Aural and Oral Cultures – Swamiji on changing trends

Swamiji 1Swami Snehananda Jyoti

One of the traditions that is fast disappearing is the very valued, Eastern aural (relating to the ear or the sense of hearing) culture. Oral culture (relating to the mouth or speech) predominantly characterizes the Western culture while aural culture is an important aspect of Eastern spirituality or of being Eastern. In the West listening to music or talk shows while engaged in other activities is a very common phenomenon. It is becoming increasingly common in the East. That the world is shrinking or becoming one has a great deal to do with it, especially in this age of information, communication, and world-wide trade. None the less we cannot but take note of this important shift or change.

I still very fondly cherish one of the experiences narrated to me long ago by my provincial (superior of the region that I then belonged) after a visit of my family. He happened to be a Spanish Jesuit who did not know any Malayalam (my mother tongue), and my mother did not know any language other than Malayalam. My provincial told me that he was very touched by my mother sitting silently in a happy demeanour during his entire stay of three hours. I guess it was the next best to seeing her far away son. I must also note that in those days of very rigorous regulations, my first very short visit of her after joining the Jesuits was after 8 years, and that too caused by her grievous illness.

We are as a people losing the art of listening to the internal and external stimuli. That way we little by little lose touch with ourselves. Do we have time to silently reflect and formulate our own our views before we are unduly influenced by others’ interpretations of events? It appears that we like to speak more and narcissistically hear our voices more than we attentively and empathically listen to others and understand what they are saying in order for us to appropriately respond to them. Are we formulating our answers or our defense while others are talking? Do we frequently interrupt others because we know what they are going to say? Even if we anticipate what others are going to say, it is a good policy to listen through so the other person feels understood? Some persons have such an internal pressure to interrupt lest they forget what is on their mind at the time. And my answer to them is that they would remember if something is worth saying. Even if they are forgetting what is worth saying, I think they gain more by listening rather than by interrupting.

We are constantly bombarded by unwanted external stimuli. Sensible people would think when they go to a church, temple, a mosque, or a political party meeting, they should be able to hear the readings, songs, prayers or speeches related to the worship or functions conducted there. In a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and a multi-party society that ours is, unwanted voices blared out and subjected, willy-nilly, especially at times when we want to rest, study, or do our own prayer or meditation, through loud speakers for the entire town or village, become noxious stimuli easily contributing to disturbance of piece, tranquility, tolerance, and noise pollution.I have witnessed devout persons visiting holy persons or sages in their ashrams while they are talking to others, and staying in their presence for a time and leaving without having uttered a word. They just came for darshan (seeing the person or just being in the presence of the person). That way their need was satisfied. Sometimes attentive, non-verbal presence is all that is required, and, at such times, speech becomes superfluous. The world around us with all the beings and happenings is the greatest live university where all kinds of courses worth learning are continuously taking place. Attentive and empathic listening will enrich and streamline our conversations, and eliminate at least sometimes our spoken words altogether.

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