By Hazrat Inayat Khan
There is a saying that words are valuable but silence is more precious. This saying will always prove true. The more we understand the meaning of it, the more we realize its truth. How many times we find during the day that we have said something, which would have been better left unsaid! How many times we disturb the peace of our surroundings, without meaning it, by lack of silence! How often we make our limitations, our narrowness, our smallness come out, which we would rather have concealed, because we did not keep silent! How very often, though desiring to respect others, we cannot manage to do so because we do not keep silent! And a great danger lies in wait for a man in the life of this world, the danger of confiding in a person in whom he did not wish to confide. We run that danger by not keeping silent. That great interpreter of life, the Persian poet Sadi, says, 'What value is sense, if it does not come to my rescue before I utter a word!' This shows us that in spite of whatever wisdom we may have; we can make a mistake if we have no control over our words. And we can easily find examples of this truth; those who talk much have less power than those who talk little. For a talkative person may not be able to express an idea in a thousand words which those who are masters of silence express in one word. Everyone can speak, but not every word has the same power. Besides, a word says much less than silence can express. The keynote to harmonious life is silence.
In everyday life we are confronted with a thousand troubles that we are not always evolved enough to meet, and then only silence can help us. For if there is any religion, if there is any practice of religion, it is to have regard for the pleasure of God by regarding the pleasure of man. The essence of religion is to understand. And this religion we cannot live without having power over the word, without having realized the power of silence. There are so very many occasions when we repent after hurting friends, which could have been avoided if there had been control over our words. Silence is the shield of the ignorant and the protection of the wise. For the ignorant does not prove his ignorance if he keeps silent, and the wise man does not throw pearls before swine if he knows the worth of silence.
What gives power over words? What gives the power that can be attained by silence? The answer is: it is will power which gives the control over words; it is silence which gives one the power of silence. It is restlessness when a person speaks too much. The more words are used to express an idea, the less powerful they become. It is a great pity that man so often thinks of saving pennies and never thinks of sparing words. It is like saving pebbles and throwing away pearls. An Indian poet says, 'Pearl-shell, what gives you your precious contents? Silence; for years my lips were closed.'
For a moment it is a struggle with oneself; it is controlling an impulse; but afterwards the same thing becomes a power.
And now coming to the more scientific, metaphysical, explanation of silence. There is a certain amount of energy spent by words; and breath, which has to bring new life in the body, is hindered in its regular rhythm when man speaks all the time. It is not that a nervous person speaks too much, but much speaking makes him nervous. Where did the great power attained by Yogis and Faquirs come from? It was gained by having learned and practiced the art of silence. That is the reason why in the East, in the houses where faqirs meditated, and even at the court, there was silence. There were times during different civilizations of the world when people were taught, whenever they were collected together for a feast, to keep silence for a certain time. It is the greatest pity that at this time we have so neglected that question; we think so little about it. It is a question which affects health, which touches the soul, the spirit, life. The more we think about this subject, the more we see that we are continually involved in a kind of action. Where does it lead us and what is the result of it? As far as we can see, it leads us to greater struggle, competition, and disagreeableness. If we think of the result, we see that it leads us to greater care, worry, and struggle in life. There is a saying of the Hindus, 'The more one seeks for happiness, the more unhappiness one finds.' And the reason is that when happiness is sought in a wrong direction, it leads to unhappiness. Our experience in life is sufficient to teach us this, yet life is intoxicating, it absorbs us in action so that we never stop to think of it.
In reality mankind has shattered its nerves by the lack of silence, by the over-activity of body and mind. When the body is resting, man calls it sleep. But his mind is going on, on the same record as during the day. In this world of competition, every man is a hundred times more busy than he ever was. Naturally his life needs rest and quietude and peace more than that of people who live in the forest, who can call all the time their own. When activity is increased and the art of silence is lost, then what can we expect?
Where do we learn thoughtfulness? In silence. And where do we practice patience? In silence. Silence practiced in meditation is something apart, but silence means that we should consider every word and every action we do; that is the first lesson to learn. If there is a meditative person, he has learned to use that silence naturally in everyday life. The one who has learned silence in everyday life has already learned to meditate. Besides a person may have reserved half an hour every day for meditation, but when there is half an hour of meditation and twelve or fifteen hours of activity, the activity takes away all the power of the meditation. Therefore, both things must go together. A person who wishes to learn the art of silence must decide, however much work he has to do, to keep the thought of silence in his mind. When one does not consider this, then one will not reap the full benefit of meditation. It is just like a person who goes to church once a week and the other six days he keeps the thought of church as far away as possible.
A very devout Persian king was asked by his Prime Minister, 'You are spending most of the night in meditation and all day long you work. How can that go on?' The Shah said, 'During the night I pursue God; during the day God follows me.' It is the same with silence: he who seeks silence is followed by silence. So it is with all things we wish for, when we seek after them sufficiently, they follow us in time by themselves.
The general attitude of man is that of listening to all that comes from outside; and not only are the ears open to the external world, but even the heart is attached to the ears. The heart which is listening to the voices coming from the external world should turn its back on all that comes from there, and wait patiently until it becomes capable of hearing the voice from within.
There is an audible voice and an inaudible voice, from the living and from those who are not living, from all life. What man can say in words always expresses little. Can one speak about gratefulness, about devotion, about admiration? Never, there will always be a lack of words. Every deep feeling has its own voice; it cannot be expressed in outer words. This voice comes from every soul; every soul is only audible to the heart. And how is the heart prepared? Through silence.
We need not be surprised that some have sought the mountains and the forest, and preferred the wilderness to the comforts of worldly life. They sought something valuable. They have passed on something of the experience gained by their sacrifice. But it is not necessary to follow them to the forest or to the cave of the mountain. One can learn that art of silence everywhere; throughout a busy life one can maintain silence.
Silence is something which consciously or unconsciously we are seeking every moment of our lives. We are seeking silence and running away from it, both at he same time. Where is the word of God heard? In silence. The seers, the saints, the sages, the prophets, the masters, they have heard that voice which comes from within by making themselves silent. I do not mean by this that because one has silence one will be spoken to; I mean that once one is silent one will hear the word, which is constantly coming from within. When the mind has been made still, a person also communicates with everyone he meets. He does not need many words: when the glance meets he understands. Two persons may talk and discuss all their lives and yet never understand one another. Two others with still minds look at one another and in one moment a communication is established between them.
Where do the differences between people come from? From within. From their activity. And how does agreement come? By the stillness of the mind. It is noise which hinders a voice that we hear from a distance, and it is the troubled waters of a pool which hinder us seeing our own image reflected in the water. When the water is still it takes a clear reflection; and when our atmosphere is still then we hear that voice which is constantly coming to the heart of every person. We are looking for guidance, we all of us search for truth; we search for the mystery. The mystery is in ourselves; the guidance is in our own souls.
Very often one meets a person whose contact makes one restless, nervous. The reason is that that person is not restful, not tranquil, and it is not easy to remain calm and to keep one's tranquility in the presence of a restless, agitated person. The teaching of Christ is, 'Resist not evil,' and that means, 'Respond not to the troubled condition of a restless person.' It is just like partaking of the fire which will burn one.
The way to develop the power in oneself to withstand all disturbing influences in everyday life is to quiet oneself by means of concentration. Our mind is like a boat in the water, moved by the waves and influenced by the wind. The waves are our own emotions and passions, thoughts and imagination; and the wind is the outer influences which we have to cope with. In order to stop the boat one should have an anchor, an anchor to make the boat lie still. Now this anchor is the object we concentrate upon; if it is heavy and weighty then it will stop the boat, but if this anchor is light the boat will continue to move and not be still, for it is partly in the water, and partly in the air.
But in this way we only control the boat; utilizing the boat is another question again. The boat is not made to remain motionless; it is made for a purpose. All of us do not seem to know this, but finally this boat has to be made to go from one port to another. And for the boat to be able to sail, various conditions must be fulfilled; for instance, that it is not more heavily laden than its capacity. Thus our heart should not be heavily laden with the things that we attach ourselves to, because then the boat will not float. Also the boat should not be tied to this one port, for then it is held back and will not go to the port for which it is bound.
Furthermore, the boat must have that responsiveness to the wind which will take it to that port; and this is the feeling a soul gets from the spiritual side of life. That feeling, that wind, helps one to go forward to the port for which we are all bound. Once it is fully concentrated, the mind should become like a compass in a boat, always pointing in the same direction. A man whose interest takes a thousand different directions is not ready to travel in this boat. It is the man who has one thing in his mind, and who considers all other things secondary, who can travel from this port to the other. This is the journey which is called mysticism.
(Excerpted from Mental Purification and Healing, by Hazrat Inayat Khan [“The Sufi Message”, vol. 1V])
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