he tongue is but three inches long, yet it can kill a man six feet high.
-- Ancient Japanese Proverb
Approximately 2500 years ago, Pythagoras instituted the discipline of silence in the western world. This discipline was firmly imposed at his school at Crotona where most students were not permitted to speak at any time. The lesser grades went through a three-year discipline of silence, while those who passed to the higher grades of the school were required to complete a life of silence for five years. Writings from other philosophers of that period reveal that more than 200 people, which included sixty women, underwent this discipline while receiving instruction at Pythagoras' School.
In our present educational system, silently listening would be remarkable. In the higher grades, some students can't go ten minutes before they would be lecturing the teacher and their classmates in the finer aspects of philosophy, science or how the world should be functioning. This is not to say that someone young is not wise, but the point is that most people begin making comments before they have truly understood what someone else is sharing.
Today, to indulge in a practice of complete silence might cause a lot of complications. The basic principle behind Pythagoras' discipline of silence had to do with the fact that, of all the parts that make up a person, the most difficult to control is the tongue. The tongue can be the greatest cause of people's tragedy, as well as the greatest danger and difficulty in an individual's own life. The habit of discipline was one of the major tenants taught in the ancient schools of learning. It was not just the discipline of paying attention or following rules, it was an effort to discipline one's own self.
Today, some individuals who become ill have brought their illness upon themselves, due to their habits and actions that they don't appear to be able to control. They know the action is contrary to a belief that they have which causes them mental or emotional consternation, or people eat foods that they know might not be healthy for their own body. Both of these cause a breakdown in the healthy activity of the body. Some of us can't seem to get a hold of ourselves to stop what we are doing. We find it easy to get in the habit of taking a pill once or twice a day, but not so easy to discipline our mind to stop an unwanted activity.
The original discipline of silence was meant to discipline the speech, and in this case, to become more thoughtful and control the tongue under every mood and condition, whether the individual was experiencing happiness or sadness, success or failure, anger or peace. When our tongue is controlled by wisdom and understanding, we will find that we can control many other areas of our life, including our health and well-being.
Many of the difficulties in our life are due to the fact that we speak too quickly. We often make statements without deeper consideration. We pass judgments without an understanding of the context in which someone is acting in their life. To engage in the complete discipline of silence today might be impossible for anyone except a hermit. As a practice, we can begin to place certain restrictions upon ourselves; we might learn to listen rather than immediately begin to speak. Perhaps we will discover that others have something of value in what they are sharing before we attempt to dominate a conversation. Through this disciplined action of "holding our tongue," we begin to gain more mastery over ourselves. There are times that we come under a feeling of great pressure to speak, but when we can restrict an outburst, we strengthen our character.
Pythagoras pointed out, that the five-year silence freed the individual to receive knowledge. Another philosopher shared, that the practice of the discipline of silence by the individual, ‘was sparing him the constant hypnotic influence of his own pretentions.’ Some of us have experienced times that we spoke without thinking carefully, and later wished we could take our words back. But words become like ‘little immortal birds that fly out, and we know not where they go, nor can we bring them back.’
Five hundred years after Pythagoras, the discipline of silence was deliberately and voluntarily assumed by the great scholar and philosopher, Apollonius of Tyana. Many wonderful stories are attributed to the abilities of Apollonius during his life. His powers of observation, his understanding of the deeper meanings of all religions and creeds of his time, his control of nature, were all enhanced as a result of his discipline. He would carry a small amount of paper and as he wrote, rather than spoke, those around him would be in awe.
Individuals may cross our path with health difficulties and life challenges. Today people expect the quick fix, magical pill, systems and mantras that will rectify their immediate problem. I have stated earlier, health is not the absence of illness, but the absence of causes that might lead to illness. One minute you are perfectly healthy and the next minute you might be ill. So you are healthy for one moment.
Our lack of control in some area of our life, might bring another difficulty, right behind the one we have just addressed. When causes of dis-ease are eliminated, then we can live in a peaceful knowledge that we are truly healthy. Developing discipline within oneself, is a key that the ancient philosophers taught to individuals to help them attain their greatest awareness and potential. For many people, just hearing the term discipline, brings up many feelings and connotations.
The concept of ‘turning the other cheek,’ has been explained by some as keeping one from getting into retaliation and some equate it to being non-violent. Others look at it in the following manner. Upon being struck one does not immediately respond with a knee-jerk reaction. By turning and giving the other cheek, it is a symbolic gesture of taking a bit more time and determining what the appropriate response would be in the given situation.
In establishing a new discipline within your life, start with small steps, and soon you will turn around and discover, you’ve traveled a great distance.
With love, in love and through love.