I do believe that silence is golden. I always recommend speaking in measured words. I don’t believe in going to extremes—either complete silence or endless talking. Talk only when there is a need. And even there measure your words. Because speaking itself takes a lot of energy. And not only that but, unnecessary speaking can create a lot of problems. You can easily make more enemies by talking too much.
Silence saves you from quarrels. Many of our problems and enemies are created by our talking. Think of the times you were disturbed, the times you yelled at someone and made enemies. You may well have said to yourself, “I talked too much. If only I had learned to keep my mouth shut, I could have avoided this problem.” There is proverb in Sanskrit: “Mounam kalaka nasti.” If you’re silent, there are no quarrels. Because sometimes when we begin to talk we don’t know what we will say. Words may slip out of your mouth and that irritates people and you create enemies. We create more enemies by talking than we create friends.
I also don’t believe that talking is the only way we can communicate. By speaking through silence and feeling you can receive more than through words. True feeling will be limited by words. For example, if someone says, “I love you, I love you,” a hundred times a day, that is not necessarily an expression of love. Rather, it looks as if the person is not really sure of his or her love; that is why they are repeating it over and over again. If love is there, there is no need to constantly repeat the words as if trying to convince yourself. “Actions speak louder than words,” we often say. If love is there, it can be communicated in many ways. Through a look, through kind and thoughtful actions; every interaction will be filled with love. It is a matter of feeling, not words. When the heart is full, the mouth closes automatically.
People who talk a lot hear less. Nature has given us only one mouth, but two ears. We seem to want others to use their ears while we use our mouth! The ears are always open, that means we should listen more. While there is no door to the ear, the mouth has well-built walls. Before any sound comes out, it has to pass through two rows of teeth and then through the lips. It’s almost like a fortress. Nature does this, so beware. It’s as if it is telling us, “Don’t talk too much, but be ever ready to listen.” Keep your words very sacred. Don’t let them out easily. If you still want to talk, think twice.
In Sanskrit, “mounam” is the term for silence. There are types of silence mentioned in the scriptures such as, “kaya mounam,” “vak mounam,” and “mano mounam.” Kaya mounam means physical silence. Vak mounam means silence in speech. Mano mounam means silence in mind. Physical silence will lead to verbal silence and that will slowly lead to mental silence. The control of the mind, which is our ultimate goal, comes by having control over all these things. Control over the place you live. Control over the things that you do. Control over your senses. Control over your speech.
Silence helps in calming the mind. The physical silence, or vocal silence will help mental silence. Because the mind may want to say a lot. Because the mind may want to say a lot, many thoughts will arise. But if you want to convey your thoughts to someone, you will have to speak. Imagine if you decide to be silent. What will happen? Very soon your mind will realize there is no point in thinking. Because every time a thought arises you are not going to express it. The mind ultimately realizes, “All right, what is the point of my thinking? Because he or she won’t talk.” Then, the thoughts will gradually and naturally get reduced.
Many of the great sages have addressed the idea of silence being golden. There is a South Indian saint, named Arunagiri, who spent years undergoing rigorous spiritual practices trying to attain a vision of God. Finally, after many hardships and austerities, Arunagiri had his long-awaited vision of God, which for him was a great initiation and liberation. When asked by devotees what he had experienced, Arunagiri spoke of his encounter with God: “I approached the Lord with great difficulty and the final initiation to me was this instruction by God, “Keep quiet. Don’t talk.” Another revered South Indian sage, Avvaiyar, said the same thing. She said that the sign of wisdom is silence. You can measure the wisdom of a person with the amount of their speaking. If you speak less, you are a little wiser.
My own Guru, Swami Sivanandaji used to say that talking a lot is easy. And not talking at all also is easy. Of course it is even more difficult practice to work on speaking with limited words. It is much easier to either talk without limit or to stop talking entirely. Both extremes are, in a way, easy. As you know, talking is very easy. And not talking is a little more difficult. But the most difficult thing is to talk in measured words. Because once you open the tap, it just flows, and it seems you can’t stop it. So, I recommend measuring your words. Swami Sivanandaji taught us to have limits in everything. Speak a little, pray a little, eat a little, and so on. That is what you call the middle path. Avoid going to extremes. You can stay without food for a week, even ten days. Feasting daily you can also do. Both are possible and both are extremes. Many people who fast will end the fast by reaching fast for the refrigerator. That is why I always recommend the middle path.
Ultimately, your practices will bring you to mano mounam, silence of the mind. Imagine what a beautiful state of mind this is where you are the master of your thoughts rather than your thoughts simply bombarding you. The silence of speech helps you to experience the silence of mind. There is still one more type of mounam: bodily silence. That means that you don’t move around. You stay in one place. That helps the other silences also. Now, with all these silences, what is the benefit? As I said earlier, the silence of the speech spares you from problems. At the same time it saves a lot of energy. There are many, many ways of expending our energy, or our prana. And talking is one of the major ways that you spend your energy. It takes a lot of energy to talk. There are even ways of photographing the heat waves that go out when you talk. Kirlian photography can easily prove how much energy, how much heat is expended by your talking. By not talking you also save a lot of prana. If you think that every word that you utter is a dollar, you won’t throw all the words out easily. That will save a lot of problems and a lot of energy too.
When you finally experience the mental mouna, or the mouno mouna, the mind gets strengthened. Because the mind also loses its energy by thinking constantly. Because thought creates a type of disturbance in the mind. And even more energy is wasted by our disturbing or distressing thoughts. Thoughts can be grouped into two sections. One type is: those thoughts that are very disturbing. A second type is: thoughts that come but do not disturb you. The disturbing thoughts take more energy. That is the reason why when the mind gets disturbed you breathe heavily. Suppose somebody says something that you don’t like, something unkind that makes you angry. The anger is a thought in the mind. But immediately it also translates itself into physical action, into heavy breathing, and it makes the blood rush to the face. These things prove the effect of thoughts on the breath and body.
In order to have the energy to strengthen all these various parts of our being, we practice silence. And, at the same time when the mind learns to be really silent, it becomes a beautiful reflector for our inner light. As a steady mirror would show everything that is in front of it clearly, when the mind is undisturbed by thoughts, it becomes still. Then it will show you a clear reflection of your true Self. A calm mind is the main requirement in order for a person to experience the inner Self.
That is why Patanjali defines Yoga as: “Chitta vritti nirodhah.” “Chitta” means the total mind. “Vritti” is the turbulence, the waves or the thought forms in the mind. “Nirodhah” means restraint or regulation. When the thought waves become regulated, the mind becomes a clear reflector and you can experience the inner peace and tranquillity that is your true nature. When the mind remains calm, you experience the yogic state. That is why the very next sutra Patanjali gives talks about the effect of that yogic state, chitta vritti nirodhah. That sutra is, “Tada drashtuh svarupe ‘vasthanam.” The translation of this sutra is: “Then the Seer or Self abides in its own nature.” This means that when your mind is calm and peaceful, you will be able to see your true nature and to abide in it.
Often, I use these two sutras in comparison with the biblical beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The two sutras have the exact same meaning as this Beatitude. If you use the biblical language for the first sutra, you would say, “Blessed are those who have eliminated the vrittis or the thought forms in the chitta or mind.” And the second sutra would say, “For they shall rest in their own true nature” which means the same as, “They shall see God.” This is the same aim behind Yoga.
So, this is the real benefit that we get by simply practicing silence. The silence of the speech slowly takes us to the silence of the mind. And it helps you, in a way, to turn within and to understand and analyze your own mind. When your focus isn’t outward, it just turns inward naturally. So, silence is an important practice. But, of course, it’s not possible for us to be silent all the time. But at least try to be silent during certain periods of the day.
Practicing silence doesn’t mean that you stop doing everything and just withdraw from all activities. You can keep busy, but what we are aiming for is reducing the incessant chattering that goes on in the mind and all the unnecessary talking and gossip people engage. I know there are monasteries and ashrams where everybody observes silence throughout the year and they nominate one person for a week just to receive the guests and to show them around and to talk with them. There was a Christian community in Sri Lanka that had a farm. Everyone was silent who lived there and at the same time they were very industrious. They cultivated the land and they had beautiful orchards and flower gardens. They were well-known for the jams and juices they produced. It’s really surprising to know that we can work more while we are silent. So, those who are interested in preserving their energy and turning out more work can try observing silence a little more.
We need to learn how much to talk, how to talk, what to talk, and when to talk. Your speech should bring tranquillity and be truthful, pleasant, and beneficial. One should not speak what is true if it is not pleasant, nor what is pleasant if it is false. If something is true and unpleasant, we should make it more pleasant by presenting it in the proper way. Just be there, and if anybody comes and asks you something, tell them what you know. If people don’t come and ask, don’t go and tell them anything. Sometimes you may feel very sympathetic and feel like saying something. But wait. Look well and know for certain that they are ready to hear you, ready to listen. Even then, don’t demand that they accept your advice. Simply present it. “This is my feeling. It is my opinion. If you like, accept it. Otherwise, you can ignore it.” Learn how to say things in a gentle way, keeping an eye on how what you are saying is being received. If you see it is not being received well, stop and leave it. That is how advice should be offered.
Control exercised over our speech is helpful in striving toward honesty in thought, word, and deed. All nature loves an honest person. If a person is always truthful and no lie comes from their mouth, the time will come when all they say will come true. If a person says something by mistake it will happen, because by the practice of “satyam” or truthfulness the words become so powerful and clean that honesty observes them. It wants to always be with that person. If a curse is spoken, it will happen. If a blessing is said, it will happen.
So, you should take care that your words bring no harm to anyone and at least some good to someone. When one becomes established in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes. You need not be afraid of anybody and you can always lead an open life. But this comes only with an absolutely honest mind. Not only should we speak the truth, but we should not cause someone else to lie either. If we do it consciously, we are also a part of that lie. In fact, under law, punishment is usually greater for the person behind the crime than the one who actually commits it.
When you have raised your consciousness to a certain level and with the mind under control, your speech can be entirely free from harmful effects. One ancient South Indian scriptures says, “Even falsehood is treated as truth if the results it yields are free from fault.” By the establishment of truthfulness, the Yogi gets the power to attain for self and for others the fruits of work without doing the work. In other words, things come to them automatically.
Communicating with one another is an art. Speaking is an art. It is not enough to measure your words, to speak honestly, to practice mounam regularly. You must also learn the art of communication. I will give an example of how important right speech is through a story. Once upon a time there lived a king who really wanted a son. After many, many years his wife at last gave birth to a boy. The king was joyous. He immediately called all the astrologers to learn his son’s future. Many great astrologers came to study the boy’s horoscope. Each one studied the charts. The signs were quite clear. “Sir,” the astrologers said, “your son is not a good child. Because of him you will die by the time he reaches the age of ten. In a way, he has come to kill you.” The king was furious. “You devils! You don’t even know how to cast a horoscope. Throw them all in jail!,” the king exclaimed.
One day an astrologer from far away came to the kingdom. The king immediately asked him to look at his son’s chart. The astrologer studied the horoscope carefully and said, “I have never seen a horoscope like this! It’s a very strong horoscope. Your son will live a long life and will be a great king. He will live for one hundred years after you have died.” This astrologer was a very skilled man; he read the same chart as the others, but he presented the information in a completely different way. The king was so happy he said, “Shower this man with gifts. He is a great astrologer. If there is anything you want, sir, just ask me.” “Well,” the astrologer said, “There is just one request.” The king replied, “Of course, what is it?” The astrologer asked, “Please release those other poor astrologers from the prison. Their only crime was not being very smart. They know how to calculate, but they don’t know how to communicate.” Because of this one man all the others were set free.
Mere honesty in speaking is not enough. You should know how to deal with people, how to communicate, and how to live harmoniously with others. That is a great lesson that cannot be learned from books alone. But we can cultivate these life skills through our Yoga practices. Remember that going to the extremes of either complete silence or constant talking is not going to help you gain mastery. Speak when there is a need and when your words can bring some benefit to someone and harm to no one, including yourself. Talking takes a lot of energy and unnecessary speaking can create a lot of problems. Begin with bringing more consciousness to your speech, practicing silence, and measuring your words. Remember: silence is golden.
Through silence you can realize the quiet witness within you. That silence is the spirit or awareness. Your awareness is silent. It never tells you anything. It is just there simply watching you. Whether you do good or bad, right or wrong, it just witnesses. Be silent and find inner knowledge. Listen to the silence. To have this realization, go into deep, deep silence. The only limit to wisdom is silence. In that silence you will realize your true nature. Because when the mind becomes quiet and serene, the true Self is reflected. There are no words to describe the Self. You can’t talk of it. There’s no mark or symbols. It is your essence. It is beyond words.