Let’s talk silence

[Photo Copyright by Giulia van Pelt via Flickr under Creative Commons Licence]

A Buddhist proverb goes:
“If you can’t improve on silence, be silent.”

This is part of the whole >restraint< thing that Buddhists are really fond of.

“Good is restraint in body, restraint in speech is good, good is restraint in mind, everywhere restraint is good; the monk everywhere restrained is free from all suffering.”
[Dhammapada 361]

Restraining from talking has the great advantage that while being silent we can listen. There is a another saying that goes:
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

However, while countless articles in psychology talk about the importance of listening as a communication skill, nobody seems to be very good at it.

Studies show that we spend something like 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and – sadly – only 45 percent listening. Wait, … it gets worse.
In communication psychology it is common knowledge that from any nice chat you just had with a person, you will remember like 80% – of what YOU said – and about 20% of what the other person told you.

Now we can understand why in Buddhism >silence< is a highly valued resource that is thought to be extremely powerful.

I read somewhere that Zen actually knows three different forms of silence.

At first there is the silence of the student who just does not know the answer.

Then there is the silence of the teacher who knows the answer, but who wants his student to find out for himself.

Finally, there is the silence of the master, who has understood that there is no use in words when describing something that has to be experienced.

It is said that this silence sounds like thunder.

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