The discipline of silence according to Pythagoras was aimed at shaping a more reflective mind through self-control of the word. Through the kind of ascetic practices, the sage of the School of Crotona taught hundreds of men and women that only when we are abstracted from the sensible world, can we make contact with our own selves and achieve authentic wisdom.
More than 2,500 years ago, Pythagoras of Samos introduced this principle into the Western world. The famous Greek mathematician and philosopher had spent two decades of his life in Egypt learning under the tutelage of several hierophants in Thebes and Memphis. Later, he went to Babylon to study astrology and the principles of karma and meditation.
All these acquired knowledge helped him to create his famous school in Crotona, which had only one rule when allowing access to any student: that he would previously spend five years in rigorous silence. To those who already had a serene and focused personality, they were “alone” with two years.
Writings from other philosophers of that period tell us that more than 200 students attended this center, men and women who longed to know all the mysteries and fabulous wisdoms that could be acquired in the School of Pythagoras. Now, if there is something we all know is that, at present, silence is not something common in schools.
We have lost in some way, a valuable lesson that Pythagoras himself bequeathed us in his day: through silence we learn to discipline ourselves.
“Listen and you will be wise. The beginning of authentic wisdom is part of silence.”
The discipline of silence according to Pythagoras, what is it?
The basic principle that governs the discipline of silence according to Pythagoras is based on an essential fact. For the scholar of the school, what is most difficult for us to control people is the language. This part of our body was, in his opinion, the main cause of personal problems and tragedies as well as that channel through which we bring suffering to our own lives.
In books such as those written by Thomas Stanley, the first historian of philosophy, he points out that Empedocles, a politician of the fifth century BC. C, he pointed out that if humanity were able to follow the lessons of Pythagoras, we would be a nobler society. Moreover, he even came to define Pythagoras himself as a figure who seemed to have accumulated twenty lives in his being.
We owe him pure mathematics, the term “philosophy” and the creation of that Crotona school, which would later serve as a model for the creation of modern universities. In that institution, students were initiated in scientific and philosophical instruction, as well as in music and astronomy. However, in order to access such knowledge, they must first “purify” themselves. Such rite of passage is carried out in the following manner.
The harsh discipline of silence
The discipline of silence according to Pythagoras demanded that every student pass 5 years of rigorous silence (two if he was a temperate and serene person). In this way and, according to his own words, the human soul could return to its own home to detach itself from any artifice or external object.
Disciplining the tongue was the only way to quiet the mind, the needs of the body and the sufferings that made up the soul.
Also, unlike other later Greek mathematicians, from Pythagoras we have no written book. He did not write anything because he did not want to be attached to the written word. He wanted his knowledge to reside only in the minds of his students, those who had already been purified by the test of silence.
Thus, when a student took the step to perform this rite of passage, he was considered an Acoustici. When I passed that test, I was already a Mathematici.
Silence among the Pythagoreans was essential. When a student reached that level he achieved a “transmigration” of his thinking. In that way, he could better understand the occult cosmogony of nature, of numbers, of art, or of any kind of wisdom.
How to apply the discipline of silence according to Pythagoras today
We are aware that few from us can fulfill the discipline of silence according to Pythagoras as he formulated it in his day. To make a rigorous vow of silence during a five-year period is not something that everyone can or does not want to carry out. However, studies like those carried out in the Department of Psychiatry of the Harvard Medical School (United States) show us something important.
If we were able to maintain a rigorous silence between half an hour or an hour a day, we would enjoy a healthier, less stressed brain, a more focused mind and a better state of mind.
Therefore, it is never too easy to adapt this suggestion with other recommendations that Samos Pythagoras himself gave us at the time about health and well-being:
- Being in contact with sunlight, following the cycles of nature.
- Allow us at least one hour of silence each day.
- Take care of food (in the school of Crotona the consumption of meat was avoided).
- Regular exercise
- Keep enriching conversations.
- Carry out creative practices
The discipline of silence according to Pythagoras is like his own figure, a legacy from which to learn, reflect and inspire us. It is worthwhile to remember lessons as those contained in those phrases that he addressed to his students: silence is the first stone of the temple of wisdom.