Noble Silence, not Dickish Silence in Myanmar monastery
There are times to maintain Noble Silence and times to speak. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
MY INDIAN roommate at the Pa-Auk Forest Monastery in Myanmar, who several days later I will find out goes by the name of Aroon, is in the room when I arrive back from my first four-hour session of meditation. It's strange to sleep in the same room as someone for several days without even exchanging names, but that is the nature of silence.
Aroon is a broad-shoulder, big guy with a small head who might have played sports when he was younger, but looks as if he was always skipping leg day if did.
He launches right in with talking, uncertain if I can respond or how to respond, I fumble through the conversation.
“Yeah, they aren't very strict about the no talking,” he eventually explains.
“I see. However, if it's okay with you, I think I'll stick with the Noble Silence,” I say.
“Yeah, of course.”
Even if they don't strictly enforce the no-talking policy. It's important to get the most out of this experience, rarely does a person have the opportunity to go for days without speaking to anyone, lost in their own thoughts, not even relying on books or the internet as a crutch for the imagination.
Plus, I don't want to come out of this experience and have people judge it by saying it wasn't a real Vipassana. There always seems to be those people who can't help but draw up comparisons between your experiences and theirs when they feel they are superior. It's nearly always done with complimentary put-down.
“Oh, you were allowed to talk. At mine they wouldn't allow any talking at all for the entire time, but you get use to it. I'm sure you would have been fine either way,” they might say, perhaps unaware that they are undermining your experience.
However, I'm determined to make my silence complete, or nearly so.
For the basics, information about where to shower or when a short response to a question is necessary, I speak. It's called the Noble Silence, not the Dickish Silence.
So when Aroon inquired how many days I would be there, I told him. However, the conversation is never quite a conversation; where I normally come back with a question or explain in more detail, I let silence fill the void.
I like the silence.
After the first evening meditation, the baby-faced monk who I met at the Foreign Registration Office and I crossed paths at the bottom of the steps.
“How was your meditation? Did you see anything?” He asks.
He's English isn't perfect, so I let the second question, which seems strange, slide.
“I still need practice,” I say.
The following day, he asks me the same questions.
“I didn't see anything,” I say, feeling I would be missing something if I refused to speak to the monks. “How was your meditation?”
“I can't tell you because I am monk,” he says with a giggle before we part ways.