Noble science is a technique used by a lot of Buddhist monks and nuns, and lay people like me, in which we refrain from speaking as a way to help quiet the mind and prevent us from using harmful speech (either to ourselves or others).
By learning to keep from speaking every word that comes up, in modern terms we would call this having some kind of social filter, we can censor or even completely stop harmful speech, and therefore keep from causing harm or pain to others and ourselves.
To blurt or not to blurt?
You may think, or even know, that you’re one of those people who just blurts out whatever comes to mind. Or maybe you know someone like that who simply speaks any thought that comes in to their head. They open their mouths and immediately put their foot in it. We’ve all done that at some point in our lives, mistakenly but as we engage our inner selves more deeply it puts us in better control of what we say.
Some people who are often very frank or direct in their speech might think it’s a good idea to be honest and open in what they say. However, to be on the receiving end of some rather bluntly delivered information, like whether our outfit suits us, can be a little unwelcome when delivered with such frankness. Wouldn’t it be kinder to engage in practices that make us kinder, more thoughtful in how our communication might be received?
Being mindful of our speech, or mindful of our silence, can help lessen these social gaffe’s when we hurt someone’s feelings unintentionally.
Most frequently asked question
The main question I get from retreatants is “We’re allowed to talk over lunch though, aren’t we?” Usually said in a slightly apprehensive manner. The answer is no of course, the whole day is done in silence, except for me giving some teachings and directions. Oh, and a few signs dotted around the place.
“Listening takes place not just through the ears, but with all the senses. Sometimes the best way to prepare ourselves to hear in a new and better way is to be still and silent. When we quiet our motor minds — and our motor mouths — we find that we are better able to open our hearts. The ancient practice of Noble Silence helps us begin the process of hearing in a new way; this is a timeless and wise practice that helps us be more sensitive and perceptive..” 1
Take a break
Silence is like taking a mini-holiday as your mind puts down the agitation of daily life and you can become totally absorbed in just being – rather than always doing. You can of course try being silent at home, if you know you’re a mutterer deliberating plans through mumbled speech to yourself. Or someone who sifts through the pro’s and con’s of a given situation by speaking them out-loud as if to another. Perhaps you pretend to other drivers that you’re on your bluetooth in the car when really you’re just chatting away to yourself, turning over the days events to yourself through speech.
This is of course not to say that it’s bad to talk to yourself (you’re not going mad of course) however to practice restraint, to exercise some amount of control over our speech rather than being led around by our thoughts and just talking for the sake of it.
When we practice silence we learn when it’s appropriate to speak, regardless of how we’ve always been in the past. If you’ve always spoken your mind previously, does that mean that it’s the only way to be, now? As we engage more fully with our speech the motivations behind our speech, our minds and our hearts, we come to learn and recognise when it’s wise, when it’s necessary and when it’s kind.