Generally we tend to think that silence is the absence of noise. Maun Vrat literally means a vow to keep silent. For spiritual growth it is essential that one’s speech must be pure. To acquire purity of speech the practice of silence is important. Hindu religious texts commend maun-vrat for this purpose.
Is silence mere noiselessness?
Can absence of noise be called silence? But what do you actually hear when there is no noise?
You may hear your heartbeat, you may hear rustling leaves, you may hear subtle sounds that you usually do not perceive. Some seem to hear a primal sound, a primal buzz, as is spoken of in the Vedas: ‘Aum’, the very first, the eternal sound, from which all sound and all creation arises.
Silence itself cannot be perceived. You are silence, the silence of your heart.
This silence that you are, is a borderless heart, all inclusive and all pervading. This silence is the beloved One, the abode of peace and love.
It is amazing how eloquent could silence be. And humans, it seems, have an intimate connection with it. It keeps coming to us in many mysterious ways. Somewhere deep down, in the farthest recesses of our consciousness, we have a deep connection with it. We are unable to understand it or reach it, probably because between silence and us we have erected multi-dimensional walls. We almost try to deny silence, which is the core of our being, even defy it. In fact, most of us seem to be quite uncomfortable with noise. We seem to fight silence, even defeat it, as we announce our arrival in this world with a loud, piercing wail.Just as we have to go through the heart of darkness to see the flaming light, we have to enter the cluttered noisiness of our mind and the world around us to reach where silence alone remains.
But why silence?
According to Yogiraj Nanak, the essence of life is ever flowing and eternal. If we want to express it in its entirety, or even try to do so, we can succeed only to a limited extent. When our senses, mind and intellect fall short of expressing all, another expressive channel called maun (silence) opens up. “If the speaker can communicate through the silence and the listener can listen silently, it is the most powerful means of communication. And in spiritual learning, it plays a dominant role,” he says.
He explains that a quiet communication is most important where two individuals are burdened with different sanskaras (inherited traits, impressions, memories) due to bonding with a particular religion, ethnicity, culture or country. In which case, the connotation of a word or its sentiments remain tied to sanskaras, however subtle the words may be.
In Yogiraj Nanak booklet, Maun Samvad (Dialogue in Silence), he says: “Life’s essence cannot fully blossom into words. Maun has the essence, which always exists in the present, and is free of ahankar (ego). The speaker’s or the listener’s ego (‘I know this’ and ‘I don’t know this’) always takes him to I-ness instead of Be-ness and Is-ness. Once freed from ego, what remain are purity, beauty and the nectar of peace and solitude. The power of peace thus obtained is so strong that our life within remains unshaken by the storm and stress without. In short, maun calms the mind and thus fills the whole life with peace.”
Says a Vipassana meditator: “Silence is the medium that takes us forward on the journey from the apparent self to the real self. When we are silently observing the body, and observing the mind, this something that is witnessing is silence—the real Self. We are constantly allowing in the garbage through our five doors—the senses—and we are constantly reacting to it. Silence takes us beyond the sense experiences to the real experience.”
Osho [Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Indian mystic, guru and philosopher] too describes the importance of silence in our lives beautifully: “Only silence can be heard and understood. Words can be heard but only superficially, and can be understood but only intellectually. Silence is heard existentially and is understood from your innermost being. It is a total understanding… Silence means you have put aside the whole furniture of the mind—the thoughts, the desires, the memories, the fantasies, the dreams, you have all pushed aside. You are just looking into existence directly, immediately.
‘‘You are in contact with existence without anything in between you and existence. That is silence. Silence is usually understood to be something negative, something empty, an absence of sound, of noises. This misunderstanding is prevalent because very few people have ever experienced silence. All they have experienced in the name of silence is noiselessness. But silence… is overflowing with a music that you have never heard before, with a fragrance that is unfamiliar to you, with a light that can only be seen with the inner eyes. It is not something fictitious; it is a reality, and a reality which is already present in everyone—just we never look in.
And how can we look in and reach the silence within us, touch the silence of our being?
To reach the real silence, the absolute silence, we need to go beyond the silence of the body, the silence of the heart and finally the silence of the mind. Thus before we merge with eternal silence we shall need to reach, touch and then transcend the silence at the physical, emotional and mental levels.To begin with, allot a time and place to yourself, where once a month, and if possible, once a week (increase the duration and frequency as you move on), observe complete silence. It should be complete in the sense that during that period surrender yourself totally to your intention. Merely keeping mute is not maun vrat.
According to Shama Sharma, who has practised guided spiritual maun off and on, it is more important to keep internal maun rather than external maun. For someone in maun who cannot give up the desire to communicate with the external world and keeps doing it either by sign language or by involvement in other activities, cannot find the bliss that is in real silence. When she recently took a 40-day maun, she would break the silence whenever she felt the real urge to communicate verbally, though such moments were rare. “At such a time my mind would create more noise than my spoken words. So it is better to get over with what’s bugging you and then carry on,” she says.
So if we intend to keep silent for two hours, but all the while we are thinking of what we are going to do for the rest of the day, or what are we going to cook for dinner, or what jobs need to be finished, that is no maun. To reach internal maun, complete withdrawal from the world and from all external experiences, to whatever degree possible, is important.
But again this is only the beginning. Absolute silence is arrived at after successfully crossing over all thought walls, which might seem difficult but practice makes it possible. Silence comes with stillness of the mind and heart alone. Silence is losing self to timelessness.
But why do we need to go into silence? Why do we need to know it or to reach it? Because when we know silence, we shall know ourselves. When we reach silence, we reach the supreme power that is often called God. Silence is shoonya, the no-mind state which every yogi, every sincere sadhak aspires for. Silence springs forth from the ultimate union.
Maun-vrat literally means a vow to keep silent. For spiritual growth it is essential that one’s speech must be pure. To acquire purity of speech the practice of silence is important. It is believed that through silence one is able to achieve one’s desires. One attains the abode of Lord Shiva or Lord Vishnu. Along with maun-vrat it is essential that some time must be spent in offering prayers.
In the Bhagavad Gita,17/16, it is said:
Silence is placed mid-way between other qualities. It begins with control of the mind. Once the mind is controlled, one becomes friendly. One begins to look kindly towards others. One cuts down on useless speech and thinks more of God. One begins to generate good thoughts.
In the Chanakya Niti, 11/9, it is said:
Whoever can remain silent everyday for a full year becomes worthy of thousands of years of praise in heaven.
Silence can change the personality of an individual. Through silence a person controls anger and speech. One grows stronger through greater determination and self-confidence. One is more at peace and free of tension. There is conservation of energy and a person experiences greater inner strength.
Contentment of the mind, amiable temperament, silence, religious meditation and good thoughts reflect austerity of the mind.