Sound vs Silence – and letting go of both in your meditation – The Shurangama Sutra

In the Shurangama Sutra, the Buddha gives a simple, real life example.

Ring a bell – diiiing….

You hear a sound.  And then the sound gradually fades away – until there is no sound anymore:

  • When there is sound – we say that we hear something.
  • But when there is no sound – we say that we don’t hear.

But is this right?

Ring the bell again – diiing…

We hear a sound, and then the sound gradually fades away again.  Now if we listen carefully this time, when the sound fades away, what does it fade away into?  It fades away into silence.  We actually “hear” the silence.


  • When there is sound – we say that we hear
  • But when there is no sound – we say that we don’t hear – but this is not true.

When there is no sound – we still hear – we actually “hear” the silence.  Our hearing nature, the ability to hear does not lapse for an instant whether there is sound or no sound.  It is ever present and does not depend upon the auditory phenomena of sound – whatever appears in front of it – it just hears whether it be sound or silence.

Sound vs silence is an example of the duality of phenomena – in this case, the duality of auditory phenomena.

If we apply the same principle to the eyes:

  • When there is light – we say that we can see.
  • When there is no light – we say that we can’t see – but is that right?  No.  Because we are actually seeing the darkness.

Light and dark are just the duality of visual phenomena that appears before our eyes.

The key point here is that light and dark, sound and silence are still sensory objects:

  • Sound vs silence are “objects” of our hearing but not “that which hears”
  • Light and dark are “objects” of our seeing but not “that which sees”

Back to the example of sound, when we meditate, it’s nice to meditate in a nice quiet place because there is no sound for us to grasp at and pull our minds this way and that way (like music or conversations).  And with a quiet place, there’s more silence that we can open up to.

But don’t think that this quiet place is actual skill in meditation as yet because all it is, is just the lack of sound.  Silence is still an “object” of our hearing.  Once the sound comes back, your mind will be as disturbed as it ever was.

So in quiet places, we have already let go of sound. 

To go further we should also let go of silence.  So don’t be trying to grasp the silence – that’ll frustrate you like heck because it has no form to be grasped – it’s like trying to grasp empty space.

So we’ve got to let go of sound AND we’ve got to let go of the silence as well.  Detach from the sound and detach from the silence. 

Let go of grasping at any “object” of our perceptions, so that our attention can return to “that which is aware” of those objects.

This method is the rudimentary beginnings of how 2 Great Bodhisattvas opened their enlightenment – Manjushri Bodhisattva, the enlightened one with great wisdom… as well as Gwan Yin Bodhisattva, the enlightened one of great compassion.

It is also how the great Zen Master Han Shan achieved enlightenment.


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