Every Sunday, in the SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) Order, the monastics had a strict rule of observing silence. On this weekly day of silence, we refrained from speech. This was from the time of waking to the time of retiring to bed in the evening. The idea was in silence monastics would devote the entire Sunday to contemplation, meditation, and practicing the presence of god (basically praying).
Sunday silence was intended to dedicate the entire day to god, to the redoubling of efforts to the practice of the presence of god, to forego any activities interfering with a direct and personal experience of god. In addition to Sunday silence, monastics on every weekday observed periods of silence before 8 AM and after 9 PM and during all mealtimes. This post focuses mostly on the all day of silence on Sundays.
Each Sunday, the monks retreated further from the world into the inner sanctum of non-verbal silence, all-day fasting, and six-hour long meditations.
Loved and hated about ashram silence on Sundays
What I sometimes Loved about Sundays in the Ashram
- Free time: If I had no work or duties, I had more free time to relax and read independently.
- Focus: The silence encouraged deeper concentration in the 6 hour-long meditations.
- Quiet: Peace and quiet was a welcome change after a hectic week of ashram duties.
What I often Hated about Sundays in the Ashram
- Fasting: No food, other than fruit, was made available on Sundays. I often was hungry.
- Guilt: If I wasn’t spending at least 6 hours in one sitting in meditation, I often felt guilty.
- Sermons: Every few weeks, I was called for public representation of the SRF temples.
Ashram silence: Map of obedience
Silence can bring peace and healing. It can also control and manipulate.
“A good monk is seen and not heard”. I was taught this along with all SRF monks. Keeping quiet, above all, meant obedience to rules and vows of the Order. Silence was a map of obedience.
Silence can be valuable. But valuing silence as superior to one’s thoughts minimizes the value of one’s thoughts. Silence, we are told, is a path to enlightenment. Silencing our thoughts becomes a way of following and thinking someone else’s thoughts.
Fear of living without a map is the main reason people are so insistent that we tell them what to do… Not only does the map isolate us from responsibility, but it’s also a social talisman. We can tell our friends and family that we’ve found a good map, a safe map, a map worthy of respect.
— Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Ashram silence was “a good map, a safe map, a map worthy of respect”. Silence itself was not the problem. There’s much to love and hate about silence. The silence, though, born of fear of living without a map–an authority to take responsibility for us–is the problem. The ashram silence was worthy of respect. It is an example of living in fear, in keeping quiet, and following orders.
Special thanks to Scott D. Jacobsen, Editor at Conatus News, and Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing for his editorial comments prior to publication of this post.
Featured image by Dan Taylor, Shhhh, Flickr, CC by 2.0