Four frogs are lined up on the same upper window sill outside, slumbering in the narrow shade of a large myrtle tree. They are a ghastly ashen gray color due to their automatically cutting back their metabolism as they sleep, safe from predators, weather, and humans. “Etherized upon a table” they look. I wonder what a frog dreams, let alone four of them. Not a twitch despite my obvious hovering; their eyes are unmoved, even no rapid eye movements to hint at dreams. “To sleep, perchance to dream” may not be part of a frog’s angst — at least not until nightfall and hunger awakes them again.
In a 1999 teaching session on transforming the mind, the Dalai Lama was asked which was better: a city life style or a remote and peaceful setting? The Dalai Lama replied that while it depended on the individual, the very advanced practitioner might “seek a life of solitude and abandon the world, as it were. That is said to be the highest form of spiritual practice.” For most, however, “it is far more important to be an effective member of society, someone who makes a positive social contribution and integrates spiritual practice as much as possible into daily life.” This is the path for most to pursue, said the Dalai Lama, because solitude is too hard for most and they would discover this too late, only to “slowly and quietly, and with some embarrassment … try to sneak back into society!”
–from Transforming the Mind (2000)
Of course, those who make “a positive social contribution,” etc. are few, and those who pursue the “highest form of spiritual practice” are fewer. The overwhelming majority of people, sadly, do neither, and these are the ones who are not reached either through appeals to social contribution or otherwise.
Here is a half-amusing quote from a standard medieval history text (Morris Bishop, The Middle Ages; 1968):
Some zealots, for whom the communal life of the monks was insufficiently austere, became hermits or anchorites, obeying the impulse that always bids some to hide from the world. They might build huts in the wilds, dressed in sheepskins, exist on the produce of their own garden and the gifts of poor peasants; or they might continue to serve humanity by settling at a ford or marsh or forest way to guide travelers. Some few, particularly women, had themselves walled in a cell with a window opening on a church.
If silence was a palpable force, an enormous reservoir of energy, what could we envision? A huge labyrinth of an industrial factory, the whir of gigantic machines grinding, clanging, mashing, louder and faster, then suddenly: silence. Or a large room full of voices, a rising hum of anger, a single voice rousing the crowd to fever pitch, and then, suddenly: silence. Or fearful faces staring up at an ominous sky as the roar of bomber aircraft grows louder, closer, visible, screams of fear, and then, suddenly: silence.
Silence is not merely the counterpart of noise when noise is human contrivance. Silence is void and empty of noise, it absorbs and neutralizes noise, it stills and sweetens and renews. If silence were palpable, it would stop noise and the human source of noise.
The emptiness of silence is the fullness of the universe, the fullness of becoming resting in being. And, if our minds are very still, very quiet, we can sense in a palpable way the scent and taste of silence as it descends like a mantle, like a gentle rain shower, over the face of the earth.
Which comes first: widespread depression in modern society, or cultural and financial contrivances creating and servicing a lucrative market? The ominous collusion of culture, business, medicine, education, and popular media tries to overwhelm the average person into believing that, yes, depression is inevitable, virtually innate, a basic part of human nature. The cultural use of pharmaceuticals is a renunciation of will and mocks those in the world who live in conditions that really have brought about disease, illness, and mental problems. Culture creates many diseases that disengagement from culture begins to cure. Silence and simplicity not only cure but prevent, reverting us to a natural state where our degree of dependence on contrivance is minimized, allowing a process of healing (not to say awakening) to begin.