From a lecture by Hazrat Inayat Khan
What gives power over words? In other words, what gives the power that can be attained by silence? The answer is, it is will power which gives the control over words; it is silence which gives one the power of silence. It is restlessness when a person speaks too much. The more words are used to express an idea, the less powerful they become. What a great pity that man so often thinks of saving pennies and never thinks of sparing words. It is like saving pebbles and throwing away pearls. An Indian poet says, “Pearl shell, what gives your precious contents?” And the answer is, “Silence. For years my lips were closed.” For a moment it is a struggle with oneself, it is controlling an impulse, but afterwards the same thing becomes a power.
And now coming to the more scientific, metaphysical explanation of silence. There is a certain amount of energy spent by words, and breath, which has to bring new life to the body, is hindered from its regular rhythm when man speaks all the time. Therefore, it is not that a nervous person speaks too much, but that much speaking makes one nervous. The great power of which you have heard attained by yogis and fakirs, where did their power come from? It was gained by having learned and practiced the art of silence. And that is the reason for which, in the East, at the court and in the meditative house of fakirs, there was silence. There were times in the world during different civilizations that people were taught to keep silence for a certain time whenever they were collected together for a feast. It is the greatest pity that at this time we have so neglected that question, we think so little about it. It is a question that affects health, which is related to the soul, to the spirit, to life. The more one thinks on the subject, the more one sees that we are involved in a kind of action. Where does it lead us? And what is the result of it? As far as we can see, it leads us to greater struggle, competition, disagreeableness. If we think of the result, we see that it leads us to greater care, worry, struggle in life. It is like a saying of the Hindus, the more one seeks for happiness, the more unhappiness one finds. And the reason is that when happiness is sought in a wrong direction, it leads to unhappiness. Our experience in life is sufficient to teach us this, yet life is intoxicating, it absorbs us in action so that we never stop to think of it. My own experience while travelling for some years has been that it seems as if the world is wakening to spiritual ideals, and in spite of this there is more action, not only outer action, but also action of mind.
In reality mankind has shattered its nerves by the lack of silence, by action of body and mind. When the body is resting man calls it sleep, but his mind is going on the same record as during the day. Then there comes a time when man can say, “I am really restless.” In this life just now in the world every man is a hundred times more busy than he ever was. Naturally his life needs rest and quietude and peace more than those who live in the forest, who can call all their time their own. When action is increased and the art of silence is lost, then what can we expect?
Now coming to a metaphysical question. Where do we learn thoughtfulness? In silence. And where do we practice patience. In silence. Silence that one takes as meditation is apart, but silence that we should consider at every word, at every action we do, that is the first lesson to learn. If there is a meditative person, naturally he has learned to use silence in everyday life. Who has learned silence in everyday life has already learned to meditate. A person may also say, I have appointed a time when I meditate for half an hour. But when there is half an hour meditation and twelve or fifteen hours of activity, the action takes away all the power of meditation. Therefore, both things must go together. A person who wishes to learn the art of silence must decide, however much work there is, to keep the thought of silence in his mind. When one does not consider this, then one will not have the full benefit out of meditation. It is just like a person who goes once to the church and the six other days keeps the thought of church as far away as possible. A Persian king was advised by his prime minister, who said to this most devout king, “You are spending most of the night in meditation and all day long you work. How can that go on?” The Shah said, “During the night I pursue God; during the day God follows me.” I could say the same in connection with silence. “Who seeks silence, silence follows him.” So it is with all things we wish for. When we seek after them sufficiently, they naturally follow us in time.
There are many who do not mind if they hurt anyone as long as they think they have told the truth, for they feel so justified that whether the other one cries or laughs, he says, “I don’t mind.” But friends, there is a difference between fact and truth. Fact is that which can be said; truth is that which cannot be put in words. The claim, “I tell the truth,” falls flat when the difference between fact and truth is realized. People discuss about dogmas, beliefs, moral principles as they know them. But there comes a time in man’s life when he has touched truth that he cannot speak in words. And at that time all dispute, discussion, argument finishes. It is then that man says, “If you have done wrong or if I have done wrong, it does not matter. What I want just now is to right the wrong.” There comes a time when the continual question which arises in the active mind, “What is what and which is which?” finishes, for the answer rises from the soul and is received in silence.
Friends, there is an audible voice and an inaudible voice, from the living and from those who are not living, from all life. What man can say in words always expresses little. Can one say anything about gratefulness, about devotion, about admiration? Never one can say it if there is profound devotion, admiration or gratefulness, never one can say it. There is a lack of words. Every feeling, every deep feeling has its own voice; it cannot be expressed in outer words. This voice is coming from every soul; every soul is only audible to the heart. And how is the heart prepared? Through silence.
We need not be surprised to think that yogis and fakirs have sought the mountains and the forest and preferred the wilderness to the comforts of worldly life. They sought something valuable. They have given something of their experience gained by their sacrifice. But it is not necessary to follow them to the forest or to the cave of the mountain. One can learn that art of silence, through the busy life one can maintain silence. It is in order to make a facility for those who are seeking after truth that the Sufi Movement exists in different countries, that seekers may come to this.
March 16, 1925
Edited from the Complete Works series