Silence: Reflections on Unreasonable Themes (Part II)–Luis Villoro

I know…you might be wondering: hey, where’s Section B of Part I? You promised something on Portilla! I’ll get to that in a bit. For now, enjoy this short reflection on Luis Villoro. Oh, and Happy New Year!


Silence. I keep with this theme because I think that there must be an end to justifications, to explanations, to working ourselves over with reasons and arguments. Or, there should be an end. In the clamor of daily life, thought, there doesn’t seem to be an end. The Buddhist imperative to remain in the moment, in the feeling, in the thought, in the body and vanquish desire so as to reach a state of peace and silence conforms to the Franciscan-ascetic call for resignation and surrender to the Will of God regardless of the wants and desires of our ego; but doing these things is harder than it seems. Nevertheless, there appears to be a roadmap to, at least, approaching these calls for silence in the works of the greatest of our philosophers, who, it seems, suddenly and in spite of themselves, come to the end of the space of reasons and stand face to face with the Mystery, with the unknown, the unsayable—the unexplainable. They call it a mystical experience, a conversion experience, etc., and are affected by this in one of two ways: they either wish to honor it with quiet and silence or bow to its transformative promise by carrying out a transformation in their own persons.

In his La mezquita azul, Luis Villoro recounts his own mystical experience while inside Turkey’s Blue Mosque. Villoro’s mystical experience is not unlike Portilla’s (Section B of Part I), who suddenly feels a deep unwavering peace within him, but it is more perceptual than Portilla’s. What I mean is that he “sees” connection, coherence, and totality all about him; he sees meaning and purpose; he recognizes, in what he sees, in what he hears, and in what he feels, that he is just a part of, an aspect of a greater whole. He writes: “I know that I am one of many, small, insignificant in the sea of humanity, [a humanity that] has elevated itself to the sacred throughout time” (Vislumbres de lo otro, 51). For Villoro, the mystical experience is an opportunity for humility, for resignation of ego, of self-importance. Villoro recognizes this and struggles against the demands of his own vocation (which is our vocation).

“But my vanity is still with me. I look at myself and register my words. I realize that I am thinking about what I will write, perhaps, about this moment. Then I pray: “Allow my pride to vanish, allow for the destruction of my immense vanity, that my egoism may finally be erased.” And only then do I feel, only then do I see the truth. Everything becomes forever transparent, everything is pure, held in suspense, serene and peaceful, everything is safe. The I is lost; it is small, trivial, forgotten. How wonderful that it may be this way! That everything is part of everything, that everything is one! How forever splendid the light of the universe” (Ibid., 51)

Villoro’s own struggle while within the experience itself shows that not even the presence of the unfathomable can deprive us of our habits. But that’s not the lesson we should get from Villoro’s account; the lesson is that the path to silence, the way to overcome the noise of vanity, is not within. Prayer is a call, an address to the Mystery itself, and, in his, Villoro calls for the destruction of his egoism and his vanity so as to “see the truth.” It turns out that the truth is transparent, pure, serene, peaceful, and safe—it is not the end of arguments, of justifications, of reasons, of dialectics—things that really never have an end; it is not the source or the product of power or agreement: the truth is there where the I is lost.

2 responses to “Silence: Reflections on Unreasonable Themes (Part II)–Luis Villoro

  1. “I know that I am one of many, small, insignificant in the sea of humanity, [a humanity that] has elevated itself to the sacred throughout time” (Vislumbres de lo otro, 51″ is this in La Mesquita or a different essay? The reference to having an experience of feeling part of a whole is also in Dewey…. they are strange or difficult passages to understand but I see some similarities but also differences with Villoro worth discussing. For example. here is at the end of Human and Conduct…Infinite relationships of man with his fellows and with nature already exist. The ideal means, as we have seen, a sense of these encompassing continuities with their infinite reach. This meaning even now attaches to present activities because they are set i n a whole to which they
    belong and which belongs to them. Even in the midst of conflict, struggle and
    defeat a consciousness is possible of the enduring and comprehending whole.

    Religion as a sense of the whole is the most individualized of all things, the most
    spontaneous, undefinable and varied. For individuality signifies unique
    connections in the whole. Yet it has been perverted into something uniform and
    immutable. It has been formulated into fixed and defined beliefs expressed in
    required acts and ceremonies. Instead of marking the freedom and peace of the
    individual as a member of an infinite whole, it has been petrified into a
    slavery of thought and sentiment, an intolerant superiority on the part of the
    few and an intolerable burden on the part of the many Yet every act may carry within itself a
    consoling and supporting consciousness of the whole to which it belongs and
    which in some sense belongs to it.

    With responsibility for the intelligent determination of particular acts may go a joyful emancipation from the burden for responsibility for the whole which sustains them, giving them their final outcome and quality. There is a conceit fostered by perversion of religion which
    assimilates the universe to our personal desires; but there is also a conceit of
    carrying the load of the universe from which religion liberates us. Within the
    flickering inconsequential acts of separate selves dwells a sense of the
    whole which claims and dignifies them. [332] In its presence we put off
    mortality and live in the universal. The life of the community in which we live
    and have our being is the fit symbol of this relationship. The acts in which we
    express our perception of the ties which bind us to others arc its only rites and

    • yeah, Goyo, this is the Mezquita Azul, which is part of the collection Vislumbres del otro. But I do see the similarities between them. And that’s precisely what I’ve been trying to articulate in these reflections on “silence” that I’ve posted the last few times. There is an attempt in these thinkers to give voice to something that overdetermines language–to something greater than ourselves. What that is differs from one to the other, but the attempt is the same–or it has the same origins, i.e., what I’m calling the “Mystery” here..

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