Thus, through statements like Tattvamasi, That art thou, to pursue the meanings such as oneness of jiva, the embodied soul, and Brahman, the absolute reality, is shravana, listening. And to reasonably pursue the meaning of whatever has been listened to is manan, contemplation.
Establishing your mind in the indubitable meaning attained through this listening and contemplation, attunement with it is nididhyasan, assimilation.
Dropping the meditator and the meditation respectively, when the meditated-upon, the goal, remains as the only objective and the mind becomes still like the flame of a lamp in a windless place – this is called samadhi, enlightenment.
Four words have been used in this sutra. Each word is a world within itself. The four words are: shravana, listening, manan, contemplation, nididhyasan, assimilation, and samadhi, enlightenment. In these four words is contained the entire journey to the truth. For the one who may complete these four steps rightly, nothing else remains to be done. It is around these four words that the whole spiritual discipline is developed, so it is useful to understand each of the four words minutely, deeply, with all their subtleties.
The first word is shravana, listening.
Listening does not mean mere hearing. We can all hear, to have ears is enough for hearing. Hearing is a mechanical phenomenon. There was a sound, it fell on your ears and you heard it. But listening is not just this. Listening means that it has not been heard only by the ears, the vibrations have penetrated to the consciousness deep within you. Try to understand this a little.
You are going along a road, your house is on fire and you are running towards it. Somebody passing by on the road greets you. Your ears will hear it but you will not. The next day you will not be able to even recall that somebody greeted you on the road. When your house is on fire, if somebody is singing on the road your ears will hear it but not you.
Hearing with the ears is not listening. It is not necessary that if your ears heard, you also listened. The ears are necessary for listening but are not enough; something more is required within. When your house is on fire, the greetings given to you are not heard by you. Why? The mechanism of your ears did not change but the attention to the ears is broken from within. The attention is with the house that is on fire. The ears are hearing, but the bridge of attention that is necessary to bring the contents to the consciousness is missing. That bridge has been removed. It is in use where the house is on fire. So the ears are able to hear but not you. The connection, the bridge of attention between you and the ears, is broken.
Listening means both you and your ears are present, connected – then listening happens. It is a difficult matter. To create the connection with the ears is a matter of spiritual endeavor. Listening means that when you are hearing, your whole consciousness becomes the hearing; only the hearing remains, nothing else. No thoughts move within, because if there are thoughts moving within, your attention is diverted into thinking and removed from the ears.