Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Speak to Improve on Silence

Wisdom Quarterly edit of Wikipedia entry "Noble Silence"
Do not speak unless such speech improves on silence (Hulpy Carmen Haessler/Flickr.com)
"Noble silence" is a term attributed to the Buddha for his reported responses to certain questions about reality.
Reality can be known, seen, and experienced. But it is not always possible to represent it accurately or even well with language.
Sometimes language gets in the way and increases misunderstanding.
On various occasions when asked by Ananda why he did not answer a brahmin or ascetic, the Buddha explained. It was a linguistic or logical trap; to give any answer would only confuse the questioner who was holding detrimental assumptions.
The kindest thing to do in such cases, even if it made the Buddha look bad or angered his would-be debaters, was to maintain noble silence. (This sometimes served to bring the interlocutor around to seeing the shortsightedness of those assumptions).

On another occasion, the Buddha was unable to reconcile two disputing factions of Buddhist monastics. Rather than argue with them, he simply retreated into the Parileyyka Forest. This eventually brought them to their senses.
In various instances the Buddha was asked 14  unanswerable questions.
In similar situations he often responded to polemical descriptions of reality by saying that BOTH antithetical options presented to him for debate were inappropriate.
This does not indicate misology or disdain for philosophy on the Buddha's part.
Rather, it indicates that he viewed these questions as not conducive to enlightenment, liberation from suffering. They do not lead to true knowledge.
Dependent origination -- an insight meditation practice not a philosophical explanation -- is thought to be one of the Buddha's great contributions to philosophy. It provides a framework for the analysis (deconstruction) of reality that is not based on metaphysical assumptions regarding existence or non-existence.
Instead, it is based on direct apprehension of conditional phenomena as they are presented to the mind/heart. This informs and supports the Buddhist approach to liberation through virtue, concentration (stilling the mind), and meditative training collectively known as the Noble Eightfold Path.
So there is no need to speak of the ultimate truth when it is directly visible to the practitioner who puts into effect the teachings of the Buddha rather than discussing them endlessly. One improvement on silence, therefore, might go like this:

No one saves us but ourselves
No one can and no one may
We ourselves must tread the Path 
Buddhas only point the way

No comments: