First, close your mouth. Idle talk is a sign of anxiety.

Zen Practice


There are a lot of chatterers in this world. They say what they want to say and feel good about it. However, for listeners, it’s hard.

The reasons for too much talk are thought to be: repetition, an inability to grasp the timing to end a conversation and a dislike of silence among others.

People repeat themselves in order to convince others that they are right. People are unable to grasp the timing to end a conversation out of a desire to talk more. People dislike silence because they either feel obligated to talk or to avoid the loneliness of not being able to talk with anyone.


However, the more strongly they insist that they are right the more tired their listeners become. If they are truly right, they will not need to assert themselves. The people around them will give them their due.

When our minds are anxious and we aren’t confident, a desire to continue talking to eliminate our uneasiness comes into play which results in too much chatter. Ironically though, if you talk to your satisfaction, you start wondering if you should have said what you did, or if you said too much, bringing the opposite effect – increased anxiety.


We often chatter in order to fill in awkward silences with meaningless talk. However, silent people may be deep in thought and not want to talk to anyone. Silence is not a bad thing. It is important to appreciate silent space sometimes and avoid “a small act of kindness which is actually a big pain in the neck.”

The following is a story of Zen Priest Sengai, which teaches us not to chatter:

    When Zen Priest Sengai was weeding, a passer-by talked to him.
    “What are you doing, Master Sengai?”
    “I’m eating.”
    “What? Aren’t you weeding?”
    “Don’t ask if you know.”

It seems a severe reaction at a glance, but because Sengai teaches in a practical setting, it conveys a straight message to us. And we feel the Zen master-like merciful tone in the rather severe conversation.

Language is an indispensable tool for communication with other people, but in some cases, deliberate silence can work better than words.


The Zen Master Mumon Yamada (1900-1988), who was Head of Myoshin-ji Temple, the headquarter of the Rinzai school and President of Hanazono University, used to travel all over Japan, continuing to preach easy to understand, popular sermons. He was a very eloquent speaker who was called “preaching Mumon”. He also published many easy-to-understand Zen books for non-Buddhists.

The Zen Master Mumon, however, became very reticent in his last days and is said to have passed away after a big yawn. It is also said that he became silent because he had said everything he needed to say. For us, who often chatter without realizing it, there are many things to learn from the way of life of Zen Master Mumon who avoided wasteful words and instead appealed to silence.

When you are silent, you can objectively reflect upon yourself and your mind will also calm itself. By doing so, you won’t need more words than are necessary.


Some people go on and on before they start talking about the main issue, and as a result they lose track of the gist of their talk. People like this do not care about the valuable time of others. If they just realized that they are wasting other people’s time, they would naturally refrain from idle talk.

In order to speak effectively and without waste for both speakers and listeners, the best way is to state the conclusion first, give reasons for it, and then summarize the talk. In this way, you can convey your ideas logically, and when you put ideas together concisely and briefly, you can convey them in the shortest amount of time.

Suppose a mother gets irritated with her child’s undisciplined lifestyle and continues complaining about it until finally bluntly telling her child to get to work and study.

For the child her words are nothing but irritating noise. The mother’s message will not reach the child’s heart, so naturally the child reacts to the mother harshly by throwing some curse words at her such as, “Shut up, you old bag!” The mother then gets more and more irritated and as a result, the emotional stability of both child and mother erodes even farther.

First, let’s reduce the idle chatter and then let’s start logically communicating the minimum necessary. Then you will find out that you can communicate with other people better than ever.