The Noisy Child and the Silent Mind

From Krishnamurti’s Book COMMENTARIES ON LIVING 3

The clouds had been coming through the wide gap in the mountains all day; piling themselves up against the western hills, they remained dark and threatening over the valley, and it would probably rain towards evening. The red earth was dry, but the trees and the wild bushes were green, for it had rained some weeks before. Many small streams wandered through the valley, but they would never reach the sea, for the people used the water to irrigate their rice fields. Some of these fields were cultivated and under water, ready to be planted, but most of them were already green with the sprouting rice. That green was incredible; it wasn’t the green of well-watered mountain slopes, nor the green of well-kept lawns, nor the green of spring, nor the green of tender shoots among the older leaves of an orange tree. It was an altogether different green; it was the green of the Nile, of the olive, of Verdigris, a blending of all these and more. There was in it a touch of the artificial, of the chemical; and in the morning, when the sun was just over the eastern hills, that green had the splendour and richness of the oldest parts of the earth. It was hard to believe that such a green could exist in this valley, known to so few, where only the villagers lived. To them it was a daily sight, a thing they had toiled for, knee-deep in water; and now, after long preparation and care, there were these fields of incredible green. The rain would help, and the dark clouds held a promises.

Everywhere there was the darkness of the coming night, and of the low-hanging clouds; but a single ray of the setting sun touched the smooth side of a great rock on the hills towards the east, and it stood out in the gathering gloom. A group of villagers passed, talking loudly and driving their cattle before them. A goat had wandered off, and a little boy was making noises to call it back; it paid no attention, so he ran after it, angrily throwing stones, till at last it returned to the fold. It was now quite dark, but you could still see the edge of the path, and a white flower on a bush. An owl called from somewhere nearby, and another answered it from across the valleys The deep tone of their call vibrated inside of you, and you stopped to listens A few drops of rain fell. presently it began in earnest, and there was the goodly smell of rain on dry earth.

It was a clean, pleasant room, with a red mat on the floor. There were no flowers in the room, but there was no need of them. Outside there was the green earth; in the blue sky a single cloud was wandering by, and a bird was calling. There were three of them, a woman and two men. One of the men had come from far up in the mountains, where he spent his life in solitude and contemplation. The other two were teachers from a school in one of the nearby towns. They had come by bus, as it was too far to bicycle. The bus was crowded, and the road was bad; but it was worth it, they said, for they had several things to talk over. They were both quite young, and said that they would soon be married. They explained how absurdly little they were paid, and said that it was going to be difficult to make ends meet, as prices were going up; but they seemed pleasant and happy, and enthusiastic about their work. The man from the mountains listened and was silent.

‘Among many other problems,’ began the lady teacher, ‘is that of noise. There is often so much noise in a school for younger children, that at times it becomes almost unbearable; you can hardly hear yourself speak. Of course, you can punish them, force them to be quiet; but it seems so natural for them to shout and let off steam.’

‘But you have to forbid noise in certain places, such as the classroom and the dining hall, otherwise life would be impossible,’ replied the other teachers. ‘You can’t allow shouting and chattering all day long; there must be periods when all noise is stopped. Children have to be taught that there are others in this world besides themselves. Consideration of others is as important as arithmetic. I agree it is no good just forcing them to keep quiet through the threat of punishment; but on the other hand, reasonably talking things over with them doesn’t seem to stop their constant yelling.’

‘Noise-making is part of life at that age,’ went on his companion, ‘and it’s unnatural for them to be silent in that stupid manner. But to be quiet is also part of existence, and though they don’t seem to care for it at all, we have somehow to help them to be quiet when quietness is called for. In silence one hears more and sees more; that’s why it’s important for them to know silence.” “I agree that they should be silent at certain times,’ said the other teacher, ‘but how are we to teach them to be silent? It would be absurd to see rows of children compelled to sit in silence; it would be a most unnatural, inhuman thing.’

Perhaps we can approach the problem differently. When are you irritated by a noise? A dog begins barking in the night; it wakes you, and you may or may not be able to do something about it. But it’s only when there’s a resistance to noise that it becomes a tiresome thing, a pain, an irritant. “It’s more than an irritant when it lasts all day long,” remonstrated the male teachers “It gets on your nerves, until you want to shout too.” If it may be suggested, let us for the present put aside the noise of the children, and consider noise itself and its effect on each one of us. If necessary, we will consider the children and their noise later on.

Now, when are you aware of a noise, in the disturbing sense? Surely, only when you resist it; and you resist it only when it’s unpleasant.

‘That is so,’ he admitted. ‘I welcome the pleasurable sounds of music; but the horrible yelling of the children I resist, and not always very happily.’

This resistance to noise increases the disturbance it makes. And that’s what we do in our daily life: keeping the beautiful, we reject the ugly; resisting evil, we cultivate the good; eschewing hate, we think of love, and so on. There’s always within us this self-contradiction, this conflict of the opposites; and such conflict leads nowhere. Isn’t that so?

‘Self-contradiction is not a pleasant state,’ replied the lady teacher. ‘I know it all too well; and I suppose it’s also quite useless.’

To be only partly sensitive is to be paralysed. To be open to beauty and resist ugliness is to have no sensitivity; to welcome silence and reject noise is not to be whole. To be sensitive is to be aware of both silence and noise, neither pursuing the one nor resisting the other; it is to be without self-contradiction, to be whole.

‘But in what way does this help the children?’ asked the male teacher.

When are the children silent?

‘When they are interested, absorbed in something. Then there’s perfect peace.’

‘It is not only then that they are silent,’ added his companion quickly. ‘When one is really quiet within oneself, the children somehow catch that feeling, and they also become quiet; they look at one rather awed, wondering what has happened. Haven’t you noticed it?’

‘Of course I have,’ he replied.

So that may be the answer. But we are so rarely silent; though we may not be talking, the mind goes right on chattering, carrying on a silent conversation, arguing with itself, imagining, recalling the past or speculating about the future. It is restless noisy, always struggling with something, is it not? “I had never thought of that,” said the male teacher.

‘In that inward sense, one’s mind is of course as noisy as the children themselves.’ We are noisy in other ways too, are we not?

‘Are we?’ asked his companion. ‘When?’

When we are emotionally stirred up: at a political meeting, at a festive board, when we are angry, when we are thwarted, and so on.

‘Yes, yes, that is so,’ she agreed. ‘When I am really excited, at games and so on, I do often find myself shouting, inwardly if not outwardly. Good Lord, there isn’t much difference between us and the children, is there? And their noise is probably far more innocent than the noise we adults make.’

Do we know what silence is?

‘I am silent when I am absorbed in my work,’ the male teacher replied. ‘I am unaware of everything that’s happening about me.’

So is the child when he is absorbed in a toy; but is that silence?

‘No,’ put in the solitary man from the hills. ‘There is silence only when one has complete control of the mind, when thought is dominated and there’s no distraction. Noise, which is the chattering of the mind, must be suppressed for the mind to be still and silent.’

Is silence the opposite of noise? Suppression of the chattering mind indicates control in the sense of resistance, does it not? And is silence the result of resistance, control? If it is, is it silence?

‘I don’t quite understand what you mean, sir. How can there be silence unless the mind’s chattering is stopped, its wanderings brought under control? The mind is like a wild horse that must be tamed.’

As one of these teachers said earlier, it is no good forcing a child to be quiet. If you do, he may be quiet for a few minutes, but he will soon again begin making a noise. And is a child really quiet when you force him to be? Outwardly he may sit still through fear, or through hope of reward, but inwardly he is seething, waiting for a chance to resume his noisy chatter. This is so, isn’t it?

‘But the mind is different. There is the higher part of the mind which must dominate and guide the lower.’

The teacher may also regard himself as a higher entity who must guide or shape the child’s mind. The similarity is fairly obvious, isn’t it?

‘Indeed it is,’ said the lady teacher. ‘But we still don’t know what to do about the noisy child.’

Let’s not consider what to do until we have fully understood the problem. This gentleman has said that the mind is different from a child; but if you observe them both, you will see that they are not so very different. There’s a great similarity between the child and the mind. Suppression of either only tends to increase the urge to make noise, to chatter; there is an inward building up of tension which must and does find release in various ways. It’s like a boiler building up a head of steam; it must have an outlet, or it will burst.

‘I don’t want to argue,’ went on the man of the hills, ‘but how is the mind to stop its noisy chattering if not through control?’

The mind may be stilled, and have transcendental experiences, through years of control, of suppression, of practising a system of yoga; or, by taking a modern drug, the same results may sometimes be achieved overnight. However you may achieve them the results depend on a method, and a method – perhaps the drug also – is the way of resistance, suppression, is it not? Now, is silence the suppression of noise?

‘It is,’ asserted the solitary man. Is love, then, the suppression of hate? ‘That’s what we ordinarily think,’ put in the lady teacher, ‘but when one looks at the actual fact, one sees the absurdity of that way of thinking. If silence is merely the suppression of noise, then it’s still related to noise, and such ‘silence’ is noisy, it’s not silence at all.’

‘I don’t quite understand this,’ said the man from the hills. ‘We all know what noise is, and if we eliminate it, we shall know what silence is.’

Sir, instead of talking theoretically, let’s make an experiment right now. Let’s go slowly and hesitantly, step by step, and see if we can directly experience and understand the actual functioning of the mind.

‘That would be greatly beneficial.’

If I ask you a simple question, like ‘Where do you live?’, your reply is immediate, is it not?

‘Of course.’


Because I know the answer, it is quite familiar to me.’

So the thinking process takes only a second, it is over in a flash; but a more complex question requires a longer time to answer; there’s a certain hesitancy. Is this hesitancy silence?

‘I don’t know.’

A gap of time exists between a complex question and your response to it, because your mind is looking into the records of memory to find an answer. This time-gap is not silence, is it? In this interval there is going on an inquiry, a groping, a seeking out. It’s an activity, a movement into the past; but it’s not silence.

‘I see that. Any movement of the mind, whether into the past or into the future, is obviously not silence.’

Now, let’s go a little further. To a question whose answer you cannot find in the records of memory, what is your reply?

I can only say that I don’t know.’

And what then is the state of your mind?

‘It’s a state of eager suspense,’ put in the lady teacher.

In that suspense you are waiting for an answer, aren’t you? So there’s still a movement an expectancy in the gap between two chatterings, between the question and the final answer. This expectancy is not silence, is it?

‘I am beginning to see what you are getting at,’ replied the solitary one. ‘I perceive that neither this waiting for an answer nor the scrutiny of past things is silence. Then what is silence?’

If all movement of the mind is noise, then is silence the opposite of that noise? Is love the opposite of hate? Or is silence a state totally unrelated to noise, to chatter, to hate?

‘I don’t know.’ Please consider what you are saying. When you say you don’t know, what’s the state of your mind?

‘I’m afraid I’m again waiting for an answer, expecting you to tell me what silence is.’ In other words, you are expecting a verbal description of silence; and any description of silence must be related to noise; so it’s part of noise, isn’t it?

‘I really don’t understand this, sir.’ A question sets the machine of memory going, which is a thinking process. If the question is very familiar, the machine answers instantaneously. If the question is more complex, the machine takes a longer time to reply; it has to grope among the records of memory to find the answer. And when a question is asked whose answer is not on the record the machine says, ‘I don’t know’. Surely, this whole process the mechanism of noise. However outwardly silent, the mind is in operation all the time, isn’t it?

‘Yes,’ he replied eagerly.

Now, is silence merely the stopping of this mechanism? Or is silence totally apart from the mechanism, be it stopped or working?

‘Are you saying, sir, that love is wholly apart from hate, whether hate is there or not?’ asked the lady teacher. Isn’t it? Into the fabric of hate, love can never be woven. If it is, then it’s not love. It may have all the appearance of love, but it’s not; it’s something entirely different. This is really important to understand.

An ambitious man can never know peace; ambition must cease entirely, and only then will there be peace. When a politician talks of peace, it is merely double talk, for to be a politician is to be at heart ambitious, violent. The understanding of what is true and what is false is its own action, and such action will be efficient, effective ‘practical’. But most of us are so caught up in action, in doing or organizing something or in carrying out some plan, that to be concerned with what is true and what is false seems complex and unnecessary. That is why all our action inevitably leads to mischief and misery.

The mere absence of hate is not love. To tame hate, to force it to be still, is not to love. Silence is not the outcome of noise, it is not a reaction whose cause is noise. The ‘silence’ that grows from noise has its roots in noise. Silence is a state totally outside the machinery of the mind; the mind cannot conceive of it, and the mind’s attempts to reach silence are still part of noise. Silence is in no way related to noise. Noise must totally cease for silence to be.

When there is silence in the teacher, it will help the children to be silent.