Silence II

Each human being is a “word” spoken by God. — Shams of Tabriz, spiritual mentor of Rumi

Be silent that the Lord who gave thee language may speak.  — Jalal al-Din Rumi

Radiolab’s most recent podcast, entitled “Words,” presents the thesis that the human capacity of language is what gives us an individualized sense of self. Our identity as an individual is a merely a “story” we tell about ourselves, Jad and Mark suggest, and how do we tell and remember stories except with words?

If this is true, then the spiritual challenge of abandoning the self through meditation, reflection, and/or religious practice — a challenge that appears in many faith traditions — is essentially a process of surmounting language. This overcoming of language appears in various traditions by the symbol of silence. As John Roger Barrie writes in his essay “The Deepest Silence,”

To the mystic, silence is the ground, the core of reality… The deeper elements in all religions point to this silence. It is God, it is Buddha; it is Allah.

P.S. The book Siddharta, by Herman Hesse, is a beautiful exploration of this topic.

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