The second pre-requisite for Prayer without Words is silence. A business man requests of a master, “Master I am a very busy person and I don’t have much time for prayer. Can you give me the secret of prayer in one word?” The master responded, “Silence.” And the man inquired further, “Master how do I practice silence?” And the master replied, “Meditation.” “How do I practice Meditation?” asked the business man. The master replied, “Silence.” Silence is Meditation. Meditation is silence and it is prayer. Meditation, understood in this context, is not reflection, a cognitive activity. Dhyana, in Sanskrit means, going beyond thoughts and words.
A couple of Scripture passages come to my mind. In the First Book of Kings Elijah found God in the still voice (1 Kgs 19:13). In Matthew Jesus says, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Mt 6:7). And the Psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). Why such an insistence on silence and stillness for prayer?
What can we say of God? Can our words exhaust the knowledge and the mystery of God? Words have their function in as much as they point to the reality but words cannot exhaust the fullness of reality itself. Religious words, however beautiful, can only bring us to the threshold of God. Even the most inspiring prayers written by saints are an expression of their experience of God and can be a source of inspiration for us and can set us on the journey in God but cannot give us God by mere repetition of words. If God is a mystery, a mystery by its nature, cannot be exhausted by mere words. St. Augustine affirms, “Every addition to God is a subtraction.” St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “The only thing certain about God is what God is not.” After a deep experience of God, he considered what he had written so eloquently about God as mere straw. In Ex 20:4 God demands that God’s people do not make graven images of God, for God can never be captured in images and words. For the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, “You know God by not knowing.” In the language of the Upanishads, God is neti neti (not this, not this). In the Christian tradition Via Negativa is used to come to the threshold of the mystery of God. I am reminded of the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, “What cannot be said in words must be passed over in silence.” All that is required after using words is that we need to enter into the sphere of silence and stillness and wait for the grace of God to envelop us.
Even the words of the Scriptures are pointing to God. Jesus in John says, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jn 5:39-40). There is always the danger of holding onto words and forgetting the reality that the words point to. The Buddha, used to say, “When I point to the moon, look at the moon and not my finger.” Or again as he says, “The function of the raft is to help you cross the river and not to carry the raft on your head into the town because it helped you to cross the river.” “If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him” is the title of the book. As per the Buddhist teachings, once you realize your Buddha nature you don’t need the Buddha. The action of the Buddhist nun who burned the Buddha’s statue to keep herself warm during a winter night might sound as arrogant but once one has seen his or her original face what need is there for the statue of the Buddha? Words have their relative and limited function and beyond that it is silence in stillness which is the language of God.
Love and long for silence. Use words to come to the threshold of God and then just be still in the presence of God. It is in silence that we will experience God and it is in that experience that transformation takes place. For in silence before God ego ceases to exist.
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