On one occassion, the wanderer Vacchagotta approached the Buddha. He asked, “How is it, Master Gotama, does self exist?” The Buddha did not speak. Vacchagotta went on, “How is it, then, Master Gotama, does self not exist?” Again, the Buddha did not speak. Vacchagotta got up from his seat and went away.
Ānanda then approached the Buddha and asked why he did not respond to Vacchagotta’s questions.
The Buddha told Ānanda that if he had said that self exists, that would have expressed the belief of those who hold the theory of eternalism. Additionally, it would not have been in conformity with his knowledge that all things are not-self. If he had said that self does not exist, that would have expressed the belief of those who hold the theory of annihilationism. Furthermore, it would have confused even more the already confused Vacchagotta.
So the Buddha sat in silence.
On many occasions, the Buddha did not sit in silence when pressed with questions, even questions of the philosophical kind. But he had the patience and skill to sometimes sit in silence, not adding further comment or confusion to an already confused state.
Similarly, may we learn to skillfully navigate the many questions and thoughts and plans and circumstances that arise for us throughout the day. Sometimes, these require us to respond. May we do so carefully, with compassion and our full body-mind!
But sometimes it is OK to sit in silence. In my own experience, this has been truly liberating at times, even though it is often the hardest response to make and to remember to make – especially when I am responding to my own worries and fears!
Thank you for reading With(out) Bounds! May we all respond to the world around us as Buddhas for the benefit of all sentient beings!
(Note: The story of Vacchagotta and the Buddha can be found in Bhikkhu Nānamoli’s The Life of the Buddha, pages 209 – 210.)