From a scientific point of view I shall say that speech
is the breath of breath. In the Vedanta breath is called
prana, which is life. It may be said that breath
is the chain that links body, heart and soul together, and
is so important that the body – so loved and cared for,
kept in palaces, its slightest cold or cough treated by
doctors and medicines – is of no more use and cannot be
kept anymore when the breath is gone. Speaking being the
breach of breath means that, when one is speaking, one takes
ten breaths in the time which would be normal for one breath.
One says, 'Where are you going?', and for these four words
one takes three breaths.
Breath is like the hoop with which a child plays. According
to the force of the blow from the stick, so many turns the
hoop makes, and when the force is spent the hoop falls down.
It is like the ticking of the watch. The watch goes on for
the time for which it is wound; it may be for three days
or for twenty-four hours, or for a week or a month. Longer
than that period it cannot work, because it was not wound
for it. Breath is like a child's top. According to the strength
with which it is spun so many turns the top makes, each
turn helping the other, and when the force is expended the
top falls down. In accordance with the first breath, so
long will life last: so many breaths.
By speaking we take away so 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. From ancient times there
have been mystics in India who are called muni; they
never speak. They have of course other characteristics as
well, but they are called muni because of their abstinence
from speech. They often have lived very much longer than
we live in the present time: three hundred, five hundred
years and more.
By not speaking the breath is not interrupted, it is
regular and even. Mystics have always attached great importance
to breathe, and have made its study their first object.
Those who have mastered the breath have mastery over their
lives; those who have not mastered it are the ones who have
consumption, paralysis and all kinds of diseases. There
are some who have mastered it unconsciously, such as boxers
and wrestlers, and also the people of a righteous life.
In the present age we have become so fond of speech that,
when a person is alone in the house, he likes to go out
if only to find someone to talk to. Often, if a person is
alone, he speaks to things. Many people speak to themselves,
if they have no other person to speak to. If it were explained
to them, they would understand how much energy they really
lose by each word spoken. There are other great benefits
that are gained by silence but, if it were only for the
energy and vitality one gains, its power is very important.
Now speaking from a moral point of view, I shall say
that many benefits are obtained by silence. Most of our
follies are follies of speech. In one week, if we commit
one folly of action, we commit a thousand follies of speech.
Often we offend someone, we hurt someone, only by speaking
too much; if we had refrained from speech we would not have
hurt him. There are families where always some quarrel is
going on, only because they speak too much.
A story is told about a woman who went to a healer and
said to him, 'My husband is very bad tempered. Every evening
when he comes home he scolds me and there is a quarrel that
ends in a very disgraceful manner. Can you give me a remedy
for it?' The healer said, 'Certainly,' and gave her seven
pieces of candy, explaining, 'These are charmed pieces of
candy. When your husband comes home, put one of these in
your mouth.' When I did so, and that evening there was no
quarrel: such a miracle, after ten years of continuing quarreling!
The next day the woman went to the healer, thanked him a
thousand times and told him that he had done such a miracle.
She said, 'I do not know what to do to thank you. I want
you to give me a big box of that candy which might last
for some time.' the healer answered, 'The candy is not necessary,
silence is needed.' This teaches us that often we quarrel
only because of our speech. Silence is a great peacemaker.
'Blessed are the peacemakers.'
Then there is exaggeration; idealists and admirers exaggerate
everything. If such a person has gone out and has seen on
a poster that a zeppelin is coming he wants to frighten
his friends. At once he says that twenty zeppelins are coming.
His friends are alarmed, and he feels satisfaction. Idealists,
if they take a fancy to a person, tell him that he is the
sun and moon and the heavens. There is no need to say all
By speaking a person develops a tendency to contradiction.
Whatever is said, he wants to take the opposite side to
it. He becomes like a boxer or wrestler: when there is no
one to box or wrestle with, he is disappointed; he has such
an intense inclination to speech. I have many times had
this experience, and will tell you about one.
I was at a reception at a friend's house and someone
was there who disputed with everybody, so that all were
tired. I avoided him, but my friend put me forward to
speak with him, so I had to go and meet him. When he heard
that I was a speaker and a teacher of philosophy he thought,
'This is the person I want,' and said, 'I do not believe
in God.' As it is the work of the Sufi to harmonize, to
unite, I said, 'Do you not? But you believe in this manifestation
and in the beauty of this world of variety, and that there
is some power behind it which produces it.' He said, 'I
believe all that, but I do not 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.' 'I believe in
that,' he said, 'but why should I worship this personality,
why should I call it God?' I replied, 'There is some officer
whom you salute, some superior before whom you bow, there
are your father and mother for whom you have a feeling of
respect, there is some fair one whom you love and adore,
some power before which you are helpless. How great must
be that Person who has produced and who controls all these,
and how much worthy of worship!' He answered, 'But I do
not call that divinity, I call it a universal power, an
affinity working mechanically, harmonizing all.' When I
tried to fix him on one point, he ran to another corner,
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 a fool's mind to the point of truth.'
The tendency to contradiction grows so much that, when
a person hears even his own idea expressed before him, he
will take the contrary point 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 have to speak! If we
are introduced to someone, we must speak, if not we are
thought impolite. Then come such conversations as, 'It is
a fine day,' 'It is cold,' and one tells how the season
is: speech without reason which in time turns into a disease,
so that a person cannot get on without emptying the head
of others by saying useless things; he cannot live one moment
without speaking owing to his self-interest. A person becomes
so fond of speech that sometimes he will tell the whole
story of his life to a stranger, preventing him from speaking
himself, and boring him so much that he would like to say, 'What
do I care about all that!'
Also people give out secrets that they afterwards repent
of having told. Yet during the spell of this passion for
speech they say things which they may never have wanted
another person to know; yet at that time they do not care.
Under the same spell a person shows impertinence in his
words, pride and prejudice, for which afterwards he repents.
Lack of power over speech causes all that.
A word is sometimes prized more than the whole world's
treasure and again it sometimes is a word, which puts a
person to the sword. And there is a saying; 'Sweet tongue
is a sword which conquers the whole world.'
There are different ways of receiving inspiration, but
the best is silence. All the mystics have kept silence.
All the great people I saw during my travels through India
and other different places kept silence for two or three
hours a day, or at least for one hour.
In Hyderabad there was a mystic called Shah Khamosh.
He was called so because of his silence. When he was young
he was a very clever and energetic boy. One day he went
to his Murshid and as usual had some questions to ask, as
is natural in an intelligent person. The Murshid was sitting
in ecstasy and did not wish to speak, so he said to him,
'Be quiet' (Khamosh!) The boy was much struck; he
had never before heard such a word from his Murshid who
was always so kind and merciful and willing to answer his
questions. This lesson was enough for him for his whole
life, for he was an intelligent person. He went home and
did not speak to his family, nor even to his parents. His
Murshid seeing him quiet did not speak to him. For many
years Shah Khamosh never spoke and his psychic powers became
so great that only to look at him was enough to be inspired.
Wherever he cast his glance he healed. This happened not
very long ago, perhaps twenty-five years ago.
Nowadays activity has increased so much that from morning
till night there is never any repose owing to our daily
occupations, which keep us continually in movement. At night
we are so tired that we only wish to sleep, and the next
morning activity begins again. In this way life is much
destroyed. Man does not think of life; he is so eager
for his enjoyments that he does not think of the life that is there
for him to enjoy. Every person should have at least one
hour in the day to be quiet, to be silent.
After silence of speech comes 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. The mind is let out
to them like a dancing room and they dance around in it.
One thought then must be made so interesting, so important,
that all other thoughts are driven away by it.
When thoughts have been silenced, comes silence of feelings.
You may not speak against some person, there may be no thought
against him in your mind, but if there is a bitter feeling
against him in your heart, he will feel it; he will feel
there is a bitterness for him in that heart. Such is also
the case with love and affection.
The abstract is that existence beyond this world where
all existence commingles, where it all meets. The sound
of the abstract is there, and when that sound is silenced
too and a person goes beyond it, he reaches the highest
state, Najat, the eternal consciousness. Of
course a great effort is needed to attain this state.
Silence is surely the remedy for much, but a person living
in the world cannot practice it continually. He must keep
watch over his words and remember that for every word he
will be awarded heaven or hell.