Total Attention


One can go on endlessly reading, discussing, piling up words upon words, without ever doing anything about it. It is like a man that is always ploughing, never sowing, and therefore never reaping. Most of us are in that position. And words, ideas, theories, have become much more important than actual living, which is acting, doing. I do not know if you have ever wondered why, throughout the world, ideas, formulas, concepts, have tremendous significance, not only scientifically but also theologically. I wonder why? Is it an escape from actuality, from daily, monotonous life? Or, is it that we think ideas and theories will help us to live more – will give us greater vision, greater depth to life? Because we say that without ideas, without having a significance, an objective in life, life is very shallow, empty and has no meaning at all. That may be one of the reasons. Or, is it because we find living, the daily grind, the routine, the boredom, lacking in a quality of sensitivity that we hope to derive from ideation?

Life as we live it is obviously very brutal, and makes us insensitive, dull, heavy, stupid, and so we may hope through ideas, through ideational mentation, to bring about a certain quality of sensitivity. Because we notice that our life inevitably is a repetitive affair (sex, office, eating, the endless chatter about things that really don’t matter, the constant friction in relationship), all this does make for crudeness, for brutality, for hardness. And being aware of that (perhaps not consciously but deep down), one may think that ideas, ideals, theories about God, the hereafter, may give a quality of refinement, may perhaps bring to this dull, aching life, a meaning, a significance, a purpose; perhaps we think it may polish our minds, give them sharpness, give them a quality that the ordinary daily worker in the field or in the factory does not have. So perhaps that is one of the reasons why we indulge in this peculiar game. But even when we are sharpened and quickened intellectually by argument, by discussion, by reading, this does not actually bring about that quality of sensitivity. And you know all those people who are erudite, who read, who theorize, who can discuss brilliantly, are extraordinarily dull people.

So I think sensitivity, which destroys mediocrity, is very important to understand. Because most of us are becoming, I am afraid, more and more mediocre. We are not using that word in any derogative sense at all, but merely observing the fact of mediocrity in the sense of being average, fairly well educated, earning a livelihood and perhaps capable of clever discussion; but this leaves us still bourgeois, mediocre, not only in our attitudes but in our activities. And maturity does not bring about a mutation, a change, a revolution in mediocrity (this can be observed very clearly), although one may have an old body, mediocrity in different forms continues.

Perhaps we could go into this question of sensitivity (not mere physical refinement, which is obviously necessary), but into the question of sensitivity, the highest form of sensitivity which is the highest intelligence; without being sensitive you are not intelligent. To listen to that crow, to be aware of it, to feel its movement, to have no space between that and yourself (which doesn’t mean identity with the crow, as this would be too absurd), but that quality of a mind that is highly sharpened, attentive, in which the observer, which is the centre, the censor, with his accumulated memories and tradition, is not. It is after all a question of constant habit, the way we think, the food that we eat, the way we choose our friends, who obviously are our friends because they don’t contradict, they don’t disturb us too much. So life becomes not only repetitive but also habitual, routine. So sensitivity needs attention.

You know concentration is a most deadly thing. You accept it, do you? I am saying, the speaker is saying something totally contradictory to what you all feel is necessary. So don’t accept it, nor deny it, but look at it. Feel your way into what is true and what is false. What the speaker is saying may be utterly stupid and nonsensical, or it may be true. But to accept or to deny makes you remain as you are, dull, heavy, habit-ridden, insensitive. But in what we are going to say in a moment and even now, do not accept or compare with what you already know or what you have been told or read, but listen in order to find out for yourself what is true. And to give attention, to listen, you have to give your total attention. You cannot give your total attention if you are merely learning to concentrate, or if you are trying to concentrate on a few words, or on the meaning of words, or what you have already heard. But give your attention, and this means listening without any barrier, without any interference or comparison, or condemnation; that is giving total attention; then you will find out for yourself what is true or false without being told. But this is one of the most difficult things to do – to give attention. Attention does not demand any quality of will or desire. We function within the pattern of desire, which is will. That is, we say, ‘I will pay attention, I will try to listen without the barriers, without all the screens between the speaker and myself.’ But the exercise of will is not attention.

Will is the most destructive thing that man has cultivated. Do you again accept that? To accept, or to deny, is not to find the truth of it; but to find the truth of it you have to give attention to it, to what the speaker is saying. Will is, after all, the culmination of desire – I want something, I desire something, I want it and I pursue it. The desire may be a very thin thread, but it is strengthened by constant repetition, and this becomes the will – ‘I will’ and ‘I will not’. And on that assertive level (which can also be negative), we function, we operate and we approach life. ‘I will succeed, I will become, I will be noble’ – all very strong desires. And we are now saying that to be attentive has nothing whatsoever to do with desire or will.

Then, how is one to be attentive? Please follow this. Knowing one is not attentive (knowing one has a certain amount of concentration, which is an exercise of will which excludes and resists, knowing that any form of effort, which again is will, is not attention), how is one to attend? Because if you can give total attention to everything that you do (and you therefore do very little), what you do, you do completely with your heart, with your mind, with your nerves, with everything you have. And how is this attention to come about, naturally, without any effort, with no exercise of the will, without using attention as a means to something else? I hope you are following all this. You know, you are going to find it awfully difficult if you don’t follow this step by step, as you are probably not used to it; you are used to being told what to do, which you do repetitively, and you think you have understood it. But what we are trying to say is something entirely different.

This attention then comes about naturally, easily, when you know you are inattentive – right? When you are aware that you are inattentive, not giving attention, being aware of that fact is being attentive, and you have nothing else to do. Do you understand? Through negation you come to the positive, but not through the pursuit of the positive. When you do things without this action you do things in a state of inattention, and to be aware of action in a state of inattention, is attention. This makes the mind very subtle, makes the mind tremendously alert, because then there is no wastage of energy. Whereas the exercise of will is wastage of energy, just as concentration is.

We said that this attention is necessary – don’t say, ‘Define what you mean by attention’, you might just as well look it up in a dictionary. We are not going to define it, what we are trying to do is, by denying what is not, to come upon it by yourself. We are saying, this attention is necessary for sensitivity, which is intelligence at the deeper level. Again, these words are difficult because there is no measurement – when you say, ‘deeper’, ‘more’, you are comparing, and comparison is a waste of energy. So, if that is understood, we can use words to convey a meaning which is not comparative but actual.

This sensitivity implies intelligence and we need great intelligence to live, to live our daily life, because it is only intelligence that can possibly bring about a total revolution in our psyche, in the very core of our being. And such a mutation is necessary, because man has lived for millions of years in agony, in despair, always battling with himself and with the world. He has invented a peace which is not peace at all; such peace is between two wars, between two conflicts. And as society is getting more and more complex, disorderly, competitive, there must be radical change, not in society, but in the human being who has created society. The human being, as he is, is a very disorderly person, he is very confused; he believes, he doesn’t believe, he has theories and so on and so on; he lives in a state of contradiction. And he has built a society, a culture which is contradictory, with its rich and its poor. There is disorder, not only in our life, but also outwardly in society. And order is completely necessary. You know what is happening in the world – here in India – look at it! What is happening? Colleges are closed, a whole generation of young people is without education; they will be destroyed by politicians quarrelling over some silly division of language. Then there is the Vietnamese war in which human beings are being destroyed for an idea. There are the racial riots in America, terribly destructive things. And in China there is civil war; in Russia, tyranny, suppression of freedom, at best slow liberalisation – there is division between nationalities, separation due to religions, all of which indicate complete disorder. And this disorder is brought about by each one of us; we are responsible. Do please see the responsibility of it. The older generation has made a mess of the world, you have made a terrible mess of the world with your pujas, your gurus, with your gods, with your nationalities, because you are only concerned with earning a livelihood and cultivating part of the brain, the rest you neglect, you discard. Each human being is responsible for this disorder within himself and in the society in which he lives; Communism and other forms of tyranny are not going to bring order, on the contrary they are going to bring about more disorder, because man needs to be free.

So there is disorder. And order is necessary, otherwise there can be no peace at all. And it is only in peace, in quietness, in beauty, that goodness can flower. Order is virtue, not the cultivated virtue of a cunning mind. Order is virtue, and order is a living thing, just as virtue is a living thing. So virtue cannot be practised as things are. We are going to go into this, listen to it. You cannot practise it any more than you can practise humility, or have a method to find out what love is.

So order in this sense has the same pattern as mathematics; in the highest mathematics is the highest order, absolute order. And that absolute order, one must have it in oneself. And as virtue cannot be cultivated, put together, so order cannot be engendered, put together by the mind; but what the mind can do is to find out what disorder is. You are following this? You know what is disorder – living in the way we live is total disorder. As things are, each man is out for himself, there is no co-operation, there is no love, there is complete callousness as to what happens in Vietnam or in China, or at your next door neighbour’s. Be aware of this disorder, and out of the understanding of this disorder understand how it has come about, the cause of it, so that when you understand the causes, the forces that are at work bringing about this disorder, understand it truly, not merely intellectually; then out of that understanding will come order. Now let us try to understand disorder, which is our daily life, understand it, not intellectually or verbally, but observe it, how one has been separated from others by being a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian (the Christian with his god, with his ideals and the Hindu with his ideals, the Muslim with his own ideals peculiar to him, and so on), observe it, come closely into contact with it, do not have prejudices, otherwise you cannot come directly into contact with another human being.

So, out of disorder comes order, and it comes about naturally, freely, easily, with great beauty and vitality, when you are directly in contact with disorder in yourself. You are not in contact with this disorder directly, with yourself, if you do not know how to look at yourself. How to see yourself (we have gone into this question of seeing), how to look at a tree, a flower – because as we said the other day, the act of seeing is the act of love? The act of seeing is action. We will go into this a little bit because this is really very important.

When you give your attention completely, that is, with your mind, with your eyes, with your heart, with your nerves – when you give complete attention, you will find there is no centre at all, there is no observer and therefore there is no division between the observed and the observer, and you eradicate conflict totally, this conflict brought about by separation, by division. It only seems difficult because you are not used to this way of looking at life. It is really quite simple. It is really very simple if you know how to look at a tree, if you know how to see anew the tree, your wife, your husband, your neighbour, if you look anew at the sky with its stars, with its silent depth – look, see and listen, then you have solved the whole problem of understanding, because then there is no ‘understanding’ at all, then there is only a state of mind that has no division, and therefore no conflict.

To come upon this naturally, easily, fully, there must be attention. This attention can only come about easily when you know how to look, how to listen – how to look at a tree, or your wife, or your neighbour, or at the stars, or even at your boss, without any image. The image is, after all, the past – the past, which has been accumulated through experience, pleasant or unpleasant; and with that image you look at your wife, your children, your neighbour, the world; you look with that image at nature. So what is in contact is your memory, the image which has been put together by memory. And that image looks and therefore there is no direct contact. You know when you have pain there is no image, there is only pain, and therefore there is immediate action. You may postpone going to the doctor, but action is involved. In the same way when you look and listen, you know the beauty of immediate action in which there is no conflict whatsoever. That is why it is important to know the art of looking, which is very simple – to look with complete attention, with your heart and with your mind. And attention means love, because you cannot look at that sky and be extraordinarily sensitive if there is a division between yourself and the beauty of that sunset.

This order can only come about when we see, that is actually come into contact with disorder, which is in ourselves, which is us. We are not in disorder – ‘we’ is a state of disorder. Now when you look at yourself without any image about yourself, actually at what you are (not what Shankara, Buddha, Freud, Jung, or X Y Z says, because then you are looking at yourself according to their image), you look at the disorder in yourself, the anger, the brutality, the violence, the stupidity, the indifference, the callousness, the constant drive of ambition with its peculiar cruelty – if you can be aware of that without any image, without any word, and look at it, then you are directly in contact with it. And when there is direct contact there is immediate action. There is immediate action when you have intense pain, and when there is great danger there is instant action. And this instant action is life, not the thing that we have hitherto called life, which is a battlefield, an agony in that battlefield, despair, hidden wants and so on; that is what we have called life. Please do observe this in yourself. Use the speaker as a mirror in which you see yourself now. What the speaker is saying is merely exposing yourself to yourself. And therefore look at this, listen to it and become completely in contact with it, be totally with it, and, if you are, you will see that there is immediate action.

The past is then destroyed. You know the past is the unconscious. You know what the unconscious is? Don’t go back to Freud, Jung or all the rest of those people, but look at it for yourself and find out, not through empiricism, but actually observe it. The past in you is your tradition, the books that you have read, the racial inheritance as the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and all the rest of it, and the culture in which you have lived, the temples, the beliefs that have been handed down from generation to generation. This constitutes the propaganda to which you have been subjected, your propaganda; you are slaves to the propaganda of five thousand years. And the Christian is a slave to propaganda of two thousand years. He believes in Jesus Christ and you believe in Krishna, or whatever you do believe in, as the Communist believes in something else. We are the result of propaganda. Do you realize what it means? – words, the influence of others; so there is nothing whatsoever original. And to find out the origin of anything we must have order. Order that can only come about when there is the cessation of total disorder in oneself. Because all of us, at least those who are a little serious and thoughtful and earnest, must have asked whether there is anything sacred at all, anything holy. Of course the answer is that the temple, the mosque, or the church is not holy, is not sacred, nor the images therein.

I do not know if you have experimented with yourself. Take a piece of stick, put it on the mantelpiece and every day put a flower in front of it – give it a flower – put in front of it a flower and repeat some words – ‘Coca-Cola’, ‘Amen’, ‘Om’, it doesn’t matter what word – any word you like – listen, don’t laugh it off – do it and you will find out. If you do it, after a month you will see how holy it has become. You have identified yourself with that stick, with that piece of stone or with that piece of idea and you have made it into something sacred, holy. But it is not. You have given it a sense of holiness out of your fear, out of the constant habit of this tradition, giving yourself over, surrendering yourself to something, which you consider holy. The image in the temple is no more holy than a piece of rock by the roadside. So it is very important to find out what is really sacred, what is really holy, if there is such a thing at all.

You know, man has spoken of this throughout the centuries, seeking something that is imperishable, that is not created by the mind, that is holy in itself, something that is never touched by the past. Man is always seeking that. And man, seeking that, not finding it, has invented religion, organized belief. A serious man has to find out, not through some rock, temple or idea, but he has to find what is really, truly, everlastingly sacred. If you cannot find it, you will always be cruel, you will always be in conflict. And if you will, this evening, listen, perhaps you may come upon it, not through the speaker, not through his words, not through his statements, but you may come upon it when there is discipline through the understanding of disorder. When you watch, see what is disorder; the very seeing of disorder demands attention. Please do follow this. You know, for most of us, discipline is a drill, as it is for the soldier, drill, drill from morning until night so that there is nothing but slavery to a habit. And that is what we call discipline; suppression, control – that is deadly, that is not discipline at all. Discipline is a living thing, it has its own beauty, its own freedom. And this discipline comes naturally, when you know how to look at a tree, how to look at the face of your wife, your husband, when you can see the beauty of a tree or a sunset. To see, to look at that sky, the glow of it, the beauty of the leaves against that glow, the orange colour, the depth of that colour, the swiftness of that colour-see it! To see it you must give your whole attention to it. And to give your whole attention has its own discipline, you don’t want any other discipline. So that thing that attention is a living thing, moving and vital.

This attention itself is virtue. You need no other ethical standard, no morality (anyhow you have no morality, except on the one hand the morality that the society which you have built tells you, and on the other hand what you want to do, and neither has anything whatsoever to do with virtue). Virtue is beauty and beauty is love, and without love you have no virtue and therefore no order. So again, if you have done it now, as the speaker is talking about it, looking at that sky with your whole being, that very act of looking has its own discipline and therefore its own virtue, its own order. Then the mind reaches the highest point of absolute order and therefore because it is absolutely orderly, it itself becomes the sacred. I do not know if you understand this. You know, when you love the tree, the bird, the light on the water, when you love your neighbour, your wife, your husband, without jealousy, that love that has never been touched by hate, when there is that love, that love itself is sacred, you have no other thing that can be more so.

So there is that sacred thing, not in the things that man has put together, but which comes into being when man cuts himself off entirely from the past, which is memory. This does not mean that man becomes absent-minded, he must have memory in a certain direction, but that memory will be found to be part of this whole state in which there is no relation with the past. And that cessation of the past can only be when you see things as they are and come directly in contact with them – as with that marvellous sunset. Then out of this order, discipline, virtue, there comes into being love. Love is tremendously passionate and therefore it acts immediately. It has no time interval between the seeing and the doing. And when you have that love you can put away all your sacred books, all your gods. And you have to put away your sacred books, your gods, your everyday ambitions, to come upon that love. That is the only sacred thing there is. And to come upon it, goodness must flower. Goodness – you understand, Sirs? – goodness can only flower in freedom, not in tradition. The world needs change, you need tremendous revolution in yourself; the world needs this tremendous revolution (not economic, Communist, bloody revolution that man has tried throughout history, that has only led him to more misery). But we do need fundamental, psychological, revolution, and this revolution is order. And order is peace; and this order, with its virtue and peace, can only come about when you come directly into contact with disorder in your daily life. Then out of that blossoms goodness and then there will be no seeking anymore. For that which is, is sacred.