Listening to The Fruit and Vegetables

It was 1969, I was staying the night on Penang Island just off the coast of Malaysia. I woke to the sound of chanting drifting in through the open window, rhythmic and somehow penetrating, in an odd way. It was probably Buddhist monks singing their morning devotions. At the time I was moved simply by the sound of the gathered voices. It was more than just singing, just sound. Something had stirred and that is what I have been contemplating today. Hearing. Specifically the impact of hearing the sound of another’s voice, collectively or individually, speaking or singing. What is it that makes the difference between just singing/speaking and that impactful voice? I’d imagine most of us have been knocked over on occasion by the sound of a voice, speaking or singing.

Each morning here in the monastery we sing scriptures at Morning Service. The same scriptures every day and several days of the week we sing several more scriptures. I’ve been doing this, when in a monastery or priory, for a good number of years and I know them and can sing them fairly much automatically without thinking about what I’m doing. I could, and sometimes do, drift off mentally to other things. However, whatever might be going on in my private world there is always the sound of other voices in the room. I hear not just my own voice, I’m hearing the sound of voices outside of myself. It’s a collective event, mine is not a voice alone. We are singing with one voice, so to speak, because we are singing together, linked up through listening/hearing. Even with a mind drifting off from time to time the one voice doesn’t change. We are not singing to ourselves.

Now and then I might be in the same position as I was in Penang, that is hearing singing but not being part of it. Not lending my voice, together with the others, in the same physical space. Hearing the sound, the collective voice outside of myself is completely different in ways I can’t put my finger on. This happens when for some reason I’ve had to miss morning service and happen to pass by the ceremony hall and hear the singing. The impact that has is remarkable, compelling, deeply sturring just as it was back in 1969. Why is that I wonder?

I’m thinking this has something to do with intent which is largely out of conscious awareness, though very much a background intention. That is to listen and to hear amidst, beneath, around, beyond audible sound – to meditate seamlessly. A few weeks ago I pondered in a blog post on the whys and wherefores of talking to oneself. Is it or is it not a problem. Even a mental health problem? I think the conclusion was, it wasn’t. Any more than singing to oneself or whistling or humming to oneself is. There isn’t an overt intention to communicate further than oneself, it’s just one’s own thoughts, tunes sound escaping into the public domain. Others might be present but the sound isn’t for them, it’s primarily for the sound maker. Thus it is that chattiness and general random sound-making are discouraged since the business of meditation, the background intention behind everyday and formal meditation is to quieten down. So that?

So that the sound of one’s own voice (internally or externally) gives way to that remarkable, compelling, deeply sturring ‘voice’ which communicates . Not exclusively or primarily in words, sung or spoken, though indeed that can be the case, more in a sort of calling. Which is heard if one is intent on hearing; past one’s own individual voice(s).

This evening in the kitchen the Lemons in the fridge were calling. I didn’t consciously know they were however I’m glad I was listening since one of them had gone bad and needed to be binned! I seem to be particularly tuned into the fruit and veg, but not exclusively! We tend to think quietening down and listening, the basic intent behind the religious life, that’s religious practice lay and monastic, will have us ‘knocked over’ with profundity. Sometimes yes, most often it’s something like the lemons this evening or in the Autumn, a box of Pumpkins needing attention.

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9 thoughts on “Listening to The Fruit and Vegetables”

  1. Thank you for letting me listen to your quiet reflections. I felt like I was sitting with you as you heard the chants and as they called to you. Thank you lemons !!!
    With deep bows

    1. Oh brilliant Moe, glad you joined and heard the silence of the chants. OK, last night I did invoke the song of the ’60s, ‘Sounds of Silence’, silently – you will remember it no doubt.

      I’m due to be giving talks each day, more or less, next week. This has given me the opportunity to contemplate the ceremonies of Jukai. The first one, The Reading of the Precepts is done at night in candlelight – the altar is only dimly perceived. There is the lone voice of the presiding priest in semi-darkness speaking, reading the Precepts. There is nothing much to draw oneself out of oneself via the senses. The faculty of the physical ear is uppermost, the physical darkness echos the inner ‘darkness’. What is termed sometimes as the darkened hall. The whole ceremony is set up for hearing, hearing a voice other than one’s own. This comment is what I’ll use as the preamble to the first talk with last night’s post, suitably edited, as the talk. it will be short – now I have to think whether or not to leave the Lemons in, or not? Humour has a way of bypassing the logical mind, as does listening/hearing. So perhaps ‘Lemons are in’!

  2. Yes , the “call”can happen anywhere. Like in the staff car park this morning. A piece of steel work that had been bolted into the surface , matching the colour of the road, so not visible to a driver parking . Now reported for removal and with luck before it gets the tyre and rim.of a car.

  3. This is lovely, Rev. Mugo. I have been contemplating something similar. For instance, I have been doing quite a bit of planting and replanting, recently. When my niece and her partner came, in the depth of winter (that’s when they could fit it in), and realigned the paths in my garden, they necessarily had to uproot plants that had already bedded down for their winter sleep. So, the best that I could do was make sure they had a bit of soil, in a pot, to overwinter. It was too cold to do anything else. As the days have warmed, I have taken the plants, one by one, and asked it where it would like to live and at some level, without the needs for actual words, each plant has told me. Another example would be that during the local priory’s Bodhidharma festival, which took place online, I was asked to read the litany. You will know that it is quite a long one. When I had a read-through, on my own, it became immediately apparent to me that these were not your everyday words. I don’t usually wear my lay minister’s robes, when precenting from my living room (maybe I should) but I wore them, along with my brown kesa, that day. It felt that my voice was not ‘my’ voice and that I needed all instruments at my disposal to ensure that that was what was conveyed. These are just my thoughts, anyway. Thank you for posting this, Rev. Mugo _/|\_

    1. Indeed Karen. Yes indeed. I was thinking this lunchtime about contrition and conversion. You know, the ceremony we do during Jukai. As you probably know I’m doing a week-long retreat online during the week we would have been holding Jukai. There are two ways to make an act of contrition, two ways and two means. The outward one with the verse: All wrong action and karma etc. etc. and there is a formless act of contrition which is basically meditation. It comes from the vows of Samantabhadra, apparently:

      The ocean of all karmic hindrances
      arises solely from delusive thoughts.
      If you wish to make repentance,
      sit upright posture and be mindful of the true reality.
      All misdemeanors, like frost and dew,
      are melted away in the sun of wisdom.

      No chest-thumping and heart-searching and self-recriminations there. All karmic hindrances (all actions) arise solely from delusive thoughts (the mind caught in the opposites – me and other?) I’m referencing Living by Vow, Okumura pp 57-58. So ‘listening’ is paramount – all misdemeanors (delusive thoughts) melt! No chucking this and that in the air (letting go misunderstood).
      Listening to your plants and silently ‘asking’ where they go is so much like our favorite tidier and sorter, Marie Kondo. Picking up items and being thankful for them, listening to what to do with them. With tenderness. Anyway, I ramble. Just wanted to put on paper the two ways and two means that is in a verse….in the Lay Ordination ceremony I think. I’d sometimes wonder about that.

    2. As for you presenting and your voice was not ‘my’ voice. Realizing that is enough I think, I think it is where the ‘me’ in here and that which is outside, the listeners to the voice, collide. I find when I’m Celebrant sometimes I think, ‘who is this’? Or something similar. Thankfully my body and mind know how to proceed and it gets less spooky as I settle in, so to speak. Singing can be like this, as when presenting. I may use this bit of your comment. Quote it if that’s OK? anonymously. There is no should about wearing your robes, interesting though that you decided to wear them. Clothing oneself is not nothing is it?

  4. And then there’s the voice you hear when you are reading, especially if you know the writer! For example, I can hear your voice in your writing RM Mugo. Amazingly, with writers, this voice persists even after they die, as is the case when I read RM Meiten’s writing. It really gives proves true the saying “I’ll always be with you.” (Tear emoji) 🙂

    1. That’s so interesting Miles and I think it is very true. Writing with or having a ‘voice’, and thanks for saying what you have said, is not something that can be taught. That’s according to somebody I respect and who served their time in Journalism – and from Vancouver Island as it happens! That I would aspire to have a ‘voice’ as Rev. Master Meiten has, coming loud and clear through her writings. As do others we know and there are the classics that I have barely dipped into. I’m looking to Rumi for inspiration at the moment.

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