Hello silence, my old friend, it’s good to sit with you again!
Swami Kriyananda made the statement: “If there was a sound continuous since birth, what would you call it? Silence!”
There’s not much silence in the lives of human beings of the twenty-first century. But for those who meditate daily, we seek inner silence. Why? And What is silence?
Silence usually refers to one who doesn’t speak out loud. A person who, like Mahatma Gandhi, had a day of silence doesn’t speak to others while in silence. At Ananda retreat centers we offer name tags or buttons that say, “I am in silence.” This is to warn others around them that they do not wish to speak.
In American law enforcement detainees are supposed to be told “You have the right to remain silent.” This means that a person cannot be coerced to testify against themselves. I mention that because in certain ways it could be said that every time we open our mouth we give testimony of, or too often, against, our own best interests.
There is another and more important kind of silence: inner silence. This means the cessation of internal, mental narration. Meditators speak of seeking to subdue the monkey mind, that is, the restless, ceaseless mental narration we all have.
The gold standard scripture describing the state of the meditation mind is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The second verse gives the clinical description of this mind, called “yoga.” The state of the yoga-mind is achieved when mental activity of image making, mental narration, and emotional responses to mental impressions like memory, fantasies, and sense stimuli subsides into a quiescent state of pure awareness.
The first part of this takes place when we do not react to the mental activity that appears in the mind. The second and deeper part is when mental activity itself ceases. By ceasing is NOT meant sleep or a trance state but simply being aware. Aware of what? The object(s) of awareness are less important than the awareness of awareness itself.
However, such unalloyed consciousness is difficult to achieve. Meditation techniques from a variety of traditions often give the meditator a suggestion as to what to focus on. Even the Yoga Sutras offer a catalog of objects from physical to subtle on which to contemplate.
Examples of “meditation objects” include the breath (controlled or merely observed), a word formula (affirmation or mantra), an image (physical or mental) of a holy personage or deity, repetitive prayer, mental counting, fingering beads, moving or observing the movement of energy flows or energy centers in the body, visualizing or observing internal colors or sounds, and chanting (silent or aloud) just to name some of the more common items.
One of the most effective keys to transcending restless mental activity is the discovery of the rishis of India: the breath-mind-body connection. The breath, which brings life into the body rendering it capable of activity (including restlessness) also holds the key to internal quietude, just as the final exit of the breath ordinarily signifies the death of the body. Of all the “objects” of meditation, breath control (aka “pranayama”) is supreme. It is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, among other of India’s greatest scriptures.
The purpose of such focus, combined with deep feeling, is to transcend the “natural turbulence” of the (monkey) mind and thereby invite a transcendent experience born of inner silence.
Experiencing inner silence isn’t a prerequisite of transcendence but, rather, invites transcendent experience to appear. This is because the steady focus or repetition of concentration upon the above-named “objects” can pacify or subdue the narrative function of the mind thus allowing the transcendent experience to descend, as it were, without the intervention of a discrete period of inner silence.
For most meditators, such concentrated focus is more effective than attempting to experience inner silence by willpower alone. This doesn’t mean that inner silence can be ignored or is of no value to seek. Why? For starters, the “doing” aspect of concentration upon an object is the opposite of the “being” nature of transcendence.
In the daily practice of meditation, “doing” may bring many benefits of meditation into one’s life but the desirable experience of transcendence can elude the meditator for years, or be so rare as to allow discouragement to set in. The ”ah-ha” experience of transcendence can “take my breath away!” Serious meditators naturally seek and treasure such experiences which have many, many names and are described by some as the gift of divine grace.
And here I am not even considering the oft-described ultimate states of consciousness variously named such as samadhi, enlightenment, inner communion, spiritual marriage, moksha, satori, or heaven. I am only considering the state of inner silence. These higher states generally induce or take place when breathing is suspended by natural breath-control and devotional means.
Paramhansa Yogananda coined the term “superconsciousness” to refer to the preliminary states of higher consciousness. These states are included in the sixth and seventh stages of the Eight-Fold (Ashtanga) Path described in the Yoga Sutras. Those stages are, respectively, dharana and “dhyana.” States of superconsciousness include, Yogananda taught, the eight aspects of superconsciousness: peace, wisdom, power, love, calmness, sound, light, and bliss.
Paramhansa Yogananda taught that meditation techniques should be followed by a period of quiet. This period can be devotionally inclined with feeling or simple imagery, wordless prayer or silent yearning; or, it can be receptively silent, as in the inner silence which is the subject of this article. Devotion, too, can be a form of inner silence when it is beyond words and beyond creating mental images.
It is in the period of inner silence that the sixth sense of intuition is gradually developed. It is like opening a window that has been stuck closed for decades and which won’t stay open by itself. It must be “held open.” Sitting in the silence with a calm heart, a clear mind, and a deeply relaxed body is like holding open a window so that cool breezes of inspiration, guidance, and answers might be received. Doing so trains the body-mind to be more “open” and receptive not just in meditation but during activity, and even during sleep. To do this is like learning a new language or developing “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” to quote Jesus Christ! Let’s face it: we talk too much, even (indeed, especially) in our inner narrative whether our mouth is open or closed!
We all benefit from intuition at least occasionally, but few are aware of intuition’s silent and stealthy influence, coming “like a thief in the night” (again to quote Jesus Christ). Fewer still seek to develop their sixth sense for this is not generally taught, known or encouraged. Our deeply rational culture is all but unaware of intuition, relegating such experiences to coincidence or a lucky hunch, or worse, as something women seem to have more often than men.
Most meditators find it difficult to sit in the silence for very long without mental activity. Patience is indeed the quickest route to success. Practicing inner silence at moments during the day will be a great aid to “getting to know you.” Befriend the companionship of inner silence. In a song from the Ananda Sunday Service, “Festival of Light,” are the words “Out of the silence came the song of creation!” Scientists postulate that over 90% of the calculated energy and matter of the universe is invisible, but far from empty! This silence is vibrating with vitality; with joy; with love and acceptance; with intelligence!
By remaining locked in the body, brain, and nervous system with our own, even if justifiable preoccupations, we block the influence and guidance of our higher, divine Self. Learning to listen is the essence of meditation practice and is the heart of the daily life of a meditator. This article is not intended to share the many practical and creative ideas on how to practice inner silence whether in meditation or in activity, but to do so is to open oneself to a life of vitality, creativity, security, and true happiness. (What more can be said!)
Yogananda created these words and sang them to the tune of “Roamin in the Gloamin” by Harry Lauder: “Sitting in the silence on the sunny banks of my mind. Sitting in the silence with my guru by my side. When my thoughts have gone to rest, that’s the time I see him best, oh ‘tis lovely sitting in the silence.”
Sitting in the silence,
 Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) was trained and ordained as a kriyacharya by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of “Autobiography of a Yogi”). Swami Kriyananda founded the worldwide work of Ananda in 1968. Ananda includes intentional spiritual communities, teaching centers, churches, publishing retreat centers, meditation groups and affiliated enterprises.
 One can experience higher states under virtually any circumstance, not just meditation and not just classically in the states of dharana or dhyana. Patanjali simply enumerated or teased out discrete stages of soul-awakening.
 I recommend this book: “Intuition for Starters,” by Swami Kriyananda