Learning from Silence
"Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being."
—Mohandas K. Gandhi
It is now more than two years since airplanes flew into buildings, incinerating hundreds, and inciting millions.
In these years, thousands more have perished, while tens of millions have become enraged.
What have we learned? Only the truth of Dr. Martin Luther King's words, spoken more than 40 years ago:
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder the hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
How many times must we prove these words? Isn't it enough? Haven't we had enough? Violence does not lead to peace. Violence does not create peace. Violence cannot co-exist with peace. These are self-evident truths. We cannot indulge war and expect peace.
In my heart, I know that all people want peace, in spite of the seeming evidence to the contrary. Therefore, on behalf of all people, I want to call for peace: total and absolute peace throughout the world, without further thought or consideration or calculation of any kind.
It is a universal human experience that suffering, tragedy, and death can awaken us from the surface of life to its depths, from the superficial to the meaningful, from the crude to the beautiful, from the selfish to the selfless, and from the mundane to the transcendent. As we awaken, we are drawn towards deep reflection, inner Silence, and wisdom. It is through deep reflection, inner Silence, and wisdom that we come to know peace. And now, in this moment of escalating passions and convictions, in this moment in which the world is trembling and reeling from past passions and convictions, we must seek that peace, know that peace, and become that peace.
To honor the truest expression of humanity, we must all call for peace, stand for peace, and act for peace. We must accept only peace. But first, we must become peace itself, not an idea or image of peace, not the rhetoric of peace, not the passions of peace, but actual peace, the peace in which violence cannot arise, because its true causes have been seen, understood, and transformed. There are many among us who have given their lives to such peace, who have become such peace, and who can speak for such peace. We must listen to them, learn from them, and give them seats in those rooms of power in which government and military officials now decide our nation's priorities and course of action.
This is a crucial moment in human history. What we do now, as individuals and as a nation, will lead our world down one path or another. The path we choose now will create our future for years and generations to come. Our every thought, word, and act holds the power to create or destroy. In the simplest of terms, our choices are between the paths of war and peace, between violence and nonviolence, between hatred and understanding, between fear and love, between retribution and reconciliation, between aggression and restraint. It is of supreme importance that before we retaliate against those we believe sponsored the attacks, before we choose one of these paths, we reflect and learn. We must learn, because what we already know, what we already think and feel and believe, the ways in which we already behave—are all links in the causal chain that culminated in the catastrophe of September 11. In order to learn, we have to empty our cup of these things—the already known. We must create within ourselves a sky of uncluttered awareness, in which we can rest in the clarity, equilibrium, and peace of our purest essence and deepest truth. We must allow our first and second thoughts, our inflamed feelings, and our habitual reactions to dissipate in this sky of awareness, into stillness and Silence.
Wisdom flows from Silence, and we need wisdom. We need a clarity of perception and understanding beyond what we already know. Differing points of view and perspectives are useful, but a higher level of consciousness is essential. Beyond thoughts and words, beyond concepts and beliefs, beyond all that is known and imagined, beyond the mind itself, is Silence—the sacred hub of the universe, the place where all differences dissolve, where all conflicts cease, where all fear turns to love, where all souls shine with the same single flame of radiance. Silence reveals what we don't yet know, and Silence will teach us what we must learn. From these teachings we will understand, and from this understanding we will grow wiser, and as we grow wiser we will act wisely. Henry David Thoreau wrote, "It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things." If we do not grow wiser, then we will do desperate things, and our desperate acts will cause violence to escalate in ways we cannot even imagine. I pray that we will not take our world down this path.
Sitting in Silence and deep reflection, we will find a wisdom that is not diminished by the dualism of the mind, not driven by surface appearances, not defined by the commotion of passions and convictions, not ruled by the chaos of habitual thoughts and reactions. In times of crisis such as we are now experiencing, we instinctively pause, reflect, and seek the solace and guidance of Silence. But for how long? For a moment? For a day? For a weekend? Typically, that is what we do, and it is not enough, because when we again take to the streets of "business as usual," the quiet voices of reflection and silence are overcome by the louder noise of habit and convention, of thoughts and beliefs, of anxiety and tension, of ego, fear, and separation. Instead, let us forge an enduring and unbreakable relationship to Silence and deep reflection, one that is constant and sacred, one that is attended to and cultivated in each moment, so that we may be ever and always guided by that to which we too rarely turn, and even then only in times of crisis, loss, and grief. We must surrender to Silence as a way of life, for it is in this Silence that we find the true heart and spirit, the true soul, of our humanity. Silence is the supreme summit from which we can see the past, present, and future of the human drama, and what lies behind it. It is upon this summit that the saints and sages from every country and culture have stood, and it is upon this summit that we must all now stand.
Within this Silence, we learn much about the deeper nature and purpose of human life, about the nature of the world, about cause and effect, about immutable laws of existence. If we are to know peace, we must learn from Silence. So far, we have not. So let us begin now, together, in our call for peace.
Let us learn from Silence.
© 2004/Robert Rabbin/All rights reserved