Power of Silence


Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi seldom communicated in words and in his presence, the devotee never felt the need for a word. The spell of silence was overwhelmingly present before Maharshi. Before him, one could feel the power of silence as if it was a solid substance. Kunju Swamy said that it was like a Dhara, perennially flowing from Maharshi like an under-current. Devotees came from distant countries, sat before him in silence and went back with a sense of fulfillment because they experienced a kind of communication from Bhagavan through silence. He was continuously communicating without the use of words and devotees who did not look for words received the message of truth in clear and eloquent terms. Maharshi said: “Speech is only the function of the mind, whereas silence is the source and origin of all thoughts and speeches. If speech is effective, silence which is the origin and source of all thoughts must be more powerful. Silence speaks volumes. It is unceasing eloquence.”

No word or language can convey a message of truth as effectively and eloquently as silence. Words that give expression to thoughts arising from mind are always coloured by ego. Truth can never be explained in words. Though our scriptures have explained the doctrine of truth in elaborate details, they have only indicated the direction towards it. The truth is beyond words and beyond expression. It can only be experienced through silence. Silence has the power to silence the mind. When the mind is still, it stops generating thoughts and creates the ideal ground for communication. When a person remains thoughtless and speechless, he understands the other by means of the universal language of silence. Emerson said that “Soul understands another soul by its own power without the need of any word”. Silence conveys a message eloquently and is understood by one who too knows the value of silence. It is the words which obstruct the silent communication.

The significance of silence has been brought out by Yogi Dakshinamurthi, believed to be the incarnation of Siva. Sri Dhakshinamurthi remains seated facing south, radiating the light of knowledge. According to popular belief, South is referred as the direction for death while North is referred as direction for knowledge. The seeker of knowledge turns towards northern direction to face the Master sitting towards south. Since the saint sits facing South, he has got the name Sri Dhakshinamurthi. The Guru Dhakshinamurti has four arms. One upper arm holds the musical instrument of Damaru while the other upper hand holds the flame of fire. The thump that remained separately represents Paramatman while the index finger represented “Self”. The Jnanamudra (sign) posture showing the tips of the thump and index fingers together symbolizes the union of Atman with Paramatman. The other fingers representing mind, body and intellect, remains apart.

According to legend, Brahma, the creator, has created four sons, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatsujathar and Sanatkumara. He told them: “I want to realize my true ‘Self”. I have brought you into being so that you can perform the work of creation”. But they did not like the idea of doing creation. In their quest for knowledge, they looked for a Master who could lead them to Self-realization. Then Lord Siva Himself appeared before them as Yogiraja, Dhakshinamurti. Yogiraja, sitting under the sacred banyan tree remained in Samadhi state and radiated spiritual knowledge throughout the universe.

Sri Dhakshinamurthi, the Supreme Guru ever remained in silence and revealed the truth through silence (Mouna vyakhya prakatita tatvam). Captivated by his grace, the four sons prostrated before the sage, performed Pradhakshina and sat before him. The saint Dhakshinamurthi, the embodiment of knowledge, heard their prayers and answered all their queries. As one question was answered, it gave rise to another doubt and yet another question. The question and answer session continued and the students did not make any progress towards knowledge. Knowledge is not gained from any outside source. It is gained only through contemplation, introspection and silence. No words were spoken and the disciples remained in deep silence (Samadhi). Gradually, they received the advice through the means of silence and emerged fully enlightened and realized.

“What is the definition of language? Which is the source of all languages? What is real? Guruvachaka Kovai (1173) says: “If such a question is raised, the obvious answer would be: “Such a language is only silence which Lord, Sri Dakshinamurthi, the embodiment of knowledge, taught, seated at the foot of the banyan tree.” Adi Sankara has waxed eloquence on Guru Dhakshinamurthi.

I praise and salute that Dakshinamrthi, who faces south
who explains the true nature of the supreme state of Brahman, through his state of silence, who is young and surrounded by disciples and enlightened sages, whose mind is fixed on Brahman who is the greatest of teachers, who shows the Chinmudhra* by his hand, who is personification of happiness, whose face brightens up in smile and remains in a state of bliss within. (Mouna Vyakhya Prakatitha Tatwam…)

According to Sri Ramana Maharshi, the true and perfect Upadesa (teaching) is imparted through silence. It is suited only for the advanced seeker who knows the value of silence by its practice. Others are unable to derive inspiration from it as they depend on words for explanation. Truth is already inherent. It is beyond words. It does not admit of explanation. All that is possible to do is to indicate it. Therefore, he who turns within and remains in silence realizes truth. “Is there anything higher than the state of supreme laziness, the state where there is no ego-oriented action and speech, where ‘Self’ alone reigns?” asks Maharshi. (Akshara Mana Malai, Verse 37). A true Jnani mostly remains in a state of silence which transcends the domain of mind, body and intellect.
True to his belief, Bhagavan, who was also known as Mouna Swamigal, mostly remained in silence and communicated in silence. Aspirants came to Bhagavan with various doubts in their mind but sitting before the saint in silence, all their doubts cleared. The questions that bothered them seemed irrelevant. It was evident that the state of silence has transcended them from the mundane world of materialism to the divine world of spirit. Remaining in silence, it seemed that the whole world became still or non-existent. When the world itself has disappeared, there were no issues, no problems and no solutions. Remaining in silence, they got their message loud and clear that there was nothing to know other than the ‘Self’. Having received the grace of Maharshi, and they returned with a sense of fulfillment. On a Sivaratri day, when all devotees had assembled, a disciple requested Maharshi to explain the meaning of Dhakshinamurthi hymn. Maharshi has agreed. He seemed ready to speak and drew the attention of all. Everyone sat still, expecting a lucid interpretation of the hymn from Maharshi, but no words came from Maharshi. Minutes turned into hours and total silence fell all over the place. There was no explanation, no interpretation. Maharshi has demonstrated the value of silence very effectively by means of silence.The devotees said that they all experienced, without a word being spoken, a transcendental stage, far from mental or bodily affiliations. Later, Maharshi said that behind every word, there is a thought; behind every thought, there is a mind, behind every mind there is a notion of “I”. The best means of communication therefore is silence which is beyond the influence of body or mind.

Paul Brunton, the British national, a great thinker and philosopher contemplated on various aspects like role of spirituality in the evolution of human personality. He went on a searching mission to find the right man who could answer the questions that bothered him and ultimately he found himself sitting cross-legged before Sri Ramana Maharshi. In fact, he had prepared a list of questions to be raised. He never knew that the meeting could change the course of his life. As Maharshi intensely looked at his eyes, Brunton felt total silence pervading all over and they conversed without any word, without any language or expression. Later, Brunton himself explained the meeting of the two souls thus: “One by one, the questions I prepared dropped away and I knew that a steady river of quietness flowing near me and a great peace penetrating the inner reaches of me.”

Swami Tapovanam (Guru of Swami Chinmayananda) who met Maharshi at Virupaksha cave conveyed his experience thus: “The Maharshi looked lovingly into my face. That was all. He spoke in silence. Not a word passed between us. A supreme, dynamic and divine silence prevailed. An hour or so passed by, in silence. The divine silence sank deeper and deeper into me. Someone came to offer me prasadam but I was engrossed in the power of silence that radiated from Maharshi. Maharshi was an idol of peace and silence. The surface of the ocean dances in waves, laughs in sparkling foam and roars in thunderous waves but deep beneath the vibrant surface, the eternal silence prevails. The silence which remains in divine depth forms the core of all activities. Work should be undertaken and pursued to take us ultimately to the workless abode of divine silence and endless peace. That is the secret doctrine of all our Vedas and ancient scriptures.

Arthur Osborn described his meeting with Maharshi in his autobiography thus: “It was the auspicious day of Kartigai when a beacon light is lit on top of the Arunachala hill. There were huge crowds for the festival and we were sitting in the courtyard outside the hall. Bhagavan was reclining on his couch and I was sitting in the front row before it. He sat up, facing me and his narrowed eyes pierced into me, penetrating, intimate and an intensity I cannot describe. And then, quietness, depth of peace, an indescribable lightness and happiness prevailed…..The silent guidance was continuous, strong and subtle. It may seem strange to modern minds but the Guru taught in silence”.

“Does not silent denotes inactivity?” asked a friend to Ella Maillart, the western devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Mallart replied: “No, having identified with body and mind, we believe that external activity is the sign of progress. In fact, inactivity is the basis on which all activities take place, just as a wheel that moves all over is firmly based on a motionless base. Silence establishes a mental wave length. When there is perfect understanding the conversation takes place not necessarily through words or language. The souls, finding harmony, express themselves in their own language of silence. When true silence is observed, the mind is dissolved; the world of illusion ceases to exist and one remains in perfect identification with the supreme ‘Self’. A Tamil saint said very appropriately: “Those who have seen it did not speak about it; those who speak about it have not seen it” (Kandavar Vindilai).