Youse are listening to too many Dhamma talks

Yes, this sounds familiar. Understanding isn’t enough, but to place oneself standing under until one’s being is totally still and receptive can make the difference between understanding and realising. The first leaves a dent, but the second removes it.
I know why I keep on coming back to the same talks, and that’s because there too often is someone listening here, and when there is someone listening, there is disturbance due to frictions caused by the tension of the attention. The next time one listens there is no tension because it’s been heard before so the mind is tricked to forget itself, and then the talk becomes a sound without two separate entities, and there is only not two, as it has always been.
And the result of this kind of hearing is that one actually can’t say what’s been understood, one can only sense that something is gone and that makes all the difference.

Tenderly listening to no one :pray:


Thank you. That’s a really nice point. When on a monastery retreat, every thing one sees and every interaction becomes a reminder to practice. In lay life, it is helpful to create those supports and pointers to practice wherever we can find them. :pray:


There are 4 kinds of students of the Dhamma: those making quick & pleasant progress, those whose progress is slow & pleasant, those for whom it’s quick & painful, and those for whom progress is slow & painful.

The advice to cut back on Dhamma talks perhaps may be well-aimed at students in the two pleasant categories. But sincere students deeply mired in pain, who don’t yet have skill in developing wholesome states and are still battered by their own thoughts, need and deserve wholesome crutches.

Some Westerners who carry a particularly heavy burden of suffering, and live far from Buddhist groups (or are too socially awkward to join a group), are drawn to online Buddhist forums where they can reach out to people knowledgeable about Buddhism. One fellow who had read some of my comments on an online forum phoned me in desperation from a mental hospital several days after he attempted suicide. (We talked for an hour and it seemed to lift his spirits immensely.) You wouldn’t want anyone, especially someone in a desperate condition, to feel shamed or discouraged from freely listening to Dhamma talks if they help bring ease.

Then too there are the little old Buddhist-born ladies who fill their days with words of Dhamma. I haven’t met one yet who wasn’t delightful and admirable. Our elderly friend Ayya Satima Bhikkhuni (who passed of heart failure several months ago) spent her last couple of years mostly in bed either meditating or listening to Dhamma talks in Sinhala. She listened to multiple talks each day; she would’ve given a hearty laugh at the idea there’s anything wrong with that.

(I miss that laugh!)


The suggestion to cut back on Dhamma talks has intrigued me…how many is too many? Who decides this wisely other than the person themselves with their own awareness, experience of their unique situation and self-understanding?

Of course many in lay-life who listen more frequently to Dhamma do so with great pleasure, practice easeful meditation, enjoy wholesome mind states and live quite freely, unbattered.


I think the point of Bhante’s post isn’t a proscription on listening to Dhamma talks, or giving people a particular allowable number but rather about encouraging people to practice the Dhamma, i.e. actually “walking the talk” rather than just listening to the talks as if it were enough, or relying on them entirely as a spiritual practice alone.

Maybe it’s an idea similar to being sick and getting the doctor’s prescription, reading it over and over but never taking it.

Or like the old story about the learned academic traveling on a boat who was an expert in so many things—biology, geology, psychology etc— but despite all their knowledge, when the boat begins to sink, they suddenly find out that their academic knowledge means little and they realise they didn’t ever learn “swimology”, which is the very practical, experiential knowledge that would save them.

Of course everyone will judge their practice for themselves but it’s interesting to think about where we put our time and attention, and why.


Thank you @Akaliko, I appreciate the points you’ve raised, also @Charlotteannun.

I feel my post was in large part a response to Bhante’s original post which took a somewhat playful approach, yet I felt, failed to acknowledge, even playfully, the vast variety of people’s situations and patterns of Dhamma listening.


That’s how I also chose to understand Bhante, but what lacks, in my opinion, is to elaborate on this: “Too many people mainline Dhamma talks for hours a day, and years later seem to know, well, not all that much.”

I don’t know what goes on in other minds but my own, and when I meet a famous monk I might be more silent than usual, but that’s not because I don’t know “much” …
And personally, I experience that my mind doesn’t accumulate that much of the teachings, but there is sufficient data for the mind to know where peace resides and goes directly to that refuge. So, I guess I’m quite happy with a mind that is as empty as a hermits address book :mask:

I remember Ajahn Brahm saying something like this in one of his talks: We actually like you all to get lost! … but now it’s Friday evening and here you are again …
And I understand what he meant, or believe I do, but if you really like me to get lost, why don’t you make me?

Something wrong with the speaker or the listener, or both?


Bhante S (and the Buddha too!) often talks about the importance of attention and recall, and perhaps this is what he is referring to here, where people are using talks as background music, tuning out rather than tuning in, or only half listening as they sit still in meditation but are actually drifting off or busy in the mind with their meditation subject, not actually listening to the talk.

If we want to make progress and actually learn, we can’t just expect that having the Dhamma on in the background, or allowing the words to wash over us will be useful - we need to attend to the words, do some internal processing and make meaning of it. I can’t think of any other “educational” environment where we would just listen to instructions in the background, but do no personal reading or practical exercises to actually make it our own knowledge. It’s like half listening to a talk about learning to drive a car but never getting behind the wheel, or expecting that when we do need to drive we will magically be able!

I have been surprised working with some groups of long term meditators who have heard hundreds of talks on Dhamma, but can’t recall the five hindrances, even when it was the topic of the talk the week before and countless times previously :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: the same is often true when I ask people to recall the factors of the N8P or even the 4NT and even the 5 precepts. This is fairly basic stuff, very practical instructions for the path and topics constantly being taught in Dhamma talks, yet these topics can somehow remain “unknown” even after being heard so often! Maybe this is the type of thing that bhante is referring to?

Certainly, the way we learn today is very very different from all those years ago. We aren’t listener learners so much anymore unlike at the time of the Buddha, and this means we have difficulties recalling stuff, so perhaps the pedagogical model of delivering talks needs to be reconsidered? These days we are much more visual learners, so I frequently use images in my talks where possible (the suttas are full of potent visually smilies, and after showing slides of the Buddha’s simile of a bowl of water for the hindrances, I found people had much greater recall).

Another problem with talks and even books these days is we don’t need to remember stuff because the internet is our externalised brain and the information we seek is just a click away, so… no need to store it ourselves! But this is a false economy.

One other important thing is to question the outdated top down pedagogy of a teacher at the front of the room spouting knowledge whilst the audience sits there passively absorbing. This is bad pedagogy! We learn much better when we are actively engaged. Learning needs interaction, so rather than just talking all the time, both bhante S and I use discussion groups to help people talk stuff through amongst themselves in a less formal/public way, which helps clear up errors or gaps of knowledge and allows people to ask questions from each other and help others along with different levels of knowledge, because there are a range of experiences in every group.

We also ask people to lead aspects of the discussion and meditation (including young kids) so they can take ownership of their learning and be more involved, less dependant on the “teacher”. We also create interactive group activities for applying the new knowledge as quickly as possible to help with recall and just generally mix things up rather than only doing straight Dhamma talks. This is good for both teachers and students but requires a lot more thinking and effort, plus practical changes like altering the learning environment by setting up the room differently to allow for more varied types of activity, rather than just setting it up lecture theatre style as always.

Different learning styles also requires that the teacher resist the long habit of just talking, and also resist the audience’s expectation of just delivering another soon-to-be-forgotten talk as usual. It’s easier to do just that but less effective in the long run. The audience also needs to be prepared to take a few risks! Unfortunately a lot of people prefer to just sit there and don’t really want to engage or don’t want to feel like they are in an educational environment per se. Maybe they are really attached to just being the “audience”. This concept itself is interesting, they are not wanting to be part of the “show” but merely consumers of it; they aren’t involved, the Dhamma is something that happens to them… And some people don’t like group participation (it can be confronting, I get it). Or maybe it’s just been a long day and they just want to unwind and relax and tune out, drift off a bit… You see?

The suttas describe a world of active community engagement, lots of questions and lively discussions and challenging conversations. The Buddha used very practical similes that drew upon the experience of the participants, helping the meaning be understood and applied directly. Sure there are also more formal talks in the suttas, but people had to pay much more attention, memorise and absorb the Dhamma to be able to practice. Perhaps more recent Buddhist culture has over-emphasised talks, I guess that’s Bhante’s thinking with this post. It’s not about shaming people for not knowing stuff but being a bit galvanic and encouraging us to think about how we learn and practice the Dhamma. The responses show that some people are quite attached to listening to talks and uncomfortable having that questioned or challenged, but maybe that is a useful learning in itself! However, it’s also worth noting that all of the dynamism, interactive learning, chances for questions, discussion or an individual’s personal input are notably absent from listening to recordings of talks.


@sujato and all others: I was wondering if this also applies to guided meditations?
Can this somehow also be a distractive habit, if used too much and not with moderation and careful reflection? I’m not sure about wheter it can be distractive or not - maybe you can elaborate :pray:


Yes, good question. I definitely think guided meditation can be a useful starter. In the groups I teach, I sometimes ask whether they’d prefer guided or unguided, and people invariably choose guided. But then, to what extent is it replacing your own experience with someone else’s idea of meditation? No-one knows what’s going on in your mind except yourself.

I think it’s probably best to keep guided meditation for learning and occasional refreshers, and when you’re ready to go any deeper, you’re on your own.


I agree, Bhante. Guided meditations can be really helpful for learning something new, especially when the instructions during a session are progressive (such as your metta instructions). When I was starting I did find detailed instructions on getting settled useful, but now I’d rather just do my own routine of scanning/relaxing/etc. (So I prefer when the teacher says something general like: “scan the body looking for tension”, rather than “scan the head… now the neck… now the…”. Guidance without being too pushy…).

However, I’m not surprised that people who come to your sessions tend to ask for some guidance. We don’t get the chance for instruction every day… :slight_smile:


Maybe that’s what Bhante is trying to point to, but my question to the same monk would be; How have you contributed as an experienced monk to make people see for themself the internal meaning or point of the three refuges, so they can walk the walk?

When I listen to background music I do prefer to put on real music … So, my guess is that people listen because there is something unseen good in their hearts that resonate with words of the dhamma, and that isn’t wrong, because one sunny day the unseen might suddenly shine through the veils of delusion and ignorance dissolve. Just keep on and on and on …

This is valid points but is still just opinions about “right effort”, and I agree that there is such a thing as right effort, but how and when to apply the right kind of effort changes, so one has to keep a beginners mind and attitude all the time, or else one might as will become mechanical and conditioned in one’s practice.
Often Ajahn’s say at the end of the talk: Consider this as reflections, and if you find something useful that’s fine, if not, that is also fine.

I would be a bit ashamed if I couldn’t recall basic stuff like that. But I also know that I would put greater effort into never experience the same thing to happen in the future.

There are noumerous ways one can make teachings become more interesting, but I’m not a teacher so I let them consoder what’s best. But I could maybe become a better or more dedicated student if when taking the three refuge, finished with the sentence; and I take these three refuges for the rest of my life …

It might raise the bar up to where it belongs :pray:

Well, I’m partly agreeing, but mostly disagreeing, because I see no point in carry more stuff than absolutely necessary, and that also put’s more pressure on my own ability to find my own answers when difficulties arise, before seeking external help in any form.

I really like to get lost, you know … :yum:

:pray: :sparkles:

:pray: :sparkles:

I myself tend to prefer the Ajahn General, and not so much the Ajahn Grandmother. So, I say there should be put in more fierceness delivering important teachings that is meant to stick.

Dhamma is deadly serious, and the Ajahn should speak softly and carry a big stick … :pray:

More guts and commitment on all sides.

I take these three refuges for the rest of my life

How about making it guided but optional? As in, if at any point someone feels like meditating in a specific way, they are free to do that. That way the inexperienced meditators won’t feel pressured to obey every single instruction. (The experienced ones probably won’t feel that pressure in the first place.)

1 Like


But seriously, the older I get, the more I feel like I need to learn less about the “5 of this” or the “7 of that” and just try to do simple things like be more patient, forgiving, and understanding.


5 posts were split to a new topic: Modern mindfulness trends

They don’t talk to much and they don’t hear to much. But they just want to spend time to wash their boredom.

I experience not remembering a sizeable potion of the wisdom I hear and read, and it seems this experience is shared to different degrees with many people.

But I’m unsure how much this experience of not rememebering is just the way the mind, all human minds, work; or how much this experience of not remembering is just my own mind; or much this expereince of not remembering is due to my psychology as conditioned by this modern society and culture that we here share, and is thus an experience shared by many people in people in this modern society and culture, but not an experience shared by people in other societies and cultures, nor shared by those who have cultivated their mental faculties to a high degree.

Does anyone think that there is a way to practice in order to go from remembering a small percentage of the wisdom heard and read (as I do), to remembering a larger amount of wisdom heard and read?

Perhaps someone wiser and/or more experienced could share how, and/or how much, they remember of wisdom they hear, and read.


Hi @MitchellStirzaker , welcome to D&D.

I strongly recommend “starting from the begining” and developing a mind map of the teaching aligned with that one we see the Buddha teaching in EBTs.

This mindmap is basically built around two things: the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path.

Towards that, it may be a nice idea to watch the videos from the workshop on the topic of the noble eightfold path that BSWA is hosting. You can find more about it in this topic:

The beauty of the mindmaps we find in the suttas is that they are usually based on concepts which link back to each other.

The four noble truths must be appreciated together with their specific tasks. And these tasks relate very clearly to specific aspects of the eightfold path themselves.

In line with that, I often refer to the diagram below. The most relevant part of it is the section summarising the bodhipakkhiya dhammas (towards the right half of the diagram), which consist of 37 principles which the Buddha said summarise the whole of his teaching.

The eightfold path is a central or core aspect of these 37 principles or qualities which lead to awakening and is surely a very good idea to learn about those starting with it.



My preceptor used to quiz us after she gave a talk. I would recommend that you quiz yourself after you listen to a talk. What was the first main point? Were there any examples, stories, etc. illustrating it? Any sutta quotes? What was the next important point, etc. Imagine the teacher is going to ask you what you got from the talk. Did any questions come up for you listening? Did anything move you?

Soon you begin making mental notes as you listen. We have become so lazy with all the totally unimportant input we listen to - we have forgotten how to listen actively. After some practice you will become quite proficient.


Most of the conceptual and foundational knowledge I’ve picked up over the years has come from reading rather than listening to talks. Of course, in the Budda’s time, that would not have been an option. I mostly use talks to refresh intention and energy, as those will sometimes flag a bit. I’m planning on attaining perfection sometime next week, so that I won’t need that kind of help anymore. I think probably Wednesday. :wink:

A couple of Soto teachers I admire, namely Steve Hagen and the late Shunryu Suzuki, have sometimes said during a talk that it’s not necessary to try to remember everything that’s being said in a talk. Soto often uses the image of getting wet by walking in a fog as a description of what it’s like to progress along the path, which I like very much, and that ties in with the notion of not trying too hard to remember everything that’s said. Hearing and mentally engaging with what’s being said seems to help reinforce some neural pathways in the brain, for me anyway, whether I can recite all the points that were made or not.

I don’t disagree with B. Sujato’s point, though. Listening to dhamma talks of various sorts can sometimes make a person feel like they’re “doing something,” whilst nothing heard is being put into action. That’s the hard part for me, the maintenance of everyday samma kammanta, well, and samma vaca too I guess. But it’ll all be fine on Wednesday.

P.S. “Youse” was a word I grew up with in Ohio. When I lived in Texas, “y’all” was so common that it’s crept into my own speech. There’s also “all y’all,” which is what one uses instead of “all of you.” “Y’all,” oddly, can be used correctly when addressing one person, much like polite address in other languages uses the plural.