From the silences of the Buddha to inner silence today

- through Henry Oudin

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Reflection on these deafening silences, which frighten us so much.

The word buddha signifies the state of an awakened being, free from his passional and mental obscurations. Each human being would thus have in him a nature of Buddha, to be found under the accumulation of his emotions, preoccupations and his over-agitated mental chaos.

For Great Vehicle Buddhism, the nickname of the historical figure of Buddha, known as the Awakened, is Shakyamuni, which can be literally translated as the hermit or the sage of the Shakya clan. Marie-Madeleine Davy, senior researcher at the CNRS, translated the word Does the by: the silencer.

After having made the rounds of the gurus of his time in northern India to try to understand something about his own search for meaning, the young prince who had become a vagrant noticed that each master he met revealed to him "only a part of the truth, but not the whole truth”. He then decides to retire to a cave above the site that would become Bodhgaya, the place of Awakening. During a trip, I had been able to crawl in the gut leading to this ovoid cavity, where you can just sit, without any view of the valley. It was there that he had locked himself up for a terrible fast, eating only a few grains of dry rice a day, until he became a kind of skeleton in a meditation posture: "The skin of my stomach adhered to my spinal column by the effect of deprivation". In this dark hole, the silence was to be disturbed only by the sound of blood in the ears. Because of this inhuman asceticism and the breathing exercises learned from the yogis who taught him "the nobility and wisdom of the human being", he feels that he is going to die, with a clear mind, but for nothing... He goes down in the valley. At the end of a new meditation in silence of forty-nine days, he knows the famous Awakening and conceives the Middle Way: neither excess of excess (the life of a prince) nor excess of deprivation (the life of a hermit).

Later, when he had founded communities of renouncers in which this tireless walker liked to withdraw, he says that from time to time, tired of discussions and disputes, he went to meditate alone in the forest, where he used as seat of a simple log, a stone or a pile of leaves gathered together, to sit in silence.

Zen master Taisen Deshimaru said that from silence arises the immortal spirit.

Last famous anecdote, the one where to a question from the audience on the purpose of his teaching, the Buddha in response simply took a flower which he twirled between his fingers, smiling without saying a word. Only his great disciple Mahakasyapa (who will succeed him) understood and smiled in turn. This event would be at the origin of the notion of special silent transmission (outside of scriptures and dogmas), defended by various schools of Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen.

Talking Machine Gun vs Nonverbal Communication

Let's explore the infinite riches of silence. Curiously, in the West, it is frightening as if it represented death, absence, boredom, loneliness, even stupidity. An angel is said to pass by and we hasten to take out the lyrical machine gun to fill this unbearable void. Yet non-verbal communication does exist. The silence vibrates with information. In fact, everything speaks, our eyes, our gestures, our facial expressions, our hidden emotions, the places crossed, the atmospheres... There are as many adjectives as there are silences: these can thus be of all shades of color, gray with boredom, black and thick with sadness, springing and blue, red with anger, green with spite or yellow with joy, brown with worry and anguish, it depends. Take any adjective, it will define a cross silence in your path. Silence is the permanent background against which all the noise of which we are made stands out. Entire societies, in the East in particular, have been able to love it and create, as in Japan, a true silent culture in which one can fully recharge one's batteries: tea ceremony, arts of calligraphy, ikebana, contemplation of even minimalist nature, are there to bring us to taste a moment of inner peace and serenity finally found. As the Japanese expression "I shin den shin" (from my soul to your soul) proves, the silence is telepathic in these traditions, and this panics many Westerners who lose their footing. But that changes with the rise of meditation practices in the West, which create a completely different relationship to the world of silence. Certainly, in silent sitting, we find the noise of our mind, of our concerns, of our anxieties, of our illusions, of our hopes, of our memories. But in the background, and if we become a spectator and not an actor, of what is happening within us, there is a universe of fabulous calm in which we can recharge our batteries happily. A Zen kôan says that in meditation, we go from thought to non-thought and from non-thought to thought: it is in fact a question of increasing, with the help of posture and breathing, these spaces between noises and interior silences, these intervals between full and empty times…

Zen master Taisen Deshimaru said that from silence arises the immortal spirit. This is so true that I sincerely believe, at this time when fanaticism and intolerance are developing, that the common denominator of all spiritualities in the world is found in this silence dear to mystics of all faiths. It would still be necessary, to dialogue in the essential, to find oneself in the simplicity of shared silences

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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