by Christopher Kakuyo Sensei
I have been thinking a lot about listening lately. Actually, I think about it a lot. For many years I thought I was a good listener and over time I have realized how untrue that was. But that seems true for most of us; we have a high opinion of our listening skill and tend to think we are better listeners than we are. I know the Buddhadharma has helped me become a better listener.
I first came across the idea of listening as a practice in Taitetsu Unno’s, River of Water, River of Fire. I had never heard of the idea of “deep hearing” or Monpo (to listen to the Buddha dharma) before. What he was talking about was more metaphysical than what I took away from it. I can appreciate what he was sharing and compare it to the soundless bell that Rev. Gyomay wrote about in the Center Within. At the same time, I also look at it not only in a metaphysical sense but as a more mundane daily practice of hearing the call of the Buddha in each person I deeply listen to.
Our sangha in Salt Lake is looking to become part of a group called Urban Confessionals. This whole groups purpose is to offer free listening to anyone. It is simple, make a sign that says “free listen” and wait for someone to listen to, just listen. We haven’t made our first venture out yet, but I am looking forward to it this Summer. The reason we are doing it in the first place is that we see this as a great opportunity for practice. To listen to another, to listen deeply to an “other” can be a great act of compassion. I love this quote from a guy named David Oxberger, “ Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference “ For me the call of the Buddha to be compassionate would also be a call to listen. Listening is a way for us to open ourselves to other people, and to ourselves. We are following the challenge of Thich Nhat Hahn who has written,
“We surely have not cultivated the arts of listening and speaking. We do not know how to listen to each other. We have little ability to hold an intelligent or meaningful conversation. The universal door of communication has to be opened again.”
This is so much more than hearing someone; it is listening deeply to them and their suffering. And not turning away. Rev Gyomay Kubose wrote in the commentary of his translation of the Tan Butsu Ge,
“listening is a very important understanding in Buddhism. To hear connotes the “I” hears, it is the ego subjective way of hearing but to listen is to be aware, to attend and has no tinge of ego in it.”
Deep listening is beyond ego, beyond judgment, it is only concerned with the suffering that is there. That is why on our altar we have Kwan Yin. The one who hears the cries of the world and does not turn away. The practice of deep listening is exemplified by this Bodhisattva, and we follow her example and have faith that as Thay writes, “While listening, you know that only with deep listening can you relieve the suffering of the other person.” He goes on to say, and we follow the aspiration
`Aware of the suffering caused by …the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.” This is exactly the universal door practiced by Avalokitesvara.”
After hearing a talk given by Reverend Koyo, Rev Castro of the Seattle Buddhist Church taught that “ Our religion should sensitize us to deeply hearing, acknowledge and gassho – whether to life’s pleasures or life’s pains.” How better to do this than deeply listening to a stranger or our spouse or our child? This deep listening to another person is another way of Deep hearing (listening) of the Dharma” it is a way of embodying the Buddha Dharma in practice. It the practice of cultivating compassion.
May we all cultivate a listening heart.
Christopher Kakuyo Sensei is part of the Lay Minister program with the Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha. To learn more about Bright Dawn Way of Oneness please visit us here.