Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is the path of deep listening.
Nembutsu recitation is a response to Amida Buddha’s call, which is possible because of our deep listening. It could be said that Shinjin is no other than our deep listening to Amida Buddha’s compassionate aspiration to guide and embrace us. Then, how should we listen deeply?
At some Jodo Shinshu temples in Japan, ministers and the audience recite together “How to listen to a Dharma message (聴聞の心得)” before a Dharma message starts.
These three points/tips/directions are a good guide to deep listening:
Listen as if I am listening to this message for the first time.
Listen as if this message is for myself alone.
Listen as if this is the last occasion to listen to the Dharma in my life.
The first point is to encourage each of us to listen attentively. Some ministers “recycle” everything, including Dharma messages.
Those who have carefully listened to ministers’ messages for many years might say, “I know this story.” I think this is a good sign, in a sense, because they wouldn’t say so if they don’t remember anything.
However, some people might stop paying attention when they think they know the message. This first point warns us not to take such an attitude.
We always find something new or inspiring in good books or movies, no matter how many times we have read or watched them. In the same way, any Dharma messages bring us something new or inspiring, when we listen attentively as if we listen to them for the first time.
The second point encourages us to take Dharma messages personally. In some messages of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, we often hear that we are heavily possessed of greed, anger and stupidity. Then, some people may think something like, “Yeah, that’s right. This message is exactly talking about my husband!” or “No way! I am not such a terrible person!”
If we listen to Dharma messages in this way, that is totally wrong. Dharma messages are never to criticize or find faults in others. One of the purposes of Buddhism is to truly know ourselves.
From this perspective, every Dharma message is intended to guide each of us so that we can know ourselves in the Light of Dharma. Because of this, the Buddhist teaching is sometimes compared to a mirror. When we look into a mirror to check ourselves, no matter what image we may see, that is exactly us, not the image of somebody else.
In the same way, what the mirror of Dharma shows us, that is, what we hear in Buddha’s teaching, is exactly who we are or how we live everyday life. When we listen to Dharma messages, we should humbly take them as if Amida Buddha is personally talking to each of us. With such listening, we would discover more connections between our existence and the Dharma.
The third point encourages us to listen to Dharma messages more seriously because of the reality of impermanence. Every Sunday, we can listen to the Dharma at a temple. Most of us, including myself, may expect that we will be able to listen to the Dharma again next week.
However, if we take the truth of impermanence seriously, we would find that there is no guarantee. Such realization should make us listen more seriously to Dharma messages.
Rev. Ai Hironaka, who is a resident minister of Lahaina Hongwanji in Hawaii and a good Dharma friend of mine, once told me that the third tip is not just for those who listen to a Dharma message, but we ministers should keep it in our mind when we deliver a Dharma message.
According to the truth of impermanence, every message that I deliver could be the last one in my life. His words reminded me of the appropriate attitude in delivering a Dharma message.
Again, Jodo Shinshu is the path of deep listening. It is not just to receive the voice of the speaker passively with our ears. As stated in these points, how seriously or attentively we engage ourselves in Dharma messages matters. When we do so, we not only obtain the information in our brains but something profound touches or fulfills our hearts.