“Silence is an empty space. Space is the home of the awakened mind.”

I wish I could find an original source for this quote, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to. I’m 100% sure that this does not come from any Buddhist scripture, but is of very recent vintage.

I’ve found it in a couple of books, but the oldest of these is a self-published work called “Inspiration to Mankind,” by Bendalam Krishna Rao . This book is a collection of quotes attributed to the Buddha — many of them fake. There is no publication date in the book itself, but based on information in Google Books and Archive.org I believe it was published in 2014.

It’s all over the web. The earliest instance I’ve found so far is from approximately 2009, on a Yahoo Questions page where it’s not attributed to the Buddha but is simply described as a “proverb.”

If you find any earlier references, please let me know.

So at the moment I’ve no idea where this quote is from, who wrote it, or how it became attributed to the Buddha. The only thing I’m confident of is that the Buddha never said it.

The Buddha was a fan of silence. He said to his monks that when they gathered they should either talk about Dhamma (the teachings) or remain silent.

A particularly nice quote from the Sutta Nipata discusses how it’s the wise that are silent, while the foolish talk much:

Know this from waters’ flow—
those by rocks and pools—
such rills and becks gush noisily,
great waterways flow quiet.

What is unfilled makes noise
but silent is what’s full,
the fool is like the pot half-filled,
the wise one’s like a lake that’s full.

There’s much mention of space in the scriptures, largely because there is a meditative attainment called “the sphere of infinite space.” That’s not described as being the home of the awakened, however. In fact the Buddha found it unsatisfactory.

3 thoughts on ““Silence is an empty space. Space is the home of the awakened mind.””

  1. In view of the above, it seems even more important then to follow the Buddhas advise, (hopefully not fake), to be a lamp unto yourself!

    1. Indeed.

      However a word about lamps. Early translators noted that dipa in Pali could mean either “lamp” or “island” depending on context, and they picked “lamp,” probably because the symbolic resonances were strong: “I am the light of the world” and all that. But in the context of the Buddha talking about us being a refuge unto ourselves, the meaning is “island.” For example, in AN 3.51:

      Indeed, brahmins, you’re old, elderly and senior. And you haven’t done what is good and skillful, nor have you made a shelter from fear. This world is led on by old age, sickness, and death. But restraint here by way of body, speech, and mind is the shelter, protection, island [dipa], refuge [sarana], and haven for the departed.

      [evaṃ upaniyyamāne kho brāhmaṇā loke jarāya vyādhinā maraṇena, yo idha kāyena saṃyamo, vācāya saṃyamo, manasā saṃyamo, taṃ tassa petassa tāṇañca lenañca dīpañca [lamp] saraṇañca [refuge] parāyaṇañcā]

      This isn’t always clear because often the list of synonyms is more limited, as in SN 22.43:

      Mendicants, be your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the teaching be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge.

      So the image is of escaping from a torrent onto an island, but also of becoming the island. Perhaps there were meant to be resonances of the islands we make of ourselves in turn being a refuge for others, but that’s by no means clear.

      Anyway, the “be a lamp” translation is something that we need to put to rest!

  2. Zen practitioners talk about “white emptiness” , that’s a forced silence, like the contexts generated by sravakas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.