From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

The aim of life is silence. Silence is the language of God or Brahman. Peace is silence. Silence is the language of the heart. Silence is the language of the wise. Silence is immense strength. Silence is great eloquence. Silence is power. Silence is a living force. Silence is the only reality. Behind all noise and sound is silence, your innermost soul. Silence is intuitive experience. To go into silence is to become God. There is no healing balm better than silence for those who have a wounded heart from failures, disappointments and losses. The silence that you enjoy during deep sleep and the silence that you experience at the dead of night give the clue to the existence of that ocean of silence.

Physical silence and silence of the mind

In common parlance, to sit quietly without talking to anybody is silence. If your friend does not write to you for a long time, you will say, “My friend is keeping silence. I don’t know why.” If nobody talks in a big lecture hall when there is a thrilling lecture, you say, “There was a pin-drop silence when the philosopher delivered a lecture.” When the children make much noise in class, the teacher says, “Silence, please.” This is all physical silence.

If you do not allow the eyes to see objects and if you withdraw them from objects through the practice of pratyahara, this is silence of the eye. If you do not allow the ears to hear any sound, it is silence of that particular sense. If you observe a complete fast without taking even a drop of water, it is silence of the tongue. If you do not perform any work and if you sit in padmasana for three hours, it is silence of the feet and hands.

What is really wanted is silence of the bubbling mind. You can observe a vow of silence, but the mind will be building images. Chitta will be developing memories. Imagination, reasoning, reflection and various other functionings of the mind will be going on continuously. How can you have real peace or silence now? The intellect should cease functioning. The inner astral sense should be at perfect rest. All the waves of the mind should completely subside. The mind should rest in the ocean of silence or Brahman. Only then only you can enjoy real, everlasting silence.

Mouna or the vow of silence

Mouna means a vow of silence. There are different kinds of mouna. Control of speech is vang mouna. Complete cessation of one’s physical actions is kashtha mouna. You should not nod your head. You should not write anything to express your ideas. In both, the mental modifications are not destroyed. Sushupti mouna is equality of vision and quiescence of mind with the idea that the universe is no other than Brahman, after firmly realising the illusory character of this world. Brahman is called maha mouna because it is an embodiment of silence. Maha mouna is true mouna. Silence of speech is only a help in attaining maha mouna. Mental silence is far superior to mouna of speech.

The organ of speech

Speech is a strong weapon of maya to delude the individual and to distract the mind. Talkative people cannot enjoy peace of mind because the mind is always outgoing. Quarrels and disputes arise through the play or mischief of this turbulent sense. Words are like arrows. They injure the feelings of others. Speech is very mischievous, troublesome, turbulent and impetuous. It must be steadily and gradually controlled. When you begin to check it, it will try to rebound on you. Be courageous. Do not allow anything to come out from the mind through the organ of speech. If you observe mouna, you have shut out a big source of disturbance. If speech is checked, the eyes and ears also can come easily under control. If you control speech, you have already controlled half of the mind.

Benefits of the practice of mouna

Energy is wasted in idle talking and gossiping. Mouna conserves the energy and you can turn out more mental and physical work. You can do a lot of meditation. It has a marvellous soothing influence on the brain and nerves. The energy of speech is slowly transmuted or sublimated into ojas shakti or spiritual energy. Mouna develops the will, curbs the impulse of speech and gives peace of mind. Mouna is a great help in observing truth and controlling anger. Emotions are controlled and irritability vanishes. When one is ailing, observing mouna will give great peace of mind. One who observes silence possesses peace, strength and happiness. In silence, there is wisdom, freedom, poise, joy and bliss.

How to observe mouna

Busy people should observe mouna for some time daily and for a longer period on Sundays. Your friends and family members will not disturb you at that time. They will come to know that you observe mouna at such and such a time. Utilise this period in japa and meditation. If the place is not suitable for observing mouna, go to a solitary place where your friends will not visit you.

If you wish to observe mouna, keep yourself occupied in japa, meditation and mantra writing. Avoid mixing with others. The energy of speech should be sublimated into spiritual energy and utilised for meditation. Only then will you enjoy serenity, calmness, peace, and inner spiritual strength. During the period of mouna, you should not read newspapers. Reading newspapers will bring in a revival of worldly samskaras and disturb your peace of mind. During mouna, you should not write too many slips, or write on the forearm with your finger to express your thoughts to your neighbours. You should not laugh. These are all breaks in mouna. These are all worse than talking.

Some hints

When you take a vow of silence, never assert from within very often, “I won’t talk.” This will produce a little heat in the brain because the mind wants revenge. Simply make a resolve once and then remain quiet. Attend to other affairs. Do not be thinking always, “I won’t talk. I won’t talk.” In the beginning, when you observe mouna, you will find some difficulty. There will be a severe attack of vrittis. Various kinds of thoughts will arise and force you to break the silence. These are all vain imaginations and deceptions of the mind. Keep the mind fully occupied. The desire for talk and company will die. You will find peace.

The practice of mouna should be gradual. If you find it difficult to observe mouna for a long time and if you do not utilise the time in japa and meditation, break it at once. When the energy of speech is not controlled and utilised properly in spiritual pursuits, when it is not perfectly sublimated, it runs riot and manifests or bursts out in the form of ‘hu-hu-hu’ sounds, exhibiting various gestures and producing various sounds. There is more loss of energy than by ordinary talking.

Feel that you will derive much benefit from observing mouna and experience much peace, inner strength, and joy. Only then will you take pleasure in observing mouna. Only then will you not attempt to speak even a word. Forced mouna simply to imitate, or from compulsion, will make you restless and gloomy. Forced mouna is only wrestling with the mind. It is an effort. Mouna should come of itself. It must be natural. If you live in truth, mouna will come of itself. Only then will there be absolute peace.

Discipline of speech

Try to become a person of measured words. Strictly avoid long talk, big talk, tall talk, all unnecessary talk, all sorts of vain debates and discussions, and withdraw from society as much as possible. This itself is mouna. Watch every word. This is the greatest discipline. Words are great forces. Use them carefully. Control your speech. Do not allow the tongue to run riot. Control the words before they pass over to your lips. Speak little. Learn to be silent. High-sounding words cause exhaustion of the tongue. It is mere weariness of speech. Use simple words and conserve energy. Devote more and more of your time for an inward life of meditation and reflection.

Purify the mind and meditate. Be still, and know that you are God. Calm the mind. Silence the bubbling thoughts and surging emotions. Plunge deep into the innermost recess of your heart and enjoy the magnanimous silence. Mysterious is this silence. Enter into silence. Know that silence. Become silence itself.