by F. Schuon

The "holy silence" of the Hesychasts is none other than the "intellect pacified of all its movements",
according to the saying of a Greek Father; in other words: the intelligence of the heart,
purified of all passions and made fit to receive the immutable Light, imbues the soul with the serenity of things eternal.

Concentration in itself — apart from its possible contents — ultimately pertains to the "deiformity" of the planes constituting the human microcosm: man is like a tree whose root is the "heart" and whose crown is the "forehead." Now, our mental space — the substance or energy containing or producing thought — is in itself consciousness of the Divine Reality; the mind emptied of all coagulations "thinks God" by its very substance, in "holy silence"; man being "made in the image of God." The same is true of our bodily substance — or more precisely, our consciousness of this substance — actualized in perfect immobility: the moment we do nothing but "exist," we are virtually identified with Being, beyond all cosmic coagulations. Concurrently with bodily consciousness, there is vital, energetical consciousness, in short, life and movement, which — as sacred dances testify — can be vehicles for our participation in cosmic rhythms and in universal life, at all the levels that are accessible to us by virtue of our nature and through Grace. This leaves, in the human microcosm, the consciousness of self — namely the "heart," which can likewise be the support of an existential "remembrance of God" on the basis of intellectual, ritual and moral conditions that guarantee the legitimacy and efficacy of such an alchemy. Whatever the case, the psychosomatic analogies we have just called to mind convey teachings that concern all men: every human being must, through love of God, strive to "be what he is," to disengage himself from the artificial superstructures that disfigure him and which are none other than the traces of the Fall, in order to become once again a tree whose root is liberating certitude and whose crown is beatific serenity. Human nature is predisposed towards the unitive knowledge of its Divine Model; amore e'l cuor gentil sono una cosa.

Love of the heart, as we have seen, is "to think unceasingly of Thee": "Wherever there is repose and remembrance of God (il riposo e il ricordo di Dio)", says St. Francis, "there is neither anxiety nor dissipation". This connection between calm and contemplation is very significant, for "peace" has always been associated with "gnosis"; the "holy silence" of the Hesychasts is none other than the "intellect pacified of all its movements", according to the saying of a Greek Father; in other words: the intelligence of the heart, purified of all passions and made fit to receive the immutable Light, imbues the soul with the serenity of things eternal.

Gnosis requires impassivity based on truth, on the Immutable, not a suffering offered for the sake of love; we say it does not "require," not that it cannot "admit" suffering, since by definition it admits all that is true on whatever grounds. For gnosis the emotive factor is not a usable key, except on the aesthetic plane where, however, this factor is compensated by the intellective aspect of beauty; one almost feels tempted to say that the jnani is forever condemned to serenity. His point of departure could not be a passion for God; his nature is impregnated with contemplation and truth; it is fundamentally static; he follows his own immediate essence though he must necessarily integrate in his spiritual path all the tendencies belonging to human nature. This aspect of serenity, of profound peace, of "holy silence," is like the boundary stone marking the threshold of gnosis, but at the same time it is the essence thereof, the air gnosis breathes and lives by. We are here referring to gnosis as such, though without losing sight of the fact that it can enter into combinations with other paths and that differences here are in fact never absolute.


107 Keys

Tell thyself that God is the Now and remain
In holy silence, God-consecrated stillness;
At another time tell thyself that the Now of God
Furthers the Spirit’s activity; be thou His Will.

Then understand that God is the Center within thee—
Stay motionless within deep Peace;
Understand too that the Lord is Merciful—
Whoever firmly trusts will gain salvation.

And then, above all, know that God is One,
There cannot be two Ultimate Realities.

So, be thou one in the One, without “I”—
And may grace lead thee to the Self.
There is but one path to the Highest All;
But Its Light is manifold— like a crystal.


III/8 Sound and Stillness

Music is soul, rhythm and melody,
An inward play which Heaven lent us—
And which, as if renewed in dream, changes
Into melancholy, passion and beatitude.

The magic sound of strings and of the human voice—
Earthly nostalgia, heavenly acceptance.

Then stillness once again— for holy silence too
Can show us wisdom’s wine and beauty.


Devotion and fervor are the two doors
To God-remembrance: the soul should be motionless
In meditation, and should glow with life
In the God-consecrated cavern of the heart.

Height and depth are in the nature of the Spirit:
Holy silence and inward song.


Truth and Devotion. Truth is the light
That descends from God to Earth;
And Devotion is the incense, that rises
From us to the Highest Good.

Devotion— a melody, a wonderful word,
Having the fragrance of love and holy silence;
A magic word, whose beauty suffices
To convince us of the power of Truth.

The Most High knows what thy soul needs
Here below, where thou hast to cope with the world —
So be thou the incense that ascends towards God.



What does it mean that Thy Name is holy?
It means that It brings silence —
Vacare Deo: it means that the noisy illusion
Of world and soul sinks into nothingness before God.

Sanctificetur Nomen Tuum. It is God
Alone who resounds in holy silence.


The brain becomes heavy, if it becomes its own goal —
If it forgets Being, and slips downwards;
But when the soul has reached its true goal,
It becomes like the wind — luminous and light.

Thou canst also observe the converse:
The weightiness of Truth can strengthen the soul.

"Only Holy Silence brings me gain” —
Says Shankara in one of his hymns —
"This the city of Benares, that I am.”



What is man? He is intelligence and will,
Then character: whether he is virtuous or not;
Then destiny — what the Hindus call karma.

And after the ego comes holy silence;
This is our relationship with the Highest Light —
With God. May our soul know the Self.


If Ibn `Arabi and others require — in conformity with the Quran and the Sunna — that a man should "become penetrated by the majesty of Allah" before and during the practice of dhikr, they imply not merely a reverential attitude rooted in the imagination and in feeling, but also a conformity of man's whole being to the "Motionless Mover," which means a return to our normative archetype, to the pure Adamic substance made in the image of God; this is moreover directly connected with dignity, the role of which is clearly to be seen in the sacerdotal and royal functions: priest and king both stand before the divine Being, over the people, and it might be said that they are at the same time "something of God." In a certain sense the dignity of the dhakir — of him who prays — rejoins the "image" that the Divinity takes on in relation to him, or in other words, this dignity — this holy silence or this "non-action" — is the very image of the divine Principle. Buddhism gives us a particularly concrete example of this: the sacramental image of the Buddha is both divine form and human perfection and marks the meeting point between the earthly and the heavenly. But all this refers to contemplative prayer alone and it is precisely this prayer which is in question where the Sufic dhikr is concerned.

Intellective contemplation is ‘contained’ in the ‘peace’ Christ gave to the apostles. ‘It is thus — says the Century of the monks Callistus and Ignatius — ‘that our merciful and beloved Lord Jesus Christ . . . bequeathed to his own these three things (his Name, Peace and Love)’. This ‘peace’ is analogous to the Hindu shanti, spiritual ataraxia, and to Shanta, the Infinite conceived in its calm and profound nature, ‘non-agitated’ because nonexteriorized’ (or ‘non-manifest’); and this shanti, this ‘peace or ‘serenity’, is closely related to pure intellective contemplation;(1) ‘Peace’ therefore indicates, in Christian mysticism also, an attitude of intellection.(2) This element of gnosis is likewise found in the apophatic and antinomian theology of the Fathers, a doctrine which was crystallized in the teaching of Palamas. From the affective point of view peace is connected with confidence and hope, that is to say, with the ‘emotional certainty’ which must compensate for what is ‘obscure’ in faith. Peace implies satisfaction, possession, just as agitation implies privation and separation. The trace of intellective contemplation in the affective soul is appeasement and also, in a certain sense, confident abandonment and hope.

1. This ontological connection between knowledge and peace — or between contemplation and immobility — is stated in many inspired writings. According to St. James ‘the Wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable’ (Epistle iii, 17). Evagrius of Ponticum says that ‘the Divine Intellect is an Intellect calmed from all movement.’ Again, according to Nicetas Stethatos, ‘He (the Holy Ghost) gives them intelligence that is peaceful and sweet to understand the deep things of God.’

2. This is the ‘gnosis’ of the Alexandrians. Moreover this term is scriptural and does not properly belong to any school. As for the ‘holy silence’ of the Hesychasts, this fundamentally designates the same thing, though it puts the accent on the aspect of peace’. It is the state of samprasada, the ‘serenity’ in which the Truth shows itself without veils and, in the words of Shankara, like a flame that does not flicker.

The Quranic saying “My Mercy precedeth my Wrath” lends itself to a very important and even fundamental cosmological application, from the point of view of the microcosm as well as of the macrocosm. “Wrath”, or “Rigor”, does not pertain to the absolute Substance; it pertains to the degree of the “Energies” and intervenes only in the formal world, whether outside or within us; if man can pierce this layer and advance all the way into the superior layer—“the Kingdom of God is within you”—he will then escape the reign of Rigor. The ice must be broken, which cannot be done without God’s help; once the soul has reached the underlying waters, no further breach is possible; the noisiness of the outward is followed by the silence of the inward. This silence “follows”, but in reality it is there before us; the soul enters it as into a stream without origin or end—a stream of silence, but also of music and light.


11 Song of Time

World-wheel, deep primordial song of coming and going,
Thou turnest for eons, on and on.
Countless existences that blossomed overnight,
Hast thou brought back to coldest naught.

So turn, world-wheel, till the Hand of the Most High
Bring thee to a halt at cycle’s end.
Thy song now hushed, fading in ultimate silence,
One thing alone remains:
the Will of Him who does not change.


27 Meditation

Converse with God. He will give thee answer,
Or else His Silence will be an answer;
For He is with thee; thou art ne’er alone.

In His Stillness may thy heart be stirred —
And harken unto what the Name of God says:
Thou canst divine how Heaven’s meadows bloom;
Thou hearest the deep melodies of primordial Being —

The primal song of love and light.

87 Shankara

She, who brings the stream of mind to silence,
Divinely giving peace to our soul —
She is Benares, the most sacred city;
It is She that I love — and that I am.

I am Tranquillity after the storm,
After the cosmic Ocean’s wild melody —
Say: Peace, Peace; heart, thou art the Self —
Om, Shanti, Shanti; aham Brahmâsmi.(1)

1. Sanskrit: Hail, Peace, Peace; I am Brahma.

111 Bodhi (1)

It has been said
That Nirvana is nothingness.
Not by the wise,
It was said by the ignorant.

For there is a void
Which is mere nothingness;
And another
Which is Reality.

And It is empty,
Because it is beyond the world;
Yet It is fullness
For him who contains It —

For the Awakened,
Who wanders no more;
O holy Silence —
O Jewel in the Lotus, hail!

1. Sanskrit: Knowledge

125 Night

God has created for us the deep night,
With its mildness and its silence.
There is the moon’s soft silver light
And the round-dance of countless stars.

O, sweet deepness of this holy space!
Let the storms of everyday be brought to stillness
In a dream of recollectedness and love —

Peace be in Heaven and on Earth!


5 Transition

Praised be the day that golden blooms;
The chariot of the sun has risen;
Praised be the night with its deep peace,
It has gently silenced the turmoil of the day.

Day is revelation, openness,
It is as if life summoned us to work,
And night is holy, full of mysterious depth —
A song of love and of eternity.


31 Harmony

Water and solitude and austere silence;
Then the opposite to these, earth’s noble plenitude:
Wine, woman, song. Firstly renunciation and stillness,
And then the enraptured round of love’s delight.

Wine, woman, song: what was once worldly
Must be interiorized; it seeks to resound within ourselves.
The True glimmers through earthly appearance
And blesses our heart; so let us sing!

O depth of soul, in thy kingdom,
What once was separated becomes one:
The purity of water and the ecstasy of wine —

O bliss, of which the world knows not!

49 Winter

Dancing crystals fall from the sky —
Each one a little world of its own.
Far and wide the land is covered with snow;
Everything is white — no more do colors play.

Thus it is, when illusion disappears
Beneath the snow of trust in God,
O purity, announcing Heaven’s Reign —
O light and silence of Serenity.


87 It is thus

To live with many things, to be oneself a thing,
And nonetheless to be alone in solemn silence,
For God is One — such is the circle of the human condition;
Unity wished to show diversity,
Out and back again.

What else can I say?
Truth is eternally young Eden in the heart.
Let no false thinking trouble
The reciprocity between Wisdom and Love.


104 Archetypal Man

The reason for existence: there is a human archetype
That floats motionless within God’s Spirit —
Wholly untouched by everything that our bodies
And souls experience in the earthly dream.

This is man: a Platonic idea
Enclosed within the Spirit and Goodness of God C
And then recast into a thousand beings;
Our life: first spring flowers, then snow —

An all and a naught. An all, inasmuch
As we are stars in Divinity’s Wisdom;
A naught, inasmuch as, in the world, we stand before God,
Whose Might contains the being of things.

Primordial man: the meaning is not only exclusive:
The One and Only is all that I am.
See how the enigma of things ramifies —
The Word must be.

Truth pierces Silence.

112 Al-Mu’ammar

Sidi Tâhir Al-Mu’ammar — “the Fulfilled” —
A holy man whose being I revered.
He came and he was silent, and there was much blessing —
Fulfilled he was, because emptied of illusion.

He was one of those who is deeply concentrated,
And in whose silence one forgets time;
One of those who do not give long speeches,
Because their being’s radiance is everything.

114 Yellowtail

“Tail feather of the Yellow Hawk”:
He was a wise man of the Crow tribe,
And Sun Dance priest until his end.
He was one of those simple and tough
Holy men, who love silence
And deeply understand what symbols mean.
"Medicine Beads”, his wife, was a strong,
Good woman. Now they are on the yonder side —
In the Great Spirit, death has reunited them.

He was a man who intimately understood
What counts most: perpetual prayer.

115 Red Cloud

He was the grandson of Chief Red Cloud
Of the Ogalalla band. We met —
The noble old man and I — and had a long talk
In Pine Ridge, in the shade of a large tree.

He talked first about old times; then there was silence,
Until I began to speak, and said:
The world is but dream-stuff —
The dream does not knows reality.

The Chief adopted me into his clan,
Gave me many good words, and then he died.
Let the winds blow over the wide land —
The heart will live forever in the Great Spirit.

III/20 Hesychía

The hesychasts speak of the melting of the heart:
Drink the Name, they say,
And the Name will drink thee.
Their mysticism is silence within the melody of prayer —
In the light of Tabor, which God bestowed on them.


All of a sudden snow came to my forest.
The landscape is no longer of this world —
Everywhere is the heavenly crystal,
On meadow, bush and tree, as far as eye can see.

The forest was life and also a sanctuary
With God’s Presence. Now it is silence —
Neither death nor life, but the scent of eternity —
A timeless blessing shines from every branch.



If thou see’st the beautiful, which enraptures the soul,
Think not it be mere vanity and illusion;
Think that God is radiating His Nature —
The world partakes in the ardor of His Love.

Then think of the Essence, look inward —
And thou wilt gain beauty’s eternity.
When praying, dream not of the earthly beautiful —
The soul should become used to death.

Tashbîh, Tanzîh: emptiness after fullness,
So say the Sufis. After the image, comes silence.


At the end of all time and all worlds,
Thou wilt return, O man, to Divinity;
There thou hast already been, and hast waited for thyself;
Every belovèd thing is in this happiness.

Nothing can enter into the realm of the Most High —
Because He is absolute plenitude.
Thou canst not bring the Lord thy poverty —
For the noise of the world disappears in His silence.

During God-remembrance, thou bearest God within thee;
The Most High says: thou wast, thou art, in Me.


In Islam, music was at first proscribed;
To the Koran alone might one turn one’s ear.
But Rumi brought music into the house of Islam,
With the ecstatic circle of dance.

In primitive Islam, sobriety was the bearer of grace;
But the power of grace pierced the silence,
And became music, in order to move hearts.
Chivalrous poetry too was put to silence;
Jalâl ad-Dîn sang only of God.



All the images of the world rush into thee
Through the five doors of thy senses —
But if thou closest thine eyes, and also those of thy soul,
Thou art in the quiet tent of the Spirit.

So let not thyself be seduced by any dream
Caused by earthly mâyâ —
Either from outside or from within thine own soul.
Life’s din is loud — the Spirit is silence.


Thou canst not fill a cup that is full —
Therefore the soul must be empty during prayer;
When the depth of the heart is the container,
The soul is all the more in need of Lethe.

Vacare Deo is the best draft —
With thy silence, give thanks to the Most High.



In the picture book of thought, thou shouldst not turn
The pages unnecessarily; it is better to close it.
In this world there is enough thinking —
Behold how God made silence beautiful for thee.


The realm of gnosis is like the starry sky —
The realm of the love of God is like the song of flowers.
The rigid splendor of the stars bespeaks the Eternal —
The shining blossoms tell of graces sweet.

The Way of Knowledge — the silent night resembles it,
Because it is mystery and secret depth;
The Way of Love is radiant like the day,
Because it opens up the soul’s treasury of songs.

Gnosis and Love — silence and music;
Both bestow the one Divine Happiness.


Beauty of the Void: it sounds like a contradiction,
Yet is understandable; for Heaven’s vault
Is beautiful in its silence; as is also the snow
When, as if in blessing, it falls on the land.

And likewise the soul, when it has forgotten
All triviality, because God’s fullness has come.


She, who silences the river of thoughts,
Divinely soothing mind and soul —
She is Benares, the holy city;
It is she whom I love — and who I am.


Man is half animal, half angel; something of earth,
And something of the divine. He is pushed to and fro,
But he is one in the Lord, in the silence of prayer.
The soul hears God, and Grace comes from above.

So lead us on the straight path,
Ambiguous as we are. Ambiguity must be,
But also liberation. For God willed us —
As earthly beings that He could liberate.

Useless wavering has affected thy heart;
Flee to God — the door is always open.


What makes man happy? Prayer;
In it lies silence above the world
Prayer manifests what the ultimate Cause is,
And overcomes the weaknesses of our soul.

Contentment in God is a happiness
That places our soul at the Center;
And the intuition of our salvation
That is contained in ceaseless prayer gives us happiness.

So does the knowledge that God is one;
And that in Him thou art thy real self.
The enemy’s envy must not sadden thee —
Thy heart, O man, is thy beatitude.


The beginning of God-remembrance is silence
Of the soul, which awaits the Divinity’s fullness —
It ends in the melody of consolation.
It ends? God’s love never ends.


The fool holds the science of Âtmâ in his hand —
But to the wise man, Âtmâ is unknown.
The fool may call the Most High whatever he wants —
But only the Most High can know Himself.

Thou must not take this too literally; it is clear
That every wise man knows Âtmâ.
In this case, why the contradiction? It is to show
That the truest word about the True is silence.

Why then say that Âtmâ is infinite?
That one must say it, is self-evident.


Flowers on the ground and stars in the sky —
Flowers shine by day and stars by night;
But flowers fade away, whereas stars —
from a human point of view —
Are everlasting, and shine from afar.

Spirit, soul — songs in time;
Above there is silence — the song of eternity.


God is the Outward and the Inward —
Thus it is said in the Koran. Likewise the soul
Must combine within itself a mountain top
And a deep, invisible cavern.

In the Outward, where the beautiful is visible —
Thou must devoutly see thy Creator;
In the deeply Inward, where the Divine Intellect reigns,
Thine illumined heart must understand the Self.

For in Heaven too, where the blessèd dwell,
There must be an Outward and an Inward.
But finally duality will be unity,
Without any loss — how this may be is known by God alone.

The thousand Names that are the Lord’s —
They remain as Being, within the silence of His Beyond-Being.


If thou sayest certainty, thou thinkest of the depth
Within thy breast; if thou sayest serenity,
Thou thinkest of the heavenly space within thy forehead —
Of silence, of soaring above snow-covered peaks.

The Absolute; the Infinite.


It is said that God created the vast world
Out of nothing; that it is His shadow —
Neither reality nor unreality;
Different from God — yet faithful to His nature.

The universe had to be, because, in God’s silence,
The Good remained unknown —
And so creation’s melody burst out.



The bright day greets us — shining sun,
Wandering clouds, and earthly things
Both still and moving — and all this on the edge
Of possibility.

Then comes the silent night:
An infinity with countless stars
In the blackness of space, in God’s deep remoteness.

Sacred night, that covers the day like a veil —
Silence of the heart, that is filled with devotion.


Dream-cities and dream-streets where I wandered —
City paradises; all this is past.

Destiny brought me to a vast forest —
Its deep silence is dearer to my heart.


Stand before God with a spiritual act that proclaims Him,
That shapes the soul and gives rise to hope.
Stand before Him with a silence
That removes all egoism from the soul.

Stand before God — do not wish for anything else;
Find joy in His compassion.
He alone is the One, the Most High;
And He dwells within thee — now and eternally.


The crows are flying —
Their shrill tones pierce the forest;
Autumn leaves spiral downwards —
O, time of white peace, come soon.

It is the same with the soul —
When the turmoil of the world disturbs its silence;
When no grace
Defends it from the restlessness of thought.

The quietness of purity
Penetrates our thinking.
In God’s nearness,
The world may still be the world, but thou scarcely hearest it.


The good man longs for heavenly bliss —
Only he has a sense of the vision of God and of peace;
Most people feel happy
In the agitation that they themselves are here below.

But he who would attain what God offers us,
Must within himself resemble Heaven.
That someone has a sense of silence in God
Does not prevent him from conscientiously accomplishing
His earthly duty with gratitude.


The Name of God is the sound of thunder —
Yet it is also silence, deepest tranquillity.
It is the limitless power of the Creator —
But it is beyond all existential fullness.

Two things must be within thee: the power of the Spirit —
And also non-existence, beyond all works.


Thy Name tells me that Thou art one.
My thinking brain is universal space, it is mâyâ;
The universal dream becomes silence when Thy Word resounds;
And whatever I think — if it is good — testifies to Âtmâ.


Thy Name is a wondrous sound,
Yet it is silence;
So let my heart be opened, so that
It may be filled with light.
My words, O Lord, are prayer — a profound resonance,
Yet they are silence;
May my heart, through Thy Grace,
Be turned toward the inward.


There are thoughts that make us happy,
In the realms of both duty and love.
But nothing makes us happy like silence in God —
The holy stilling of all our desires.

Certainty, and with it Peace, are contained
In this silence — let the Divinity reign.



When worldly people go carousing,
I would like to interrupt their din —
But with what? The everyday life of fools is very noisy.

I would like to talk of the silence of God.
For silence is a special sound —
It is an opening to the Song of Heaven;

This reminds me of Shankara’s words:
The cessation of all mental agitation
Is like Benares — the Benares which I am.


If one gives free play to thinking,
The specter of preoccupations rushes in;
But one did not summon them. So turn to faith C
And see how quickly it heals the soul’s illusion.

The evil one wants to show thee what oppresses thee —
But the faith in one’s heart prevails in silence.



Encounter with the desert — the camel
Is like a mountain with majestic movement.
Why had the desert sand to cover
Much of the world alongside the green?
Because silence also has its beauty —

The sun also blesses the empty land.
It can make fruitful, but can also destroy —
Thou canst not give orders to High Heaven.

The emptiness of the sea of sand says Vacare Deo —
Everything says Amor Dei — and to God be the glory.


Let thy soul remain in silence for God —
May He fill it with His white wine:
White, because silence is innocence without garment;
Wine, because silence shines in beatitude.



The soul belongs to the Lord, and not to the world;
The silence of the Spirit is the beauty of the True.
He who wants the happiness that is pleasing to the Lord,
Listens deeply in his heart to Truth’s music.

Happy the man who finds not only half the Truth —
The man who combines truth with beauty of soul.


That one has the right — even the duty — to communicate
Wise and beautiful counsels is obvious —
But silence may also convey these.
Wisdom and beauty are united in God.

Everything that testifies to the Highest Good is beautiful;
And in the beautiful, the spirit should see the True —
Happy the man who sees the one within the other.



That which awakens the presence of God,
The Supreme Name, is like an envelope
In which God covers His true Being.

Or it is deepest silence,
Extending from the heart to the Lord —
Existence keeps silent, only the One Will speaks.



The presence of God is the highest Word —
But if It wishes, It is also deepest silence.
God can show us His wondrous nearness
In both a yes and a no.

Whatever be the language of His nearness —
He gives Himself to us, and we belong to Him.


The pyramid stands on the edge of the desert,
In golden silence, and in heat and sand.
I wanted to bow down inside it,
But I did not want to climb the outside.
I thought: the top is in the hands of the gods.



The world is what it is; no more, no less.
It is but a husk; yet it offers itself
With all its fullness —
But in reality it is poor and empty.
Only God is That which is self-existent —
Thou findest Him in the primordial song of silence.


I grew up amid the sounds of the violin —
I know many old melodies,
More than I wish; I would often like to flee
To the land of silence and of the gods.

But both are meaningful — Heaven’s sounds
And Heaven’s silence. Let beauty sing —
And then, if another hour so wish,
Let it in Being — in the ungraspable — fade away.



Thou canst not put silence into words —
Thou canst not speak of the inexpressible.
The soul would like to sing of that which has no limit —
But thou must leave this song to the Most High.



Serenity: the soul abstains
From all dreaming about things.
Complementary to this is act: only one thing resounds
In the heart, the Presence of the Most High.

Then there is peace that calms all agitation:
Resignation to what is destined.
Then there is certainty, that fills the spirit:
A love of the deep, inward, life of Truth.

Finally there is the mystery of Oneness:
Absolutely real is the Lord alone.
The complementary pole is Selfhood:
Beyond all concepts is the silence of my real Being.


He who says peace says beauty; the image of the Tathagata — together with his metaphysical and cosmic derivatives and concomitants — shows that beauty, in its root or essence, is compounded of serenity and mercy; formal harmony appeals to us because it bespeaks profound goodness and inexhaustible wealth, appeasement and plenitude. Like a magnet, the beauty of the Buddha draws all the contradictions of the world and transmutes them into radiant silence; the image deriving therefrom appears as a drop of the dew of immortality fallen into the chilly world of forms and crystallized into a human form, a form accessible to men.


Pure concentration also is orison, on condition that it have a traditional basis and be centered on the Divine; this concentration is none other than silence(4) which, indeed, has been called a "Name of the Buddha" because of its connection with the idea of the Void.(5)

4 "The Father spoke one word, and this Word was His Son, and this Word He spoke without end in an eternal silence, and it is in this silence that the soul hears it" (Saint John of the Cross: Spiritual Sentences and Counsels, 307).
5 Shunyamûrti, "Manifestation of the Void," is one of the Names of the Buddha. The silent prayer of the North American Indians, which presupposes a symbolist outlook and the framework of virgin Nature, offers striking analogies with Zen.


The Name Allâh contains all these meanings. Allâh who is the Unique, is thereby the great Peace: being pure Reality, there is in Him no disequilibrium, no narrowness. His Name is the Peace which silences all the sounds of the world, be they around us or within us, in accordance with this verse: "Say: Allâh! then leave them to their vain talk" (Koran, VI, 91).38 Thus over the things of this world or of our soul the Name throws as it were an immense blanket of snow extinguishing all, and uniting all in one same purity and one same overflowing and eternal silence.

Prayer gives to the terrestrial instant its full weight of eternity and its divine value; it is the sacred ship bearing its load, through life and death, towards the further shore, towards the silence of light — but at bottom it is not prayer which traverses time as it repeats itself, it is time which, so to speak, halts before the already celestial unicity of prayer.


The traditional Indian was one of the freest men that can be imagined, and at the same time one of the most bound: the vast prairie, the forests and the mountains belonged to him; practically speaking, his vital space knew no limits; yet at no moment could he depart from his religious universe and the role which this imposed upon him. On the one hand he was enclosed within a space that was strictly symbolical — as though his credo had crystallized spatially around him — and on the other he was identified with the implacable course of that great trial which is life; whether in time or in space, the Indian never left the visible symbol, which he acted out and lived; it could be said that he underwent and realized it simultaneously. And it is from this combination of heroic liberty and divine constraint that he derives his fascinating originality and this part-warrior, part-sacerdotal grandeur which — along with other factors, such as the cult of silence and impassibilty — relates him to the Zen samurai of ancient Japan.


All the static forms of existence, whether they be material or mental, are thus as it were determined by a concentric archetype: centered in his qualitative, "totemic," almost impersonal ego, the Indian tends towards independence and so towards indifference with regard to the outward world; he surrounds himself with silence as with a magic circle, and this silence is sacred as being the vehicle of the heavenly influences. It is from this silence — of which the natural support is solitude — that the Indian draws his spiritual strength; his ordinary prayer is unvoiced: what it requires is not thought but consciousness of the Spirit, and this consciousness is immediate and formless like the vault of heaven.18
18 Needless to say, such an attitude of worship presupposes a mental heredity which no mere individual initiative could possibly replace.


Holiness is the sleep of the ego and the wake of the immortal soul--of the ego fed on sensorial impressions and filled with desires, and of the soul, free and crystalized in God. The moving surface of our being must sleep and must therefore withdraw from images and instincts, whereas the depths of our being must be awake in the consciousness of the Divine, thus illuminating, like a motionless flame, the silence of the holy sleep.


The consciousness of Being, or of the divine Substance, liberates us from narrowness, from agitation, from noise and from pettiness; it is dilation, calm, silence and grandeur. Every man in his innermost heart loves pure Being, the inviolable Substance, but this love is buried under a layer of ice. Every love is, in its depth, a tendency of the accident towards the Substance and for that very reason a desire for extinction.


If Zen is less given to doctrinal formulation than other schools, this is because its structure allows it to be so; it owes its continuity to factors that are perfectly rigorous, but not easily grasped from the outside; its silence, charged with mystery, is quite other than a vague and facile mutism. Zen, precisely by reason of its direct and implicit character — which is marvelously suited to certain possibilities of the Far Eastern soul — presupposes so many conditions of mentality and ambience that the slightest lack in this respect risks compromising the result of any effort, however sincere; moreover, we must not forget that a man of the Japanese elite is in many respects a product of Zen.

What matters to the man who is virtually liberated from the fall is to remain in holy infancy. In a certain sense, Adam and Eve were “children” before the fall and became “adult” only through it and after it; the adult age in fact reflects the reign of the fall; old age, in which the passions are silenced, once again draws near to infancy and to Paradise, at any rate in normal spiritual conditions. The innocence and confidence of the very young must be combined with the detachment and resignation of the old; the two ages rejoin one another in contemplativity, and then in nearness to God: infancy is “still” close to Him, old age is so “already”. The child can find his happiness in a flower, and so can the old man; the extremes meet, and life’s spiral becomes a circle as its ends are brought together once more in the divine Mercy.


The existence of a Christian esotericism, or rather the eminently esoteric character of primitive Christianity, does not only appear from New Testament texts—those in which certain of Christ’s words possess no exoteric meaning—or from the nature of the Christian rites—to speak only of what is more or less accessible ‘from without’ in the Latin Church—but also from the explicit testimony of the older authors. Thus in his work on the Holy Ghost St. Basil speaks of a ‘tacit and mystical tradition maintained down to our own times, and of a secret instruction that our fathers observed without discussion and which we follow by dwelling in the simplicity of their silence. For they understood how necessary was silence in order to maintain the respect and veneration due to our Holy Mysteries. And in fact it was not expedient to make known in writing a doctrine containing things that catechumens are not permitted to contemplate.’


The goal of this ‘prayer’ (the prayer of Jesus) is consequently the ‘supreme’ spiritual state, in which man becomes detached from everything pertaining to the creature and, being directly united with the Divinity, is illuminated by the Divine Light. This supreme state is the ‘Holy Silence’ (esukia), symbolized by the black colour given to certain Virgins.(1) The ‘prayer of Jesus’, like every other initiatory rite, but unlike religious rites the finality of which does not transcend the individual, is strictly methodical; that is to say it is subject to technical ordinances, the purpose of which will inevitably escape the profane mind,(2) such as, for example, control of breathing(anapnoé)(3) in order to facilitate the ‘maintenance of the spirit within man and its union with the heart’.

1. This ‘silence’ is the exact equivalent of the Hindu and Buddhist nirvana and the Sufic fana (both terms signifying ‘extinction’); the ‘poverty’ (faqr) in which ‘union’ (tawhid) is achieved refers to the same symbolism. Regarding this real union—or this re-integration of the finite in the Infinite—we may also mention the title of a book by St. Gregory Palamas: ‘Witnesses of the Saints, showing that those who participate in Divine Grace become, conformably with Grace itself, without origin and infinite.’ It would be impossible to express the ‘Supreme Identity’ more succinctly than this. We may also recall in this connection the following adage of Moslem esotericism: ‘The Sufi is not created’.

2. Hence the facile irony of those ‘antichrists’ who hasten to play the part, defined in the Gospels, of ‘swine’ and ‘dogs’.

3. St. John Climacus, speaking of the ‘prayer of Jesus’, says that ‘it should be as one with thy breathing, and thou shalt know the fruit of silence and of solitude’. ‘Blessed is he’, says St. Hesychius, ‘whose thought is merged in the invocation of the Name of Jesus and who utters it continually in his heart, in the same way that the air is linked to our bodies or the flame to a candle.’ We may recall here the importance which is attached to the control of respiration (pranayama) in hatha-yoga and other Oriental methods.

Looking at man from the outside, two formal elements can be distinguished, the body and the head, and it can be said that each alike manifests a third element which is hidden, namely the heart. The outer man is perfect to the extent that his face and body express the heart, not only by beauty, but also, and indeed above all, by interiorisation; this is what the sacred image of the Buddha translates by the immutable majesty of the face with half-closed eyes and also by the symmetry and calm of the pose and by the gesture indicating silence, cessation, return to the centre, contemplation: pre-eminently this is the image of the Heart-Intellect penetratinu into the body, and absorbing it in its own infinitude. Spirituality is, in short, nothing other than the penetration of the mind-body by the Intellect, which as it were advances on it, fills it and transforms it with God as term; but it is also the return — not by ‘projection’ this time, but by ‘absorption’ — of the mind-body into the Intellect. It is this that enables one to understand that the fundamental yogic position — which the image of Buddha transposes on to the plane of sacramental art — derives from a veritable alchemy of forms and of centres.

The “Substance-accident” relationship is manifested in an obvious fashion on the plane of thought; there is thought which is unbalanced and contrary to Being, just as there is balanced thought which conforms to the ontological Substance from which it springs; but there is also contemplative silence which surpasses thought as such, whether good or bad, so that the real question is not whether we are good or bad, but whether, in the face of That which alone is, we are or are not. If the highest function of the mental faculty is, on the one hand, to transfer the inexhaustible aspects of Substance on co the plane of accidentality, and, on the other hand, to recollect itself and extinguish itself in the silence of contemplation, the same thing applies, mutatis mutandis, to that mode of exteriorization and suggestion which is represented by symbolism and consequently by sacred art. The essential function of sacred art, apart from its simple didactic role, is to transfer Substance, which is both one and inexhaustible, into the world of accident and to bring the accidental consciousness back to Substance. One could say also that sacred art transposes Being to the world of existence, of action or of becoming, or that in a certain way it transposes the Infinite to the finite world, or Essence to the world of forms; it thereby suggests a continuity proceeding from the one to the other, a way starting from appearance or accident and issuing forth into Substance or into its celestial reverberations.

“Women, perfumes, and prayer”: these three things, according to a famous hadith, “were made worthy of love” to the Prophet. This is an example of how “spiritual magic” may operate by means of analogy: woman synthesizing virgin nature, the sanctuary and spiritual company, is for man what is most lovable; in a certain respect she represents the projection of merciful Inwardness in barren outwardness, and in this regard she assumes a sacramental or quasi-Divine function. As for “perfumes,” they represent qualities that are formless, just as music does (we would willingly call them the music of silence), which means that side by side with the formal projection of Inwardness there is also a complementary formless projection.