Gate gate paragate parasangate bodhi svāhā
Gone, gone, really gone, beyond even the ultimate limitless. The highest wisdom remains when everything has dropped away.
From the Buddhist Tradition
“Silence is more effective than speech. From silence came thought, from thought the ego and from the ego speech. So if speech is effective, how much more effective must its original source be” – Ramana Maharshi
I invite you to take a moment to immerse yourself in Maharshi’s words. Close your eyes and take your gaze inward, only for a few moments, be still, be in your silence.
Ramana Maharashi’s words are an invocation to look ‘heartward’ and to explore silence as a pathway to our natural state of being, which is bliss, joy, peace, and undisturbed presence.By eliminating speech, we can quiet the ego, simmer down thoughts and return to silence.
So what is silence? Is it the absence of external noise, the absence of speech? Or is it the ability to shift your attention inwards, fade out external stimuli and be able to be silent amidst noise and speech? And what about internal noise? Even if you sit in a completely quiet space, the mind and its attention can be loud and overwhelming.
To sit in silence isn’t an easy task. The mind is often pulled in many directions and down different paths. As master Patanjali says in YS1.2 “ yogaḥ citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ”, Yoga is the process of ending the vrttis (misidentifications) on the field of citta (mind stuff). Padmaji, (Sharon Gannon), shares her commentary, “when you stop identifying with your thoughts, fluctuations of the mind, then there is Yoga, identity with self, which is Samadhi, happiness, bliss, and ecstasy”. The practice of Yoga serves as a powerful tool for cultivating silence within. If we can practice to sit as the observer, allowing the mind to be still, without being drawn in the direction of thought or speech, then we can experience our natural state of being. Silence is the conduit to self-realization, giving us access to deep dive into the abyss of our bliss, rediscovering the truth of who we are, beyond our thoughts and identities. By observing the mind, we create space for self-awareness, insight, and the awakening of our true nature.
Growing up in New York City in the late 80’s, I was surrounded by constant sensory stimulation coming from the urban environment. Within this constant stream of stimuli, there was a space that offered the opposite experience. A refuge of silent awareness, a place for contemplation and focus. My first memory of silence goes back to my days as an altar boy when I was about 10 years old. Although I wasn’t very religious, I was keen on dressing up and being of service. Above all, what I enjoyed most was how quiet the sacred space was at the beginning of each service. It brought a certain peace to me which would instantly calm and quiet my mind. It allowed me to move around the space more mindfully and nurture a sense of clarity. It was a place where time was non-existent. Outer silence gave space for my inner silence to resurface. As soon as the organ music began playing and the church filled with people, my attention shifted from silence to speech and thus thought and herby ego took over my experience. At that time I didn’t have the tools to stay in my peace and not let my experience of silence be distracted by external and internal noise. The practice of Yoga has given me the ability to witness the ongoing activities of the mind, observe them as they gradually simmer down to silence and let myself become empty, empty, empty. Gate gate paragate parasangate bodhi svāhā – this prayer which appears at the end of the Heart Sutra, one of the best-known Buddhist scriptures, most profoundly expresses the essence of Buddhist philosophy, which is emptiness. The translation from the Jivamukti Chant book offers the following interpretation : “ Gone, gone, really gone, beyond even the ultimate limitless. The highest wisdom remains when everything has dropped away.” How we view the world is only a projection of our mind, and a projection of our attention. If we let go of the mind’s attachments we can experience emptiness which gives rise to witnessing our unchanging nature of bliss and presence, a space free from the ongoing delusions of the mind.
With each moment of sitting in silence, we foster our ability to dim our internal mind noise and to allow our thoughts to detangle and be observed. Silence allows us to cultivate stillness in our mind and hereby practice presence in experiencing our natural state of being. Silence gives opportunity to listen to your heart’s inner peace, reconnecting to our intuition, the space of being. The deeper the immersion in silence, we can begin to sit with awareness, walk with awareness and perform yoga asana in pure awareness. This is the unfolding of silence and emptiness, no external distractions or powering impulses to pull you from your natural state of being. We have many synonyms to describe this place, being empty, being in silence, peace, joy, content, bliss, ecstasy, the list goes on. In fact, this place has no name. It is nameless. Knowing this place is the truth of who you are, never changing, ever present. It is our place of refuge when our outer world is overwhelmingly exhausting.
As the famous song from Depeche Mode goes “… all i ever wanted, all i ever needed is here in my arms, words are very unnecessary they can only do harm.”
Enjoy The Silence.
- Teach class with fewer lyrics in music, perhaps some ambient sound. Reduce the playlist through the month until you have silence.
- Give space for peace and tranquility during the most retreated time of the year (if you are living in the northern hemisphere).
- Give cue on one side and count internally on the other side, giving space for mind watching.
- Minimize the dharma, perhaps sitting in silence. “silent communication”
- Share with students the importance of a meditation practice, it doesn’t have to be a big production. Just silent sitting, observing the mind.
- Use dhristi to keep the eyes fixed and not wander around. Searching for distraction.
- Read the book ‘ gems from bhagavan’, find something inspirational and share it in class.
- Add more time to meditation each week to see the progress of the practitioners.
- Encourage the practitioner to take the seat of the observer and see what benefits are gained from the practice.
- For us teachers, feel comfortable having spaces for silence while teaching. Don’t be pulled to fill up the uncomfortable silence with words.