from The Theosophist March 1952

Silence and Sound

Hugh Shearman

MYSTICS of all religions and cultures have used much the same language in such attempts as they have made to express their experience. Three great classes of metaphor or symbol they have tended above all to use, the three symbols of sound, light and form. But the ultimate Reality cannot be indicated by any description or symbol; for any description - other than those which indicate complete absence of limitation, words like infinite, absolute and eternal - implies a limitation such as cannot be imagined in the nature of Ultimate Reality. Even the attribute of being, in any sense in which we understand that word, cannot be applied to Ultimate Reality; and so, mysteriously, it is said that the One Being to us is Non-Being.

The three great mystical approaches to Reality have therefore extended their symbolism from sound, light and form to Silence, Darkness and Formlessness. These three have respectively a relation to the Holy Trinity, representing - to some extent at least, though not perhaps exclusively or very precisely in all cases - mysticisms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.

The creation of the Universe is often referred to in terms of sound, the uttering of a word or the striking of a note.

Thought expressed in the symbolism of one such approach to Reality can be translated largely into the terms and symbolism of the others. In the needs of the modern age it is particularly useful to think about Silence and sound.

The Word came forth out of the Silence.

The creation of the Universe is often referred to in terms of sound, the uttering of a word or the striking of a note. In the Christian scriptures it is written, “In the beginning was the Word.” But beyond and behind the Manifest was the Unmanifest. The Word came forth out of the Silence. In all our thoughts, feelings, words and acts, we too may be thought of as uttering our word or striking our note. That note of ours must also come forth out of a Silence, out of a still centre within us. It must not proceed merely from other sounds.

When we act out of the stillness we are in control of our circumstances...

This is the difference between making a sound and making a noise. When our thoughts or words or acts come out of the stillness within our own selves, coming into being through our own inner and self-conscious choice, then we are truly striking our note. When they arise only out of reaction to other thoughts or acts, whether our own or other people’s, then we are only making a noise. Instead of acting out of the stillness at the centre of our being, we are reacting at the surface of life. When we act out of the stillness we are in control of our circumstances, and our acts partake in a tiny measure of the quality of the going forth of the Word at the beginning of a Universe. When we react at the surface, our circumstances control us.

Silence is not negative, not simply an absence of sound. It is the positive reality; and if we make true sound it is only that through it we may advance into a new mode of Silence. The highest function of an act or word or work of art or piece of music is to create a new kind of Silence. There is, of course, great truth in Browning’s thought of “silence implying”; but, at another level of experience, sound must surely imply Silence.

There are many kinds of silence, though we do not usually as yet listen to them with much appreciative sensitiveness. Yet surely within each of us, at some level of consciousness, there must be a capacity to appreciate the harmony of a music made up of silences. Physical silence, though very desirable and an experience of which most of us are too continually starved in this human world, is not the most important silence. It is only the last and outermost echo of a silence that takes its rise from deeper within. There are many who can create a physical silence and yet go about making a loud noise emotionally and mentally.

For those to whom the idea temperamentally appeals, our work in the world may be considered as a constant elimination of noise and a releasing of creative stillness.

...for within each of us is an inexhaustibly deep - indeed ever deepening - well of silence, from which we can always draw the harmony needed for each time and circumstance.

According to our stature and temperament will be the kind of stillness that we bring into being; for some stillnesses can be pleasantly gentle, soothing and caressing, while there are others which are powerful, awe-inspiring, challenging and stern. No matter where we are or how we are circumstanced, we have always the resources necessary to do this work; for within each of us is an inexhaustibly deep - indeed ever deepening - well of silence, from which we can always draw the harmony needed for each time and circumstance.

In a stillness it is sometimes possible to hear the song of life or to catch the music of the great choir or orchestra of life. Only a few members of our humanity have as yet become full self-conscious members of that choir or orchestra and proved themselves as master of life’s music. Much information is available as to the necessary qualifications for membership of that company. One statement on the subject is that “before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the power to wound”. It is not enough to take this on authority. It is necessary to discover for ourselves whether or not it is really necessary for us to retain the power to wound and whether anything adverse will really happen if we abandon it. Then, having experimented fully, we shall have direct knowledge and shall be able to choose for ourselves and, if we will, make our full contribution to the great song of life. But that song exists for the sake of the Silence, not the Silence for the song.


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