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Chapter 5: The Art of Listening

It seems as if we have completely forgotten that the process of talking can be begun or ended at will, which it certainly can, or else all religions become impossible. Religion is possible only through silence. This is why Nanak praises shravana so much, which is in praise of silence, to glory in silence so that you may begin to hear. But you go along merrily talking, carried along by your own momentum and even if it comes to your understanding it is very difficult to stop, since habits take time to leave and often require the development of opposite habits in order to break them. So you will have to practice silence. To stay in the company of holy men means to practice silence. In the presence of the guru there is nothing to say and everything to hear. You listen and sit quietly. You don’t go to the guru for a chat.

A few days ago a friend offered to come for a discussion. I said, “In that case, you talk. I shall listen but say nothing.”

He said, “But I want to exchange views with you.”

I answered, “I have nothing to do with your thoughts. If you are prepared to be without thoughts I can give you something. Or, if you have something to give, I’m prepared to take.”

We have nothing whatsoever to give, but we are eager to carry out transactions in thoughts. We say exchange of thoughts and what we mean is you give me a bit of your insanity, and I give you a bit of mine. As both are mad enough, there is no need of any give-and-take.

We do not go to the guru to exchange views but to sit quietly next to him. Only when we are silent can we hear, and that requires a little practice. How can you begin? In the twenty-four hours of a day you need to be silent for an hour or so, whenever it is convenient. The internal dialogue will go on but don’t be party to it. The key to it all is to hear the talk within just as you would hear two people talking, but remain apart. Don’t get involved; just listen to what one part of the mind is telling another. Whatever comes, let it come; don’t try to repress it. Only be a witness to it.

A lot of rubbish that you have gathered over the years will come out. The mind has never been given the freedom to throw away this rubbish. When given the chance, the mind will run like a horse that has broken his reins. Let it run! You sit and watch. To watch, just watch, is the art of patience. You will want to ride the horse, to direct it this way or that, because that is your old habit. You will have to exercise some patience in order to break this habit.

Wherever the mind goes, merely watch; don’t try to enforce any order as one word gives rise to another and another, and a thousand others, because all things are connected. Perhaps Freud was unaware, that, when he based his entire psychoanalytic method on this “free association of thoughts” as he called it, it derived from yoga. One thought comes, and then another, and each thought is linked to the other in a continuous chain.

Once I was traveling in a train that was very full. When the inspector came to check our tickets he looked underneath my seat, where there was an old man hiding. He said, “You, old man, come out! Where is your ticket?”

The poor man fell at his feet and said, “I don’t have any ticket nor any money but I have to go to the village in connection with my daughter’s wedding. I would be grateful if you let me go this time.”

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