAR 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470658772

Online ISBN: 9781118324004



  • koans;
  • language;
  • philosophy;
  • silence;
  • Zen Buddhism;
  • Zen literature


In considering the role of language in Zen Buddhism, a basic conundrum is immediately confronted. Historical studies demonstrate that in Zen there has been a very large and fundamental role for verbal communication via poetry and prose narratives included in commentaries on enigmatic koans. During Song dynasty China, Zen masters produced an abundant volume of writings that originally were based on the spontaneous and deliberately eccentric oral teachings of Tang dynasty patriarchs. This literature forms the heart of the modes of textual study and ritual practice used in Zen today. Silence has always been highlighted in Zen. Zen's language of non-language, or vice versa, leaves open the possibility for inventive expression and productive silence to intermingle and to be alternatively used or discarded, as appropriate for particular discursive contexts and pedagogical situations.