Being Silent: An Integral Part of Zen Philosophy

Much of Zen philosophy is connected with the ability to be silent. However, it isn't that easy to do. But, what are the advantages of being silent? Find out here.
Being Silent: An Integral Part of Zen Philosophy
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 08 April, 2024

The Zen monk, Jorge Ryunan Bustamante, recently made a statement that sums up the essence of many Eastern philosophies: being silent changes life. In fact, remaining silent is something that forms a  part of almost every mystical tradition in the world, both Eastern and Western.

However, why’s silence so important? In India, they use a simile to emphasize the meaning of silence. They point out that, if a person contemplates a lake while the moon is shining, they’ll only be able to see a clear image when the waters are calm. Something similar occurs in the human spirit. Silence makes the mind become like that serene lake. Moreover, in calm conditions, we can see what lies inside.

Within the framework of Zen Buddhism, Bustamente claimed that being silent isn’t a practice, but rather an attitude toward life. Its central objective is to quieten the mind and connect with ourselves with the purpose of living without the sensation of loss or gain, success or failure. Ultimately, it involves experiencing life in the here and now, with no other claim than being ourselves.

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” 


Silence and being still

Bustamente claims that awareness and enlightenment begin to emerge when an individual is able to be silent and still. However, most are afraid or at least apprehensive of both. It seems as if the two actions (or non-actions) refer to the idea of ceasing to exist.

To be silent, the individual must be still. Being still is literally just that: taking a stance and not moving. This often arouses nervousness. Consequently, it isn’t easy to do. For instance, the individual might feel an itch somewhere or some kind of discomfort in their muscles. But, remaining physically calm is an indispensable condition for mental stillness to appear.

Silence will follow and meditative thought begins to emerge. Gradually, it replaces calculating, superfluous, or representational thinking. All we have to do is wait. Wait for the silence and avoid any movement.

Couple meditates in the living room
Maintaining the same posture without moving for a long time is essential until mental stillness arrives.

Silence changes lives

Although it seems paradoxical, it’s really difficult to adopt an attitude of doing nothing. If you do achieve it, your ability to hear your own deepest voice will increase. Buddhists say that if you follow the path of your inner voice, gratitude appears. They claim that when you pay maximum attention to your messages, you reach a state known as Gelassenheit. This translates as serenity or equanimity.

Bustamente has pointed out that the predominant modern diseases stem from our inability to be silent and still. In today’s world, our lives are too fast. People gorge themselves on their desires and goals. However, this also fills them with tensions and fears in the struggle to either achieve them or fail.

At the same time, Bustamente adds, this is like a bag full of holes. As soon as a goal is achieved, what it provides is no longer enough. Therefore we go searching for more. It becomes an eternal race because it seems that nothing is ever enough.

Woman meditates in search of peace of mind
Being silent benefits self-knowledge and our encounters with the essence of being.

The simplicity of life

Zen aims at a simple existence. One in which you just think thoughts that lead to correct and simple actions. For example, you don’t eat or sleep too little or too much, you eliminate the trivial, and you possess the ability to be with others without blurring your own essence.

According to this philosophy, a simple and serene life is achieved from two basic actions: being silent and staying still. Both favor self-knowledge, but, above all, the encounter with your true essence.

At the same time, this process helps you get rid of everything you don’t need. This includes ideas, links, objects, and purposes. In fact, being silent changes your life because it allows you to distance yourself from the daily frenzy and connect with your most authentic self. It helps you let life flow without pressure. You’re able to go along with it, without offering any resistance or altering the natural progress of your being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.