Maintaining Silence

Qing Dynasty mother coinThere is a parable that tells of four young Taoist students who gathered to meditate. The agreement was that they would sit in silence for many days, knowing silence would deepen their meditative state and enhance their understanding of the Tao.

As night fell on the first day, the candle in the center of the room began to flicker. The first student shouted, “Grab another candle. This one is going out.”

The second student glared at him for breaking the silence they had held all day. She said, “We agreed to say nothing! You broke the silence and now, as your friend, I must correct you.”

The third student sighed and said, “Don’t you see that in correcting him, you have also broken the silence?”

The fourth student stood up in disgust. “You all failed. I am the only one who maintained the silence.”

We can get a good laugh from these four young students who had good intentions, but succumbed to human nature. They each symbolize a different aspect of our character that must be addressed on our journey with the Tao.

The first student who broke the silence represents those who fail to follow through on their commitments. They don’t honor a promise and don’t feel the rules apply to them.

The second student represents those who enjoy scolding and criticizing others, usually for the purpose of making themselves seem more intelligent or advanced.

The third student is the type person who loves to lecture and presumes to serve as everyone’s teacher, whether they wish to be taught or not.

And finally, the fourth student represents our nature to see ourselves as different from others, more special and refined, even though we make the same mistakes.

Humanity is struggling with the value of silence these days, given that we have a vast audience provided on the Internet. We are quick to publicly criticize a meal in a restaurant for failing to meet our expectations, when we ourselves would struggle to not burn toast. We eagerly present ourselves as experts on every topic from weight loss to personal finance, though we eat poorly and struggle to pay our bills.

While the parable includes no solution, the answer was provided by sages who used ancient Chinese coins to represent how we should engage with the world. On the outside, the coin is circular; a reminder to be relaxed and easygoing with others and outward situations. On the interior, however, it has a square, instructing us to be exacting and disciplined when refining ourselves.

Moreover, be aware of the value of silence and its dual purpose. Not only does it prevent us from succumbing to the same human failings as these students, but it also helps us focus inward on our own growth and development.

Try silence today and you will soon learn its value.


About Leigh

Leigh is an American Taoist philosopher, exploring how modern life and its problems can best be addressed with ancient teachings. She is also a doctor of psychology.
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