The art of looking, listening, learning
The art of seeing, listening, watching, is not a thing to be cultivated; it is not a question of evolution and gradual growth. When one is aware of a danger, there is immediate action, the instinctual, instantaneous response of the body and memory. From childhood, one has been conditioned that way to meet danger, so the mind responds instantly to prevent physical destruction. We are asking whether it is possible to act in the very seeing, in which there is no conditioning at all. Can a mind respond freely and instantly to any form of distortion and therefore act? That is, perception, action and expression are all one; they are not divided, broken up. The very seeing is the acting which is the expression of that seeing.
From the book The Flight of the Eagle by J. Krishnamurti — Purchase here
VIDEO: On having an active brain and on listening without action
Another kind of learning
Art means to put everything in its right place. That is, the art of listening is to listen to what is said without comparing it with what already you know. If you compare what you listen to, you distort it. You have already accepted the old, and you put the new into the old bottle. So can you listen without comparing or translating, but actually listen to the words, meaning, and significance? Can you listen without saying the Gita, the Upanishads or some other book says that? Absolute listening is very difficult for most people because they have never learnt the art of listening. Listen to those crows. Don’t resist but listen with your heart. Listen to the words, the meaning of the words and the significance behind the words, and thereby have an insight into what is being said. Insight is not that you intellectually understand or verbally comprehend what is being said, because truth is something that lies beyond the word. This is the art of listening.
Then there is the art of seeing. We see things through the picture we have created about it. When you look at a tree, you don’t look at the tree; you look through the word and image you have about the tree—the same when you look at a person. You are sitting looking at me. Are you looking at me through the image you have built—the reputation, the knowledge that you have about me or what I have said? If you have no image or conclusions about the speaker, you are observing actually what is, not the name and the form, but behind that, what actually is. That is the art of seeing, observing.
Is there another way of acting without the accumulation of knowledge?
Then there is the art of learning. Learning is a great problem. That is, we learn in school, college and university. We store up knowledge and act from that knowledge, skilfully or not skilfully. You store up knowledge as a mathematician, biologist or physicist and then proceed. If you want to be an engineer, you learn about stresses and strain, about mathematics, and having accumulated knowledge you proceed. That is one form of learning. The other is to act and learn. That is what the communists propose: go out and learn through action. Both are the same because they act from knowledge. Having acquired knowledge, they act. Learning and acting, acting and learning, both imply cultivation of memory and knowledge. And so gradually the brain becomes mechanical. It has accumulated knowledge. It meets the present, modifies that knowledge, and goes on. It is always acting in the field of knowledge, which is in the field which is known. Knowledge is always in the past, and so human beings live in the past. If you observe your own life, you will see how practically everything is from the past—the remembrances, the hurts, the insults, the tradition.
There is another kind of learning, which is much more difficult, something entirely different. When you see the effect of knowledge, that it makes the brain mechanical, living in a very limited field, with mechanical action and relationship, saying there is a God, or there is no God, all the rituals and traditions—when you see the effects of knowledge on the brain, when you have an insight into it, you act from insight, not from knowledge.
Knowledge is necessary. When you go to the office or factory or do anything, you must have knowledge. You have knowledge when you drive a car or speak. But we are always acting from knowledge, and therefore life becomes more and more mechanical. If you are at all aware of what is happening around you and in yourself, you are bound to notice this. So, is there another way of acting without the accumulation of knowledge? Which is to have an insight into the effect of knowledge.
So there is the art of listening and the art of observing—the tree, the birds and yourself, not in the mirror only but observing what you are, what you think, without any distortion. That is, to observe what actually is, not what it should be. The what should be is non-observation; it is non-existent. To observe exactly ‘what is’ is the art of observing. And learning, as we pointed out, is to see the effect of knowledge and have an insight into it. When you have an insight into it, there is a totally different kind of action, instant action.
Krishnamurti in Madras 1976, Talk 5
VIDEO: On seeing and listening
Reading the book of oneself
The whole story of mankind is in you—the vast experiences, the deep-rooted fears, anxieties, sorrow, pleasure, and all the beliefs man has accumulated for millennia. You are that book, and it is an art to read that book. It is not printed by any publisher; it is not for sale in any bookshop. You cannot go to any analyst or any scientist because their books are the same as yours. The scientist may have a great deal of information about matter or astrophysics, but his book, the story of mankind, is the same as yours. Without carefully, patiently, hesitantly reading that book, you will never be able to change the society in which we live, the society that is corrupt, immoral, with a great deal of poverty, injustice and so on. Anyone seriously concerned with things as they are in the world at present, with the chaos, corruption, war—war, which is the greatest crime—and concerned to bring about a radical change in our society and its structure must be able to read the book which is yourself. That society is brought about by each one of us, by our parents, grandparents and so on. All human beings have created this society, and unless it is changed, there will be more corruption, more wars and greater destruction of the human mind. That is a fact.
You cannot tell the book what it should reveal. It will reveal everything.
So to read this book, which is yourself, one must have the art of listening to what the book is saying. To do that means not to interpret what the book is saying, just to observe it as you would observe a cloud. You cannot do anything about the cloud, nor a palm leaf swaying in the wind, nor the beauty of a sunset. You cannot alter it, you cannot argue with it, you cannot change it. It is so. So one must have the art of listening to what the book is saying. The book is you, so you cannot tell the book what it should reveal. It will reveal everything. So that must be the first art, listening to the book. There is another art, the art of observation, seeing. When you read the book which is yourself, there is not you and the book. Please understand this. There is not the reader and the book separate from you. The book is you. So you are observing the book, not telling the book what it should say. That is, to read, to observe all the reactions that the book reveals, to see very clearly without any distortion the lines, the chapters, the verse, the poems, the beauty, the struggle, everything that it is telling you and revealing. So there is the art of seeing and the art of listening.
There is also another art: the art of learning. Computers can learn, be programmed and repeat what they have been told. If a computer plays a chess master, the master may beat it a few times, but through experience it is learning, and after a few games it can beat the master. That is how our mind works too. We first experience, accumulate knowledge, store it in memory, then thought arises from memory, and then action. From that action, you learn. So learning is the accumulation of further knowledge. So you begin again: experience, knowledge, memory, thought and action. This cycle is going on all the time with all of us, every action giving further knowledge. This is what a mind is doing all the time, like the computer. Experience, knowledge, memory, thought, action, and the action modifies or adds more knowledge, and you go on that way.
So this is what we do all the time and call learning—learning from experience. This has been the story of man, constant challenge and response to that challenge. That response can be equal to the challenge or not up to it. But it learns and accumulates knowledge, and the next challenge is responded to again, more fully or less fully. So this process, called learning, is going on all the time in our minds. When you learn a language, you learn the meaning of the words, the syntax, the grammar, put two sentences together and gradually accumulate a vocabulary. Then, if you have a good memory, you begin to speak that language you have spent time on. This is the human process of learning, moving from knowledge to knowledge. And the book is the whole knowledge of mankind, which is you. Either you keep that circle going all the time, or find a way of moving out of that circle. That is, we are always functioning from the past, from knowledge, modified by the present and moving forward. The forward is modified again, which becomes the past, and this process is part of our life.
The mind that is free having read the book completely, receives the benediction of truth.
So, there is the art of seeing, the art of listening and the art of learning. What we call learning is movement from the past to the present, modified, into the future, and that is experiencing, and so on. This whole cycle is psychological learning as well as technological learning. Which means what? The mind is never free from the known. So our learning is always within the field of the known, and the mind, therefore, becomes mechanical. If I have a particular habit, and I live with that habit, my mind becomes mechanical. If I believe in something and I repeat, repeat, repeat, it becomes mechanical. So we are saying we are always living within the area of the known, and so our minds have become a network of words, never the actual, and moving, changing, altering only within the narrow, limited area of knowledge.
Learning implies something totally different. We have said what seeing is, how to see the book, read the lines, the art of listening to the book, never distorting, never interpreting, never choosing what you like and don’t like, what you appreciate and don’t appreciate—then you are not reading the book. We are also saying that we all live within the narrow limits of the known, and that has become our constant habit. Therefore, if you examine your mind, it is repetitive, habitual, accustomed, you believe in God for the rest of your life. If anybody says perhaps there is no God, you call them irreligious. So you are caught in habit. Now, we are saying that is not learning at all. Learning is something entirely different. Learning means inquiring into the limits of knowledge and moving away from it.
So through the art of seeing, the art of listening and the art of learning, never to be caught in the same pattern, nor invent another pattern. The constant breaking down of patterns, norms and values doesn’t mean living without any restraint. Society is now permissive. It doesn’t mean that at all but a constant awareness of this pattern formation of the mind, and breaking it down so that the mind is constantly aware, alert.
Now, with those three factors: listening, observing, learning, let’s read the book together. You are reading the book with me. I am not reading your book. We are reading the human book, which is you and the speaker and the rest of mankind. Please give a little attention to this because we live in a society that is so unhappy, that is in such conflict, struggle, strife, and there seems to be no end to it. We are saying if we know how to read that book, which is yourself, all conflict, all noise, all travail comes to an end. It is only then that truth can come into your field. It is only such a mind that is a religious mind, not the believing mind, not the mind that does all kinds of rituals, not the mind that puts on strange garb, but the mind that is free having read the book completely. It is only such a mind that receives the benediction of truth. It is only such a mind that can go infinitely far beyond time. What the speaker is saying is your book, opening it chapter by chapter, page by page, to the very end, if you can travel that far. And we must travel together if we are to solve human problems. We can solve them together, not as one person.
There is no need for belief when you are only concerned with facts.
So what is the first chapter in the book? Apart from physical existence, the physical organism with all the travail of the body, disease, laziness, sluggishness, the lack of proper food, proper nourishment—apart from all that, what is the first movement? If we can go into it together it will be yours, and when you can read it, you don’t have to have a priest or psychologist—you don’t depend on anybody. You will begin to have that extraordinary freedom that gives you tremendous vitality, the vitality of psychological freedom. So please, let us share this book together. Are you waiting for me? I am afraid you are because you have never looked at yourself deeply. You may have looked at your face, combed your hair, and all the rest of it, but you have not looked into yourself. But when you look into yourself, don’t you discover for yourself that you are a second-hand human being? It may be rather unpleasant to consider oneself a second-hand human being, but we are full of other people’s knowledge—what some philosopher, some teacher, some guru, what the Buddha or Christ said, and so on—we are all full of that. And if you have been to school and university, there you have also been told what to do, what to think. So if you realise that you are a second-hand human being, you can then put aside that second-class quality of the mind and look.
The first observation is that we live in contradiction, that there is no order in us. Order is not a blueprint, putting the same thing in the same place every day; order implies something far greater than the mechanical discipline of a particular habit, norm, sanction. We are saying order is something entirely different from the accepted, normal discipline. The word discipline means to learn, not to conform, not to imitate, not to copy, obey, but to learn. So, one discovers in the first chapter of the book that we live an extraordinarily confused, disorderly life—wanting one thing and denying that which you want, saying one thing and doing something else, thinking one thing and acting otherwise. So there is constant contradiction. Where there is contradiction there must be conflict.
You are not following the speaker. You are following the book which is yourself. You are living in a disorderly way and are in perpetual conflict. That conflict expresses itself as ambition, fulfilment, conformity, identification with a person, with a country, with an idea, and never living with the actual. We live in disorder, politically, religiously, in our family life. So we have to find out what order is. The book will tell you if you know how to read the book. It says you live in disorder. So turn the next page and there you will find what it is to live in disorder. If we don’t understand the cause of disorder, order will never come into being. Disorder exists as long as there is contradiction. Not only verbal contradiction but psychological contradiction. So if one understands the nature of disorder, not intellectually or verbally but actually—the book is saying don’t translate what you read into an intellectual concept, read it properly. When you read it, it says your contradiction exists, and can only end if you understand the nature of contradiction. Contradiction exists when there is division, like the Hindus and Muslims, the Jews and Arabs, the communists and non-communists—this constant divisive process. Where there is division, there must be conflict, which is disorder, and when you understand the nature of disorder, then out of that comprehension order comes naturally. Order is like a flower coming out naturally. And that order, that flower, never withers. There is always order in one’s life because you have really, deeply read the book, which says where there is division there must be conflict. Now, have we read that book so clearly that we understand the nature of disorder?
Be a light to yourself and don’t depend on anyone for the understanding of life.
The next chapter says that as long as you are working from a centre towards the periphery, there must be contradiction. That is, as long as you are acting self-centredly, selfishly, egotistically, personally, narrowing down the whole of this vast life into that little me, you will inevitably create disorder because the me is a very small affair put together by thought. Thought is my name, the form, the psychological structure and the image it has built about itself—I am somebody. So as long as there is self-centred activity, there must be contradiction. Therefore there must be disorder. And the book says don’t ask how to be not self-centred. The book says when you ask how you are asking for a method, and if you pursue that method, it is another form of self-centred activity. The book is telling you all this; I am not telling you this. The speaker is not translating the book for you, but we are reading it together. As long as you belong to any sect, group or religion, you are bound to create conflict. This is difficult to swallow because we all believe in something. You believe in God; another doesn’t; another believes in the Buddha, another believes in Jesus, and Islam says there is only Allah. So, belief brings division in relationship. Though you believe in God, you are not living the godly life. Belief has no value. There is no need for belief when you are only concerned with facts, that which is actually happening.
The problem also arises of how you read the book, whether you are separate from the book. When you pick up a novel, you are reading it as an outsider, turning the pages, following the story and so on, but here the reader is the book. Do you understand the difficulty? The reader is the book. So you are reading it as though part of yourself is reading.
The book also says man has lived under authority—political, religious, the leader, the guru, the man who knows, the intellectual philosopher—we have always conformed to a pattern of authority. Please listen very carefully to what the book is saying, which is, there is the authority of law—whether you approve of that law or not there is the authority of law—there is the authority of the policeman, the authority of an elected government, and the authority of the dictator. We are not talking about that authority. We are reading in the book about the authority the mind seeks in order to be secure. The book says the mind is always seeking security. The books says when you are seeking security psychologically, you are inevitably bound to create authority—the authority of the priest, the authority of the image, the authority of the one who says, ‘I am enlightened, I will tell you.’ It says to be free of all that kind of authority. Which means be a light to yourself and don’t depend on anyone for the understanding of life, for the understanding of that book. To read that book there is nobody between you and the book—no philosopher, priest, guru, god, nothing. You are the book, and you are reading it, and so there must be freedom from the authority of another, whether the authority of the husband over the wife or the wife over the husband. It means to be able to stand alone.
You have read the chapters on disorder, order and authority. The next chapter says life is relationship. Life is relationship in action—not only relationship with the nearest people, but you are related to the whole of mankind because you are like the rest of humanity wherever they live because you suffer and so do all the others. Psychologically you are the world, and the world is you. Therefore you have tremendous responsibility.
Patience means the forgetting of time so that you can observe.
Then the next chapter says man has lived with fear from time immemorial—fear of nature, fear of the environment, fear of disease, fear of accidents, and so on, but also much deeper layers; the deeper, unconscious, untrodden ways of fear. We are going to read the book together to the end. We are going together to read the book so carefully, so patiently, that when you come to the end of the chapter, your mind is free of all fear. The book asks what fear is. How does it arise? What is its nature? Why has man not solved this problem? Why do we live with it? Have we become accustomed to it? Have we accepted it as the way of life? Why has the human being, you, not resolved that problem so that your mind is totally free from fear? As long as there is fear, you live in darkness. You may worship whatever you will out of that darkness, but if your worship is out of that darkness, your worship is meaningless. So it is very important to read further on the nature of fear.
If you read the book closely, every word of it, it asks you how fear arises. Is it remembrance of things past, a remembrance of a pain, of something you have done which you ought not to have done; a lie that you have told and you don’t want to be discovered and are frightened; an action that has corrupted your mind and you may be afraid of that corruption or that action. Or you may be afraid of the future, of losing a job or not becoming a prominent citizen in a particular little backyard of a country. There are innumerable forms of fear. People are afraid of the dark, afraid of public opinion, afraid of death. People are afraid of not fulfilling, whatever that may mean. Apart from the fear of disease, one may have a great deal of physical pain. That pain is registered in the mind, and one is afraid that pain might return. You know all this.
So the book says go on, read more. What is fear? Is it brought about by thought? Is it brought about by time? I am healthy now, but as I grow older I may be ill, and I am frightened. That is time. Thought says anything might happen to me—I might lose my job, I might go blind, I might lose my wife or husband—whatever it is. Is that the root of fear? The book is asking you. So you turn the page, and you find the answer in yourself. It says thought and time are the factors of fear. It says thought is time.
The question on the next page is whether it is possible for the human mind, for you reading the book of yourself, to be completely free of fear so that there is not a breath of fear. Which is what? I hope you are reading it with me; I am not reading it by myself. The book says don’t ask for a method. A method means repetition, a system. A system will not solve fear, because you are then following the system, not understanding the nature of fear. So don’t look for a system but only understand the nature of fear. The book asks what you mean by understanding. When is it that you say, ‘I understand something’? What do you mean by that? Either you understand the verbal construction and meaning of the word, which is a particular form of intellectual operation, or you see the truth of it. When you see the truth of this, the thing disappears. When you see clearly for yourself that thought and time are the factors of fear, not as a verbal statement but as part of you, in your blood, in your mind, in your heart, that time is the factor, you will see that fear has no longer a place, only time. Fear has been brought about by time and thought. I am afraid of what might happen. I am afraid of my loneliness. I never examine my loneliness, what it means, but I am afraid of it, which means I run away from it. But that loneliness is your shadow; it pursues you. You can’t run away from your shadow. So you have to have the patience of observation, which is not to run away but to observe, to look, to listen, to hear what that book is saying.
The book says that time is the factor and that if you can understand time, perhaps there will be an end to fear. So what is the relationship between time and thought, the book asks. Thought is a movement from the known to the known. Past memories meet the present, modify, and go on. This movement from yesterday to today to tomorrow is the movement of time, by sunrise and sunset and by psychological time. That is, I have known pain, and I hope I shan’t have it again. This is the movement of the past through the present modifying itself, and into the future. There is time by the watch; there is time inwardly. I hope to be something or somebody. I am not, but I hope. You are violent, but you hope to be non-violent. You are greedy, envious, but through time, through evolution, you hope to get rid of it gradually. So time is a movement: past, present, future. Thought is also from the past—knowledge, memory, movement to the future. So time is thought.
Time destroys understanding because understanding is immediate.
The next question is much more difficult. Patience means the absence of time. Generally, patience means to go slowly, take time, don’t react quickly, be quiet, take it easily, allow the other to express, and so on. We are not using the word patience in that sense. We are saying patience means the forgetting of time so that you can observe. But if you have time through which you are observing, you are impatient. So you have to have patience to read the chapter which says time is the factor of fear. Thought is time, and as long as thought is functioning, you are bound to be afraid.
The next chapter asks if there is an ending to time. Time is a great factor in our life: I am, I will be; I don’t know, but I will know; I don’t know this language, but I will learn in time; time will heal my wounds. Time blunts sensitivity. Time destroys relationship. Time destroys understanding because understanding is immediate. It is not, ‘I will learn to understand.’ So the book is saying time plays an extraordinarily important part in our life. Our brains have evolved through time. It is not your brain or my brain, but the human brain, which is you. You have identified that brain as your brain, as your mind. But it is not your mind or brain; it is the human brain which has evolved through millions of years. The brain conditioned by time can only operate in time. So we are asking the brain to do something totally different. The book says your brain, your mind, functions in time. Time has played an important part in your life. Time is not the solution to any problem, except technologically. Don’t use time as a way to resolve a problem. It is very difficult to understand this. Please give your mind to read the book properly. It asks: can time end? If you don’t end it, fear will go on, with it all its consequences. And it says: don’t ask how to end it. The moment you ask somebody how to end it, they will give you a theory.
This is real meditation, to inquire whether time can ever stop. The speaker says it can, and it does. Careful, please. The speaker says so, not your book. So if you say the speaker says it ends, hoping it ends, and believing in that hope, you are not reading the book, you are just living on words. And living on words doesn’t dissolve fear. So you have to read the book of time and go into it, explore the nature of time, how you react to time, how your relationship is based on time. ‘I know you’—which is time. Knowledge means time. If you are using knowledge as a means of advancement, you are caught in time, and so the whole process of fear and anxiety goes on.
So to inquire into the nature of the ending of time requires a silent mind, a mind that is free to observe, that is not frightened but free to observe the movement of time in yourself, how you depend on it. If somebody told you there is no such thing as hope, you would be horrified. Hope is time. You have to investigate the nature of time and realise that your brain, your mind and your heart, which are one, are functioning in time, conditioned in time. Therefore you are now asking something totally different. You are asking the brain, the mind to function differently, and that requires great attention in your reading.
Krishnamurti in Columbo 1980, Talk 2
VIDEO: The art of listening, seeing and learning
Listening with great care
We ought to understand very clearly and simply the art of listening, the art of seeing and the art of learning. The word art is generally applied to artists, those who paint, write poems, make sculptures, and so on. But the meaning of that word art is giving everything its right place, putting all our thoughts, feelings, anxieties, and so on, in their right place, giving the proper proportion to things, putting everything in harmony.
We rarely listen to anybody. We are so full of our conclusions, experiences, problems and judgments that we have no space in which to listen. To listen is possible only when you put aside your opinion, knowledge, problems and conclusions. Then you are free to listen without interpreting, judging or evaluating. The art of listening is to listen with great care, attention and affection. If you are capable of such listening, communication becomes very simple and there will be no misunderstanding. Communication implies to think together, to share the things we are talking about together, to partake in the problem as two human beings. Living in a monstrous, corrupt world where things are so ugly, brutal, violent and meaningless, communication is very important. In the art of listening, one learns immediately; one sees the fact instantly. In the art of listening, there is freedom. In that freedom, every nuance of a word has significance, and there is immediate comprehension. There is immediate insight and therefore immediate freedom to observe.
The art of listening is the miracle.
There is also the art of seeing: to see things as they are, not as you wish to see them; to see things without any illusion, without any preconceived judgment or opinion, to see what actually is, not your conclusions about what is. Then there is the art of learning—not memorising, which becomes very mechanical. Our brains have already become extraordinarily mechanical. The art of learning implies freedom to observe and listen without prejudice, without argumentation, without any emotional, romantic responses.
If we actually, not intellectually, have these three arts in our daily life, putting everything in its right place, where it belongs, we can live a very quiet, harmonious life. So please learn now the art of listening. See with the attention of listening that thought is measurement and a movement in time, which creates fear. If you do not make a conclusion of that statement, but actually listen with your heart, with your mind, with all your capacity, attention and care, you will see that fear has no place at all. The art of listening is the miracle. So listen, not thinking what to do about it. The art of listening is to be sensitive, to be alert, to be watchful now. If you are doing that now, you will see that you will put thought in its right place. Then you will have an actual relationship with another, and therefore never have conflict.
Our consciousness is our daily, everyday life. In that consciousness, there is the desire for power and the many hurts one has received from childhood; there is fear, pleasure, and the thing that we call love, which is not love. There are the innumerable beliefs that we have—belief in God or belief in no god, belief in socialism, belief in capitalism. Belief indicates a life based on make-believe, which has nothing to do with actuality. We are bringing order in consciousness, not by wanting order, not by making an effort to bring about order, but by listening, seeing, learning. To listen, there must be no direction. To see, there must be no distortion. And to learn there must be freedom to observe.
From the book The Shambhala Krishnamurti Reader, by J. Krishnamurti
VIDEO: What is the relationship of clarity to compassion?
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