Published: 1 June 2009 | Written by Swami Veda Bharati
Silence is such a profound and deep experience of human existence that only when we have understood silence can we understand all the inspiration that has ever flowed to humanity from the minds and mouths of its adults, the great rishis, sages and prophets. The word mantra is connected with ‘man’ through the verb root man, which means to think, to mentate, to contemplate to meditate. So that `man’ means the meditating species. The word `man’ means the meditating species and the word mantra means that which becomes the core of his meditation. The Sanskrit word for silence which is mauna. It is the act, the habit, the nature and disposition of a muni, silent meditating contemplative one. And these words mauna for silence and muni, the monk, the one whose disposition it is to be silent, these words are also derived from the same verb, man. Man, to meditate. So that the highest man is muni. The silent man.
Before starting on this article, read by the same author the article: Five Pillars of Sadhana
Serenade God with a Song of Silence
Serenade God with a song.
The song is the Soul stilling her senses.
Serenade God with silence.
Silence is stilled senses in prayer.
Serenade God with prayer.
Prayer is heartbeat chirping in mind made His garden.
Serenade God in the garden.
Garden is heart with sangre sacra’ roses red
Serenade God with red roses.
The roses are pulsings, the quickenings in surrender.
Serenade God with quickenings.
Quickenings: infant souls, innocents reborn.
Serenade God with innocence.
Innocence is the thousand-stringed harp,
decked with sacred rose as music score that soars,
soars in a see-though sky,
then dives in sky-clear springs
and soars again until its wings of breath become stilled mid-mantra-stream.
Silence is serenade lisping, lisping on the sealed lip.
Do not let the syllable slip,
nor let the senses spill the sangre sacra
of Mother Silence.
God the Silence and Mother the Silence,
entwined by you are rapt in listening.
Listen how they sing their listening.
Their whispered listening is the sanctity offering
of celibate senses stilled in silence.
With this musical, storm-stilling celibacy,
come blessed octave,
come fellow octave.
Serenade the Self, the Soul- Vessel dipped in Sea
Serenade by you with vow to become a song
sung to same entwined entity who,
since before locus and time,
has been ever serenading to you.
In mindfulness of ascending notes of symphonies
breathing cadences of gnosis,
Silence your serenade so it never ceases.
Sing your silence that silence sing you.
May you be a song.
May silence ever sing you.
Psychology of Silence
When we contemplate silence and begin to talk about it, would we find ourselves at a loss for words? We want to reach the point of silence where the words would be totally lost and the silence of mind that ensues, that alone, would be our communication.
Since we are using a verbal vehicle of communication, we are still in the world of analysis, though it is not possible that silence, through silence, can be analyzed. It is that whole which is not constituted of parts. However, we know it, we know its presence, we know its possibility by visible manifestations, by tangible experiences, by its signs and symptoms. It is said in the Yoga Sutras that the yogi in samadhi does nor say he is in samadhi. Only when he emerges from samadhi, seeing that time has elapsed, lie knows that he was in samadhi. So also we know true silence only by the symptoms– manifestations that it leaves in its wake — the waves that arise from its depths. Spiritual psychology has not yet been defined. A text book of spiritual psychology has not yet been written. Much that passes for psychology has its roots in the world of manifestations; and the experiences thereof. Although the founder of modern psychology, Freud (it is not well known) began his investigations under the tutelage of a teacher who was very keen on understanding breathing processes, but Freud soon abandoned that line of investigation and took a different route into the unconscious.
Many of our experiences of life, and psychological conditions that have been forgotten, which lie in our unconscious, actually do not quite originate from where he says they do. For example, the human urge to return to the womb — the unconscious memory of the womb experience –it is such a widespread thought nowadays that these terms of analysis have become commonplace daily idioms. Actually much that is attributed to the womb really belongs to that part of our being which is beyond the unconscious, which is the truly conscious, which is the world of silence. The desire for a return to the womb has its origin, not in a desire. I repeat, the desire for a return to the womb has its origin not in a desire but in a recognition we all have of our origins being in a very, very deeply eternally silent place. When we are in that eternally silent place, a holy night, it is the truly silent night. There is a mantle of silence under which we seek to conceal ourselves from the world of manifestations. From the world of noises we seek to shelter ourselves. I have reached these conclusions after observing my own moments of excitation and agitations in life, the very excitatory phenomena that have become an integral part of our culture nowadays whereby we think that the more exciting the better. After observing those phenomena with great care, I have reached the conclusion that we seek excitations and agitations also because those excitations and agitations lead us to exhaustion. It is actually the exhaustion we are seeking for, the restless kinetic form of energy. Because, the large majority of us who do not know the direct route into the “eternal rest,” we try to go to it by way of exhaustion, through resting.
Those who have begun to find that direct route, take to the path of pratyahara. What is pratyahara? Ordinarily in the spiritual circles of all the religions and all the traditions, people speak of conquering the senses, of mastering them. Pratyahara is that state when the mind has become naturally pacified and the senses that only reflect the conditions of the mind, the senses that are only symptomatic of the conditions of the mind, enter the mental condition of quietness. Thereby they become just as still as the mind is. That state of the integration of mind and senses into a common experience of stillness is called pratyahara. That having been arrived at, then we no longer seek the path to rest by way of exhaustion, starting out from the excitatory experiences of life.
That is why, in our practice of meditation also the khechari mudra is practiced. The word khechari means “that which takes one on a flight into the skies.” The tongue is turned into the palate. Actually the particular nadi, the energy channel that has its location in the tongue, is turned back and is merged into that central ,energy channel which flows through the palate into the brahmarandhra, into the center of the sahasrara chakra. It is not an act of turning the tongue; it is the act of merging the oral, vocal energy into the path of sushumna and one cannot accomplish khechari, the practice of silence in meditation, until or/and unless one prepares for that union, that merger. It would become contrived, an effort like our asanas which similarly become an effort unless we understand the pranamaya kosha (the prana body). That is why in our philosophy we describe the practice of hatha yoga to be a practice not of annamaya kosha, not of the physical body, but the practice of the pranamaya kosha.
In fact the aim of japa (continuous repetition of mantra) is this: that all thoughts and emotions be replaced by a single thought, or, for the want of a better word, a single sentiment of devotion, so that finally, even that thought, even that sentiment may be discarded and we reach the deepest silence.
Real meditation actually begins only at that moment when even the thought called the mantra is abandoned. When we speak of silence then, we do not mean silence of words; it is this silence that is in the pranamaya kosha, the silence that is in the manomaya kosha (sheath of mind) that is to be experienced.
We have been taught that silence is the renunciation of the intention to speak but from where does this intention arise? What is the origin of this intention to speak, the inclination to communicate? It is in emotions. What is an emotion? Emotions are something on the borderline between the samskaras (latent tendencies) and vrittis (waves of thoughts arising from the deep subconscious reservoir of mind). Samskaras lie hidden in us in what others call the unconscious. Something unconscious is that of which our conscious mind, or our neocortex, is not aware. For the samskaras to become vrittis we come to a baseline thought which is still undivided into its constituent sub-emotions, into its component thought forms and then the word forms. That baseline thought is called emotion. That baseline thought then seeks to express itself, seeks to become so many signs and symptoms of that which is lying unexpressed in us. The intention is renounced only when purification occurs, at that level of the unspoken, unmanifest baseline thought. The intention to speak is then not important; it no longer drives us. It does not become the main impelling force in our relationships, in our communication. There is some other form of communication that we begin to learn at that stage and that is the true communication.
The great founder of the path, the Buddha had a senior contemporary Mahavira, whose name is not so well known in the west but whose religion, Jaina, is just as powerful, one very widely known in India for its practice of silence, austerity, and purity. When the monks of the Jaina path know that their work for life is done, they abandon food and water and speech. The highest among them are known as digambaras, the monks who, after long rigorous practicing and testing, are permitted to remain only sky-clad. They become sky-clad for the rest of their lives. These monks are not permitted or do not choose to take even a sheer on their body in the coldest weather at night. When they abandon their body they do so by a process of leaving our all speech, all food, all water and gently let the mind merge into the supreme mind, letting the body be left behind. Such a path was taught by Mahavira, the great contemporary of the Buddha. And it so happened that in the course of their wanderings, Buddha and Mahavira stayed at the same house for many days but never uttered a word to each other. They had nothing to say to each other. Silence sufficed.
We want to aspire to reach that womb from where all our baseline thoughts and emotions have arisen, the womb of Mother Silence. If the silence grows deep and true, khechari will form by itself and you will become a sky-wandering one.
Silence, Mantra and Guru
Silence should not merely be an absence of speech. If it is merely an abstinence from speech it can even be emotionally and spiritually damaging. Unless one has filled oneself within there is no silence. Fill yourself with meditation. Fill yourself with contemplation. Fill yourself with your mantra. Make silence an opportunity for a dive into the deeper layers of the mind.
This phrase, “the deeper layers of the mind,” often suggests to the modern listener to go into the vagaries and accumulations, confusions and darknesses of our unconscious minds. The route to the superconscious mind is a different one. Mind is an ocean that has, like what a diver encounters, many, many, many thermo-clines, many, many pressure levels. At each layer of the mind the frequency of its force-field differs. At the speech level it is at its lowest frequency. At the pure-thought level it is at a little higher frequency. At the mantra level it is at a yet higher frequency. If your body is relaxed and you go into meditation, then your mantra goes faster because it then merges with that higher frequency. There is no point in trying to do your mala fast — that is tension1. And then from there, when you move on to the deeper, silent layers, they are of a higher frequency yet — so high a frequency that, at the level of the low-frequency mind, it is barely noticeable. We have to learn to go to that place.
It seems like a long dive. It is a long dive because of the obstacles in the way. What are the obstacles? The obstacles are samskaras from past lives and imprints of experiences that we have been exposed to in the past lives and to which we expose ourselves in this life. The time of silence should be a time to wash off the past imprints. It should be a time to take no fresh imprints, so that the mind can observe and realize its own higher-frequency states. When we expose ourselves to these imprints, we form habits,. habits in the way we look at things —the habit of calling ourselves a Westerner and somebody else an Easterner; the habit of calling oneself Canadian and calling somebody else Chinese; the habit of calling oneself a wife or a husband, a daughter, a dependent, an employer, an employee, a bitter person, an angry person, a depressed person, a sad person, calling ourselves ill. Doing things always only a certain way. Conditioning the mind and thus shackling the mind to habits. And unless we unshackle the mind, there is no freedom.
The practice of silence in the Yoga-sutras is given under the word tapas (asceticism). In some places it is said that there is no greater ascesis (literally spiritual “exercise”) than pranayama; in other places it is said that there is no greater ascesis than mauna (silence). And what is tapas? Tapas is described as dvanda sahana (withstanding the duality, withstanding the pairs-of¬ opposites). One who practices silence can walk like those who walk on hot coals, who can stay longer in the cold. But that is not where we start in our Tradition. It is safer to start with the hot and the cold that blows in the mind. Titiksha is the word — one of the that sampat (the Six Prosperities, the Six Treasures) that are prerequisites for liberation — that should someone shout at you, those shouts and curses fall off like drops of water front a lotus petal. Someone praises you to the sky, and those praises also fall off because you don’t need somebody else’s praises to make you confident as your confidence arises from that freedom the greater your silence has made you realize. This ascesis can go up to that point where we are taught the practice of kashtha-mauna (wood-silence). Wood-silence is that silence in which one conveys nothing, not even with one’s eyes, not even with the color on one’s cheeks. And when the gurus, , living with their disciples in the caves, go into that kashtha mauna, that is a time when the disciple truly learns the art of sensitivity; that is when he truly learns the art of “reading” a person. He has to “read” the guru. So then, later on, when he leaves the high Himalayas, literally or figuratively, lie can “read” his pupils, he can “read” his disciples and thereby be a guide to them. So this is the silence of emotion. This is the silence of desires — celibacy, within limits for you, for your particular culture, within its own limits. It is control of the tongue, control of the involvement and habit patterns insofar as taste is concerned, rising above the senses and making your senses open inwardly, from which place from where all flavors arise. And that place where they are savored in depth so that they lead you to an internal ecstasy — to that place you go.
It is not only the act of not speaking; it is something else that fills, energizes, awakens, raises the power within you. this is one aspect. When we learn this practice of silence, we learn to go into what we theoretically know as the collective mind, the universal mind. There is no other demonstration possible of the Jungian or Yogian–whatever name you want to call it, collective unconscious. You cannot prove the existence of such a collective unconscious without going into silence, in which what happens in the other parts of the collective conscious then begins to reflect in you, and so what someone else is discovering, you discover. However, that is not the extent of it.
There is a very, very, very great saint we know. His physical father was one of the top names in the tradition of Sanskrit learning in the holy city of Benares, which is known as the Oxford and the Vatican of Sanskrit learning. One of the traditions in that city has been of public debates. These public debates may go on for a day, or may go on for a week, or maybe for a month until the neutral judges declare one side the winner and the other side the loser. And you know what our familiar saint’s scholarly father did? He knew that his opponent was very strong in some areas of learning and was coming to the debate well-prepared. And this scholar we are talking about was afraid of losing the debate, but he knew more than speech. Some people’s scholarship is only speech, but be knew something beyond that also. On one of the mornings of the debate, his opponent, who had come well-prepared with all the arguments and textual references and quotations and recitations, fell silent because he could not remember anything. It was something that the silence of this scholar that we are talking about had caused his opponent to experience. The opponent lost the debate because he could not utter a word anymore. Some teachers of the Tradition sometimes utilize the same method when they make people forget their questions. Evidently silence can be transmitted. One does not need to enter into argument upon argument. If you know that the argument is silly, you can just silence your opponent in the argument simply by your silence. But you have to know how to beam it. To learn to beam it, to learn to transmit it, you have to practice it for a long time.
Ultimately speech is useless. Take any sentence you speak. It is meaningless — whether it is theological, philosophical or even common-place. If one really looks at the reality of objects – just as an object analyzed down to the molecules, analyzed down to the atomic particles and the sub-atomic particles and the virtual particles that are so much in fashion these days in discussions on the philosophy of science — if you go there, then the object as you know it disappears. The same thing happens with speech that expresses the object. The scientist deconstructs space, time and mass; and the object disappears as a reality. The same thing is also true with language. One example would be of the type of question that many people ask: “Where does the soul go after death?” “Where” refers to space, place, a point of locus. “After” refers to time. “Goes” refers to movement in space and time. Now “soul” is an entity beyond matter, which is not subject to space nor time, nor to movement in any given space and time, What kind of question is this then? Now if you look carefully at this question, you will fill silent. All questions are this way; they end in silence. And it is in silence that those questions that you have now ceased asking will be answered–because they were, in the first instant, silly.
Thus, there are so very many different aspects of the experience of silence. One question asked is, “How does watching the silent guru teach, his disciple, so that later, when he himself comes to have the position of a teacher, he can observe and learn about his own students?” It is through cultivating sensitivity. A meditatively silent mind — not a negatively silent mind — is in the state of crystal clarity. It is as an absolutely still lake. Everything reflects in it. The gurus take to silence in the presence of the students so that, first, their own infectious silence will be beamed at the students’ minds, so that the students’ minds will learn to reach the same state that the guru’s mind is in. This is one of the things that meditation teachers do when they guide a meditation; they try to bring their own depth of the meditative state of mind to the group or to the individual initiate. Now, when that happens, everything that the slightest movement of the guru’s body represents is reflected in the disciple’s mind, and he knows what the guru wishes. He learns to observe the guru, and by observing he learns all that subtle communication.
I have often seen people emerge from Gurudev’s room perplexed and saying “I asked him so many questions and he said nothing.” “Nothing” is a name for God – Neti. The Buddhists know the ultimate reality as nothing. For it is no¬thing we are familiar with. So if you are dwelling in that “no – thing”, where are the words to speak about anything else? When the master says “nothing” he has said it all. You have not heard it. So also with the novitiate teachers. Quite often these teachers in training who are apprenticing under the guru arc thought to communicate in silence. It is a “sign” language. It is the language of the body. It is the language of suggestion. There may come a time when a disciple may not be permitted to see the guru for a period of time during which s/he is slowly, very painfully slowly, learning to read the language of silence. Then when the disciple himself is in the position of a teacher, because of the subtle way that he has learned to observe his guru, s/he can then easily observe and interpret those who are much less than the guru, whose body movements are much more pronounced, whose facial expressions are much more lucid in some ways, although they may be trying to conceal a great deal of confusion. So one learns at the same time to remain calm when the student brings his own agitation to the teacher. By maintaining that calmness, lie reflects his own calmness back into their minds. It is all a very quiet mental system.
All of this we need to look at for many, many years to come. I do know if silence can by systematized — whether a textbook on “How To Practice Silence” can be written. But one question people do ask is, “Well, I live in the world?” But you would live in the world much more effectively if your baseline emotion is that of an unagitated state of mind — which is the true silence.
Silence: Questions and Answers
Let us understand that we, as personal selves as opposed to spiritual selves, consist of layers upon layers, fields within held,, koshas within koshas, pillow cases within pillow cases, veils behind veils. Each one of these has its own frequency, its own voice, its own light, its own sound. In our tradition, we merge the light and the sound and the sadhana of one leads to the sadhana of the other. There are two sutras in this author’s little book of “Blessings”.
May you hear the sound that light produces
as it travels through space.
May you see the light that sound creates
as it travels through space.
Where is that space? What space is it through which the light and the sound travel? What space is it where they are first created so that the light and the sound of the universe may eventually emerge from that Supreme Mind that contains these intangible principles which cannot be measured by any instrument. I see it in terms of spanda, the central core of the Kashmir philosophy that developed from the 8th century to, let’s say, the 14th or 15th century and created spiritual and intellectual giants. The philosophy of spanda, vibration, says that within each force-field there is a certain frequency — its voice, its sound. What the frequency of atman, the spiritual self, is only the atman-knowers know, because any statements about atman can only be nonsense statements. No language can ask a question about atman, therefore no language can answer it. You would have to say “NA” (Does Not Apply). To any question about atman I will say, “Does Not Apply.” So let us leave atman alone. It loves kaivalya (“aloneness,, ,all-oneness”), solitude, being “solo” the last word in the Yoga-sutras — the solitude of the soul_ But to get to that solitude of the soul one has to pass through the barriers of noises, the high-frequency¬low frequency regions of energies, force-fields; and at each level the silence is a relative one. Relative to what? Relative to the exterior, to that force-field which is exterior to it. In meditation, in the practice of mantra, we use mantra as a vehicle to explore the depths upon depths. After awhile a mantra has to sit in the mind.
A mantra is experienced at the lowest possible frequency in chanting, singing — kirtana.
Getting a little bit more silent — alone, muttering it to oneself. Going on deeper — sealing the lips and letting the tongue utter it quietly.
Stilling the tongue, but there is still activity in the larynx.
Stilling the larynx, the mind is still sending the pulsations to the vocal organs, but they are intercepted by the command to silence.
Then mantra in the mind as a thought.
Then mantra as a vibration.
Mantra as a quest for that wherefrom it arises.
And once that “wherefrom” has been found and a dive taken into it, like a boat which has reached the other shore, the mantra is left behind, and you go into a deep “eternal” moment of silence, a silence that stretches slowly and then becomes a habit. Now, it is all a matter of habit as to which rampart you think you have your duty on, in this pura, this polls, this “city” of the body. There are ramparts within ramparts, so where it is your habit to stay determines your level of silence. Thus you may have merely the silence of speech or the silence of the senses.
So, our practice for the silence of speech and our practice of mantra leading to interior silence is one and the same as quieting the mind during meditation. Formal meditation cannot be separated from trying to keep the mind as undisturbed as much in equanimity as possible —throughout the day. The one supports the other; the other supports the one. The habit of reacting violently with anger, with disturbance, with defensiveness, with counter-attack, that we have conquered in our years of practice of ahimsa, is based on this one principle: “That situation which makes a coward flee, makes the hero fight.” The same adrenaline and the same epinephrine is needed for both. It is a matter of which particular one of these natural responses you select. Similarly, in a situation of provocation, of disturbance, of agitation, the untrained choose to become tense and troubled; the trained choose to become relaxed. It is a question of training oneself as to which response to choose. It is only a matter of training.
This answers the question: “How can I maintain silence and remain effective in the social norms?” The same way as you drive effectively though a Silence Zone in the city. Does your driving become ineffective? The next time you drive through a Silence Zone in the city, as you look at the sign “Silence Zone,” observe the subtle change that occurs in you. It is not simply a matter of refraining from placing your finger on the horn; first a certain change occurs in you. Observe that change. It is very subtle. The mind remains noisy and does not quite see the silence, but just a modicum of silence, just a drop of that elixir falls into your mind. People say that a single drop of honey shall not sweeten the ocean — indeed not — but wherever it will fall a subtle change will occur. That kind of change occurs, friends, when you enter the “Silent Zone” in the “city.” And you drive quite effectively — no problem. So it is when you enter an intensive care unit is the hospital. It is not just a matter of letting your feet tiptoe, but a subtle change occurs in your mind first. How does it help you to communicate? How does it help you to communicate with that beloved person who is a patient there and with others who are around. The change is very subtle. You may come away saddened, but you also come away chastened, having learned something, because you now operated your mind at a different frequency level. It is strange that what we practice naturally all the time, appears as something unachievable when it is advised in so many words. So then, the silence, both in meditation and in ordinary life, is a relative one; it is a matter of changing the frequencies of your being, the spanda-level at which you operate, with which you identify at any given time.
“Is this inner state of silence some kind of early and dim manifestation of the atman?” Yes indeed! If I may contradict myself and say this about atman: All that I know about it or can communicate is by an allegory, by a simile, by a metaphor — that the rays of light and — now I shall not say “sound” but rather — “rays of silence” that emanate outward from atman central core, the emanations from that core travel through the various levels of the vrittis (the manifestations, the modifications, the devolutes of prakriti), from the innermost buddhi to the outermost active senses, and the plastic pieces and the tubings, the bones, the blood vessels, the ropes, the cartilage and muscles that keep these plastic pieces tied down to that level; from inside to outwards, it becomes a progressively lower and lower frequency — and we might say “noisier and noisier,” “grosser and grosser.” The same is true of the reverse process with which layer of your being you identify determines the depth of your silence. That is to say, you have relaxed your hands and feet. Well, it has to filter down. Your voice will change. Have you not noticed how the voice of a good meditation teacher changes while he is conducting a meditation. He is using his voice, but at the same time he is identifying with a much higher frequency layer of himself. This is why his voice changes; and the vocal cords that he uses are different form the vocal cords that a yelling, shouting, angry man employs. Both are producing sound. One sound is allied to an inner silence; the other sound is completely out of synchrony with anything else within himself. He is a bundle of conflicts, and it shows.
And in that anger he contradicts himself.2 So I am unable to separate between silence doing meditation, mantra being taken into silence, and silence as a practice of not speaking.
This also answers the question: “Should the mantra be willed into silence or allowed to dissolve into silence — or does the latter come with practice?” Initially, sitting down and remembering the word so ham was a bit of a chore, practice made it perfect — well, as close to perfect as you could be. So also mantra became an interior habit. When it arose, you began to listen to it. You had to put in some practice. You had to allow it its own moment of arising, and respond to it also. You had to practice it consciously, and you had to accept it as grace when it arose of its own accord within you. So also is the case with the practice of silence. When the mantra arises within you, do maintain your interior response, your observation of the fact that it is there and you are receiving it as an act of grace conferred upon you. If you can maintain that response within and then you speak, then you are speaking from a relative degree of silence. So once again, with which layer of yourself are you identifying? A relatively lower frequency or a relatively higher frequency, the exterior self or the relatively interior self? (Here the word “self’ is used in terms of normal worldly identity as personal self, not in the sense of the atman.) And wherever you are, from there your response will come.
So in silence you can have your wishes fulfilled, but not by not speaking — no, no, no, no. You will not have your wishes fulfilled by not speaking. You will have your wishes fulfilled by practicing silence. Please understand this. Identifying with the higher-frequency, the relatively inner layer, remaining there and operating from there — and since the energy, the force-field there is subtler, it is more effective. It has a much higher energy level, and it can influence the lesser frequency layers of your being. And at each level, you witness where you are. The state of silence — yes — becomes natural. After a while you do not wish to speak. After a while you find that it is unnecessary to say so much; for without speaking, your wishes are fulfilled, Silence can be your Wishing Stone.
“What role does the breath play in awakening or maintaining the inner state of silence?” The same that we have said about the mantra We can say about the breath. Both are vehicles for going to the interior layers, each in its own way. After awhile in the kevala kumbhaka, which I have translated in Chapter II, Sutra 51 of the Yoga-sutras as “the solo retention,” all effort at retention of the breath ceases. The breath first becomes so subtle that it is barely noticeable. Then only the prana-force remains. One is at that point totally identified with the pranamaya kosha (prana body), much subtler than the annamaya kosha (physical body), and when one identifies with this particular layer, the breath ceases. And it is said by the commentators on the Yoga-sutras that one may not breathe physically for hours, days, months, years — incredible, beyond imagination, not possible, scientifically untenable, no! But it is true.
So now, changing the topic a little, “Is there a specific practice to counter talking too much, the inner pressure to speak?” Well, it’s the same type of question as to whether there is a specific practice to counter over-eating. Talking too much and over-eating are expressions of an interior emptiness. We have an ancient proverb in India: “The empty vessel makes a lot of splashing noise.”3 A half-empty vessel makes a lot of splashing noise. A full vessel, carried, does not make a sound. If it is half empty or three-fourths empty, or has just a little bit of water or any other liquid in it, then you hear it splashing inside as you carry it. If we see someone talking too much, we say, “An empty vessel makes a lot of noise.” Yes, there is a way. Fill yourself. If your mind is full, you will not try to fulfill it by filling the stomach, which is already overfilled. But the mind is not filled, so you keep trying to overfill the stomach. If you cannot desist from speaking, you have not been loved enough. “Ah yes, I knew that! I know. Nobody loves me.” So what to do? Is there some kind of begging howl you can carry which people will fill with love because you talk too much? You think you are getting attention, eh? But very soon people turn away. You don’t get the attention you want. Why? Because you are not giving the attention except to what is in your mind, in your conscious mind, in the voluble part, in the lower-frequency mind. Fill your mind. No, the total silence is not yet for you. Try it for half an hour. But, do remember, refraining from speech is no silence; japa is silence. Fill your mind with meditation. Fill your mind with contemplation. Fill your mind with witnessing. Fill your mind with self-observation. Fill your mind with the higher-frequency energy and forces until they overflow and become love that goes out of you into the begging bowls of those today who are as sorry for themselves as you were before you were filled.
“What exactly happens during silence?” I wish I could fill a water jar with Ganges water of silence and send it over to you for you to peer into it and thus know what silence is like. But I’m afraid it is not possible to do that for the water jug in which the Gangetic silence flows, in which the Himalayan silence rises, in which the oceanic silence dives, that water jug, the chalice of the wine of fullness, is only within you. You are that which the ancient Rishis call Kalasha–filled with soma, filled with the light of peace, filled with the lunar luminosity that is cool to the heart, to the mind and to the senses, that which calms one down.
Going into silence is like fasting. There is no difference between fasting, celibacy and silence. There is no difference between eating three mouthfuls less to fill the stomach on one hand and saying what you want to say in three words less on the other. When my body used to allow fasting, one thing I discovered was that it was like entering a period of silence, when you sit down to meditate, the floodgates of thoughts open to remind you–“Oh, this has to be done” or “that has to be completed.” All these kinds of things come to the surface and then they begin to settle down. So also the pangs of hunger arise for the first few days. Then after that one forgets customary habits of eating. Then the difficulty comes in breaking the fast. the desire for the fast is greater than the desire for food. One may then wish s/he could live on water, on air, or on prana alone as so many yogis are reputed to do.
However, do not start with that. You are not in an environment conducive to that to maintain your health. It is more difficult to he moderate than to be an ascetic. It is more difficult to live as a householder and maintain control over the urges than to take the vow of celibacy and go live in a faraway cabin or a solitary cave. So also it is with silence.
As the period of time for silence increases, the initial restlessness, the boredom of those beginning practices, subsides. There comes a moment when your senses begin to savor the “rasa,” the fullness of “flavors” that lies within you, which at present is drowned in the noisy sea of desires, that unfulfilled, becomes frustrations. Go into that sea and calm the waves of desire and see what happens. What happens in the practice of meditation is what happens in the practice of silence.
Silence Quells Conflict
When you come upon a noisy person, sprinkle, pour a raincloud full of silence over him. Whenever you come upon conflict and noise, learn that the person who comes with noise and conflict in your presence is deeply disturbed; become a peacemaker. That is become a silence maker. Have a vessel of silence ready so you can pour it over him with your glances, with your mudra, the body gesture, with your words that come from the depth of the ocean inside you that is always in full tide. It is from there that an enormous poetry, enormous positive sentiment of love rises and washes the world of all its dirt and uncleanliness. There is a story of a creative silence of the great poet Tagore whose Gitanjali you may have heard quoted. If you have not read through, please be fortunate enough to do so. One day the poet was busy in his chamber writing, following the trend of his creative thought. Some jealous rival had hired an assassin and sent him with a naked dagger. The man walked into the poet’s chamber. The poet, not wanting to interrupt his trend of thought as he was writing, looked up, pointed to a chair with his pencil for the man to sit down; and kept writing. The would be assassin sat there turning his dagger this way and turning his dagger that way and after awhile he got bored, got up and went away. This is my answer to the problem of problems of conflict.
Sprinkle silence out the windows of your eyes, of your active senses, out of your heart and through your words. The words come conveying that silence to other minds. Learn to transmit what you build up within yourself. It is not the silence of being shut up. It is not that silence with which you come home angry and you say, `I’tn not going to say anything to anybody.’ That, my friend, is not silence because then you go to your room and you bang your door and your spouse asks, `what happened, Honey?’ `Nothing happened. Did I say anything!’ Well you’ve said enough. You’ve said enough for 10,000 years. That is not the silence we are speaking of. It is the other kind of silence that when someone has banged the door you stand there and immediately on that person’s face comes a serenity, a silence. This is the silence of the prophets of the ages. It is the smiling silence of the Buddha. Practice it again and again. But you say you have no time. But, you have no time? There is time between the breath and the breath. For a fraction of a moment between the inhalation and the exhalation there comes a moment of silence. Just learn to experience that in the middle of your noisy day. May it lead you not to be a superman but to be a silent woman, a silent man, so that when a child is disturbed you place yourself into deep silence take the child and put the child to the left side of your bosom, where he can feel your heartbeat. The child can feel your depth of breath. Just wrap him around with a shawl, with a meditation shawl and sit there for two minutes. If it is not because of some great physical discomfort or illness or something that the child was crying, the child will pick tip your mood of silence and he will learn that communication which will come in handy for him for his entire life. Let silence be part of your education for your children.
It is a well known principle in physics and psychology, as in just about any branch of science, that when the flow of a force is blocked from a certain outlet, it re-directs itself to some other outlet even with a greater velocity.
This does not happen in a random manner. There is sonic internal process whereby the energy is rechanneled. Those who are not visual may become audial. Quite often, the classical singers of India sing with their eyes closed. Even when they play classical instruments, you see an inward look in the eyes because they are becoming absorbed in the world of internal sound. It is a process of silencing the eyes so that one may become awake to the world of sound.
This applies to all our practices of silence. Silence of speech also cannot simply be an escape from the world. When we enter silence, let it be a silence of the mind, calming down the emotional disturbances so that this enormous power that we expend, that we waste in words may be conserved. I have said elsewhere, that the practice of silence does not consist merely of not speaking words, but of renouncing the intention to speak for that time. It has been found in some experiments that merely the intention to speak, not just the fact of speaking, raises blood pressure. It is the intention that is to be abandoned. But the intention is to be abandoned to experience internal fullness that ensues because when we_ conserve energy, we are filled.
I have often used silence for self-healing in acute illness or acute pain. I heal much faster while in silence. Even the elevated blood sugar level goes down by entering into the practice of silence. In this way, when you embark on entering the silent chamber within you, remember that it is to experience an interior fullness. Look for that and you will find you will heal much faster physically and mentally.
Of course, not everyone is ready to practice silence. Therefore, it is not possible to make a rule of silence for all patients in a hospital. But those who are used to some degree of religions or spiritual experience of any kind, those who have a certain creativity in themselves, whether they are poets or artists or simply those who experience intense lovingness without its destructive counterparts, should be advised even in a clinical situation to enter a period of silence. It may be for short periods. It may be even for an hour a day or for half a day. Perhaps some experiments can be designed to sec whether this group that practices silence, all other things being equal does indeed heal faster and whether their recovery is quicker than accepted average. I have a strong feeling that it will be found to be so.
As I said, entering silence is not an act of escape. It is also not an attempt at suppressing one’s internal disturbances. If it becomes such an act of suppression, the silence will fail to achieve its purpose. Therefore, in entering silence, enter a fullness that is within you. When I was traveling non-stop in North America and elsewhere, often without sleep for many days, and needed to remain active throughout, I found that, even though I did not have the opportunity to maintain full silence, if I maintained the intention to maintain it while sitting in an airplane, that revived me. Everybody who travels alone often has to sir silent for hours in one place, but that does not constitute silence. The family is gone out and one has no one to talk to, that does not constitute silence. Only the intention constitutes silence. If I maintained such intention, it helped to energize me. I also found that during those periods, where the only rest I had was in the form of yoga-nidria once or twice a day, if my mind became disturbed by sonic excitation or irritation of any kind, then I would immediately feel sleepy. So it became a deliberate experimentation to see exactly what happens if I monitor my emotions and use internal volume controls to modulate them. In this way I found that silence means learning to modulate interior emotions in such a manner that they conic entirely under your direction. Then you will find that at the end of a period of silence, you will have healed physically and mentally with a sense of fullness.
Now, silence can be a deathly silence. That is not what we are after. Silence can be a live silence and that is what we are really seeking, what we are searching for in the ancient hymns of the Rig Veda these munis, the monks are said to be vata rashrtnah, they who live on wind. They cat winds because they live on prana. It also means they who draw on the strings of wind. That is very profound. Where are these strings of prang within us that the muni, the silent contemplative monk, draws on, pulls on and uses it not to knot the life but to unknot it. Then there is a live silence. A creative silence.
Of creative silence, let us look at an example. In the traditions of India the theater began and is still practiced as part of worship. Ir takes the actors five or six hours to put on the makeup for the kathakali performance (a particular style of reenactment of rite stories of the great epics). The moment they enter the chamber they go into absolute silence because they are busy not purring on makeup but they are busy transforming themselves into the fit vessels in which the, into which the God Incarnate may descend and act through them and speak through them. This is an example of creative silence. Then they perform all night and the audience sit in the temple, awake, taking it in and absorbing the Divine presence. In some cultures silence has been made part of their experience. For example, one of the most commonly observed days of vacation holiday in the year in Indonesia, in all the 13,000 islands of Indonesia is Nepi Day, the day of silence. Indonesia has many, many different religions, but Nepi Day is observed by all.
On Personal Silence
A silent one apologizes for his lack of courtesy: You greet him and he answers with a nod, but apologizes. Though he finds it restful to be as silent as possible, this doesn’t mean that he will not do his duties. If communication is necessary, he’ll be at your service. Living in the world, he finds that since he leaves all of us to just withdraw into a cave, he has to create his own cave. We Americans like portable things. So a portable cave comes straight out of stealth technology and doesn’t show itself! Wherever you go, you do carry that cave. All you have to do is sit down and carve the space around you. There it is; you’re all alone. Then you find that your compulsion to communicate has ceased. You feel that there’s nothing words talking about in the world except God. And God one cannot talk about because one has not seen Him, vet…. So There’s no point in all this chitter and chatter that goes on in our heads and becomes sounds; and all the radio stations, and the TV stations, reproduced in god knows how many languages. Sooner or later, you have to find a way to rest from it all.
By maintaining as much silence as is possible without neglecting one’s duties, the meditation deepens. If you practice silence, the depth you used to achieve in 30 minutes, you can then achieve in three minutes if you practice silence. It is also because normally one’s own voice gives a feedback to one’s mind, which is more disturbing than one realizes.
The biggest noise the mind hears is one’s own voice, because it is so close to itself, to the mind. But if the mind is anyway dis¬eased with its own internal chitter-charter, then the tongue will definitely wag. Stopping the tongue from wagging does not stop the chatter of the mind. So if you think that by tying some kind of a cloth around your mouth or maybe gagging yourself, you would be able to achieve mental rest, that will prove too optimistic.
First, there has to be a condition in the mind. The mind should not need to go into such a state of dependence on others that without them, it feels lost. People say, “Oh, how I would like a moment of peace and quiet. You kids get out. Go away!” As soon as they’re out and away, on goes the TV. And there goes the peace and quiet, because people have not understood the mind’s need.
We indulge unnecessary amounts of emotional disturbance, being all members of the local chapter of the Masochist Club. We enjoy torturing ourselves. But you can cease that torture, as you find that a close relationship between vocal silence and mind’s quietness will become more and more evident.
Have someone else who will enjoy speaking, well, let them have the pleasure!
By maintaining silence–for some reason which I’m still trying to observe inside me–the emotional edge is blunted. Things that would ordinarily stick sharply like thorns in the heart and mind, will nor be felt that sharply during the times one takes to intentional silence. The emotional edge is blunted during silence because you are aware that if you allowed an intensity of emotion then you would want to use words. In silence your mind reminds you: “But, hey, you are on a vow of silence, so don’t get worked up. This way the inclination to break the vow of silence diminishes.
The silence itself calms you down. It has a feedback effect. It reduces the intensity of emotions, and the absence of the intensity of emotion reduces the inclination to speak. That, in turn, again reduces the intensity of emotions and that further reduces the inclination to speak. Is there an antonym for “vicious cycle”? Beneficial cycle? That beneficial cycle goes on.
It is also a practice in patience. There are always unpleasant things happening around you. Your normal reaction is to burst out and protest. But in a vow of silence, you have to practice patience.
In my own feeble efforts at silence while doing my duties to centers and students I communicate often with notes. This way, one rests while one works. I speak by proxy through written notes. I’ve learned to do two things by proxy, these being the two functions of the mouth: taking in and taking out. If I want to eat something that I really enjoy but it’s not recommended for my physical condition, I feed people with affection and thereby receive a very subtle satisfaction. And I speak by proxy.
In such a situation one can do all his duties by communicating with fewer words. Just scribble a note. It’s much better and it is physically restful. When far away from such duties, in solitude, the need even for dutiful communication ceases.
Even physically, health wise, silence is so great one needs a little less sleep by maintaining silence. We do not know what percentage of our tiredness at the end of the day comes from speaking. The practice of silence is beneficial not only for spiritual reasons but even for physical reasons. Being diabetic, I have checked my blood pressure and blood sugar levels during vows of silence, and both went down considerably compared to when I am not on the vow, with no other factors being changed in life. Carrying on the usual work, I found myself less tired at night, needing less sleep, simply because of the practice of silence.
In silence, other senses naturally come under control. Gandhi used to say that the control over the desire to eat is the control over speech in the form of silence and the practice of celibacy; that all these forms of self-control are intertwined. If I want to lose weight and go into silence, I lose weight much more quickly. Very quickly. The desire to eat is not there as the mouth’s other function is being sublimated. Thus you don’t have to fight against a desire to reduce the food intake during silence. Similarly, with the practice of silence, celibacy becomes even more natural. So all of these great benefits help to develop a certain interior energy source. That energy can go into creativity; or into guiding meditation; or one can sit down without preparing a lecture and weave a yarn of inspiring words effortlessly. What experienced teachers of meditation tell you is not based on books. It’s not based on what one has learned by listening and taking notes from somebody’s lectures. Whatever they tell you is from the personal experiments they have made in their lives.
Their successful experiments are the ones that are helpful to us. They have said: “Silence is golden.” Start saving a little gold with a little practice of silence, say, one hour at a time. One hour. When you decide to keep silence for an hour, don’t turn on the TV. Do switch off the phone. Don’t use that time for writing a long letter. Because then the mind is still chattering.
Don’t use that time for eating because then the mouth would still be going. But you may continue to do, say, some physical duties: cleaning house or washing dishes. Or go for a walk in the woods for that hour and walk silently. If somebody stops you, there is no harm in playing dumb.
One would have to experiment. Try one hour of silence and then at the end of that hour, see how you are feeling emotionally. Because a lot of suppressed emotion comes up to the surface, it needs to be channeled. It may compel you to break the silence. So, begin gently, and do not start your forty days in the cabin abruptly! Practice climbing hills before you embark on an Everest expedition.
Initially, when you have stopped the communication, you experience that it is like the thoughts arising during meditation, emotions arising during silence. So, go at it cautiously, if you have never done it before. Teachers are often asked: Would you do any reading during silence? I would suggest: take a one hour’s silent walk instead. Then sit down and see what your feelings are. What is happening? Then try without the walk another day and see how it feels. The best is the silence of mind. You need to get used to the silence of mind, and to know what to do with the mind if you’re not reading.
What is mind doing? That is the question. It you are not reading, and you’re not watching lti’, what will you do with the mind? And if the mind has to keep chattering, no point in this pursuit. Do experiments, Some experts can maintain silence of mind while reading, but the majority cannot.
When we are using our minds ordinarily, the major part of our brains and all kinds of sympathetic systems therein become excited. During one cerebral activity, many parts of the brain are also agitated and working. The practice of deep silence is very different, as follows: You can be creative; you can be reading; you can even be speaking; but if you are using only that much of your neurocerebral system that is absolutely necessary for that activity, then the rest of your mind and brain remain in silence.
But many people are unable to practice that kind of isolating. An expert rnuni, practitioner of silence, may read, write or give messages, but during those activities he may maintain silence and is not very much disturbed because he can focus selectively on only that work, yet keeping other parts of his mind quiet. Swamiji (Swami Rama) always says: karni aur sumirni, that is, we should learn to remain busy and remember God at the same time.
So, if you are reading during silence, what is the rest of your brain doing? What is your body doing? You come upon a thrilling, exciting portion in the book, what response is your body giving to that? And if the body is reacting to all of those things during the narrative of an event in an emotional manner, then you are not practicing silence. So, there are no strict rules. You have to watch your mind, your level of emotion, your level of reaction. That’s it.
One may speak and still be silent if he has mastered regulated speech by following the three principles of speech that is silence: hitam, initam, priyam–beneficial, measured, pleasant. Is what I am saying beneficial? Is it measured in tone, level of voice, number of words, to be most effective? And is it being said in the most pleasant manner that is efficacious for the purpose? Any more pleasant is not efficacious. Any less pleasant is violent. But this kind of silence during speech, being with God while in action; is far more advanced than the majority can handle. Begin with an hour of silence, and the seed will grow into a tree bearing abundance of spiritual fruit.
Inspirational Sayings on Silence
Give way to your basic urges.
For example, go into silence.
Sleep is not silence. Silence is alert. Silence speaks.
Silence creates. Silence silences.
If in your presence others do not go naturally silent in the mind,
you have not yet practiced silence.
Let all your propositions be silent ones.
The first building material of the universe was silence.
The universe finally dissolves into silence.
If someone asks you about God…
…pour His silence into their ear.
Did you hear the silence of your soul?
Eat only when you are fasting,
Speak only when you are in silence.
Guidance for a Practice of Silence
Your silence observance should actually begin the day before when you begin to turn your mind inward and begin to let go of pressing concerns. That evening go to bed in a meditative state. Wake in the morning and immediately go into the practice of yoga-nidra, Then rise. Cleanse. A brisk walk, run, or brisk exercise will be good, depending on the weather. then do a relaxation ending with the 61 point exercise. Prepare for your meditation with nadi-shodhana. (Up to this point do not eat; you may have water, hot lemon drink or juice as needed.) Following your meditation prepare and eat your breakfast in that meditative mood and with the spice of japa.
After breakfast, as silence continues, rest and do japa. No reading or writing, then before lunch do another session of nadi-shodhana and meditation, whatever length you desire. Prepare and eat lunch in a meditative mood chewing each mouthful thoroughly.
After lunch take a conscious rest with digestive breathing, then a short walk. Do more japa, rest and contemplate your personal philosophy of life arriving at some new conclusions or confirm old ones. Then in the light of this contemplation decide how to reorganize yourself to take five percent more time for your spiritual pursuits. Such an exercise in contemplation may be continued during a special walk. This is done by observing the entire process of walking within yourself, i.e., from the mind’s command, to the movement of the foot. Also, keep breath awareness; no other extraneous pursuits of the rational mind. Then return to rest and do more japa. Liquids may be taken in the afternoon as needed.
Then before supper do another long relaxation, nadi-shodhana and meditation. Then prepare to eat a light supper in a meditative mood. Follow this with a brief walk. Then sit for japa and meditation. If you get drowsy, fall asleep. If you are awake, take a glass of hot milk before going to bed. Go to bed in a meditative mood.
If you continue to observe silence for another day or more, follow more or less the same routine. You may want to contemplate a mahavakya such as tat twam asi–I Am That, or a theme such as ahimsa–non-violence. Then practice non¬violence and love toward all those who breathe, from plants to animals, to your competitors, then to all, in all situations.
If you are not clear on some of the exercises: nadi-shodhana, yoga-nidra, 61-points relaxation exercise, japa, write to email@example.com to ask for information on how to practice them, or attend a teaching session, or come to Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh, India.
- Ask for Swami Veda Bharati’s audio cassettes on `How to Do Long Mantras Faster.’
- In Dostoevski’s The Brothers Karamozov, the irascible Fyodor was fond of saying, “It is dignified to take offense.”
- Shakespeare’s King Henry V, Act IV, Sc. 4, Line 72: “The saying is true, `The empty vessel makes the greatest sound.”
Did you Hear
the silence of your soul
on the last space?
~ Swami Veda Bharati