New Delhi: [Link to: Listening 1] Sitting here, listening to sounds all around, far away and just on the edge of hearing. The process itself seems to select the sound – or the sound is selected (by some unseen process) and ‘I’ don’t have control over it. Kitchen noises, isolated clatter of plates: clink, rolling-around clunking sounds, as objects gently collide with the environment: bump, scrape; cupboard doors close, metal sink noises, cutlery makes high frequency sounds I can’t easily identify. Jiab is doing something in there. Some time later, she comes into the room with a tray and plates, maple syrup and banana: ‘Pancakes!’ she says, and I go to the table. Taste the pancakes. There’s a cognitive function which investigates the senses, different from the receptivity of the sense base āyatanāni; the gates through which the flow of sensory data enters. It’s like a security system which monitors events taking place and identifies objects from outside the body that enter inside by way of taste, tactile sense, mind sense, ear, eye and nose,.
Other sounds come into auditory range; there is recognition, they are registered, processed; memory updated. It happens in a tiny fraction of a second, so fast it feels like trying to find words for it now is in slow motion, another kind of temporality. Auditory events jump out of the background, enough to be perceived consciously rather than just being part of the general surroundings of mixed ‘noise’. The process selects one and it’s not there until I focus on it – or until the mechanisms of focussing are turned in that direction. I listen rather than just hear – see, rather than just watch. It’s the gate of awareness sati sampajañña, through which there is awareness of all the other senses and the sense of being aware itself. It’s an alertness, a presence, the eye that turns inwards – a consciousness of the sensory experience that’s superimposed on sensory consciousness. Cognitive functioning is a sensory organ – consciousness is a sensory organ.
There’s always a returning to look for the beginning of it, how did it start? I only know that at some point, before I was properly aware of it, the parts came together into some kind of recognizable whole and now a thought appears in a small window, the story of it unfolds and ‘I’ am immediately part of this. ‘I’ am involved in the story and the story is about ‘me’. When I leave the story and the window closes, I get a short glimpse of something that tells me there was a window there – and it’s not there anymore. There is no ‘I,’ it just looks like that because everything has the quality of being seen in hindsight.
The process is seemingly directed towards a ‘self’ but if there’s no input, there’s no ‘self.’ Sensory mechanisms are functioning without ‘my’ involvement anattā; they’re waiting for things to arrive because it’s in their nature to do that. All there is, is this alertness. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and cognitive functioning; all are receiving the universe and, since all are also a part of the universe, it’s an all-inclusive experiencing of the universe that’s receiving itself. Just a state of ‘listening’, like a radio telescope dish situated in the middle of a desert somewhere pointing at the sky.
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Listening feels like such a gift sometimes, even if it’s just to a few passing cars on the road. And recognition is still going on all the time. It seems like when recognition predominates, the listening somehow becomes less intense.
By ‘recognition’ you mean it’s a known sound. So if some sounds are unknown, the ‘recognition’ function has to search for a close match. Before that happens there’s just the consciousness of it: outer/inner contact and consciousness (phassa). Ajahn says all three arise at the same time. It interests me to contemplate what that consciousness could be….