How to Listen to Dharma Teachings

There is a Tibetan teaching called “The Three Defects of the Pot.” It tells how to listen to dharma teachings.

Not listening, is like being a pot turned upside down. If you have no intention to listen, you won’t hear much. Maybe you have the intention to listen, but you are distracted most of the time.

If you don’t retain anything, you’re like a pot with a hole in it. Everything is poured in, but it just runs out. To realize a teaching, you need to hear it and then practice it. But how can you practice it if you can’t remember anything?

If you have misguided motivation, you’re like a pot containing poison. If you listen to the teachings with the wrong motivation—for example, to impress people with your knowledge or to become famous, it is like someone pouring precious nectar into a container of poison. Even though the pot is filled with medicine it is still poison.

When you listen—only listen. Don’t even recite mantras and prayers and other meritorious activities. Instead, let the body be still and become completely present. Listen with all your heart.

Once you have heard a teaching, remember the meaning and put it into practice, over and over.

I have shown you the path that leads to liberation,

But you should know that liberation depends upon yourself.

Buddha Shakyamuni

In my mind, I add one more. It’s not in the traditional teaching as far as I know, but I like it a lot. Don’t be like the full pot. When a pot is already filled, everything the teacher tries to pour in runs out on the ground, wasted. Let go of what you know. Be empty of preconceived notions, beliefs and opinions. Receive, even if you don’t yet understand.

Listen with your best conceptual mind and also your heart. As soon and as often as you can, call to mind the meaning of the teachings and put them into practice. Gradually, you will realize the teachings, benefitting yourself and others.


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