In the first stage of listening to and studying the dharma, we develop the prajna of understanding.
Our objective is to develop a clear conceptual understanding of the entire spiritual journey – its basis, its paths and stages and its final result.
We begin by studying the basic principles of dharma in general and by familiarizing ourselves with the bardo teachings in particular. While we usually think of these activities as very easy, as something we have been doing for years, as an aspect of our training, listening and studying are regarded as practice in the same way that meditation is practice.
Hearing in this context refers to both listening to oral teachings and studying written texts.
Listening to the dharma is regarded as an art or skill that develops the prajna of understanding through the application of mindfulness.
As a practice, it is important to begin this activity with a sense of pure intention – the heartfelt wish that all beings, yourself and others, will benefit from your study. That is how to begin.
Next, it is essential to hear the teachings with a nonjudgmental mind. This means that you are truly trying to understand what you are hearing. Your mind is not filled with your own opinions and preconceptions. The final instruction for developing this prajna is to listen with a one-pointed mind, a state of attentiveness that is free from distraction.
Beyond this, it is important to simply appreciate the opportunity you have in a genuine way, so that the teaching touches your heart. The result of applying these instructions to the activity of study is that it becomes a discipline that is inseparable from meditation. Just as it does in meditation practice, your mind becomes calm and focused, which naturally produces a state of mental clarity. Consequently, your understanding becomes very clear.
At this stage, your knowledge is still conceptual. When you hear or read the words of the dharma, you understand them with conceptual mind. But that conceptual mind has a quality of clarity; it is not just your confused thoughts. Therefore, that mind has a greater power of insight.
At this point, we have the ability to discern what is called “right understanding,” or “right view,” which broadly refers to seeing within our own experience the basic truths of suffering, impermanence and egolessness, as well as the significance of ethical conduct.
We can see these truths in the display of thoughts and emotions that continually arise.
Further, we can recognize thoughts, emotions and actions as being negative or positive.
All of these things first become clear through developing a clear conceptual understanding through listening to and studying various teachings.
Developing the prajna of understanding is therefore the first step in learning to work with our mind and its obstacles, which in turn becomes the means for discovering the heart of our own buddhahood, or wakefulness.
Milarepa said that our knowledge at this point is like a patch sewn over a hole in our clothes. Even though the patch can cover the hole, it never becomes one with the fabric. It always remains a foreign substance, a patch that can fall off at any time.
In the same way, at this stage, the knowledge that we have accumulated so far is not one with our mindstream. Whenever doubts arise, we can apply an intellectual patch, but that does not really solve our problems or heal our suffering. Consequently, although the prajna of understanding is very beneficial, it is not final or absolute.
Source: Ponlop, Dzogchen. Mind Beyond Death. Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.