Silence: Ramana vs. Korzybski


"In fact ‘Just Being’ [in silence] without verbal thought is your demonstrating who and what you really are." ~ Alfred Korzybski
"True silence is really endless speech." ~ Ramana Maharshi

In spiritual circles, the power of silence is often lauded. Whether it be vows of silence, thoughtful pauses before speaking, or meditating in silent reflection letting our outer silence quiet our inner being, silence holds a special place in any introspective, or contemplative path.

One of my favorite guides in the realm of self realization, Ramana Maharshi, spoke often of the simple, and profound power of silence. In his teaching, he often simply sat silently as people came to see him. Many reported being swept up in the power of his silence, and many of the recorded encounters between seekers and Ramana consisted of only that.

I have ofter heard advice to cultivate silence, and while I intuitively understood it's utility, it was not until I started reading "Science and Sanity", by Alfred Korzybski, that that appreciation was grounded in rational terms.

Korzybski is the father of General Semantic, as study of the structures of knowledge and language, and an attempt to free people from the dominant paradigm of Aristotelean either/or dualistic logic. He also called for an abolishment of the "is" of identity, or in fact any identity at all.

One of the experiments he gives is one that many of us have unintentionally been involved in. You can do this experiment solo, or with a partner. Warning: If you choose to do it with a partner it's a good idea to let them know that this experiment will likely trigger feelings of frustration, or anger in them.

Here is the experiment - Choose a term. Any term. Ask your partner (or yourself) to define that term. Write down the definition. Then ask for a definition of each term in the definition. Continue until you hit that point of frustration where the only available reply is wither, "Well, you know, that! Everyone knows that!" or where you've gone full circle and are using terms already defined to define the terms in your definition.

Once you get there, you are at the edge of what Korzybski calls the realm of silence where definitions actually occur. Whenever we encounter any object (in this sens an "object" is wither an external thing, or an internal feeling) our initial reaction always occurs in silence. Words, and terms, and definitions come after. Our response, what Korzybski calls our "semantic reaction" occurs in silence.

The attempt to push deeper than that barrier of silence is an impossible one. Trying to do so is what gives us our feelings of frustration, anger, and peril, when someone (our we ourselves) pushes us up against that barrier and insists that we push past it. We are being asked to speak in the realm of silence.

"Whatever we may say will not be the objective level, which remains fundamentally un-speakable…The objective level is not words…neither can it be understood as ‘non-expressible by words’ or ’not to be described by words’, because the terms ‘expressible’ or ‘described’ already presuppose words and symbols." ~ Korzybski

In my life I have long had the deep habit of wanting exacting and specific definitions of terms used. I longed for those definitions to be universal. My sense of safety was often tied to knowing precisely what someone meant when they spoke. This (of course) is an impossible quest.

Once I came across Korzybski's distinction about silence, a great relief swept through me. I recognized that in my drive for definitions I was driving myself, and my circle of associations, smack up against and impassable wall. That does not make for the best relating between human beings.

By recognizing the realm of silence, and letting it be silent, I am free of trying the impossible, and my energy is freed up for better (and much more successful) applications.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence” Ps 62:1

Silence is the realm where we dwell. It's where our manifestation arises. Making a practice of regularly noticing that silence, and allowing response to things/feelings to arise from it before applying words has helped me to understand my own habitual processing in new and astounding ways. I highly recommend it!

I hope you enjoyed this post. I'd love to hear what you thought (after a pause for silence of course)! 


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