THE HEART OF KANJI: To hear and to listen to


Kiku. calligraphy by Masatao Kawahatsu
Kiku. calligraphy by Masatao Kawahatsu

聞く (Kiku) means “to hear,” which consists of two parts. The center lines represent an ear, and outside of the lines represent an entrance gate. Together, our ears are the entrance gate for sound or words.

聴く (Kiku) means “to listen to,” which consists of four parts. The left side is an ear and the top of right side lines represent the number 10. The center lines represent an eye, and below it represents the heart or soul. Together, they mean to listen to 10 people’s feelings from the heart or soul through their eyes.

Most of us use the first word, “to hear,” in our everyday lives. Our daily conversations depend upon our physical ears so we can communicate with each other. Without hearing, our society wouldn’t be able to run smoothly.

Our use of the word “to hear” on the other hand, may create miscommunication or misunderstandings because people may not hear correctly or do not want to hear everything from others. Some may not really listen at all before talking, while others may only want to hear what they want to hear. These situations create great suffering or troubles between people.
The following example expresses the difference between “to hear” and “to listen to”:

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to attend a seminar in Los Angeles and to learn about “to listen to.” The seminar’s main speaker was the Rev. Shohei Tsuda, a popular Konko minister from Japan. He said many people with great suffering come to his church from all over Japan. He described how he does not say much, but simply looks into their eyes and listens to their stories about their inner feelings and sufferings.

There is a saying that our eyes are a window to our heart and soul. Tsuda said he can feel with his heart and soul what kind of problems people have just by looking into their eyes. I knew the importance of “to listen to,” but learned that I should listen to others with my heart.

We should not just listen with our physical ears alone. If we listen with our heart and soul, we can solve many difficult problems. Even worldwide situations can improve.

In our society, people often put more emphasis toward improving how to communicate with others instead of learning how to listen to them. I believe instead of just hearing with our own physical ears, we should put more effort toward listening to others and to our own hearts.

Rev. Masato Kawahatsu is a minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco and Konko Center of South San Francisco, who teaches shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and martial arts. He also gives spiritual counseling and is the author of “An Eternal Journey.” He can be reached at or (415) 517-5563. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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