Reply To: Journeys in Silence, with Mythologist John Bucher, Ph.D.
Shaheda – thanks indeed for that thought-provoking post. My wife and I have been away for several days being anything but silent – our first excursion away from home during the pandemic, to visit both of our siblings – joyous indeed to press the flesh with real live human beings.
But your post and John’s response brought to mind one other instance of silence Joe mentions, in his discussions of the syllable OM – or rather, AUM:
According to the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, the world of the state of waking consciousness is to be identified with the letter A of the syllable AUM; that of dream consciousness (heaven and hell, that is to say) with the letter U; and deep sleep (the state of the mystical union of the knower and the known, God and his world, brooding the seeds and energies of creation: which is the state symbolized in the center of the mandala) with M.65 The soul is to be propelled both by and from this syllable AUM into the silence beyond and all around it: the silence out of which it rises and back into which it goes when pronounced—slowly and rhythmically …as AUM—AUM—AUM.” (from The Flight of the Wild Gander)
And then, from The Power of Myth:
“‘AUM‘ is a word that represents to our ears that sound of the energy of the universe of which all things are manifestations. You start in the back of the mouth “ahh,” and then “oo,” you fill the mouth, and “mm” closes the mouth. When you pronounce this properly, all vowel sounds are included in the pronunciation. AUM. Consonants are here regarded simply as interruptions of the essential vowel sound. All words are thus fragments of AUM, just as all images are fragments of the Form of forms. AUM is a symbolic sound that puts you in touch with that resounding being that is the universe. If you heard some of the recordings of Tibetan monks chanting AUM, you would know what the word means, all right. That’s the AUM of being in the world. To be in touch with that and to get the sense of that is the peak experience of all.
A-U-M. The birth, the coming into being, and the dissolution that cycles back. AUM is called the “four-element syllable.” A-U-M—and what is the fourth element? The silence out of which AUM arises, and back into which it goes, and which underlies it. My life is the A-U-M, but there is a silence underlying it, too. That is what we would call the immortal. This is the mortal and that’s the immortal, and there wouldn’t be the mortal if there weren’t the immortal. One must discriminate between the mortal aspect and the immortal aspect of one’s own existence.”
This description of Silence is very different than in the usual sense of simply the absence of noise; rather, this Silence contains All, is the source of All, and is that to which All will eventually dissolve and return. Neither my mother, nor, in my youth, myself, consciously understood that – but I suspect on an unconscious level silence suggested the silence of the grave – which may explain the compulsion to fill that silence with words.
In the decades since I have been learning how to tend the Silence, beginning with the practice of meditation. With each passing year I am more and more comfortable with silence – a perspective enhanced by Campbell’s description of Silence as the immortal aspect of one’s being.