Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Big Silence

I've watched a couple of episodes of a 3 part reality TV documentary The Big Silence today. It's on BBCiplayer, so if you're outside the UK unfortunately you may not be able to view it, some can though.

The story is basically about how silence in our lives is something that people tend to avoid with 'business of life' but if we embrace silence, such as in the retreat the show is based on, we will both come to understand ourselves and become closer to God. Well it is led by a Benedictine Monk from Worth Abbey and  the long retreat takes part in a Jesuit retreat centre, St Bueno's.

For all it's Christian basis, if you ignore the God element, it has a lot to say that rings true with Soto Zen practice and zazen . There is also alot that doesn't hold true to Soto Zen values such as their focus on a goal of knowing your soul to enable communication with God. Their being no belief in a personal soul or a God, in Zen Buddhism in particular, means a fairly big divergence there.

I'm sure there's plenty of theology missed, skimmed over or misrepresented for TV though, so I won't give my two penneth on those aspects of the show.

Anyway it's worth a watch, interesting to see how people deal with such a 'scary' thing as silence and the mystical arm of Christianity's view on it's value and how people should be allowed to respond to it. The people are also a likeable bunch, not your Big Brother type of characters.

Episode 3, not shown yet, will talk about how the experience has affected them when they return to, as the show puts it, reality...


  1. I know that RM Jiyu was thrilled to read the writings of Julian of Norwich. According to her, the writings, when stripped of the doctrine, give a perfect description of zazen. For her, meditation was identical to contemplative prayer. She had a long correspondence with Christian monastics which was published in the early Shasta Abbey journals. Both women had life threatening conditions which led them to cut themselves off from the world and go into deep meditation. RM Jiyu, who was given three months to live in the mid1970's, documents her experiences, slightly reluctantly, in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom.

    I tried to read Julian of Norwich, not deeply, and found the doctrine very difficult to penetrate. I have not found any writings of RM Jiyu that looks at them in detail. Maybe the programmes will provide some clues.

  2. Thanks for that info Tony. I'll see if I can google anything up while I'm here with my feet up.

    Hope all's well