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The fundamental goal of Buddhism is to bring a definitive end to suffering, establishing one in happiness that is genuine. "Genuine" means something very specific in this context: not dependent on conditions or temporary—thus, always present without ever fading or being interrupted in any way.

For each individual be able to bring this result about, the Buddha taught the three-fold practice of listening, contemplating, and meditating as the foundational process for internalizing the teachings on the path.

While these practices can seem quite straightforward, even mundane, there is much to be gained from focusing our attention on and consciously delving into what goes on in each step. Doing so helps us to gain experiential confidence in the threefold process as a whole as well as to refine how we personally go engage each component, thereby maximizing the benefit we gain from our efforts.

Listening is deceptively simple. After all, we do it every day, in a wide variety of situations. As the first step of Buddhist integrative practice, listening entails an open-minded yet critical approach aimed at generating a correct understanding of the topic at hand, most especially wisdom teachings.

Crucially, this does not mean that we believe or subscribe to what we are studying, only that we are clear in our understanding of the subject matter. Moreover, we apply our critical thinking skills to the teaching at hand as well as to our assumptions and biases. The goal is an accurate understanding of what the teaching is actually conveying. This often involves asking questions, engaging in discussion, and challenging ourselves, especially when we think we’ve "got it."

For instance, if we are working with Buddhist teachings on mortality, it is easy to make the mistake of assuming that we know what is meant by the teachings. After all, what adult does not know that they are going to die?

Buddhist teachings on mortality however, encompass more than just the recognition that death is the inevitable conclusion to our lives; they point out that death is not only the end of the experiences of this life, but the beginning of what comes next. What's more, the physical, verbal, and mental actions we undertake in this life shape those future experiences.

These three points— that our death is certain, that it is an end to this life but not The End, and that our choices and actions now are planting seeds that ripen later— are central to the Buddha’s teaching and practice of impermanence.

Being aware of this depth, and not assuming that the everyday peripheral awareness of an unpalatable fact of life is what is the sum total of what the teaching means, is the precise knowledge (prajna) coming from listening.

Of course, we can and should develop this further, refining our understanding of what the Buddha means by each of the three subpoints in detail. Concerning any topic worthy of study, it is this accurate semantic understanding—as opposed to a vague superficial assumption of comprehension based on imprecise engagement with a general idea—of which we are trying to generate through the practice of listening.

This prajna that arises from listening provides the foundation for the next step of integrative practice, contemplation.


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