The Art Of Listening
Updated: Apr 6
In Hermann Hesse's amazing book, Siddarttha, there is a beautiful scene where the Buddha is questioned about one of the sermons he has given in a nearby village. For two pages or so, the main character in the book picks apart Buddha's sermon and tells him there is a logical fallacy in what he taught the people. The Buddha, quiet and serene as always, listens carefully to what the boy is saying. When he is finally given an opportunity to respond, all he says is this:
"My teaching is about freedom, not cleverness."
What potent, silent words to shut up an overactive mind!
This simple, yet profound response has the same effect as a sutra or Zen koan: its prophetic nature doesn't need further explanation. For it lays the truth bare without having to explain anything at all. Instead of activating the mind, or beating around the bush, it quietens the mind, giving it nothing to bathe in. All that remains is space. This space is what Mooji refers to as "the stateless state."
It is difficult to come across certain methods that take you into this space. In the end, it all depends on the quality of your listening. No matter what it is that you are doing--singing kirtan, meditating, dancing, chanting mantra, or pondering about a zen koan--the degree to which you receive what those have to offer depend on the quality of your listening.
But you cannot listen with an image in front of you. And you cannot listen with your mind. That is listening to respond, listening to analyze, listening to remember. And, in the end, that is not listening at all. You have to remain receptive, open, aware, and extremely sensitive to the gift of life in front of you, as if it were the last gift you open.
In other words, you have to listen with an open heart and a quiet mind. When you do that, the heart of life speaks, and it comes like thunder, over the mountain, with a scent that is undeniable.
Hafiz, the great Sufi poet, once said,
"How do I listen to others? As if everyone were my Master speaking to me his cherished last words. How do I listen to you? As if you were the Alpha and the Omega of all sound."
When you know that the guru is everywhere, it is wise to listen to everything and everyone with the attentiveness Hafiz points to in this poem. For those who do that, the heart of life is not centered in a specific place; it is everywhere. That is where you want to be touched. That is where life wants to touch you.
The really beautiful thing about attention, when it is fully embodied, is its ability to discriminate and see without analysis. Jiddu Krishnamurti actually defined intelligence in that way. "The Highest form of intelligence," he said, "is to observe without evaluating."
Because, you see, there is no way of seeing clearly when you are in the mind. It is too cunning, too arrogant, and too insincere to hear the sacred undertone embedded in life.
But trying to put this all into words is extremely difficult. Trying to think about it doesn't do much good either, because it exists prior to thought. In fact, it is the space between thoughts. That space can understand the nature of thought, because all thoughts occur within it. But thought itself cannot understand the nature of it because it depends on it. The analogy of the screen is always helpful in this situation:
The pictures depend on the screen for their existence, but the screen does not depend on the pictures for its existence. Understanding this on an experiential level sets you free, and ultimately proves the inadequacy of relative knowledge.
If it weren't for the screen, there would be no show, no pictures. The cosmic drama simply would not exist.
To put it more poetically,
The mind fails to grasp love, because it is from love that it was born. In the same way that a child cannot grasp the love its mother has for it until she becomes a mother herself, a mind cannot grasp its maker until it becomes love itself.