The art of listening

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The art of listening

“Suniai sidh pir sur nath suniai dharat daval akash” 

11st Pauri of Jaap Ji, Guru Nanak .

Guru Nanak sings in these verses the Yoga of listening.

In Jaap Ji, Guru Nanak poetically relates an experience of merging that is completely beyond our rational understanding. in this poem is unfolding the technology of Shabad Guru for all. Guru as the sound itself, the combination and permutation of words which carries within itself the vibratory codes of spiritual realisation.

The word Suniai is very close to “shunya” which means “zero” in Sanskrit. One could say that listening is like going back to the zero point, a definition of humility. Nanak’s invitation is to recognise our pride, the fantasy of our mind which claims to know everything.

This ability to listen is a very feminine quality which implies an openness to receiving. Allowing emptiness, non-existence. How could we fill a cup that is already full?

Nanak does not suggest hard penance, fasting or exhausting kriyas. Nor does he preach passivity. What he describes is a very natural and spontaneous experience.

He says: “By listening, we become a perfect yogi (a sidh), the earth (Dharat) or the ether (Akash)…”. A way of saying that through shunya we have access to direct experience of everything that exists.

The period of Guru Nanak and his successors (15th – 17th century) is that of the Muslim invasion which threatens the extinction of many sects in this region by killing their spiritual leaders. Thus, this period saw the gradual degradation of authentic practices. The Vedic rituals and the different lineages of Hinduism tended to lose their essence and became perverted, lacking masters to revive them. Many yogis were more interested in occult powers and black magic than in spiritual enlightenment.

Nanak’s confronting and reviving words are very close to those of Abhinavagupta who was a great sage of the Shivaist tradition in the 10th century. Interesting because it takes place more or less in the same place, in the north-west of India, but a few centuries apart. One of the oldest known traditions in this region is Tantric Shivaism. Some writings date back to 3 centuries BC. Still present in medieval times (especially in Kashmir), the current was later diluted, probably because of the religious invasion and also probably because other paths such as Vishnuism and Shaktism developed.

The Shivaist texts are probably among the most refined spiritual literature to be found in India. For example, where Samkhya describes 24 tattwas as layers of manifestation, Tantric Shivaism has 36. These yogis are very precise and delicate in describing the subtleties of spiritual experience. Most of the writings have disappeared, but what remains is of such beauty that we can onlyassume how sumptuous this tradition may have been in its glory.

One of the specificities of this approach is that every part of life is seen as an opportunity to recognize the Divine. It is a non-dualistic perspective, i.e. practices are not will-based or goal-oriented. Some call this the path of spontaneous recognition of truth. The main task of the disciple is to cultivate sensitivity and to be in contact with a Guru of the tradition.

When the disciple is open and listening, the spiritual transmission of the lineage occurs naturally. This is precisely what Guru Nanak sings in the Jaap Ji and is repeated many times in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the scripture which is a at the root of the Kundalini Yoga philosophy( as yogi Bhajan  taught it).  Perhaps the message of Nanak and his successors takes on more of a devotional flavor (Bhakti) than what can be found in the original Shivaism.

The form has evolved and has probably been influenced by the cultural atmosphere and history of that time, but the essence of the message is very close… In Kundalini Yoga, kriyas help us to open and refine our nervous structure and unlock the “self-sensory system” by targeting the brain and glands.

Correctly practiced in a contemplative attitude, they considerably increase our capacity to feel and listen deeply. In this system, spiritual transmission is then done through the Shabad Guru. It seems that what Yogi Bhajan has left us is the millennia-old legacy of the spiritual influx of north-west India. Thus, we find in the corpus of these teachings the reflection of the history and cultures of this spiritually abundant region:

  • The Bhakti is the result of the spiritual movement of the medieval period carried by Ramanand, Kabir and Nanak: the need to come back to the heart and emotion, as the ancient rituals have lost their original meaning. An invitation to creative expression and passionate expression: Kirtans, Bhajans, beautiful music and poetry.
  • The Shakti, the martial and powerful aspect, allowed the community to defend itself a little later against religious and political oppressors. Endurance, projection, caliber and impact of words are all shakti outcomes which are of great value  for contemporary leaders.
  • Sufism, linked to Muslim culture but much older, emphasises total surrender to the divine will. It is a pure distillation of the essence of the guru-Chela relationship: reverence. However, this requires a revisiting  of the concept of obedience that so many Westerners are reluctant to even consider…
  • Sat Nam Rasayan, inherited from the ancient Shivaïst tradition, is the multi-dimensional unfolding of our perception, an exploration with no expectation, pure sensitive contemplation, an art of listening.

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