The following is a republished version of one of my first posts on this blog, updated here for those who may not be familiar with my Mindful Reflection workshops and writings. It was prompted by a recently podcast interview on the Present Moment website: listen here.
Ever since my Mindful Reflection Workshops started in 2002, students have asked me to write a summary of what I teach. They want a handbook for their own use. They also wanted something that would convey to their loved ones that what goes on in those ninety-minute sessions is not weirdly spiritual but utterly practical.
I determined to write reflectively about what I teach in everyday language. I wanted to avoid Buddhist jargon while using an entirely traditional structure. The result is It Begins with Silence, a guide to the teachings of the historical Buddha in just over a hundred pages.
I’d just completed a ten-week workshop and was on holiday in Cuba when the idea came to me to use the ancient Sanskrit style of verse and commentary. The verse, called the Essence, is terse; the commentary, in prose, goes over the same ground at length. There on the beach I composed ten sets of verse, and in the following year back home in Montreal I polished the verses and worked the commentary. The voice is more personal than classical, more reflective than conventional.
The book encapsulates a ten-week workshop, presenting the Buddha’s teachings in modern terms while sticking closely to the traditional outline familiar to generations of Buddhists. It teaches the skills of concentration and insight and presents the four tasks, the five heaps and eightfold path, the two levels of truth and the development of loving kindness and compassion. It also rephrases the often misunderstood teachings of karma, detachment, wisdom and nirvana.
It Begins with Silence is neither dry philosophy nor a superficial gloss. Written in the same personal style as my memoir The Novice, it’s designed for gradual contemplation — one sentence or paragraph at a time. The rhythm and voice is meditative, to trigger the very states of mind it describes. This isn’t a passive read but an active engagement in self-discovery and personal freedom.
To learn more about or to purchase It Begins with Silence, see Guidebook in the Mindful Reflection Workshops menu over on the left. To learn what people are saying about the workshops, see the Feedback page.