One of my primary practices ,Buddhist and musical, is GuanYin Chan (Dharma Door of Guan Yin). This is the practice of establishing concentration through constant returning to the faculty of hearing, and hearing the Mind Before Thought, the fundamental reality of our mind. Sounds far out? Not at all! Check out these straight forward explanations:
My teacher Shi YaoXin gave me an instruction that in its simplicity allowed me to practice anywhere and anytime- ‘In daily life, only listen to sounds’. Here’s his more detailed explanation:
“That is the true GuanYin technique taught in the Shurangama Sutra as the practice leading to Vajra Samadhi, the practice at the very basis of our Huatou Chan technique. GuanYin literally meaning “Observing Sound”; when the practitioner “guanyin’s” (observes sound), they naturally let go and let Great GuanYin activity be, in them and around them, by them and through them.”
Another wonderful teacher, one of the first ones to ever inspire me, Ven. Luang Por Sumedho, talks about The Sound of Silence (Nada Yoga). He puts it this way:
“Somebody referred to the sound of silence as a cosmic hum, a scintillating almost electric background sound. Even though it’s going on all the time we don’t generally notice it but when your mind is open and relaxed you begin to hear it. I found this a very useful reference because in order to hear it, to notice it, you have to be in a relaxed state of awareness. When I describe this people try to find it.
They go on a ten-day retreat trying to find the sound of silence and then they say, ‘I can’t hear it, what’s wrong with me?’ They are trying to find this thing. But it’s not a thing you have to find—rather you just open to it: it’s the ability to listen with your mind in a receptive state, which makes it possible to hear the sound of silence. You’re not trying to solve any problems but just listening. You’re putting your mind into a state of receptive awareness. Awareness that is willing to receive whatever is and one of the things you begin to recognize in that is the sound of silence.”
—Ajahn Sumedho, The Anthology, The Sound of Silence, Volume 4
In his book Master Sheng Yen Teaches Guan Yin’s Methods of Practice, this wonderful master teaches how beginners should train in the practice of listening:
The Surangama Sutra introduces the practice of the “complete penetrative Dharma
gate based on the faculty of hearing.” It is through this method that Guan Yin, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, attained the realization of the Buddhas’ wisdom and the essence of wondrous awakening. How do we use this method in our own practice? “Complete penetration based on the faculty of hearing” is a very profound and lofty method of cultivation. Before we can practice at a deep level, we must prepare ourselves with more basic training using the ears. These basic trainings based on sounds and hearing will enable us to bring our minds to a state of tranquility and stability.
Basic Training Using the Ears
First, what kind of sound should we use? Let’s take the sound of birds. When we wake up in the morning we can go to a park or a wooded area, breathing the fresh air and listening to all sorts of birds singing and chirping. It is easy to become joyful and peaceful doing this. If you live in the city and do not have the opportunity to listen to birds in a natural setting, you can use an audio CD or cassette instead.
However, the sounds of birds are choppy; they rise and fall very frequently. While such a sound can bring a feeling of peace, openness, and clarity, it is difficult to enter into samadhi with it.
Well, let’s listen to the sound of rain! Choose not the rain in a great storm, or a sudden torrential downpour from the clouds. Rather, listen to the light rain that falls steadily, together with the mild wind that blows it into fine strands of dancing strings, giving an impression that they are falling on bananas leaves, on the trees in the forest, peaceful and steady. Listening to rain whose rhythm is regular, continuous, and unified makes it easier to calm ourselves compared to listening to the sounds of birds. However, if the rain is driven by strong wind and comes to us irregularly, sometimes strong, sometimes mild, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, some times heavy, sometimes mild, a beginner can easily follow the fast changing quality and become agitated instead. Let’s try using the flow of water then. Find a river nearby, not a large river, but a small stream. Sit at the bank or on a bridge spanning the stream. Close your eyes and let your ears take over. Listen to the flow of the stream, water splashing and dancing, stable and steady, with a seemingly eternal rhythm and melody. Listening to it for one day, you may feel that the sound stays the same for that whole day; listening to it overnight, the sound may appear to be unchanging for the whole night. The water flows on, continuous and steady. Immerse yourself in the sound and lose yourself in it, forgetting the environment, to the point that the sound itself is dropped. Then the mind will slowly merge with the sound of the water, enter into a state of unification, calm and quiescent both inwardly and outwardly. It is possible to enter into samadhi this way.
Master Han Shan of the late Ming Dynasty described such an experience in his autobiography. He was listening to the sound of water on a bridge. Immersing himself in the sound, he lost track of time, forgetting all about the environment, dropping his body, mind, the world, and all phenomena. When he came out from samadhi, many hours had gone by. He thought to himself, “That was strange, I thought I had just sat down. Why has such a long time elapsed?” Let’s learn from Master Han Shan and listen to the flow of water as a practice. But you must take heed. When you are highly concentrated in the practice, you may end up falling into the water. If you enter samadhi outdoor and the weather changes, if rain falls suddenly, driven by wind, it could be dangerous if there is nobody around to look after you – unless you are sitting in a house by the river.
These are the simple methods of sounds that one can use to bring one’s mind into a state of peace and tranquility. Each of us can experiment with them, explore them, and come up with a variation that is most suitable for ourselves, based on our own experiences. These methods of training using the ears are static, in the sense that one chooses a conducive environment of practice according to one’s liking. However, in our daily lives, when we find ourselves in an environment full of din and clamor, of which we have no choice, how do we use sounds as a method of practice to calm our minds?
Make Our Ears a Sound-Absorbing Board
When you find yourself agitated, vexed, feeling the sorrow or the pain of affliction, here’s a method you can use. Regardless of your posture, whether you are lying down, standing or sitting, simply use your ears to “enjoy” the sounds. Our living environment is a soundscape with an infinitely rich spectrum. Simply listen with no intention whatsoever, without straining to listen to anything in particular. To “enjoy” the sounds, simply let them come of their own accord. Whatever sounds reach your ears you simply accept them completely. Do not actively seek for any sound, rather, listen passively, like a sound absorbing board – whatever comes into contact with it dissolves right away. It doesn’t keep anything or store anything, with no reflection or reaction, for if it reflects the sounds, it will be a reflector, not an absorber.
Let’s train ourselves so that our ears become like a sound absorbing board. Simply listen, listen, and listen… If the sound is loud, do not give rise to any resistance; if the sound is weak, do not strain yourself to listen to it. All you’re doing is just listening, accepting everything without any discrimination. Most importantly, do not give the sounds a name. You may hear a girl screaming, a boy cursing, a dog barking around the corner, or a cat meowing on the roof. It could also be that the sounds of birds, chicken, cows, or even sounds of cars, horns honking, televisions, radios, motorcycles, air-conditioners, all present themselves to you at once. Even then, you listen without naming them, without making any discrimination or distinction of the spectrum. Merely play your role as a sound absorbing board, without seeking or following anything, without echoing anything that rings in your ears.
A sound absorbing board is quiet and soundless itself. When sounds touch it, they will naturally be dissolved and cease to exist. How? Well, they dissolve because the listener does not give rise to a second thought, or a reaction, thinking, “What sound is that? How should I respond to it?” If people curse you, you do not react, because you are merely a sound absorbing board; if people praise you with sweet words, you also do not react to
it because again you are merely a sound absorbing board! Just stay very clear of what you hear; merely “know” that they are sweet words of praise, or profane curse words, or lies of deception. Merely be aware of what the sound is without giving rise to any reaction. That way, you will be a practitioner who practices well by truly putting the method into good use.
In addition, practice so that the din and clamor of the surrounding environment, the sounds that are full of “toxins” and unhealthy elements, can no longer taint you, stimulate you, arouse you, or tempt you. That way, at all times, you will be a person who is very free and at ease. That is why I call it an enjoyment. People all desire to immerse themselves in pleasing and beautiful sounds – sounds that are enjoyable to them. By listening, they derive a sense of pleasure and joy. But with this method of training, the essence is to simply use your ears to listen attentively, without giving rise to any emotional reaction – pain and afflictions, sorrow and sadness, elation and excitement, not even a sense of joy. But to be sure, the state of no reaction is actually a very tranquil and quiescent kind of contentment and happiness.
So please remember this! If you can be a sound absorbing board, even amidst the din and clamor of the world, you will live very well, with no stress or pressure, free and at ease. These are basic methods of training through the use of sounds. They will enable you to enter into shallow states of samadhi and to alleviate vexations in your lives. However, they will not open your mind to wisdom, or bring you the attainment of complete penetration.
In playing music, I use the Sound of Silence (SoS) and/or GuanYin Chan concentration method in order to put myself in a receptive state. The hardest thing when playing a difficult piece of music, is to be able to listen deeply to the musicians around you, so that you may create something truly organic, harmonious and pleasing.
The great master XuYun, (Empty Cloud) has this following chapter on Sound Meditation:
“Before beginning this instruction, it is important, I think, to understand the difference between Host and Guest. In the Surangama Sutra, Arya Ajnatakaundinya asks, “What is the difference between settled and transient?” He answers by giving the example of a traveler who stops at an inn. The traveler dines and sleeps and then continues on his way. He doesn’t stop and settle there at the inn, he just pays his bill and departs, resuming his journey. But what about the innkeeper? He doesn’t go anywhere. He continues to reside at the inn because that is where he lives. “I say, therefore, that the transient is the guest and the innkeeper is the host,” says Arya Ajnatakaundinya.
And so we identify the ego’s myriad thoughts which rise and fall in the stream of consciousness as transients, travelers who come and go and who should not be detained with discursive examinations. Our Buddha Self is the host who lets the travelers pass without hindrance. A good host does not detain his guests with idle chatter when they are ready to depart. Therefore, just as the host does not pack up and leave with his guests, we should not follow our transient thoughts. We should simply let them pass, unobstructed.
Many people strive to empty their mind of all thoughts. This is their meditation practice. They try not to think. They think and think, “I will not think.” This is a very difficult technique and one that is not recommended for beginners. Actually, the state of “no-mind” that they seek is an advanced spiritual state. There are many spiritual states that must precede it.
Progress in Chan is rather like trying to climb a high mountain. We start at the bottom. What is our destination? Not the summit but merely our base camp, Camp 1. After we have rested there, we resume our ascent. But again, our destination is not the summit, but merely Camp 2. We attempt the summit only from our final Camp.
Nobody would dream of trying to scale Mount Everest in one quick ascent. And the summit of Chan is higher than Everest’s! Yet in Chan, everybody wants to start at the end. Nobody wants to start at the beginning. If beginners could take an airplane to the top they would, but then this would not be mountain climbing, would it? Enthusiasm for the achievement is what makes people try to take shortcuts. But the journey is the real achievement.
A better way than deliberately trying to blank the mind by preventing thoughts from arising is to meditate on sound. In this method we calmly sit and let whatever sounds we hear pass in one ear and out the other, so to speak. We are like good innkeepers who do not hinder guest-thoughts with discursive chatter. If we hear a car honk its horn, we merely record that noise without saying to ourselves, “That horn sounds like Mr. Wang’s Bentley! I wonder where he’s going!” Or, if we hear a child shouting outside, we just let the shout pass through our mind without saying, “Oh, that noisy boy! I wish his mother would teach him better manners.”
You know, in some styles of Chan, it is the custom to strike someone with a stick if he begins to show signs of sleepiness. Up and down the aisles patrols a fellow with a stick. No one is allowed to move or make any breathing noises or, heaven forbid, to nod sleepily. The fellow with the stick will strike him! This is foolish and, in truth, violates the First Precept of nonviolence. What shall we do when an elderly nun or priest begins to slumber in the Meditation Hall? Should we strike him with a stick? Are we confusing laziness with sleepiness? Perhaps the sleepy person has been up most of the night tending to the sick. Should we punish him if, in his exhaustion, he begins to drift into sleep? No. We should offer him some strong tea. If he wants to perk up, he drinks the tea. But if he takes a little catnap we should let him rest. Perhaps a person’s noisy breathing or restlessness is actually a symptom of illness. Should we punish the sick person and add to his discomfort? No. This is not the Chan way.
What should we do once, of course, we are sure that his noisiness has not arisen from fatigue or illness? We should use the sound of his breathing or his movements as we would use the sound of an auto’s horn or a child’s shout. We should just register the noise without thinking about it at all. We should not let our ego get involved in the noise. Just let it pass through our minds unhindered, like a guest at an inn. A guest enters and departs. We don’t rummage through the guest’s belongings. We don’t detain it with gossip or idle chatter. You know, the Buddha once asked Manjushri to choose between the different methods of attaining enlightenment. “Which was the best?” he asked. Manjushri easily chose Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva’s method of using the faculty of hearing as the best.
Always remember that when meditating on sound it is essential to remove the ego from the listening process and to let the non-judgmental Buddha Self record the sounds that enter our ears. In whatever place we do this, we make that place a Bodhimandala, a sacred place in which enlightenment may be obtained. We do not need to be in a mediation hall to practice this technique. Every day, in all of our ordinary activities, wherever we happen to be, we can practice it. We shouldn’t try to limit our practice of Chan to those times in which we are in a Chan Meditation Hall. In fact, the function of a meditation hall is really only to provide a place of minimal distraction for those people who have difficulty in keeping their attention focused on what they are doing. Sometimes people like to go to meditation halls because they need to be forced to meditate. They won’t practice at home alone. Why should a person have to be forced to have a beautiful experience? How foolish this is!
Sometimes people go to meditation halls because they want to meet friends there. This is a misuse of Chan. It is converting Chan from a Path to Enlightenment into just another dead-end, Samsaric trail; and isn’t that a pity?”
Empty Cloud: The Teachings of Hsu Yun
Dharma Master Hsuan Hua, one of Grand Master Hsu Yun’s disciples and heirs, elaborated on Guan Yin’s practice of penetration through the hearing faculty:
“When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita, he illuminated the five skandhas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.” This line from the Heart Sutra speaks of Guanshiyin (whose name in Sanskrit is Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva, who realized perfect penetration by means of the faculty of hearing.
He “turned the hearing back to listen to his own nature, so his nature attained the unsurpassed Way.” To turn the hearing back means to “turn the light around and reflect within,” and to “investigate.” If you investigate, you will discover an inconceivable state. I cannot describe this state to you; if you want to taste its flavor, you have to work at your own practice.
Turning the light around means to reflect, to investigate, to illuminate. You have to truly practice if you want to experience that inconceivable state. You turn the light around and reflect within, using your Prajna wisdom to illuminate it and dispel all the darkness. This is also known as turning the hearing back to listen to your own nature. Your inherent nature is pure and undefiled, but your mind–not the true mind, but the human mind which exploits for selfish benefit–is defiled. That mind is very unreliable, like a monkey that bounces up and down all day long.
Turning the hearing back to listen to the nature means watching over the mind until the mind returns to the nature. The mind moves, but the nature is still and unmoving. When the stillness reaches an extreme, the light becomes penetrating. When you are still to the utmost point, the light appears and your nature attains to the unsurpassed Way. This is the method that Guanshiyin Bodhisattva cultivated.
Reflecting within means seeking inside yourself, listening to your nature to see if you have thoughts of greed, anger, or stupidity. If the three poisons are not present, then you have the three non-outflow studies: precepts, concentration, and wisdom. This is the general meaning of turning the hearing around to listen to the nature.
Because he turned the hearing back to listen to his own nature, he was able to contemplate at ease. Being at ease is a state of being without others, self, living beings, or a life span. “At what level is one at ease?” you ask. One is at ease at the level of sagehood. Ordinary people are not at ease. Sages have no mark of others, self, living beings, or life span, so they can be at ease. Ordinary people are attached to these four marks, so they are never at ease.
People study the Buddhadharma but cannot see the four marks as empty, so they cannot obtain ease. To be at ease, you must sweep away the three minds and annul the four marks. “The mind of the past cannot be got at,” because it has already passed. “The mind of the present cannot be got at. “You may say “this” is the present, but by then it has already become the past. There is no such thing as “the present”; it is false. “The mind of the future cannot be got at,” because it is not here yet. Since the future hasn’t arrived, why think about it? If you know that the three minds cannot be obtained and the four marks are empty, then you are the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease.
We are holding a Chan session so we can contemplate at ease. Everyone should contemplate at ease. Don’t say, “Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease; it says so in the Heart Sutra.” Whoever is at ease is the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease. This Bodhisattva doesn’t have a fixed identity. All living beings can be the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease.
As you begin to sit in Chan, contemplate yourself to see if you are at ease. If you are, you’ll be able to “illuminate the five skandhas and see that they are all empty.” That is what is meant by “practicing the profound Prajna Paramita.” If you can do that, then you’ll be able to “cross beyond all suffering and difficulty.” Having ended all suffering, you are at ease. Not only will Guanshiyin Bodhisattva become one with us, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the ten directions will become one with us.
Here’s a bit more information on just how our hearing works. Understanding this can be very helpful when we start this practice.
In a reply to a question about how to “listen,” Great Master Jyauguang, in the most
notable commentary to the Shurangama Sutra, succinctly lays out the different types of
“sounds”, or the sensory objects called “dusts” (塵).
These sensory objects are the two categories of movement and stillness.
Movement means sound and stillness means silence. Here, we first let
cease the object of movement, which consists of two types. One, warped
sounds that contain intended meaning, such as language, songs and the
like. Two, direct sounds that are devoid of intended meaning, such as
wind, water, birds, beasts, bells, drums, and other sounds.
Warped sounds are most powerful sounds, for they tug at the mind and
make it flow about and turn.
We must first, and forever, sever the connection to warped sounds. There
are two types of warped sounds: First, warped sounds about the mundane.
Second, warped sounds about principles. Furthermore, there are two types
of warped sounds about the mundane — the powerless and the powerful.
The powerless ones refer to critiques of past or present literature and
phenomena that have to do with other people and other times. Having
nothing to do with us, [such sounds] may breed scattered thoughts only,
but have no real power to increase our afflictions; hence [such sounds] are
“powerless.” “Powerful” sounds refer to words about various desirable
states for which we are greedy, words about various kinds of injustices
that make us angry, words that build our reputation or slander us behind
our back, words of compliment or teases to our face— any words that
cause benefit or harm to ourselves so that we suddenly become recklessly
joyous or hateful, forgetting and losing our proper mindfulness– these are
all secular sounds that are warped.
Warped sounds about principles have to do with words describing internal,
external, deviant or proper principles. Even talks on Buddhist practices,
which are so mystical and wondrous, may lead people to develop certain
understanding based on words. Such words trigger internal discussion and
thought processes, but people may not realize what they are doing.
Grasping such conditions [even if related to Buddhist practice,] is also
about pursuing and floating along with sound, which is a most severe
obstruction to our fundamental hearing. This is why this Buddhist School [of Chan] treats even the verbal teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs as enemies.”
Ven. Guo Cheen, “Who Is Listening?”.
Here’s an account of Master Nan Huai-Chin teaching this practice during an intensive 7 day retreat. Looking how this practice being taught in a practice situation can be very interesting:
2:05-2:35 PM: Walking
Master: [hits the board] This is Kuan Yin’s Gateway to Tao. The Surangama Sutra says, “Motion and stillness are both unborn.” Wild geese fly across the sky, but not a trace can be found. Tao is everywhere. It is easy to practice Tao, but to practice Ch’an is very difficult.
Luo P’u asked the monk Chia Shan: “If you reach a state where there is no Buddha and no demon, then what?”
The answer: “A candle lights up a thousand Ii. In a dark room even an old monk will be deluded.”
This is the place “where there is no Buddha and no demon.” What do you think? Where is it? It is right here.
While I am talking and you are listening – this is the place where there is no Buddha and no demon. If there is a Buddha in your mind, there’s a Buddha. If there’s a demon In your mind, it’s a demon. Chia Shan also said:
Before your eyes there is no Dharma
There is Mind before your eyes.
It is not the Dharma before you there.
It cannot be reached by ears and eyes.
Ts’an! (“Grohk it”) Walk! Don’t use your mind to ts’an – how can you make comment on it?
Master Fu was an avatar of Maitreya. His expounding the dharma was like clouds or rain showers. Once he expounded the Diamond Sutra for Emperor Liang Wu Ti.
As soon as he had ascended to his seat, the Master knocked the table once with a ruler and descended from his seat. That which is able to know, to think and to move-that’s IT! [Now Master hits the board.] Do you hear? That which is able to hear is IT!
Before your eyes there is no Dharma.
There is Mind before your eyes.
It is not the Dharma before you there.
It cannot be reached by ears and eyes.
An ancient master said:
If only I had known that the light is fire,
The meal would have been cooked long ago.
Fu Ta Shih said:
The handless hold the hoe
The pedestrian walks, riding on a buffalo.
A man passes over the bridge,
The bridge, not the water, flows.
What is this? If you can “illuminate the Five Aggregates and perceive that they are void,” then you know. Someone said Fu Ta Shih’s poem only speaks of the dharma body, not about function. Tao is in ordinary places, in everday living. Even if you’re busy every day from morning to night, keep your mind void, but you must “illuminate the Five Aggregates and perceive that they are void.”
Master Han Shan’s poem from the T’ang Dynasty says:
My mind is like the autumn moon
Bright and pure in the green lake,
Nothing can compare with such purity,
How can I describe it?
Someone said that Master Han Shan’s poem only talks about essence. Another poem illustrates function:
My mind is like a lantern
Brightly illuminating within and without.
Yes, there is a comparison:
The sun rising in the East tomorrow morning.
When you hear all kinds of sound you should not be attached to anything; not to void, not even to oneness. That is how we must practice. Continue in this way an this is Kuan Yin’s Gateway to Tao. In other words, don’t concentrate on inside, outside, or in between and you will be spontaneously clear and pure.
2:40-3:10 PM: Sixth Period
Master: Manjusri Bodhisattva truly admired Kuan Yin’s method, and in the Surangama Sutra said: “This is a true teaching method: clarity and purity through sound and hearing.”
In the world, the function of the ear is especially sharp. Therefore, if you cultivate according to Kuan Yin’s method of hearing, it will be very easy to accomplish something. In the universe between heaven and earth the greatest kindness and compassion are a mother’s love. Therefore, Kuan Yin’s Transformation Body appears as a female. It is not
easy to cultivate starting from our body, but since the ear can hear in all directions we can cultivate from hearing. That is the easy way for you to reach perfection. When you reach the supernatural insight-into the ending of the stream of transmigration, it means that not a single thought arises. But even in this Lohan stage habit energy still remains. This proves that habit energy is the hardest thing to get rid of.
Before your eyes there is no Dharma
There is mind before your eyes.
It is not the Dharma before you there
It cannot be reached by ears and eyes.
When you hear sounds you should not make any distinction, because you cannot grasp them. When the sound is all over, idle thoughts suddenly rest. Then you can reach the perfection through hearing, which is Kuan Yin’s Gateway to Tao.
4:00-4:30 PM: Seventh Period
Master: Mountains, rivers, the whole great earth and all living and nonliving beings are expounding the dharma to you, but you must not cling to the form. Forms of sound and dust come and go, but that which can hear has no form, motion or stillness.
All living beings are originally Buddha. Understand this, experience this. Don’t be attached to the form; be aware of it and perfect it. The dharma body is vast, infinite and limitless. The Ocean of Misery is the same as the Pure Land. When you cling to it, the Pure Land is the Ocean of Misery. When you open your eyes and see everything clearly, that is the Buddha’s state.
5:00-5:43 PM: Eighth Period
Master: Kuan Yin’s Way of Cultivation of Perfection Through Sound is the straightest road from the beginning to Buddhahood. If people who practice Taoist methods have too much fire – that is, heat, tension, pressure, emotion – they should contemplate a bath of nectar flowing down from the top of the head. Contemplate a cool stream of pure water or nectar falling on the head and pervading the whole body with cooling influence. But if they practice the Hearing Method, they can reach the state illustrated by
the Chi Chi Hexagram [“After Completion”] in the I Ching. This is a secret Taoist method.
She has nothing to say to her maid,
But calls just to let her man hear
the sound of her voice.
Emperor T’ang Mu Tsung wrote:
Blowing softly from the South
the wind of summer;
Lio Kung Chuan replied:
At the corner of the palace
feel the cool breeze!
When we are in the noisy world, the method of hearing is the best one to practice. It really offers unlimited benefit.
Here’s another account of the Practice of Guan Yin:
“A third method of practice that is the one that Guan Yin Bodhisattva practices, which is to observe sentient beings’ bodily actions and minds. Through this method, Guan Yin is able to listen to all beings and manifest in many forms to help them. The first stage of this method is called “directing the organs into the stream of meditation.” “Directing the organs” means directing our ear organ or hearing to “the uninterrupted stream of silent sound.” In the beginning, we listen to sound and notice that the sound comes and goes; it does not stay. Eventually, the sound and the listener become one, and at that moment, there is no sound, only the sound of no sound. This is a very advanced level of attainment–when sound, the listener and the environment become one. At this point, the listener hears what is called “universal sound”.
If one is in a rural environment, one may listen to the sound of the rain, birds, a stream, waterfall, or wind, and meditate or contemplate on that sound. The mind will start to calm down, and when practiced correctly for an extended period of time, one may enter samadhi. In the city, where it is more difficult to find a good environment in which to practice, one may act as a “noise absorbing panel”. To do this, one should listen to sound and absorb it, then open the eyes and mind, and let sound enter. One should not generate secondary thoughts but try to listen with a relaxed mind and not react to the outside world.
While in the first stage, one may hear the universal sound or the sound of no sound, and lose all concepts of time and space, feeling as if time is passing very quickly. In the second stage, one returns to time and space, and may hear everything, but there is no attachment. Instead, one starts to listen inwardly to one’s self-nature and let go of the concept of self. We may have different levels of self, based on different levels of attachment. We may think, this body is the self, the mind is the self, or existence is the self, and move to subtler and subtler levels of self. Enlightenment is when we let go of the self and self-nature. The stage of no attachment does not mean I do not exist or everything ceases to exist. Worldly phenomena exist, and while one acknowledges them and has a clear understanding of them, one has no self-attachment. This second stage is a very advanced level.
Through this practice, Guan Yin Bodhisattva was able to attain great achievements. The Heart Sutra states, “When the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, was coursing in the deep Prajnaparamita, he perceived that all five skandhas are empty, thereby transcending all sufferings.” We all exist in the five skandhas, think they are real, have attachments to them and experience suffering. The five skandhas are merely form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness. Form means everything we perceive-sound, people, objects– all of the material world. When we perceive these things, we have feelings, such as good or bad, like or dislike, and then judgment. The process from perception to action is very quick, and all mental processes are buried in our consciousness, which we carry life after life. If we are unable to overcome the five skandhas, we will carry them with us life after life, continuing cyclic existence in the six realms. Practice allows us to transform karma and our consciousness, and find a way out of cyclic existence.
The purpose of practice is to know the real nature of the five skandhas, to realize that everything is impermanent and empty by nature. We can use our illusory mind to transform all illusory consciousness and return to our self-nature. Most of the time, we are not in this natural state of mind but experience vexation. Through practice, we can attain what Guan Yin Bodhisattva did, which is to see that the five skandhas are empty and transform suffering and vexation. The Shurangama Sutra outlines 25 methods of using the sense organs as tools of practice. Whatever method or tool we use, the ultimate goal is to see our self-nature. It is important to stick to one method until we see our self-nature and we should practice daily and diligently. The more we practice, the better we will be able to listen to and help people. The ultimate purpose of Guan Yin practice is to fulfill the Bodhisattva path of helping others. Having this vow makes practice more powerful because it is one that is shared with the Bodhisattva.”
Ven. Chang Hwa, “The Practice of Guan Yin Bodhisattva”.
Here’s a guided practice you can try right now, to get starting with the use if the faculty of hearing in meditation:
If you’d like to learn more about sound meditation, or if you have anything at all to ask me, teach me or simply chat about, get in touch. May you reverse the faculty of hearing and get totally and utterly blown out!