Monday, May 23, 2016


Four Zen monks decided to observe a week of silence and meditation. However on the very first night, seeing the oil lamps grow dim, one of them blurted out, ‘the lamps require oil!’ Instantly his neighbour remarked, ‘We are not supposed to speak!’ The third friend was livid, ‘You idiots, why are you talking?’ The fourth person calmly commented, ‘I am the only one who has not spoken.’

Though the greatest ordeal for a person who can talk is to keep silent, silence in social interaction is not too difficult if we are disinterested in prolonging dialogue or if we are listening by choice. Also, we are easily forced into silence if we are in a situation of weakness due to our actions, circumstances or a submissive attitude. But the litmus test is if we fail to honour our own resolve to keep silent.

In the Zen fable, while one monk cannot resist reacting to the dying lamps, the others cannot resist commenting upon somebody else’s actions. The first could have silently lit the lamp. The rest fell prey to the temptation of being judgemental. Indeed, all four of them were too full of themselves and hence they broke their silence.

Nevertheless, selfish silence is not welcome. Silence should not result in turning a deaf ear or a blind eye or be an excuse for being indifferent or insensitive. Instead, we must use the power of silence to listen… to introspect… to process ideas… to clarify thoughts… to understand ourselves as well as others. Above all, we must guard our silence from the pitfalls of being judgementally reactive.

Our sensitivity should be wilfully proactive
May our silence be steady and not reactive!

- Pravin K. Sabnis

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