Observing Silence as a Spiritual Practice
Feb 28, 2009 Martin Bohn
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.