Listening means that the consciousness shifts to the very ears, with no thoughts, reasoning or arguing within. This does not mean that you accept everything that is said without understanding. But acceptance has no role in the process of listening. Listening means just listen; acceptance or nonacceptance are matters for later on – no need to be in a hurry.
What are we doing? We are hearing and at the same time we go on accepting or rejecting. Our heads continue to nod in agreement or shake in disagreement. One goes on saying, “Yes, it is perfectly true.” Somebody else says, “No, it doesn’t appeal to me.” They themselves are not aware of this continuous nodding and the mental process, but I can watch it.
It means that as I say something, while hearing it you also go on making decisions about it internally. For the period of time you are making decisions the listening will be missed. You yourself are not aware that your head nodded, but inside you agreed with something, hence the nodding. When I say something which does not appeal to you, your head goes on shaking in denial, “No, it does not appeal to me.” It is not your head moving, it is your attention inside moving. It is because of the moving attention that the head is also moving. In that little movement your listening is lost.
When it is said that you should not think while listening, it does not mean that you accept everything blindly. No, at this point there is no question of acceptance or rejection, at this point one has only to listen well as to what has been said. You have to listen exactly to what has been said; only after that will you be able to decide whether to accept or reject. To bring the process of acceptance or rejection in while hearing is to miss the listening. Hearing means only hearing.
Right now we are listening. Right now we will not go on thinking simultaneously. Mind cannot do two things at a time; either you listen or you think. Those who think are unable to listen, those who listen have no way of thinking at the same time. But there is no hurry either – thinking can be done later on. It is also just and proper that first one listens and then one thinks…because what will you think about? If you have not heard rightly, or if you have added something of your own onto what you heard, or if there are gaps in what you have heard, what will you think about? Whatever you will think, it has no value. If something is not heard rightly, thinking about it is futile. So the first step, the seers have said, is shravana, listening.
When somebody would come to Buddha or when somebody would come to Mahavira, they used to ask the person to first become a shravaka, a listener. To become a shravaka means to become a listener. Even now Jainas go on categorizing in the same manner: sadhu-sadhvi and shravaka-shravika. But there are neither really any shravakas nor any shravikas, because those terms imply listening. A shravika is one who has attained to the art of listening. But there are neither really any shravakas and shravikas – listeners – nor is there now anyone worth listening to.