Cherishing others enough to listen to them

Our self-grasping ignorance falsely convinces us that we are just our ordinary body and mind.  It seems natural to cherish ourselves, but what we are confused about is who we really are.  In reality, we are the fully inter-dependent mandala of all living beings, of which our ordinary body and mind are but one small part, like one of countless limbs on the body of life.  We cherish all living beings not out of self-martyrdom but rather because doing so is simply more accurate in terms of cherishing who we really are.  Instead of seeking to optimize what is best for the small, ignorant conception of self; we seek to optimize what is best for our full selves, namely the ocean of all living beings.

People will not be open to your perspective if they do not feel you understand them.  If you speak without first demonstrating that you fully understand where they are coming from, they will dismiss what you have to say and they will spend their time trying to explain to you their perspective.  As banal as it is to say, it is impossible to demonstrate you understand somebody if you do not know how to listen to them.  People know when you are really listening and when you are actually just planning on what you are going to say.

If you look at all of the great examples within ours and other traditions what you find is people who actually know how to listen to others as an act of cherishing them.  How do we do this?  I would say there are four key elements to effective listening:

  1. Shut off completely your own inner commentary and just try to understand where the other person is coming from.  Generate a sincere desire to understand the other person.
  2. Accept the other person without judgement, regardless of what it is they are saying.
  3. Have no ulterior, selfish motive where you are in any way attached to or dependent upon what choices the other person makes.  In other words, you only want what is best for them.
  4. You filter everything you hear through the lens of how everything that is happening to the other person is actually perfect in terms of giving the other person an opportunity to work on improving themselves.

Developing the skill of listening well is one of the most important qualities we need to develop along the bodhisattva path.  Fortunately, this is a skill we can practice developing all day, every day.  Very often the mere act of really listening to somebody is all we need to do to help them.  They are able to verbalize what is happening to them, and by doing so they can better see and understand their own situation and how they should proceed.  When we accept them without judgement, they are able to accept themselves.  By seeing how what is happening to them is perfect, they miraculously start to see things the same way without us even having to say a word.

Your turn:  Give an example from your life where simply listening to somebody helped them.

5 thoughts on “Cherishing others enough to listen to them

  1. Thanks for this series of posts. I don’t really understand what you mean by “we are the fully inter-dependent mandala of all living beings”. Could you explain?

    • If you look at the ocean, we can distinguish one wave from another, but in reality such distinctions are purely mental. By nature, they are all the same ocean. In the same way, if we look at the ocean of all living beings, we can distinguish one being from another, but such distinctions are purely mental. By nature we are all equally waves on the ocean of the emptiness of our mind. Self-grasping ignorance, quite simply, is believing that we are just our ordinary selves (the body and mind that we normally see). In reality, this is just “part of” us, one wave on the ocean of our mind. Each being, including our ordinary selves, is equally just another wave. To say we are just one wave and not another is like one wave saying they are not the ocean. Just as you cannot separate a wave from its underlying ocean, so too you cannot separate any wave of a being from the ocean of our mind. In short, we are all one ocean, but nominally distinct waves.

  2. Thanks Ryan. Very helpful.”In reality, we are the fully inter-dependent mandala of all living beings, of which our ordinary body and mind are but one small part, like one of countless limbs on the body of life.” – love that!

  3. Last night in counselling skills we are doing just this, practicing with each other.
    Looking in-depth at the process, what listening is, what it is not, how to respond, how to interpret meaning. How to probe and ask questions effectively, how to determine points of view, decisions, feelings both past and present, verbal and non-verbal messages etc.

    Then you have to communicate understanding. There’s no point effectively listening if the other person doesn’t perceive you are listening. There is a need for perceptiveness, highlighting and checking, assertiveness with regard to how you show you are listening.

    Essentially, how to walk in the others shoes and give them back with extra cushioning. Buddhism doesn’t teach how to listen or other conventional skills because these should be learnt early on no one is teaching it. For 99.9% of the world no one is listening. It’s frightening.

    Empathy is underrated and as Carl Rogers put it, “it is an unappreciated way of being” when others are not really listening. One is not seen as important or their real feelings, thoughts and behaviours are not given consideration by others. Good stuff.

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