Monday, February 7, 2011

Mauna - The Path of Silence

Observing Silence as a Spiritual Practice

Feb 28, 2009 Martin Bohn
Observing silence as a spiritual practice is called "mauna" in Sanskrit. The aim of mauna is to quieten the mind and prepare it for introspection and meditation.
All religious and spiritual traditions have always treasured and cultivated silence as a spiritual practice in its own right. No matter whether they are Christian, Hindu, Islamic or Buddhist traditions, the voluntary act of non-speaking seems to be an integral part of religion, being practiced in the form of silent retreats, vows of silence, silent prayer etcetera.
Of course, one has to distinguish between the spiritual discipline of consciously observing silence and muteness due to indifference, shyness, anger or simply a bad mood. The latter is of course not spiritually beneficial and in fact is not silence in the deeper sense at all.

Forms of Mauna

In yogic parlance, spiritually motivated silence is called “mauna”. This term can be used on different levels. First of all, it simply means to renounce the use of the organs of speech. This is called “vak mauna”. Then there are further forms of silence like “kashta mauna”, which means to not only abstain from oral speech but to also avoid communication through written messages, gestures like nodding or shaking the head and so on.

The common goal of all forms of mauna is to experience silence of the mind, the calming of the thought waves, culminating in “maha-mauna”, the great silence. Mauna is therefore not different from the classic definition of Yoga as given in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: “Yogas citta vritti nirodha” - “Yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations” (translation by Gavin Flood).
In this state, the mind has become completely stilled and Brahman, the Absolute Self, can be clearly perceived just like the sky gets reflected on the surface of a still lake.


There are several benefits of observing mauna or silence. First of all, silence can help avoid several social problems connected with speaking, such as getting into arguments, talking ill of others or gossiping. Keeping silent also preserves energy otherwise spent on talking. This energy can then be gradually transformed into spiritual energy, resulting in growing inner peace and a mind which is both peaceful and alert.

Besides, observing silence improves concentration and generally makes it easier to direct the mind inwards for meditation and contemplation. Worldly impulses or "vasanas" may decrease slowly by keeping silence, thus making it easier to cultivate the attitude of being a silent, uninvolved observer.

Practical Hints

In order to successfully practice mauna, it is helpful to have regular times of silence, such as one or two hours in the morning or even longer spells if possible. This silent time is best spent in spiritual exercises or in mindful action. Observing mauna should be done in agreement with one’s surroundings, so that no unnecessary conflicts arise out of this practice. Above all, mauna should not be in conflict with the fulfilment of one’s duties.
The easiest way to practice silence may be to live in (temporary) isolation without too many possible distractions. However, the main objective is to calm the mind, making it bent on meditation and spiritual inquiry and solitude may even be counterproductive. Instead, a silent retreat in a spiritual center, supervised by an experienced spiritual teacher, could be an ideal setting.

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