I remember reading 'Old Path White Clouds - Walking in the footsteps of the Buddha', by Thich Nhat Hanh, a few years ago. Something about the book had a resonating effect on me. I had a premonition that someday I am going to meet this monk. I left it at that and did not let my small mind ponder over "how" that will be possible! When my school informed us that we had been chosen for the trip to Dehradun to meet the monk, I wasn't in the least bit surprised. It was as if it was meant to happen.
We boarded our school bus and amidst a lot of sound and excitement, reached Dehradun. Once there, we carried on with our dinner, sleeping arrangements and the other chores, but there seemed to be a presence of something; it was palpable the minute we set foot in the school premises. Could it be the sound of silence, I wondered!!
The next morning, during breakfast, the monk's disciples came around to remind us to observe silence while eating. Now silence is something which is not a part of our daily living. However, we respected the norm and began to eat in silence. It was a very strange feeling, the aroma of coffee, the taste of vegetables - I could almost say - "Oh, so this is what cauliflower tastes like." There was nothing between me and the food I was eating. The experience shook me a little because I felt I was really 'eating' for the first time today. Breakfast was followed by some meditation exercises, nature walk, all done in silence - mindfully - we were with our actions, not elsewhere in the past or the future.
Finally, the moment came when we were to have an audience with Thich Nhat Hanh. His first words to us urged us to recognize what is going on in the vast territory of our body, to be mindful of our breathing and the sense of wonder it entails to be alive. He also spoke about the mindless consumption that people are indulging in these days - what we eat, what we watch, what we read, the conversation we make. We hardly exercise our choice - and such mindless consumption leads to violence, despair and other toxic elements in our body. It is infact these things that make us so restless and the restlessness in us, is the root cause of all problems. We find it almost obligatory to talk all the time because the restlessness needs an outlet. In the process, we miss out on everything that's going on in our world, both within and without. The more mindful we are in our living, the more peace there is.
I had once read that when the silence between two people is comfortable, it means they love one another. In love, one finds peace, and peace in oneself leads to peace in the world. And it was in that meeting with Thich Nhat Hanh that I realized the power of love, the power of peace and the power of silence!
(Ritu Sharma is a coordinator with The Heritage School, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi)