Philosophy Works (Class Five)

The Power of Listening.

I missed this class but was handed out the Class Notes:

  • Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration and attention. Listening leads to learning. Most people tend to be “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing”.
  • Philosophy brings a man who hears and practices it to a deep and silent power within himself leaving him free to manage his affairs without attachment or involvement. But the man who hears it only and does not do it is led into greater confusion and verbal complexity. Simplicity is found in practice. Simplicity leads to truth.
  • To discover whether a person is listening or not requires the exercise of attention. There are two ways of not listening: either we are thinking of something else, or we are furiously rehearsing what we intend to say next. When we become aware of this all-too-common occurrence, stop! See if the other person notices!
  • Let us use these habits of unnecessary speech – talking for talking’s sake, taking as though we know what we don’t’ know, or furious inner conversations – to wake up. They can act as alarm clocks. This is the great lay of conservation of energy. When we let go for what is unnecessary, whole new world opens up, a world of opportunity and scope.


In any conversation, there are only two profitable activities – talking and listening. Actually, there is only one: listening. When we are speaking or when anyone is speaking to us, let us make it a rule; we listen.

When we recognize any aspect of out talk as unnecessary, the right action is to stop talking and listen.

Passages for study:

Even though a speech be a thousand words long, but made up of senseless words, one word of sense is better which if a man hears, eh becomes quiet.

Even though a poem be a thousand words long, but made up of senseless words, one word of a poem is better which if a man hears, eh becomes quiet.

Though a man recite a hundred poems made up of senseless words, one word of the law is better which if a man hears, he becomes quiet.

If a man conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, and if another conquer himself, he is the greatest of conquerors…

If a man holds himself dear, let him watch himself carefully…

Let each man direct himself first to what is proper, then let him teach others; thus a wise man will no suffer.

Dhammapada of Buddha.

A Sermon on Abuse: the Buddha said: “If a man foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me; the fragrance of goodness always comes to me, and the harmful air of evil goes to him.” A foolish man, learning that the Buddha observed the principle of great love which commends the return of good for evil, came and abused him. The Buddha was silent, pitying his folly. When the man had finished his abuse, the Buddha asked: “Son, if a man declines to accept a present made to him, to whom would the gift belong?” The man answered: “In that case the gift would belong to the man who offered it.” And so, my son,” said the Buddha, “you have railed at me, but I refuse to accept your abuse, and request that you to keep it yourself. Will it not be a source of misery to you? As the echo belongs to the sound, and the shadow to the substance, so the misery will overtake the evildoer without fail.” The abuser went away ashamed, but he came again and took refuge in the Buddha.

Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of India.

Think about how often you speak from the time you awaken to the time you go to sleep. The answer psychologists give is approximately seven hundred discrete utterings… Investigators say talkative people utter 12,000 sentences every day, which averages to almost 100,000 words. Put differently, an average American can speak the equivalent of a novel per day, although he reads less than three books a year. Since talking is such a universally enjoyed pastime, why do so many people shun listening? Listening has to be learned… The mind of the good listener must be disciplined. If the talker be wise, discipline is required to understand what he is talking about. If the talker be a fool, discipline is required just to stand the boor. Listening requires liking, and liking means you have to treat someone equally, treat him as you would be treated yourself.

From The Boston Globe.

PS We hear but we don’t listen, we are not in the moment, so we miss details or underlying meaning. Our instructor Meta gave us a great example. Years ago she worked with another person, who every morning complained about her work that it is hard and unfair, and this complaining went on and on for months… Every morning Meta’s colleague approached her and complained. Meta said she heard but didn’t listen until one day she really listened and realized that her colleague just felt underappreciated and not recognized for her work, so Meta said: “But you did a great job on so and so project!” And that person’s need of being acknowledged was met and complaining stopped. The power of listening indeed… Our Instructor is a student of Practical Philosophy and she is doing a great job leading us through the course. Thank you, Meta!

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