Devdutt Pattanaik: The sage who hears silence

By  Devdutt Pattanaik | Mumbai | Posted  02-Jul-2017

Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

While in American families, one is encouraged to verbalise, 'I love you', in most Indian families you don't need such overt expressions to feel loved and included. Through silence, many things can be communicated: love, hatred, acceptance, rejection, suffering, understanding. The unmanifest (nirakar) is seen as more potent than the manifest (sakar), provided you develop the sensitivity to see it.

We know Indian society is Westernised because we now valorise speech over silence. Silence has now a bad word - equated with complicity, cowardice, inaction, even fear and submission. We have forgotten the muni, the sage who values silence (mauna).

Sound is created when waves in the air strike the eardrum. No eardrum, no sound. Sound becomes language when the brain pays attention to the sound, and decodes it. In yoga, through the practice of pratyahara, it is possible to train the ears not to hear. Pratyahara means 'weaning away from nourishment, or ahara'. Sound, or stimuli, is nourishment as well as addiction for our senses, according to yoga. These crumple the mind, and contribute to restlessness, impatience and unhappiness. A good yogi can experience silence even in a noisy room. Then, he can focus on sounds of his mind, the internal noise. A muni's silence is about listening, to external sounds and internal sounds.

In the modern world, the focus is on external, not internal sounds. Internal sounds are relegated to the realm of spirituality. External sounds constitute 'reality' of politicians and activists and journalists. And here, the focus is more on creating sound, than listening to external sounds. The Left is too busy judging Hindutva as Nazism, and listening to its own outrage, to see Hindutva for how it understands itself. Hindutva is modelled around counter-revolution, against anti-Hindu hegemony.

This is ironical. For, Hinduism does not have the concept of revolution. In Hindu thought, the world is changing on its own, hegemonies collapsing under their own weight. The idea of revolution comes from the Bible: the idea of the Prophet leading the slaves of Egypt to reject the rule of the Pharaoh and walk towards the Promised Land. Hindutva thought, despite claims to be representative of all Hindus, is essentially rooted in Abrahamic mythology. Hence, it projects Narendra Modi as the Prophet who will lead India away from the Pharonic rule of the Gandhi family. Many in the Hindu diaspora see him as the revolutionary who will avenge their migration out of India.

When we don't listen, and are too busy screaming, we don't wonder if lynch mobs are a means to an end, or are they symptoms of a deeper malaise. Contemplations on this are gagged by revolutionaries, for the act is seen as 'evil' - again an Abrahamic concept - hence, unworthy of explanation, which could be seen as justification. Rather than be silent and think, one is encouraged to scream and shout for the 'good word' and the 'good fight'. Hindutva followers also scream, shout for their word, which they also see as good, and for their fight, which they also see as good. Both parties are thus indulging in evangelism, crusades and inquisitions.

In the world of karma, there is no concept of evil. Everything has a cause and consequence. Thus, the river of life flows. The silent sage steps out of the river and observes it, and figures out a way to reduce cause and minimise consequence.

Devdutt Pattanaik writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Reach him at devdutt@devdutt.com

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