According to the Sperry Corporation (their products include computers and military guidance systems), the distinction is an important one. One of the corporation’s promotional ads begins: “We understand how important it is to listen.”
Says Sperry vice-president Richard L. Robertson, effective listening “is one of our greatest strengths in the marketplace.” When employees listen ineffectively, money is lost, letters have to be retyped, orders reshipped, and so forth. When bad listening exists on the personnel level, “employees feel more and more distant, and ultimately alienated from top management.”
Sperry enrolls its employees in workshops to improve their ability to listen and respond to others. They have freely offered the results of their listening research as. a public service and have published a booklet, “Your Personal Listening Profile.” I have applied their advice to the field of transcendental listening and would like to offer a little test to help you rate yourself. How good a listener are you?
The first test of a good listener is his ability to find points of interest in what is being said. The bad listener prematurely tunes out what he considers dry subjects, where the good listener looks to find out, “What’s in it for me?” Suppose I say I am going to discuss self-realization as it is explained in the Bhagavad-gita. A bad listener might feel that the topic does not apply to his own private life. But if one listens with a keen ear for his real self-interest, then self-realization becomes a profitable subject for understanding. Certainly everyone would like to be free of the miseries of the world—birth, death, disease, and old age—and everyone would like to live forever in happiness. And these are the benefits of self-realization. So an effective listener will tune in to the vital subject matter of self-realization as it is presented in the Bhagavad-gita.
The next sign of an effective listener is his ability to “hold his fire.” A bad listener tends to take an argumentative attitude as soon as he hears an idea he doesn’t already accept, but a good listener hears all the facts before he decides to challenge or accept. Some listeners are just too conditioned; as soon as they hear the words “God” or “Krsna” or “the soul,” they don’t want to hear anything more. Yet many times these prejudices are due to a person’s having heard only sentimental or unqualified discussions of God. Naively, these persons have decided that any presentation of God consciousness is sectarian or mythological, even when it is presented scientifically and philosophically, as in the Bhagavad-gita. This is ineffective hearing. Such a person is acting on personal emotions and prejudices which preclude inquiry into the very idea that has been the most influential and enduring throughout human history.
Another sign of an effective listener is his willingness to exercise his mind. A bad listener shuns weighty philosophical topics in favor of light, recreational ones, but the good listener takes to heavy material as an exercise for the mind. Too much TV titillation, perhaps—absurd commercials, moronic programs; the brain has gone soft from lack of exercise. And consequently, deep introspection and philosophical research into the meaning of life seem too demanding.
Long before the advent of Sperry’s new slogan, the Vedic sages were aware of people’s tendency not to hear about the Absolute Truth. Sukadeva Gosvami stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, “In human society those persons who are materially engrossed, being blind to the knowledge of ultimate truth, have many subject matters for hearing,” Sukadeva Gosvami described as folly the many activities of a materialistic person whose temporary busyness prevents him from seeing that death will soon come and end all his plans for happiness. He has no time to hear about life beyond death. “But one who desires to be free from all misery,” says Sukadeva, “must hear about, glorify, and also remember the Personality of Godhead, the supreme controller and the savior from all miseries.” So although the cost of inefficient listening in the business world may amount to millions of dollars, the loss from not listening to definitive discussion of the spiritual nature is far greater. As stated by Jesus Christ, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his immortal soul?”
With all thanks to the Sperry Corporation for their concern about effective listening, improved listening must ultimately go beyond what they have offered. Their commitment, after all, is based on the fact that good listening can be used as a tool for financial gain. But according to Vedanta-sutra (“Aphorisms of Ultimate Knowledge”), a person has to calculate his best self-interest in eternal terms, not temporary. Materially motivated listening, even though it be effective listening, is, like everything else material, temporary. But in this temporary lifetime, a human being has to inquire into his eternal nature. Only by listening to the eternal science of self-realization, as it is presented in the Bhagavad-gita, can one cross over the darkness of suffering and death. At present, we may not know the answers to life’s ultimate philosophical questions, but we must admit that this is the most important topic for hearing. Otherwise, although we may be effective listeners, and although we may take advantage of the latest advancements in communications, it is all of dubious value.
When, in the early nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau heard that communication time between Boston and New York had been reduced to five hours, he asked skeptically whether there was anything of such importance that it had to be transported so quickly from the people of Boston to the people of New York. The Vedic literature points out that even animals have efficient systems of hearing and responding, but only the human being hears and comprehends the science of self-realization. The special qualification of the human being is that he can make a solution to the problems of life by hearing discussions of the Absolute Truth.
Vedic knowledge analyzes that the Absolute Truth cannot be learned from an ordinary person, because everyone within the material world is subject to four defects: we have a tendency to make mistakes, a tendency to be illusioned, and a tendency to cheat others, and we have limited senses. So just as important as effective listening is finding the right authority to listen to. Knowledge of the soul and God, by which man can become free of material bondage, can be gained only by hearing from perfect sources: revealed scriptures and God-realized sages. But, you might ask, is such perfection of knowledge possible? Before you glibly answer this question, I would suggest that you “hold your fire.” First, why not make a serious inquiry into the Vedic literature, utilizing the principles of effective listening.—SDG