The Sound beyond Silence
“Most people speak because they find speech more tolerable than silence,” reads a cheeky Tshirt slogan. A blanket generalization, no doubt, but doesn’t it contain a grain of truth? For many stressed and distressed people, even when their mouth is silent, their mind is screaming and speech offers an easy distraction from the turmoil within. That’s why the Bhagavad gita (17.16) declares mauna to be an austerity, not of the mouth, but of the mind. Mauna is not merely the inability to speak of the dumb or the reluctance to speak of the inarticulate or the restriction of speech of the talkative; it is the silence of the mind that enables us to hear the guiding voice of God within.
Of course speech and silence both have their utility. In daily life, speech is a powerful and essential means for communication. Throughout history, social reformers (and deformers) galvanized followers by their power of speech. Also, seekers introspected for enlightenment through silence. Can we then conclude that speech is a vehicle for social transformation and silence for individual transformation?
The concluding aphorism of the Vedantasutra, anavrttih shabdat, resolves this dialectic by introducing an intriguing higher dimension sound beyond silence. Spritual Sound Let’s visualize our quest for happiness as movement on the ordinate (yaxis) of a mathematical model of life. We are all eternal spiritual beings,
who due to spiritual amnesia are misidentifying ourselves with our temporary material bodies. Material activitybeginning with material speech increases our forgetfulness of our natural spiritual Material Sound joyfulness and incriminates us in unending anxiety
and misery. Thus it falls on the negative yaxis. Material inactivity — beginning with material silence—checks our preoccupation with the temporal and offers relief, but it alone does not revive our spiritual memory. So it falls on the origin (the zero point) on the yaxis. But spiritual activity—beginning with spiritual sound—cures our amnesia by linking our consciousness with the allattractive reservoir of all pleasure, God and enlightens and enlivens us with divine wisdom and bliss. Hence it falls on the positive yaxis.
Material sound agitates our mind, spiritual sound pacifies it. Material sound aggravates and perpetuates our amnesia; spiritual sound alleviates and eradicates it. Material sound entangles us, spiritual sound liberates us.
with others. Thus spiritual sound synthesizes the virtues of material sound and silence, for it offers us a unique vehicle for simultaneous individual and social transformation.Hence Vedic insights call for a revised rendition of the traditional saying, “Speech is silver, silence is golden—but spiritual speech is diamond.”
— Çrila Prabhupäda