Swami Veda Bharati holds the prestigious title of Mahamandaleshwara in the Swami order of monks. He is also the Chancellor of HIHT University, Dehradun, which was established by Master Swami Rama. He has authored approximately 18 books on Indian spirituality including a 1500 page comprehensive commentary on two of the four chapters of Patanjali's Yoga-sutras. Before taking the vows of Swamihood in 1992, Swami Veda Bharati was known as Dr. Usharbudh Arya.
Silence should not merely be an absence of speech. If it is merely an abstinence from speech it can even be emotionally and spiritually damaging. Unless one has filled oneself within there is no silence. Fill yourself with meditation. Fill yourself with contemplation. Fill yourself with your mantra. Make silence an opportunity for a dive into the deeper layers of the mind.
This phrase, "the deeper layers of the mind," often suggests to the modern listener to go into the vagaries and accumulations, confusions and darkness's of our unconscious minds. The route to the super conscious mind is a different one. Mind is an ocean that has, like what a diver encounters, many, many, many thermo-clines, many, many, pressure levels. At each layer of the mind the frequency of its force-fields differs. At the speech level it is at its lowest frequency. At the mantra level it is at a yet higher frequency. There is no point in trying to do your mala fast - that is tension. And then from there, when you move on to the deeper, silent layers, they are of a higher frequency yet - so high a frequency that, at the level of the low-frequency mind, it is barely noticeable. We have to learn to go to that place.
It seems like a long dive. It is a long dive because of the obstacles in the way. What are the obstacles? The obstacles are samskaras from past lives and imprints of experiences that we have been exposed to in the past lives and to which we expose ourselves in this life. The time of silence should be a time to wash off the past imprints. It should be a time to take no fresh imprints, so that the mind can observe and realize its own higher-frequency states. When we expose ourselves to these imprints, we form habits, habits in the way we look at things - the habit of calling ourselves a Westerner and somebody else an Easterner; the habit of calling oneself Canadian and calling somebody else Chinese; the habit of calling oneself a wife or a husband, a daughter, a dependent, an employer, an employee, a bitter person, an angry person, a depressed person, a sad person, calling ourselves ill. Doing things always only a certain way. Conditioning the mind and thus shacking the mind to habits. And unless we unshackle the mind, there is no freedom.
The practice of silence in the Yoga-sastras is given under the word tapas (asceticism). In some places it is said that there is no greater ascesis (literally spiritual "exercise") than pransayama ; in other places it is said that there is no greater ascesis than mauna (silence). And what is tapas? Tapas is described as dvanda sahana (withstanding the duality, withstanding the pairs-of-opposites). One who practices silence can walk like those who walk on hot coals, who can stay longer in the cold. But that is not where we start in our Tradition. It is safer to start with the hot and the cold that blows in the mind. Titiksha is the word - one of the shut sampat (the Six Prosperities, the Six Treasures) that are prerequisites for liberation - that should someone shout at you, those shouts and curses fall off like drops of water from a lotus petal. Someone praises you to the sky, and those praises also fall off because you don't need somebody else's praises to make you confident as your confidence arises from that freedom the greater your silence has made you realize. This ascesis can go up to that point where we are taught the practice of kashtha-mauna (wood-silence). Wood-silence is the silence in which one conveys nothing, not even with one's eyes, not even with the color on one's cheeks. And when the gurus, living with their disciples in the caves, go into that kashtha-mauna, that is a time when the disciple truly learns the art of sensitivity; that is when he truly learns the art of "reading" a person. He has to "read" the guru. So then, later on, when he leaves the high Himalayas, literally or figuratively, he can "read" his pupils, he can "read" his disciples and thereby be a guide to them. So this is the silence of emotion. This is the silence of desires - celibacy, within limits for you, for your particular culture, within its own limits. It is control of the tongue, control of the involvement and habit patterns insofar as taste is concerned, rising above he senses and making your senses open inwardly, from which place from where all flavors arise. And that place where they are savoured in depth so that they lead you to an internal ecstasy - to that place you go.
It is not only that act of not speaking; it is something else that fills, energizes, awakens, and raises the power within you. This is one aspect. When we learn this practice of silence, we learn to go into what we theoretically known as the collective mind, the universal mind. There is no other demonstration possible of the Jungain or Yogian--whatever name you want to call it, collective unconscious without going the collective conscious then begins to reflect in you, and so what someone else is discovering, you discover. However, that is not the extent of it.
There is a very, very, very great saint we know. His physical father was one of the top names in the tradition of Sanskrit learning in the holy city of Benars, which is known as the Oxford and the Vatican of Sanskrit learning. One of the traditions in that city has been of public debates. These public debates may go on for a day, or may go on for a week, or may be for a month until the neutral judges declare one side the winner and the other side the loser. And you know what our familiar saint's scholarly father did? He knew that his opponent was very strong in some areas of learning and was coming to the debate well-prepared. And this scholar we are talking about was afraid of losing the debate, but he knew more than speech. Some people's scholarship is only speech, but he knew something beyond that also. On one of the mornings of the debate, his opponent, who had come well-prepared with all the arguments and textual references and quotations and recitations, fell silent because he could not remember anything. It was something that the silence of this scholar that we are talking about had caused his opponent to experience. The opponent lost the debate because he could not utter a word anymore. Some teachers of the Tradition sometimes utilize the same method when they make people forget their questions. Evidently silence can be transmitted. One does not need to enter into argument upon argument. If you know that the argument is silly, you can just silence your opponent in the argument simply by your silence. But you have to know how to beam it. To learn to beam it, to learn to transmit it, you have to practice it for a long time.
Ultimately speech is useless. Take any sentence you speak. It is meaningless - whether it is theological or even common-place. If one really looks at the reality of objects - just as an object analysed down to the molecules, analyzed down to the atomic particles and the sub-atomic particles and the virtual particles that are so much in fashion these days in discussions on the philosophy of silence - if you go there, then the object as you know it disappears. The same thing happens with speech that expresses the object. The scientist deconstructs space, time and mass; and the object disappears as a reality. The same thing is also true with language. One example would be of the type of question that many people ask: "Where does the soul go after death?" "Where" refers to space, place, a point of locus. "After" refers to time. "Goes" refers to movement in space and time. Now "soul" is an entity beyond matter, which is not subject to space not time, nor to movement in any given space and time. What kind of question is this then? Now if you look carefully at this question, you will fall silent. All questions are this way; they end in silence. And it is in silence that those questions that you have now ceased asking will be answered--because they were, in the first instant, silly.
Thus, there are so very many different aspects of the experience of silence. One question asked is, "How does watching the silent guru teach, his disciple, so that later, when he himself comes to have the position of a teacher, he can observe and learn about his own students?" It is through cultivating sensitivity. A meditatively silent mind - not a negatively silent mind - is in the state of crystal clarity. It is as an absolutely still lake. Everything reflects in it. The gurus take to silence in the presence of the students so that, first, their won infectious silence will be beamed at the student's minds, so that the students' minds will learn to reach the same state that the guru's mind is in. This is one of the things that meditation teachers do when they guide a meditation; they try to bring their own depth of the meditation; they try to bring their own depth of the meditative state of mind to the group or to the individual initiate. Now, when that happens, everything that the slightest movement of the guru's body represent is reflected in the disciple mind, and he knows what the guru, and by observing he learns all that subtle communication.
I have often seen people emerge from Gurudev's room perplexed and saying. "I asked him so many questions and he said nothing." "Nothing" is a name for god - Neti. The Buddhists know the ultimate reality as nothing. For it is nothing we are familiar with. So if you are dwelling in that "nothing", where are the words to speak about anything else. When the master says "nothing" he has said it all. You have not heard it. So also with the novitiate teachers. Quite often these teachers in training who are apprenticing under the guru are thought to communicate in silence. It is a "sign" language. It the language of the body. It is the language of suggestion. There may come a time when a disciple may not be permitted to see the guru for a period of time during which she/he is slowly, very painfully slowly, learning to read the language of silence. Then disciple himself is in the position of a teacher, because of the subtle way that he has learned to observe his guru, she/he can then easily observe and interpret those who are much less than the guru, whose body movements are much more pronounced, whose facial expressions are much more lucid in some ways, although they may be trying to conceal a great deal of confusion. So one learns at the same time to remain calm when the student brings his own agitation to the teacher. By maintaining that calmness, he reflects his own calmness back into their minds. It is all a very quiet mental system.
All of this we need to look at for many, many years to come. I do not know if silence can by systematized - whether a textbook on "How To Practice Silence" can be written. But one question people do ask is, "Well, I live in the world?" But you would live in the world much more effectively if your baseline emotion is that of an unagitated state of mind - which is the true silence.