Buddha's Silent Treatment.

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Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Wind » Thu May 13, 2010 12:20 am

Sometimes when somebody ask the Buddha an unbeneficial question, he would not answer back but remain silent. Is the Buddha not concern that his silence might be misinterpreted as being rude? And if this is a proper response to an inappropriate question, would it be ok for us to use it? There are times when I rather remain silent than respond but then people get upset at my silence.
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Anicca » Thu May 13, 2010 1:14 am

In my opinion, the Buddha used only Right Speech - which is a skill. Silence is the best answer for some questions - explaining your silence would be a courtesy.

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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby retrofuturist » Thu May 13, 2010 1:21 am

Greetings Wind,

Often a question is wrong, because it assumes certain erroneous things as given. A typical instance of questions of this nature in Buddhism are those that relate to the soul. Many questions on rebirth (to pick a common example) are actually 'wrong questions' because they infer an atman or other mistaken notions.

As Anicca suggests, it is courteous to explain the silence if the silence might be misunderstood, but sometimes the asker of particular questions is so entrenched in their views that they are unable to grasp why their assumptions are wrong, and therefore have no hope whatsoever of grasping any right answer correctly.

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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Wind » Thu May 13, 2010 1:37 am

Yes, explaining your silence would be courteous but it would also defeat the purpose of the silence. Did the Buddha ever explain his silence to the questioner? I know he explains it to Ananda when he ask. I guess I am trying to understand and follow the Buddha's example and use the silent answer appropriately.
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Agent » Thu May 13, 2010 1:43 am

[1] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings."


(from Abhaya Sutta, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)


If the answer to a question falls into one of the "he does not say them" categories, I suppose it would constitute Right Speech to remain silent. Right Speech trumps being perceived as rude. Plus it's hard to say if it would have been considered rude within the time and culture of the Buddha.

Wind wrote:And if this is a proper response to an inappropriate question, would it be ok for us to use it? There are times when I rather remain silent than respond but then people get upset at my silence.


Is it ok? If it really is Right Speech to do so, sure. But it depends on your audience too. A friend familiar with the Dhamma would probably get what you're doing, but the average person probably wouldn't receive it well. The Buddha was skilled at giving a response based on his audience, so it would be good to keep that in mind too.
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā.
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Wind » Thu May 13, 2010 1:46 am

thanks guys, I think I'm starting to understand it. :smile:
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Anicca » Thu May 13, 2010 1:50 am

Good shot , Agent!

Wind wrote:Yes, explaining your silence would be courteous but it would also defeat the purpose of the silence. Did the Buddha ever explain his silence to the questioner? I know he explains it to Ananda when he ask. I guess I am trying to understand and follow the Buddha's example and use the silent answer appropriately.

Hehehe - i guess it does defeat the purpose...

Well, sometimes even when silence was the best answer He would explain and try to get the questioner to be silent:Talaputa Sutta: To Talaputa the Actor

Gaining Right Speech is a real skill - still workin' on it myself.
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Goofaholix » Thu May 13, 2010 2:36 am

Wind wrote:Yes, explaining your silence would be courteous but it would also defeat the purpose of the silence. Did the Buddha ever explain his silence to the questioner? I know he explains it to Ananda when he ask. I guess I am trying to understand and follow the Buddha's example and use the silent answer appropriately.


I think it's significant that most people who were asking the Buddha questions were going to him for teaching, though there were a few that were trying to trip him up with his words.

In either of those circumstances silence could be seen as a teaching in itself, or as a appropriate response to an attempted entrapment.

If you regard someone as your teacher you are less likely to be offended by silence and more likely to reflect about how your question might be wrong, this could be a better way to learn.

So if you are a highly respected teacher I don't see a problem with it, if you aren't then probably best to explain why you won't answer so as not to be considered pompous.
"Whenever we feel that we are definitely right, so much so that we refuse to open up to anything or anybody else, right there we are wrong. It becomes wrong view. When suffering arises, where does it arise from? The cause is wrong view, the fruit of that being suffering. If it was right view it wouldn't cause suffering." - Ajahn Chah
"Remember you dont meditate to get anything, but to get rid of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you want anything, you wont find it." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Anicca » Thu May 13, 2010 3:25 am

Goofaholix wrote:So if you are a highly respected teacher I don't see a problem with it, if you aren't then probably best to explain why you won't answer so as not to be considered pompous.

Goofaholix's pointing out who you are and who is asking the question with Agent's pointing to the cultural setting - all these things factor into what is Right Speech. Just because silence is one form of Right Speech - even when silence is the correct answer - in a paraphrased manner of speaking - doesn't the Buddha warn that if you dogmatically adhere to your views they tend to get rigid and you can trip on them?

Wind wrote:I am trying to ... follow the Buddha's example and use the silent answer appropriately.

The Buddha's examples worked for the Buddha - they may not work for you. He did what He did for perfect reasons - ours fall short. Go sit under a Bohdi tree as long as you like - no Enlightenment is guaranteed although it worked wonderfully for Gotama. The reason to practice is to make it your own. Is my thinking out of line on this? <Hmmm... why is everyone being silent? :thinking:>
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Pannapetar » Thu May 13, 2010 3:57 am

Wind wrote:Sometimes when somebody ask the Buddha an unbeneficial question, he would not answer back but remain silent. Is the Buddha not concern that his silence might be misinterpreted as being rude?


No, because this is ancient India, where Gurus command (almost) unlimited respect and reverence. The Buddha's disciples would know how to read silence.

Wind wrote:And if this is a proper response to an inappropriate question, would it be ok for us to use it? There are times when I rather remain silent than respond but then people get upset at my silence.


I think silence is rarely appropriate in an informal setting, or in communication among friendly peers. If I get asked an out-of-context or an inappropriate question, I'd try to rephrase it. If that does not work, perhaps ask back, defuse it with a jest, or use it to build a bridge to another question.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby Ben » Thu May 13, 2010 4:57 am

Hi Wind

Wind wrote:I guess I am trying to understand and follow the Buddha's example and use the silent answer appropriately.


I recommend that you maintain your precepts, develop samadhi and panna - this is following the Buddha's example. Remaining silent when questioned can be so easily misinterpreted. If you are confronted by a question you would much rather not answer - answer as politely and equanimously as you can.
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Re: Buddha's Silent Treatment.

Postby PeterB » Thu May 13, 2010 8:03 am

The silence was directed to the question..not to the questioner.
We simply dont need to have opinions on everything.
And we certainly dont need to express them.
As Ben says a polite declining is suffient..
But also we cant assume that the social mores of the time equate to our social mores.
A much more vivid example is that the Buddha left his wife and child and became a homeless wanderer .
From the viewpoint of our social mores this is irresponsible and callous.
During the Buddhas time in Indian culture that was seen as highly praiseworthy.
We cant project our sensibilities back to ancient times.
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