The Need for Quiet.




“It’s important to take time to have some quiet moments in our lives, otherwise we get caught up in the busy-ness of always having something going on.”

So opens Gyomay Kubose Sensei on his chapter about Quietness in The Center Within.

I don’t know about you, but I know that I am entangled in busyness – busyness is all the distractions in our lives that keep us from moving into awareness.  And we are living in a time that glorifies busyness and disparages quiet –  where the most human of experiences and necessary; “boredom” is the new cardinal sin, to be bored is the new failure of failures.

As one teacher puts it,

“boredom is [now] considered a failure and worthy of pharmaceutical treatment, productivity is no longer the means to an end, but the point of life in itself. The entire goal is to Stay Busy and You Won’t Have to Feel a Thing.”   Josh Korda

Have you ever met someone who could not stand silences, always filling any pause with sound? – even before I found the dharma I had a suspicion that such people are afraid to be quiet because they were afraid of what was in silence, afraid of themselves, maybe of feeling their own fucked up ness – but this busyness is not as much talking as it is talking, thinking, moving, reading we are a society that is being entertained into imbecility – and our busyness cuts us off from reality – from each other – everyone lives in the bubble of their own “movie sound track” either from our smartphones or the radio being constantly on in our cars, we fill up our lives with noise,. In my home, growing up. the TV was always on, even when I was like 10 I needed something to read in the bathroom- and with this condition comes unintended consequences like being terrified of silences in our relationships or the primacy of response over understanding in our listening to one another – Here is a quote from Cardinal Sara

Noise is a deceptive, addictive, and false tranquilizer. The tragedy of our world is never better summed up than in the fury of senseless noise that stubbornly hates silence.  and

…there is a dictatorship of speech, a dictatorship of verbal emphasis. In this theater of shadows, nothing is left but a purulent wound of mechanical words, without perspective, without truth, and without foundation. Quite often “truth” is nothing more than the pure and misleading creation of the media, corroborated by fabricated images and testimonies.

The ghettos of Facebook are many times nothing more than theaters of shadows and if you think about it, it is the opposite of quietness, though we sit in silence scrolling page after page, it is a noisy activity of endless self-talk, comparison, and judgment. Don’t get me wrong, there are good things happening on social media but it is the everyday addictive uses that are stealing our needed silences, the quietness in which we learn and engage with ourselves and the world around us. With all the claims that social media opens us up to a broader world, it more often fails and just makes the world an even lonelier and noisier place. ”   Thich Nhah Hahn teaches,

 Silence is essential. We need silence, just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.”

Social media and all the different apps on your smartphone are the epitome of busyness and the artificial curation of a life that has meaning. It is all image, noise, smoke and mirrors all of us strutting about our stage with our masks of ego and ironical still thoroughly unsatisfied beyond the immediate fix of a like or heart icon.

Why is it that we need to fill in the quiet spaces with noise? The irony is the more we hear the less we listen,  the farther we walk away from a meaningful engagement with life itself.

There is an antidote to this noise, the busyness, it is entering silence like we do here every Sunday, the Silence of the Sangha where we as humans rest our being in the depths of the silence*.  Here we consciously slow everything down to just be quiet, still, silent.  Right now, I am not even talking about any kind of “meditation”  technique, just the simple act of stopping to take a breath and sit in the beautiful ever-present calm silence that is our first and truest nature and of this world we have become strangers to.

But being silent is a difficult practice for all of us, let me share a story.

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.

The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.”

The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?”

The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?”

The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”

For those who attended our retreat, our period of Noble silence was a lot more difficult than people realized – but worth it –

Now some this may be hard becausewe see silence as a state of passivity. Not all silences are created equal – there are silences that heal watching our words as not be hurtful and silences that harm – not speaking out for the suffering or giving someone the silent treatment to punish them.  as Gyomay Kubose Sensei has taught that there is one that is dead, with no life in it and there is another that is full of life and awareness – so the way I understand this is that there is the silence of one who is stagnant, noisy and stuck and there is the silence that is attended, cultivated and protected. He goes on to write,

 “It is in the silence that we see the serenity in the world and in ourselves, the happens because in silence we see that we are one with the world.”

Silence is a powerful and necessary teacher – So as part of our practice, we go into silence as a teacher as the truest state of experience beyond words –

Our ego self – our small self is born of the noise of self – consciousness and our true self emerges as we come out of the noise to the place where we are free from all narratives and constructs of self. Where we enter the boundless quality of our natural dynamic quietness, our true unbounded wordlessness.  We enter the luminous silence at the heart of existence.  

Rumi the poet writes, writes,

Close the door of words
that the window of your heart may open.
To see what cannot be seen
turn your eyes inward
and listen, in silence.

~ Rumi

In our opening mediations each Sunday we say that there is nothing for us to do – paradoxical isn’t  but I love this quote I found from Franz Kafka

You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, just wait. You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. And the world will freely offer itself to you. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

—Franz Kafka

The teacher of silence is all around us, we are immersed in silence, the silence that is underneath all the noise – noise cannot destroy, or diminish the silence that we are speaking of, all this noise that can be so deafening, in the end, is nothing more than ornamentation – so  as the Tibetan teacher Tenzin Wangyal invites us to all do –

 When you are silent, hear the silence that is already there. –

Being quiet, cultivating silences is a practice, and intention, an aspiration- Let me share a personal example and Let’s bring this down from the poetic to the everyday –

So what does this look like in everyday life – if silence is everywhere then it’s with me even when I drive –

I decided as part of my periodic automobile Dharma practice (an idea I got from Koyo Sensei), to turn the radio off while driving. I was surprised at how hard it was.

Driving in silence was more difficult than I imagined. We love our noise. We, humans, are a noisy bunch are we not? It is hard for us to be quiet. Even in my attempts to be quiet, as a form of Buddhist practice, all I could do was sit in the silence bored and judging all the drivers. It was an eye-opening experience, a teacher of my mind’s default setting as it were. Even when attempting to practice! How much more when I wrap myself up in noise.

I realized that even though I wasn’t listing to the NPR and sitting in silence, I was silent either.  It was during this practice that I came to understand why Gyomay Kubose Sensei chose the word quietness over silence in his writing because on an everyday level, quietness is not synonymous with silence.

Quietness is more of a state mind, a slowing down, a stillness. It is the stillness that allows you to listen and experience more deeply. I also came to realize that quietness is also a naturally dynamic response to awe and beauty, there is nothing passive about it. There is a receptivity inherent in quietness.

So as this week goes forward I want to encourage you to make the time to be quiet, at this point I am not ever referring to mediation- just slow down and be quiet with our self, seek out silences – as one mindfulness teacher admonishes us.[0ijm ,/   to do when we find our silences, to

 – listen to it.  That means just notice it. Pay attention to it. Listening to silence awakens the dimension of stillness within yourself because it is only through stillness that you can be aware of the silence.  See that in the moment of noticing the silence around you, you are not thinking.  You are aware, but not thinking.

I also I appreciate what Gyomay Sensei says, that through the awareness cultivated through quietness we can come to the realization that we are one with the world. I especially appreciate the following line, “ During quietness, you breathe together with the whole world. We breathe as one.”  This is the meaning of the Way of Oneness

We are one with the world-

Namu Amida Butsu.


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