7 Paradoxical Teachings in Buddhism

Typically, we reject contradictions. Buddhists, however, embrace a number of oxymora that serve as levers for opening into profundity likened to light at the end of the tunnel. The unexpected folding into of what is unfolding, and the unfolding of that which is enfolded bend our conscious mind so that it stops momentarily, allowing that which is. . . already is. . . to surface.

1. Sound of silence.
Silence is a sound, a sound with frequency, a sound that sounds like the buzz of a lightbulb. If you have not heard it before, try listening when all’s quiet, especially early in the morning or late at night. Listen for silence. It comes easily — provided you open yourself to it rather than try to grasp it.

2. Listening so we may better speak.
A speaker can be verbose and extroverted, but an eloquent, moving, or responsive speaker is first a good listener. And I don’t just mean listening to the audience’s feedback or questions. I mean listening as a practice that requires regularly hearing both the said words and their nuances, hearing the sounds in motion and the sound of silence that is still, hearing that which listens within and throughout, hearing the emptying of that which listens. . . The latter of these are more abstruse and difficult, but result in more spiritually totalistic hearing. Sometimes people don’t know or can’t even articulate the response they are soliciting. Sometimes people don’t even want more words as a response. Before you speak during a critical moment, pause and listen. Count to three if it helps. The deeper you listen, the better you can respond to individuals or crowds with loving attention or non-reactivity, physical action such as a hug or a stomp of foot, a terse one-liner or a long lecture.

3. Go small so we may know boundlessness; go inward so we may know all that is beyond.
Focus on every refinement and subtlety of your mind, every pause between inhalation and exhalation of breath, each gap that can lengthen between thoughts. Start with small gestures of kindness. Begin with the small steps in any endeavor. This is not about being conservative or small-minded. It’s about experiencing the immense worlds such as micro-organisms on a swipe of your tissue, already in your immediate sphere of influence. When you can relate, hopefully with tenderness, with all that is already in you and on you, you can better relate to the larger beings around you and beyond your immediate realm. When you can catch each of your thoughts, you can decipher and employ the inspirations or the openings for inspiration, applying them to many more people and at least this world-at-large.

Turn your attention inward rather than out, reduce or cease external stimulants such as the immediate, reactive, and repeated drama of running toward things to see, to hear, to sniff, to eat, to touch, or to feel. When you are not controlled by the urge to eat a burger, watch the next episode of reality TV, or surf another website, you are more likely to be free. Experiment with going without something or someone you like too much for a day, a weekend, or more. Compare for yourself, and check with yourself on whether such a sense of freedom is worth it to you at this time.

4. The omnipresent begins by honing in and entering emptiness.
Through a Buddhist concentration or contemplation practice that focuses on any of the six senses, one enters a sensitivity, an intuitive knowledge according to ancient and contemporary Buddhist masters. Omniscience is actually an inherent and natural human state of being that has been covered over by dusty conditioning. A practice through one of the senses chisels off the caked-on delusions one hard chunk at a time until a tipping point — where all fall away in one swoop. The painful process of losing a bad habit such as smoking or binging is similar. Chipping away a habit or social conditioning is uncomfortable, you may be cut by the sharp pieces as they fall. Perseverance is key until you reach that sweet spot of no-return.

5. No-thought brings about a blossoming of creative and productive thoughts.
Whether you are “in the flow” or meditative absorption, the typical petty and meaningless thoughts cease whereas creativity, insights, and breakthroughs burst forth. Right now, take three seconds. Search for and pull out that “inspiration” from your head. . . That achieves the same disastrous effect as staring at a blank piece of paper and telling yourself you must write something brilliant. Inspiration arises when not even the thought of inspiration is there to clog up the stilled mind’s fountainhead of brilliant ideas.

6. Open your heart wide so the smallest things bring about joy.
When the heart is big, the simplest things can be delightful. When you notice a flittering swallow in your yard, baby fat on a chubby child that will soon be outgrown, or the scent of chocolate chip cookies wafting from a neighbor’s window, you’re tickled. Of course, small things can pain a softened heart more easily too. Remember to balance an open heart with equanimity so that you are not overwhelmed by too much joy or sorrow. Instead, enjoy the peace of things as they are while pouring forth compassion or compassionate action.

7. All is one, one is all.
The fluid movement between the micro and the macro, between the pore on a creature and the cosmos, between lenses with a narrow or wide scope, lets us sample what it means by one is all and all is one. Precious moments such as those where time and space seem to stand still affirm that the now and eternity, the ground you stand on and the infinite cosmos are inextricably connected.