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Chapter 5: The Art of Listening

It is hard to believe what Nanak says - that by listening alone a person can attain siddhis, occult powers; or a person can become a pir, a saint; or a devta, a celestial being; or even Indra, the king of the devtas; that by listening, the sky and earth revolve and worlds and lower worlds exist, and death does not touch you.

It all seems a gross exaggeration, but it is not so in the least, because as soon as you learn the art of listening you learn the art of becoming acquainted with life itself. And as you begin to acquire the knowledge of existence, you find that the same silence you experience at the moment of shravana is the principle of all existence. It is the basis on which the sky and the earth are maintained; it is on the hub of this void that terrestrial bodies revolve; it is in silence that the seed breaks and becomes a tree, that the sun rises and sets, and moon and stars are formed and disintegrate. When words fall into silence within you, you reach the place where all creation is born and where it becomes extinct.

Once it happened: A Muslim fakir came to Nanak and said, “I have heard that you can turn me to ashes by your will, and that you can also create me by your will. I cannot believe this.” He was an honest, genuine seeker who had not come out of idle curiosity.

Nanak said, “Close your eyes. Be relaxed and quiet and I will do for you what you wish.” The fakir at once closed his eyes and became tranquil. Had he not been a serious seeker he would have been frightened, because what he had asked was very dangerous - to be turned into ashes and remade, because he had been told that creation and extinction lay in Nanak’s hands.

It was morning, a day just like this. Nanak was sitting under a tree beside a well at the outskirts of the village. His disciples Bala and Mardana were also with him. They were very much perturbed, because never had Nanak said such a thing to anyone before. What would happen now? They too became alert and the very trees and stones also became alert because Nanak was about to perform a miracle!

The fakir sat, silent and tranquil. He must have been a man of great faith. He became absolutely empty within. Nanak put his hand on his head and pronounced the Omkar. As the story goes, the man turned to ashes. Then Nanak again sounded the Omkar and the man regained his body.

If you take the story at its face value, you will miss it, but this did happen within the seeker. When he became completely empty within, when the internal dialogue was broken and Nanak gave out the chant of Omkar, the sadhaka attained the state of shravana - there was nothing but the resonance of Om within him. And with this resonance the annihilation took place on its own. Everything within the man was lost - all the world and its boundaries - turned to naught, to ashes. There was nothing within, nobody. The house was empty. Then Nanak once again chanted the Omkar and the man came back to himself. He opened his eyes, fell at Nanak’s feet and said, “I had thought this could never happen, but you have proved it possible!”

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