During the time of the Lord Buddha, 2600 years ago, people learnt the noble Dhamma by listening. There were no books on Dhamma, no recording devices, no CD’s or DVD’s, certainly no smart phones. People listened to what is being taught, they listened to what is being said. They listened with attention and tried to understand what is being said, and they understood.
Today, we do not listen…today we hear…and whatever we hear prompt us, incite us, urge us to respond. We do not pay attention to what we hear, which is called ‘listening’. Instead everyone tries to give a reply or to give our opinion on what is being said without trying to understand what is being said. Any conversation, any topic people, as a whole, just talk and no one cares to listen. Since we are in a hurry to give an answer or say something about what we hear, to show-off or to share our experience or knowledge about it or give an excuse, we miss the chance to understand what we hear. We miss the chance to listen to what is being said. Because of that, whatever the other person says does not go into our heads, so we forget.
This habit becomes worse when we argue and quarrel. We pick on words that the other person is saying instead of listening to the whole point. And those words are used again to start another argument.
When listening to Dhamma sermons, we do the same mistake, we do not listen, instead we take notes or we record it hoping to listen or study later. But that ‘later’ never comes. When a sutta from Anguttara nikaya or a sutta that has points to remember is taught by a venerable bhikkhu we quickly note them down in a book or even on a piece or rough paper, so that when the points are asked by the bhikkhu we can say it. It is better than forgetting, but we have a brain that is bigger than the biggest book on earth, why can’t we write there, so it will not be lost like a book or a piece of paper. To do that, we need to listen with a focused mind, with attention. The other problem in taking notes is, we miss parts of the sermon while writing because listening and note taking cannot be done together with equal attention to both. The most unfortunate thing about writing down instead of trying to listen and remember is, we separate ourselves from dhamma. Imagine if we become deaf and blind or bedridden and unable to hear or see, which will happen eventually with old age anyway, and if all our notes are only in books and on CD’s how can we use the noble Dhamma to help ourselves?
Therefore, let us learn to listen. Let us learn to listen to what the others are saying. Listen and understand first before replying. Remember, we don’t always have to say something when we are in a conversation. If we listen carefully, we can learn something new or be able to make a valuable comment that others can benefit from. So, first listen…
When listening to the noble Dhamma, if we focus on our-self and try to apply what we hear to our-self we will be able to improve on understanding the noble Dhamma. Therefore, let us listen to understand…listen to remember…listen to learn.
By Prajapathi Jayawardene