Image: Paramahansa Yogananda, 1921
The poem, “Silence,” dramatizes the importance and power of silence in allowing the meditating devotee to connect with his/her inner Divine Glory.
Introduction and Excerpt from “Silence”
The poem, “Silence,” features four tightly crafted stanzas. The author has appended the following note to the lines, “They hear its call / Who noise enthrall”:
I.e., those who practice yoga techniques of meditation, which enable the mind to disconnect itself from sensory distractions, thus freeing it to experiences perceptions of the Indwelling Glory.
This note reveals the poem’s theme, while offering another wondrous name for the Nameless, Whom many simply call God. Paramahansa Yogananda’s finely crafted poem, “Silence,” features a drama of the vitality and power that silence brings, as it allows the meditating devotee to unite with the blessed Divinity within, residing as the soul.
Excerpt from “Silence”
The earth, the planets, play
In and through the sun-born rays
In majesty profound.
In silence sublime
This cosmic match . . .
The speaker in “Silence” is revealing the nature, power, and rôle of silence in the devotee’s struggle for self-realization or God-union.
First Stanza: Beyond Earth Awareness
The speaker begins by taking the reader’s attention beyond earth-bound awareness, remarking that the earth and other planets all participate in a drama bathed by the sun, and that drama, which proceeds like a game, is “[i]n majesty profound.” “Time” plays a rôle similar to an “umpire,” watching “in silence sublime” as the “cosmic match” proceeds.
When creating dramatic scenes from ineffable phenomena, speakers and writers must employ metaphoric likenesses from nature, including personification of abstract concepts such as “time.” Allowing “time” to perform the function of an umpire adds colorful depth as well as understanding of relationships in the ineffable dramatic presentation.
Second Stanza: The Name Unpronounceable
The speaker then explains that the creator of this heavenly match between the sun and the planets performs according to “His will.” The name of this Creator, Who is “The Author of the wondrous game,” cannot be correctly and completely pronounced. Although His children invent names for their Creator, they are unable to invent one name that can encompass all that such an Author must be. There is simply no name that can be completely useful in labeling the entire cosmos and all of its inhabitants and entities. The pantheistic claim that God is everything makes an accurate statement, but it remains impossible to think about, and thus name, everything all at once.
All names for such an entity are deficient, and therefore unable to be spoken, except in fragments. The concept that the Divine cannot be known by the mind but can be realized by the soul eliminates the deficiency of humankind’s remaining unable to speak authoritatively the name of its Creator. This wondrous “Author,” however, directs “without a noise.” And humankind can be thankful that as He works, He does so as He takes no notice or retribution against humankind’s ungratefulness, and instead forgives all “Unkindness” rendered by His unrealized children.
The human mind is given to judging, evaluating, and denigrating without sufficient evidence, but the Ultimate Judge holds no grudges for humankind’s errors. The Ultimate Judge simply hands down His rulings made with perfect knowledge and continues on.
Third Stanza: Muted Method of Correction
Despite the seeming obscurity of the Author of this game of life, every created child of the Author-God hears with the ear of conscience even though that conscience does not speak loudly. Human beings are capable of perceiving that they have transgressed divine laws by the consequences they suffer thereafter; for example, when one overeats, one suffers an uncomfortable stomach, and breaking any law, divine or human, has unpleasant consequences from which the transgressor should learn to change behavior.
Through an indirect and somewhat muted method of correction, the Divine Father allows His children the freedom of will to make their mistakes and then learn from those errors. Without such freedom, the human mind and heart would be little more than automatons. Instead, those minds and hearts are directed through silent instruction and guidance that remain infallible yet malleable as afforded by individual karma.
Similar to the laws of physics, moral law remains more obvious and compelling because it is infused in the design of nature. A very young child may likely not know beforehand that throwing an object up into the air will result in its immediate return to the ground, but after the child has experienced the act of tossing an object into the air and finding that it does not remain there but returns to its downward position, s/he will have learned about the nature of gravity and should thereafter behave accordingly. Thus, it is with the relationships between individuals, where the “Golden Rule” should hold sway, for its obvious glad results for all involved.
Fourth Stanza: Taming the Tiger Heart
In the final stanza, the speaker brings together metaphorically the various transgressions of human behavior that can be overcome through the “powerful silence of unspoken words.” As noted, the Divine does not speak directly as a parent would directly instruct a child through language, but by meditating and “disconnecting” one’s attention “from sensory distractions,” the devotee who seeks to transform his life, to “tame” his “tiger” body, and “maim” his “failure’s talons,” may do so by freeing his attention from “sensory distractions.”
By contacting the inner silence, the human mind and heart learn to connect with the profound and infallible guidance that permeates every created being. As the heart seeks freedom to feel and the mind seeks freedom to express thoughts, the individual becomes more and more aware of the deep wisdom gained through stillness and silence.
Freedom from physical traumas and mental tortures is necessary for living a balanced and harmonious life. Freedom from all trials and tribulations including doubt, fear, and anxiety becomes necessary for walking the spiritual path that leads to the goal of ultimate soul freedom. After that soul freedom is achieved, the devotee can perceive that unspoken name as that “Indwelling Glory.” The Unnamable emerges as the true reality.