Seekers have regularly practised the vow of silence for mastering their speech.
Through the ages people from all traditions — east and west — have understood the power and importance of silence and placed great value on it. The world’s great spiritual teachers Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus and Lao Tzu all spent considerable time in silence and solitude before emerging to offer their guidance. In the modern world, we are slowly losing this great blessing. More and more of us have fewer and fewer of what Virginia Woolf called “moments of being”, those intense sensations that stand apart from the “cotton wool of daily life”. Kabir extolled silence by explaining that God could hear the sounds of even the tiny ant’s seemingly imperceptible movements. He advised people, “Concentrate on the silence and it’ll become eloquent to you”.
Seekers have regularly practised the vow of silence for mastering their speech. Hence it is said, “Silence is golden”. Rumi exclaimed, “While talking to my beloved (Allah), I’m unaware at times whether to speak or not. I often remain silent because my beloved doesn’t like much volubility”. Silence is unspoken emptiness and is much more eloquent than any set or fixed prayer. The Bible too notes, “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise, and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Proverbs: 17-28).
There are still so many wonderful shy people with us; but their frail sense of self-worth has been eroded. There is a strong current of aversion in our society to silence and stillness. If someone's reticent, the suspicion is that he or she has something to hide. The quiet brigade is on the retreat. In truth, we’re just more talkative, more voluble. Stillness, the self-containment, the silent assertion of the right to privacy, has ceased to exist. We are saturating ourselves in sound and silence has scant space.
Silence is a necessary precondition to contemplation and meditation — religious or otherwise. The effort needed to achieve even quiet, let alone silence usually makes it more rewarding than the ambient noise. It’s why we go to the woods, or the seas, or up on hillsides to renew ourselves. And why we take up meditation, or spend time in quiet cathedrals. It’s high time that we go all out to cultivate silence within ourselves and use meditation as a reference point to connect with the ever-present silence for experiencing and tapping its creative power.
We all need silence — and also stillness — to become our true selves and to discover the divine spark in ourselves even as we remain surrounded by the endless rush and agitation of modern life. Quiet introspection sharpens the mind and improves our understanding of an issue, an event, or even the emotions swirling around. Contemplation requires not just time, space and solitude, but enough silence to allow the clear tones to emerge from the noise. Thomas Carlyle once observed, “Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves”. Inner stillness, aided by understanding of and conscious practice of the “law of powerful silence”, enables the creative mechanism within to empower itself in its natural manner.
Silence is professionally important for artists — musicians, therapists and actors understand better that silence is the necessary context from which words and noise emerge and to which they return. There’s a powerful healing process that happens to all of us when we reorganise our mind and bring it back to a coherent state through states of silence. It allows one to reach beyond the conscious mind to effect healing. Silence is the best soother of minds and helps in reorganising it, thereby enhancing creativity and clarity. Rumi explains, “In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”