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A Noble Silence Manifesto

By Philip Toy

It is not feasible, I know, but I have always wished that we could hold our talk until we have left the zendo.

When we drive up to Cloud Cottage, we begin to practice Noble Silence.

Our car’s tires on the gravel are already practicing car tire zen.

When we open and close our car doors, we are practicing car door zen.

When we greet one another we bow without speaking, honoring each other’s practice.

Without the weight of words, we are light and available to everything and everyone around us.

When words are called for and appropriate in the zendo, we keep them spare and few, just like stones in a zen garden. With ample space around them, these words can really signify.

When verbal communication is necessary, it should be experienced only by those who truly need to know.

The less we talk, the more we are opened up to ways to communicate without words: seeing and smiling and understanding.

Meditation instruction, Dharma discussion, and Dharma talks, to be felt and effectively experienced, rely on what is not said, on what is not seen as much, if not more so, than what is.

Often it seems for our practice to deepen, we need to say less, not more; and even take back some of what has already been said.

It has been said of even Buddha’s beautiful words that “they are like entangling briars.”

I pray not to snag anyone more than I already have with too many karmic hooks and snares.

There is a time for chanting and singing, yes, and even yelling! But how well can we experience any of these if they are carried out in a room already full of words?

Maybe if, and when our little tearoom is complete, we will have a wonderful space in which to let spill all the words we so ardently may need to share — and maybe in that sharing find the silence between those words.

We are a beautiful Sangha. And yes, words have contributed some to that beauty. But I think our delightful practice of Noble Silence has contributed much, much more. Don’t you?

Philip Toy, True Mountain of Insight, has been practicing since the early 1970s. He and his wife Judith host Cloud Cottage Sangha on the grounds of their home in Black Mountain, North Carolina; they also lead retreats and days of mindfulness around the country.

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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