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Mirror-like listening: the Semdzin of Ear Consciousness - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.12.06

I will use this meditation to focus on the role of hearing.

Sam Harris

Listen to the sound where you're sitting. Just notice how each sound articulates the space of consciousness .

In this meditation, Sam Harris uses the sense of hearing as introductory vehicle for non-dual awareness. The teaching metaphor also uses the metaphor of the mirror.

Be like a mirror, reflecting everything that comes in front of it, without moving

Thus, the metaphor of the mirror is extended from the visual sense to the hearing sense. As Keith Dowman sais,

allowing whatever sound arising to pass without judgement or projection as in non-judgmental or mirror-like listening (Dowman 2020b, p 43f).

The context if this statement is "non-meditation", the final stage of Mahamudra/Dzogchen meditation:

Nonmeditation is the essential unique Dzogchen meditation. For nonmeditation to kick in, the natural flow of consciousness can be dammed by what we call ‘semdzins’. Semdzins ‘hold’ the mind momentarily, during which time the window to the nature of mind is thrown open or enlarged and nonmeditation proceeds. The most efficient function of the semdzin may lie in the discharge of a misguided effort to inhibit the natural flow of nonmeditation. (Dowman 2020b, p5)

Btw, "to hold the mind momentarily" is also a technique used by Sam Harris, when he instructs the meditator to "turn awareness to itself" for the duration of a finger-snap.

The Semdzin of Ear Consciousness

To delve a bit more into sound, I will here reproduce the Semdzin on Ear Consciousness from Keith Dowman´s "Dzogchen Semdzins".

It is a rather advanced form of what Sam Harris does in his very short instructions, when he sais "look at who is looking for the duration of a finger-snap"

The Semdzin of Ear Consciousness

Focus attention in the ear, relax, and you will experience the samadhi of (absorption in) sound.
Fixate on sound not the source of sound, fixate on hearing, put consciousness inside the ear, relax body and mind. In the samadhi of sound (nyam) hear auditory visions, sounds, voices, words, also the languages of animals and birds, talk with unseen beings.

Commentary (Dowman)

This semdzin is simply the semdzin of sound. Bring consciousness back from the source of the sound and keep it in the ear. As a prop, use the internal sound of the inner ear that may resound like the syllable OM (or tintinnabulation) to focus the sound in the ear. Press the ear to enliven an inner sound. Alternatively, we can visualize a tiny bodhisattva Chenresik (the four-armed Avalokiteśvara) in the inner ear. Chenresik is the bodhisattva of ear consciousness, the bodhisattva of the western direction, and also of our aeon.

We fixate out attention in the ear but not upon any single sound, allowing whatever sound arising to pass without judgement or projection as in non-judgmental or mirror-like listening.

And here comes some highly useful psychologically relevant teaching:

Thus, the practice is a combined concentration/ awareness (shamatā/ vipasyana) exercise. Confirm that consciousness habitually flies to the object of the sound, the source of the sound. It does this through the natural propensity to attachment and to locate the sound in a specific place in the environment. Reflect also upon the way an emotional response arises with the sound. Listening too closely and hearing with attachment provokes anger or delight, for example, in response to the noises other people or other generators make. If we defocus the listening we do not hear the insult. (Downman 2020b, p42f)


Dowman, K. (2020b). Dzogchen Semdzins (Dzogchen Teaching Series, Band 2). Independently published.

Gebel, T. (2022p, October 1). Finger-snap awakening - Sam Harris Daily meditation 2022.08.24. Till Gebel.

A thought on...

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