Silence: Questions and Answers

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.

Slience: Questions and AnswersLet us understand that we, as personal selves as opposed to spiritual selves, consist of layers, fields within fields, koshas within koshas, pillow cases within pillow cases, veils behind veils. Each one of these has its own frequency, its own voice, its own light, its own sound. In our Tradition, we merge the light and the sound. In our Tradition, we merge the light and the sound and the sadhana of one leads to the sadhana of the other. There are two sutras in this author's little book of "Blessings".

May you hear the 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 the sound of the universe may eventually emerge from the Supreme Mind that contains these intangible principles which 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, let's say, the 14th or 15th century and created spiritual and intellectual giants. The philosophy of spanda, vibration, says that within each force-field there is a certain frequency - its voice, its sound. What the frequency of atman, the spiritual self, is only the atman-knowers know, because any statements about atman can only be nonsense statements. No language can ask a question about atman, therefore no language can answer it. You would have to say "NA" (Does Not Apply). To any question about atman I will say, "Does Not Apply". So let us leave atman alone. It loves kaivalya ("aloneness," "all-oneness"), solitude of the soul. But to get to that solitude of the soul one has to pass through the barriers of noises, the high-frequency-low frequency regions of energies, force-fields; and at each level the silence is a relative one. Relative to the exterior, to that force-field which is exterior to it. In meditation, in the practice of mantra, we use mantra as a vehicle to explore the depths upon depths. After a while a mantra has to sit in the mind.

A mantra is experienced at the lowest possible frequency in chanting, singing - kirtana.

Getting a little bit more silent - alone, muttering it to oneself. Going on deeper - sealing the lips and letting the tongue utter it quietly.

Stilling the tongue, but there is still activity in the larynx.

Stilling the larynx, the mind is still sending the pulsations to the vocal organs, but they are intercepted by the command to silence.

Then mantra in the mind as a thought.

Then mantra as a vibration.

Mantra as a quest for that wherefrom is arises.

And once that "wherefrom" has been found and a dive taken into it, like a boat which has reached the other shore, the mantra is left behind, and you go into a deep "eternal" moment of silence, a silence that stretches slowly and then becomes a habit. Now, it is all a matter of habit as to which rampart you think you have your duty on, in the pura, this polis, this "city" of the body. There are ramparts within ramparts, so where it is your habit to stay determines your level of silence. Thus you may have merely the silence of speech or the silence of the senses.

So, our practice for the silence of speech and our practice of mantra leading to interior silence is one and the same as quieting the mind during mediation. Formal meditation cannot be separated from trying to keep the mind as undisturbed - as much in equanimity as possible - throughout the day. The 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 practice of ahimsa, is based on this one principle: "The 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 natural responses you select. Similarly, in a situation of provocation, of disturbance, of agitation, the untrained choose to become tense and troubled; the trained choose to become relaxed. It is a question of training oneself as to which response to choose. It is only a matter of training.

This answers the question: "How can I maintain silence and remain effective in the social norms?" The same ways as you drive effectively though 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," observe the subtle change that occurs in you. It is not simply a matter of refraining from placing your finger on the horn; first a certain change occurs in you. Observe that change. It is very subtle. The mind remains noisy and does not quite see the silence, but just a modicum of silence, just a drop of that elixir falls into your mind. People say that a single drop of honey shall not sweeten the ocean - indeed not - but wherever it will fall a subtle change will occur. That kind of change occurs, friends, when you entre the "Silence Zone" in the "city". And you drive quite effectively - no problem. So it is not just a matter of letting your feet tiptoe, but a subtle change occurs in your mind first. 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, but you 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 at which you operate, with which you identify at any given time.

"Is this inner state of silence some kind of early and dim manifestation of the atman?" Yes indeed! If I may contradict myself and say this about atman. All that I know about it or can communicate is by an allegory, by a simile, by a metaphor - that the rays of light and - now I shall not say "sound" but rather - "rays of silence" that emanate outward form atman's central core, the emanations from that core travel through the various levels of the vrittis (the manifestations, the modifications, the devolutes of prakriti), from the innermost buddhi to the outermost active senses, and the plastic pieces and the tubing, the bones, the blood vessels, the ropes, the cartilage and muscles that keep these plastic pieces tied down to that level; from inside to outwards, it becomes a progressively lower and lower frequency - and we might say "noisier and noisier," "grosser and grosser." The same is true of the reverse process - with which layer of being you identify determines the depth of your silence. That is to say, you have 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 while he is conducting a meditation. He is using his voice, but at the same time he is identifying with a much higher frequency layer of himself. This is why his voice changes; and the vocal cords that he uses are different form the vocal cords that a yelling, shouting, angry man employs. Both are producing sound. 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 silences doing meditation, mantra being taken into silence, and silence as practice of not speaking.

This also answers the question: "Should the mantra be willed into silence or allowed to dissolve into silence - or does the latter come with practice?" Initially, sitting down and remembering the word so ham was a bit of a chore, practice made it perfect - well, as close to perfect as you 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 you had to accept it as grace when it arose of its own accord within you. So also is the case with the practice of silence. When the mantra arises within you, do maintain your interior response, 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, then you are speaking from a relative degree of silence. So once again, with which layer of yourself are you identifying, the exterior self of the relatively interior self? (Here the word "self" is used in terms of normal worldly identity as personal self, not in the sense of the atman. And wherever you are, from there your response will come.

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 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, the relatively inner layer, remaining there and operating form there - and since the energy, the force-field there 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. The state of silence - yes - 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.

"What role does the breath play in awakening or maintaining the inner state of silence?" The same that we have said about the mantra We can say about the breath. Both are vehicles for going to the interior layers layers, each in its own way. After awhile in the kevala kumbhaka, which I have translated in Chapter II, Sutra 51 of the Yoga-sutras as "the solo retention," all effort at retention of the breath ceases. The breath first becomes so subtle that it is barely noticeable. Then only the prana-force remains. One is at that point totally identified with the pranamaya kosha (prana body), much subtler than the annamay kosha (physical body), and when one identified 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, year - incredible, beyond imagination, not possible, scientifically untenable, no! But it is true.

So now, changing the topic a little, "Is there a specific practice to counter talking too much, the inner pressure to speak?" Well, it's the same type of question as to whether there is a specific practice to counter over-eating. Talking too much and over-eating are expressions of an interior emptiness. We have an ancient proverb in India: "The empty vessel makes a lot of splashing noise." A half-empty vessel makes a lot of splashing noise. A full vessel, carried, does not make a sound. If it is half empty or three-fourths empty, or has just a little bit of water or any other liquid in it, then you hear it splashing inside as you carry it. If we see someone talking too much, we say, "An empty vessel makes a lot of noise. Yes, there is a way. Fill yourself. If your mind is full, you will not try to fulfil it by filling the stomach, which is already overfilled. But the mind is not filled, so you keep trying to overfill the stomach. If you cannot desist from speaking, you have not been loved enough. "Ah yes, I knew that! I know. Nobody loves me." So what to do? Is there some kind of begging bowl you can carry which people will fill with love because you talk too much? You think you are getting attention, eh? 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 your conscious mind, in the voluble part, in the lower-frequency mind. Fill your mind. No, the total silence is not yet for you. Try it for half an hour. But, do remember, refraining form 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 overflow and become love that goes out of you into the begging bowls of those today who are as sorry for themselves as you were before you were filled.

"What exactly happens during silence?" I wish I could fill a water jar with Ganges water of silence and send it over to you for you to peer into it and thus know what silence is like. But I'm afraid it is not possible to do that for the water jug in which the Gangetic silence flows, in which the Himalayan silence rises, in which the oceanic silence dives, that water jug, the chalice of the wine of fullness, is only within you. You are that which the ancient Rishis call Kalasha-filled with soma, filled with the light of peace, filled with the luner luminosity that is cool to the heart, to the mind and to the sensed, that which calms one down.

Going into silence is like fasting. There is no difference between fasting, celibacy and silence. There is no difference between eating three mouthfuls less to fill the stomach on one hand and saying what you want to say in three words less on the other.

When my body used to allow fasting, one thing I discovered was that it was like entering a period of silence. When you sit down to meditate, the floodgates of thoughts open to remind you - "Oh, this has to be done" or "that has to be completed." All these kinds of things come to the surface and then they begin to settle down. So also the pangs of hunger arise for the first few days. Then after that one forgets customary habits of eating. Then the difficulty comes in breaking the fast. The desire for the fast is greater than the desire for food. One may then wish s/he could live on water, on air, or on prana alone as so may yogis are reputed to do.

However, do not start with that. You are not in an environment conducive to that to maintain your health. It is more difficult to be moderate than to be an ascetic. It is more difficult to live as a householder and maintain control over the urges than to take the vow of celibacy and go live in a faraway cabin or a solitary cave. So also it is with silence.

As the period of time for silence increases, the initial restlessness, the boredom of those beginning practices, subsides. There comes a moment when your senses begin to savor the "rasa." The fullness of "flavors" that lies within you, which at present is drowned in the noisy sea of desires, that unfulfilled, becomes frustrations. Go into that sea and calm the waves of desire and see what happens in the practice of meditation is what happens in the practice of silence.


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19 Dec 2021;
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