The Importance of Silence (Maun)

January, 2024 by Kishor B. Shah
silence
The festival of Maun Ekadashi (also known as Maun Agyaras) is an auspicious Jain festival which falls on the 11th day of the month Magshar (Magshar Sud 11).

Maun Ekadashi is the Sanskrit term and in Gujarati it is known as Maun Agyāras or ‘Silence Eleventh’.

Maun Ekadashi was observed on 23rd December 2023. It is considered a very important day because 150 Kalyanakas of the Tirthankaras of past, present and future took place on this day and the punya (good karma) due for any penance, austerities undertaken, good deed or thoughts is multiplied 150 times.

The Jain religion places great importance on keeping silent or maun and Maun Ekadashi is a day when many Jains try and observe total silence.

Silence is the source of all that exists. “Silence is where consciousness resides. True silence is the silence between the thoughts and represents the true self, consciousness, soul.”

mother-teresa

Silence breaks the outward communication and channels a dialogue towards inner communication to attune our minds to the spiritual consciousness within. Most of us have experienced this power of silence, like when we observe 2minute silence to remember and honour someone’s passing, when meditating, when praying and in other worship practices.

The dictionary meaning of silence is “complete absence of sound”. There are many nuances inherent in the practice of silence, and the meaning of silence is more subtle than the absence of sound. In Sanskrit, the word used is Mauna (or Munitva), which means “silence, taciturnity, silence of the mind” i.e. Mauna is not mere absence of sound, but it is silence of mind – which Buddhist refer to as ‘our monkey mind’ – the relentless stream of evaluative thoughts and emotions that plague our mind.

Vrata means a vow. Thus, Maun Vrata means a vow of silence, which can be practiced with varying degrees of intensity. The practice of silence is important for spiritual growth. According to the Bhagavad Gita, maun is about training our minds, not just our mouths, to be silent. It is not merely practicing silence of the speech, but also silence of the mind. A still mind allows for self-introspection and self-control over the thoughts, action, and speech. Maun is a way to gain understanding of that which is beyond words. This inner silence is a gateway to our Soul.

Since ancient times, the value of silence has been recognised by philosophers and Saints, Yogis and ascetics. Pythagoras, a great Greek philosopher imposed a strict rule of silence on his disciples.  For centuries, intentional sustained silence has been practiced by people around the world.  Almost, all religions have exhorted the virtues of silence as a path to contemplation, self-awareness, self-purification, and the divine. The practice of silence is an integral part of Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu philosophies. Jain ascetics practice maun vrat as a way of detaching themselves from the mundane world and gaining control over their mind and senses.

Mahavira’s Supreme Silence

mahavira

During Mahavira’s twelve and half years of sadhana, the most important aspect of his spiritual practice was the silence of speech – Maun- that he observed. He observed silence most of the time and never spoke when spoken to. When questioned about his whereabouts, he would invariably reply “I am a “Bhiksu”. The Agamas have given the epithet ‘Abahuvai’ to Mahavira. By practicing silence of speech, lot of energy was saved, and his spiritual practice became, all the more radiant and noble.

Our Agams state that when the mind is controlled, the power of concentration is enhanced, and self-control comes effortlessly. When the Maun is observed the self becomes unblemished and flawless. Through the control of body, there is the stoppage of inflow of karmas. Through the purity of mind, right knowledge of reality is acquired, and false perception is removed. through the purity of speech, faith and vision become right and clear. Mahavira practiced Mauna as he realised that self becomes pure and perfect by controlling the activities of mind, body, and speech. It is important to remember Mahavira practice of Mauna was accompanied by intense spiritual self-contemplation.

Mahavira informed Gautamswami that the practitioner of silence attains complete thoughtlessness when questioned about the benefits of silence. Silence is the process of thoughtlessness and gives rest to mind. It is a state of mind where there are no thoughts. The mind is totally silent.

Maun Sadhana of Contemporary Jains

Contemporary-jains

Shree Gurudev Chitrabhanuji was initiated as a Jain monk at the age of 20. During his monkhood of twenty-eight years in India, he spent the first Five years in meditation and silence, talking only to his guru. Because of this maun sadhana experience, he emerged in the world with inner gaiety and enlightened spirit.

He attributed his long life to his daily practice of meditation, 3-4 hours of silence and a vegan diet. In an interview with the New York Times, he remarked that “the practice of silence curbs one’s desire to voice a premature opinion”

In his book “Lotus Bloom” he wrote the following, on the subject of, ‘silence.’

“Silence leads to a storage of vitality. Through silence dissipated energy is focused on to a centre again. And with energy canalised, speech attains a unique power. Silence thus provides an unfailing instrument to render one’s speech more dynamic. He who has regulated his speech through speech, whenever he chooses to speak, finds an ineffable joy in his speech, in the words he utters, in the thoughts he expresses. One who never experienced has had any experience of silence, cannot probably comprehend this secret; but he who has been cultivating silence must realise the impact of this truth. Wherefore, to those would be orators among the young of today, I should commend the cultivation of silence as a bewitching instrument of the art of elocution!”

Acharya Shri Chandanaji, affectionately also known as Tai Maharaj, and Chandanaji, became the first Jain nun to be conferred the title of Acharya in 1987.

She took diksha when she was only 14 years old. She took a twelve-year vow of silence to study Jain scriptures, the meaning and purpose of life and different religions. Her life encapsulates her life motto, “compassion in action”. To her, “obstacles are just milestones” and she somehow always finds a solution to any obstacle she comes across.  She founded Veerayatan, Bihar n 1974. The organization’s pillars are simple: “Seva” (service to humanity), “Shiksha” (education), and “Sadhana” (self-development).

In an interview some years ago, she stated “Everything we do affects us here and now: even the future is too far away, let alone the next life. Every good deed is divine.” She went on to exhort everyone to love what they do, to do it with happiness, and to take pride in their happiness.

Acharya Maharaj Yashovijay Suriji took Diksha at the tender age of 11 under his Guru Ohmkar Suriji. He learned the basic principles of Jainism from his Guru but still struggled to find his real self. The Guru said, “I can guide; but only self can realize the true nature of self”. Hence at the age of 13, Acharya Shriji embraced maun and stayed in that state for over 30 years.

About the importance of Maun, Acharyaji said in an interview conducted more than a decade ago, “Knowledge remains superficial unless one absorbs its deeper meaning through introspection. Our likes and dislikes keep us in the external world. These likes and dislikes evaporate once we realize that all these are a result of our own fault or our delusion. Words are only required to stay in the outer world; no words are required to stay close to the soul. Unless one stays within, one cannot understand the reality of the self.” Acharyaji had stayed in maun until he was able to realize his self – Who I am? – That nameless self.

Why did he come out of maun?

“Only after one realizes the power of ego-less self, one can give the message of truth to the outside world. My Parmatama’s message was to first realize the power of the ego-less self. With that realization came a unique joy (anand). The second part of the message was to guide others to realize the same anand. A book of knowledge only provides the outline, but the joy of one’s soul can inspire another soul to the same joyful state”, said Acharyaji

Acharya Maharaj Yashovijay Suriji of the Shwetambar sect is a spiritual master. For some years now, he has been conducting five-day Maun Sadhana Shibirs in various reclusive places in India. On average about 700 Jain laypeople attend this transformational Maun shibirs, each time it is held.

In 2019, my sisters and I were fortunate to meet him. One knew, immediately, you were in the presence of someone special. It was a unique experience, one which we cherish and remember.

Acharya Mahaprajna exalted the benefits of silence stating “words once uttered get lost. Silence prevails forever. The song of the soul can only be heard in silence”

Power of Mauna

power-of-mauna

Whilst researching this subject, I read that Nelson Mandela was once asked in an interview, how it was that he came to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation after all that been done to him by the apartheid regimes. Mandela recalled the many years he spent in prison alone and in silence. He then told the interviewer that once he truly had seen his soul in this way, he knew something about his own failings and need for forgiveness. And in the silence, trying to face up to his own failures and need for forgiveness, he became committed to the path of forgiveness and reconciliation for all peoples. The rest of the story is now history.

Two lessons for us to learn from this. The importance of silence for true introspection and before we change the world, we need to change ourselves.

Mahatma Gandhi practised silence on Mondays every week. He believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace and happiness.  He, said, “I know the wonderful efficacy of silence. I visited a Trappist monastery in South Africa. A beautiful place it was. Most of the inmates of that place were under a vow of silence. I inquired of the Father the motive for it and he said the motive is apparent: ‘We are frail human beings. We do not know very often what we say. If we want to listen to the still small voice that is always speaking within us, it will not be heard if we continually speak’. I understood that precious lesson. I know the secret of silence.”  He also said, “the divine radio is always singing if we could learn to tune, but it is impossible to listen without total silence.”

Benefits of Maun

There is much beauty and tenderness in silence. In this world full of noise as well as the daily challenges of stressful living, the practice of silence offers profound benefits.

  • It gives immense peace of mind and strength to the body.
  • Maun helps to redirect our imagination towards self.
  • Energy wasted in idle talking and gossiping. Maun conserves energy.
  • Develops will power and determination.
  • Maun – silence of speech helps to acquire purity of speech and to minimise Himsa through words.
  • Maun aids in limiting our kasayas of krodha, lobha, mana, maya, raga and dwesh, making way for spiritual progress.
  • Maun cultivates a deeper sense of self awareness and mindfulness, encouraging empathy towards oneself as well others, personal growth and introspection.
  • Maun is good for overall health and well-being. Reduces stress levels, improves sleep quality, lowers blood pressure and reduces risk of heart disease (American Heart Association)
  • Medical studies have shown that two hours of silence could create new cells in the region of brain linked to learning, remembering and emotions. Another study showed that two minutes of silence relieves tensions in the body and is more relaxing than listening to music. (Source:Health) PubMed National Inst of Health)

Deepak Chopra, in his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, writes extensively about the importance of observing silence in daily life and recommends that everyone should observe silence for twenty minutes every day.

“One who sees the Samyaktava, sees the silence,

One who sees the silence, sees the Samyaktava”

Equanimity is silence of body, mind, and speech.

“One, who witnesses equanimity, witnesses silence,

One, who sees silence, sees equanimity.
 – Acharanga Sutra

“To immerse in oneself and to observe the sensations on the body with equanimity, is the real ‘Samyaktava’ – Right path and that is real silence.”

Silence is a restraint of mind, speech, and body. During the Pratikraman ritual, we frequently recite ‘thanenam, monenam, zanenam, appanam vosirami’ meaning: –

Thanenam – to make your body still
Monenam – to silence your words
Zanenam – to calm down and silence your mind
Appanam Vosirami to disconnect from the entire outer world.

Meditation is a way of achieving silence. We can all try and incorporate periods of Maun, say from a few minutes, few hours, and even day/s as per our capacity to aid our own spiritual journey.

inner-listining

About Author

Kishor is resident in UK and a Banker.  He has served the Oshwal Association of UK as Trustee, Area Secretary, Editor of Oshwal News and Web Chairperson developing and successfully launching a new website. He is very passionate about Jainism and has produced Jain Exhibitions, Jain Calendars in English, Insights Magazines and written various articles on Jainism, for the Jain Community. Kishor was part of the team that worked for nearly two years on Jainpedia V2.0, which was officially launched in April 2022 and is involved in the continuing development of the site. He is the Regional Editor of UK for Jain Avenue Magazine (jainavenue.org).

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