An outsider asked the World-Honored One, “I do not ask for the spoken; I do not ask for the unspoken.” The World-Honored One was silent.
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 32
When does silence have the power to change the world? How can it be the strongest of all statements? Rather than being passive, when can silence usher in the most powerful and dynamic of responses? Some centuries ago, the World Honored One (Buddha) showed us how. Just last week, I think Emma Gonzalez reminded us.
Just shy of two minutes into her speech last Saturday at the March for our Lives, in Washington D.C., Emma, 18, a survivor of the recent attack on a Parkland, Florida high school shooting that killed 17, went silent. After recounting the names of the dead, followed by the statement that they “would never” again share small pieces of their lives with their friends and families, she stopped speaking and looked quietly into a middle distance peopled by 200,000 fellow demonstrators. For another four minutes, she stood without words, wiping an occasional tear from her cheek, as the wind rustled the speech in her hand and blew against the mic. In those minutes an occasional shout of encouragement or chant from the assembly arose. But mostly, all was still.
Listening to her speak, and not speak, I knew it was the silence of the World Honored One from the above koan. It was the same silence that came after the gunshots stopped rat-tat-tatting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas that morning. It was the silence before the personal media attacks that the most articulate of the survivors, like Ms Gonzalez, have had to endure. It is the silence surrounding the graves of the slain.
We call that silence the Way, or the Nature. It appears in all things. It has a beauty and a power to it that sometimes takes on the wetness and warmth of tears and sometimes the lightness of snorted laughter. The Way does not, unfortunately, allow us to divide up the world by saying the silence is only in the good and not in the bad, only in the beautiful and not in the profane. When we divide the world like that, as the Parkland shooter did, we create pain. Buddhists call that delusion. But vast silence, even while manifesting itself into strong action, can bring about tremendous healing.
At 6 minutes and 20 seconds into her time at the podium ~ the length of the shooting in Parkland ~ Emma’s beeper went off. At that point, she spoke once again: “Fight for your lives,” she said, “Before it is someone else’s job.”
See Emma’s no-speech here: