Bobbie: I am very happy to welcome Jyoti. She will talk to us tonight about deep listening and loving speech in connection with Mother's Day. So for the last 4 weeks, we have been studying and talking about each of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and these are in the programs.
"Loving Speech and Deep Listening: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness."
Jyoti: I am so happy to be here, to have the opportunity to talk. All of us love to talk, but not everyone can listen. My father used to say, "Do unto others," and that is the Golden Rule, right? In every religion, in every faith, you hear that. And they kind of put it differently sometimes, but do unto others what you would like others to do unto you. We all love to speak, which means we all love to be heard, so why not listen when someone else is speaking, right? That's the first step. If you listen to someone when they are speaking, chances are they will listen to you when you are speaking. So let's start with me. I will speak, and you listen.
I would like to be the first one to do a good deed, and when my dad said that when I was very little, I was like, okay. That makes sense. And I started doing all the good things that I wanted people to do unto me, and after a few years, I realized they are not doing the same to me. I'm doing all those good deeds that I want people to do unto me, to say unto me, but sometimes you do realize that it doesn't always come back to you. And then as you grow and as you realize, you will know that it may not come around right then. What goes around comes around, right? Sometimes it can take lifetimes for things to come around. You've got to do your karma, do your karma, and that's all.
And eventually, you start enjoying doing the right thing so much that you forget about what you want them to do unto you, and that is the essence of good deeds. That is the true essence, the divinity, in your deeds. You want to just do the right thing, not worrying about what you receive in return. Because when you have that attached to it—oh, I am doing this because I want something in return—you lose it. I mean, you lose the kindness in doing that deed because there is a selfish purpose attached to it. And then eventually, I started to realize—and this I learned more and more from my loving family that I was born into—that it is not really about receiving. You just want to give, whether you receive or not.
There are so many different connotations to deep listening. We hear all the time. We are hearing. One thing is hearing, and another thing is listening. There's a big difference between hearing and listening. It could be there are people upstairs in the office doing their work, and they are probably hearing what I am saying, and that is different. They are doing what they are doing, and they can just hear me because I am there, because my voice is traveling there. That is different, but you all are listening to what I am saying.
And then there is deep listening. You are listening because I am speaking, and you are being respectful, and you come all the way here to participate in this meditation and to listen to the talk. So you are listening. But then there is deep listening, which is listening in order to try and absorb what you are hearing, and probably sometimes to listen with the intent of drawing that from your memory at a future time and then remembering, "Ah. I have heard this, and I can use it now." See, there is a difference between knowing and understanding. And sometimes we are listening to something that is being told, and because we heard that, we know it.
As a group—as a sangha—we know so much about Buddhism. In fact, we know it all, because there is only so much that there is to know, and we have been coming here week after week, month after month, and some of us, year after year. We keep coming and listening to all these deep words of wisdom, and we know it all. Why? Because we have heard it. Does that mean we understand it? No. We don't. And some of you may have done what I did during meditation. We were doing the sitting meditation, and I just fell right to sleep because I have had long days. The past 2 days have been very long with very little sleep, so I just fell asleep. And some of us do that when someone is speaking, especially if we know we can't interrupt and ask all the questions that are popping into our minds. We just kind of disconnect from that and fall asleep. It may not be physically. It may be mentally we are not there with them. So that is not really listening. That is more like hearing.
And also, someone once said to me, "Why do you want to become a counselor?" I wanted to become a counselor, and they literally said to me, "I mean, you want to hear sob stories from people?" I said, "It is a joy. I feel like I have been blessed with presence when someone is speaking to me about what they have been through. I feel honored to be listening to them, to give them that opportunity to lay down their burdens, to pour out their minds, their hearts. It is beautiful.
So I had this beautiful experience of learning about deep listening and loving speech when I was really young. And as time went on—right?—you tend to forget those things. With time, you forget the past. But then something or another triggers your memory, and you feel, oh! I remember this happened to me when I was young. So let me tell you what happened to me when I was 12 years old.
On my twelfth birthday, my mother comes in and wakes me up with a kiss on my forehead and says, "Happy birthday." And I opened my eyes, and she said, "You are a whole dozen years old today. You are grown-up, and it is time for you to learn things so you can remember them." And I didn't quite understand that. I thought I had been learning things already understand them. Anyway, the first thing that popped into my head was, are we having a birthday party today? And she said, "No. Today is Diwali." Diwali is the festival of lights, which doesn't always fall on the same date. It falls on a different date each year, a different day as per the English calendar, because in Hinduism, we follow the astrological calendar. So depending on how the stars are aligned, we choose a certain day. I believe it is a no-moon day when we celebrate Diwali. I may be wrong. But I think that is the reason why we light up all the lamps to bring light on that night.
So anyway, that was on the same day as my twelfth birthday. I think it was the first time that I could remember that happened. It may have happened probably 3 times in my lifetime, and that was the first time that I could remember. And she said, "No. Today we can't have a birthday party because it is Diwali and we are going to the temple, and then after that we will be going to the carnival just like we always do. And you can celebrate your birthday there with all of us, family." And I was disappointed. I mean, it was beautiful. Yes, we are going to go to the carnival, and that is great, and I loved it. But that was a Diwali celebration, not my birthday celebration.
So I just looked at her, and I said, "But I am a whole dozen years old. I need a birthday party today."
And she just looked at me like, "What did you say? You need a birthday party?"
I said, "Yeah. I need a birthday party."
She said, "You mean you want a birthday party?"
I said, "No. No. No. I need one."
She said, "Come on." She said, "Let me teach you the difference between need and want. Have I told you the story about Om meditating on the mountains?"
I said, "No." And I was always fascinated by my mom's stories, especially because she held them back for the right moment. So I was really excited. I thought, oh, great day. Yeah. It is my birthday, and I get to begin the day with a story. That is wonderful. So tell me. Tell me that story.
She said, "Well, before I begin the story, I would like to say this. I want you to remember to just listen to the whole story this time. Like I said, you are old enough now, and the story is not too long. And then whatever questions pop in your mind, just hold them in your mind. You can do that, and then ask me later after the story is over."
So I said, "Okay. I can do that."
And she began. "In ancient India, which means hundreds of years ago, there is a boy probably about your age. One day his father woke up in the morning and said to his wife, ‘Shanti, I think I am ready to go up on the mountains and meditate.' Now Shanti knew that day would come because her husband had spoken about that for a few years now, but he wasn't quite ready to let go of the family. And she was prepared.
He said, ‘Are you going to be okay if I'm gone?'
She said, ‘Oh, yes. I will be fine. I have been preparing myself, and I know I can manage. Besides, Om is old enough, and he will help me get around.'
But to her surprise, Om, with dreamy eyes, looked at her and said, ‘I was hoping to go with him.' And immediately, without any warning, her eyes welled up with tears, and she was choking. She could barely speak. Om was a really good child.
He said, ‘Oh. I'm sorry. I'm being so selfish. I will just go when I grow up.'
She said, ‘No. No. No. You know, when you were born, I could just tell that you were no ordinary child, and that is why I named you Om. Go with your dad. I think if you're mentally ready, you can do it, and it is the right time for you properly. We will be okay.' She had a little 4-year-old girl.
So while the boys were getting ready to go on a soul journey, Shanti prepared some food. She prepared everything she had in the house. They didn't have too much to eat. She put it into a sack, and as they were leaving, she said, ‘Here. In the sack there is enough food to help you survive until you get to the mountains and until you get into meditation.'
Now, Bhagat, Shanti's husband, looked at her and said, ‘Shanti, God will provide.' And he didn't take that sack of food. So as they were leaving, Shanti picked up her little girl and took her little arm in her hand, and they both waved goodbye to the men in their lives. After they had gone, Shanti and Leela sat down, opened up the sack, and they began to eat the food. As soon as they opened the sack of food, Shanti looked at it and prayed, and thanked God for it, and said, ‘[prayer.] Every grain of every morsel of food has the name of the person who is going to eat it.'
Leela did not understand a word of what her mother just said. She just laughed and ate half of it. A few years passed, and Bhagat returned. Shanti looked anxiously behind him for Om, and Bhagat said, ‘He is still sitting on the mountains in samadhi.' Samadhi is a deep, blissful meditation where you are hardly breathing.
Well, many more years passed. Om stood and slowly opened his eyes. He stretched his legs and stood up. He took a deep breath and thanked God for giving him his 5 senses now, and he could appreciate the serenity around him on the mountains. But now that he could feel all of his senses—he was present to all of his senses—he felt hunger. So he got the bowl out of the tree where he had tied it—the bowl that Shanti had given him—and he was grateful that it was still there after all these years.
He took the bowl and went downhill. The first house that he saw when he came upon a small village, he shook the fence of it, and the girl inside the house saw him. The door was wide open, and he saw that she noticed, so he stopped shaking, and he held out his bowl. So she went, and he saw that she was moving around, responding to him, and she started to walk towards him with a big bowl of lentil soup and a ladle in it. And as she approached, he was just watching her walk, and then his look kind of got weird. When she came up to the fence, she picked up the ladle, and before she could do anything with it, he looked at her and said, ‘What are those? You must be in pain. What are those lumps?' He was looking at her breasts.
She felt embarrassed and ran back, told her mother. So her mother came out with the bowl, and when she came out, she knew when she got one look at him. He was wearing just a dhoti, which is a white cloth wrapped around his lower body and nothing on top. He had a long beard and hair undone, really long. She knew—and it was common back then for people to go and meditate for years and years together—so she guessed he had been up on the mountains for a long time and had forgotten what a woman's body was supposed to look like. So she explained it to him.
He said, ‘What? That's how a woman's body is? Why on earth would God give anyone lumps on their bodies that could hurt?'
She said, ‘No. No. No. They don't hurt. That is just a part of the body, and the reason why God gives women breasts—you know, when girls start to grow up and come into womanhood, they develop breasts. That is normal. Girls are born that way.'
He said, ‘Why are they born that way?'
‘Well, because they develop breasts, and then the breasts produce milk for the babies that they will have someday.' And she was about to pour the soup in his bowl, and he gently refused. He remembered his mother's words, ‘God will provide,' and he walked back to the mountain, where, when he was about to hang up his bowl, he saw luscious fruit. He plucked the fruits and looked at it, and the wisdom that his mother imparted began to come back. He looked at it and said, ‘[prayer]. That lentil soup did not have my name written on it. I was almost there receiving that soup, but that was not meant for me. And also, like I said, if God has provided breasts to women before the child is even born, he has provided for me already wherever I am. I don't need to go searching.' He ate the fruit and sat down in meditation."
"Wow," I said to my mom. "That is a beautiful story. It is kind of weird that you spoke about breasts, but I understood the story. I listened to the whole story the very first time without asking questions." Because usually when she told me stories, as a question popped up in my mind, I would ask impatiently. My mom would answer my question, explain whatever I didn't understand, and then move on with the story.
I learned a lot that day—that if you listen carefully to someone's speech, all the questions that come to your mind may get answered before their speech is all done. So listen deeply. There was something else I learned. Like I said, I understood the story. I understood that God provides. God has provided for me a whole generation before I was born, and yes, I didn't need a party. I wanted a party. God provides for all of your needs, and whatever is not provided is probably not a need. That is a desire. I felt really old—a whole dozen years old.
Another thing I realized—not that day, but many years later when I had kids—and I spoke kindly and politely to my children, whereas I saw other parents talking to their kids and saying stuff like, "Shut up and listen when I am talking. Do not interrupt me when I am on the phone." I remembered how my mother had just politely invited me to listen to the whole story before I went to asking questions and interrupting her—loving speech.
Very important to be kind when you are speaking to people. Because, let's think about it. Do you like anyone speaking to you brutally? I don't think so. Let's do unto others what we would like others to do unto us, because after all, you can say anything you want, analyze away. Anything can be commanded in a nice way. It is not what you say. It is how you say it, right? I believe in that so strongly that I have quit a couple of jobs because they were not kind to me in the way they spoke to me, in the way they asked for certain work to be done. I said, "I'm sorry. I'm not going to put up with this."
And when I was asked, "Why? I mean, are we paying you to do this job?"
I said, "Yes, but you are not going to pay me to listen to you being rude to me or to feel like I am being tolerated. I like to go where I am celebrated. If I'm not celebrated, that money is not worth it. I may eat a little bit less. I may buy fewer clothes. I don't need that many clothes." But go where you are celebrated, and be kind to other people. Listen deeply, and be loving in your speech.
And today being Mother's Day, I was honored when I got the chance to come and speak about my mom and the stories she told me. And very often, she taught me in the form of story. Instead of telling me to do something or not to do something, she would just give me a story, and stories go straight to your subconscious, right? And with stories, that you can't say, "But you said this." That wasn't her.
That was Shanti saying something to Om, so she had that to fall back on. Like, "I didn't say it." And you can take what you want from the story. She never told me, "Oh, remember in that story I told you, You are supposed to do this so you will be just like Om and say, ‘Oh, I was being selfish. I should do this.'" She never said those things, but all of those things were so beautiful in the story that you almost want to do what those characters did in the story. So the next time you speak—
Also, when I think of loving speech, it's weird how my mind functions, but I also think of silence, silence being one of the ways of loving speech. As they say, "Silence is golden." Sometimes you just need to know when not to say a single thing, and you would have conveyed a lot. So think about that. Ponder upon it, and next time you speak, or someone is speaking to you, think about deep listening and loving kindness.