Listening like Avalokita

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Dear Still Water Friends,

During each of the four weeks of the 2014 Summer Opening at Plum Village Thich Nhat Hanh began his first Dharma talk speaking to the young people about Avalokita, the Bodhisattva of Deep Listening (also called Avalokiteshvara).

He sits relaxed and listens with all his heart. The other person is talking, speaking, and he, Avalokita, just sits down and listens with all his heart. He listens in such a way that makes the other person suffer less.

He listens for half an hour, one hour, and the more he listens the more the other person feels better and better, and suffers less and less. …. He is not a god. He is a human being like us. He has suffered a lot like us. But because he knew how to practice, he began to suffer less and less.

Thich Nhat Hanh explained that at Plum Village, everyone is training to listen to the pain inside of themselves.

In ourselves there may be a lot of suffering, irritation, anger. There is a little boy or little girl in us who wants to be listened to. But no one seems to listen to us. There is a little boy or a little girl in us who needs to be listened to, but the people around us do not seem to be aware of that, and they don’t know how to listen. Sometimes father cannot listen to us. Sometimes mother cannot listen to us. Sometimes teacher cannot listen to us. Because they have not learned from Avalokita.

Thich Nhat Hanh told the young people that we can learn to listen to ourselves. When we get in touch with our anger, irritation, and fear, we suffer less. And when we suffer less, we are able to listen to others: to our parents, teachers, and friends.

Thich Nhat Hanh mentioned also that when adults come to Plum Village, they learn to listen to themselves and to others. When we listen to others and are able to see the suffering that is in them, the anger toward that person vanishes. Love and compassion is born.

After about 20 minutes of sharing about suffering, Thich Nhat Hanh introduced the chanting of “Namo Valokiteschvara.” [I praise or give homage to the Bodhisattva Avalokita].

The monks and the nuns will practice chanting the name of Avalokita. When they chant the name for the first time, they go home to themselves and they touch the suffering inside of them. When you touch the suffering inside, you help compassion to be born.

When they chant the name for the second time, they reach out and try to recognize the suffering in the people in front of them: on the left, on the right, behind them. Because everyone has suffering inside them. The purpose is the same: to allow more compassion to be born.

When they chant the name for the third time, they reach out to many painful spots in the world, to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, and so on. Suffering is everywhere. Hunger, violence, death, war, and discrimination is everywhere. … When they reach out and get in touch with suffering in the world, more compassion is born in their hearts. While chanting they produce together a collective energy of mindfulness, understanding, and compassion that has the power to heal.

Thich Nhat Hanh recommended that those listening to the chanting listen like Avalokita.

You can participate in the chanting by listening. You can listen like the Bodhisattva Avalokita. You sit there and you do not have to do anything at all. You allow your body to be relaxed. You allow the collective energy of peace and compassion to penetrate into your body. You can do that. You can stop the thinking, because the thinking may remove us from the here and the now. Stopping the thinking is very important to allow ourselves to be in the zone of energy of peace and compassion generated by the chanting. You just allow yourself to follow your in-breath and out-breath. … And after a few minutes of listening you feel much better.

My experience each week was that the combination of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talk and the Namo Valokiteshvara chanting shifted me into a mind state that was more open and tender. Walls built to separate me from suffering became more permeable. I felt I could touch my suffering and be invigorated rather than drained.

This Thursday evening we will bring the energy of Avalokita to our Still Water gathering. The evening will begin as usual at 7 pm with walking meditation. However, we will begin walking meditation earlier than usual, at 7:20, so that a little after 7:30 we can watch a video of the July 6, 2014, Dharma Talk, the first dharma talk of the Summer Opening.

Our Dharma discussion will focus on our capacity to listen like Avalokita. Are we more able to be present to suffering in a way that is healing?

You are invited to be with us.

If you are not able to be with us, you can listen online to the Plum Village monastics chanting Namo Valokiteshvara during the 2011 Summer opening (

Warm wishes and many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner