The Art of Listening

Why you should listen with your heart, and not with your mind.
(File Photo)
(File Photo)

Effective communication is a cornerstone of success in any field. Communication is a coin with two sides—speaking and listening. While the ‘art of speaking’ has received ample attention from experts and motivational speakers, ‘the art of listening’ remains somewhat neglected. This oversight is evident in classrooms where students with similar IQ levels perform differently despite sharing the same teacher. The key to this variance often lies in how students listen to their educators. This discrepancy is also mirrored in spiritual seekers’ growth under the guidance of a guru, where those who master the art of listening gain more than those who merely hear their guru’s words.

Listening is fundamentally different from hearing; it involves full attention, absorption of every word, and allowing your subconscious to process the information. The significance of listening is deeply rooted in scriptures, which refer to it as ‘Shravan’. Much of our ancient knowledge has been transmitted through the tradition of listening, known as shruti parampara.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna demonstrates the power of listening by patiently hearing Arjuna without interruption and advising him to listen carefully and absorb the teachings. Arjuna, in turn, listens with rapt attention and benefits from the supreme knowledge imparted by Krishna. A similar theme can be found in the Mahabharata, where King Dhritrashtra, who is blind, relies on the narration of Sanjay to understand the events of the Kurukshetra war.

An intriguing tale from Srimad Bhagavatam underscores the significance of listening. To liberate his brother Dhundhukari’s suffering spirit, ascetic Gokarna organises a Srimad Bhagavatam katha. Dhundhukari’s spirit, dwelling in a hollow bamboo with seven knots, listens to the katha alongside numerous devotees. Each day, one knot of the bamboo housing Dhundhukari’s spirit breaks. After seven days, the spirit is liberated, and a messenger from Krishna arrives to escort him to Baikuntha. When Gokarna questions why only Dhundhukari was liberated, the messenger explains that he alone listened to the entire katha with unwavering attention and without distraction.

Beyond the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, numerous scriptures emphasise the art of listening and its benefits. They also provide practical tips to improve one’s listening skills, whether during a spiritual discourse or an academic lecture:

  • Begin your day early, take a refreshing bath and engage in meditation 
  • Avoid consuming heavy meals before the lecture. Fasting is even better, but if not possible, opt for a light meal both before and after the discourse.
  • While listening, focus intently on every word of the speaker

The most significant hindrance to receptive and heartfelt listening, as Osho highlights, is listening through the mind. He says, “If you are listening only through the mind, you will be conditioned because the mind goes on gathering knowledge. The mind is suggestible, corruptible, vulnerable.” What he means is that when listening, we tend to start thinking of how we should respond to it. This takes away one’s attention from what is being spoken. And that is why most verbal communications in this world often look like a dialogue but they are monologues where one person is speaking and the mind of another person, instead of listening without any prejudice or judgment, gets busy with preparing a response to the other person’s words.

Osho suggests “another way to listen—and it is not of the mind, it is of the heart. It is not through argumentativeness or knowledge—it is through pure heart-trust. Then you listen to me not like a philosopher, but like a poet”. It is an art that enables genuine connection and profound understanding, transcending the boundaries of mere words. In an age dominated by speaking, recognising and cultivating the art of listening is a path to a deeper connection, personal growth, and a more harmonious society.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna demonstrates the power of listening by patiently hearing Arjuna. Arjuna, in turn, listens with rapt attention and benefits from the supreme knowledge imparted by Krishna.

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