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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LVIII
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Mauna - The Power of Silence

Continued from Part LVII

In a literal sense, the silence is the absence of ambient audible sound free from any noise, a state of complete cessation of sound or the sound produced, if any, is of so low pitch and intensity that it fails to draw any attention. However, if a person is observing silence, it may have many connotations: It may be in acceptance of the other people as they are in that moment, usually with the feelings of sorrow, vexation, fear or anger, and this silence conveys that the person is synchronized to listen or give full attention to people in the ambience. Similarly, people in relationships may have spells or moments of silence, which may be on account of their being busy or tired or just not being in a mood to talk; in fact, a healthy relationship often has such spells of amicable silences. Likewise, during a discourse or lecture, occasionally, the speaker may perforce observe a brief silence in search of appropriate words or to construct appropriate rhythm and intonation in his speech.

In short, the silence is an ingredient of the day-to-day mundane life universally; it is inside and around everyone but he (or she) may be unable to fathom its value and significance as long as one is lost in the external noise of worldly objects, glamour and attractions. Although many other religious traditions across the world accept the significance of silence to a certain extent, the Hinduism accords a great deal and spiritual significance to the silence and its power in real sense. In spirituality, the silence is often related to the inner stillness, when the mind and intellect is free from the onslaught of the inherent human thought process and the person is able to establish uninterrupted link with own pure nature, thereby synchronizing Self with the divine, the Ultimate Reality or Supreme Self. In Hindu way of life, the eight limbs or components of Yoga, providing the structural framework for the yogic practices starting with Yama and Niyama and culminating into Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi, essentially focus on the power of silence to achieve the intended spiritual goal.

Mind and Power of Thoughts

Our mind supported with the intellect is the strongest and most useful power that we possess. The thoughts are the main ingredient of this power and our success or failure, or so to say happiness or unhappiness, mainly depends how we utilize our thought process by giving it proper emotions, focus and direction. In fact, thoughts that have passage through the mind and dominate it are in effect responsible for everything that happens in our life. In a way, thoughts are like seeds that grow, dominate and manifest in life influencing our attitude and behaviour pattern depending upon how much we invest in them and pay attention with the requisite interest and enthusiasm. For instance, the lack of interest, attention and enthusiasm in a certain thought would weaken it and the opposite will help it to get powerful and dominant pressing for a commensurate conduct or action.

To explore the power of silence, it is also necessary to understand and learn how our thoughts affect the mind and, accordingly, body gets direction. Certain stray thoughts might come and go without having much impact but recurring thoughts are likely to gain strength and attention causing follow up commensurate action and reaction. Recurring thoughts invariably create impact on the subconscious mind influencing likewise attitude and conduct with these thoughts. Then through the person’s actions and deeds as also by causing impact on other minds, thoughts certainly affect people in the surrounding too, some of them may be favourably connected to advantage while others may have adverse effect. One needs to be careful with the dominant thoughts which may affect own life and others’ life as well favourably or unfavourably. As thoughts are not always under control, one should try to learn how to accustom them to own aspirations and objectives in life.

Mauna (Silence) in Hindu Scriptures

In Hinduism, Mauna (silence) has a voice of its own relating to the peace of mind, inner quietude, Samadhi and the Absolute Reality. According to various Hindu texts, the importance of silence can be experienced through the control of the speech and practice. The term Asat finds a mention at least seven times in the Rigveda and some scholars have interpreted its meaning as non-existent or indescribable, besides its usual understanding of the term Mithya, which means untrue or non-existence. In the sense of "non-existent", Asat is linked to the sounding silence, in which the world, gods and men emerged. Here the author does not want to divulge into the more complex metaphysical analysis of Turiya as pure consciousness in a state of silence, the highest in four states of consciousness as dealt with in Principal Upanishads like Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka and Mandukya, experiencing divine bliss through self-realization but to highlight the averment of the famous yogi and philosopher Ramana Maharshi of the modern age, who is known to have described Mauna as the state of egolessness. He spontaneously spent years in silence, arguably the revelation of the Pure Consciousness naturally caused him to remain silent, as he maintained that silence was his primary and most direct teaching. Mauna (silence), according to him, is much deeper than merely refraining from talking as it is the peaceful, unmoving, silent state of the Self, beyond all constructs of “noise.”

In Kena Upanishad, Mauna and Amauna have been likened to describe Brahman (God) in the following verses.

Yadvacaanabhyuditam yena vagabhyudyate,
Tadeva brahma tvam viddhi nedam yadidamupasate.
Yacchrotrena na srnoti yena srotramidam srutam,
Tadeva brahma tvam viddhi nedam yadidamupasate.

(That which is uttered by the word, that by which the word is revealed, know That to be the Brahman and not this which people worship here. That which cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the ear is able to hear, know That to be Brahman and not this which people worship here. (Kena Upanishad: I.4,7)

Yajnavalkya was an ancient sage, possibly one of the earliest philosophers in the recorded history. He insisted that in the spiritual pursuit to experience Brahman, the person must transcend both silence (Mauna) and non-silence (Amauna). A sensitive mind conditioned to receive the subtle intimation of Brahman responds to the voice of silence. The power of silence can be judged by the perception that in some Vedanta text the attribute-less Brahman is denoted by silence. In his commentary on Brahma Sutras, Adi Shankara states that when Bashkalin questioned Bhadhva about Brahman, the latter told him to learn and became silent. Then on second and third questioning by Bashkalin, he replied, "I am teaching you indeed, but you do not understand. Silence is that Self." The silence referred to by Badhva as the indescribable nature of Brahman is meant to be felt deep within to realize it. Silence is Awareness, it is the Atman, the Self (Mundaka Upanishad II.ii.6). The absolutistic interpretation would be that the silence is the genuine teaching about the ultimate Reality, as the Absolute is beyond the scope of speech and thought.

In Katha Upanishad, there is a legendary tale of the god of death, Yama and Nachiketa, the son of Sage Vajashravasa, in which the former delivers to the latter the knowledge about Atman (Self) and Brahman (God). At one juncture, Yama tells Nachiketa to merge the organ of speech into the mind and by doing this one could experience the real happiness and joy in total silence (Katha Upanishad I.iii.13).

In Shiva Purana (2.2.5), a legendary story has been narrated about Sandhya, the daughter of Brahma, wherein the power of silence has been explained by Sage Narada to Sandhya. According to him, the whole penance begins with the silence and he goes on to explain it as follows: “The ceremonial bath shall be taken silently. The worship of Shiva shall be performed silently. The food taken in shall solely consist of water in the first and second Sastakalas (a period one-sixth of the day i.e., 4 hrs.). On the third Sastakalas, you shall observe complete fast (even taking water). This shall continue till the conclusion of the penance. The rites shall be performed at the end of each Sastakalas. This is called the penance of silence (Maunatapasya). It yields all the benefits of celibate life. O lady, it confers all cherished desires. True, it is certainly true”.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is an ancient treaty on yoga that provides an eight-limbed path of the structural framework for the yogic practices. Of this, Yama and Niyama being first two that constitute the moral discipline in the form of restraints and observances, which through Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara and Dharana lead to Dhyana (meditation) in silence leading to the ultimate yogic height and climax of Samadhi. In philosophical and spiritual sense, the Samadhi is a state of an identity without difference, when a liberated soul enjoys pure awareness of its identity, when the mind and the intellect stop wandering, and real consciousness and bliss is experienced. Of this, Dhyana is nothing but the practice of silence and the state of Samadhi is the boundless ocean of silence. The power of silence could be realized from the fact that it is associated with highest components of the eight-limbed yogic path. The exercise of Yama and Niyama inculcate necessary moral discipline, Asanas and Pranayama ensure healthy mind and body, Pratyahara and Dharana are purifying techniques to get rid of temporal cravings, following which it becomes conducive to meditate observing silence and finally achieve Samadhi.

In the greatest Hindu epic Mahabharata, there is an interesting episode glorifying the power of silence. The story goes that when Sage Vedavyasa finished with dictating the last verse and Lord Ganesha recorded it on the bhojpatra, the former said, “Vighneshwar! Blessed is your writing! The Supreme Spirit has created the Mahabharata and you have written it. What is more amazing is your silence. During dictation I must have spoken almost twenty hundred thousand words, but all along I did not hear a single word from you.” Lord Ganesh replied thoughtfully, “Badarayana! Some lamps have a lot of oil; others have only a little. No lamp has a continuous supply of oil. In the same way, gods, mankind and demons have a limited life. Only those who have self-control and use their powers with patience and understanding can fully benefit from their life. The first step to self-control is to control one’s speech. Whoever cannot control his speech, unnecessarily loses energy. Through speech control, one avoids such a loss. I have always believed in the power of silence.”

Bhagavad Gita and Silence

According to the Bhagavad Gita, silence is valued to train and discipline our minds, and not merely mouths. The power of silence is deeply transformative as it not only keeps the person quiet but also subdues his thoughts and sustains tranquillity, which is the true nature. Therefore, the mental silence is more defining than the verbal silence. Shree Krishna says:

Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet,
Atmaiva hyatmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah.

(Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.) (Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 6, Verse 5)

In the beginning of this part, it has been explained how the human mind and intellect together control the thought process and depending upon whether they work in the right or wrong directions, it leads to success or failure, and consequent happiness or sorrow of the person. So, when Shree Krishna says that one must use the mind to elevate the self, the intention the person must cultivate intellect constructively to elevate the mind. How this could be achieved is also explained in several verses of the sacred treaty (BG: Ch 2.41 to 44; Ch 3.43).

Shree Krishna’s mention of the mind as both friend and enemy is very apt because if it is out of control, it can cause havoc on self and society but if kept in control through pure and serene thoughts, the same mind could pave way for the happiness and joy to the self and society. In the Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna has repeatedly stressed about mind and the intellect as being two crucial things, and the need to surrender both to God.

Manah-prasadah saumyatvam maunam atma-vinigrahah,
Bhava-sanshuddhir ity etat tapo manasam uchyate.

(Serenity of thought, gentleness, silence, self-control, and purity of purpose - all these are declared as the austerity of the mind.) (Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 17, Verse 16)

The human mind is often likened to a garden that could be intelligently cultivated through sustained efforts or allowed to be ruined by ignorance and neglect. A gardener constantly looks after growing plants for the fruits and flowers with necessary seeds, water, manure, sunshine, etc. but also makes sure that harmful weeds do not grow with it. In the same way, one needs to cultivate the mind with aforesaid noble thoughts and silence while simultaneously discarding the negative and harmful thoughts. The hateful, indignant, incriminating, unforgiving, disapproving and condemnatory thoughts only pollute human mind with debilitating effect on his personality. Hence, they are akin to the weeds that must be erased allowing no room in our thoughts.

The wise and inwardly grown men are often known to have taken the vow of silence (Mauna-vrata): One such example of Maharshi Raman is already given in earlier paragraphs, many accomplished householders and ascetics in Indian traditions too are known to observe Mauna-vrata from time to time. The rationale behind this is sound in any form including words uttered attracts our attention (consciousness) towards material objects; therefore, silence serves as a useful means to restraining one’s worldly entanglement. Although verbal silence is also of use but the real challenge is silencing of the mind; hence the Bhagavad Gita’s insistence for the austerity of mind engaging various means listed in the aforesaid verse. Shree Krishna attaches great significance to the control of mind and in umpteen verses it is explained how such control could be achieved by practicing Karmayoga, Jnanyoga or even Bhaktiyoga.

As mentioned earlier, some Hindu scriptures relate Asat to non-existence or silence, the Bhagavad Gita too relates silence to the God while describing His glories and power of Yoga in the following verse, Shree Krishna declared silence as God’s pre-eminent manifestation among secrets:

Dando damayatam asmi nitir asmi jigishatam,
Maunam chaivasmi guhyanam jnanam jnanavatam aham.

(I am punishment amongst means of preventing lawlessness, and righteousness amongst those who seek victory. Amongst secrets I am silence, and in the wise I am their wisdom.) (Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 10, Verse 38)

In mundane worldly existence, a secret is one which is hidden from the knowledge of common people due to some specified reason. The “silence is golden” is a popular proverb justifying the significance of silence rather than speech. In the same context, there is another saying that “something known to one is a secret, the same known to two is no longer a secret; and once it is revealed to many is a news for the rest of world.” The same could be spelled in a different way that the greatest secret is one that is hidden in silence. The nature and form of God has remained the greatest mystery of all time in the world; hence, it is no wonder that silence is used as metaphor for Him.

Mundane Benefits for Observing Silence

In spiritual traditions, the attention is paid to practice inner silence to gain control over the mind and intellect to experience intense meditative state and awareness. However, in day-to-day mundane activities too, people observe silence very often consciously or subconsciously for however brief or long spells. Some ready references could be to observe silence in honour of some person’s passing away or a prayer in the temple or at home. Same thing happens when one experiences any awe-inspiring scene or event where people are rendered speechless for few moments. Sometimes, people realize or say that they have no words to describe or appreciate a person, scene or event in various life situations that also makes silence as pause to gain time, knowledge or strength for the commensurate reaction or response.

A person meditates in complete silence which is also an important form of the Tapas (austerity). We have the example of Maharshi Raman from the modern age, Swami Sivanand - another Hindu spiritual teacher and proponent of the Vedanta and Yoga strongly recommended practicing silence for the prolonged period for own spiritual uplift and progress. Many Hindus are known to observe periodical silence, say for one day in a week, which is an effective way of purifying mind with pious thoughts and enhanced awareness.

Needless to mention but a lot of energy is simply wasted when people indulge in gossip, worthless and languorous conversation for long hours. Most people do not even realize this fact and unnecessarily tire themselves by wasting their speech energy. On the contrary, the silence conserves energy to enable a person to carry out more physical and mental work as and when needed without unduly getting tired. Swami Sivanand opined that the practice of silence conserves the energy of speech, which is gradually sublimated and transformed into Ojas (spiritual energy).

In a nutshell, the regular and prolonged practice of silence would transform the personality of the person with greater inner strength, determination and self-confidence, eventually transforming him into a much better person and soul. Some other positive attributes accrued through practicing silence is briefly given as follows:

  • One experiences relaxation, whereby his stress level goes down;
  • Observance of truth, strong will power and peace of mind;
  • Restrain the impulsive speech and power of endurance;
  • Irritability of mind is kept in check, therefore, anger management becomes easier;
  • Improvement of memory and deeper awareness;
  • Observation and understanding improves as the person is able to pay more attention;
  • Better chance to understand others’ feeling and, in turn, empathize with them;
  • Temporal relationships improve with increased listening, observation and caring; and
  • Enable focus on concentration and introspection leading to clarity of goals and their achievement in life.

Practicing Silence in Day-to-Day Life

Conceptually, the silence is pervaded everywhere in the universe: It is inside our body as well as around us, one needs to pause, pay attention and find it even in the midst of noise and pandemonium. Aforesaid may prima facie appear a philosophical averment but it is true, like in this universe every object and action has an opposite cause and effect, so is the case with silence. We hear the noise but not silence as we perceive it only when the surroundings are absolutely noise free. This silence is both outer and inner, when we are able to perceive and cultivate outer silence, we accrue many benefits in physical life some stated in the earlier paragraph while cultivating the inner silence makes us spiritually accomplished soul taking us close to the realm of God. Thus, like the Supreme Consciousness, the silence too is always in the ambience, outwardly oriented person would feel it in the absence of noise while the mindful can perceive it even through the noise.

Noise can be created, stopped or even be destroyed but silence can neither be created nor destroyed as it is all pervading, permanent and hidden, which only temporarily could be suppressed. Once a person starts concentrating on silence, he becomes increasingly conscious about it even though the sound is coming from all directions.

In essence, like erstwhile concept of the existence of ether as a space-filling substance in the cosmos providing medium for the propagation of electromagnetic or gravitational forces, the silence pervades and supports everything so much so that even the thoughts arise and subside in silence, and consciousness establishes in it only. Clearly, practicing silence has many physical and spiritual advantages though the majority of people do not understand or recognise the relevance of silence in their lives and most of them prefer to be vocal all the time to communicate their feelings and thoughts in words and speech for the given reasons.

The main reason for the people not recognising the relevance and importance of the silence in life remains that they are so accustomed and attuned to the sounds and noises around, they start feeling discomfort in quiet situations. Many people feel embarrassed if they come across silent moments in social gatherings even for a brief pause and others even feel awkward or insecure in such a situation. In any case, the idea is not to be silent always and, in all situations, but to recognize its relevance and cultivate it to one’s physical and spiritual advantage and gain. Even in groups and gatherings, we could have more subtle conversation and communication at low pitch, which would be less stressful and energy consuming compared to making it a loud and noisy affair.

A person can practice and observe silence to his (or her) advantage in many ways. He could regularly resort to meditation and this way he can observe silence for a given period in week every day for greater gains. If one cannot do it on regular basis, one could even select a convenient day in week to observe silence for a period or whole day unless it becomes unavoidable to talk or communicate with people. If a person cannot afford to observe silence, even a resolve to speak bare minimum in subtle tone could also conserve a lot of energy and limit stress to his advantage. A few tips are given here which a person could translate in practice to experience peace and relaxation accrued in a longer perspective.

  • Avoid speaking loudly whether in group or private conversation;
  • Try to listen and observe more than own speaking at most occasions;
  • Speak only when it is really necessary;
  • Avoid noisy places and gatherings or stay there to the barest minimum time;
  • Try to stop reacting, instead choose to respond wisely as and when warranted;
  • Play television, radio or such other gadgets of entertainment at low volume and switch off completely when not listening or watching;
  • Instead of always speaking on phone, use texting or other methods to communicate;
  • Prefer solitary long walk, instead in group, quietly enjoying beauty of the nature;
  • Cultivate hobbies that do not need much of the talking;
  • To the extent feasible, try to observe silence at a given time or day regularly;
  • Indulge in yogic exercises leading to meditation for own mental and spiritual betterment.

It is true that for the worldly people, regular observance of the aforesaid routines is not very likable or convenient, more particularly for the working people. But majority of them could still strike a balance in their daily routines in various ways in minimizing loud and noisy routines vis-à-vis silence and more subtle sounds around. For instance, whether at work or home the prolonged gossips or unnecessary conversation, which at times even leads to unhealthy debates and conflicts, could always be restricted through little practice and control. Moreover, first and foremost need is to learn and realize the value of silence and its accrued benefits in physical and spiritual progress and quality of life, the rest would suo moto follow from the range of aforesaid and many more saving methods and practices. Also observing silence does not mean that one needs to stop necessary conversation or eschew communication with the people or surroundings.

Silence and Spirituality

In the previous paragraphs, the author gave a reference to the outer and inner silence. In our day do day life, when we talk of the need and benefits of silence, our focus is more oriented towards the outer silence by curtailing or minimizing the exposure of the noise and sounds in the surroundings to have more comfort and ease in life. However, the Hindu scriptures put more emphasis on the exploration and attainment of the inner silence for the physical and spiritual progress. In that context, the silence is more akin to the inner stillness i.e., a mind free from the aggression and assault of the mundane thoughts and thought patterns. Here the silence or inner stillness in the spiritual sense is not essentially the absence of words or speech but the tool and mechanism to realize the person’s own true self or divine nature that takes it closer to the Supreme Consciousness.

Accordingly, in Hinduism, teachings of the different philosophies, yoga and Advaita Vedanta insist on the significance of Mauna (silence) for the inner growth. The stated “inner stillness” is perceived through a mind with the absence of the crowding of thoughts or the thought processes and the Mauna serves as a crucial catalytic agent. Accomplished yogis and spiritual teachers find magical synchronization between Vedic Mantras and the silence of mind or inner stillness and maintain that the divine word and cosmic Mantras starting with AUM and HREEM are the sounds of silence that can be perceived and received only by a silent mind and receptive heart. In eight-limbed yogic practices too, the silence lays the basic foundation for Dharana or concentration and forms the basis for Dhyana or meditation to ultimately achieve Samadhi, a unitary state of pure consciousness.


The scriptures have rightly described Mauna as indescribable and all pervading like God and its immense power needs to be realized by all. It is much more beyond merely stoppage of talking or the noise around with potential of immense accrued benefits to the practitioners. Rightly so in the ancient age those who were regularly practicing Mauna were known as Muni (sage) with magical spiritual strength and accomplishment. It is perhaps not a mere coincidence that all living beings have two most important activities of eating and speaking in lifetime and both are performed through mouth. If the person could regulate the two properly, he (or she) can accomplish everything relating to own body as well as physical and spiritual world around. Thoughts in mind and speech lead to maximum loss of energy (or Prana) through various tiresome actions and entanglements; hence the advice from the scriptures and wise men to focus on tapping the power of silence (both outer and inner) to conserve this energy for more meaningful spiritual accomplishment.

Continued to Part LIX 

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