Krishnamurti on the Arts of Looking Listening and Learning
‘The real meaning of the word ‘art’ is to put everything in its right place, so that the mind is liberated.’
This week’s episode on The arts of looking, listening and learning has five sections.
The first extract (2:46) is from the fourth talk in Ojai 1977, titled ‘In the art of listening there is freedom’.
The second extract (11:07) is from Krishnamurti’s sixth talk in Madras 1978, titled ‘There is a great miracle in listening’.
The third extract (17:19) is from the second talk in Colombo 1980, titled ‘Listening to the story of mankind’.
The fourth extract (38:02) is from Krishnamurti’s second talk in Bombay 1978, titled ‘The art of seeing.’
The final extract in this episode (49:50) is from the tenth talk in Saanen 1966, titled ‘The meaning of existence can only be discovered in seeing and listening.
In the Art of Listening There Is Freedom
I think 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, those who write poems, do sculpture and so on, but the meaning of the word ‘art’ means giving everything its right place, putting all our thoughts, feelings, anxieties and so on, in their right place. So the word ‘art’ means giving their proper place, proper proportion, putting everything in harmony – not just painting a picture or writing a poem.
So, if you will, apply the art of listening. We rarely listen to anybody. We are so full of our own conclusions, our own experiences, our own problems, our own judgements, we have no space in which to listen. We ought to have some space so that as two friends, you and I, the speaker, are talking over together their problems, amicably, under the shade of a tree, sitting down and looking at the mountains, but concerned with their problems, and so they are willing to listen to each other. And to listen is only possible when you put aside your particular opinion, your particular knowledge or problem, your conclusions; when you are free to listen, not interpreting, not judging, not evaluating, but there is actually the art of listening, to listen with great care, with attention, with affection. And if we have such an art, if you are capable of such listening, then communication becomes very, very simple; there will be no misunderstanding.
Communication implies thinking together, sharing the things that we are talking about together, to partake in the problem as two human beings living in a monstrous corrupt world, where everything is so ugly, brutal, violent and meaningless. It is very important, it seems to me, if I may point out, that in the art of listening one learns immediately, one sees the fact instantly. And if one listens rightly – and we pointed out the meaning of that word ‘right’: correctly, accurately, not what you think is right or wrong, but in the art of listening there is freedom, and in that freedom every word, every nuance of the word has significance, and there is immediate comprehension, which is immediate insight, and therefore immediate freedom to observe.
Also there is 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 judgement or opinion, to see actually ‘what is’, not your conclusions about ‘what is’. Then there is the art of learning – not memorising, which becomes mechanical because our minds, our brains have already become so extraordinarily mechanical. So the art of learning implies freedom to observe, to listen without prejudice, without argumentation, without any emotional or romantic responses. If we have these three arts, not merely as a verbal conclusion or an intellectual comprehension, but actually in our daily life, to put everything in its right place, where they belong, one can live a really very quiet, harmonious life. But that is not possible if you haven’t learned this art of giving things their proper place.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1977, Talk 4
There Is a Great Miracle in Listening
When you listen and when there is resistance to what is being said, that resistance is the outcome of your pressure. You don’t listen. Not that you must accept, nor must you reject, but just to listen without resistance, without translating what is said into what you would like it to be. So, to learn the art of listening. I think if you know that, the thing is very simple; it is almost over. There is a great miracle in listening because in that, if there is no interpretation of what you are hearing or making an abstraction of what you are hearing, or turning it into an idea and pursuing that idea, then you are off the mark entirely. But if you listen with your heart, with care, with attention, with affection, then that very listening is like a flowering. There is beauty in that listening.
As we said, art means putting everything in its right place. In the same way, to observe, to observe the world as it is, the outer world, with all the misery, poverty, degradation, vulgarity, brutality and the appalling things that are going on in the scientific world, in the technological world, in the world of religious organisations, the crookedness, the ambition, money, money, money and power – to observe all this without bringing your personal condemnation or acceptance or denial, just to observe it.
Have you ever observed a cloud? A cloud of an evening, full of light and colour, great beauty. Just to observe it without verbalising it, without wanting to see the beauty – just to observe. And then from the outer, to observe equally that which is going on inwardly with your thoughts, your ambition, your greed, your envy, your violence, your vulgarity, your sexuality – just to observe. And then you will see, if you so observe, that thing flowers; your greed flowers and dies; there is an end to it. You are never greedy again because the flower is dead, withered, because you have let it come out and die naturally.
And also to learn the art of learning. Learning implies, generally for most of us, accumulation of knowledge stored up in the brain, like a computer, and acting according to that knowledge. That is what we call learning. That is generally accepted; the meaning of the word is generally that. But we are introducing something entirely different, which is to learn without accumulation. To learn without accumulation. To learn means to have an insight into the fact.
Now, insight implies grasping the full significance of, say for instance, your greed, grasping the full nature and structure of greed, having an insight into it, a comprehension, a total comprehension of that reaction called greed. When you have an insight, there is no need to learn – you are beyond it.
Krishnamurti in Madras 1978, Talk 6
Listening to the Story of Mankind
The whole story of mankind is in you – the vast experiences, the deep-rooted fears, the anxieties, sorrow, pleasure, and all the beliefs that man has accumulated throughout the 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. You can’t buy it in any bookshop. You can’t go to any analyst because his book is the same as yours – nor to any scientist. The scientist may have a great deal of information about matter and astrophysics, but his book, the story of mankind, is the same as yours. And 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 and immoral, with a great deal of poverty, injustice and so on. Any serious man concerned with things as they are in the world at present, with all the chaos, corruption and war – the greatest crime is war – in order to bring about a radical change in our society and its structure, one must be able to read the book which is yourself. And 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 when the society is not changed, there will be more corruption, more wars and greater destruction of the human mind. That is a fact.
So to read this book, which is yourself, one must have the art of listening to what the book is saying. That is, to listen to it. To listen implies not interpreting what the book is saying – just to observe it as you would observe a cloud. You can’t do anything about the cloud, nor the 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 can’t tell the book what it should reveal. It will reveal everything.
So that must be the first art, to listen to the book. And there is another art, which is the art of observation, the art of 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 what the lines, the chapters, the verse, the poems, the beauty, the struggle, everything that it is telling you, 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. They can be programmed and they will repeat what they have been told. If a computer plays with a master of chess, the master may beat it two or three or four times, but it is learning where it has made a mistake, where it can correct it. So through experience, it is learning so that after a few games the computer can beat the master chess player. That is how our mind works. Our mind – we first experience, accumulate knowledge, store in the memory, in the brain, then thought as memory, and then action. From that action, you learn. And so the 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 either gives further knowledge, and the mind changes, modifies its past experience, and goes on. This is what a mind that is aware, awake 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 are doing all the time, which is called learning. Learning from experience. This has been the story of man, constant challenge and response to that challenge. And that response can be equal to the challenge, or not quite up to the challenge, but it learns, and accumulates knowledge, and to the next challenge it responds again more fully or less fully. So this process is going on all the time in our minds, which is called learning.
You learn a language. That is, you learn the meaning of the words, the syntax, the grammar, put two sentences together and gradually accumulate a vocabulary. And then, if you have got a good memory, you begin to speak that particular language which you have spent time on. This is the human process of learning. That is, always moving from knowledge to knowledge. And the book is the whole knowledge of mankind, which is you. It is you, and either you keep that circle going all the time or you find a way of moving out of that circle. That is, we are always functioning from the past – knowledge, modified by the present, and moving forward. The forward is modified again, which becomes the past. This process is part of our life.
So, as I said, there is the art of seeing, the art of listening and the art of learning. Learning is movement from the past to the present, modified as the future, and that is experiencing, and so on. This whole cycle is what we call learning. That is psychological learning as well as technological learning. Which means what? The mind is never free from the known.
Are we all getting somewhere together, or am I making this awfully difficult? It is not difficult. Probably, if the speaker may point out, you are not used to this kind of thinking, this kind of inquiry, constant moving forward.
So, as we said, our learning is always within the field of the known, and so the mind 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 that we are living always within the area of the known, and so our minds have become a network of words, never the actual, but words, words, words, and moving, changing, altering within the narrow, limited area of knowledge. But learning implies something totally different.
We have said very clearly what is seeing, how to see the book, read the lines, how to listen… no, 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 a book. And we are saying also that we all live within the narrow limits of the known. That has become our constant habit. Therefore our minds, if you examine your mind, is repetitive, habitual, accustomed – you believe in God, and 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 there is the art of seeing, the art of learning, the art of listening. The art of learning is never to be caught in the same pattern, or invent another pattern. The constant breaking down of patterns, the norms, the values – which doesn’t mean living without any restraint. Society is now permissive. It doesn’t mean that at all, but 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, with those basic factors, let us 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 that 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 you can find out… that there can be… truth can then come into your field. It is only such a mind that is really 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 after having completely read all the book. And 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.
Krishnamurti in Colombo 1980, Talk 2
The Art of Seeing
Please bear in mind, if I may repeat, that we are partaking in our exploration. I am not speaking to you as a lecturer giving certain ideas, but on the contrary, we are sharing together our problems – sharing, partaking, inviting each other to look at our major problems in life. And when we do look, it is possible without any effort whatsoever to bring about a transformation. That’s the point: one has to learn the art of observation. Art means the capacity to put everything in its right place. That is the real meaning of the word ‘art’, to put everything in its right place so that the mind is liberated, is freed from constant disorder.
So we are going to talk over together – together; I mean together – partaking in understanding what we mean by observing and whether we observe at all. The trees, the birds, your wife or your children – observe. And what does observation mean? We are going to go into something when we find out what it means to observe, and actually learn the art of observation – we are going to go into the question of why the brain, thought, brings about images. And in those images, we live, with those images, from which arises fear. We are going to go into that together.
So first, what do we mean by observing? The art of observing, the art of seeing. We talked about the art of listening; whether we listen at all to anybody, or we are always occupied with our own thoughts, with our own problems. Or if we do hear another, it is always translated according to the pattern, pictures and images that we have about that person. So there is never actual listening of another. So we are now talking over together this question, what it means to observe.
If we all know how to observe, perhaps we may solve all our problems. To observe, to see. Perception is not only visual, optical, but there is also a great deal of psychological interference with what we observe. We observe through many conclusions. Please go into it as we are talking, observe, see how you look at things. You have some conclusions, and you look with those conclusions, or you have experiences, and from those experience you have cultivated a memory, and that memory looks. Which is, the past looks, because memory is always the past, as knowledge is always the past. And with the eyes and memory and remembrance of the past, you look. That is a fact. So you are never actually looking. So you are always looking with distortion, with a conclusion, with an opinion, and so you never see actually what is – your desire, your conflict interferes with observation. So we are asking: is it possible to observe without the interference of the past? The past is the observer.
All right, I see I am not making myself clear. Let us bring it down to much more of a reality, which is, when you look at your wife or girlfriend, or your husband or your guru – if you have one and I hope you haven’t – when you look at them, you have already formed a picture, an image, and that image looks, that picture looks, that conclusion looks. So there is never a direct observation of anything, of your relationship with another. So the past is the observer; the past being the experiences, the accumulated memories which have become knowledge stored in the brain cells. And that knowledge, that experience, that memory looks, and so there is always an observation which is distorted. So we are asking: can you look, observe nature, the birds, the rocks, the stray dog, your wife, your husband, without the picture you have created. Can you do that? Then only it is possible to observe actually your relationship.
Can you observe the speaker, this speaker, without the image, the picture you have built around him? And if you cannot, your communication with the speaker and his communication with you is distorted – you don’t actually listen so completely. You can only listen completely to something new, but if you come with your old habits, with your old memories, with your old… all the rest of it, you cannot possibly listen totally. In the same way, if you come with a picture of the speaker, his reputation and all the blah that is round it, we cannot possibly have direct communication with each other. I have no picture about you because I don’t know you. Even if I knew you, I wouldn’t build a picture about you.
We must go into the word ‘know’ and ‘knowledge’. Sorry to complicate all this. Can you ever say you know a person? Can you ever say you know your wife or husband or guru, or whatever it is – your boss? You have knowledge about them, superficial knowledge, what they look like and so on, but one can never actually say, ‘I know,’ because the person is a living thing. And when you say, ‘I know,’ you are then caught in the image that you have created about that person.
So then you look at the person with a totally different mentality; you are actually looking at a person, or at nature, the beauty of the sky, as though for the first time.
Krishnamurti in Bombay 1978, Talk 2
The Meaning of Existence Can Only Be Discovered in Seeing and Listening
To look very clearly, we must have space. To look at a tree very, very clearly, to look at our wives or husbands, our neighbours, or to look clearly at the stars of an evening, or the mountains, there must be space. But what we call space is the space which we have created; the space we know is between the observer and the observed. There is not only a space as time but also a space as distance. We maintain this space in all our existence, in all our activity. The observer is always keeping a distance from the observed. In this little space, we are experiencing, judging, evaluating, condemning, seeking.
Please do not merely listen and hear words. If you are merely hearing words and intellectually saying, ‘It is obvious,’ then you are not actually facing facts. The intellect is a most deceptive thing. Intellect is absolutely necessary in order to reason sanely, rationally, healthily, but the whole of life is not intellect, any more than it is emotion or sentiment. If you are listening to what is being said by the speaker, you will not only see the actual fact, the actual reality of space, but, if you push it further, also see that as long as this space exists there must be conflict. This space is contradictory, and where there is contradiction there must be conflict. It is like the man who is empty, lonely, insufficient, for whom life has no meaning – he projects a future through which he will fulfil, through literature, through painting, through music, through some kind of experience or relationship. The fulfilment is the object, and the fulfiller is the observer. The observer and the observed always have a space between them, and therefore there is always that sense of conflict. If one realises that, not intellectually but actually, what is one to do?
Space is necessary. Without space, there is no freedom. We are talking psychologically. Freedom is not a reaction against society, becoming a beatnik or a Beatle, or growing long hair – all that is not freedom. Freedom is something entirely different, and that freedom can only come about when there is immense space – not the space one knows exists between the observer and the observed. That is only a very small space, and when there is only that small space, there is no contact. It is only when one is in contact, when there is no space between the observer and the observed that one is in total relationship – with a tree for instance. One is not identified with the tree, the flower, a woman, a man, or whatever it is, but when there is this complete absence of space as the observer and the observed, then there is vast space. In that space, there is no conflict; in that space, there is freedom.
Freedom is not a reaction. You cannot say, ‘I am free.’ The moment you say you are free, you are not free because you are conscious of yourself as being free from something, and therefore you have the same situation as an observer observing a tree. He has created a space, and in that space he breeds conflict. To understand this requires not intellectual agreement or disagreement, or saying, ‘I don’t understand,’ but rather it requires coming directly into contact with what is. It means seeing that all your actions, every moment of action is of the observer and the observed, and within that space, there is pleasure, pain and suffering, and the desire to fulfil, to become famous. Within that space, there is no contact with anything. Contact: relationship has a quite different meaning when the observer is no longer apart from the observed. There is this extraordinary space, and there is freedom.
To understand this space is meditation. To understand it deeply, to feel it, to be of it, to live and let it function as a part of us, to be in that space, is quite a different thing. We begin to understand then how and what to do.
We only know space because of an object. There is space created by this tent; the space inside the tent and the space outside the tent; the space between us and the mountain. The space we know is that between the observer and the star which he sees of an evening: the distance, the miles, the time it would take to go there. We accept that space, live in that space, have all our relationships in that space, and we never ask ourselves if there is a different dimension of space. We are not talking about the space of the astronauts, of the people who walk in a weightless state; that is not at all the space we are talking about. That is still of time, of the observer and the observed. We are talking of a space in which there is not the object as the observed. It is very important to find out about it, not through words because they would be symbols. The word and the symbol are not the reality. The word ‘space’ is not the actual space. We must find out, uncover that extraordinary space and feel it.
Meditation is of importance – not how you meditate, not the practice of meditation, not the way you maintain certain visions, not that childish, infantile business which unfortunately has been brought to the West from the East. You must have a great deal of scepticism, and I hope you have plenty of it when you are listening to what is being said, here or at any other place, for then you will find out for yourselves. It is a rather childish business if you come to these gatherings to experience some new, fantastic, mystical state. That you can easily achieve through some drug. If you have a serious intention to find out for yourself, not to seek but to see something totally new, to find out about a new flower, a blade of grass which you have never seen before although you may have walked along the path where it grows hundreds and thousands of times, you discover something which is a rebirth, which is not related to the past; your mind is made young, fresh, innocent.
Meditation is important because it is only the meditative mind, the mind that is looking, hearing, listening, observing, being aware of all its reactions, its subtleties, never condemning, never justifying, never trying to become famous, but just watching – it is only such a mind that has significance.
There is no one to answer your question for you. If you ask a right question, in that right question itself is the answer. But if you ask another person and accept what that other person says, you become a foolish person. Then you live on faith and hope, and you are inviting despair, anxiety and fear. But if you observe as you are walking, moving, acting, you discover for yourself the whole meaning of existence. It can be discovered only when there is this state of observing, listening. That means never resisting, never suppressing, never defending. When the mind is vulnerable, when the brain is no longer functioning as the animal with its greed, envy, ambition and aggressiveness, then it is capable of listening totally, and therefore it is discovering, seeing for itself.
What you discover is not what you want to discover. Throughout the centuries, for thousands upon thousands of years, before Sumeria, before Egypt, before India, before Greece and Rome, human beings have always been groping after this extraordinary state. Man has given it many different names according to his fancy, his culture: God, creation, Brahman. Man has always hungered after it because he has realised that life itself is so short – his life, not life itself, but his particular little corner, has very little meaning, but to which he clings, is so short. Knowing that there is death, he is hoping to find something far beyond time, space and knowledge. There is such a thing only when the mind and the heart are free from the known, and therefore there is vast space. Only in that space can there be peace and freedom, and only in that state can man realise and listen to a dimension which he cannot otherwise find, no matter what he does. He can only come to it naturally, darkly, without the wanting. He may find it, and when he comes upon it, that is enough. It may last a lifetime or a second, but that second is of the vast, timeless space.
What is important to realise, not intellectually or verbally but actually, is that one is totally confused. Which is an obvious fact. Reading any newspaper, any magazine, going to any church, listening to any political talk, one is really quite in despair to see how terribly confused one is. If one realises that one can never escape from that actual fact, one will begin to discover how one looks at the fact of what one actually is. Not what one thinks one should be; that again is an escape. Then one will discover for oneself that one is looking at it as the observer and the observed, creating space and inviting in that space infinite conflict and contradiction. When one realises all that, one’s mind is in a state of meditation.
The individual mind is the local mind, the Gstaad mind, the Switzerland mind, the English mind, the Russian mind, and so on, but the human mind is not the individual mind. The individual mind has its place; one must go to the office; one must have one’s bank account; one has his own little family; but the individual mind can never become the human mind. The human mind is an immense entity which has lived ten thousand years and more. And it is that human mind, in its travail, which can understand a dimension which is totally new, untouched by the known.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1966, Talk 10