Four monks, knowing the power and strength of silence, decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. They began with enthusiasm and no one said a word the whole day. By nightfall of the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out. Soon, the first monk blurted out, “oh, no! the candle is out.”  Then the second monk said, “hey! we are not supposed to speak!” Now, the third monk said in an irritated voice, “what is this? why did you two break the silence?” And soon the fourth monk smiled and said, “wow! I’m the only one who hasn’t spoken.”

Each monk had broken the silence for a different reason, each of which is a common stumbling block in our inner journey: distraction, judgement, anger and pride. The first monk got distracted by one aspect of his experience, the candle,  and forgot what was more important, the practice of witnessing without reacting. The second monk was more worried about others following the rules than in actually practicing himself. He was quick to judge without noticing that he himself was guilty of what he was criticizing. The third monk let his anger towards the first two monks affect him and the singular burst of his anger ruined the effort of the day. The fourth monk lost his way because of pride. He was convinced that he was superior to all others, proving his ignorance.

Why did the fourth monk speak at all? He could have simply maintained his silence and he would have been successful in his endeavor. But if he had, chances were, the other three might have continued to argue and not even noticed his silence. Some people are like this. Their life’s motto is “if I’m doing something good, but no one notices, I might as well not be doing it at all.” They believe that the reward is not in the effort, but in the recognition.

There is a beautiful quote, “It is the Provence of Knowledge to Speak; It is the Privilege of Wisdom to Listen.” When we learn to truly listen, witness and observe without impulsively reacting with distraction, judgement, anger and pride, then only do we understand the true meaning of silence.

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