Listening to, or reading the writings of, different spiritual or religious teachers can be very inspiring and informative, if we know, or at least think we know, what they are actually saying. The meaning of their words can get in the way. But there is another layer of listening we might overlook.
Let me explain. We use words, or language, to communicate with ourselves and with others. We usually presume we have a common understanding of the meaning of the words we use. If I say dog or cat, we can probably agree what these words mean; and most of the time dog or cat communicates the correct meaning.
Communication about spirituality is not so simple. The themes or ideas communicated in spiritual teachings are often about that which is very, very difficult to put into words. Or even impossible to capture in language. So we may only be able to be pointed towards the meaning, like we might point to something we cannot see in the distance when giving directions to a traveler.
And other challenges of words in spiritual teachings are caused by cultural differences, translation from one language to another, or simply different levels of understanding or realization of the teacher.
Of course, it is the teacher’s intention to guide the student to deeper understanding and self-knowledge. But accomplishing this can made more difficult by words.
One teacher may mean something quite different by a word or phrase than another. The result is that there may be numerous meanings, and the teachers are not all talking about, or pointing to, the same understanding.
An example is the word “awakening.” You may have discovered that this commonly used term in spiritual teaching is used in many ways with different meanings. What specifically does “awakening” refer to? Is there only one awakening? Or are there many? And how are they different?
Sometimes there is enough context to come to a pretty good idea what is meant. But often this is not the case.
I have observed that many people who listen to, or read, various teachers assume they use fundamental spiritual vocabulary consistently. Therefore, some people develop an understanding as to the meaning of spiritual vocabulary, even though the meanings may, in fact, be quite different. This creates a communication problem that is often overlooked. And, it can be confusing because we might feel that the same words may have a different quality or feeling of meaning, even though the words are the same. This is where another kind of listening is useful.
I doubt anyone will come along to fully document and define spiritual vocabulary which will be adopted by all spiritual teachers and students. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary.
Here’s why. Words and language are conveyances of subtle feeling and understanding. Even if our mind does not have a precise definition for the word, or a definition that might satisfy our intellect, our understanding beyond the words can be felt. And this is an intuitive skill that we can develop.
What we do is begin to listen beyond the words. Listen with relaxed attention to spiritual teachings, beyond the words, and feel what is being communicated and what is evoked. How we do this is we relax our mind and intellect, and allow a deeper feeling sense to listen.
As you develop this skill in listening, you will discover that not all teachers are talking about the same knowledge or understanding. And, as you develop the skill in listening beyond the words, you may also find that some teachers seem to convey much more depth and spiritual maturity with the same vocabulary than do other teachers. And also in this process of listening beyond the words, you may touch more deeply that which the words intend to communicate or point to.
Listening beyond the words can also support our spiritual practice and preparation to receive Divine Grace. It can open us more to the feeling of Divine Presence that underlies everything we know or perceive.
So. Let yourself listen beyond the words. You can still take in the words and process them in your mind and intellect. Just don’t rely only on mental processing. I believe this approach will help you move more deeply towards true meaning. And, it may help you better identify what teachers offer you the guidance that supports you the most in your spiritual journey.
And you may also find that the radiant transmission that comes from a truly awakened being can teach far better than the words of a teacher whose understanding is not as mature.