Hello! In this post, I would like to talk about Silence in the self. In my earlier post, The Power of Silence – An Introduction, I introduced the idea of silence and its power to you. In this post I will talk about the spiritual advantages that silencing our self adds to our lives. This post will be a little longer than normal, because there is so much that religion and spirituality can teach us about the power of silence. So, please be patient with me on this journey.
Noise: that is one of the biggest landmarks of progress and modernity throughout history — never-ending human made noise from the sounds of increasing population and traffic, to the sounds of machines such as farming equipment, radios, TVs, microwaves, dishwashers, iPods, iPads, and conversations (whether they are face-to-face or through texts or social media).
Since cacophony is the norm, silence in the Self is essential on many levels. I want to talk about the power of silence in the Self before I address its advantages in relationships and business. I have specifically structured it this way because if we want to make a major lifestyle change, we always has to start with the Self.
We have to able to incorporate silence into our own lives in a positive way before we can reap the rewards of the power of silence in our social interactions (our relationships with others). It is only then can we apply the power of silence to our environments — professional or even societal.
Religion, Spirituality, and even Medicine, Physics and the Social Sciences all agree that more silence in our lives can only help improve our quality of life and our health. In order to do true justice to this topic, this post will be further broken down into two parts: Silence and the Self in Religion and Spirituality, and Silence and the Self in Science.
Silence and The Self in Religion and Spirituality:
No matter what the differences in the practice may be, the philosophies of most major religions, spiritualities (even the New Age ones which are just old forgotten wisdom wrapped up in new packaging) and spiritual gurus in the world extol silence as a virtue; as an asset that will help all of us in our journeys in life.
In this context, silence takes on a different connotation: contemplation or meditation. This meditative or contemplative silence, where we have to experience the stillness within and outside of us — regardless of what religion or spirituality we follow or where we may be on the globe — seems to be the most difficult and the most worthwhile step we need to take in our journeys towards salvation, or heaven, or moksha, or nirvana, or death.
Silence in the Self teaches us insight and wisdom.
Almost every major religion and spirituality practiced today teaches the idea of Silence being a great teacher for the Self. Perkei Avol, the Jewish Sages guide for living teaches that silence is a safety fence for wisdom. Practitioners of Judaism believe that since silence precedes even the Creator’s first words, silence is more fundamental than even words. Therefore contemplative silence helps us understand and perhaps gain some wisdom from the “higher reality of divine oneness“.
Muslims believe that their Creator, through the words of one of His messengers taught believers that “Wisdom consists in keeping silent, and those who practice it are few”. There are several Ayahs (verses) in the Holy Qur’an, which teach Muslims that wisdom is knowing when not to speak, and wisdom grows by practicing silence and austerity of speech.
Rumi, who was a world-renowned Sufi mystic, spoke about the necessity of silence when we are trying to reach God or the Divine. He said:
“Silence is the root of everything. If you spiral into its void a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear” – Rumi
In Hinduism, the Maitri Upanishad says that
“There is something beyond our mind which abides in silence within our mind. It is the supreme mystery beyond thought. Let one’s mind and one’s subtle body rest upon that and not rest on anything else.”
The Buddha said that “silence is an empty space, space is the home of the awakened mind”.One of the best known examples of silent teaching Buddhism is the Buddha’s Flower Sermon.
The Buddha one day addressed a rather large gathering of his followers waiting to hear his teaching. His entire lecture consisted of him sitting in silence while holding up a flower. Finally, one of his followers responded by smiling. The Buddha then said that in that moment the disciple had received all the teaching.
Deepak Chopra, one of the greatest modern-day philosophers and lifestyle coaches believes that silence is THE great teacher.
“To learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge and stability that come from knowing how to contact your inner silence.”
Silencing the Self connects us with the Divine.
For the Abrahamic religions and offshoots, silence is a time to allow the heart, mind, and, soul (the Self), to connect with the Divine. The Holy Bible, the Holy Qur’an and the Sacred Torah all have several verses and proverbs encouraging the practitioners of these faiths to realize the importance of silence in communicating with God. The Amish value the importance that the Bible gives to the need for silence, solitude and contemplation so much that they have created their own societies outside the noise of the modern culture.
In Islam, Rumi said that ” Silence is the Language of God. All else is just poor translation.”
In the “Eastern” non-Abrahamic religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, silence is also identified with Divinity in the Self. The Divine is the realm of “enlightenment” or a higher level of consciousness where we are closer to the presence of all aspects of divinity and where we are completely present in the moment. This realm can’t be talked about, it can only be experienced through silence which tests the limits of the conscious human mind.
In Hinduism, “Mauna” (silence) is one of the most important aspects of spiritual discipline and symbolizes a state of oneness with the Divine Self within us. Adi Shankaracharya is the most well-known Hindu Gurus and Saints who practiced Advaita Vedanta, a form of Hinduism that is more focused on the philosophy and not the rituals. He molded Hinduism into the form that has been practiced since the 8th century to present day. He viewed silence as one of the three essential attributes to a Sanyasi (the stage in life before “Moksha” or salvation).
The Upanishads say, “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am Brahman) and “Tat tvam asi” (Thou Art That), which imply the absolute identity of the self with the Divine.
The Atharva Veda also says “He cannot be seen by the eye, and words cannot reveal Him. He cannot be reached by the senses, or by austerity or sacred actions. By the grace of wisdom, and purity of mind, He can be seen, indivisible, in the silence of contemplation. This invisible Atman (Soul) can be seen by the mind wherein the five senses are resting.”
In traditional Hinduism, the model of silent teaching is the God Dakshinamurthy, an avatar of the Lord Shiva, who reveals Truth through silent teaching.
Advaita Vedanta boldly proposes enlightenment without a Guru. Sri Ramana Maharshi, another well-known Advaita Vedanta teachers said that “The Guru is the Self. The Master is Within”.
Silencing the self gives us protection from others and ourselves, and provides our Self with rest and restoration.
Silence, with practice, helps us achieve a state of inner-calm and inner-peace through self-awareness. This protects us from many petty, unnecessary squabbles which only eat away at our precious time and energy. Developing this inner silence can also rejuvenate or re-energize us in those daily moments of stress and chaos when we need absolute clarity.
Silence gives our mind the rest that it needs. Islam teaches us that silences is a means to attain salvation, and that silence saves the self from many kinds of evils in the world outside.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and well-known Jewish philosopher Elie Wiesel said,
“Language failed me very often, but then, the substitute for me was silence, but not violence”
The Buddha wrote extensively about the protective nature of silence and austerity in speech. He said whenever you are about to speak, ask yourself the three simple questions:
1.) is my speech the Truth?
2.) is my speech necessary at this time?
3.) is my speech kind?
If the answer to ANY of these three questions is “No”, the Buddha said you should protect yourself with silence, and not speak.
As per Vedic philosophy, silence conserves energy and sharpens our focus and concentration. The Indian-American philosopher Sri Chinmoy Ghose even goes so far as to say that all real spiritual teachers actually TEACH in silence. Practicing this silence will allow us to get back into the natural rhythms of life, where there equal importance for work, play AND rest and rejuvenation.
Now that all of this has been said about silence, the one last word I would like to add is that it takes a long time, and great amounts of practice to achieve this profound, contemplative silence.
It may take some of us months or even years; but with practice and time, all of us are capable of achieving this “inner silence” to connect our self with the Self, and reap all the rewards that come with this achievement. Of course, in addition to wisdom, connection with the Divine, and protection and rest, there are many, many more benefits that harnessing the power of silence gives to our Self, but I chose these three themes for now. Maybe I’ll write another post on more of the advantages sometime in the future.
Please stay tuned for my next post, Silence in the Self – Scientific Perspective in which I will give evidence from various branches of Sciences that suggest that silencing the self may be helpful to our physical and mental health on many levels!
– Dr. AJ