Obstacles in the Use of Professional Buddhist Terminology in Communication

Linmu (Chinese Arahant)

A year ago, after sharing some of my meditation experiences, many friends expressed a desire to explore or learn the Dharma with me, but most of these requests were politely declined. On one hand, this was because I intended to devote my time and energy entirely to meditation, and on the other hand, it was due to the issue of using professional terminology in discussing Buddhist concepts.

When people talk about the Dharma today, they often base their discussions on various specialized terms found in the scriptures. These terms include concepts like the Four Noble Truths, impermanence, suffering, not-self, craving, desire, insight meditation, dependent origination, the four elements, body and mind, and many more. However, most people are not clear about what these terms actually mean, and sometimes they aren't even sure if the terms themselves are accurate. If you open the Tripitaka, the Buddhist canon, you will find that the same core Buddhist terminology can be translated differently by various scholars and in different eras. Some differences in wording have even led to variations in Buddhist theories, but they haven't gained widespread recognition due to limited propagation.

Furthermore, even among agreed-upon terms, each school or individual often has their own interpretation, which leads to continuous debates. Therefore, using this language in Buddhist discourse doesn't always facilitate effective communication.

What we can be sure of is that although the Dharma taught by the Buddha is profound, the language used must have been simple and comprehensible. The concepts conveyed by these terms should be something that anyone can observe and discover for themselves, without relying on culture, tools, or specialized scientific knowledge.

In the Buddha's time, literacy was limited to the elite, and the common people generally had no formal education. Therefore, the language of the Dharma must have been something that was widely accessible. My understanding of Buddhism comes primarily from personal experience rather than analyzing the scriptures. So, when I communicate with friends, sometimes I find it necessary to consider how the scriptures describe these concepts.

I thought, why not use straightforward language for clarity? In this way, everyone can understand without needing to ask about their understanding of professional terminology, and it can also reduce many disputes. That's why I decided to experiment with writing the previous article in accessible language.

To make it easier for my friends to read and for future communications, I will provide some supplementary explanations based on the scriptures for the terms mentioned in the previous article.

At the beginning of the article, the terms "solid, liquid, heat, and motion" correspond to my interpretation of the Four Elements (earth, water, fire, and air) found in the scriptures. I also added "space" and "mind" to represent the "Six Realms" described in the "Discourse on the Distinction Between the Elements."

The subsequent terms "eye, ear, nose, tongue, skin, and mind" correspond to the "eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind" mentioned in the scriptures. "Light, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought" correspond to the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) and mental objects (thoughts).

The terms "sensation, perception, consciousness, and mental formations" correspond to the "consciousness, sensation, perception, and mental formations" in the scriptures. "Attention" corresponds to the term "contact."

The four states correspond to the "four formless realms," and "liberation" corresponds to "nirvana."

It's important to note that, just as a computer can be divided into components like the motherboard, processor, memory, and hard drive, these terms do not refer to an ultimate, indivisible particle or substance but are classificatory and naming conventions based on different characteristics.

In the future, if necessary, I will also use the same accessible language to explain other Buddhist terms and theories, with the goal of helping my friends understand a practical, immediately accessible Buddhism that they can experience and grasp at any time, instead of a mysterious and inaccessible religion.