Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Power of Silence

Today, I came back from the 10 days’ Vipassana Meditation Course at Dhamma Pattana Vipassana Centre, situated close to the famous Esselworld at Gorai village, near Mumbai. Dhamma Pattana means the harbour of Dhamma (Dhamma is the Pali word for Dharma).

The last 10 days presented a totally new experience to me. Though I joined the Course out of curiosity and therefore lacked the essential Bhakti or devotion to the Course and the learning, I was determined to compensate it with Sraddha or dedication. I did not want to end up wasting my precious 10 days. So, I decided to participate in the Course with utmost dedication.

The very atmosphere and the structure of the Course were helpful in maintaining that dedication.  Only thing necessary from me was the determination to complete the Course- rest was all taken care by the Course itself. The routine that starts at 4.00 am in the morning and ends with the mandatory lights off at 9.30 pm was packed enough to make one automatically follow the otherwise strict regimen, Sheela, prescribed for the students. 

The 5 precepts or Sheela that a student had to maintain for the duration of the Course are:

1.      Refrain from intentionally harming or taking life
2.     Refrain from taking things which are not given to one (stealing)
3.     Refrain from sexual misconduct (In fact no sexual contact with either sex or any interaction with opposite sex is permitted during the course)
4.     Refrain from false speech
5.     Refrain from intoxicants like drugs, alcohol and smoking

Among these, 1, 2, 3 and 5 are mostly ensured by isolating the students from the outside world for the term of the Course. But it is the item No. 4 that is tough to ensure; either by the Centre or by the students themselves.  Remember, it is refraining from false speech and not merely lying.  Any speech which is not absolute truth amounts false speech, though may not strictly amount to lying!

According to the Acharya of the Centre, Sri S.N. Goenka, only way the new students can ensure compliance with 4th precept is by observing what is termed as the Noble Silence or Arya Moun.  Noble silence is much more than what is usually termed as Moun Vrat or vow of silence (remember the Moun Vrat of Sri Anna Hazare, where he used written communication through notes and blogs to continue his interactions with the outside world and his Anti-corruption Movement?). Apart from verbal speech, Arya Moun covers all forms of communication including signs, symbols, eye contact, writing and reading; needless to mention prohibition on use of phones, Internet, Newspapers etc.

I was curious to see the effect of this lack of any sort of communication, on the students. What I saw and experienced indeed surprised me. This convinced me that too much noise in the name of communication is arresting the true potential of human endeavours.  With little bit of practise and self control, we can achieve some level of silence in all our lives and thereby increase our effectiveness in whatever we do.

By saying this, I am not trying to support the slogan of Mrs Indira Gandhi, ‘Talk less; Wok more’, which culminated as a tool for suppression of rights during the Emergency period.  The silence that I advocate here is the self inculcated discipline for overall improvement of one’s performance and personality and not something that is enforced from outside.

Let me explain.  During our 10 days’ Course, all the students (at least to my knowledge) strictly adhered to the discipline of Arya Moun. Let us see what it did. First of all, we did not know who the next person was- as all usual factors of identity like name, caste, religion, social status, employment, were unknown to others. Similarly, no one knew anything about me. That means, there was absolute equality among all of us- each one being just another student.

Despite our number exceeding 100, each day’s routine progressed with absolute smoothness.  I attribute this success to the practise of noble silence. Be it in the meditation hall or in the dining hall, or even in the narrow track where we used to walk during the recesses (always in the same clock-wise direction so as to avoid eye contact with the person coming opposite), we moved like a well oiled machine.

There were no egos to cater to. No one had the necessity to build images about self, for oneself as well as for others. That means, no one had to indulge in what we call the sales pitch- the half truths or inflated truths or outright lies about what one is! There was no showing off of one’s greater knowledge or understanding on concepts of teaching. There was no comparison of results. Each one was following the directions of the teacher, according to his ability and faculties, thereby eliminating the chance of any competition.

I am convinced that this had helped everyone to concentrate in the task of the moment at hand rather than any unwarranted inter se exchanges.  There was no presence of stress as one is not in the rat race of competition or in the business of creating and maintaining false images.

Just consider these:

- If our work culture merely adopts this principle and reduces the number of meetings to the absolute necessity, what good it would do to our overall contribution?

- If our TV channels reduce the talk shows that involve point scorings and showing off of inflated egos and instead merely present us with the facts?

- If our politicos reduce the arguments and get to the business of governing this country better?

- If our students concentrated more in studies and acquiring knowledge than in impressing his/her friends, with false images of prestige and/or ranks? And if parents only talked less and merely let their children do their best?

- If our lawyers and Judges talked less in the court and arrived at decisions faster?

We would definitely get closer to the truth in all these situations. When we talk, we indulge in creating perceptions that suits our purpose or egos than presenting fact or truth as it stands.  This is a general human tendency and only way to reduce it is by reducing the talk itself!

The more we talk to outside world, the less we communicate with our own self and thereby miss out on realising the truth. So, the least we can do is to indulge in silence once in a while and contemplate things within ourselves.

Let us follow the nature’s rule- listen twice as much with the two ears, as we talk with the one mouth!

Now let me not say anymore! Let me adopt the policy of talking less and leave it to the readers to make own judgements! However, I must say that the one day of relative chaos and noise, as the Arya Moun ended on the tenth day of the Course, convinced me even further that we need to learn and practise the art of silence!


  1. Its nice to see you helping yourself. You definitely needed that!

  2. So Vipassana is mainly about maintaining Silence or refraining from false speech..Silence and stillness are a means to recovering happiness and contentment.There is too much of cacophony around us in our daily lives..which makes us crave for Silence .. so much so for the lack of quietness that we have almost forgotten the power of Silence..

    I too have realised the power of Silence on many occasions but does maintaining silence .. always work ? We must speak out where the necessity arises..Many a times I have been unable to maintain silence when I see some wrong doings around..just cant keep quiet and allow things or person to continue to move in a wrong direction..Giving advice to such ppl helps. Such circumstances or person may or may not improve with our constant advice but then our heart is content that we did try our best to end a improve someone who had taken a wrong path

    Unnecessary blah blahs do happen in form of lose talks and cheap comments and fights on trivial issues which I feel must be avoided..Yes Silence must be our Weapon during such times..I agree to it completely

    Let us find the sound of birds singing or of wind rushing through trees pleasing, I do that daily..there is lots of peace in there.. Maintaining Silence is an art not so very easy for all to follow..Stillness and Silence must be a priority for every human life with a matured mind which knows how to and where to and how much to speak..Positive things do happen by speaking out too ..

    Rest percepts of 1 2 3 and 5 a must to follow for all Human Beings who want to lead a decent humble honest sincere life and for being a Good citizen of our country too..World would be a better place if we follow all these percepts..No doubt about it !

    1. A correction.. Vipassana is much more than mere maintaining silence.. This was one precept that had to be adhered to so as to make the mind ready for vipassana. Hope to write more on the various aspects of the technique :)

  3. Nice... Hats off to you for having done that for 10days.. At present, I dont think i'd have lasted an hour there..:) but,i certainly liked the notion of a less talking society...
    Most of the problems that we face today are a result of talking more at the wrong place, at the wrong time; and hence they can be avoided by simply keeping quite!:)