The teachings of The Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness has come now to the exercise on mindfulness of the sense door experiences. In the explicit teachings that I have heard over the years on this particular Satipaṭṭhāna discourse – this particular exercise, maybe the two exercises that are least emphasized is the corpse meditations, and this one, the six senses.
It is a bit of a pity that it is not emphasized more. The sense experience – being really grounded in our sense experience of hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, and the clear seeing or knowing of what happens in the mind is really at the heart of classic Vipassanā practice.
We are learning to stay present in the simplicity of our sense experience. That is always in the present moment. As we do so, we come closer and closer to being able to stay present – it is a process. We come progressively closer and closer to the simplicity of sense experience. At the same time, there is more and more letting go of our entanglements – the way we are caught, reactive and spend our time thinking. There is less and less attachment, as we are able to stay more and more with the ongoing flow of the current of the river of sense experience as it occurs.
The teaching from the Buddha that is repeated a lot in this Insight teachers' world is the instructions: "In the seeing, just the seen; in the heard, just the heard; in the cognized, just the cognized; in the sense experience, just the sense experience." Just the seen, just the heard, that simplicity. It can be quite liberating, quite delightful to put down our preoccupations and reactivity.
Today, the topic is hearing. Maybe because much of these teachings were composed before the the written word became popular, the name for direct disciples of the Buddha is "sāvaka". "Sāvakā" can be translated as the ones who hear – the ones who heard the teachings the Buddha directly. I like to think that it has a deeper meaning – the ones who hear deeply, that are attentive as if they are hearing, everything. The Christian order of monks called the Benedictines begins their code of conduct or rulebook with the word, "ascolta", in Latin. It means; "Hear, listen, Hear, listen."
There is a lot to be learned from listening and hearing, in particular if we can hear receptively, openly. I like this idea that there is a 360 degree panorama of sounds. We settle back and allow the sounds to appear from whereever in the big circle that they occur. Sometimes I have the sense that my awareness is as big and as expensive as the distance from where the sound originates.
That happens when my mind gets very relaxed and open. Then there is very little sense of boundaries to the mind, or location for things in the mind. The sense of location tends to become expansive and open. It is a delightful feeling to feel the mind so receptive, relaxed and open, that it just takes in sounds in a very spacious way.
As we become aware of hearing, we can become aware of how we get entangled in what we hear – the knots that can be formed. There is a sound. There is the ear that hears, the eardrums maybe. Then, there is the knot, the fetter, that gets formed between those two.
This can happen when someone is speaking to us. Someone is saying something, and we stop listening because we have grabbed onto a branch of how we feel hurt, or how we have some new fantasy, a new idea. We go off thinking about something that is triggered by them. We are no longer really listening. We have formed a knot around our thoughts.
Maybe we do not like what we hear. There is tension somewhere in the body. Maybe we like what we hear, and we want more of it. There is all kinds of plotting, and planning for how to have more and let it continue. There are all kinds of judgments that can arise. There are all kinds of preferences or bias. There can be ideas of self that the sounds impinge on me. I am a victim of all these sounds. I am the one who hears it.
There is an analogy that is used. If you hold your hand flat, and something comes and strikes it, you know the stronger the strike, the more it is going to hurt your hand. If you keep your hand open and relaxed so that things can just go right through, then you are less likely to be hurt. Just let it go through. Or even better is to lower the hand and then the sounds just go right through. They do not touch or hit anything.
The equivalent of the hand in the mind is a very strong sense of self – a strong sense of me, my experience. I am the victim. It is happening to me. Why are they doing this to me? To be able to lower that concern, that tension, that preoccupation around self – me, myself and mine – is one of the great fruits of this mindfulness practice.
As this selfing-self relaxes the sounds go right through. Or we start seeing where or what the sound strikes, where the knot exists. It becomes a mindfulness bell for us to notice that knot – to notice our reactivity, reaction, or entanglement with it.
If you hear anything, the ears are hearing, you are in the present moment. Sounds are one of those phenomena that only exists in the current flow of the present moment. Be aware of sounds and listening. To be open to it and receive it, is to stay present, here and now.
It can be a way that we begin to recognize the forces of the mind that take us out of the present moment – the branches we hold on to. It is not so much that we have to analyze what we are holding on to, as it is to let go. Come back to this receptive awareness of listening. Learn to do this around sound. Some people find this is the laboratory in which it is easiest to learn relaxed, receptive, unentangled, awareness – mindfulness. Learn it with hearing, then apply it to other things as well.
For these next 24 hours, I would encourage you to give particular attention to hearing. Find some times through the day that you can sit someplace – in a park, an open window or someplace. Just allow yourself to hear sounds. Like you are laying on the grass and looking at the clouds float by in this very relaxed way. Settle back and take some time to just hear sounds.
If you are listening to music, choose some music that is pleasant, and relaxing to listen to. It may be just a delight to listen to in this way. Listen with your eyes closed. Sometimes with the eyes closed there is less entanglement and more ability to receive what is happening.
In the course of the day, you might also practice this listening to hear someone speak. How simple can you hear? Can you be fully present in a hearing way so you can hear and listen to what they say, without the entanglement? As you listen to them, you hear from a deeper place in your heart. You are in your body and your mind as you hear the other person. You allow the words to come. And because there is no entanglement, it does not hit anything. Maybe it can resonate with some deeper connectivity, some deeper place that may be a place of love, compassion, care, and peace.