Maun Vrata


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Soon after watching ‘Ankhon Dekhi‘ a 2014 Hindi language film by Rajat Kapur, I was reminded of an incident which happened around 12-13 years ago during my hostel life in JNU (Delhi, India). There was one co-resident of our hostel who suddenly decided one day, that he would be silent for the whole day once in a week. During this time, he would neither speak nor listen to anybody. If needed he would convey his messages in writing. At that time I found this as a very strange behavior, and laughed at the prospect of being silent for such a long time. But Now when I think of this whole episode, I find the practice of being silent quite an enchanting way to achieve peace and self-understanding. We are so much full of noise and voices – inner as well as outer. Silence is valued very highly in the Indian traditions. Indian religious doctrines talk of a maun vrata (मौन व्रत literally ‘obligation of silence’) which was practiced by ascetics and monks of Hindu-Jain-Buddhist and Sufi traditions. It is said that silence helps one to control one’s voice. And a clear conscience helps us to resolve our problems ourselves. Silence (maun मौन) gives shelter to speech (vani वाणी) as the nest gives it to a bird. One can express much more with silence than by speaking. There is a famous Arabic proverb which says – on the tree of silence grows the fruits of peace. There is one Buddhist tale from the life of king of Magadha empire Ajatshatru about the significance of silence. The story goes on like this –

Near the capital of Ajatshatru’s empire, Gautam Buddha was meditating with his 1000 disciples in a Mango grove in Rajagraha (current days Bihar). At the same time Ajatshatru was not keeping well and he was persuaded by his physician Jivaka to go and visit Buddha in Rajagraha. Earlier under the influence of his mentor Devdutta, king Ajatshatru had killed his father Bimbisar to become the emperor of the Magadha empire. He also had conspired to eliminate Buddha on the advice of Devdutt. Therefore after much reluctance, king Ajatshatru conceded to visit Buddha in the mango grove. So a day later when Ajatshatru entered into the mango grove along with Jivaka, the physician, there was much silence in the forest and that made him tremble with fear and he suspected this as a ploy to kill him by his conspirators. He drew out his sword and asked his companions about where are the thousand people they were talking about. And that he had been here earlier as well, but this jungle was never so silent, even the birds were silent that day.Then he saw Buddha sitting under a mango tree, and a thousand monks sitting silently in meditation. A little while later, when Buddha opened his eyes, the king asked him about why everything was so still and calm here, as if everybody was dead there?

Buddha replied – a lot of things have happened to them, they are no more mad. Until unless one is silent and calm with oneself, one cannot know the existence, what is life, what is happiness and what are the blessings of life. Today in the company of a thousand of silent monks, even the trees, animals and birds have joined chorus of the song of silence. Buddha forgave Ajatshatru for his misdeeds and told him to follow the path of peace. That night for the first time the king slept well. This visit of the king Ajatshatru is famously depicted at the site of Buddhist Stupa in Bharhut in Madhya Pradesh (india). 

Another tale relates to the famous esotericist Peter D. Ouspensky. Ouspensky under the influence of his teacher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, went into a month of silence and seclusion in a house in Russia. He lived in a dark room for 30 days, with nothing to read or listen to. His food was given at regular interval without any communication. On 31st day when Ouspensky came out of the room and he roamed on the streets, everything looked to him like a miracle or dream or maya. People walking on the streets seemed to him like unconscious (crazy) people moving aimlessly. He felt a new surge in his senses, his sensitivity and  inquisitiveness had increased manifold in last 30 days. He has written about it in detail in his book ‘In Search of Miraculous’. Probably this dream world is what is called Maya by great Hindu philosopher-saint Adi Sankaracharya.

I also felt, a child until she starts speaking, is doing some kind of silent meditation, looking-gaping at the world with a very different vision. As soon as she starts speaking-listening, she starts drifting away from the reality and joins us in this imaginary world.  

Let us be silent, that we may hear the whisper of God.

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