This is the practice of the Fourth Mindfulness Training: loving speech and deep listening.
A bodhisattva is someone who can speak with a gentle, loving speech. A bodhisattva is someone who can listen with compassion. And if you train for three days, you might become a bodhisattva. And you might be able to talk to another person with that language, and listen to him or her with that kind of compassion. You don’t have to practice for ten years to do that; a few days may be enough.
‘Daddy, I know you have suffered so much in the past. I was not able to help you suffer less. Instead, I reacted angrily in a way that made the situation worse. Daddy, it is not my intention to make you suffer. It’s just because I didn’t see or understand the suffering in you. So please, daddy, tell me what is in your heart. Tell me about the difficulties, the despair, the conflict in your heart. Please help me to understand. If I understand, I will not react the way I have in the past. Please, help me. If you don’t help me, who will?’
That is loving speech. Kindness that you can practice, that you can use.
If you learn to look so that you can see suffering in a person, and recognize the roots of that suffering in them, it’s like being a doctor. If a doctor does not see the nature of the sickness, they cannot help the patient.
It’s like a psychotherapist: if they don’t truly understand the cause of the patient’s suffering, they cannot help. That is why understanding suffering is a crucial practice in the Buddhist tradition.
In fact, the First Noble Truth is suffering, and the Second Noble Truth is the cause, the nature, the root of suffering. If you are able to speak like that, the other person will open their heart and tell you what is in it. And now you have an opportunity to practice deep, compassionate listening.
Compassionate listening is a wonderful practice. You can listen with compassion for an hour. You can help the other person suffer much less in one hour.
Compassionate listening has compassion as its essence; if you do not practice mindfulness of compassion, you cannot listen for very long.
You may have the good intention to listen to him or her in order to help them suffer less. But if you do not know the practice of mindfulness of compassion, you may lose your capacity for listening. Because what they say might be full of wrong perceptions, might be full of bitterness, accusation, blame. And that might irritate and touch anger in you, meaning that you lose your capacity to listen to them.
That is why you have to train yourself before you begin the practice with them. You must have the time to look and see the suffering in him or her. You must be ready before you practice. And while practicing, you should keep mindfulness of compassion alive.
Mindfulness of compassion means that you are aware, that you remember to listen to him or her with just one purpose: to help them empty their heart and suffer less. Therefore, if they say wrong things, if they are bitter, if they express blame, continue to listen.
They may say wrong things, but I am not going to interrupt them, because if I do, and correct them, then I transform the session into a debate. And that will ruin everything.
So breathe in and out mindfully during the whole session, and remember just one thing: listening to that person, I have a single purpose – to give them a chance to suffer less.
Remember this throughout the session, and you can tell yourself that their judgements are prejudices and misunderstandings.
In a few days, I will have a chance to offer them some information so that they can correct their perceptions. But not now. Now: listen.
And if you can keep that alive in your heart, in your mind – listening with just one purpose: not to correct, but to allow them a chance to speak out, to suffer less – that’s called mindfulness of compassion.
If you can maintain your mindfulness of compassion for one hour, while you listen to him or her, you are a bodhisattva. Because the energy of compassion is in your heart, you are inhabited by the energy of compassion, you are safe.
And if compassion is there, even if what the other person is saying has many wrong perceptions, and much bitterness, anger, blame, or accusation, you are safe. Because you are protected by compassion.
Compassion is the best protection. So you can sit and listen for an hour or more.
Of course you have the right to tell him or her the truth – but not now; later.
[This transcript was edited for readability.]
Watch the short teaching here:
Watch the full Dharma Talk here: