The Power of Silence
From a scientific point of view I shall say that speech is the breath of breath. In the Vedanta breath is called prang, 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 breath, 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". She did so, and that evening there was no quarrel: such a miracle, after ten years of continual quarrel-ling! 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 :o 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 -e the peacemakers".
Then there is exaggeration; idealists, admirers, exaggerate everything. If such a person has gone out and has seen on a poster that a Zeppelin (Hazrat Inayat Khan lived in London during World War 1) 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 the moon and the heavens. There is no need to say all this.
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 a 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.
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 in which 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 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 practise it continually. He must keep watch over his words and remember that for every word he will be awarded heaven or hell.