The Voice of Silence
There was once a high-school English teacher who, although old and often racked with pain, could somehow control her classes and get them to listen to her. When the students got noisy and rowdy, she wouldn’t raise her voice – she would lower it. She would calmly begin talking in a soft voice, just above a whisper. At first, the students making the most noise didn’t notice, but some in the front rows did and would try to tune their ears to hear what she was saying or even try to shush their loud classmates. Sometimes, she would reveal things that the students actually wanted to hear – an announcement of early dismissal, or a key homework assignment that could be avoided by reciting a poem for the class. Gradually, the quiet would spread throughout the room, and soon every student was hanging on her words, straining to hear anything she had to say. She knew the power of quietness.
We live in bombastic times. Quiet is rare and seemingly not much valued by those making the most noise. They have not learned the secret that mystics universally teach – silence opens the door to the Shabd, to God. Religious orders know the importance of silence – not only living in a quiet atmosphere in order to hear the voice of God, but also in controlling one’s personal tongue, which can wag only too eagerly. The military also knows the value of silence; experienced soldiers have witnessed the truth of that old adage “loose lips sink ships.”
In our pursuit of God, we are taught that silence is essential as we listen for the secret treasure of the Sound Current. We also know that our own personal silence, while we repeat the five holy names, can keep worldly distractions at bay.
There is a story in the Bible about the prophet Elijah, told in the first book of Kings, Chapter 19. It seems that Elijah went into a cave to spend the night, and the voice of the Lord asked him what he was doing there. Elijah explained that he was fighting for the Lord because the children of Israel had forsaken his covenant, torn down his altars and killed his prophets. The Lord then told him to go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord. He saw that a great wind tore into the mountains, but the Lord was not in the wind; an earthquake and a fire followed, but the Lord was not in those either. Finally, a “still, small voice” told him where he was to go and what he was to do. The story illustrates that by isolating ourselves, we too can hear that still, small voice and be guided by it.
As the Master advises us, it is only after continued humble and earnest listening that we can begin to ascertain which is the voice of God and which is our own mind chattering to us as it worships the false gods of lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego.
We hear various descriptions of the spiritual path we follow, but one aspect becomes obvious to us once we have been exposed to Sant Mat. This is a very quiet path. We do not seek to convert anyone. The Sufi mystic Hafiz is quoted in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II:
When the Emperor of Love presented a robe to me, the meaning of the gift was very clearly explained to me in the following language: ‘O Hafiz! Be careful. You must remain quiet because this is not the path of the talkative. It is the path on which one has to merge oneself in Love and become Love itself.’
Staying mute about our quiet path, even when we feel the urge to expound, has multiple benefits. On a mundane level, we do not get a lot of criticism from those who do not understand. It’s difficult enough, sometimes, to receive criticism from our family and friends when they detect that we are changing our habits. But at least we are not being killed for our beliefs and practices, as so many in the world are. We are not to hide the truth from earnest seekers, nor should we be ashamed of our path. But we are taught not to go out of our way to proselytize or broadcast our beliefs and practices.
And, as Hafiz says about this not being the path of the talkative, the process of trying to merge ourselves in a path of love is not possible if our mind constantly dissipates our energy. Our whole way of life must become quieter, more restrained, contained in all ways.
As we obey the caution of not talking too much about our path, we also gradually discover that there is power in silence. We practise our meditation in silence, not while listening to any external music, for example. We repeat our simran silently throughout the day as well as during our meditation time. If and when we have inner experiences, we are to keep quiet and digest them, as the Masters advise us not share them with anyone except possibly with our Master.
If we begin to feel frustrated about not being able to get fully in touch with the Master’s inner radiant form or achieving the level of love and union that we desire, we must be patient, not beat ourselves up or complain or demand. We are advised to remain silent, as Hafiz has described. Even if our condition becomes like a pressure cooker, with the heat building up inside to the point that we feel we might explode, we are to stick to the eye focus and do our repetition, listening and trying to develop our faith and love quietly.
Great Master said in Spiritual Gems that “all truth is inside of you. Not only so, but the very kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Our search for truth in our silent sitting is the most important journey we can take as human beings. It will lead us beyond the realm of duality, of ego and all the rest of the illusions clouding our quest for oneness with the Lord. The Masters say that with effort, we will eventually become pure enough to merge back into the Shabd. Each of us must undertake this journey on our own, sitting quietly and calming the mind as we listen to the voice of the silence.