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The art of listening
The art of listening
J. Krishnamurti was born in South India and educated in England. For the past 40 years he has been speaking in the United States, Europe, India, Australia and other parts of the world. From the outset of his life's work he repudiated all connections with organised religions and ideologies and said that his only concern was to set man absolutely unconditionally free. He is the author of many books, among them The Awakening of Intelligence, The Urgency of Change, Freedom From the Known, and The Flight of the Eagle.
This is one of a series of dialogues between Krishnamurti and Dr. Allan W. Anderson, who is professor of religious studies at San Diego State University where he teaches Indian and Chinese scriptures and the oracular tradition. Dr. Anderson, a published poet, received his degree from Columbia University and the Union Theological Seminary. He has been honoured with the distinguished teaching award from the California State University.
A: Mr Krishnamurti, last time we were speaking together, we were going into beauty, and just as we came to the end of our conversation the question of seeing and its relation to the transformation of man which is not dependent on knowledge or time, was something we promised ourselves we would take up next time we could come together.
K: Sir, what is seeing, and what is listening, and what is learning? I think the three are related to each other: learning, hearing and seeing. What is seeing, perceiving? Do we actually see, or do we see through a screen darkly? A screen of prejudice, a screen of our idiosyncrasies, experiences, our wishes, pleasures, fears, and obviously our images about that which we see and about ourselves? So we have this screen after screen between us and the object of perception. So do we ever see the thing at all? Or is it the seeing is coloured by our knowledge, mechanical, experience, and so on and so on, or our images which we have about that thing, or the beliefs in which the mind is conditioned, and therefore prevents the seeing, or the memories which the mind has cultivated prevents the seeing? So seeing may not take place at all. And is it possible for the mind not to have these images, conclusions, beliefs, memories, prejudices, fears, and without having those screens just to look? I think this becomes very important because when there is a seeing of the thing which I am talking about, when there is a seeing you can't help but acting. There is no question of postponement.
A: Or succession.
A: Or interval.
K: Because when action is based on a belief, a conclusion, an idea, then that action is time-binding. And that action will inevitably bring conflict and so on, regrets, you know, all the rest of it. So it becomes very important to find out what it is to see, to perceive. What it is to hear. Do I ever hear? When one is married, as a wife or a husband, or a girl or a boy, do I ever hear her or him? Or I hear her, him, through the image I have built about her or him? Through the screen of irritations, screen of annoyance, domination, you know all that, the dreadful things that come in relationship. So do I ever hear directly what you say, without translating, without transforming it, without twisting it? Do I ever hear a bird cry, or a child weep, or a man crying in pain? You follow, sir? Do I ever hear anything?
A: In a conversation we had about a year ago, I was very struck by something you said which I regard, for myself, personally, immensely valuable. You said that hearing was doing nothing to stop, or interfere with seeing. Hearing is doing nothing to stop seeing. That is very remarkable because in conversation the notion of hearing is regarded as intimately associated with command. We will say, won't we, 'Now hear me, hear me out'. And the person thinks that they have to lean forward in the sense of do something voluntarily.
K: Quite, quite.
A: It's as though they have to screw themselves up into some sort of agonised twist here. Not only to please the one who is insisting that they are not hearing, but to get up some hearing on their own.
K: Quite. So does a human being, Y or X, listen at all? And what takes place when I do listen? Listen in the sense without any interference, without any interpretation, conclusion, like and dislike, you know all that takes place, what happens when I actually listen? Sir, look, we said just now, we cannot possibly understand what beauty is if we don't understand suffering, passion. You hear that statement, what does the mind do? It draws a conclusion. It has formed an idea, verbal idea, hears the words, draws a conclusion, and an idea. A statement of that kind has become an idea. Then we say, 'How am I to carry out that idea?' And that becomes a problem.
A: Yes, of course it does. Because the idea doesn't conform to nature and other people have other ideas and they want to get theirs embodied. Now we are up against a clash.
K: Yes. So can I listen to that, can the mind listen to that statement without any forming an abstraction? Just listen. I neither agree nor disagree, just actually listen completely to that statement.
A: If I am following you, what you are saying is that were I to listen adequately, or just let's say listen - because it's not a question of more or less - I am absolutely listening or I am absolutely not listening.
K: That's right, sir.
A: Yes. I would not have to contrive an answer.
K: No. You are in it.
A: Yes. So like the cat, the action and the seeing are one.
A: They are one act.
K: That's right.
A: They are one act.
K: That's right. So can I listen to a statement and see the truth of the statement or the falseness of the statement, not in comparison but in the very statement that you are making. I don't know if I am making myself clear.
A: Yes, you are making yourself very clear.
K: That is, I listen to the statement: beauty can never exist without passion, and passion comes from sorrow. I listen to that statement. I don't abstract an idea from it, or make an idea from it. I just listen. What takes place? You may be telling the truth, or you may be making a false statement. I don't know because I am not going to compare.
A: No. You are going to see.
K: I just listen. Which means I am giving my total attention - just listen to this, sir, you will see what is going to happen - I give my total attention to what you are saying. Then it doesn't matter what you say, or don't say. You see this thing?
A: Of course, of course.
K: What is important is my act of listening. And that act of listening has brought about a miracle of complete freedom from all your statements - whether true, false, real - my mind is completely attentive. Attention means no border. The moment I have a border I begin to fight you - agree, disagree. The moment attention has a frontier then concepts arise. But if I listen to you completely without a single interference of thought or ideation or mentation, just listen to that, the miracle has taken place. Which is my total attention absolves me, my mind, from all the statement. Therefore my mind is extraordinarily free to act.
A: This has happened for me on this series of our conversations. With each one of these conversations, since this is being video-taped, one begins when one is given the sign and we're told when the time has elapsed; and one ordinarily, in terms of activity of this sort, is thinking about the production as such.
K: Of course.
A: But one of the things that I have learned is in our conversations, I've been listening very intensely, and yet I've not had to divide my mind.
K: No, sir, that's the...
A: And yet this is, if I'm responding correctly to what you have been teaching - well, I know you don't like that word, but to what you have been saying - I understand why 'teaching' was the wrong word here - there is that very first encounter that the mind engages itself in.
A: How can I afford not to make the distinction between paying attention to the aspects of the programme, on the production aspect of it, and still engage our discussion?
A: But the more intensely the discussion is engaged...
K: You can do it.
A: ...the more efficiently all the mechanism is accomplished.
A: We don't believe that, in the sense that not only to start with we will not believe but we won't even try it out. There is no guarantee from anybody in advance. What we are told rather is this, well, you get used to it. And yet performers have stage-fright all their lives, so clearly they don't get used to it.
K: No, sir, it is because, sir, don't you think it is our minds are so commercial, unless I get a reward from it I won't do a thing. And my mind lives in the marketplace - one's mind: I give you this, you give me that.
A: And there's an interval in between.
K: You follow?
K: We are so used to commercialism, both spiritually and physically that we don't do anything without a reward, without gaining something, without a purpose. It all must be exchange, not a gift, but exchange: I give you this and you give me that; I torture myself religiously and God must come to me. It's all a matter of commerce.
A: Fundamentalists have a phrase that comes to mind with respect to their devotional life. They say, 'I am claiming the promises of God'. And this phrase in the context of what you are saying is, my goodness, what that couldn't lead to in the mind.
K: Oh, yes. So you see when one goes very deeply into this: when action is not based on an idea, formula, belief, then seeing is the doing. Then what is seeing and hearing - which we went into? Then the seeing is complete attention, and the doing is in that attention. And the difficulty is people will ask, 'How will you maintain that attention?'
A: Yes, and they haven't even started.
K: No, how will you maintain it. Which means they are looking for a reward.
K: I'll practise it, I will do everything to maintain that attention in order to get something in return. Attention is not a result, attention has no cause. What has cause has an effect and the effect becomes the cause. It's a circle. But attention isn't that. Attention doesn't give you a reward. Attention, on the contrary, there is no reward or punishment because it has no frontier.
A: Yes, this calls up an earlier conversation we had when you mentioned the word 'virtue', and we explored it in relation to power.
K: Yes, exactly.
A: And we are told what is difficult for a thinking child to believe, given the way a child is brought up, but he's required somehow to make his way through it, that virtue is its own reward.
K: Oh, that.
A: And, of course, it is impossible to see what is sound about that under...
K: Yes, quite.
A: ...under the conditioned situation in which he lives.
K: That's just an idea, sir.
A: So now we cut that back and then later when we need to remind somebody that they are asking too much of a reward for something good that they did, we tell them, 'Well, have you forgotten that virtue is its own reward?' Yes, yes. It becomes a form of punishment.
K: Then, you see, seeing and hearing, then what is learning? Because they are all interrelated: learning seeing, hearing, and action, all that. It is all in one movement. They are not separate chapters, it's one chapter.
A: Distinction is no division.
K: No. So what is learning? Is learning a process of accumulation? And is learning non accumulative? We are putting both together. Let's look at it.
A: Let's look at it, yes.
K: I learn - one learns a language - Italian, French, whatever it is - and accumulate words and the irregular verbs and so on, and then one is able to speak. There is learning a language and being able to speak. Learning how to ride a bicycle, learning how to drive a car, learning how to put together a machine, electronics and so on. Those are all learning to acquire knowledge in action. And I am asking, is there any other form of learning? That we know, we are familiar with the acquisition of knowledge. Now is there any other kind of learning, learning which is not accumulated, and acting?
A: Yes, and when we have accumulated it all we haven't understood anything on that account.
K: Yes. And I learn in order to gain a reward, or in order to avoid punishment. I learn a particular job, or particular craft in order to earn a livelihood. That is absolutely necessary otherwise... Now I am asking, is there any other kind of learning? That's routine, that's the cultivation of memory and the memory, which is the result of experience and knowledge that is stored in the brain, and that operates, when asked to ride a bicycle, drive a car, and so on. Now is there any other kind of learning? Or only that? When one says, 'I have learned from my experience', it means I have learned, stored up from that experience certain memories, and those memories either prevent, reward, or punish. So all such forms of learning are mechanical. And education is to train the brain to function in routine, mechanically. Because in that there is great security. Then it is safe. And so our mind becomes mechanical. My father did this, I do it - you follow? - the whole business is mechanical. Now, is there a non-mechanical brain at all? A non-utilitarian, in that sense, learning which has neither future not past, therefore not time-binding. I don't know if I am making it clear.
A: Don't we sometimes say, 'I have learned from experience', when we wish to convey something that isn't well conveyed by that expression. We wish to convey an insight that we don't feel can be, in a strict sense, dated.
K: You see, sir, do we learn anything from experience? We have had, since history began, written history, five thousand wars. I read it somewhere. Five thousand wars. Killing, killing, killing, maiming. And have we learned anything? Have we learned anything from sorrow? Man has suffered, have we learned anything from the experience of the agony of uncertainty and all the rest of it? So when we say, we have learned, I question it. You follow? It seems such a terrible thing to say, 'I have learned from experience'. You have learned nothing, except in the field of knowledge.
A: Yes. May I say something here that just passed in recall. We were talking about sorrow before, and I was thinking of a statement of St Paul's in his letter to the Romans, where there is a very unusual sequence of words where he says, 'We rejoice in tribulations'. Now some people have thought he must have been a masochist, or something, in making such a statement; but that certainly seems to me bizarre. We rejoice in tribulations. And then he says, 'because tribulation works' - and in the Greek this means there is energy involved - 'works patience'. Patience, experience. Now that's a very unusual order because we usually think that if we have enough experience we'll learn to be patient. And he completely stands that on its head. And in the context of what you are saying that order of his words makes eminent sense. Please go on.
K: No, no.
A: Yes, that's really very remarkable.
K: You see, sir, that's why our education, our civilisation, all the things about us, has made our mind so mechanical, repetitive reactions, repetitive demands, repetitive pursuits. The same thing being repeated year after year, for thousands of years: my country, your country, I kill you and you kill me. You follow, sir, the whole thing is mechanical. Now that means the mind can never be free. Thought is never free, thought is always old. There's no new thought.
A: No. It is very curious in relation to a movement within the field of religion which called itself: 'New Thought'. Yes, I was laughing at the irony of it. Yes, goodness me. Some persons I imagine would object to the notion that we don't learn from experience in terms of the succession of wars, because wars tend to happen sequentially, generation to generation, and you have to grow up. But that is not true because more than one war will happen very often in the same generation and there hasn't been anything learned.
K: That is what we have been talking about, two wars.
A: There hasn't been anything learned at all. It's a terrifying thing to hear someone just come out and say: nobody learns anything from experience.
K: No, the word 'experience' also means to go through.
A: Yes, yes.
K: But you never go through.
A: That's exactly right.
K: You always stop in the middle. Or you never begin.
A: Right. It means, if I'm remembering correctly, in terms of its radical root it means to test, to put to the test, to, well, to put a thing to the test and behave correctly while that's going on, you certainly have to see, you just have to look, don't you.
K: Of course. So as our civilisation, our culture, our education has brought about a mind that is becoming more and more mechanical, and therefore time-binding, and therefore never a sense of freedom. Freedom then becomes an idea, you play around philosophically, but it has no meaning. But a man who says, 'Now I want to find out, I want to really go into this and discover if there is freedom.' Then he has to understand the limits of knowledge, where knowledge ends - or rather the ending of knowledge and the beginning of something totally new. I don't know if I am conveying anything?
A: You are. Oh yes, yes.
K: That is, sir, what is learning? If it is not mechanical then what is learning? Is there a learning at all, learning about what? I learn how to go to the moon, how to put up this, that and drive and so on. In that field there is only learning. Is there a learning in any other field, psychologically, spiritually? Can I learn - can the mind learn about what they call god?
A: If in learning, in the sense that you have asked this question - no, I must rephrase that. Stop this 'ifing'. When one does what I am about to say; when one learns about god, or going to the moon, in terms of the question you have asked, he can't be doing what you are pointing to if this is something added on to the list.
K: Sir, it is so clear.
A: Yes, it is.
K: I learn a language, ride a bicycle, drive a car, put a machine together. That's essential. Now I want to learn about god. Just listen to this. The god is my making. God hasn't made me in his image. I have made him in my image. Now I am going to learn about him.
A: Yes, I am going to talk to myself.
K: Learn about the image which I have built about Christ, Buddha, whatever it is. The image I have built. So I am learning what?
A: To talk about talk. Yes.
K: Learning about the image which I have built.
A: That's right.
K: Therefore is there any other kind of learning except mechanical learning? I don't know if you see? You understand my question?
A: Yes, I do. Yes, I do, I certainly do.
K: So there is only learning the mechanical process of life. There is no other learning. See what that means, sir.
A: It means freedom.
K: I can learn about myself. Myself is known. Known in the sense I may not know it, but I can know by looking at myself, I can know myself. So myself is the accumulated knowledge of the past. The 'me' who says I am greedy, I am envious, I am successful, I am frightened, I have betrayed, I have regret, all that is the 'me', including the soul which I have invented in the 'me' - or the Brahman, the Atman, it's all me still. The 'me' has created the image of god and I am going to learn about god. It has no meaning. So if there is - when there is - no, I am going to use the word 'if', if there is no other learning what takes place? You understand? The mind is used in the acquisition of knowledge in matter. We'll put it differently. In mechanical things. And when the mind is employed there, are there any other processes of learning? Which means psychologically, inwardly - is there? The inward is the invention of thought as opposed to the outer. I don't know if you see. If I have understood the outer I have understood the inner. Because the inner has created the outer. The outer in the sense the structure of society, the religious sanctions, all that is invented or put together by thought - the Jesuses, the Christ, the Buddhas, all that. And what is there to learn?
A: In listening to you...
K: See the beauty of what is coming out.
A: Oh yes, yes, it goes back to your remark about Vedanta as the end of knowledge.
K: That's what I was told.
A: Yes. The interesting thing to me about the Sanskrit construction is that unless I am mistaken, it doesn't mean the end of it as a terminus, as a term because that would simply start a new series. It is the consummation of it which is the total end in the sense that a totally new beginning is made at that very point.
K: That means, sir, I know - the mind knows the activity of the known.
A: That's right, yes. That's the consummation of knowledge.
K: Of knowledge. Now what is the state of the mind that is free from that, and yet functions in knowledge?
A: And yet functions in it.
K: You follow?
A: Yes, yes. It is seeing perfectly.
K: Do go into it, you will see very strange things take place. Is this possible first? You understand? Because the brain functions mechanically, it wants security, otherwise it can't function. If we hadn't security we wouldn't be here sitting together. Because we have security we can have a dialogue. The brain can only function in complete security. Whether that security is found in a neurotic belief - all beliefs and all ideas are neurotic in that sense. So he finds it somewhere, in accepting nationality as the highest form of good, success is the highest virtue. He finds belief, security there. Now you are asking the mind, the brain, which has become mechanical, trained for centuries to see the other field which is not mechanical. Is there another field?
K: You follow the question?
A: Yes, I do. Yes, that's what so utterly devastating.
K: Is there - wait, wait - is there another field? Now unless the brain and the mind understands the whole field - not field, understands the movement of knowledge, it is a movement.
A: It is a movement, yes.
K: It is not just static, you are adding, taking away, and so on. Unless it understands all that it cannot possibly ask that other question.
A: Exactly. Exactly.
K: And when it does ask that question, what takes place? Sir, this is real meditation, you know.
A: This is, yes, yes.
K: Which we will go into another time. So you see that's what it means. One is always listening with knowledge, seeing with knowledge.
A: This is the seeing through a glass darkly.
K: Darkly. Now is there a listening out of silence? And that is attention. And that is not time-binding, because in that silence I don't want anything. It isn't that I am going to learn about myself. It isn't that I am going to be punished, rewarded. In that absolute silence I listen.
A: The wonder of the whole thing is that it isn't something which is done, this meditation, in succession.
K: Sir, when we talk about meditation we will have to go very deeply into that because they have destroyed that word. These shoddy little men coming from India or anywhere, they have destroyed that thing.
A: I heard the other day about someone who was learning transcendental meditation.
K: Oh, learning.
A: They had to do it at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
K: Pay 35 dollars or 100 dollars to learn that. It's so sacrilegious.
A: That is, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon was judgement day. If you didn't do it according to your schedule then the world has obviously come to an end. But ostensibly you are doing it to get free of that. Do go ahead.
K: So you see, sir, that's what takes place. We began this morning about beauty, then passion, then suffering, then action. Action based on idea is inaction. It sounds monstrous, but there it is. And from that we said what is seeing, and what is hearing. The seeing and the listening has become mechanical. We never see anything new. Even the flower is never new which has blossomed over night. We say, 'That's the rose, I have been expecting it, it has come out now, beautiful'. It's always from the known to the known. A movement in time, and therefore time-binding, and therefore never free. And yet we are talking about freedom, you know philosophy, the lectures on freedom and so on and so on. And the communists call it a bourgeois thing, which it is, in the sense when you limit it to knowledge it is foolish to talk about freedom. But there is a freedom when you understand the whole movement of knowledge. So can you observe out of silence, and observe and act in the field of knowledge, so both together in harmony?
A: Seeing then is not scheduled. Yes, of course, of course. I was just thinking about, I suppose you would say the classical definition of freedom in terms of the career of knowledge would be that it is a property of action, a property or quality of action. For general uses either word would do, property or quality. And it occurred to me in the context of what we have been saying, what a horror that one could read that statement and not let it disclose itself to you.
A: If it disclosed itself to you, you would be up against it, you'd have to be serious. If you were a philosophy student and you read that and that thing began to operate in you, you'd say, 'I've got to get this settled before I go on. Maybe I'll never graduate, that's not important'.
K: That's not important, quite right. And I was thinking, in the West as well as in the East you have to go to the factory, or the office, every day of your life. Get up at 8 o'clock, 6 o'clock, drive, walk, work, work, work for fifty years, routine, and get kicked about, insulted, worship success. Again repetition. And occasionally talk about god if it is convenient, and so on and so on. That is a monstrous life. And that is what we are educating our children for.
A: That's the real living death.
K: And nobody says, for god's sake let's look at all this anew. Let's wipe our eyes clear of the past and look at what we are doing, give attention, care what we are doing.
A: Now we have this question instead: what shall we do about it? Yes, that's the question. And then that becomes the next thing done that is added to the list.
K: It is a continuity of the past, in a different form.
A: And the chain is endlessly linked, linked, linked, linked.
K: The cause becoming the effect and the effect becoming the cause. So it's a very serious thing when we talk about all this, because life becomes dreadfully serious. And it's only this serious person that lives. Not those people who seek entertainment, religious or otherwise.
A: I had a very interesting occasion to understand what you are saying in class yesterday. I was trying to assist the students to see that the classical understanding of the four causes in operation is that they are non-temporarily related. And I said when the potter puts his hand to the clay, the hand touching the clay is not responded to by the clay after the hand has touched it. And one person who was visiting the class, this person was a well-educated person and a professor, and this struck him as maybe not so, and I could tell by the expression on the face that there was a little anguish here, so I said, 'Well, my radar says that there is some difficulty going on, what's the matter? Well, it seems like there is a time interval.' So I asked him to pick something up that was on the desk. And I said, touch it with your finger and tell me at the moment of the touching with the finger whether the thing reacts to the finger after it is touched. Now do it. Well, even to ask somebody to apply a practical test like that with respect to a datum of knowledge like the four causes are... is to interrupt the process of education as we have known it. Because you teach a student about the four causes and he thinks about them, he never goes out and looks at things, or does anything about it. And so we were picking stuff up in class, and we were doing this until finally it seemed like a revelation that what has been said, in the classical teaching of it, which of course in modern society is rejected, happens to be the case. And I said, this has to be seen, watch. This is what you mean.
K: Seeing, of course.
A: Of course, of course. But we are back to that step there: why was that person and so many other students following suit, anguished at the point where the practical issue arose? There was a feeling, I suppose, that they were on a cliff.
K: Quite, quite.
A: That, and naturally alertness was required. But alertness registers that we are on a cliff, so therefore the best thing to do is to turn around and run back. Yes, yes.
K: Sir, I think, you see, we are so caught up in words. To me the word is not the thing. The description is not the described. To us the description is all that matters because we are slave to words.
A: And to ritual.
K: Ritual and all the rest of it. So when you say, look, the thing matters more than the word, and then they say, 'How am I to get rid of the word, how am I to communicate if I have no word?' You see how they have gone off? They are not concerned with the thing but with the word.
K: And the door is not the word. So when we are caught up in words the word 'door' becomes extraordinarily important, and not the door.
A: And I don't really need to come to terms with the door, I say to myself, because I have the word. I have it all.
K: So education has done this. A great part of this education is the acceptance of words as an abstraction from the fact, from the 'what is'. All philosophies are based on that: theorise, theorise, theorise, endlessly, how one should live. And the philosopher himself doesn't live.
A: Yes, I know.
K: You see this all over.
A: Especially some philosophers that have seemed to me quite bizarre in this respect. I have asked my colleagues from time to time, if you believe that stuff why don't you do it? And they look at me as though I am out of my mind, as though nobody would really seriously ask that question.
K: Quite, quite.
A: But if you can't ask that question, what question is worth asking?
K: Quite right.
A: I was thinking about that marvellous story you told in our previous conversation about the monkey, while you were speaking about this, when she shook hands with you, nobody had told her how to shake hands.
K: No, it stretched out.
K: And I took it.
A: It wasn't something that she was taught how to do through a verbal communication, it was the appropriate thing at the time.
K: At the time, yes.
A: Without anyone measuring its appropriateness.
A: Isn't that something. Yes, I can't tell you how grateful I am to have been able to share this with you. I have seen in respect to my own activity as a teacher where I must perform therapy even on my language.
K: Quite, quite.
A: So that I don't give the student an occasion for thinking that I am simply adding to this endless chain, link after link after link. There are two therapies here then: there's the therapy that relates to words and that flows out naturally. It is not a contrivance, it flows out naturally, if I've understood you correctly, from the therapy within. Now this relates directly, as you were saying earlier, to meditation. Are we ready, do you think to...
K: I think that's too complicated.
A: I don't mean right now. But maybe in one of our next conversations.
K: Oh yes, we must discuss several things yet, sir.
K: What is love, what is death, what is meditation, what is the whole movement of living. We've got a great deal to do.
A: Oh, I do look forward to that very much. Splendid. Right.