Images from Wikimedia Commons
When I was young I enjoyed “Legend of Kung Fu” with David Carradine. His character was an outcast, and journeyed the Wild West solving problems with non-violence much of the time, but each episode culminated with him standing up to the bullies and using their own violence against them. Anyway, it was cool. It taught me that even the meek non-violent types had serious butt-kicking abilities if you were a bully. So I decided never to be a bully.
It did introduce me to Eastern faiths and, in particular, Buddhist reversions – sayings that make you think because they sound paradoxical. My favorite is “The sound of one hand clapping.”
My oldest brother is a composer and a bit of an esoteric weirdo, we get along really well. He and I had lots of discussions about what this particular reversion meant. It really doesn’t have to mean anything; one of the points to reversions is to allow a student to meditate on an apparently meaningless phrase so the nagging doubt can be ignored as being meaningless. But there is also contains a significant kernel of awareness.
Sound is only sound as it pushes against or is supported by something, that something is the one hand clapping. There is an element of silence which is pregnant with sound and holds all sound as potential – that’s the one hand, too. Sound keeps from becoming noise when it is sustained and nurtured by its sibling silence, that’s the one hand clapping also. This silence nurtures, cradles, and sustains the sound; it is an active, vital necessity to that thing we perceive as sound.
Slight conceptual shift. In much of the world’s cultural art there is a concept labeled as “horror vacui“. This is kind of like agoraphobia in the design space – an artist dislikes the empty space so much he or she fills it with unnecessary bits compatible with the rest of the design. However in Islamic art this is replaced with something subtly different. There is an awareness that God is ever present, and we perceive Him in the spaces between; there is not horror of the empty space, but it is used to energize and support the positive. The emptiness is vital to the expression of the positive.
In our last Rumi Poetry Club meeting, I had a small epiphany. Rumi recited his poems, he didn’t write them; as we were reading from Coleman Barks’ A Year With Rumi: Daily Readings a significance of this dawned on me. The silence around the words nurtures and sustains the words when they are recited, the words are nothing without the silence, and the silence holds all words within itself waiting for them to emerge – the silence is not the thing against which words struggle, but is the thing vital to their existence and fulfillment. For me, this is a beautiful metaphor for themes recurring through Rumi’s work.
Listening, then, also becomes a sacrament of sorts. We listen to acknowledge the words born from the silence, and we listen to show gratitude to the Source for the silence being what It is.
Like David Carradine’s character so often observed in The Legend of Kung Fu, profundity comes where it will.
But for us this day is friends sitting together with silence shining in our faces.