Silence is Golden, But My Eyes’ Still See

Silence is Golden

Vacchagotta was a wandering ascetic who one day put a series of questions to the Buddha inquiring if the world is eternal or not, if the universe is infinite or not, is the self identical with the body or not, if the Buddha exists after death, and so on. The Buddha’s answer to these questions was silence.

On another occasion, a large group of followers sat by a lake on Vulture’s Peak waiting for the Buddha to give a dharma talk. When the Buddha arrived he pulled a white lotus flower from the water and held it up and was silent for a very long time. It is said that only the disciple Kashyapa understood the message the Buddha was conveying.

The account of the Buddha’s Flower Talk is a pivotal story in the Ch’an/Zen traditions. Kashyapa is considered the first to receive the lamp of Dharma Transmission, the way in which dharma is passed from Zen masters to disciples. The Buddha’s silence here is regarded as pointing directly to the Dharma of the Mind – the mind that all dharmas depend upon, the mind that we cannot physically see, the mind that is Buddha, the mind that manifests all phenomena and permeates the universe.

Yet, pure silence transcends all that. Silence, like emptiness, is the ground of everything. Silence can be another word for emptiness. Before there is a sound, there is silence. Where there is no sound, there is only silence. Silence is the true nature of our mind. What thoughts does a baby have while in the womb? I suspect that even after the mind is formed, there is just silence. We come from silence and we eventually return to it.

The story of Vacchagotta’s questions and the Buddha’s refusal to be drawn into a thicket of views, speculation and dogma, was crucial for Nagarjuna. Understanding the Buddha’s silence in this context is perhaps the key to understanding Nagarjuna’s own doctrine. As I quoted him recently, he maintained, “Silence is the ultimate truth for the wise.”

But my eyes still see

There is another truth we must contend with: the relative truth of the everyday world. And in that world, the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority community in Burma continues. This has engendered criticism directed at Aung Suu San Kyi for her silence on this issue, and the Dalai Lama as well. Not to mention criticism of the Burmese Buddhists for their part in attacks on the Rohingya. And I’ve seen this on many secular blogs like the Huffington Post, the Nation, and Voice of America and many news services. However, the Buddhist community seems strangely silent.

As of this writing, the only bloggers I know of who have even mentioned the current situation in Burma are myself and Arun at Angry Asian Buddhist. I don’t subscribe to every Buddhist blog or even know of every one, but I am aware of quite a few. I don’t mean to pass judgment on anyone. I know that some bloggers prefer to write about the more personal aspects of Buddhism, and I respect and admire their more intimate approach. At the same time, there are others who often blog about social issues and ethics, and some who consider themselves social activists as well as Buddhist.

It’s not up to me to decide what others should blog about, but one would expect that a few Buddhists would find the situation in Burma disturbing enough to say something about it. I would also think that some of higher profile Buddhists would want to use the platform they have to say something also.

Some might contend that it’s not our business to tell Buddhists in another country what to do. But when I hear of attacks and killings and the torching of homes perpetrated by Buddhists, or what Hanna Hindstrom reports at The Independent, “In recent days, [Buddhist] monks have emerged in a leading role to enforce denial of humanitarian assistance to Muslims,” then I say, it’s everyone’s business. Amnesty International is making it their business, and a U.N. human rights envoy is, too. Do we believe in interconnectedness or not? In this case, silence to that question is not an ultimate truth, or wise. No one had a problem cheering the Burmese Buddhists on when they faced down the military junta, so why the silence now?

I apologize for going off on what may seem like a rant on the subject of speaking out, yet again. But if nothing else I feel it is a discussion worth having, and you never know, if enough voices were raised it might influence the monks in Burma to disengage themselves from the attacks on this Muslim minority, who apparently have no place in this world. It is article of my faith as a Buddhist to believe that the Buddha would say we cannot turn our eyes away and abide in silence like this.

Oh, don’t it hurt deep inside . . .
Oh, don’t it pain to see someone cry . . .
Talkin’ is cheap, people follow like sheep
Even tho’ there is nowhere to go

Silence is golden
But my eyes’ still see
Silence is golden, golden
But my eyes still see

But my eyes still see
But my eyes still see

– The Tremeloes


3 thoughts on “Silence is Golden, But My Eyes’ Still See

  1. Bang on, David… I’ve been selfishly blogging about the goings on in my own little corner of the world, and have not really hooked into this disturbing situation. I’m also confused by the lack of reaction of our most famous Buddhist leaders. Lets keep an eye out, and keep raising awareness.

    1. Thanks, Steve. My intention was not to make anyone feel derelict in regards to what they do or do not blog about. Everyone has a right to decide that for themselves, and social issues are not always easy to deal with. I’m just saying that it seems so strange to me that practically no one in the Buddhist community seems feel the situation is even worth mentioning. I can’t help but feel it is a real failure of engagement.

  2. I spent some more time watching news reports, and it is awful! I have been so ensconced with my work and other matters I simply didn’t pay it enough attention. Hopefully, there will be (should be) a groundswell of commentary… enormous pressure can be facilitated by the big names in Buddhism – the world listens to the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and others. Lets get them talking. There is a global revolution for peace (it’s all the SGI bangs on about) apparently…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.