Meditating on Sounds: Listening Your Way to Enlightenment


According expert meditator and teacher Jiaoguang of China’s Ming dynasty, meditators must get to know our illusions well before we may experience bursts of insight.

With regard to the types of sounds for those who practice hearing as a form of meditation, Jiaoguang elaborates:

There are sound categories of movement and stillness. Movement means sound and stillness means silence. Here, we first let cease the object of movement, which consists of two types. One, warped sounds that contain intended meaning, such as language, songs and the like. Two, direct sounds that are devoid of intended meaning, such as sounds made by wind, water, birds, beasts, bells, drums, and others.
There are two types of warped sounds: First, warped sounds about the mundane. Second, warped sounds about principles. Furthermore, there are two types of warped sounds about the mundane — the powerless and the powerful. The powerless ones refer to critiques of past or present literature and phenomena that have to do with other people and other times. Having nothing to do with us, [such sounds] may breed scattered thoughts only, but have no real power to increase our afflictions, hence [such sounds] are ‘powerless.’ ‘Powerful’ sounds refer to words about various states for which we desire, words about various kinds of injustices that make us angry, words that build our reputation or slander us behind our back, words of compliment or outright teasing — any words that cause benefit or harm to ourselves so that we suddenly become recklessly joyous or hateful, forgetting and losing our proper mindfulness — these are all warped secular sounds.
Warped sounds about principles have to do with words describing internal, external, deviant or proper principles. Even talks about Buddhist practices, as mystical and wondrous as they may be, lead people to develop certain understanding based on words. Such words trigger internal discussions and thought processes, but people may not realize what is occurring in them. Grasping at such conditions, [even if related to Buddhist practice,] also means that we pursue and float along with those sounds, which is a most severe obstruction to our fundamental hearing. This is why this Buddhist meditative tradition treats even the verbal teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs as enemies.[i]

Jiaoguang’s explanation here reveals to us that sounds cannot be eliminated. No matter where you are or how quiet it is, there are sounds, including “sound of silence”.

And yet sounds, representative of phenomena, are in fact illusory, temporary transformations from our effulgent and everlasting core of being.

[i]               Jiaoguang 交光, Dafo Dingshou Lengyan Jing Zhengmai Shu 大佛頂首楞嚴經正脈疏, Xinzhuan Xuzang Jing 卍新纂續藏經 X12n275 (Taipei: CBETA, 2012).