Monday, February 05, 2018



I’m going to commence this Zen talk with something that starts out like the joke that begins, “A guy walks into a bar . . . .“

Three Zen masters were meditating in a cave.

A couple of hours passed and there came a sound from outside.

Another hour of silence followed, and the first master said, “Did you hear that goat?”

Another hour passed and the second master said, “That wasn't a goat. It was a cow.”

After another hour the third master said, “If you two are going to talk, I'm leaving.”

Listen up.

Do you hear anything?

Probably not, because the day is quiet.

But quiet is something some people don’t enjoy or are even aware of. Many individuals feel contented with noise, especially if that noise is vocal chatter. Verbal contamination can be as bothersome as smog or light pollution. You know, so much artificial light that persists after the sun sets that you can’t see the stars in the middle of the night.

Quiet is the essence not only of meditation but of Zen living

You may know of Jiddu Krishnamurti. He was groomed to be world head of the Theosophy organization, but he turned down the dubious honor to teach and to write about the purpose of life in general.

In one of his talks, Krishnamurti said:

        “Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching, you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence.”

        Have you ever been around someone who talks a lot? Not only talks a lot but is downright garrulous.

        As much as you might like such a person, have you ever had the impulse to shout, “PLEASE BE QUIET”?

        Once I was hiking in the Czech Republic with a small group of people. Among us were two women who babbled continuously, and I mean continuously. They talked while they were walking, they talked while they were eating.

        One afternoon we had a rest stop at a park that featured an old-fashioned wooden outhouse. One of the talkative women availed herself of the latrine, while the other woman stood just outside, waiting her turn. The two of them carried on a lively conversation through the closed door.

        That evening over dinner, between the soup and the salad, one of our outspoken members suddenly stood and in a loud voice said, “DO YOU TWO HAVE TO TALK ALL THE TIME?”

        The rest of us applauded inwardly.

Japan may be an industrial and technical giant, but in that country silence is often looked upon as a sign of perceptiveness, introspection, and self-cultivation. Japanese public speakers are often judged on their ability to keep silent, a technique that conveys a sense of trustworthiness.

All schools of Buddhism stress the importance of silent meditation as a tool to attain enlightenment and to teach that inner peace can only be achieved through stillness.

Accordingly, Zen wisdom can usually be grasped through silence. That is, a teacher does not need to speak because his or her stillness is able to convey messages that spoken words would not be able to transmit.

One day the Buddha took his followers to a quiet place for instruction. Everyone sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching.

Without saying anything the Buddha twirled a small flower between his fingers.

        When the Buddha displayed the flower to each of the followers each was confused. But when the Buddha came to Mahakasyapa, the man smiled.

“What can be said, I have said to you,” the Buddha said, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakasyapa.”

        Bertrand Russell was a brilliant British scholar who reeived many honors. He was a philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate. He said, “A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy lives.”

        As long as I’m quoting so many sensible people, here is a childhood nursery rhyme.

        A wise old owl lived in an oak.

        The more he heard, the less he spoke.

        The less he spoke, the more he heard.

        Why can’t we be like that old bird?


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