Nearness to God. It would seem sometimes that Indian religions do not distinguish between the verbal and the verbose. The texts are definitely intimidating, not just because of the language and difficult concepts therein, but mainly because they are so huge. These are scriptures that ramble and meander. They are prolix, talkative, and long of wind - and the preachers are even worse. Texts and speakers are equally given to bombast, hyperbole, exaggeration, flowery talk and unwearied purple patches. Thus it would be quite a surprise to realize that Silence as a spiritual method has a long and respected history in India.
The first to cut down on babble and blather were the sages of the Upanishads and that is nearly three thousand years ago. Inspired by this terse style, the writers of the Brahma-sutras crammed more meanings into one syllable than you would think is humanly possible. It was said about them that they would rather sacrifice a son than add one unnecessary word to their commentaries. The practice of Mauna - silence as a votive offering or a spiritual discipline - soon became famous and those who practiced silence regularly were soon an entire sub-class of sage of their own. They were called the Munis - the silent ones- from the root word mauna.
Silence is a great spiritual discipline because even at a purely physiological level keeping quiet refreshes and regenerates your energy level. Spiritual breakthroughs are energy intensive at every stage, and being silent goes a long way in building up the necessary reserves. We instinctively feel wary of the person who does not say much, fearing that when speech finally happens it will be something too hot to handle - a popular perception that translates into "strong and silent".
This new technique was extremely popular amongst the Jain religion too and they still have Munis today. The Buddha spent a lifetime in preaching but his most dramatic and effective sermon was the one time he silently held up a flower to his assembled disciples. The assembly was deeply puzzled by this, but the Buddha was satisfied, for he had seen the smile on the face of Kashyapa.
Just a single person who understood was enough. This was the famous first transmission of Chan that conquered China and turned up in Japan as Zen. It was also the core event from which came the famous saying that He who understands the Truth is known by his silence about it.
China was making this discovery independently on its own at the same time as the Buddha and the Brahma-sutras. Chuang Tze complained about the endless clatter of words that were preventing people from experiencing the true nature of the Tao with his usual paradox. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words that I may speak with him?
So overwhelming was this new impulse to silence in the world that even classical Greece formulated its own version of it and at the same time. They shared the ancient Indian reverence for the spoken word, believing it was vital that all religious services and rites be performed without a single mistake in pronouncing and enunciating the sacred verses. Sacred rites at the temples were seriously perilous affairs where a word ill-spoken or improperly used could invite the displeasure of the gods. While India solved that problem by developing an amazing attention to the spoken word, with an accuracy and depth of perception that ensured oral transmission was perfect transmission, Greece took no chances. To ensure there would be no inadvertent accidents their ceremonies substituted chants with a reverent, absolute silence. The word for this practice is euphemein, which literally means to speak well and denotes the pious and awed silence before the presence of the god. It also became a popular substitute for "Hush!" but that is beside the point.
It is a genuinely interesting concept.
To speak well is to shut up.