Download Volume 2 Issue 10, October 2023 (English)

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Silence–The Path & The Goal

In various faiths and spiritual traditions, it is common for seekers to observe the vow of silence as a spiritual discipline. It is said that what sleep does for the body, silence does for the mind and the spirit.

When practiced with utmost intensity and purity, it takes the seeker to the state of Mahamounam (Supreme Silence), which is the ultimate experience of Brahman. The scriptures describe–Nishabdam Brahmam Uchyate–the Supreme Silence itself is Brahman, the Ultimate Reality beyond all attributes, names, forms, space, time, and causation.

The Mandukya Upanishad, the shortest Upanishad, has a brilliant commentary called the Mandukya Karika, which describes the significance of the primeval Pranava sound–AUM. It has four components–A, U, M, and silence.

  • ‘A’ represents the creative aspect of the universe–BRAHM’A; it also is the waking state of existence.
  • ‘U’ represents its sustaining aspect–VISHN’U; it is also the dream state of existence.
  • ‘M’ represents its dissolution aspect– M’AHESHWARA; it is also the deep sleep state of existence.

Silence is also called Turiya (the fourth state). This represents Consciousness, which pervades all the other three aspects and states. It is the Supreme Brahman.

Bhagavad Gita on Silence

In the chapter on Vibhuti Yoga of the sacred Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Maunam chaivasmi guhyanam” (Bhagavad Gita, 10:38). Among secrets I am ‘Silence’. Also, in the 17th chapter, Lord Krishna describes penance at the body, speech, and mind levels. At the speech level, Lord Krishna says, “Words that do not cause distress, are truthful, inoffensive, and beneficial, as well as regular recitation of the Vedic scriptures–these are declared as penance of speech” (Bhagavad Gita, 17:15). Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba tells us to apply four filters before speaking.

  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it necessary or helpful?
  • Is it an improvement over silence?

Regarding penance at the level of the mind, Sri Krishna says, “Having a serene mind, calm, peaceful, having controlled the senses, with purity and observing silence is true penance” (Bhagavad Gita, 17:16). Here too, silence is emphasized.

Great Masters on Silence

All the great masters emphasized the practice of silence. Lord Buddha says about a person who has attained Nirvana, “His thoughts are quiet, his words are quiet, and his deeds are quiet.” The Bible says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). One of the famous Jewish rabbis says that he learned more in the silent association of wise people and that the greatest service one can do is through silence. In Islam, the Sufi saints emphasize that the practice of silence is more rewarding than verbose prayers.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a renowned divine incarnate, would say that so long as the bee has not tasted the honey, it hovers around the lotus buzzing, but when it reaches the flower, it drinks the nectar quietly. So, too, as long as one argues about doctrines and dogmas, one has not tasted the nectar of true faith. Having tasted that, one is bound to remain silent. Another analogy he shares is that of a partially filled pot making more noise than a pot full of water. Empty vessels make the most noise!

One of the disciples of the Greek philosopher, Socrates, says that the greatest good he experienced was when he was sitting quietly near the master and imbibing his spiritual vibrations!

The God of Silence

There is a form of Lord Shiva called Dakshinamurthy, which Swami had installed in the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School building at Puttaparthi. It is Lord Shiva as the guru in His youthful form, sitting under a huge banyan tree. His disciples are much older, sitting at His feet. The medium of communication between the master and the disciples is silence, yet all the doubts of the disciples are dispelled in a trice!

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the Universal Teacher, emphasizes silence as a spiritual practice. He often says, “Only in the depths of silence can the voice of God be heard.” Swami says that silence is the language of a spiritual seeker. He also quips, “Shut your mouth and open your heart. God has given us two ears and one mouth to show that we should spend more time listening than talking.”

Swami says that the first step in spiritual practice is silence. By talking loudly, one loses one’s own peace and undermines the peace of others. One can experience divine bliss only in absolute silence. That is why silence is golden. Swami further says that all spiritual practices must be done in silence, away from the public gaze. They are for one’s own transformation and not for show or exhibition.

The Practice of Silence

Swami says that silence is the best sadhana. He explains, “There is nothing like silence to still the waves of restlessness of your heart. Silence is the speech of the spiritual seeker and the only language of the realized. He who has reached the stage of stillness and silence, both of which represent the nature of pure consciousness, will enjoy the highest peace and highest bliss.”

Swami often recommends the practice of silence for 15-30 minutes a day. At times, He recommends even longer hours of silence. Some great sages and saints practiced silence for many years. They transformed people through their silence and brought peace to the world.

Silence does not mean mere abstention from talking, as often misunderstood. It means trikarana mounam (three modes of silence), meaning silence of the body (Kaya Mounam), silence of speech (Vaak Mounam), and silence of mind (Mano Mounam). Deep silence is a state of total and perfect stillness in which we control not merely the faculty of speech but all mental dialogue, including the movement of the body. This ultimately leads to Maha Mounam (great silence) when one experiences supreme peace (Prasanthi).

First, we start silence at the level of the body. We often tend to be fidgety and make unnecessary gestures that disturb others. To start with, one must still the body. For this, the practice of proper posture and breathing exercises are necessary. Patanjali emphasizes this in the Yogasutras as Asana Shuddhi (purity of body posture) and Pranayama (breath control).

Next comes Vaak Mounam, the silence of speech. The one who talks much wastes energy. But to avoid talking, some people resort to writing, gestures, and signs to continue communicating. Swami says this is an improper practice of silence. One should avoid all communication while practicing silence. Mano Mounam, the silence of the mind, is the higher stage. It is the most difficult stage to achieve because there is always a dialogue going on in the mind, which is a bundle of thoughts. There is always Sankalpa (will to do something) and Vikalpa (will not to do something) in the mind, which causes mental agitation. Mano Maunam comes from Mano Nasha (dissolution of the mind) or the Amanaska (non-existence of Mind) stage.

This may not be possible in the early stages of sadhana. The best alternative is just to have a single thought instead of many thoughts, and for spiritual seekers, this single thought is always that of God at all times and in all places! This practice will finally replace all thoughts and lead to Maha Mounam, the ultimate stage in which one experiences Brahman or Self-realization.

Benefits of Practicing Silence

The most important and obvious result emphasized by all great masters, including our Swami, is direct communication with God in silence. As a result, one experiences ineffable bliss. It is said, “mounena kalaham nasti” (there is no dispute in silence). The injuries caused by the slip of the tongue are more harmful than those caused by the slip of the foot! The latter can be healed, but the former is often irreversible!

Silence conserves one’s energy. That is why excessive talking leads to premature aging and loss of memory and intellect, whereas silence improves memory and keenness of intellect and preserves youthfulness. It also has a beneficial effect on the body, mind, and heart. It gives rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation, essential to heal all cells in the body. Swami says that excessive talking leads to loss of energy and makes one prone to developing anger and hatred. The tongue is liable for many mistakes–speaking untruth, scandalizing and criticizing others, and speaking harshly. When one practices silence, one automatically avoids all these pitfalls.

Sri Ramana Maharshi emphasizes that more benefit is obtained through the powerful and loving thoughts of the great masters than all the speeches and actions of others. They accomplish more in their silence. Once, a Western spiritual seeker came to Ramana Maharshi and sat at his feet. All his doubts were gone, and he was amazed at the profound impact of sitting at the holy feet of the great sage of Arunachala.

Even in secular life, the greatest scientists, artists, poets, and philosophers had the most revelations while observing silence because they were in touch with the highest power. Most wonderful discoveries are made through intuition and inspiration that come from a higher power in the depths of silence. In Bal Vikas or SSE classes for children, Baba introduced silent sitting as one of the key practices. It looks so simple, and some even consider it as a punishment. It starts with 15 minutes of silent sitting, then extends to half an hour, and even for an hour. Over time, students, teachers, and parents alike have seen the powerful impact of this practice.

Swami goes to great lengths to impart the message of silence. He Himself refrained from speaking sometimes and explains in His Buddha Poornima discourse of February 5, 1998:

Since January 1, I have been restricting My speech to a minimum, confining My words to what was necessary. I am restricting my talking with others even in the interview room. What is the reason? I want to set an example to others by practicing what I preach. My life is my message. I must show the way. Many do not understand my actions. But, when they do not understand, they should remain silent. But instead, they misinterpret my actions. That is a great sin.” In fact, when Swami stopped speaking to devotees for their spiritual growth, and they would plead with Him, He would say, “If you do not understand My silence, you will never understand My words.

If one must speak, Swami says one should speak obligingly. One should not speak the harsh truth, nor should one utter a pleasant lie. One should speak succinctly and concisely, conveying the message without being verbose or talking excessively. Some ‘chatterboxes’ are fond of blabbering nonstop, telling tall tales, and spreading gossip. These people suffer from ‘verbal diarrhea,’ as it were. That is why Swami says, “Athi Bhasha Mathi Hani, Mitha Bhasha Athi Hayi” (Excess talk causes harm to the mind; moderate talk gives great happiness).

Thus, by constant practice of silence and solitude, we can establish them in the heart, even in the busiest and noisiest surroundings. This hierarchy of silence of the body, speech, and mind, reaching the state of supreme silence (Brahman), can be compared to what Swami describes as the stages of devotion–Bhoutika Bhakti (external worship) leading to Ekanta Bhakti (worship in solitude) which finally leads to the stage of Ananya Bhakti (one-pointed devotion to God, involving total surrender). Ananya Bhakti or Maha Mounam is the nondual experience of divinity and being in bliss in all states.

Let us Begin the Sadhana

When we practice both outer and inner silence of the body, speech, and mind, leading to Maha Mounam, we reach the ultimate goal, which is the experience of Brahman. One should aspire for this highest goal, taking inspiration from these precious words of our beloved Swami:

Silence is the beginning of the art of communication. Learn to live in silence for some moments every day. Stay in complete silence and listen to the voice of God. You may not physically hear the voice because God can speak to you through silence. You will become aware of God’s message even though you hear no voice. Let your mind rest in God in those moments of silence, and the thoughts will come to your mind. But be patient and do not expect immediate results. Success will come when you persevere. Know that I am always with you, even when you hear nothing. For I am you, and you are Me. How is it possible that we do not communicate? Think of these and do not give up easily.

On many occasions, Swami also says that silence is ‘Sai lens’ when His vision is on us! Let us pray to Swami so that through our intense and sincere efforts, and by His grace and blessings, we can undertake the sadhana of silence and attain the goal supreme: Self-Realization.

Jai Sai Ram.