I am happy to be with you on this glorious spring morning. Mrs. Nakasone and I drove from Fremont and are enjoying the clear country air. I have been here before, but this is the first time for Mrs. Nakasone. Professor Naoki Nabeshima, from Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan is here also with his family. They will be in the area for a year experiencing, among other things, the many faces of Buddhism. We thank you for your gracious hospitality. You have been blessed with a visionary teacher, Master Hua, whose disciples, including the Venerable Heng Sure, continue the work of the Dharma. Dharma teachers are honored to have such a devoted Sangha. I am sure the Buddha is pleased.
Today on this birthday celebration, I would like to share a few thoughts on Guan-shi-yin pu-sa. "Guan-shi-yin pu-sa" is the Chinese for "Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva." "Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva," "Kanzeon," the Japanese rendering, clearly captures the Bodhisattva's special talent. "Guan" means "to contemplate" or "to see," "shi" means "world," and "yin" means "sound." Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is a spiritual hero who contemplates and listens to the pleas of the world. This Bodhisattva is a good listener. Listening to our outbursts of anger, despair, and hurt, the Bodhisattva attends to the journeying spirit, not the momentary stammer.
Listening may be the greatest gift one human being can give to another. By listening sympathetically we encourage the speaker to speak, and in speaking he or she discovers what he or she may not have been aware of. By attentively listening, we acknowledge that what is being said is important. Such listening affirms that person, elevates him or her to a higher plane of existence, gives birth to a new being. Speaking also dislodges memories. Recalling old thoughts can lead to creative juxtapositions of feelings and ideas, novel ways of seeing, and to new ideas. When we engage in conversation and allow another to speak, we act as a midwife who helps bring new life into the world.
My father was a good listener; he always listened to what I had to say. After he had his stroke, he had expressive aphasia and had great difficulty speaking. As his illness progressed, he could say only a few words. It pained me to see him slide into silence. I am sure there was much that he wanted to say, but our conversations were one sided. I would speak and he would mostly listen. While speaking, I reminisced and rediscovered old feelings and thoughts; I came to appreciate how much he loved me and did for me. By listening, my father attended to my life journey. Often it is not important for a listener to say much. We all need someone to listen to us.
Listening is a great virtue and difficult to master. Often when we try to speak, no one listens. We are ignored. When others speak or cry out, we do not hear. There is a yearning in all of us to be heard and understood. Parents often complain that their children do not listen; children grumble that parents do not understand. When parents and children hear each other, but fail to listen, we have a generation gap that may lead to unhappy parents and rebellious children. Our children may be too noisy and talk incessantly, but this is the way they learn who they are, test their limits, and grow up. It is especially important to listen to children and to draw out their special gifts.
Good teachers are good listeners. Grandparents are particularly good listeners. They listen attentively not simply to our words, but to what we mean. They are able to see through our chatter, the source of our pain and hear our pleas. They can also see our aspirations and spark dreams. They hear not what is being said, but perceive the source of our pain and aspirations. They hear the whole, not the part. A good listener hears not only the momentary chatter, but what the speaker is trying to communicate. Volunteers on suicide hot lines hear not bravado, but the pain of the callers. These listeners often prevent callers from ending their lives by simply listening to the caller's anguish. Listening can be a gift of life.
An impatient listener hears only the fleeting tempest or what they want to hear. A judgmental listener hears only what the speaker is saying, and fails to be open to the whole person. Preying on our vulnerabilities and inadequacies, a critical listener fails to see the person behind the words. Critical listening crushes the speaker's spirit and diminishes his or her adventure of self-discovery. The critical listener attacks, ignores, ridicules, and leaves the speaker with a sense of defeat.
Sympathetic listening is a contemplative discipline; it requires a quiet mind, complete attention, and total presence. It is a difficult art. Try listening to the sound of your breathing. You are soon distracted. We can all improve our listening skills by being mindful of the person who speaks. Try to hear every word and then more. What is this person telling me of his or her self? How can I encourage him or her to nurture that new talent or quicken self-discovery that is beginning to emerge? To listen in this way is to commune with another human being in a most fundamental way. Heart touches heart. When we listen in this manner, we take on the mantle of Guan-shi-yin pu-sa, who hears the cries of the world. Listening is a gift we can all give.