We normally associate celebrations with noise, loud music, singing, partying and of course crowds of people.
Not so with the Balinese; not always.
Here, on this isle of gods, silence and solitude are celebrated too. Indeed, the most important celebration here is that of silence.
Yes, I am speaking about Nyepi – the day of silence. Following the traditions and wisdom of the ancients of the archipelago, to this day Balinese celebrate their New Year in silence. What a way to celebrate the New Year!
Nyepi is a day to reflect, and to do self-introspection. Nyepi is a day for contemplation, and meditation. On this day, newyear resolutions are made in silence, in deep, deep silence.
Why in silence?
What is so special about silence?
It is only in silence that all conflicts resolve, all differences disappear and opposing forces harmonise. I am reminded of two great Chinese thinkers, Lao Tzu and Kung Fu Tzu, who could never meet intellectually. In the depth of silence, however, they met.
Lao Tzu: Silence is a Source of Great Strength.
Kung Fu Tzu: Silence is the True Friend that Never Betrays.
Kung Fu Tzu spoke of social reformation. Lao Tzu advocated inner transformation. The two could never meet in thought, speech and deed. But they met in silence. Noise divides. Silence unites. And unity strengthens whereas division weakens.
Nyepi is the day to gather strength – not only to make new resolutions, but also to pursue them. The silence of Nyepi is not a meaningless silence. Indeed, it transcends all meanings; it is the core essence of truth from where all meanings originate.
The seers and sages of old spoke of four main layers of consciousness, generally translated as the “waking,” “dreaming,” “deep sleep” and the “fourth” that transcends all three preceding layers.
More than 2000 years before Freud spoke of conscious and unconscious minds, and Jung began to explore further the workings of the unconscious mind, Sage Manduka was already elaborating the functions of mind in a way that is mind boggling to modern-day scientists.
Both Freud and Jung could not go beyond the conscious and unconscious layers of the mind. Today scientists are still struggling with the idea of the super-conscious layer. Sage Manduka not only explained those three layers in his excellent treatise Mandukya Upanishad, but went a step further to declare that there was yet another layer, the “fourth” layer that defies all definitions. Hence, referred to only as the “fourth.”
What Freud called the conscious layer, Manduka called the waking consciousness. We are awake all day, but we are not necessarily conscious all day. We are not necessarily living consciously all day.
We are awake, but are we aware of our actions? Do we think, speak and act consciously? Are we driven by our inner wisdom and guidance, or by outside triggers? Are we merely reacting to whatever is happening to, and around, us – or we are actually responding wisely to such happenings?
Manduka calls this state vaishvanara, the consciousness of commoners. You do not have to do anything to live in this state of consciousness. This is the way of all humans, all nara, all peoples of vishva, this planet.
Nyepi is the day to question ourselves. Are we satisfied living this kind of life – the commoners’ life? Or we would like to live differently, more consciously.
The question is how to live consciously?
Go within – penetrate into the second layer of your consciousness, the so-called unconscious or subconscious mind. This is where you can dream, imagine and plan your actions. In this layer you can explore your Taijasa, your inner strength, your potential.
Dreams and imaginations are necessary if you want to build something of value. Yet it is not enough. Your dreams and imaginations, your plans, must originate from the third layer of consciousness, the Prajna – the layer of wisdom.
This layer of wisdom is unconsciously accessed while we are in the state of deep dreamless sleep, when our mind is at complete rest, and the brain function is reduced to the bare minimum. It is only after such sleep that we wake up fresh and rejuvenated the next morning.
Meditation is the way to consciously access this very layer of wisdom. Meditation is the way to access this very layer of consciousness while we are awake, fully awake. Thus, meditation transforms what is vaishvanara – a commoner’s consciousness – into prajna, the consciousness of the wise.
Accessing the third layer of consciousness in deep sleep rejuvenates your body and mind. Accessing it in meditation, your soul blossoms. And when that happens you move on to the fourth state, turiya. This is indefinable, an inexplicable state of pure bliss, ananda. This is where all dualities disappear, all differences dissolve and we discover the true nature of self, with a small “s” or a big “S” – whatever.
This is where one faces the Truth in all Its effulgence.
This is the state of perfect silence.
Coming out of this state, one can easily develop an “attitude of silence.” Coming out of this state, one’s life is totally transformed. In Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.”
Nyepi is the day to remind us that such a state of consciousness is achievable. It is attainable by one and all. Yes, it is a reminder. It would be wrong to think that remaining silent once a year on Nyepi day is enough. It is certainly not enough.
One must practice Nyepi on a daily basis.
What is the literal meaning of Nyepi?
Derived from “menyepi” – remaining silent – it is not “forced silence.” It is remaining silent voluntarily, and in full consciousness. It is meditation.
Observation of silence out of fear is not meditation. One must do so voluntarily. And quite voluntarily too one must observe the following steps towards total silence:
Amati Geni: No Fire/No Light.
Outwardly it is switching off electricity – no stoves, no machines, not even candles. Inwardly, it is switching off the fire of emotions, and passions.
Amati Karya: No Work/Action.
Remain home by all means if you like to observe it outwardly, but do not forget to access the interior of your being. That is your real home that is the dwelling place of your true self.
Amati Lelunganan: No Waywardness.
Watch your mind. Be a witness to its wavering, to the clouds of thoughts gathering and dispersing.
Amati Lelanguan: Non-Indulgence in Sensory Pleasures.
Practice self-restraint, practice self-discipline and learn to master your senses. Begin with fasting, but do not stop at that. More important than what goes into your mouth, as Jesus said, is what comes out of your mouth. Control your speech.
Keep a ceiling on your desires, as Sri Sathya Sai Baba says.
Following these steps, one enters into meditation.
Nyepi is the pathway to spirituality. It is the way to access our inner reality. For the Balinese, Nyepi is not only a festival, but also a way of life. And this very way of life makes Bali what it is: beautiful yet balashali – powerful!