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Youse are listening to too many Dhamma talks

When I was a young monk, we had it tough. None of this “Youtube” nonsense. No, if you wanted to hear a Dhamma talk, you had to endure mosquitoes, hard floors, and long hours in uncomfortable postures. Those were the days!

But seriously, youse are listening to too many Dhamma talks. We used to have one talk a week, and we were lucky! Plenty of meditation, a bit of sutta reading, a modicum of civilized discussion, and a talk from time to time to get some perspective. That’s the way.

Too many people mainline Dhamma talks for hours a day, and years later seem to know, well, not all that much.

When you listen, really listen. Get into the space and focus 100%. Don’t just let the talk “wash over you”: that’s called “not paying attention”. Actively focus and reflect on the talk, and remind yourself of key points. That’s how you remember.

If you want to spend more time learning, then learn. Put some effort in and challenge yourself to master something worthwhile.* If you don’t have the headspace, no worries, just enjoy the silence.


* Stay tuned, I have something really obscure and difficult planned for the new year! You’ll love it!

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Just so you all know, it’s Friday night and bhante Sujato gives a Dhamma talk every week. So I just asked Bhante if he was really going to give a talk after writing that and he laughed and said “not my Dhamma talks”. :joy: Clearly I am expected to listen! :joy::joy::joy:

This makes me very nervous for some reason. :scream:

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Actually bhante @sujato, it was an extremely good talk, well worth listening to and I’m very very glad I did. :innocent:

I give it :star::star::star::star::star:

And I learnt a lot! So…

But I do understand what bhante is saying about people listening to too many talks. One thing I’ve noticed from my little experience of teaching is that people like listening but yet they don’t seem to remember the talk. Which is a bit distressing as a teacher but also quite good, as I realise I can just do the same talk over and over and no-one will even notice!

Or perhaps, it’s a case of drop by drop the pot gets filled…True, it’s a gradual process of slowly conditioning the mind, incrementally building up Dhamma knowledge, but I can’t think of any other area of knowledge where we would expect good results by just allowing the learning to “wash over us”. Shouldn’t we be a bit more engaged?

Another thing I noticed is that more and more people treat Dhamma talks as a kind of entertainment. They want novelty and variety, they need more and more! Of course it’s wholesome to listen to Dhamma, and always beneficial. But sometimes I wonder if this is just another way to fill in some time, or to ease the loneliness, or to feel connected to something.

But having access to heaps of Dhamma can somehow devalue it, because it is no longer precious. In the same way, you see all those free distribution Dhamma books gathering dust, covers bent up, unloved and unable to even be given away for free! Storerooms stuffed full of books. We have so much access to Dhamma, yet we value it less. These days, with covid, we have lots of zoom talks, and we see people online treating a talk a bit like any other entertainment screen, we see people lying in bed, sitting in their bathrobes, getting up to make a cup of tea, eating food, having chats with their partner and much more!

But imagine what it was like at the time of the Buddha - you’d hear a short verse, and you’d have to really pay attention, you need to remember it afterall! And then you use that as something to ponder and take in to yourself. And as a spark for meditation practice.

One of my favourite suttas is Opportunities for Freedom. It lists 5 opportunities for us to gain liberation

Mendicants, there are these five opportunities for freedom. If a mendicant stays diligent, keen, and resolute at these times, their mind is freed, their defilements are ended, and they arrive at the supreme sanctuary.

The 5 opportunities are:

  1. Listening to a Dhamma talk.
  2. Giving a Dhamma talk
  3. Reciting the Dhamma
  4. Pondering the Dhamma
  5. Using it as a subject for meditation leading to samadhi

For each of these:

That mendicant feels inspired by the meaning and the teaching in that Dhamma… Feeling inspired, joy springs up. Being joyful, rapture springs up. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, one feels bliss. And when blissful, the mind becomes immersed in samādhi.

More and more, I find great benefit is pondering the Dhamma, as it allows me to really take it to heart. Maybe we should spend less time listening to new talks and instead devote some extra time to pondering the old ones more, which helps us understand and, importantly, remember what we have heard.

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I’m stealing ‘youse’.

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While using Dhamma talks as entertainment isn’t ideal, I wonder if it could serve as a lifeline for some. Addiction to entertainment has spiralled completely out of control since smartphones became a thing. I remember when I was in school, we had a lecture on addiction. They showed us a picture of someone using a laptop on the toilet. Everyone laughed. It seemed so ridiculous at the time. And now it’s considered normal for people to be on their phone in the toilet. Which is the same thing, really.

I wonder if substituting entertainment with Dhamma talks could help people. If quitting cold turkey doesn’t work out. Of course, it would have to mean focused listening and a firm commitment to wean oneself off of entertainment. It certainly wouldn’t help to watch Dhamma talks with the attitude we have towards Netflix.

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What was that Sutta about the not-smart brother getting enlightened from rubbing a handkerchief as his practice to realize nibbana? Yeah. It doesn’t take much. But it’s gotta go deep.

I also left all non-monastic groups and don’t attend any lay teacher talks. There was value in accessibility when first learning to meditate but it stops short very quickly.

I’m currently in Anālayo’s satthiphatana class run online. It’s awesome material. But realizing the arbitrary structure of covering each topic for 1 week is not really conducive to deep learning either. It takes so much more self-awareness and reflection to find the correct pace of receiving new knowledge and then reallllly taking the time to practice and absorb.

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I used to get rides to a monastery from someone who would only listen to Dhamma talks in her car, and I would be like, ‘really do we have to listen to Ajahn Chah over and over again??’ I would much rather sit in silence but that is just me. :sweat_smile:

Also, is it weird that I don’t really like listening to people talk about the Dhamma? There are only like three people who I will willingly listen to Dhamma talks from (one of them is you Bhante Sujato!).

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actual quotes from a rather unforgettable committee discussion nearly 20 years ago when a lay ‘vipassana sangha’ (in US) was looking for a resident teacher:

Topic: what we want in a Dharma teacher

A. The most important thing to me is someone with deep wisdom and compassion.

B. That’s a lofty ideal. How would we even know? How about something down to earth.

A. Well, what do you think is most important?

B. Good Dharma talks.

A. What would be a good Dharma talk for you?

B. Entertaining. Oh, and funny.

Various others spoke. Points were listed on a flip chart, then discussed. Don’t recall other suggestions but I do remember that no one commented on what A said. B got lots of votes. Really stuck in my mind.

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:smiley:

Having listened many Dhamma talks I’d have to agree this certainly helps! :joy: Of course the best kind of Dhamma talk is one that helps point the way for us to come out of suffering and move towards freedom. Lofty indeed!

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The Buddha, of course, warned against this:

“And what is the person with lap-like wisdom? Here, some person often goes to the monastery to listen to the Dhamma from the bhikkhus. The bhikkhus teach him the Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing; they reveal the perfectly complete and pure spiritual life. While he is sitting in his seat, he attends to that talk at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. But after he has risen from his seat, he does not attend to that talk at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. Just as, when a person has various food stuffs strewn over his lap—sesamum seeds, rice grains, cakes, and jujubes—if he loses his mindfulness when rising from that seat, he would scatter them all over, so too, some person often goes to the monastery to listen to the Dhamma from the bhikkhus…. But after he has risen from his seat, he does not attend to that talk at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. This is called the person with lap-like wisdom. [AN3.30]

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I have to admit though that I was on the "wisdom & compassion’ side. Yes,

the best kind of Dhamma talk is one that helps point the way for us to come out of suffering and move towards freedom.

. :star_struck: :dharmawheel:

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Whilst Dhamma talks with humour can be entertaining…my very favourite are the most serious ones…there is after all no time to waste!
Too many Dhamma talks??? I don’t quite get it???
Could you please give a talk on this Bhante? :blush:

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I don’t know about other countries but in Thailand it is believed that we get merits by giving.

Giving to an arahant gets more merits than giving to a newly ordained monk.

Giving a monastery gets more merits than giving food to the monk.

Giving dhamma gest more merits than giving material things.

So, of course, people want to give dhamma books though the recipient may not want them!

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Hmmm I listened to dhamma talks in the car. It’s more entertaining than music! And it kept me sane while getting stuck in Bangkok traffic!

But I turned off the talk when other people were in my car.

The point is if you don’t understand why some people like red when we like blue, it’s hard for us to understand why people do different things than we.

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To me, it’s about brainwashing.

Do you as teachers expect your students to remember everything you say?

I heard that if a student can get 80% of what a teacher teaches, it’s excellent work for both the teacher and the student. As a student I aimed higher, but as a teacher I wouldn’t expect that from my students and always tried different ways to get the message installed in my students’ long-term memory.

Now as a student of dhamma, I’ve gathered that it’s a practice, not info collection and retention. One thing the military taught me is about training. You train yourself so much and so often that everything comes out automatically.

That’s the same with the dhamma, IMHO; it should be deeply instilled in us, has become part of our nature and everything that comes out of us - through body, speech or mind - is just automatic.

I practice ‘mind-washing’ for my own mind, so there are never too many dhamma talks.

P.S. Bhante @sujato, please keep on talking. Ajahn @Brahmali, I will try to keep some bread crumbs with me.

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When I listen to a Dhamma talk, I only get 30% of it. So 70% flows by unheeded. Fortunately, there are many days in a week. By listening to the same Dhamma talk each day, I find that I get precisely 83.2% = (1 - 0.7*0.7*0.7*0.7*0.7)*100% of the talk.

Perhaps that’s why Dhamma talks are given once per week…:thinking:

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:open_mouth: :face_with_hand_over_mouth: :rofl:

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Ooops. Sorry. I miscalculated (edited)

83.2% = (1 - 0.70.70.70.70.7)*100%

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I am still utterly impressed by the precision of what your memory is able to grasp … :bowing_woman:

My memory’s capacity widely varies, depending on the day, my general condition, how interesting I find the topic, and perhaps various other conditions.

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I think a Bayesian approach might be useful :laughing:

P( getting closer to Enlightenment) | ( coming across a great Dhamma talk that improves your daily life)

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