Monahinje iz nužde

Mingalar Thaikti je ženski manastir u Jangunu, Mjanmar, u kojem je utočište našlo 66 kandidatkinja za monahinje, starosti od 4 do 18 godina. Devojčice dolaze iz Palaung etničke zajednice, u istočnom delu Šan pokrajine, gde se već godinama vodi sukob između pobunjeničkih grupa i mjanmarske vojske.

Dhama Theingi, jedna od devojčica, sanja da postane inženjer i u manastiru se priprema za ispit koji je u rangu srednje škole. Dva dana u nedelji, posle jutarnje službe, kreće sa ostalima ulicama Janguna u sakupljanje hrane, kašiku nekuvanog pirinča, ili mali novčani prilog.

Sve više dece tragaju za utočištem u manastirima, što je posledica mnogih konflikata u zemlji između pobunjenika i zvanične vojske. Tako, samo u Jangunu u 2019. zaređenih maloletnika oba pola bilo je preko 18.000.

Pogledajte kratak video o ovoj temi ovde.


Veliko biće

Pun mesec – 26. maj 2021. – Vesak

Za koga ni dalja, ni bliža
obala ne postoje, nijedna od njih,
takvog neustrašivoga, bez ikakvih spona,
ja velikim bićem zovem.

Dhammapada, 385

Svi volimo da se osećamo sigurnim i bezbednim. Pre probuđenja, budući Buda tragao je za sigurnošću preuređujući okolnosti u spoljašnjem svetu, kako bi odgovarale njegovim sklonostima. Ali tek kada je, u dvadeset devetoj godini, zapravo uočio činjenicu da bez obzira koliko god te okolnosti bile prijatne i poželjne, ništa od toga ga ne može zaštititi od neprilika i neprijatnosti starosti, bolesti i smrti. Od tada je ta tri „znaka“ nazivao nebeskim glasnicima, jer su u njemu razbudili interesovanje da traga za sigurnošću kroz negovanje svesti, umesto da samo manipuliše spoljašnjim okolnostima. Ono što je otkrio je da sve dok pokušavamo da nađemo osećaj sigurnosti i zaštićenosti, tako što ćemo se uporno držati za čvrsto fiksirana gledišta ili za ono što posedujemo, uvek ćemo biti razočarani. Kraj razočarenja dolazi kada okončamo traganje za sigurnošću u onome što se neprekidno menja i otuda je samo po sebi nepouzdano.

Sa dobrim željama
ađan Munindo


Definisanje i odbrana

Vežba: Postani svesna kako sebe definišeš i kako braniš sebe i svoju ličnu teritoriju. Na primer, vidiš li sebe kao liberala ili konzervativca? Osobu slobodnih nazora ili tradicionalnu? Kako braniš tu svoju poziciju? Uoči kako šolja, parking mesto ili sedište u autobusu brzo postane „moje“ i kako reaguješ kada ga neko drugi uzme.

Proveri ovaj proces nekoliko puta tokom dana. Naročito kada postaneš iznervirana ili uznemirena, zapitaj se: „Kako definišem sebe i svoju teritoriju u ovom trenutku?“

PODSEĆANJA
Postavi cedulje na kojima piše „Definisanje i odbrana“ na odgovarajućim mestima.

OTKRIĆA
Ova praksa potiče od učitelja u tibetanskoj budističkoj tradiciji po imenu Majkl Konklin. On drži kurs iz budizma na državnom koledžu blizu našeg manastira. Jedan od zadataka koji daje studentima je da provedu nedelju posmatrajući taj proces „definisanja i odbrane sopstva“. Mnogi studenti to doživljavaju kao pravo otkriće. Glavno otkriće za njih je da u tom procesu učestvuju neprekidno.

Taj proces možemo jasno videti kada definišemo neki određeni fizički prostor tako da nam pripada, stolicu, klupu ili učionicu, sto u omiljenom restoranu, stazu, policu u ormanu ili mesto u sali za vežbanje. Ako neko ne poštuje te nevidljive granice teritorije koju smo obeležili u svojoj glavi, reagujemo na to. Već posle nekoliko minuta pošto smo raširili svoju prostirku za jogu, proglasili smo to mesto za „moje“. U našem manastiru, kada jednom počne meditacijsko povlačenje, moramo biti vrlo oprezni sa premeštanjem jastučića za sedenje, ejr to zaista može da uznemiri neke ljude. Je gde god da se nađemo, nastojimo da napravimo malo, sigurno gnezdo za sebe i onda ga branimo.

Taj proces počinje veoma rano u životu. Zen učitelj Šokaku Okamura priča kako je svog sina poveo u park. Poneli su nekoliko igračaka, kako bi ih njegov sin delio sa drugom decom i tako upoznao neku od američke dece. Ako kada bi se druga deca približila, njegov sin bi zgrabio igračke u naručje i izgovorio svoje prve engleske reči: „Ne, moje!“ Tako se sopstvo rađa i brani. To je prirodan proces u okviru čovekovog razvoja, ali da bismo bili zaista zadovoljni, on mora da se modifikuje u kada odrastemo.

DUBLJE LEKCIJE
Pohlepa nastaje kada mislimo kako nam je neophodno nešto da bismo sebe učinili kompletnim i srećnim. To mogu biti neka kola, kuća, hrana, akademska titula i javno priznanje. To može biti neka druga osoba. Ako ne možemo da imamo ono za čime žudi naše srce, postajemo nesrećni. To znači definisati sebe kroz posedovanje nečeg materijalnog, onoga čega možemo da se dočepamo i onda ga čvrsto držimo.

Mi sebe takođe definišemo kroz svoj mentalni posed, pokazujemo znanje i strasno branimo svoja gledišta. Mislimo: „Moje mišljenje o toj stvari je ispravno i raspravljaću se dok te ne ubedim u to!“ To je zapanjujuće i zabavno, ako razmislimo da u grupi od dvadeset četiri osobe postoje dvadeset tri mišljenja različita do našeg. Zašto smo ubeđeni da je samo naše ispravno?

Bes i nervoza su signali da mi zapravo branimo svoje sopstvo. Bes se javlja kada mislimo da moramo da se otresemo nečega ili nekoga kako bismo bili srećni. To može biti neki političar, bol ili bolest, osoran šeg ili kolega na poslu, nesnosan komšija ili njegov pas koji stalno laje. Ako ne možemo da ih se oslobodimo, postajemo nesrećni. Zašto svet ne saređuje na onome što želim da postignem? I opet, to je zapanjujuće i zabavno. Zašto stvari ne bi išle ona ko kako ja hoću, a ne kako hoće ostalih sedam milijardi ljudi na ovoj planeti?

Mi takođe ne znamo šta je naše sopstvo. Ono nije neka postojana, stabilna stvar. Ono je uvek u kretanju. Sve što nazivamo „ja“ jeste jedan stalno promenljiv proces koji utiče na naša sviđanja i nesviđanja, našu odeću, kosu i svaku ćeliju u našem telu. Svaku udah deo e tog neprekidnog toka. Kada pokušamo da zamrznemo taj svoj osećaj sopstva, time samo stvaramo patnju. („u sebi se osećam kao da mi je trideset, ali spolja ličim kao mi je šezdeset i mrzim to!“)

Zaključak: Nema takve stvari kao što je sopstvo koju bi trebalo braniti, jer u stvarnosti to sopstvo je proces konstantno promenljivih senzacija, uključujući i one koje nazivamo mislima.

(iz knjige Jan Chozen Bays: Kako krotiti divljeg slona i druge avanture sa svesnošću)


SOS

S vremena na vreme mi se jave ljudi koji liče na davljenika na sred okeana. „Pomoć! Moramo se videti. Moram brzo da naučim meditaciju! U sred sam razvoda.“ U takvim situacijama ne mogu a da sa tugom ne pomislim kako je, kada je naš brod na pučini potonuo do pola, malo kasno da tek tada počnemo da učimo da plivamo. Bilo bi nam mnogo lakše da smo krenuli makar malo ranije. A možda se, ko zna, ne bi ni našli u situaciji u kojoj smo. Ili ako bismo se i našli, sigurno na nju ne bismo gledali očima davljenika kao sada.

Pri tome mi se takođe čini izvesnim da sve što davljenik želi jeste da ga neko izvuče na suvo i kada se jednom tamo nađe, učenje plivanja postaće mu ponovo poslednja briga. I to je opet potpuno pogrešan stav, jer sve što želimo je poslovična riba, a ne da naučimo da pecamo. Tako gledamo i na meditaciju, kao na alatku koja će nas ponovo učiniti srećnim, ali srećnim po našim starim kriterijumima, starim navikama. Opet greška! Biramo ponovo tek privid mira, umesto onog istinskog, koji upravo podrazumeva da menjamo te svoje kriterijume i navike. Zar je onda čudno što i ako krenemo da meditiramo, to je kratkog daha, jer pogrešan alat koristimo za pogrešnu svrhu. Jedina svrha za koju budističku meditaciju vredi upotrebiti jeste posmatranje, upoznavanje i preoblikovanje uma. Ni manje ni više od toga. Ali davljenik ne želi da se menja on, već da se promeni voda, da postane čvršća, kako bi po njoj mogao da prešparta do obale. I zato, kad se neko javi glasom očajnika, ja ga čujem kako kaže: „Nauči me da hodam po vodi!“

Nažalost, niti sam Hrist, niti verujem da hodanje po vodi jeste ono što nam zaista treba. To ne znači da u takvim situacijama ne želim da pomognem i tražim nekakvo opravdanje, već samo to da stvari treba gledati jasnim očima. A kod davljenika, više nego kod bilo koga, to je ono najteže. I tu je kvaka. Najteži test na samom početku. Baš kao u svakoj priči o heroju, koja je priča o svakom od nas i našim naporima da stignemo do unutrašnjeg mira, nije heroju najteže da napusti sigurnost doma i otisne se u pustolovinu, već upravo to da i pre toga, na samom početku, dobro razume šta je zapravo ta bajkovita blagodat za kojom traga i koja ga poziva na tu zavodljivu avanturu.


Važna knjiga na poklon

Sa velikom radošću mogu da vas obavestim da je moj prevod Budinih govora srednje dužine (Mađđhima nikaya), jedne od glavnih knjiga budističkog kanona, najzad odštampan. Theravada budističko društvo u Srbiji će svima koji su zainteresovani pokloniti po jedan primerak. Dovoljno je da pošaljete svoje ime, adresu i broj mobilnog na mejl budizam@yahoo.com. Knjiga će vam biti poslata brzom poštom, tako da je vaše samo da platite poštarinu, koja je zbog veličine knjige (1130 strana) između 300 i 400 dinara.

Silence (6)

(part 5)

The Life in Silence and Mind Purified

As we have seen so far, there are noticeable similarities between Christian and Buddhist way of liberation observed from the point of view of Evagrius of Pontus and the Buddha, as well as between their use of silence as a skillful mean to this liberation. For both Evagrian and Buddhist way of self-purification and self-transformation, it takes acquiring a deep self-knowledge. “You want to know God? First know yourself”, advises Evagrius. This knowledge is key to eradicating of all egocentric tendencies that torment us. The path goes through a series of steps building atop each other and minutely described by both teachers. These tendencies and everything else that diverts a mind from his goal was also analyzed into details in both traditions, creating a specific map of mind as a safe guide for spiritual explorers. Thus, Evagrius writes lengthily about his scheme of eight thoughts (logismoi) that are the essence of all negative lines of thinking, giving also advice on how to deal with each of them. This classification is similar to the Buddhist set of five hindrances (nīvaraṇa) as initial difficulties to be faced by an aspiring traveler along the Buddhist path. And as, for example, in the Mahā-Assapura Sutta (M 39), the Buddha also gives advice on how to overcome them. Therefore, and that is remarkable, both ways, Noble Eightfold Path and a path of a hesychast, stress the importance of studying functioning and also purification of the human mind. In both cases, it is recommended for this arduous process to be supported by external and internal silence. Time and again the Buddha recommends solitude of a “root of a tree” or an “empty hut” as a place most favorable for practice: “A bhikkhu delights in solitary meditation and takes delight in solitary meditation; he is devoted to internal serenity of mind, does not neglect meditation, possesses insight, and dwells in empty huts.”1 At the same time, it comes as no surprise that Evagrius, like thousands of other hermits, found his “empty hut”, an abundant source of ascetic silence, in the middle of Egyptian desert.

Indeed, I tell you, love voluntary exile, for it separates you from the circumstances of your own country and allows you to enjoy the unique benefit of practising stillness. Avoid stays in the city, persevere with your stay in the desert.2

Once the silent place was found, the long road of the practical life goes through well-defined phases. In the case of Evagrius, this meant growing in virtue (catharsis), the step which strongly correlates with the Buddhist training in sīla. With the final goal of calming passions (apatheia), a state of mind quite similar to the one designated by the Buddhist term upekkhā. This is achieved through cultivating stillness, also observing, understanding and distancing oneself from logismoi (negative thoughts like anger or pride) caused by passions (or demons).

A certain measure of apatheia allows a hesychast to enter the phase of contemplation, together with gradual acquiring of spiritual vision and insight (theoria). This is achieved by maintaining mind focused, the method which resembles Buddhist practice of samadhi, collecting the mind. There are in both traditions a number of objects and methods for a mind to stay focused and contemplative that overlap. For example, well know practice of maranasati has a counterpart mirrored in Evagrius’ instructions: “Seated in your cell, gather together your mind, give heed to the day of your death, and then look at the dying of your body.”3 But in Christian system the greatest importance among different methods by far has a prayer. As with the states of mind starting with the second absorption (jhāna) and up inside the system of Buddhist meditation, Evagrian prayer means complete silencing of thoughts and moving beyond words into wordless contemplation.

This similarity between two methods is underlined by the use of the word mind (nous) to describe what is in us that prays/meditates. Although for most of us today the word “mind” refers to the faculty of logical reasoning, in the Greek tradition, the nous was our intuitive side. It enables us to know and recognize the truth of things instantly, directly, without thinking, like instantly recognizing a beauty of a landscape or a friend’s face in a city crowd. Likewise, for Evagrius, the way the mind silenced by sincere prayer knows God is not a matter of logic or reasoning; it is a direct seeing, direct intuition:

“For knowledge of God, one needs not a debater’s soul, but a seer’s soul.”4

With sincere and persistent practice, a mind starts to uncover its so far hidden potentials. As mentioned previously, Evagrius was puzzled with the experience of inner light while in deep contemplation. This reminds us that the Buddha was also describing pure mind, devoid of mental impurities, as luminous by its own nature:

Luminous, bhikkhus, is this mind, and it is freed from adventitious defilements. The instructed noble disciple understands this as it really is; therefore I say that for the instructed noble disciple there is development of the mind.5

How intriguing these experiences of light were for Evagrius and some of the monks he was surrounded with can be concluded on the basis of an episode described in the famous Palladius’ Lausiac History.6 There he describes how Evagrius and Ammonius on one occasion visited John of Lycopolis, the famed “Seer of the Thebaid”, to consult him on an urgent question concerning certain peak experiences during prayer: “whether the light comes out of the purified mind itself (implying that the mind’s primordial nature is luminous) or whether the light comes from God, whose light in turn illuminates the mind, much as the sun illuminates the moon. John’s answer was a bit coy: ‘It is not in the power of human beings to explain it. Besides, the mind cannot be illuminated during prayer without the grace of God’.”7

Be it as it is, this shows us that the direction of the both ways of practice, Evagrian and Buddhist, was towards development and purification of the mind. As a result of such training, it will unfold its intrinsic luminosity and ultimately an ascetic arrives to the bliss of knowing and harmony with God (theosis) or knowing and harmony with the Truth (nibbāna), which in Buddhist vocabulary would be described as yathābhūtañāṇadassana. In the case of Christian ascetic this act is not possible without God’s help, as he receives transforming grace from the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the entire process is described as a synergy of a human and divine forces. In the case of a Buddhist ascetic, he has got to essentially rely on himself only. In practice, that means emptying the mind of its usual discursive content and entering a place of silence and stillness (samādhi) or the state of hesychia.

As we have also already seen, the type of prayer highly recommended by Evagrius has another important quality. It is constant prayer. No doubts that here we can draw a parallel with the Buddhist practice of maintaining mindfulness in everything one does:

A bhikkhu is one who acts in full awareness when going forward and returning; who acts in full awareness when looking ahead and looking away; who acts in full awareness when flexing and extending his limbs; who acts in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; who acts in full awareness when eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting; who acts in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent.8

The last step of the training is divinization or union with God, described by Evagrius as „true gnosis of existent things”. This may correlate with liberating pañña or the “seeing things as they are”. Thus, there are a number of points of resemblance in Christian and Buddhist way of ennobling the mind/heart.

However, it should be also noticed that this resemblance is strongest at the beginning, in the domain of moral training, and the weakest with the last element of the triad, the final outcome of the ascetic interior quest. This is quite understandable, as the wisdom element, the final knowledge about the ultimate reality in these two paths directs us to two divergent directions, sometimes labeled as personalistic (in case of Orthodox Christianity) and impersonalistic mysticism (in case of Theravada Buddhism). One aims at meeting the God, Creator of this world, while the other one, completely negating the very existence of such Creator, brings us a vision of a universe as a totality of causally created, conditioned phenomena, but also of what is beyond that – unconditioned, nibbāna. In that respect, although those who arrived at the final point of these two paths, gnostikos and arahant, were so far traveling through a similar landscape, now they arrive at two essentially different points. And both of them claim of seeing directly the ultimate reality. What they saw, they hesitate to explicitly describe, supposedly for the similar reasons: “Do not speak about God inconsiderately and never define the Divinity. For definitions belong to created and composite beings”.9 The Buddha would agree with this claim that Uncreated (asaṅkara) is not possible to fully describe by what is created and composite, by language, that the experience of an awakening is not possible to fully translate into words:

“There is no measure of one who has gone out,
(Upasīva,” said the Blessed One).
“There is no means by which they might speak of him.
When all phenomena have been uprooted,
all pathways of speech are also uprooted.”10

What gnostikos and arahant see, they understand in crucially different fashion. Christian mystic sees a universe, created with a certain goal in mind and geared toward this goal by a divine providence. He observes the universe with a purpose and willed toward that purpose by a force of God’s forethought, at the same time incomprehensible, indescribable and irresistible. This picture is completely opposite to the Buddhist interpretation of the awakening experience, which lack recognition of any intentionality, pre-made plan in the world.

Let us at the end return to our classification of silence from the beginning of this text. After making a distinction between silence of absence, the outer silence of a desert, a forest or a cave, and silence of presence, which follows the end of a dialogue and represents a version of non-verbal communication, we further diversified the latter. Thus, four types of internal silence was postulated: (1) silence of social convention, (2) pedagogical silence, as a teaching tool, (3) ascetic silence, as a skillful mean, and (4) silence about the ultimate reality. So far we pointed out that in the context of spiritual practice in both religions there is a correlation between silence of absence as a necessary external condition for developing the silence of presence, internal peace and stillness. Another observation is that there is a relationship of hierarchy between these four types of silence, one builds on top of another. Starting with the silence of convention as a form of social interaction, we come to the more confined area of relationship between a disciple and a teacher, who uses pedagogical silence to instruct his devotees when deems appropriate. Higher than that stands ascetic silence, as a powerful tool of avoiding all traps of careless words and letting go of deeply ingrained tendencies of verbal actions. Once it is firmly established in a mind of a silent sage, a muni, he is ready for a meeting with the ultimate reality. This meeting, as we’ve seen in both traditions of Buddhist and Christian asceticism, bring an experience that is expressed, in many instances, if not by metaphors or negative terms, that simply by silence. In that respect, silence or stillness, but of different degree, stands at the beginning and the end of the path of practice. It is thus an often hidden treasure of mind and heart which allow us, in words of Evagrius, to “live according to the law”.11

Finally, it should be added that we started by setting a modest goal of comparing Buddhist and Orthodox Christian spiritual path through the use of silence as a useful tool of practice. But it seems obvious that this research uncovered much more points of convergence, which are not historical, not coming from direct contacts, but more psychological, being rather reflections of the basic structure of a human mind and the possibilities of its purification. Such a multitude of similarities certainly beg for further exploration. In that respect, this paper might be just a starting point for more comprehensive research in the future.

Notes
1 Bodhi (1995), p. 308.
2 Foundations, 6. In Sinkewicz, p. 7.
3 Foundations, 9. In Sinkewicz, p. 9.
4 Kefalaia gnostika, IV, 90.
5 Bodhi (2012), p. 97.
6 Palladius, Historia Lausiaca, 35.
7 Harmless (2001), p. 512-513.
8 Bodhi (1995), p. 147. Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (M 10).
9 Skemmata, 20.
10 Bodhi (2017), p. 335.
11 Maxims, 13.


Literature

Beck, Hermann (1958): Buddhismus: Buddha und seine Lehre. Stuttgart: Freies Geistesleben. Behr-Siegel, Elisabeth (1992): The Place of the Heart: An Introduction to Orthodox Spirituality. Torrance: Oakwood Publications.

Bhikkhu Bodhi (1995): The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.

Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000): The Connected Discourses of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Bhikkhu Bodhi (2012): The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Bhikkhu Bodhi (2017): The Suttanipāta. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Bunge, Gabriel (1996): Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer according to the Patristic Tradition. San Francisco; Ignatius press.

Coomaraswamy Ananda K. (1943): Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: The Philosophical Library.

Fanning Steven (2001): Mystics of the Christian Tradition. London: Routledge.

Father Theophanes (Constantine): The Evagrian Ascetical System. http://timiosprodromos2.blogspot.com/

Gillet, Lev (1987): The Jesus Prayer. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Harmless, William; Fitzgerald, Raymond (2001): “The Sapphire Light of the Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus”, Theological Studies, Vol. 62, pp. 488-529.

Hick, John (1993): Disputed Questions in Theology and the Philosophy of Religion. London: Macmillan Press.

Horner I. B. (1971): The Book of the Discipline – Vinaya-pitaka, Vol 4. London: Pali Text Society.

Karunadasa, Y. (2007): “The Unanswered Questions: Why Were They Unanswered? A Re-examination of the Textual Data”, Pacific World, pp. 3-31.

Kurian George Thomas, Ed. (2011): The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. London: Blackwell Publishing.

Murti, T.R.V. (1955): The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. London: Allen & Unwin.

Nagao, G. M. (1955): “The Silence of the Buddha and its Madhyamic Interpretation” in Studies in Indology and Buddhology. Presented in Honour of Professor Susumu Yamaguchi on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday. G. M. Nagao and J. Nozawa eds. Kyoto: Hozokan, pp. 137-151.

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Silence (5)

(part 4)

Orthodox Christian Use of Silence

In the Christian world, Orthodox Christianity was following its own way in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire for centuries, even earlier than the formal separation from the West was officially proclaimed in the eleventh century. Thus, it didn’t know much about Augustine, Thomas Aquinas nor scholasticism, preoccupied with its own, quite an eventful history, including a schism with Rome, the fall of the Byzantine Empire, almost five centuries of Turkish oppression (except for the Russian Church), the emergence of national orthodox churches, two World Wars, persecution by communist regimes and, to some extent, secularization. In parallel with all this momentous historic events, Orthodox Christianity has been developing its own cultural, spiritual and liturgical forms, based on the heritage of the Egyptian and Syrian fathers. Among the spiritual ones one is particularly relevant for our topic, and it is hesychasm.

Hesychastic Silence

The term “hesychasm”, in its main meaning, that of silence and solitude, traces its origins back to the beginnings of monastic life in the 3rd century. The word hesychia does occur frequently in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and the label “hesychasts” has often been given in the Eastern Church to monks who, after spending long years in cenobitic monasteries and leading communal life, decided to live entirely or almost alone, giving themselves to contemplation and prayer.

Conceived in the deserts of Egypt and Sinai Peninsula, the movement would fully emerge much later, in the 14th century at Mt. Athos in Greece and become the centerpiece of the Orthodox spirituality. Further enriched with the help of the Russian theological thought, it is very much alive in the Christian East even today. Its practical part consists of the full-fledged program, succinctly described in the writings of St Gregory of Sinai (1260-1346). According to him, the initial step was developing five virtues, as a foundation on which to build: silence, self-control, vigilance, humility and patience. They are said to affect and consolidate each other. Equipped with these, a monk should further engage oneself into three practices “blessed by God”: psalmody, prayer and reading. In case of those of poor physical strength, manual work was recommended too. Here is how this engagement looks like:

From early morning the hesychast must devote himself to the remembrance of God through prayer and stillness of heart, praying diligently in the first hour, reading in the second, chanting psalms in the third, praying in the fourth, reading in the fifth, chanting psalms in the sixth, praying in the seventh, reading in the eighth, chanting psalms in the ninth, eating in the tenth, sleeping in the eleventh, if need be, and reciting vespers in the twelfth hour. Thus fruitfully spending the course of the day he gains God’s blessings.1

Through a diligent practice a monk gradually discovers that one comes to self-knowledge and knowledge of God through attentiveness and watchfulness (nepsis), but alsothrough stillness and silence (hesychia). Therefore, the hesychastic movement that by time emerged inside Orthodox Christianity put these two qualities in the forefront of the ascetic practice. In that respect, we could here identify an example of ascetic silence we discussed previously.

Hesychastic program also encompassed utilization of various psycho-physical practices, involving so-called Jesus Prayer, but also breathing and physical postures, based on the ancient Judeo-Christian conviction that human beings are created as a unity of body and spirit, put into conflict with each other only by sin itself. Besides Evagrius of Pontus, who is considered one of forefathers of the hesychastic movement, its theoretical underpinnings could also be found in the apophaticism or “negative theology” of such figures as St. Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius the Areopagite. Their emphasis on saying what God is not was intended to a quieting of thought and a direct experience of God.

Thus, it seems that by the 7th century the word hesychia as a technical term was well established in the confines of the patristic literature, since John Climacus devoted a whole chapter to it in his famous treatise The Ladder of Divine Ascent. But already in the Sayings of a Desert Fathers there are ample references to the importance of a silence and the internal state of hesychia, similar to this short story which illustrates the use of pedagogical silence:

Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, ‘Say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified.’ The old man said to them, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.’2

Looking at the practice itself, one can discover three progressive steps on the path of a hesychast: catharsis (or purification), theoria (illumination, contemplation, being granted spiritual vision and insight), and theosis (divinization or union with God). The true spiritual goal of this internal journey consists of freeing the mind from its preoccupation with thoughts (logismoi) and desires, and restoring it to its true home in the heart, its natural equilibrium. Hesychastic prayer as a main vehicle of progress along the spiritual path is therefore often referred to as “the prayer of the heart,” being concentrated on some simple word or sentence to be silently and constantly repeated. Usually these are the following phrases, pronounced internally (or being merely a thought in various situations), slowly and with loving affection: “Lord have mercy” (Kyrie eleison), “Jesus,” or in the more formal form of a prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.3

The effects of this practice are multiple and fundamental:

The name of Jesus, once it has become the center of our life, brings everything together. But let us not imagine that the invocation of the name is a “short-cut” that dispenses us from ascetic purification: The name of Jesus is itself an instrument of asceticism, a filter through which should pass only thoughts, words and acts compatible with the divine and living reality which this name symbolizes. The growth of the name in our soul implies a corresponding diminution of our separated self, a daily death to the self-centredness from which all sin is derived.4

Evagrius of Pontus and approaching Immaterial immaterially

Among the founders of the spiritual tradition within Eastern Christianity, including Hesychasm, the name of Evagrius of Pontus is particularly important for our topic. His approach to the religious life was at once theoretical and practical, with a great deal of attention placed on detailing the monk’s journey toward God. By focusing our research on him, we are trying to distill his ideas related to the role of silence, solitude and stillness in the framework of the ascetic practice and hopefully be able to relate these findings to the examples from the Buddha’s practice already presented.

Evagrius of Pontus (345-399), also known as Evagrius the Solitary, got his surname because he was a native of Pontus, a region in Asia Minor. His father was a bishop and young Evagrius was ordained and studied under the famous Saint Basil the Great in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia. After Basil passed away in 379, he became a disciple of another great theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus. Under these Cappadocian fathers, Evagrius became a skilled exegete and when Gregory of Nazianzus moved to Constantinople to become a patriarch, Evagrius was invited along. There he participated in the Council of Constantinople (381), impressing many with his skill of debating. However, an affair with a married woman and its possible consequences soon forced Evagrius to leave the city and search for peace in a monastic life. Through Palestine, he found his way to the Egyptian desert of the Cells (a colony of about six hundred anchorites), where he stayed until the end of his life 15 years later.

Evagrius was a prolific writer on asceticism, church history, biblical commentaries and letters, who deeply influenced Orthodox Christian spirituality through the works of those who further developed his ideas, like Maximos the Confessor, Dionysius the Areopagite or John of Klimakos. He is also considered a forerunner of the hesychast movement of later Byzantium. Today we have preserved some fourteen authentic works by Evagrius, among which the central position is occupied by the trilogy of the Praktikos, the Gnostikos, and the Kefalaia gnostika. In the first of these, consisting of short chapters, he has expounded his ascetic philosophy intended for less experienced monks. This experienced exegete of the soul knew too well that in the stillness of the desert, memories well up and a young monk can spend long hours wrestling with one’s own thoughts and memories. The Praktikos is thus full of valuable instructions how to win in that battle. The second text is thematically a continuation of the previous work, but this time written for more experienced monks, as describes the practice in much more detail. Finally, in the third and the most important text, known also as the Problemata gnostika, Evagrius makes effort to fully develop his cosmological, anthropological and philosophical ideas. But he was also a master practitioner of the ascetic discipline and one of the famous teachers of the emerging discipline of contemplative prayer, a form of Christian meditation. Thus, he was among the first and the most successful Desert Fathers making an effort to connect ample fruits of Christian ascetic practice with the more metaphysical monk’s itinerary leading him back to the Creator.5

In the framework of Orthodox soteriology, there is a specific goal of restoring our likeness to God, by putting the mind (nous) illumined by God in charge of the whole person. The way to this likeness to God or we might say to becoming the same with the Truth leads, unsurprisingly, from external silence of the Egyptian desert, the silence of absence as we labeled it, to the silence of presence, the internal one, the silence about the ultimate reality inherent to a peaceful mind and heart mirroring the eternal light while facing it. In those moments Evagrius was intrigued by a vision of formless light that he, and probably monks he knew, enjoyed at certain peak experiences occurring during prayer. Where did this light come from? Does it come out of the purified mind itself (which implies that the mind’s primordial nature is luminous) or the light comes from God, illuminating the mind much the same as the sun illuminates the moon? To find the answer Evagrius had to dive deeper into the ascetic silence.

As mentioned, Evagrius was probably the first among Desert Fathers who expounded a full system of ascetic training and this from the angle of the careful study of the functioning of the human mind. In his version, this study consisted of three phases. The first of these is self-purification, cultivating virtues and learning to combat “evil thoughts” (logismoi). His Praktikos elaborates on strategies applied in learning the nature of the different concepts and ideas with which the mind is constantly fed. In this way it becomes able to distinguish between various logismoi, demonic tempting thoughts, as well as to appreciate the beneficial ideas/perceptions (noēmata)suggested by angels or those that arise from neutral sense-perceptions. These efforts are awarded with the birth of passionless love and gift of apatheia. In this process, for Evagrius, dispassion (apatheia) or freedom from control by the passions is more than purity (agnoteta), but less than the full restoration of the likeness to God (kath’homoiosin). This kind of emotional integration of a person marks the end of the first phase of the process by which Christian praktikos, a spiritual aspirant,can mature into a gnostikos, a contemplative and teacher capable of true knowing (gnosis) of existent things, the inner meanings and purposes of God within creation and history. The main path to this goal is also identical to the already mentioned „dispassion of soul“, i.e. calming the mind, liberating from irrational drives, which in their extreme forms would today be called obsessions, compulsions or addictions.

The second phase consists of natural contemplation (theōria physikē) of the existing things, those without a mind (like rocks, plants and animals) and those who possess it (like men and angels). For Evagrius, contemplation is the natural activity of the mind, noticing God’s presence in everything he had created, considering the whole world as a giant book written by God.

In the third phase an ascetic comes into the presence of and contemplates the God himself. This coming to the supreme form of gnosis may be taken as an intuitive knowledge attained through contemplation. It is not discursive theological knowledge in the sense of let say the Thomist theology of the Trinity, but knowledge of God in the philosophically intuitive and mystical sense. The Praktikos point out, right at the outset, that the ultimate goal of the path is an amalgam of the initial two phases:

„The Kingdom of the Heavens is dispassion of soul with true gnosis of existent things.“6

This pedagogy of the soul is complemented with a well-known scheme of eight thoughts (logismoi) that constitute the essence of all negative thoughts young monks tend to struggle with. In the Evagrian system these are thoughts of gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sadness, accidie (listlessness), vainglory and pride. About two centuries later this list would be transformed by Pope Gregory I into the famous “seven deadly sins”. Relying on the old Stoic idea of the limited scope of our power, Evagrius makes here a very interesting observation, which also resonates some Buddha’s observations:

Whether all these thoughts trouble the soul or do not trouble the soul is among those things which are not within our power; for these to persist or not to persist, or to set passions in motion or not to set in motion, is among those things which are within our power.7

It is interesting where Evagrius sees the main reason for arising of these passions in the ascetic’s mind and if there is maybe something even more basic that initiates them. For him the first dilemma was whether passions are provoked by “conception” (ennoia, thought or notion in the mind) or the vice versa.

One must attend whether the conception sets the passions in motion; or the passions, the conception. For, on the one hand, some have the first opinion; on the other hand, some have the second opinion.8

And in the very next, 38th chapter he gives this decisive answer: “It is the nature of the passions to be set in motion by the senses”. What he seems to claim here is a psychological insight that mind (nous), fed by impressions provided through senses, excites the passion. After seeing some pleasant food, the passion of gluttony may be aroused in me. But what about the very nature of that passion? Does it have some deeper source? Here Evagrius introduces another important point and again quite close to the Buddha, the centrality of (the illusion of) ego in producing all other mental disturbances:

The first of all the thoughts is the thought of self-love (philautia), after which the eight.9

Here the “eight” refers to eight passions/thoughts and self-love, a form of the false conception of self, is designated as the root cause of all the mental pollution that arise. To combat that pollution, in the case of Evagrius, the whole variety of practical devices were prescribed. Reading, vigil and prayer are used to focus a wandering mind. Hunger, toil and the life in solitude contribute to cooling of an inflamed desire. Finally, “chanting of the psalms, long-suffering and mercy put a stop to temper aroused.” “Mercy” here relates to giving alms, caring for the sick and comforting the afflicted ones.But among all these practices there is one above them all that Evagrius highly recommends. That is a constant prayer: “We have not been commanded to work, to keep vigil and to fast continually, but it has been legislated for us that we ‘pray unceasingly’”10 Here he follows what St. Paul had advised in his Epistle to the Romans (12:12).

Once an ascetic has achieved a certain measure of apatheia and virtue through observing, understanding and distancing himself from logismoi caused by passions (or demons), he is ready to enter the state of sincere prayer. What Evagrius consider a prayer differs from the usual understanding of the word as a petition or a praise to God. For him, it is a “contemplative prayer” or “wordless prayer”, denoting more a state of mind, than an activity. Or defined in another way, as an internal journey, a long traveling without leaving a cell even for a moment:

“Prayer is the ascent of the mind towards God.”11

The Orthodox Christian theological tradition posited the mind (nous) as the highest element of the human person, as it actually represents the image of God within us, that which is most like its creator. Therefore, it is among our faculties the one most capable of knowing God. Relying on this line of reasoning, Evagrius acknowledges that for us as human beings nothing is more natural than praying: “Mind… is naturally constituted for prayer.”12

The silent prayer is thus, according to Evagrius, the main road towards achieving the supreme goal of the ascetic’s practice, the knowing of the God, or rather striving towards this goal and never fully achieving it. Also, being able to express that knowledge. And here we come to a long debated issue in the framework of Christian theology: In what respect if God knowable? Namely, even before Evagrius there was a well established line of reflections on the subject of the incomprehensible nature of God. It suffices to mention here Gregory of Nyssa and his Vita Moses or John Chrysostom’s five sermons in Antioch, where he affirms that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see”.13 For Evagrius too, the invisible, immortal and incomprehensible God is above all form and even imagination. In his Exhortation to Monks he writes: “You could not comprehend the nature of God, not even if you flew on wings. God is incomprehensible, just as he is also our creator.”14

Therefore, the best those who intend to meditate on the nature of God could do is to empty their minds of all images or even hypotheses through a process of negation later formalized as an apophatic theology. In his Chapters on Prayer Evagrius gives the following instruction of this silencing the mind:

“When you pray do not form images of the divine within yourself, nor allow your mind to be impressed with any form, but approach the Immaterial immaterially and you will come to understanding”.15

Approaching Immaterial immaterially as the highest experience of pure prayer. This traveling beyond forms and images into deeper dimensions of being, tells us Evagrius, brings us a vision of light without form. But it is also characterized by another parallel process, that of transformation of ascetic silence into a silence about the ultimate reality, as the “perfect silence alone proclaims Him”.16

(deo 6)

Notes
1 Philokalia, Vol IV, p. 233.
2 Ward (1984), p. 81.
3 Kurian (2011), p.
4 Gillet (1987), p. 96.
5 In analyzing his texts, I’ll rely on translations made by Robert E. Sinkewicz in his book Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus, Oxford University Press, 2003 as well as by Father Theophanes (Constantine) at the site http://timiosprodromos4.blogspot.com/.
6 Praktikos, 2.
7 Praktikos, 6.
8 Praktikos, 37.
9 Skemmata,53.
10 Gnostikos, 49.
11 Chapters on Prayer, 35. In Sinkewicz, p. 196.
12 Praktikos, 49. In Sinkewicz, p. 106.
13 1 Tim 6:16.
14 Sinkewicz (), p. 222.
15 Chapters on Prayer, 66. In Sinkewicz, p. 196.
16 Maximos the Confessor. Philokalia, Vol 2, p. 271.


Silence (4)

(part 3)

Varieties of Buddhist Silence
Words “silence” (P. mona and tuṇhībhāva, Skt. mauna) and “silent” (P. tuṇhī) appear in the Pali Canon in various contexts. Let us explore the most frequent of these cases to uncover the main possible uses of these terms by the Buddha and his leading disciples. It seems proper to start with the Buddha himself and one of his epithets, which is Sakyamuni, “silent sage from the Sakya clan”. An epithet muni as one who took a vow of silence has a long tradition in India, appearing as early as the Vedas: 

The munis, girdled with the wind, wear garments soiled of yellow hue.[1]
They, following the wind’s swift course go where the Gods have gone before.[2]

Chāndogya Upanishad, while explaining the practice of a student (brahmacarya), also explains what does a vow of silence mean:  “And what people normally call a vow of silence (mauna) is, in reality, the life of a celibate student, for it is through the life of a celibate student that one finds the self and then thinks of it.”[3]

Ascetic Silence
Certainly the vow of silence as a form of ascetic silence, as we called it, was in India one of devotional actions in many non-Vedic schools too. As Tilakaratne says: “In the Indian context, it seems customary to refer to one who lives a religious life as muni, perhaps, because silence may have been an obvious characteristic of them.”[4] Thus, among Jains, where male ascetics were also called muni, one of the festive days of a religious calendar is a day solely devoted to silence. It is called ‘Silence Eleventh’ (maunekadaśī) and falls on the eleventh day of the bright half (i.e. when the moon is waxing) of the month of Mārgaśīrṣa (November/December).

Probably the most striking example of an ascetic silence in the Pali Canon is embodied by a silent sage, muni, as an ideal worth striving to. It is found in the famous Khaggavissāṇa Sutta of the Suttanipāta. This long poem is actually a collection of verses which were, according to tradition, uttered by various paccekabuddhas, often translated as “silent Buddhas”. The sutta gives us an insight into their true character and an exceptional value of a solitary life, as the verses explain how they became disenchanted with the world, went forth, and attained enlightenment:

Having seen radiant [bracelets] of gold,
skillfully fashioned by a goldsmith,
clashing together in pairs on the arm,
one should live alone like a rhinoceros horn.

Thus if I had a partner, I would incur
[fond] words of address or verbal friction.
Looking out for this peril in the future,
one should live alone like a rhinoceros horn.[5]

The ambiguity of the metaphor used in the last verse of each stanza (eko care khaggavisāṇakappo) later gave birth to a variety of interpretations and long-standing debate, as the Pāli word khagga (Skt. khaḍga) has two meanings, “rhinoceros” and “sword”. Anyhow, this unforgettable refrain in a very telling way praises solitary life and ascetic silence as the most beneficial for achieving the final goal of liberation.

Ascetic silence certainly represented a key part of a proper training of bhikkhus. They were expected to speak only when it is appropriate for the given situation and also beneficial for the listeners. In the Dhamaññū Sutta (AN 7:68) seven qualities of the monk who is accomplished in the Dhamma (dhammehi samannāgato) are listed. Two of them are related to our topic. The fifth quality is that he knows when it is time for seclusion, that means silence of presence in general. The sixth one is that he is “the one who knows the assembly” (parisaññu). The sutta further explains that the monk, being with different groups of people, knows how to behave, when is the right time to speak and when to just keep silent.

And how is a bhikkhu one who knows the assembly? Here, a bhikkhu knows the assembly: ‘This is an assembly of khattiyas, this is an assembly of brahmins, this is an assembly of householders, this is an assembly of ascetics. Among these, one should approach [this assembly] in such a way; one should stop in such a way; one should act in such a way; one should sit down in such a way; one should speak in such a way; one should remain silent in such a way.[6]

The Buddha points out to this type of silence in Pariyesana Sutta (M 26) as well, when exhorts the monks: “When you gather together, bhikkhus, you should do either of two things: hold discussion on the Dhamma or maintain noble silence.”[7] In other words, the teacher advises them to deepen their understanding of the teachings through mutual discussion or to maintain their minds in the state of watchfulness and inner silence. That bhikkhus took quite seriously such exhortation of the Teacher is visible by high regard they had for silent behavior. Thus, Kandaraka Sutta (M 51) records great admiration a visiting ascetic expressed for the silence of the community of monks. On other occasion, a large community of bhikkhus was sitting around the Buddha in a wood and were so silent that a king who were approaching the place was overwhelmed by fear from ambush, unable even to imagine that such a crowd could sit in perfect silence.[8]

It is worth here pointing out that silence doesn’t have an absolute worth in the value system of the Buddha, as it is evident from several episodes described in the Vinaya Piṭāka. On one occasion king Bimbisāra, seeing followers of other sects getting together periodically and explaining their teachings, suggested to the Buddha to introduce the same. The Teacher agreed, but monks would on these occasions just sat in silence. This practice was met with strong disapproval by some lay people attending these gatherings and eager to be instructed:

They looked down upon, criticised, spread it about saying: “How can these recluses, sons of the Sakyans, having assembled together on the fourteenth, fifteenth and eight days of the half-month, sit in silence, like dumb pigs? Ought not dhamma to be spoken when they are assembled together?”[9]

The Buddha concurred with that criticism and allowed the monks to talk about Dhamma when assembled on the observance day. On some other occasion a group of monks took a vow of silence and spent the whole rains period of three months not uttering a word to each other. This was their idea of a perfect training and living on friendly terms. But on hearing that, the Buddha harshly criticized such practice, qualifying it as a characteristic of some other (unnamed) sects and as a breach of bhikkhu rules: “Monks, an observance of members of other sects, the practice of silence, should not be observed. Whoever should observe it, there is an offense of wrong-doing.”[10]

Another interesting example comes from Buddhaghosa’s Paramatthajotika. In the commentary for the Sutta Nipāta verse 781, these words of the Buddha were recorded:

“Ānanda, one should not remain silent under all circumstances,

simply thinking, ‘I am virtuous.’ For in the world:

When the wise man is in the midst of fools,

they do not know him if he does not speak.[11]

Here too the Buddha treads a middle path between complete silence and verbosity. It is obvious that according to him in a life of a bhikkhu there was a room for silence, but also for wise speaking. Like with all other of their actions, the teacher required his disciples to be mindful and clearly understand the difference between these two ways of action. This was their way of purifying the mind. One should resort to silence only when it is beneficial, skillful (kusala), when it is ennobling us. In all other cases, by not uttering a word, we are degrading ourselves to a level of dumb animals.

Thus, we come to the idea of a noble silence, which plays a very important role in the system of training in the Dhamma. When discussing noble silence (ariyo tuṇhībhāvo) two levels of meaning should be distinguished. The first is a narrow one, explained by Mahāmoggallāna in the Kolita Sutta (SN 21:1):

‘Here, with the subsiding of thought and examination, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the second jhāna, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. This is called noble silence.’[12]

In the commentary to this sutta it is further explained that the second jhāna is called noble silence because thought and examination (vitakka-vicārā) cease with it and by their cessation speech cannot occur.

Unlike this state of complete inner stillness, a wider meaning of the noble silence, that of just focusing attention to an object, can be discovered in the Dutiyakāmabhū Sutta (SN 41:6). There three kinds of formations (saṅkhārā) are discussed. Among them the verbal one (vacīsaṅkhāro) is again described as consisting of thought and examination as the mental factors responsible for articulation of speech: “First one thinks and examines, then afterwards one breaks into speech; that is why thought and examination are the verbal formation.”[13] The commentary to this sutta claims that when the Buddha advises “either speak on the Dhamma or observe noble silence” he aims at saying that even attention to a meditation object, without achievement of any jhāna, can be considered a noble silence.

In its widest meaning, the term noble silence encompasses all examples of abstaining from speech for the sake of training, which would characterize them as instances of ascetic silence. It might be silence of endurance, when faced with unfounded accusations or insults. Thus, the Buddha would remain silent too when, out of hostility and hatred, someone approaches and starts scolding him. Faced with such a degree of hostility, he knows that any debate if fruitless. When, in the Asurindaka Sutta (SN 7:3), the brahmin proclaims a victory after such “debate”, the Buddha has a message for him:

“One who repays an angry man with anger
Thereby makes things worse for himself.
Not repaying an angry man with anger,
One wins a battle hard to win.[14]

In some other cases it might be silence of appreciation and respect, when deeply touched by what our senses provide or by what emerges from the depths on our inner life. All these types of noble silence is thus naturally closely related to the right speech as a factor of the Noble Eightfold Path: abstaining from uttering harsh, insulting words, also lies or boasting, divisive words and, finally, just chit-chat. In all these cases it is far more beneficial, not only for a bhikkhu, but for a lay person too to resort to the noble silence and avoid falling into a trap of unmindful talking.

Silence of Convention
There are many examples in the Pali Canon of what we already labeled a silence of convention. The frequent cases when the Buddha is invited for a meal by a lay devotee are in the suttas described in a quite stereotypical way. He wouldn’t accept the invitation for two consecutive times and just after the invitation was made for the third time, he would accept it simply by remaining silent. This seems to be a wider custom in India of the Buddha’s time, as we see in Jain sutras too, that monks when going an alms round also accepted donated food in silence. Later, after the meal, the Buddha would spend some time in silence,[15] before giving a Dhamma talk for the host and his family.

But there are similar cases when the Buddha-s silence didn’t imply acceptance. One of them is found in the Bodhirājakumāra Sutta (M 85), when prince Bodhi invites the Buddha for a meal. After arrival, he was asked to step on the white cloth spread over the stairs at the entrance of the prince’s palace. Commentary explains that the childless prince spread the cloth with the idea: “If I am to have a son, the Buddha will step on a cloth”. The Buddha knew that, due to bad past kamma, the prince is destined to remain childless and stopped right at the entrance. Although an invitation to enter and step on the cloth was repeated for three times, he remained silent and refused to come in. Finally, Ānanda had to intervene and request the cloth to be removed.

It is well known that the time of the Buddha was marked by a very lively and extensively practiced tradition of formal debates in ancient India. Involvement in this practice, as might be gleaned from the suttas, aimed at proving one’s own spiritual superiority in front of a curious audience and attracting new followers. This can be illustrated by the Buddha’s debate with a Jain follower Saccaka, whose both parents were skilled debaters. As usual, the debate was finished once the opponent was not able to respond to the challenge and stayed speechless:

When this was said, Saccaka the Nigantha’s son sat silent, dismayed, with shoulders drooping and head down, glum, and without response.[16]

In Alagadūppama Sutta (M 22) there is a case with a similar outcome. However, this time there is no real debate, but the Teacher admonishes the monk for promoting wrong views. Here too silence indicates a sense of bewilderment and defeat of a monk Arittha in a discussion.[17]

A special example of silence of convention is seen when Sangha discusses an internal issue (sanghakamma). There the importance of silence as a medium of communicating communal consensus is remarkable. The decision is made when everyone present has nothing to add and keeps silent when invited by the presiding bhikkhu to further discuss it. This type of agreement appears also during ordination ceremony, when the silence of the bhikkhus marks their consent for the aspirant to be accepted into the Sangha.

Pedagogical Silence
When previously discussing the topic of the “silence of the Buddha”, we’ve already seen one of the examples of how silence was used by him in pedagogical purposes. He would turn back the question to his interlocutor for further consideration and reformulation, indicating at the same time that suppositions the question was based on should also be reevaluated. This was just one example of the Buddha as a skillful teacher, famous for his ability to transmit the message using the most appropriate means, depending on the occasion and the abilities of his audience. When speaking with a farmer, the Buddha would often use metaphors related to weather, agriculture, crops etc.

When talking to noblemen and rulers, he would support his message by comparisons based, for example, on a skill of waging a war or governing. And when approached by “metaphysician” like Mālunkyaputta, he didn’t hesitate to remain silent. In all of his dialogues he was asked an enormous number of questions and, as briefly referenced before, he would generally deal with them in four ways: (1) directly answering, (2) answering by analyzing a question first, (3) by counter question and (4) by setting a question aside. The last of them could be labeled a pedagogical silence, as it was also a way of teaching, this time transferring a lesson non-verbally.

We already shed some light to the last option in the discussion subtitled “The Enigma of the Buddha’s Silence”. Quite similar case of pedagogical silence is the Buddha’s conversation with the ascetic Vacchagota, described in the Ānanda Sutta (SN 44:10).

Then the wanderer Vacchagotta approached the Blessed One… and said to him:

“How is it now, Master Gotama, is there a self?”

When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

“Then, Master Gotama, is there no self?”

A second time the Blessed One was silent.

Then the wanderer Vacchagotta rose from his seat and departed.

When later Ānanda asks the Teacher about the event, The Buddha explains his silence was an expression of the middle way. If he confirmed the existence of a self, explains the Teacher, he would be in the camp of eternalists and would not support the arising of the knowledge that all things are non-self (anattā). And if he denied, he would reinforce an annihilationist view that there is only this life and that the self or soul is identical with the body. Such a view further entails that there is no moral accountability for our actions, nor rebirth. Contrary to all this, the Buddha’s insight into the reality of this world revealed that all phenomena are impermanent. Whatever is impermanent is also unsatisfactory. Because it will not last, sooner or later it will decay or change into something else. This change is a source of our frustration and unsatisfactoriness of all these phenomena. Also, we don’t have control over this process, we cannot make these phenomena stable and fixed. In other words, the Buddha discovered that all life is a network of beings interacting, influencing and defining each other in a way that can not be fully controlled. And exactly the totality of these causal relationships are what defines us as beings and not any supposed, forever fixed internal essence.

Therefore, Vacchagotta’s question about existence or non-existence of self or something fixed and stable was meaningless. Something like asking a blind man whether light exists or not. The light is simply not part of his world and therefore the question doesn’t have any value or meaning. Aware of that meaninglessness and probably having in mind a profile of the ascetic, the Buddha decided to apply pedagogical silence. He didn’t want to give any food for his interlocutor’s fruitless speculations, completely unrelated to the nature of true reality. By staying silent, the Buddha had not retreated from his role of a masterful teacher. He just had chosen a different communication formula, the one not relying on words. Of course, this approach is the most fruitful for those who are able to benefit from this kind of non-verbal teaching method. If Vacchagotta was one of them we can not conclude based on the sutta text.

A variant of pedagogical silence could be considered a way of teaching by a living example, as this is also a very powerful way of communicating liberating insight. Here „silence” doesn’t mean only “not talking” unless and until one is invited or when the audience is ready, but that one emits joyful calm and serenity in a way the others are able to appreciate it. An example of silent transmission of the Dhamma, by mere appearance and charisma, beside the Buddha’s, comes here to mind. The Vinaya Piṭaka records Sāriputta’s encounter with one of the first five Buddhist monks, the elder Assaji[18] and being immediately inspired by the elder’s peaceful demeanor:

He was pleasing whether he was approaching or departing, whether he was looking in front or looking behind, whether he was drawing in or stretching out (his arm), his eyes were cast down, he was possessed of pleasant behaviour.[19]

When approached by Sāriputta and asked about his teacher and the teachings he proclaims, the elder Assaji’s inner silence transpires outwardly as modesty and materializes in just a few words, aimed at the maintaining the outer silence too or at least avoiding verbosity:

Now, I, friend, am new, not long gone forth, fresh to this dhamma and discipline. I am not able to teach you dhamma in full, but I can tell you its purport briefly… Those things which proceed from a cause, of these the Truth-finder has told the cause, and that which is their stopping, the great recluse has such a doctrine.[20]

Just this terse, but powerful statement was enough for Sāriputta to become a stream-enterer. But this transformation was made possible by the whole impression the elder Assaji made on Sāriputta by his inner and outer silence materialized in a minimal use of words.

Silence about the ultimate reality
The phenomenon of silence we are interested here is the one related to the Buddha’s teaching on and also describing the final goal of the path he proclaimed – nibbāna. We can start with his very indicative claim right after Awakening: “This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise.”[21] This claim can be taken as pointing into two directions: to the limits of the comprehension of the Teachings and also implying its ineffability. Both of them are, in a way, contradicted by the later history of Buddhism, as the teacher spend the rest of his life teaching the Dhamma and Buddhist schools in general are known by their voluminous Canons, comprising thousands of pages, many times surpassing, for example, the Bible. Therefore, starting from the quoted assertion, it might be confusing that Buddhism with the later rise of Abhidhamma minute analysis of the reality grew into a predominantly scholastic and a book-based tradition.

There is an apparent contradiction between ineffability of the final truth and such verbosity, which is not unique to Buddhism. One of the explanations might point to the fact that the ineffable truth of a meditative experience or nibbāna is what characterizes the goal, while all this ocean of words, instructions and metaphors is only the way or vehicle bringing us closer to that goal. Although it is obvious fact that religious experience, as any other for that matter, can never be fully expressed in linguistic terms, words are the best what we invented so far for that purpose. But where words fall short of expectations, the Buddha, similarly to the other religious teachers, inclines towards use of metaphors or silence that we labeled silence about the ultimate reality. Here ultimate reality can be understood as a nibbāna, a direct experience of an awakened mind.

As remarked above, The Buddha had to overcome the inadequacy of ordinary language who is substantially oriented, describing essence where there is absence. This was, no doubt, a difficult task, because the medium of instruction was prone to misunderstanding. This is, as Tilakaratne defines it: “the challenge the Buddha had to face as a teacher who intended to show people the way out of the quagmire of substances. In a manner of speaking, this has to be done by using language against itself. In this context, the Buddha makes such statements as there is no person, no individual, no soul etc., which are mostly negative.”[22] This negative type of discourse, which borders with silence by the fact that often obscures more than it reveals, is particularly noticeable when nibbāna is being described: “There exists, monks, that which is unborn, that which is unbecome, that which is uncreated, that which is unconditioned.” And after declaring that the born, become, co-arisen and conditioned is “seat of disease”, the Buddha continues: “The escape from this is calm, beyond the sphere of logic, being that which is stable, that which is unborn, that which is not co-arisen; grief-free, dustless, this tract is the cessation of states involving dukkha, the pacification of formations, bliss”. Here, as we see it,  “calm, beyond logic” points to this ultimate state of internal silence and peace that is unique characteristic of an arahant.

Here is one more example of this “negative” discourse, a description of nibbāna or unconditioned reality, describing what it is not, and staying silent on what it is. The method might be compared to a work of a sculptor, chipping away excess of material in a block of stone, with a form left at the end. Just in this case, it is more difficult to construe the meaning, as we are dealing with contours of something immaterial:

There is that sphere (āyatana) where there is no earth, no water, no fire nor wind; no sphere of infinity of space, of infinity of consciousness, of nothingness or even of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; there, there is neither this world nor the other world, neither moon nor sun; this sphere I call neither a coming nor a going nor a staying still, neither a dying nor a reappearance; it has no basis, no evolution and no support: this, just this, is the end of dukkha.[23]

As we shall see later, this negative method of describing ultimate reality is nothing unique, but is well-known in Christian thought on God too, as apophatic theology.


Notes
[1]     It is interesting that the great muni, the Buddha, would later adopt the same color for the robes of his disciples.
[2]     Rig Veda, hymn X, 136. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Rig_Veda/Mandala_10/Hymn_136.
[3]     Olivelle (1998), p. 279.
[4]     Tilakaratne (1993), p. 99.
[5]     Bodhi (2017), p. 163.
[6]     Bodhi (2012), p. 1081.
[7]     Bodhi (1995), p. 254.
[8]     Walshe (1987), p. 92. Sāmaññaphala Sutta (D 2).
[9]     Horner (1971), p. 131.
[10]   Horner (1971), p. 211. Mūgabbata is a custom of being dumb (mūga) for three months.
[11]   Bodhi (2017), p. 1041.
[12]   Bodhi (2000), p. 713.
[13]   Bodhi (2000), p. 1322.
[14]   Bodhi (2000), p. 258.
[15]   Bodhi (1995), p. 748.
[16]   Bodhi (1995), p. 328. Cūḷasaccaka Sutta (M 35).
[17]   Bodhi (1995), p. 226.
[18]   The other four Buddha’s former companions in the ascetic life before his Awakening and the first monastics were Añña-Koṇḍañña, Bhaddiya, Vappa and Mahānāma.
[19]   Horner (1971), p. 52.
[20]   Ibid., p. 53.
[21]   Bodhi (1995), p. 260.
[22]   Tilakaratne (1993), p. 139.
[23]   Udana, 8:1. Quoted in Amaro-Passano (2009), p. 158.


(part 5)

Silence (3)

(part 2 here)

Typology of Silence

The word “silence” possesses an extraordinary richness of meaning in the vocabulary of sacred. It is not only acoustic phenomenon, but also indicates a change of a mindset, a turning around and looking straight into our heart. One way to measure the full depth of that meaning, but also to safely stay in the limits of religious practice, is to contrast silence with a word. For example, the Judeo-Christian tradition declares the unity of word and world: creation is first and foremost a result of the divine speech. The Gospel of John starts with the famous sentence: “In the beginning was the word”.1 But to this assertion we could add that before thus described beginning there was the silence out which the word was formed and heard. A word is clearly distinguishable just on the background of the silence. Or, using another metaphor, the best way we can see written words is as a black text on the white paper. Here the surrounding whiteness of the paper could be understood as the all-encompassing silence of the cosmos, the birthplace of our world. In it, the transcendent, unoriginate and infinite God who is one with the silence, who is the silence, chooses to break it by speaking. In that context, the relationship between silence and a word is hierarchical. Being a background from which every word comes, something that precedes and also follows that word, an ultimate noiselessness, silence can be understood as more fundamental than discourse. It can exist independently of words. To evade limitations imposed by English language, this meaning of silence can be better illustrated by the Russian word tishina. It denotes the silence of a forest, a cave, a desert or a cosmos and carries with it the sense of the English word ‘stillness’. Since here there is only a silence, but no one to hear it, let us label this type of silence a silence of absence.

Observing from another, interpersonal angle, both silence and words as parts of a discourse could be considered equal. They exist thanks to each other. Words come after silence and silence comes after words. Here, same as words, silence is also capable of producing meaning. And although we consider words as our main vehicle of communication, it is true that there are cases when silence communicates more eloquently than words. The second meaning of silence as cessation of a speech is captured by another Russian word, namely molchanie. And molchanie could be also understood as continuation of a conversation, this time by means of silence. This type of silence, since it is part of conversation, could be labeled a silence of presence.

The interpersonal character of the latter case of silence allows for further distinctions. The rules of etiquette and decorum sometimes dictate us to remain silent and this can be labeled a silence of convention. Silence of presence may be also employed as pedagogical silence, when a teacher wants to transmit his message to his disciples non-verbally. Closely associated to this is a self-imposed ascetic silence, as a part of spiritual training inside an ascetic community. Finally, in some other cases specific to religious context, we come across a silence about the ultimate reality,when a follower through prayer or meditation is faced with an indescribable Absolute, be it God or the ultimate reality. Or in the words of Evagrius of Pontus:

Every proposition has as predicate, either genus or difference or species or property or accident or that which is composed of these. None of the things that have been said, however, can be taken with regard to the Holy Trinity. Let the unspeakable be worshiped in silence.2

Notes
1 John 1:1.
2 Gnostikos, 41.

(part 4)


Silence (2)

(part 1 here)

The Enigma of the Buddha’s Silence

“Silence of the Buddha” is far from being a new research topic in Buddhist studies and the literature accumulated so far is substantial.1 But in discussing this issue researchers were predominantly focusing on the well known case from the Cūḷamālunkya Sutta (M 63), where a monk asks the Buddha a series of ten questions, but doesn’t get the answer.2 Therefore, these questions were labeled avyākata, “unexplained” or “undeclared”.

“These speculative views have been undeclared by the Blessed One, set aside and rejected by him, namely: (1) ‘the world is eternal’ and (2) ‘the world is not eternal’; (3) ‘the world is finite’ and (4) ‘the world is infinite’; (5) ‘the soul is the same as the body’ and (6) ‘the soul is one thing and the body another’; and (7) ‘after death a Tathagata exists’ and (8) ‘after death a Tathagata does not exist’ and (9) ‘after death a Tathagata both exists and does not exist’ and (10) ‘after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist.’3

A lot of interpretative effort was invested in resolving the enigma why the Buddha remained silent, with ideas leading in different, often conflicting directions. Based on previous writings on the topic, T. W. Organ was the first to create a classification of possible solutions to the enigma of the Buddha’s silence and came up with six answers.4 The first one could be labeled as Conformity and assumes that the Buddha had nothing new to offer, as he accepted the current views of his age. This view was advocated by those authors who strongly believed Buddhism is a version of Brahmanism and therefore the Buddha’s teaching consists of just reformulated ideas contained already in the Vedas and the early Upanishads. Thus, Coomaraswamy writes, “the more profound our study, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish Buddhism from Brahmanism”.5

The next possibility, Unorthodoxy, is quite opposite. This means the Buddha rejected the current views and as they were implied in what he was asked to explain, his silence was a formal expression of that stance. Another option, we call it Agnosticism, is that being a kind of agnostic in this matter, the Buddha had no views of his own. This opens up another hotly debated question, the one of Teacher’s omniscience, particularly stressed in Mahayana schools. The fourth possibility, Exclusivism, is that while knowing answers for all speculative problems, he didn’t disclose them on the ground that his interlocutor is not yet mature enough to understand them. This has often been connected to a questionable idea that besides the teaching for ordinary people, the Buddha also taught esoteric one, for initiated only. Such a view could be challenged by several quotations from the Pali Canon, where the Buddha explicitly confirms he doesn’t hide any part of his teachings. The most telling among them is found at the end of the Mahāparinibbana Sutta (D 16). But, as it is known, many later Buddhist schools exploited this idea to explain their later appearance in the history of Buddhism and also to give credibility to their innovative teachings.

The fifth option formulated by Organ is that Gotama considered language as inadequate in two ways. The first is that questions itself were wrongly formulated, implying the existence of something that doesn’t exist in the supposed way. The language is also inadequate by its inability to express reality and thus not precise enough to formulate appropriate answers to the monk’s questions. This Transcendental position led the Buddha to the conclusion that the best answer would be to remain silent. And finally comes Pragmatism as the sixth possibility to explain the Buddha’s silence. It was simply used as a skillful mean, as after pondering on metaphysical questions of Mālunkyaputta, the Buddha considered answering them as a waste of time and energy. Debating metaphysical questions does not move us closer to the real goal of the Dhamma, liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, even for an inch. This last, pragmatic hypothesis seems confirmed by the Buddha himself, as he, after his interlocutor left, explained to his personal attendant Ānanda:

“Why have I left that undeclared? Because it is unbeneficial, it does not belong to the fundamentals of the holy life, it does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.6

After such an explicit answer, strengthened by a memorable simile with the man shot by an arrow, it seems odd that this episode, firstly, was named “silence of the Buddha” and, secondly, provoked such a diversity of interpretations. It does seem that questions were simply wrongly formulated and unlike in some other cases when he would reformulate a question before answering it, this time the Teacher for certain reason decided not to do what he was asked to.

Early Buddhist scholars spilled a great deal of ink discussing this question. Among aforementioned options, T.R.V. Murti clearly favored the Transcendental solution of the enigma, writing that “silence can only be interpreted as meaning the consciousness of the indescribable nature of the Unconditioned Reality.”7 Here he clearly follows a stance of his own teacher S. Radhakrishnan, who in his study about the Buddha writes: “If the Buddha declined to define the nature of the Absolute or if he contented himself with negative definitions, it is only to indicate that absolute being is above all determinations.”8 Whatever cannot be defined may be responded to only by silence.

A different, Pragmatic option was supported by R. Panikkar in his analysis of the Buddha’s relationship to the idea of the Absolute, He notices “holy indifference” on the part of the Buddha “not for things of little account, but for the thing that human beings – in the excess of their zeal – have always regarded as the most important, most transcendent in their lives”,9 and it is a question of God’s existence. As this is what the Buddha was actually asked about, Panikkar claims, he goes to the root of the problem not by direct denial of God, but by demonstrating “superfluity” of the very question, as the answer that would satisfy all unenlightened beings cannot quite be found. Further on, the Buddha’s silence is a sign of “vacuity” of any possible response, not so much “because the number of answers is roughly equal to that of the population of the earth, but essentially because the response is inevitably conditioned by the question… And then it will scarcely be the ultimate answer that is asked for and expected”.

Following Murti’s analysis, J. Hick employs an interesting division between various questions of the avyākata type into two groups of “unanswered” and “unanswerable”, indicating at the same time that to know the answer to those from both groups is not necessary or conducive to liberation. The first group:

consists of questions which are in themselves legitimate and admit of true answers. We do not definitively know those answers, although we can develop theories and dogmas about them. The first six ‘views’ listed, expressing pairs of positive and negative assertions – the eternity or non-eternity and spatial infinity or finitude of the universe, and mind-body identity or non-identity – are of this kind… Indeed it is possible that Gautama, after his enlightenment, did know the answers to these questions; at any rate later Buddhist writings speak of his omniscience. But it is still the case that, according to him, salvation/liberation does not depend upon such knowledge.10

Questions of “unanswerable” type are the remaining four, as well as those from the conversation with Vacchagota (M 72) inquiring about the state of a fully enlightened being, a Tathagata, beyond this life. After declaring them wrongly formulated, the Buddha tries to be more intelligible by using well known simile with the whereabouts of a flame after a fire is extinguished. “In which direction has the flame gone: east, west, north or south? None of the permitted answers applies. Likewise, what happens after the bodily death of a Tathagata cannot be expressed in our ordinary human categories… Here the translation of the avyākata as ‘the unanswerable questions’ seems more appropriate. It also seems proper to refer to their subject-matter as mysteries, realities that are beyond human comprehension and expression.” Hick thus comes again to the Transcendental category as an answer to the alleged mystery of the Buddha’s silence.

The whole of this discussion was turned into a completely different direction by A. Velez de Cea’s conclusion that the silence of the Buddha is actually non-existent:

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as the silence of the Buddha regarding the undetermined questions. The undetermined questions are not inexpressible, unanswered or unanswerable. In fact, the Buddha answered them in very explicit ways and for more than one reason.11

The Buddha himself did not hold any of ten views and when asked about them, he simply used different ways among the four strategies of answering: directly, by analyzing and separating, by counter question and by setting the question aside. The reasons for this were, as we already saw, pragmatic, but Velez de Cea points out also to a cognitive and affective ones. The cognitive reasons are related to the Buddha’s insight into the process of dependent origination and elimination of ignorance, mainly regarding the true nature of the five aggregates and called “identity view” (sakkāyadiṭṭhi). By clearly seeing selflessness of the aggregates, the Buddha also uprooted the latent tendency to become attached to them. This Velez see as an affective reason for the Buddha’s answers to the undetermined questions. Further on, he stresses the novelty of his approach: “The distinction between these two kinds of reasons, cognitive and affective, does not appear in former interpretations of the silence of the Buddha” and discuss concrete examples illustrating both types of reasons. In conclusion, he discusses on one possibility to talk about the silence of the Buddha, and it is related to the limitation of the Teachings itself:

If by definition the Buddha limits himself to teach suffering and its cessation, then it is logical to expect silence about what happens after the cessation of that suffering. This silence, however, must be relative, for soteriological purposes, after the cessation of defilements at the moment of awakening, but it is absolute after the cessation of aggregates or nibbāna without remainder.12

Elaborating on Velez de Cea’s position, A. Tilakaratne in his Nirvana and Ineffability claims that “it is not altogether correct to say that the Buddha did not answer the avyakrta questions. Although he did not answer these and many other such questions in ‘yes’ and ‘no’ terms, he did answer them in a different manner.”13 He further compares the Buddha’s dialogues with Malunkyaputta (M 63) and Vacchagotta (M 72) and points out that in the second one the Buddha gives an answer, describing Vacchagotta’s standard ten questions as “speculative views”. When after that his interlocutor asks about after-death status of an arahant, the Buddha compares an arahant with the fire which extinguishes due to a lack of fuel. This shows, concludes Tilakaratne, “that the Buddha was not silent, nor is it the case that he refrained from answering these questions at all times.” The reason why he hadn’t answered to Malunkyaputta in the same fashion, speculates Tilakaratne, “may be understood depending on the context. It is possible that, before deciding on the type of the answer, the Buddha took into consideration the special circumstances under which such questions were put to him.” Another reason for not answering may be psychological, as “it is clear that the very questions are a result of an ‘un-arahant’ mentality” and a person attached to a whole spectrum of unfounded assumptions would not be able to understand the answer properly.

So far we were discussing a very limited material related to the silence of the Buddha, namely various ideas on why he remained silent when asked a set of metaphysical questions. However, as we will see, there is a number of other aspects of silence in Buddhism as well as in Christianity to be discussed. But before we look for textual examples of these aspects in both traditions, it would be helpful to review the very term of silence and see what typology of it could be devised and later applied to the material discussed.

Notes
1 E. g. Coomaraswamy (1943), Radhakrishnan (1946), Organ (1954), Murti (1955), Beckh (1958), Hick (1989), Pannikkar (1990), Tilakaratne (1993), Velez de Cea (2004), Karunadasa (2007).
2 These questions also appear at several other places in the Pali Canon, like Poṭṭhapāda sutta (D 9), Nivāpa Sutta (M 25), Aggivacchagotta Sutta (M 72), Rūpāññāṇa Sutta (S 33:1), Cinta Sutta (S 56.8), Kokanuda Sutta (A 10:96), Paṭhamanānātitthiya Sutta (Ud 54) etc. When it comes to the texts outside of the Pali Canon and preserved in Sanskrit or Chinese translations, ten questions turns into fourteen, as the first two pairs, related to the world which might be eternal and (spatially) infinite, are transformed into two tetralemas (catuṣkoṭi): A, not A, both A and not A, neither A nor not A.
3 Bodhi (1995), p. 533. Numbers inserted by me.
4 Organ (1954).
5 Coomaraswamy (1943), p. 45.
6 Bodhi (1995), p. 536.
7 Murti (1955), p. 48.
8 Rahakrishnan (1946), p. 59.
9 Panikkar (1990), p. 149.
10 Hick (1989), p. 345.
11 Velez (2004), p. 125.
12 Velez (2004), p. 139.
13 Tilakaratne (1993), p. 117.

(part 3)