stillness, silence, needlessness

When you talk, say not a word
A white flower grows in the quiet. Let your tongue become that flower.

—Rumi (1207-1273)”

In 2006, I traveled to Seoul, South Korea for a business trip. At that point in my life, I had studied Buddhism for the better part of 8 or 9 years. For some reason, the proximity to the far east, likely combined with jet lag, led me to the most oriental of rituals – a Starbucks in downtown Seoul.

Over a latte or venti bold…it’s been too long to remember…I sat down and told myself that I would not rise from the seat I was sitting in until I produced a triad – a summary, in three verses, of what Buddhism had taught me up to that point. It was a point where I needed to summarize for me what Buddhism brought into my life, in simple and condensed thoughts.

Then, without much effort, the following verses came to me as an instruction of how to practice at every infinite moment:

Be silentwork triad

in thought

in speech

Be still

in glance

in movement

Be without need

in heart

in mind

I sat, stunned at the simplicity of the words, and the truth that they spoke to me. I looked out at the window, throngs of Koreans walking by, and was struck by the non-nondescript place and context within which such words came about. I also envisioned that they would come when visiting a major temple or shrine – never a Starbucks in a busy Seoul business district.

So what of these simple thoughts? I still study them often, and return to them in moments of difficulty on or off the mat. Many interpretations and ideas have I attributed to them, some in an attempt to over-analyze, others in an attempt to convince myself that these thoughts are filled with flaws. At this moment, I take them as follows.

Be still, in movement, is for me movement without movement. Movement required, no more. Movement with grace and peace. Be still, in glance, is to look at the world in a quiet, serene way. Not shifting, nervous eyes, but the eyes that come with coordination of mind, body and spirit – gentle eyes. In essence, stillness of the eternal nothingness.

Be silent, in thought, is the quieting of the mind, the chatter, the clutter that is our modern mind.  Be silent, in words, is to speak only when words are needed, and even then, with few words, reflecting patience, serenity and peace. Both are not to be interpreted as silencing all thoughts and words, but in seeing the thoughts and words against the silence of the eternal emptiness.

Be without need, in mind, is the quieting of desire, of craving, of neediness. In our consumerist society, our craving mind is a calculating foe – practice expends much in addressing this adversary. Be without need, in heart, is the quieting of desire, of craving, of neediness that is rooted beneath the mind, deep within our emotions and heart. Being without need, in heart, is not being heartless, but in being with unbounded love, for we can give, and fully expect nothing in return.

And so these words have been an inspiration and guidance for me over the years. I have two calligraphies that remind me of these words that uttered from my years of practice. One is home, the other at work. I often explain to those who ask what the calligraphy represents, and I try to explain. Often, gracious acknowledgement is given. Frequently, discomfort from some who seem to be surprised by the personal nature of the message.

Home triad

For me, the message is universal. Although it was the product of study, I consider it nothing more than the product of my understanding and decision to summarize my studies in a way that could be easily remembered, understood, and shared.

And my guideposts for when moments are fleeting or challenging my practice. I’ve come to accept that if only these three practices are sustained – silence, stillness, needlessness – practice will forever be rich and engaging.

Neither the past

Nor the future

Can injure or harm us

Only the present

And if our mind

Is unable to manage only that

Then we are truly without peace

 

– Dan, 2007

 

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