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Listening An Important Tool In Spiritual Journey

Listening to the scriptures has an important place in all religious traditions. The Upanishads speak of shravana (hearing), manana (reflection), and nididhyasana (meditation) as the means for realization of the Self. Of these, shravana is considered the primary as well as immediate means to this realization by an important group of Advaitins. The Self as the eternal subject is the very essence of our being; nothing could have greater immediacy in our consciousness. That we mistake the ego for the self — universally and at all times — is one mystery that has evaded all rational attempts at explanation.

Newborn children are able to distinguish the sound of their own cry from that of others and experience distress when they hear others cry. This is a remarkable example of congenital identification of the self with the psychophysical system as well as proof of the outward direction of mental projections. The Katha Upanishad laments that ‘the self-existent Supreme Being inflicted great injury on the senses in making them outgoing; hence one sees outer objects but not the inner Self ’. If hearing the truth about the Self does not lead to immediate apprehension of the Self, it is because this literal knowledge (vakyartha) is too weak to focus the will and turn the mind inward. It is to temper this knowledge through repeated cogitation and meditation that manana and nididhyasana are prescribed.

The mind is constantly being moulded by the impressions it receives. An apparently novel piece of knowledge, like the truth about the Self, is immediately confronted by opposing thoughts on entering the mind. These include notions of impossibility, asambhavana, and thoughts of a contrary nature, viparita bhavana. These are neutralized by dedicated manana and nididhyasana.

Some Vedanta teachers are of the opinion that nididhyasana is more than meditation. Meditation is a mental process, but nididhysana is direct intuition, vijnana. We are not able to grasp deep spiritual truths because we are unable to transcend the ‘conceptual habits of thought and cannot read the
intimations of the spirit independently of thought’.

The intellect ‘schematizes and makes forms, but the movement of life in its radiance and fragrance is
still missed’. It is into this radiance and fragrance that the true devotee enters through bhakti, or devotion, and bhava, or divinized emotion.

For the bhakta, shravana is hearing about the names, forms, glories, and acts (lila) of God. The
spoken word has great potency. The convictions and realizations of the speaker and the veracity of
what is spoken contribute to the power of the word. God’s name is universally recognized as a potent means for approaching the Divine. But even a potent seed needs fertile soil to germinate. Interestingly, besides its denotative power which evokes intellectual associations with spiritual thoughts, God’s name is known to have a remarkable purifying influence on the mind. A piece of stirring music can take hold of our being, and the name and utterances of a loved one can have a pervasive influence on our thoughts. Shravana of divine names and actions has a similar, albeit more potent, effect. The wise siddhas attending Daksha’s sacrifice praised Sri Hari: ‘The elephant of our mind, burning and thirsty in the forest fire of worldly travails, has taken a dip in the pure nectarine stream of thy excellences and their recital. It is now completely forgetful of that fire, but it refuses to come out of that blissful river of thy service, even like one united with Brahman.’

Source Excerpts from Prabuddha Bharata editorial August 2008 issue.