Silence – Book Review

Title – Silence

Author – Thich Nhat Hanh

Genre – Non-fiction, spirituality, self-help


“Silence does not mean not talking. Most of the noise we experience is the busy chatter inside our own head.”

It is difficult to review books that teach you to work on yourself, more so one written by a Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Thich Nhat Hanh is a guiding spirit in ‘mindfulness’, a concept he has covered in many books dealing with anger, fear, hate and other emotions. One of the most beloved Buddhist teachers in the West, he is described as a combination of mystic, poet, scholar and activist, who writes with the voice of the Buddha.

In “Silence“, Thich Nhat Hanh brings our attention to the kerfuffle within and outside, and leads us to discover the power of silence in a world full of noise. It is not just the chaos of the outside world that needs to be addressed, but our hearts and minds as well that are so full of non-stop chatter and thoughts that we fail to connect with happiness and joy. To hear the call of life we need silence, and mindfulness is the practice that stops the noise inside.

“Silence is essential. We need silence just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.”

The book is filled with anecdotes, simple Buddhist teachings and practical exercises, that help us live mindfully with the eloquence of silence. The reader’s attention is drawn to the kerfuffle that has us so absorbed – the “diet of noise” that we are so used to. There is a smorgasbord of stimuli surrounding us that causes us to fear silence. We are so accustomed to the non-stop thinking that clamors for our attention, that even the sound of silence appears “thundering” when we do encounter it, and don’t know what to do with ourselves in solitude. Deep listening, the power of stillness, the importance of paying attention, and cultivating connections are some of the subjects touched upon.

“We are what we feel and perceive. If we are angry, we are the anger. If we are in love, we are the love. If we look at the majesty of a mountain, we are the mountain. While dreaming, we are the dream.”

To tune in to these feelings and experience life fully, we need to be larger than our individual selves – find relief from the noise that fills our heads.

A gist of some of the topics touched upon:

~Individual consciousness and collective consciousness – Why do people get caught up in mob hostilities or herd mentalities? Our seeds of understanding and love are watered by those we surround ourselves with – you absorb both positivity and negativity from those around you; choose your people accordingly.

~Conscious breathing – Concentrating on each inhalation and exhalation nourishes the body and mind with mindfulness.

~Non-stop internal chatter – We have an internal radio station that is constantly running with our internal dialogue. We ruminate our thoughts just like cattle. There needs to be mindful consumption of sensory food, like edible food.

~The art of nonthinking – Reclaiming the connection between body and mind by focusing on breaths. This requires patience and practice.

~Living with awareness – Meditation does not mean to sit still and think. We need to release our ideas, thoughts and concepts in order to make space for our true mind. You can be in a crowded space and still enjoy solitude.

~Joyful versus oppressive silence – Don’t meditate because someone is forcing you to, or you need to compulsorily sit for ten or fifteen or thirty minutes. Find awareness in everything you do.

~The art of listening – How often do we have conversations but find it difficult to understand the opposite person? We are just hearing and not listening, so our responses are not mindful and honest communication is lost.

~The power of stillness – Are we truly living or merely alive? When mindfulness and concentration are within us, we are fully ourselves.

~On dealing with suffering – Mindful breathing and silence not only puts us in touch with joy, but also with pain and fear, as we become more conscious of the suffering and negative emotional energy we have pushed deep within us. We need to recognize,  embrace and transform suffering to grow, as it is the impetus for developing understanding and compassion.

~Island of self – Where is home, really? Do we know where we are when our inner and outer environments are so filled with noise? There are two dimensions of solitude – being alone physically, and being able to stay centered even in the midst of a group.

~Cultivating connection – We are in an age of cellphones, emails, social media and so many mediums of communication, but there is remarkably little true communication between members of families and societies. If we want to be connected to others, we don’t need to text them more, but actually speak and listen to them to enable better understanding and connectivity.

~The power of spiritual relationships – Silence and mindfulness helps us cultivate meaningful friendships and relationships, develop collective habits of positive energy, and nourish each other.

The power of any self-help book does not depend on the eloquence and writing of the writer, but on putting those writings into practice. Hence, as mentioned earlier, such books are difficult to review. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in a style that is very approachable and relatable – almost like having a conversation with the monk himself. But the true effects of the book lie in imbibing the practices he suggests.

This is my first full-fledged book from Thich Nhat Hanh. I had picked it up from a bookstore in Rishikesh while travelling in North India, and have been reading and practicing over a period of time. Many parts stuck with me during and after reading, and I took my time to savor it. Hence the delay in the review. A beautiful book that is calming even as you read it, and teaches us how to “just be” – free to hear, free to see, free to feel through mindful awareness. Powerful and life-changing, highly recommended for anyone dealing with busy lives and looking to increase mindfulness in a practical manner.

Rating – 5/5



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