I once witnessed a spectacle of Silence in the Berkeley Community Theater. Every one of the 3,491 seats was occupied. On stage sat Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. Next to him sat a young woman. The monk spoke about mindfulness, about awareness, about respect for each other and all living things. He spoke slowly and quietly. From time to time he would fall silent, and the woman would pick up and ring a bell that rested on the floor in front of her. The reverberations of the bell could be heard throughout the auditorium and felt within each person’s brain, stimulating perceptions of intuitive subtlety.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s talk was less about information than experience. The words were like a tour bus carrying the audience to ancient sites of meaning and depth and beauty. Though the bus was still and unmoving, we traveled far and saw much. Anyone could have dropped a tack or a nail file, even a piece of paper, and the noise would have seemed loud because the Silence was so great.
After some time, I felt the audience breathe in unison, a meditative breathing, a breathing that connected us together and to the awareness of which the monk was speaking. I thought I was sitting in the mountains at twilight, when life itself begins to creep from its hiding places like a deer come to drink from a lake of pentagrams and stars.
Even when speaking, the monk was silent, was Silence. In order to hear his words of Silence and the Silence within his words, the audience had to be silent and become Silence. It was a spectacle. We were embraced by Silence and thus set free from agitation, from separation, from duality. It would have been impossible for any anger or cruelty to arise in that community. It would have been impossible for anyone to harm another in any way. We were transported to reality.
The world needs this Silence. Leaders, like the monk, will be of this Silence. Their minds will be silent, their actions will be silent, their hearts will be silent.
Silence cannot be explained. It cannot be known or experienced in a way that might be familiar to us, as we are used to experiencing other events in our life. However, when we say beauty or love, and when we are meeting those two in a pure and honest place, then we can say that Silence has come into our life.
We can only use words to point in the direction of Silence, such that if one actually goes into the distance towards which the words point, one will eventually come upon Silence as a fact. When Silence is beheld as a fact, all speculation, argument, and belief about that to which the word Silence refers ends instantly and forever.
Silence is that in which everything exists, from which everything comes, and into which everything returns. It is the unutterable context in which the cosmos occurs, a playground of pure consciousness.
Silence is oneness. Silence refers to a state of fundamental unified existence, a condition of being in which all conflict, fear, doubt, projection, memory, delusions - all subjectivity and objectivity - are dissolved and thus resolved. Silence is an instantaneous recognition of that which is out of time and unconditioned by cause and effect. If one were a religious person, one could say that Silence is the soul of God, or perhaps the God of God.
If this sounds abstract, vague, or esoteric, it only sounds so because we cannot say exactly what Silence is. Some things are so very beyond the reach of words and metaphors, symbols and images, beliefs and concepts that all attempts to describe them are foolish. And yet, even as we speak foolishly and impertinently of that which cannot be said, something within us will smile knowingly. It is this intuitive resonance that words can stimulate. This is the direction we can point to and go toward, walking or running, in order for the recognition of the wordless to become real. But even as Silence becomes indomitably real, as taut and tense and thrilling as a tidal wave crashing upon us, crushing us beyond recognition—even as this happens, we cannot speak its truth.