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On Sound & Silence

Once there was nothing. No earth, no sky, no stars, no planets and galaxies to discover, no spring wild flowers scattered on a valley, no one to see or smell them. No black holes, no matter or anti matter. Just the sameness of nothingness. But, there was no monotony is this sameness because this nothingness was pregnant with the potential of magically diverse creations. It created the things we know today and also, the mysterious and the unknown, beyond the reach of human understanding and technology.

Different religions agree that the universe was created from nothing, by a sound. Some believe that sound itself was God. Is it surprising then, that sound plays an important part in spiritual growth in almost all religions? Through hymn, prayer, chanting and most importantly, through the absence of sound, silence, we seek to connect with a higher consciousness. Interestingly, what we call silence, can introduce us to other sounds and thoughts that we do not hear when we are wide awake, eyes open and ears listening. Human senses are limited in that way. The spiritual quest is to challenge these limits.

Taking a vow of silence or practicing silence for a certain period of time, has been important to spiritual growth in many religions like Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Silence is a retreat for the seekers of truth. As the mind gets disciplined and sinks into silence, our other senses get awakened. Silence has other sounds within its folds, and these sounds teach, they calm the heart and enlighten the mind. First the outside noises dissolve making way for the inside noises to die down. As a monk pointed out, it is not enough to just be quiet, one must also stay away from ‘noisy thoughts’. Be mindful of the power of our words that can hurt or heal. Speak only what needs to be spoken. Silence tears us away from the pettiness that surrounds us and helps our mind focus on that which is most important.

Sound is energy that creates vibrations which effect the human body. That is why mantras are powerful enough to heal and teach. In the days, before paper and pen was discovered, it was through mantras that the knowledge of the divine was passed on. The Vedas state that there are many stages to the vibrations that are produced by sound. Some of these vibrations are only heard by accomplished yogis. Tone, pitch, accent and correct pronunciation are important while chanting mantras to fully experience the specific power of the mantra that is being chanted.

Of all the mantras, the most popular and powerful mantra is “Om” or “Aum”. It is complete in itself and is also used before many other mantras. Among Hindus and Buddhist, Om is the word that’s used for chanting and meditation. Within it, Om contains the sound of all mantras and all the vibrations that the universe has. In fact, with the sound of Om the universe came into existence from nothingness. And then it expanded and continues to do so today. So, the sound of Om is ever present and when we chant it, we connect ourselves with the sound of the universe and with a higher consciousness. The chanting creates vibrations that are in sync with everything in nature. This brings a state of calm and diverts our thoughts inwards. In a deep meditative state, yogis have heard nothing but the sound of Om. Because this is the one sound in which everything drowns as everything was created from it! The past, the present and the future, everything is Om.

Scientifically explained, chanting balances the nervous system and calms anxiety, fear, depression, nervousness, etc. Synchronizing the breath with the vibrations produced by the chanting of mantras brings about a change in the chemical composition of our mind and body. During meditation, as energy flows through the body it calms our nervous system. Due to stress, many rhythms in our body are thrown out of balance. Chanting introduces a rhythm that brings about a balance so needed in our chaotic lives.

The energy of sound is always present whether we hear it or not. Almost as a reminder that our senses cripple our understanding. And, one of the ways to cross the limits imposed by our senses it to understand sound as a form of energy that can help us grow. We can chant, listen to the sounds of nature, like the rustling of leaves, sounds of the ocean and flowing water. Or schedule time to stay silent every week or every day. Pray, meditate and listen. It’s amazing what you can hear when everything is silent.