My first visit to Twenty-Nine Palms [Paramhansa Yogananda’s desert retreat in California] was for a weekend. We visited Master at his place. My first recollection of him on that occasion isn’t so much of the things he said, as of what he didn’t say. I didn’t know it at the time, but he placed great importance on silence. Disciples working around him were permitted to speak only when necessary. “Silence,” he said, “is the altar of Spirit.”
Master was seated out of doors by the garage; Bernard and I were standing nearby. Master asked Bernard to go into the house and fetch something. Suddenly, for the first time since my acceptance as a disciple, I found myself alone with my Guru. It seemed an opportunity not to be missed: a chance to learn something — anything! Master, evidently, didn’t see it in the same light. He made no move to speak. Finally I decided I’d better “break the ice.”
I had learned from Bernard how to commune inwardly with Aum, the Cosmic Sound, which manifests itself to the yogi in deep meditation. “Sir,” I inquired, “what does Aum sound like?”
Master gave a prolonged “Mmmmmmmmmm.” He then reverted comfortably to silence. To me, alas, his silence was anything but comfortable.
“How does one hear it?” I persisted, though I already knew the technique.
This time Master didn’t even bother to answer, but simply assumed the prescribed position. After holding it briefly, he returned his hands silently to his lap.
Some months later I told him I was having trouble calming my breath in meditation. “That,” he replied, “is because you used to talk a lot. The influence has carried over. Well,” he added consolingly, “you were happy in that.”
Silence is the altar of Spirit. As I grew into my new way of life, I began to value this maxim.