Observing and Controlling One’s Speech

Mauna Sadhana, the discipline of silence, can be a very powerful way to gain insight into the impulse to speech and the control of speech. We frequently speak without filtering what we have to say. The idea comes into our mind and before we know it, it is making its way out in the form of speech. In the Ramayana, the demon Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna is granted a boon as a result of a discipline the brothers undertook to gain power and control the world. The gods were concerned and they eventually asked goddess Saraswati to sit on the tip of his tongue when he was requested to name his boon. This caused him to ask for food and sleep rather than immeasurable powers! His lack of the ability to filter and control his speech altered the course of the eventual war between Sri Rama and Ravana.

By practicing mauna, the seeker is forced to review the mechanism and observe what would otherwise be spoken. At that point, he can begin to act as the witness or observer of the speech impulse and eventually can control what is said and the energy that expresses itself through speech. Such a discipline, even practiced just for a short while, can be illuminating for the seeker who otherwise does not know how to accomplish the task. The seeker who undertakes this discipline will also gain a very substantial insight into the reactions of others to someone who has undertaken to control speech.

In some cases, people become upset or angry if one refuses to engage in speech. In other cases, they look upon the seeker as either obsessive, hostile, angry or arrogant. This happens because people are so used to speech flowing freely that anyone who does not conform is looked at suspiciously.

If the seeker must still engage with society, there are several strategies that can be employed during this discipline to hopefully defuse the reactions of others. One is to have a pad or note available that explains that one is engaged in an experiment that prohibits speech for some period of time and requests understanding and support for the process. Another is to modify the process so that one speaks only so much as is required for the smooth flow of any business or activity within which one is obligated to engage, but refrains from extraneous speech. This also creates a witness observation and control process of the speech but is less extreme than total ban on speech. Another is to respond in the form of notes or other method showing one is not ‘anti-social’ just not speaking! There are other methods that can be employed to study and understand the speech mechanism and bring it under control.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Yes, of course, complete truth of speech is very important for the sadhak and a great help for bringing Truth into the consciousness. it is at the same time difficult to bring the speech under control; for people are accustomed to speak what comes to them and not to supervise or control what they say. There is something mechanical about speech and to bring it to the level of the highest part of the consciousness is never easy. That is one reason why to be sparing in speech is helpful. It helps to a more deliberate control and prevents the tongue from running away with one and doing whatever it likes.”

“To stand back means to become a witness of one’s own mind and speech, to see them as something separate from oneself and not identify oneself with them. Watching them as a witness, separate from them, one gets to know what they are, how they act and then put a control over them, reject what one does not approve and think and speak only what one feels to be true. This cannot, of course, be done all at once. It takes time to establish this attitude of separateness, still more time to establish the control. But it can be done by practice and persistence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Talking with Others, pp 335-338

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