Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
THE POWER OF SILENCE
IN THE Vedanta breath is called Prana, life. Breath is the chain which links body, heart, and soul together. It is so important that when it is gone from the body, this body which is so much loved and cared for that the slightest cold or cough is treated by doctors with medicines, is then of no more use. It cannot be kept alive.
Speaking is a breach in the breath. That is to say, when one speaks one has to take many more breaths than one would take otherwise. The breath is like the hoop a child plays with: according to the force of the blow of the stick, so many times the hoop turns; and when the force is spent the hoop falls down. It is also like the ticking of a watch. The watch goes for the time for which it is wound; it may be for twenty-four hours, or for one week, but longer than that period it cannot go, however far it is wound. Or compare it with a child's top; it turns so many times according to the strength with which it is spun, and when the force is spent the top falls over.
In accordance with the first breath, so long will our life last: so many breaths. By speaking we take away much of our life; a day's silence means a week longer of life and more, and a day's speech means a week less of life. Silence is the remedy for much, although of course a person living in the world cannot practice it continually. But he should keep a watch on his words; he should remember that for every word he speaks he will be awarded heaven or hell.
In India from ancient times there have been mystics who are called Muni. They never speak, although they do all kinds of other things. These mystics have often lived very much longer than we live at the present time: three hundred, five hundred years and more.
By not speaking the breath is not interrupted; it remains regular and even. The mystics have always given great importance to the breath, and have made its study the principal object in their training. Those who have mastered the breath have mastery over their lives; those who have not mastered it are liable to all kinds of diseases. There are some who have mastered it unconsciously, such as boxers and wrestlers, and also some people who have led a righteous life.
In the present age we have become so fond of speech than when a person is alone in the house he likes to go out, if only to find somebody to talk to. Often when people are alone they speak to the objects round them. Many people speak to themselves when they have no one else to talk to. If it were explained to them, perhaps they would understand how much energy they lose with each word spoken. Silence is relaxation of mind and body; it is restful and healing. The power of silence is very great, not only for the gaining and preservation of energy and vitality, but also morally there are many benefits to be obtained by silence.
Most of the follies we commit are follies of speech. In one week, for every single folly of action we commit a thousand follies of speech. Often we offend or hurt someone only by talking too much; if we had refrained from speech we would not have hurt him.
Then there is exaggeration. All idealists, those who like to admire something, have the tendency to exaggerate. If a person has gone out and read on a poster that a Zeppelin is coming he wants to frighten his friends, and at once he says that twenty Zeppelins are coming. And when his friends are alarmed he feels a certain satisfaction. When idealists take a fancy to a person they tell him that he is the sun and the moon in the heavens. There is no need to say all this.
By speaking a person also develops a tendency to contradiction. Whatever is said, he wants to take the opposite standpoint. He becomes like a boxer or a wrestler: when there is no one to box or to wrestle with he is disappointed, so intense is his inclination for speech.
Once I was at a reception at a friend's house, and there was someone there who disputed with every guest, so that they were all tired out. I tried to avoid him but someone introduced us, and when he heard that I was a teacher of philosophy, he thought, 'This is the person I want'. And the first thing he said was, 'I do not believe in God. ' I said, 'Do you not? But do you believe in this manifestation and in the beauty of this world of variety, and that there is a power behind it which produces all this?' He said, 'I believe in all that, but why should I worship a personality, why should I call him God? I believe in it but I don't call it God.' I said to him, 'You believe that every effect has a cause, and that for all these causes, there must be an original cause. You call it cause, I call it God; it is the same. There is some officer whom you salute, some superior before whom you bow, for instance your father or mother, some fair one whom you love and adore, for whom you have a feeling of respect, some power before which you feel helpless. How great then must that Person be who has produced and controls all this and how much more worthy of worship!' He answered, 'But I do not call that a divinity, I call it a universal power, an affinity working mechanically, harmonizing all.' When I tried to keep him to one point, he ran to another; and when I followed him there, he ran to another, until at last I ceased, thinking of the words of Shankaracharya, 'All impossible things can be made possible save the bringing of the fool's mind to the point of truth.'
The tendency to contradiction can grow so much, that when some people hear even their own ideas spoken about before them, they will take up the contrary point of view in order to prepare a position for discussion. There is a Persian saying, 'O Silence, thou art an inestimable bliss, thou coverest the follies of the foolish and givest inspiration to the wise!'
How many foolish things we say only through the habit of speech! How many useless words we speak! If we are introduced to someone we must speak; if not we are thought impolite. Then come such conversations as, 'It is such a fine day; it is cold', or whatever the weather is, and so on; such speech without reason in time turns into a disease, so that a person cannot get on without emptying the head of others by speaking about useless things. He can no longer live one moment without it owing to his self-interest; he becomes so fond of speech that sometimes he will tell the whole story of his life to a stranger, preventing him from speaking, although that man may be very bored and would like to say, 'What do I care about all that?' And people also give out secrets that afterwards they regret having told.
Under the same spell a person shows impatience in his words, a pride, a prejudice, for which he is sorry afterwards. It is the lack of control over speech which causes all this. The word is sometimes more prized than the whole world's treasure, and again it is the word which puts a person to the sword.
There are different ways of receiving inspiration, but the best is silence. All the mystics have kept silence. During my travels through India all the great people that I met kept silences at least for some hours, and some for twenty hours a day.
In Hyderabad there was a mystic called Shah Khamosh. He was called so because of his silence. In his youth he was a very clever and energetic young man, and one day he went to his murshid and as usual he had some question to ask as is natural in a pupil. The murshid was sitting in ecstasy, and as he did not wish to speak he said to him, 'Be quiet.' The boy was much struck. He had never before heard such words from his murshid, who was always so kind and patient and willing to answer his questions. But it was a lesson which was enough for his whole life, for he was an intelligent person. He went home and did not speak to his family, not even to his parents. Then his murshid, seeing him like that, did not speak to him any more. For many years Shah Khamosh never spoke, and his psychic power became so great that it was enough to look at him to be inspired. Wherever he looked he inspired. Wherever he cast his glance he healed. This happened not long since, perhaps twenty-five years ago.
There is an intoxication in activity, and nowadays activity has increased so much that from morning till evening there is never any repose, owing to our daily occupations which keeps us continually on the move. And at night we are so tired that we want only to sleep, and next morning the activity begins anew. By this kind of life much is destroyed; man is so eager for his enjoyments that he does not think of the life that is there to be enjoyed. Every person should have at least an hour a day in which to be quiet, to be still.
After the silence of speech comes the silence of thought. Sometimes a person is sitting still without speaking, but all the time his thoughts are jumping up and down. The mind may not want the thoughts, but they come all the same. The mind is let out to them like a ballroom, and they dance around in it. One thought should be made so interesting, so important, that all other thoughts are driven out by it.
When the thoughts have been silenced, then comes the silence of feeling. We may not speak against some person, there may be no thought against him in our mind, but if there is a slight feeling against him in our heart, he will feel it. He will feel there is bitterness for him in that heart. Such is also the case with love and affection.
The abstract means that existence beyond this world where all forms of existence commingle, where they all meet, and this abstract has its sound. When that sound too is silenced and a person goes beyond it, then he reaches the highest state, Najat, the Eternal; but surely a great effort is needed to attain to this state.