Answers to questions on silence sent to sadhakas in Calgary, Canada. Recorded at Sadhana Mandir on 9th June 1995 and transcribed.
Om Om Om
This is 9th June  morning at the ashram in Rishikesh – 5:20 am here. The sky is full of sounds – birds’ songs, so rich – of which I sent you all a cassette at one time. The intruder into the bird songs is the cawing of crows that is loud, imperialistic, uncaring . . . but the birds continue to sing. I hope that during this recording no other loud sounds will be heard. If they are heard, please ignore them. I should have done this recording an hour and a half ago, but the momentum of working the Yoga-sutra II.52 was vibrant, and I continued typing, and now I am a little late. And I do want to put this into the mail so that it gets to Minneapolis and from there gets to Calgary. Calgary, a place I’m really very, very fond of. In terms of seriousness of studies it is only second to Germany where people are really serious. On the other hand, I may be doing injustice to others who do study and don’t want to bother me with questions because they are capable of answering themselves. This is also true of Calgary, but I am happy for any reason to communicate – a teacher of silence who loves to speak. Perhaps I will close with that theme at the end.
Let us understand – layers upon layers, fields within fields, kośas within kośas, pillow cases within pillow cases, veils behind veils. Each one has its own frequency, its own “voice,” shall we say, its own light, its own sound. As you know, in our tradition we merge the light and the sound, and the sādhana of one leads to the sādhana of the other. Again, [referring] to the two sūtras in my little book of blessings:
“May you hear sound that light produces as it travels through space.
May you see the light that sound creates as it travels through space.”
Where is that space? What space is it through which the light and the sound travel? What space is it where they are first created so that the light and sound of the universe may eventually emerge from that supreme mind that contains these intangible principles that cannot be measured by any instrument?
I see it in terms of spanda, the central core of the Kashmir philosophy that developed from the 8th century to, say, the 14th or 15th century and created spiritual and intellectual giants. The philosophy of spanda, the philosophy of vibration: [that] within each force-field there is a certain frequency, its voice, its sound.
What the frequency of ātman, the spiritual self, is only the ātman knows because any statement about ātman can only be nonsense statements. Nonsense, like the questions that people often ask: “Where does the soul go after death?” “What happens to the soul after death?” – as though something can happen to a soul. “Where does the soul go after death?” What an absurdity of questions! What absurdity is that one question! Because, “where” implies place, space. “Goes” implies movement in that space from point to point. “After” implies time. “Death”?! Whose death? The soul’s death?! Ātman’s death?! All absurd. No language can ask a question about ātman; therefore no language can answer it. You would have to say, “NA – Does not apply.” To any question about ātman I will say, “NA – Does not apply.” So let us leave ātman alone. It loves kaivalya: aloneness, solitude, being solo. Kaivalya, the last word in the Yoga-sutras: solitude of the soul.
But to get to that solitude of the soul, one has to pass through those barriers of noises, these frequencies, these high-frequency, low-frequency regions of energies, force-fields. So at each level, the silence is a relative one. Relative to what? Relative to the exterior [level], to that force-field which is exterior to it.
I am answering your questions in a general way rather than answering specific questions.
In meditation, in the practice of mantra, we use mantra as a vehicle to explore the depth upon depth. Whether your japa is to write your mantra 125,000 times . . . . You know that they have mantra banks in India. There is an article in the Journal of Vaishnava Studies (Vol. 2 No. 2, Spring, 1994). It’s published by Folk Books, P.O Box 400716, Brooklyn, New York 11420-0716. That’s the pin code. The FAX number is 1 (718) 852-9109. It’s an article by Philip A. Lutgendorf, titled Banking on the Name. You might find it interesting – mantra banks where people just write their mantra, the individual mantra or the mantra that is taught to them in the given denomination 125,000 times or a million times and so forth and send them as an offering.
That is one way to do japa. After a while the mantra has to sit in the mind.
Now, it is on the matter of habit, habit, habit as to which rampart you think you have your duty on. In this fortress, this pura, this polis, in the City of the Body there are ramparts and ramparts. So where you have formed the habit to stay determines your level of silence. So you have the “silence of speech,” the “silence of the senses.”
Long ago I did a talk called ‘Five Silences.’ You might want to listen to that sometime. Recently I have done an original composition in Sanskrit verse, “Mauna Nimanisa” and was told that it would be published in some Sanskrit journal in Varanasi – in which I have spoken of twelve silences, but we should not bother to go into that right now.
So, our practice of the silence of speech and our practice of mantra leading to interior silence is one and the same as quieting the mind during meditation, during formal meditation. And formal meditation cannot be separated from trying to keep the mind as undisturbed, as much in equanimity as possible during the day, throughout the day. One supports the other; the other supports the one.
The habit of reacting violently with anger, with disturbance with defensiveness, with counter-attack, that we have conquered in our years of practicing ahimsa, is based on this one principle: That situation which makes a coward flee, makes the hero fight. The same adrenaline and the same epinephrine is needed for both. It is a matter of which particular one of these so-called natural responses you chose, you select. Similarly, in a situation of provocation, of disturbance, of agitation, the untrained chose to become tense and troubled, the trained chose to become relaxed. It is a matter of training oneself as to which response you chose. It is only a matter of training. This answers your question: “How can I maintain silent and remain effective in the social norms?”
Question: “How can I be silent and remain effective in the social norms?”
The same way as you drive effectively through a “Silence Zone” in the city.
Does your driving become ineffective? The next time you drive through a “Silence Zone” in the city, as you look at the sign, “Silence Zone,” see the subtle change that occurs in you. It is not simply a matter of refraining from placing your finger on the horn; a certain change occurs in you. Observe that change. It is very subtle. The mind remains noisy and does not quite see the silence. Just a modicum of silence, a drop of that elixir falls into your mind. People say that a single drop of honey will not sweeten the ocean. Indeed not, but where it will fall, a subtle change will occur. That kind of change occurs, my friends, when you enter the Silence Zone in the city. And you drive quite effectively – no problem. So it is when you enter an Intensive Care unit in a hospital. It is not only a matter of making your feet tip-toe; what is the subtle change that occurs in your mind? How does it help you to communicate? How does it help you to communicate with that beloved person who is a patient there, and with others who are around? The change is very subtle. You may come away saddened. You may also come away chastened, having learned something because you now operated your mind at a different frequency level.
It is strange that what we practice naturally all the time appears as something unachievable when it is advised in so many words. So then, the silence both in meditation and in ordinary life is a relative one. It is a matter of changing the frequencies of your being, the spanda-level with which you operate and with which you identify at any given time.
Question: Is this inner state of silence some kind of early and dim manifestation of the ātman?
Yes, indeed! You have answered yourself. If I may contradict myself, and say this about ātman: that all I know about it and can communicate about it is by an allegory, by a simile, by a metaphor: The rays of light – and now I shall not say “sound” – and silence that emanate from it as they travel outward from its central core, the emanations from that core go through the various levels of the vikṛtis (the manifestations, the modifications, the devolutes) of prakṛti, from the innermost buddhi to the outermost active senses – and the plastic pieces and tubings and ropes (bones, blood vessels, cartilage and muscles that keep these plastic pieces tied down) to that level – from inside to outwards, it becomes a progressively slower frequency and, we might say, noisier and noisier, grosser and grosser. The same is true of the reverse process. With whichever layer of yourself you identify, that determines the depth of your silence.
That is to say, okay, you relaxed your hands and feet. Well, it has to filter down; your voice will change. Have you not noticed how the voice of a good meditation teacher changes as he is conducting a meditation? He is using his voice, but at the same time he is identifying with a much higher frequency-layer within himself. That is why his voice changes; and the vocal cords he uses are different than the vocal cords that a yelling, shouting, angry man employs. Both are producing sound. But one sound is allied to an inner silence. The other sound is completely out of synchrony with anything else within himself; he is a bundle of conflicts, and it shows, and in that anger he contradicts himself. So I am unable to separate between doing silence, meditation, mantra, being taken into silence, silence as a practice of not speaking. This also answers the [next] question.
Question: Should the mantra be willed into silence or allowed to dissolve into silence, or does the latter come with practice?
Just as, initially, sitting down and remembering the word So-ham was somewhat of a chore, practice made it perfect – or as close to perfect as it could be. So also mantra became an interior habit. When it arose, you began to listen to it. You had to put in some practice; you had to allow it its own moment of arising and respond to it also. You had to practice it consciously . . . and accept it as grace when it arose within you. So it goes with the practice of silence. When the mantra arises within you and you maintain your interior response to it, your observation of the fact that it is there and you are receiving it as an act of grace conferred upon you; if you can maintain that response within and then you speak, you are speaking from a relative degree of silence.
So once again, with which layer of yourself are you identifying? A relatively lower frequency? A relatively higher frequency? The exterior self, or a relatively interior self? (Here the term “self” is used in terms is “identity,” not in terms of ātman.)
Now this fear: “Oh! I will lose out in society!” is unfounded. You know that I do not teach from a book – Guru has granted me this kindly grace. I do not write from a book. I appear to write from a book, but what is written and what is said is what’s been experienced, a little. And I quote books only to be credible. Who wants to listen to this person’s philosophical fantasies that are all his own, with no philosophical background and so forth? That’s why a give all sorts of arguments and quote scriptures and refer to manuscripts and God knows what – so both the scholarly and the unscholarly will both believe me. And I am saying this from personal experimentation in life: The more silent I became, the more effective I became.
I have recently sent out a little story about my search for manuscripts. I don’t know if it has reached you: “No, no, no! It can’t be done!” people say. “The manuscripts can’t be given.” “The library is locked by court order. Nobody is allowed access.” “It’s in dispute.” “Well, I guess we could allow someone to come with a lead pencil and take just a few notes, a few jottings, but we’re not going to allow photocopying and full-text copying – Nothing.” And then I go to that city and go to the doorsteps of the curator. I don’t even ask for the library to be opened. If I ask, I ask in silence. I’ll tell you, you can have that job that you covet if you know the art of silence. You don’t believe me because you have been trained differently, because you formed a different habit; because you have been taught to counter; because you have been led to a conditioning of the mind wherein [you think that if] someone speaks loudly [and] if you spoke louder, you would be heard. Quite the contrary!
Question: “Whereas silence is golden to some, it is likely to be awkward in Western culture where fluid speech and superb communication skills are so highly valued.”
No, you cannot have good communication skills without silence. Communication skill means modulating silence and sound effectively. We have to lower the voice or raise the voice. Where to emphasize and accent a certain word, where to de-emphasize requires singular self-observation. How can you have self-observation?
You know – I’m sorry to tell you this, but with all this talk in the West about communication skills – I’m not impressed. Uh-uh! You cannot teach communication skills in courses and colleges and training programs. Communication skills are taught in infancy, in childhood. Go to the societies where joint family systems prevail and you will notice what communication skill is. Even go to Spain or South America. Go to the families that are prosperous in modern business, families of a well-known publisher where 45 people live in a single house by choice, not out of poverty. Communication skill there is taught from pregnancy.
“Communication skill” means a loving relationship.
This is a slightly different topic, but whatever effectiveness has come to me, has come from calming myself. And when I handle a situation calmly, it works. Recently I’ve made two cassettes on “Insight Seeing,” a sporadic series I have been doing over a decade or two. If I have some interesting travel, I record my impressions.
One day I was traveling in a train from Haridwar to Delhi – a very nice train; I recommend it highly – and I did not want to talk. One reason that I prefer to travel by car rather than go by train is that it helps me to maintain silence, but what kind of silence does one have to maintain in insisting company? People in India are really insistent in talking. You don’t know. If you sit down in the train, by the time you’ve finished your journey, you’ve probably arranged your daughter’s marriage or your son’s engagement. With a complete stranger, you might even decide to step down from the train and the midway station and go and visit him. It’s very common. And this man sitting next to me realized that this Swami didn’t want to talk very much, so out of politeness he stayed quiet after one or two questions. (I am repeating what I have already told you in another cassette.) Dinner came. It is one of those rare trains in the world where dinner is served free of charge – dinner or breakfast or lunch or whatever – and he wasn’t there. I finished my dinner, and he came five or ten minutes later, and I spoke to him. I said, “You did not have dinner.” “No, I did not,” he said. “Are you alright?” I asked. Because in a country like India where speaking is a religion, not silence, nobody minds personal questions; people mind not being asked personal questions. I asked, “Why?” He said, “Well, I prefer a non-vegetarian dinner, and I dare not do that in your presence. I’ll eat after we get to Delhi, and I’ll go to a restaurant.” I do not have to ask him. Many of you know that in vegetarian societies just the sight of meat is abhorrent. And people know that. And if you are polite you will not expose a vegetarian to the sight of something that has been killed. It is understood.
So in silence you can have your wishes fulfilled, but not by not speaking. No, no, no no. You will not have your wishes fulfilled by not speaking. You will have your wishes fulfilled by practicing silence. Please understand this. Identifying with the higher-frequency you, the relatively inner layer, and remaining there and operating from there. And since the energy, the force-field there is higher – it is subtler – it is more effective; it has a much higher energy level and it can influence the lesser-frequency layers of your being. And at each level you witness where you are, and the state of silence becomes natural. After a while you do not wish to speak. After a while you find that it is unnecessary to say so much – for without speaking your wishes are fulfilled. Silence can be your wishing stone.
Question: “What role does the breath play in maintaining silence?
The same thing I said about the mantra I would say about the breath. Both are vehicles for going to the interior layers. After a while, in the kevala kumbhaka, which I have translated in Yoga-sutra, Chapter Two, Sutra 51, as “the solo retention.” All effort at retention of breath ceases and the breath first becomes so subtle that it is barely noticeable. Then only the prāṇa force remains. One is at that point totally identified with the prāṇa-maya-koṣa (the casing made of prāṇa) which is much subtler than the anna-maya-koṣa (the casing made of food). And when one identifies with this particular layer, the breath ceases. And it is said by the commentators on the Yoga-sutras that one may not breathe physically for hours, days, months, years. “Incredible! Beyond imagination! Not possible! Scientifically not possible!” No.
Dhruvha is one of names in India of one of the child-sages. There is quite a long list of them. Someday I would like to have someone sit down with me and do a book on the child-sages of India, or the child-sages of the yoga tradition – whatever way you want to put it.
Way back in historical times, Dhruvha’s father, the king, was married twice and had two wives. The present queen is very proud of her station, but has no issue herself, and the child of his other wife makes her utterly jealous. One day Dhruvha comes to the king, as a child would, to sit in his father’s lap. Sitting on his throne, the father picks him up and takes him on lap. The queen snatches the child and pulls him off the father’s lap and says, “To sit in that lap, you have to be born from this womb!” The child goes crying to his mother. His mother says, “You have another father. Go to him.” So the five-year-old Dhruvha (which means “the firm one,” “the steady one,” “the stable one”) walks out and sits in the forest, calling the name of the Lord – calling upon him, calling upon him, calling upon him, with that utter devotion that can only come from a child. And his mind ceases. His breath ceases. And it is said in the Puranas that when Dhruvha ceased breathing and when he went into this natural solo retention, his mind and his prana had so become one with universal mind and the universal pranathat all the living beings, from the denizens under the earth to the celestials in their paradise, began to choke. They could breathe no more. And they went running to Lord Vishnu – “What is this?!” And the Lord Preserver knew that someone had sat in utter devotion and his breath had ceased and his prana had been stilled. And since Dhruvha’s prana was the universal prāṇa, the universe was in danger of dissolution. Lord the Preserver descends and stands before the child devotee, and touches his cheek with his conch shell. (In Indian ritual the conch shell is used to reproduce the cosmic sound in worship. The interior of the conch shell is like the spiraling galaxies. The exterior is the form, and the interior is the sound that remains silent. Like the way you [put a sea shell to your ear] and listen to the ocean, the devotees of India listen to the cosmic sound, for the conch shell of one the sacred objects that Vishnu holds in his hands.) He touches the child’s cheek with his conch shell that contains the silences of the universe. And when one is touched by Lord the Preserver’s conch shell, which contains all the silences of the universe, hymns come flowing forth – once again, silence is not silence of speech – and Dhruvha’s utterances melt Lord the Preserver’s heart and he grants him anything he will wish for. Dhruvha, the child, the silent sage, the silent child sage, standing on his one leg uttering the hymns, says, “Lord, I seek nothing, but that whenever I remember you, you should come before me.”
This is a long story, cut very, very short. Some other time, some other day I’ll tell you the whole story and recite Dhurvha’s hymns. So now, changing the topic a little . . . .
Question: “Is there a specific practice to counter talking too much – the inner pressure to speak?”
This is the same type of question as to whether there some type of practice to stop over eating. Talking too much or overeating are repressions of an interior emptiness. We have a common proverb in India: “A half-empty vessel makes a lot of splashing noise.” A full vessel when carried does not make a sound. If it’s half empty or three-fourths empty or has just a little bit of water or any other liquid in it, then can hear it splashing inside as you carry it. Whenever we see someone talking too much, we say, “Empty vessel makes a lot of noise.” Yes, there is a way. Fill yourself. If your mind is full, you will not try to fill it by filling the stomach, which is already overfilled. But the mind is not fulfilled and so you keep trying to overfill the stomach. If you cannot desist from speaking, you have not been loved enough. “Yeah! Ah yes! I knew that! Ah! I know. Nobody loves me.” So, what to do? Is there some kind of a begging bowl you can carry that people will fill with love because you talk too much? You think you are getting attention, ah? But very soon people turn away. You don’t get the attention you want. Why? Because you are not giving the attention except to what is in your mind, in the conscious mind, in the voluble part, the lower-frequency mind. Fill your mind. No, the practice of total silence is not for you, but try it for half an hour. As I have said before, refraining from speech is no silence. Japa is silence. Fill your mind with meditation. Fill your mind with contemplation. Fill your mind with witnessing. Fill your mind with self-observation. Fill your mind with the higher-frequency energy and forces until they overflow and become love that goes out of you into the begging bowls of those who today are as sorry for themselves as you were before you were filled.
I wish you much filling and much fulfilling.
I wish you the Wishing Stone of Silence.
God Bless You!