Yoga & Meditation

The Power of Silence

The period from Mauni Amavasya (the new moon before Mahashivaratri, this year on 24 January 2020) until Mahashivaratri (this year on 21 February 2020) was traditionally considered, on the yogic path, to be a period for the practice of maun or Silence.

Since we are currently in this period, let’s try to understand a little about what is meant by Silence.

[Another reason I felt inspired to write on this is my recent visit to Tiruvannamalai, the holy mountain Arunachala and the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Ramana Maharshi maintained that his main teaching was Silence, or rather transmitted through Silence. As much as Silence can paradoxically be discussed in words, I will try…]

Silence as Maun

Silence is most often understood as keeping quiet or not speaking. This is what is referred to as maun in Sanskrit. That is usually a good place to start. By not speaking, one can observe the thoughts that arise in the mind. One can notice how often one would have grabbed those thoughts and spoken them out or at least quietly believed them. 

This is really the simplest meditation practice – to observe one’s mind. In certain Zen traditions, disciples sit staring at a blank wall for long periods – even years – with the apparent aim of ultimately transcending the mind.

With a simple practice of maintaining maun, one might come to realise a few things. First, one might realise how much of what one speaks is non-essential and simply a waste of energy. One might also realise, upon observing one’s thoughts, that most of the content of one’s mind is conditioned by one’s past and by the social contact and environment that has influenced us. In other words, one has not really had a choice in determining what one considers to be right or beneficial or even true. Isn’t that potentially scary? 

As one observes the nature of one’s mind, over time, the mind becomes clearer and clearer. With clarity, peace and joy emerge. The unnecessary chatter of the mind ceases, leaving it more creative, productive and intuitive.

Silence as Nishabd

In Sanskrit language, a deeper dimension of Silence is recognised – not merely the absence of sound (maun), but transcending sound. The word used is nishabd which means going beyond all sound. Since all creation is fundamentally sound or reverberation, nishabd means transcending all creation i.e. body, mind and world.

[For more see: The Significance of Mauni Amavasya – Silence is the Way by Sadhguru]

 

Maun then, is a practice to attain or recognise nishabd. In Vedanta, it is described as the realisation ‘I am Brahman’, the one Absolute reality. While nishabd is an impossible thing for the mind to understand conceptually, many of the words of the sages and seers point to it. 

The following beautiful verses from the scriptures poetically describe the state in which the senses and mind have become quiet though outwardly, actions may continue:

Taittiriya Aranyaka (I.11.5):

A blind man pierced the jewel;

a fingerless one strung it.

One without a neck wore it;

a tongueless one paid honours to it.

 

Svetasvatara Upanishad (III-19):

Grasping without hands, hasting without feet, 

It sees without eyes, It hears without ears. 

It knows what is to be known, but no one knows It. 

They call It the First, the Great, the Full.

 

When Silence is realised in this way, one may say, everything becomes Silence in one’s experience. I’ll end with Lord Krishna as a beautiful example of this.

When people mocked Krishna, saying how can you call yourself a Brahmachari when you’re romancing so many gopis with no thought of moral propriety. You’re gallivanting about town like an aimless youth, joking, playing pranks, dancing and playing music. And Krishna said in all seriousness, “But I am a Brahmachari and I have always been a Brahmachari”. 

He was pointing to the fact that a true Brahmachari is not one who engages in particular actions and not others, but one who sees everything as Brahman alone. 

When we see someone as ‘other’, even if we love them divinely, it is not a Divine romance. A Divine romance is one in which there is no ‘other’.

Perhaps one can say that devotion is loving Krishna as Radha; while Silence is knowing that it is Krishna Himself that is Radha and that Radha is only another Krishna.

 

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