Silence Is Golden
The tongue like a sharp knife … kills without drawing blood.
Imagine that you wake up one fine morning and find that there is a surprise package waiting for you at your doorstep. But before you open the package, you have the option of learning its contents, after which you may decide whether or not you would want to open it. You decide to take that option. You then discover that the package contains the power to love and hate. You learn that this power can get out of control very easily. It can confuse, lie and can create many problems. It is extremely difficult to tame or contain, and it can deliver malicious and cruel poison. It can be peaceful and sweet at one moment, but can be bitter and harmful the next. After learning all this, would you be willing to open that package? Probably not. And yet, each day, we all open this destructive and dangerous package, in the form of our tongue, without any worry or conscious thought.
Speaking comes to most of us as naturally as breathing. It has been said that the tongue is the most exercised muscle of our body. It is estimated that in a typical week, we speak enough words to fill a five-hundred page book as we freely express our thoughts, opinions, judgements and beliefs. What is more striking is the fact that more often than not, we are oblivious to the positive or negative effects these words have on the people around us and ourselves.
A woman once approached a spiritual teacher and asked for his advice. “My husband and I are always quarrelling and I am having a difficult time. Could you please advise me what to do?” The spiritual teacher replied, “That is very easy. I will give you these special lozenges that emit positive vibrations. Keep them in your mouth when your husband comes home and all will be well.”
The woman took the lozenges and followed his advice. Sure enough, every day she noticed that there were no more arguments. After ten days when the lozenges were finished, she went back to the spiritual teacher and said, “I would give anything if you could let me have more of those lozenges. They were wonderful. Ever since I started taking them, our home has been so much more peaceful.” The spiritual teacher then explained, “My child, it was not the lozenges that brought peace to your household; it was your silence. At the end of the day, when you both are tired and weary from a long day’s work, naturally you are not in tune with each other. By keeping silent, you had nothing to quarrel about and this brought harmony into your home.”
If we were to ask spiritual teachers for advice on how to practise wise speech, they are likely to answer with one word: silence. A rule laid down by the noble Buddha which is also echoed in other cultures, is a valuable one for all to follow. He says that if what you have to say is truthful, kind and useful, then say it. If not, silence is best. Speaking distracts and scatters attention while silence collects thoughts. It draws attention inward and strengthens the spirit.
If a person cannot go twenty-four hours without a cigarette, we would say that they were addicted to nicotine. If they could not go twenty-four hours without a drink of alcohol, we would label them as alcoholic. But what if someone could not go twenty-four hours without speaking an unkind word to, or about anybody? Would it then not be fair to say that they were addicted to gossip and slander?
The ability to take control of your words, rather than letting those words control you, is vital for spiritual progress. You have to be more conscious of your thoughts and words, and the power they unleash. The capacity to sit quietly, to avoid the distraction of televisions, laptops or cell phones is becoming rare. To those who would seek a spiritual path, there is one requirement that for many is daunting and turns them away. That requirement is silence. Maharaj Sawan Singh says, “Let no one imagine that they can ignore this law and still make headway on the path.”
We should remember that a word once spoken can never be taken back; it is out of our mouth and it will have an effect whether we like it or not. That is why each time before we speak, we should try to ask ourselves: Is what I am about to say going to uplift the other person? Will it inspire, motivate and create forward momentum? Will it dissolve fear and create safety and trust? Will I create a positive effect by speaking out these words? We should all take inspiration from Maharaj Jagat Singh who sums up the value of silence when he says:
Much physical and spiritual energy is dissipated by talking. Silence is golden. Speak as little as possible. Open your lips only when it is most necessary. And when you must speak, do so in the most kind and gentle manner. Never lose your temper over anything. You are not running this world. Leave that to Him whose function it is to do so.
The Science of the Soul