The World of Silence

The Ego and Silence

   The man whose nature is still possessed by silence
moves out from the silence into the outside world.
The silence is central in the man. In the world of silence,
movement is not directly from one man to another but
from the silence in one man to the silence in the other.

   In the pictures of the old masters, people seem as
though they had just come out of the opening in a wall;
as if they had wriggled their way out with difficulty. They
seem unsafe and hesitant because they have come out too
far and still belong more to silence than to themselves.
They stop and wait for another opening to appear in front
of them through which they can get back again to the
silence. It seems that in silence the movements of
these people meet before the people themselves meet.
If you look at a group of these people together in a picture
by one of the old masters—people who have each as it
were just stepped out of the wall of silence—it is as though
they were all gathered together in a waiting room, waiting
for the great opening of silence to appear before them
through which they can all disappear again.
   The situation with people today is exactly opposite.
The primary factor is movement for its own sake, move-
ment that hits a definite target only by accident, movement
that happens before it has been decided why it is happen-
ing, movement that is always ahead of man himself—so
far ahead that he has to jump to catch up with it, to jump
so far ahead of himself that he cannot help jumping into
other people, and so making himself and other people

   Even in the midst of the modern world of noise, the
substance of silence is still occasionally present in men. In
the very busy Via Torino in Milan, right in the middle of
the city, I saw a man in an old suit that was more than
merely a covering for his body: it was part of the man
himself, it had suffered with him, it was like a brownish
grazed skin. The man was not standing and was not
walking: as he walked he stood still, and as he stood still
he moved forward a little. His face was gentle and rosy,
but from his forehead and cheeks, furrows crowded into
his face. His eyes looked out high above everything they
met, and yet they were waiting for something to come up
to them from near at hand. The left arm was held close
to the body, as if the body would not let go of the arm,
and yet he held his hand stretched out slightly. I put a
note into it, and then I did not know (for I dared not wait
to find out) whether the hand went back to the man and
whether he put the money in his pocket. Or did the
hand move on out to another, seeking for another hand
to which he could give money? This man was living in
the centre between giving and taking, between distance
and nearness, between old age and youth. He was living
from the silent substance in the central place within, from
the meeting place and focus within from which every
movement proceeds outward.
   A man in whom the substance of silence is still an active
force carries the silence into every movement. His move-
ments are therefore slow and measured. They do not jolt
violently against each other; they are borne by the
silence; they are simply the waves of silence. There is
nothing vague and undefined about such a man, nothing
vague about his language: the fact that his movement and
his words are made individually distinct from one
another by the intervening silence makes his whole
personality clearer than if the silence were not there at
all and the man and his words were all part of one con-
tinuous noise.
   The nobility of such a man comes from his carrying
the silence into the world. He is not paralyzed by the
quietness in which he lives out his life, for the quietness
is related to the silence and the silence extends the
frontiers of his life. Even unrest could not consume such
a man, for it would merely be as it were an oscillation of
the silence.
   Where silence has ceased to be an active force, however,

       quietness is no use to man, for it paralyzes and consumes
       where there is no silence; therefore he must trudge along
       restlessly and an inevitable instability dogs every fresh
       beginning. (Görres) 

   Within the realm of creative silence the individual does
not notice any opposition between himself and the
community, for the individual and the community do not
stand against each other, but both face the silence together.
The difference between the individual and the community
ceases to be important in face of the power of silence.
   In the modern world the individual no longer faces
silence, no longer faces the community, but faces only
the universal noise. The individual stands between noise
and silence. He is isolated from noise and isolated from 
silence. He is forlorn.

   In a world in which silence is still an active force,
solitude is not dependent on subjectivity, does not derive
from subjectivity. Solitude stands before man as some-
thing objective, even the solitude within himself; it stands
before him as the objective silence. The saints who
followed the way of solitude did not find themselves, but
the objective solitude of silence, of which their own
inward solitude only seemed a small part. The saint took
solitude upon himself as if it had come to him from another
and he took it as a matter of course. Therefore solitude
for the saints was not the result of great exertion like the
"inward" solitude of today. On the contrary, it was a
token of relationship with the great objective world of
silence and with its objective solitude. Therefore the
saints received more from the solitude than they could
have received from their own inner solitude alone, for it
was in fact not merely their own solitude: it was outside
themselves and more than their own solitude could ever
have been. Where solitude is merely a part of the inward-
ness of the isolated individual it consumes and diminishes
the individual.

   A man who still has the substance of silence within
himself does not need to be always watching the move-
ments of his inmost being, does not need consciously to
order everything, since much is ordered without his
conscious knowledge by the power of the substance of
silence, which can modify the contradictions at war within.
Such a man may possess qualities that are incompatible
and yet avoid a crisis, for there is room for contradictions
within the substance of silence.
   Life is then not torn apart into the polarities of faith
and knowledge, truth and beauty, life and spirit; the whole
of reality appears before man, and not merely the con-
ceptual polarities. Human life is not determined by the
incompatible choices of Either-Or but by the mediation
of the polarities. The substance of silence stands between
the contradictions and prevents them from fighting each
other. The one element in the contradiction must first
travel over the broad, appeasing surface of silence before
it can reach the other. The substance of silence mediates
between the incompatible polarities.
   It is only here that man is raised above his own inner
contradictions, and only here that he has humor. For
in the face of silence the contradictions lose their conspicu-
ousness, are swallowed by the silence. To achieve a sense
of humor,

       one must have the infinite cheerfulness and confidence
       which are necessary in order to rise above the contradict-
       tions of one's own personality and not to be unhappy and 
       bitter about them. (Hegel)

If there is no substance of silence within, the contradic-
tions are exposed to analysis and discussion. "Happiness
and contentment" vanish and humor ceases.
   Man is better able to endure things hostile to his own
nature, things that use him up, if he has the silent sub-
stance within. That is why the peoples of the East, who
are still filled with the substance of silence, endure life
with machines better than the peoples of the West, whose
silent substance has been almost completely destroyed.
Technics in itself, life with machines, is not injurious
unless the protective substance of silence is absent.
   Unamuno says that Goethe did not develop all the
possibilities that were in him. A sentence like that could
only be said in a world that has lost all relationship with
silence. It has been forgotten that the possibilities that
are not fully realized nourish the substance of silence. 
Silence is strengthened by them and gives of this additional
strength to the other potentialities that are fully realized.
   What falls into the substance of silence is the share that
silence has in the things of human life. That is still a part
of silence. Sometimes in conversation a man holds
something back inside himself, he does not allow it to
come out in words; it is as though he feels he must keep
back something that really belongs to silence.

   It often happens that a whole nation may not realize
certain potentialities for a long period in its history. For
instance, the gift of poetic creation may remain dormant.
But the potentiality is not destroyed, it is simply not
realized. It may be resting and recuperating in the silence.
Yet there is beauty in such a silence, the beauty that comes
from the all-permeating silence of unwritten poetry.

   There is no silent substance in the world today. All
things are present all the time in an atmosphere of noisy
rebelliousness, and man, who has lost the silence in which
to sink the all-too-many, all-too-present multitude of
things, allows them to evaporate and vanish in the all-
consuming emptiness of language.
   The silent substance that relieves man of the oppressive-
ness of things is lacking in the world today. In order to
relieve him of the burden in another way, the attempt
is made to classify the individual and bring him into
touch only with those things that suit his mental constitu-
   This is the new method in education. Do no teach the
child anything that does not suit its particular mental
constitution. But in a world where the substance of
silence is known to be still active, there is no danger in
teaching a child things not immediately congenial to its
particular temperament. The child can be allowed to
expand beyond the structure of its own mind into the
realm of, for example, Latin and Greek, for which it may
not seem to have any aptitude. The silent substance in
the child assimilates the foreign material, fuses it with the
other contents of the mind, broadens the whole nature of
the child, and extends its mental frontiers. Proper education
and proper teaching are based on the substance of silence.

   We have said above that the man who lacks the sub-
stance of silence is oppressed by the all-too-many things
that crowd in upon him every moment of his life today.
He cannot be indifferent to the fact that new things are
being presented to him every moment, since he must
somehow enter into relationship with them. There must
be an emotional reaction to each new object so that he can
respond, and it is part of the nature of man that he should
respond to the object before him. When too many objects
crowd in upon him and he has within no silent substance
into which a part at least of the multitude of objects can
disappear, the resources of emotion and passion which he
has at his disposal are insufficient to meet and respond to
all the objects. The objects then lie all around him mena-
cingly and without a proper home. To save man from
this invasion and congestion of the too-many objects that
are beyond his powers of assimilation, he must be brought
into relationship again with the world of silence, in which
the many objects find their true order automatically, in
this world of silence where they spread themselves out
into a balanced unity.

   When the substance of silence is present in a man, all
his qualities are centered in it; they are all connected
primarily with the silence and only secondarily with each
other. Therefore it is not easy for the defect of one
quality to infect all the others, since it is kept in its place
by the silence. But if there is no silence, a man can be
totally infected by a single defect so that he ceases to be a
man and becomes so entirely identified with the defective
quality that it is as though the defect and the evil it repre-
sents were covered merely by a human mask.

   The silent substance is also the place where a man is
re-created. It is true that the spirit is the cause of the
re-creation, but the re-creation cannot be realized without
the silence, for man is unable wholly to free himself from
all that is past unless he can place the silence between the
past and the new.
   Today, with the lack of silence, man cannot be re-
created; he can only develop. That is why so much value
is set on "development" today. But "development" takes
place not in silence but in the to-and-fro of discussion.

   The substance of silence is necessary for re-creation,
and it is also necessary for happiness. Happiness, which
comes down to man from the realm of mystery, is glad
to find its way into the breadth of silence. There is an
immeasurability in happiness that only feels at home in
the breadth of silence. Happiness and silence belong
together just as do profit and noise.
   Where the resources of silence have been exhausted,
everything about a man is calculated in terms of profit-
ability. Profitability and loudness give a man a right to
possessions and office today. But in a world where
silence was still present far and wide, Cicero said in a
speech for Pompeius that he ought to be given the
supreme command in the war against pirates not only
because he had proved himself a good soldier but above
all because good fortune was with him.

   Grief and silence also belong together. Grief achieves
a poise in the breadth of silence. The force of the passions
is lost, and grief, purged of passion, appears all the more
clearly as pure grief. The lamentation in grief is trans-
formed into the lamentation of silence. On the river of
tears man travels back into silence.