The Triple Silence

Silence, I’ve been saying for many years, is not or not just the absence of speech; nor is it strictly the absence of sound. It is the ineffable fullness anterior to all rustlings and ‘felt’ between and within all rustlings.

Raimon Panikkar assures us that there are three forms of silence at the heart of all religious traditions: the silence of the intellect, the silence of the will, and the silence of action (The Experience of God, p. 133).

Perhaps, given what I wrote yesterday about the obstacles in the way of the way of action (or karma yoga), I’ll need to reconsider. Surely, Gandhi’s approach to nonviolence was a way of silent action. Surely, he must have understood: there is no self, there is other, there is doer, there is no deed. All of this is merely happening, if you will, thanks to God.

Notwithstanding the qualifier I just added in the last paragraph, I’m still inclined to believe that the two paths open to us moderns today are the path of knowledge and the path of love. Thus, what is foregrounded in the former is the silence of the intellect; in the latter, the silence of the will.

The seeker on the path of knowledge begins with inquiry. She does not know what she wants to know, and what she truly wants to know is What Is or Who She Is. At some point, the seeker realizes the error of her way. She must stop seeking, stop trying to get something or be something or have something. At just this moment, the silence of the intellect is experienced.

Poetic souls and sensitive beings gravitate toward the path of love. Each must realize deep in his bones: “I can’t do. I’m helpless. I am weak.” In supplication and prayer do they thus begin to surrender themselves to divine grace. St. Benedict beautifully begins his Rule for monastics by speaking of the steps of humility. For pride–I can do it on my own; I am enough; I am the agent of my life–is the thorniest vice. Out of true helplessness and surrender, the heart is opened wide. The pure heart is now ready to receive divine grace.

True silence is Life Itself drenched entirely with meaning. Just be this silence.