Plato (c. 428-348 BCE) believed that only philosophers understand what the world is really like. Philosophers discover the nature of reality by thinking rather than relying on their senses. To make this point, Plato described a cave.
Inside an imaginary cave there are people chained, facing a wall. In front of them they can see flickering shadows made by objects held up in front of a fire that’s behind them. These people spend their entire lives thinking that the shadows projected on the wall are the real world.
Then, one of the people breaks free from his chains and turns toward the fire. His eyes are blurry at first, but then he starts to see where he is. He stumbles out of the cave and eventually is able to look at the sun. When he comes back to the cave, no one believes what he tells them about the world outside the cave.
The man who broke free is like a philosopher. He sees beyond appearances. Ordinary people, on the other hand, have little idea about reality because they are content with looking at what’s in front of them, rather than thinking about it deeply — but the appearances are deceptive since what are seen are shadows, not reality.
Wise speech is both an ethical and spiritual exploration. Committing ourselves to wise speech, we learn to listen inwardly to the words beneath the words. Attentive to the feelings, intentions, and thoughts beneath our words, we learn to cultivate the compassion, integrity, and kindness that bring harmony to our relationships and to our own mind.
Compassion and Integrity
Wise speech is rooted in compassion and integrity. It protects the people we speak to and protects our own heart from guilt and remorse. In learning to listen both outwardly and inwardly before we speak, we begin to appreciate the strength and fragility of the human heart.
Gathered around great philosophers in antiquity were schools, and schools were about training. Training, in turn, was about putting ideas into practice. Simple dialogue formulas and creative epigrams held the contours of a great teacher’s personality, but most importantly they defined the manner in which the philosophy was a lifestyle.
In antiquity, schools were not buildings but societies. They were social forces that defined the art of presence in the world.
Zen paintings are an example of the philosophy that says the essence of Zen teaching cannot be put into written or spoken words.
Multiple colors aren’t used in Zen painting – only the single hue of the ink. This is because it’s believed that true beauty cannot be expressed through colors and that colors are an imperfect expression of the ineffability of beauty. Therefore, colors are avoided.
What You See
Depending on the viewer, the ink takes on various tints and layers. It is said that Zen painting uses ink to express all five colors – green, blue, yellow, purple, and red. An infinite range of colors can be found within ink’s hue. What you can see is not all there is.