The voice of silence

Searching for truth presents us with a paradox. Surely we must begin our search with the realisation that truth is simply ‘what is’. That being the case the question is then, ‘Why do I not fully feel a part of this truth?’

The question itself is a clue to the dilemma. The question arises from self, that which Descartes crystalised as, ‘Cogito ergo sum’, or the I Am. The existence of the sense of self is itself that which gives rise to our sense of separateness, that which makes us feel apart and that which lies at the root of all our suffering.

The clue to unravelling this is in the word ‘sense’. We have a sense of self, not a real self. That this sense of self is so compellingly realistic and so universally believed in, does not alter the fact that it is not a permanent and real thing. When you look into the heart of it, there is no permanent, unchanging core at the centre of our being. The crux of our dilemma is that we are caught up in this delusion to the extent that it feels fully real to us. With it have emerged not only the belief in ourselves as a separate thing in this life but the belief in an imortal soul or spirit. Such beliefs act only to reinforce the sense of self and so are not helpful to us.

When I see a wave rolling across the sea and crashing to the shore, I can’t help but believe the wave exists. But what is the word ‘wave’ but a convention? The particles of water in a wave don’t travel along with it, they move up and down. There is no ‘wave’ it’s merely a momentum created by a cause, producing a result. It’s not a permanent separate thing.

If the self was a permanent, separate thing, there would be no escape from it, there would be no realisation of no-self and with it the peace and freedom from suffering that come with at-onement.

There are many things we do that are of the nature to reinforce the sense of self or are merely movements within the sense of self. The question is, if we want to find truth, to understand reality, how do we move beyond this sense of self, how do we undo it?

We can start by understanding the principles of doing so and then gradually applying them in our own lives. The truth is not to be found in complexity, in abstruse philosophies or beyond the realm of the senses. It’s around us all the time, it’s in stillness, in simplicity and in silence.

Let’s go back to the start. With the arising of the question comes the separation of the questioner from that about which the question has arisen. But in silence, in stillness, there is no question, there is no questioner. Where there is no questioner there is no separate sense of self and where no separate sense of self exists there is peace.

When you set aside the time to meditate – even for a few minutes – in turning the attention inwards you may notice a subtle tone, not exactly a noise, but perhaps more like an electrical hum. This tone has been termed the ‘sound of silence’ or the ‘voice of the silence’. What it is need not concern us, but it’s constancy can act as a ground for meditation.

We can find this tone within the silence of meditation or, with practice, on the busiest street. In turning our attention to it we can make use of it to still the movement of the self and in finding the silence, enjoy the silence. If we want to find peace we have to make the effort to use such tools and focus on the space and on the peace that exists all around, rather than on the content and the noise that exist within the peace.

Become aware of the focus of your attention, is it on the space or on the objects within the space? What narratives do we weave around these objects? Is our attention on the silence or on the noise within the silence? How do we interpret these noises, what do they give rise to?

When we see the space, when we hear the silence we become more aware of the movements and objects within our field of awareness for what they are. We start to disentangle ourselves from the narratives and associations attached to each of them. They become just things that arise and are of their own nature within the whole. When we see it like this we bring a sense of freedom and perspective to our lives that reduces the capacity for these things to cause us suffering.

But as with all such practices, they can only be as effective as the time we give to them. If we are so caught up in appearanaces we won’t give ourselves the time and we will remain deluded, believing in things as they arise and caught up in their apparent reality.

But when we practice and give attention to the space and to the silence we see the other side of reality. Things don’t press in on us so closely because our focus is the space in which they arise, the ground of all, rather than on that which has arisen.


Those wishing to read more on the Sound of Silence might find of interest Ajahn Amaro’s excellent article on P. 26 of the latest Forest Sangha newsletter :

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