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This lesson explores how a variety of religious traditions have understood silence as a an important spiritual practice.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Silence-- it's the one thing most lacking from contemporary society. Yet, it can be a profound force, capable of giving rise to exalted states. Silence can be a means of approaching the deity. And it can give rise to spiritual purity.

Silence has been practiced by Christian monks and nuns, and monastics from other traditions for centuries. It may be part of a formal vow of silence. But it can be practiced by lay people as well.

Silence is most developed in the Roman Catholic monastic traditions. But Protestants may practice silence as well. For example, in the Quaker service, where silence is the main attraction.

Buddhism also has very widely developed practices of silence. In two forms of meditation called samatha and vipassana, silence figures prominently. Samatha model is the meditation of concentration or absorption. And the meditator picks an object upon which to concentrate. Perhaps on the loss of things that one loves or on the temporary nature of the body and materiality.

In vipassana, the meditator simply watches the states of consciousness as they arise and lets them go again. Sometimes, samatha is viewed as a prelude to vipassana. But samatha is also an important practice in its own right.

Zen Buddhism is also noted for its practices of silence. There's a term in Buddhism called shunyata, which means emptiness or silence. And shunyata is really as close as Buddhism comes to the ultimate reality. Because at bottom, all things are ultimately empty. Because everything depends on everything else.

The zazen practitioner-- that is the person who practices seated meditation-- will sit in silence. Or perhaps, while chanting and meditate on shunyata.

Thank you for watching this tutorial on silence. We said the silence is a way of achieving spiritual preparation and purity in many religious traditions. In Christianity, for example, silence has been practiced by many monastic orders.

It is most prevalent today within Roman Catholic orders. But it is not limited to Catholicism. And is important in Quaker religious services.

We also discussed Buddhist meditation techniques that employ silence, including samatha and vipassana. Zen Buddhism practices zazen, or seated meditation, oftentimes in silence. Thanks for watching.

Terms to Know

A process of mental focus and relaxation, generally involving silence and physical inactivity, whereby an individual attempts to calm the mind, often in order to achieve a more spiritual state of mind, or to set aside the cares that impede spiritual contemplation.

Spiritual or Monastic Silence

The practice of using silence as a means of prayer or spiritual contemplation, frequently practiced in Roman Catholic monasteries.


A Buddhist meditation technique requiring silence.


In Zen Buddhism, a sitting meditation that is conducted either in silence or while chanting.