Just Silence

The BuddhaI suffer from tinnitus, ringing in the ears. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, I hear sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too, along with enough other tones, hums, and buzzes to make me think that Kraftwerk joined up with Pink Floyd and Brian Eno to perform an experimental music piece ala Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and that they decided the best place to rehearse is inside my skull.

If that’s not enough, I also go through periods where I am super-sensitive to any noise. I’ve been having one of those periods for the past three weeks. Water running from the faucet is like Niagara Falls. The toilet flushing is a nuclear explosion. When I go outside, the breeze sounds like a gale force wind. Inside, it’s like there’s a diesel truck parked beneath my window, gunning its engine. The vacuum cleaner sounds like a tank.

It’s suffering. Pure unadulterated suffering. Not to mention damn inconvenient. For one thing, when I’m one of these periods of extreme sensitivity to sound, it really interferes with my film watching schedule, and I love films. Even when I’m not in one of these periods, some films are just too loud for me. Most of the films I watch are on Turner Classic Movies. Older films seems to have less sound density and the dialogue is easier for me to hear (along with the tinnitus, I have hearing loss). Last night on Silent Sundays, they showed The Battleship Potemkin. In his introduction, Robert Osborne said that it was a classic up there with Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane. I remember seeing The Battleship Potemkin in college, and I thought it was overrated then, too.

But don’t get me wrong, I like silent movies. They do have music that was composed in later years, but I can turn it down low or have no sound at all. A few that I consider classics are John Ford’s The Iron Horse, Piccadilly, and The Sea Hawk. I’m a sucker for anything with Lon Chaney, Sr. or John Barrymore, and I’m a huge Chaplin fan. But with silent movies you have to make some mental adjustments because it’s a different kind of cinema and storytelling than what we are used to.

When I watch Chaplin, I often forget I am watching a silent film because I am so enthralled by his artistry, which I did not truly appreciate until I saw a documentary called Unknown Chaplin. So the best silent films are the ones that transcend their silent-ness and make you forget about it, and to me, that notion has some correlation with meditation.

Having this inner noise cramps my meditation style. As I’m sure you can imagine, overcoming such a hindrance is difficult. And my fall-back practice of chanting (which covers up the inner noise) is not an option when I am super-sensitive to sound because whenever I speak it feels like the earth rumbling. I ain’t kidding.

Now, one of the first books I read on mediation was The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by T. Nyanaponika in which he talks about how Mindfulness helps us to silence our internal dialogue and to “see things as they really are,” without forming judgments about them. On the surface, trying to silence my inner noise is not much different from that.

Our “internal dialogue” is composed of thoughts. Like everyone else, I have received instruction over the years about the usefulness of observing how things arise within the mind. However, it’s difficult to see this noise arising, it’s just there. It doesn’t have beginning or an end as a single thought does, or a feeling. Being there, inside my ears, my head, it seems to be an object, but it’s elusive.

When I am doing things, like talking to someone or working at the computer, there are times when I am unconscious of the inner noise, although I usually can’t enjoy these moments because as soon as I become aware that I have been unaware of the noise, the unawareness is gone.  The same thing can happen in meditation. As soon as we think about how we have let go of our thoughts, there’s another thought.

I am trying to rejuvenate my meditation practice. The first thing I am doing is not to have any goals. I am not trying to achieve anything with my sitting. I am literally just sitting. Not attempting to affect any transformation of consciousness, or be in the present moment, discover the power of now, find my Buddha nature, gain insight or wisdom. I only follow my breath for a few moments and then let that go, and I have the luxury right now of not having to set a time limit so I sit until I decide to get up.

I suppose there is a goal. I am striving for unawareness, total silence of being. However, being conscious of the unawareness only defeats the purpose. This is what Yen Hui means in Chuang Tzu when he says, “I forget everything while sitting down.” Confucius then asks, “What do you mean by sitting down and forgetting everything?” and Yen Hui replies, “I cast aside my limbs, discard my intelligence, detach from both body and mind, and become one with the Tao. This is called sitting down and forgetting everything.”

My first mental conception of Buddha was that he became one with all things. Then I got sophisticated about Buddhism and that seemed too new-age or something. Now I am going to back to this really basic sense I once had. Just trying to be one with the Tao, with pure Buddha, with everything. Just sitting down and forgetting everything, without trying to forget, without trying be one with anything.

I’ve never quite approached silent meditation quite this way, although many years ago I did some practice in Soto Zen. But this is the way I have always chanted mantras. Just chanting. Not with any goal or wish, just becoming one with the mantra.

They say that the best way to shake off the hindrances of mind is to understand their nature. I suspect now though that that works mainly on an intellectual level. I’m dealing with some other level, so I do not observe anything. I suppose you might call it non-observing. Just being silent, in the practice of forgetting.

Just sitting is called shikan taza, and sometimes it’s called “the method of no method.” In Zazen Shin, Dogen tells a story that is similar to Chaung Tzu’s, of a monk who after a sitting asks the master, “As you were sitting there all still and awesome like a mountain, what was it that you were thinking about?” to which the master replies, “What I was thinking about was based on not deliberately thinking about any particular thing.” Then the monk asks, “How can what anyone is thinking about be based on not deliberately thinking about something?” and the master says, “It is a matter of ‘what I am thinking about’ not being the point.”

In other words, not thinking of not thinking, just non-thinking. Later in the same work Dogen says,

This practice has, as its main point, our “acting as a Buddha without pursuing ‘becoming a Buddha.’” Moreover, because ‘acting as a Buddha’ is beyond ‘becoming a Buddha’, our spiritual question manifests before our very eyes. Again, our emulation of Buddha is beyond becoming a Buddha, so that when we break up the nets and cages that confine us, our sitting like a Buddha sits does not hinder our becoming a Buddha. Right at such a moment of sitting still, there is the strength that has been present for thousands of times, nay, for tens of thousands of times . . .

This post doesn’t have a main point. I’m just blogging. Telling my story, my thoughts. I don’t know whether there is something insightful here or not. I’m not necessarily trying to be insightful, or impress anyone with how well educated I am. I write fairly simple, straightforward posts, articulating some of the dharma in a way that I hope people will find interesting.

My point of view is this sense of The Endless Further, of wayfaring toward the infinite horizon of just seeking.What are we looking for? Really it’s inconceivable to us, so we truly are just purely seeking, looking for something we may have had a fleeting glimpse of, like the flash of lightening in the dark of night.

Just blogging. Just seeking.  Just sitting.

Just trying, without trying, to be one with the silence that has always been silent within.


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