Krishnamurti on Listening
Urgency of Change: The Krishnamurti Podcast
This week’s episode on Listening has four sections.
This first extract (2:19) is from Krishnamurti’s first talk in Saanen 1962, titled ‘The act of listening’.
The second part (35:04) is from the sixth talk in Saanen 1983, titled ‘In listening is a miracle’.
The third part (44:50) is from the fourth talk in Ojai 1977, titled ‘The art of listening’.
The final extract this week (50:34) is from the ninth talk in Saanen 1965, titled ‘You are listening to yourself and not to the speaker’.
The Act of Listening
From the very beginning, I think we should be quite clear what the intention of these gatherings is. Many outward changes are taking place in the world; there are many pressures, many demands, innumerable problems, and it seems to me that, to meet the situation, there must be a complete transformation of the psyche. I mean by the word ‘psyche’ the mind, the whole process of our thinking – our attitudes, our values, our habits, the many beliefs and dogmas that we have cultivated for centuries. All this, I feel, must be completely transformed if we are to meet the urgent problems of life, and that is what I propose to talk about during these meetings – how to bring about this radical change, this transformation of the mind.
So these talks are very serious, they are not merely an amusement for a Sunday morning or any other morning. If you are at all serious, and I hope you are, then you will listen completely, not just taking in a little part here and there; you will listen to the totality of what is being said, and then you and I will be able to explore together how to bring about this radical revolution in ourselves. By the word ‘serious’, I mean the intention to pursue a particular subject to the very end, whether you like it or not, to explore totally a particular aspect of life. We are not going to discuss outward problems such as the Common Market, how to stop the atom bomb, whether we should go to the moon, and so on, but I think these outward problems will be understood if we can understand the inward problems.
It also seems to me that the outward problem is not so very different from the inward problem. When one comes to think of it, there is really no difference, at least no line of demarcation between the outer and the inner. Living is like a tide that goes out and comes in. Concentrating on the inward process of one’s own being will have very little meaning if we do not understand the outward process as well. The outward activities of the mind correspond to the inward activities, and to concentrate on one while neglecting the other will not lead us very far.
As I said, these talks are very serious, they are not a form of entertainment, and certainly it is not our purpose merely to exchange ideas. Ideas and concepts are organised thought, and they have very little significance in bringing about a radical revolution in the mind. Ideas don’t change a human being, they merely alter the pattern of existence. Most of us indulge in ideas, accepting new ideas and discarding old ones, or exchanging one belief for another; but such exchange, such substitution is merely a superficial adjustment; it does not bring about radical transformation.
Therefore we are not going to indulge in ideas, in formulas, in concepts. We are going to deal not with myths but with psychological facts, with our own fears, hopes and despairs. And we are capable of meeting these psychological facts only when we know how to listen to them, how to observe them without condemnation or interpretation. So I think it is important to understand what we mean by listening, by observing, and I would like to go into that a little bit this morning.
Transformation is not brought about by the action of will, or by desire, which is another form of will; it cannot come about through effort, which is again the outcome of an urge, a motive, a compulsion. Nor can this transformation, this inner revolution take place as the result of any influence or pressure, or by mere adjustment. It can only come about effortlessly – and I will go into that later on. But as this is the first talk it must obviously be an introductory affair, and it is important to begin by understanding what we mean by listening.
I do not know if you have ever actually listened to anything. Try listening to that stream that is flowing by, without giving it a name, without giving it a significance, without letting it interfere with your attention – merely listen to it. You can listen only when there is no motive that makes you listen. If you have a motive, then the motive is important, not the act of listening. You are then listening in order to get or to achieve something, in order to arrive somewhere, so your attention is divided; therefore you are not listening.
Do please pay a little attention to this issue, because if you don’t fully comprehend it I am afraid you will totally miss the whole meaning of these talks.
To me, any form of effort to bring about an inner revolution perverts or denies that very revolution. Transformation can come about only when there is no effort of any kind, and that is why it is very important to understand what it means to listen.
You cannot listen if you are comparing what you hear with what you already know. Then you are merely interpreting; and where there is interpretation there is no listening. If you are condemning what you hear because you think it should be different, or because you hold certain opinions, you are not listening. And you are certainly not listening if you are following an established authority, substituting one authority for another.
So the act of listening is extraordinarily difficult, because we are conditioned to accept or deny what we hear, to condemn it, or to compare it with what we already know. There is almost no unconditioned listening. When I say something, your natural or rather your conditioned response is to accept or to deny it, or to say that you know it already, or that it is in such-and-such a book, or that such-and-such a person has said it. In other words, your mind is occupied with its own activity; and when that activity is going on, you are not listening.
Surely, this is all very logical, rational and sane, isn’t it? We are not talking about something mysterious.
Now, the act of listening completely to something that is factual – to listen to it without opinion, without judgment, without condemnation, without any interference of the word – is extremely arduous. It requires total attention, and so also does the act of seeing. I wonder if ever see anything at all – a tree, a mountain, a river, the face of one’s wife or husband, of a child, or of a passer-by. I question it because words, ideas and formulas interfere with what we are seeing. You say, ‘What a lovely mountain!’ and that very expression prevents you from looking. This is again a psychological fact. To see something completely your mind must be quiet, without the interference of ideas. The next time you observe a flower, notice how difficult it is to look at it non-botanically – particularly if you happen to know something about botany. You know the species, you know all the varieties of that flower, and to look at it without any interference of the word, without the intrusion of your knowledge, of your likes and dislikes, is again very arduous. The mind is always so busy, so distracted; it is constantly chattering, never seeing, never listening. But when the mind is quiet, listening and seeing do not require effort. If you are actually listening to what is being said now, and therefore understanding what is being said, you will find that your listening is without effort.
Inward or psychological revolution implies a complete transformation, not only of the conscious mind but of the unconscious as well. You can easily change the outward pattern of your existence or the way you think. You may cease to belong to any Church at all, or you may leave one Church and join another. You may or may not belong to a particular political or religious group. All that can be changed very easily by circumstances, by your fear, by your wanting greater reward, and so on. The superficial mind can easily be changed, but it is much more difficult to bring about a change in the unconscious – and that is where our difficulty lies. And the unconscious cannot be changed through volition, desire or will. It must be approached negatively.
To approach the total consciousness negatively implies the act of listening; it implies seeing facts without the interference of opinion, judgment or condemnation. In other words, there must be negative thinking. Most of us are accustomed through training and experience to conform, to obey, to follow established moral, ethical, ideological authorities. But what we are discussing here demands that there be no authority of any kind, because the moment you begin to explore, there is no authority. Each moment is a discovery. And how can a mind discover if it is bound by authority, by its own previous experiences? So negative thinking implies the uncovering of one’s own assertive, dogmatic beliefs and experiences, one’s own anxieties, hopes and fears; it implies seeing all these things negatively, that is, not with the desire to alter or to go beyond them, but merely observing them without evaluation.
To observe without evaluation is to observe without the word. I do not know if you have ever tried looking at something without the word, the symbol. The relationship of words to what they describe constitutes thought, which is the response of memory; and to look at a fact without words is to look at it without the intervention of thought.
You try it sometime. As you go out this morning, look at the green valley, at those snow-capped mountains, or listen to that river, without a thought – which doesn’t mean that you are asleep. It doesn’t mean that you look at them with a blank mind. On the contrary, to look at something without the intervention of thought, you have to be totally aware. And this is an arduous task because we are so conditioned from childhood to judge, to evaluate. We are conditioned by words. We say of a person that he is a communist or a Catholic or an Englishman or an American or Swiss, and through that screen of words we look and listen; so we never see, we never hear.
That is why it is so important to be free of our slavery to words. Take the word ‘God’. We have to be completely free of that word, especially when we consider ourselves to be religious or spiritual; for the word is not the thing. The word ‘God’ is obviously not God; and to understand what that extraordinary something is, one must be free of the word – which means being inwardly free of all the influences and associations of that word. This in turn implies neither believing nor disbelieving; it implies not belonging to any religion, to any organised system of thought. Only then is there a possibility of finding out for ourselves whether there is something beyond the word, beyond the measure of the mind.
So these talks are a grave matter; they require your whole attention in the discovery of yourself, not tomorrow, not the next minute, but at the moment you are listening, in the immediate present. Without understanding the mechanism, the whole process of one’s own mind, one cannot go very far; and we have to take a journey into the timeless. To do this, we must begin very near with ourselves. That is why it is so important to be aware of the operations of one’s own mind, which is the beginning of self-knowledge. Without knowing yourself, you have no basis for further inquiry; and to know yourself demands, not an accumulative process of knowledge but the knowing of yourself from moment to moment. You have to see yourself as you are from moment to moment, without interpreting what you see and without accumulating knowledge about yourself; you have to observe with choiceless awareness.
That is why I say that these talks demand a gravity of purpose on your part. They demand that you come regularly or not at all, because you cannot understand the whole thing by casually listening to one talk. You wouldn’t go to a mathematician and ask him to teach you the whole universe of mathematics in a few minutes. That would be too absurd, utterly immature. Similarly, if you are at all serious about this matter, you will attend the talks regularly, and you will pay attention – effortless attention. By effortless attention, I mean a state of attention in which you do not merely listen to what the speaker is saying, but through the words of the speaker, you discover your own process of thinking, which is to come upon the facts within yourself.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1962, Talk 1
In Listening Is a Miracle
Do we, each one of us, listen, hear what we say to each other? Or you are talking, you want to tell me something and I want to tell you something. What you want to tell me becomes much more important than what I want to tell you, so there is this battle going on. You want to say – you are talking to yourself most of the time and another comes along and wants to tell you something. You haven’t the time or the inclination or the intention to listen, and so you never listen to the other chap. And so there is this constant deafness, a sense of space in deafness, so that we never listen to each other.
There is not only hearing with the ear but also listening to the meaning of the word, the significance of the word, and also to the sound of the word – the sound, which is very important. When there is sound there is space. Otherwise, there is no sound. Unless you have space, then only in that space sound can take place.
So the art of listening, if one may point out most respectfully, is not only hearing with the ear but also listening to the sound of the word. The word has a sound, and to listen to that sound there must be space. Whereas if you listen all the time translating what is being said into your own prejudices and your own pleasurable or unpleasurable process, then you are not listening at all. Is this clear?
Can we this morning attempt to listen not only to what the speaker is saying but also listen to your own reaction to what is being said – not correct your reaction to conform to what is being said? So there is this process going on: the speaker is saying something which you are listening to, and also you are listening to your reactions to what is being said, and give space to the sound that your own reactions are making, and also to what is being said. It means a tremendous attention, not just getting into a kind of trance and going off, then saying, ‘That was a marvellous speech,’ and, you know, ‘It was very nice that morning, it was a very good speech, and it is this, it is that, I was glad I was there, he told me a lot of things which I had not thought about,’ (laughter) and all that nonsense. Whereas if you listen – and in that listening, there is a miracle. The miracle is that you are so completely with the fact of what is being said and listening to that, and listening also to your own responses – a simultaneous process. You listen to what is being said and your reaction to what is being said, which is instantaneous, and then listen to the whole sound of it, which means having space. So you are giving your whole attention to listening. Am I making this clear?
This is an art, not to be learnt by going to college, passing some degrees showing that you have learnt listening, but to listen to everything; to that river going by, to the birds, to the aeroplane, to your wife or your husband – which is much more difficult because you have got used to each other; you know almost what they are going say. And they know very well what you are going to say, after ten days or after ten years. (Laughter) So you have shut your hearing altogether – you understand?
Here we are asking something entirely different: to learn, not tomorrow but now as we are sitting here, to learn the art of listening. That is, to listen, to be aware of your own responses and allowing space to the sound of your own beat. And to listen is a total process, not separate, but a unitary movement of listening. This is art. This is an art that demands your highest attention. Because when you so attend, there is no listener, there is only this fact. The reality of the fact, or the falseness of the fact, is seen. I hope we are doing it this morning because we are going to go into something very, very complex. Unless of course you want to go off into some romantic trance – which is all right – but if you really want to probe into the nature of a brain that is religious and a meditative brain, you have to listen very, very attentively to everything – (sound of aeroplane) – to that aeroplane, so that there is no difference between that noise and the noise the speaker is making and the noise you are making. You understand? It is like a tremendous river moving.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1983, Talk 6
The Art of Listening
The word ‘art’ is generally applied to artists, those who paint, those who write poems, do sculpture and so on, but the meaning of that word ‘art’ means giving everything its right place, putting all our thoughts, feelings, anxieties and so on, in their right place. So the word means giving their proper place, proper proportion, putting everything in harmony – not just painting a picture or writing a poem.
So, if you will this morning apply the art, the art of listening. We rarely listen to anybody. We are so full of our own conclusions, experiences, problems and judgements, we have no space in which to listen. We ought to have some space so that as two friends, you and I, 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, knowledge, problems and conclusions; when you’re free to listen, not interpreting, not judging, not evaluating, but actually the art of listening. To listen with great care, attention and affection. And if we have such an art – rather, 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, sees the fact instantly. And if one listens rightly, as we pointed out the meaning of that word ‘right’ – correctly, accurately, not what you think is right or wrong – in the art of listening there is freedom. 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.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1977, Talk 4
You Are Listening to Yourself and Not to the Speaker
Questioner: While I am here listening to you, I seem to understand, but when I am away from here, I don’t understand, even though I try to apply what you have been saying.
KRISHNAMURTI: I hope you will not think I am rude, but you are not listening to me. That is where the mistake is.
What is the speaker saying? He is just pointing out certain things. The speaker is yourself speaking aloud. Do please understand this simple fact. You are listening to yourself, and not to the speaker. If you are listening to the speaker, he becomes your leader, your way to understanding, which is a horror, an abomination because you have then established the hierarchy of authority. So what you are doing here is listening to yourself. You are looking at the picture the speaker is painting, which is your own picture, not the speaker’s. If that much is clear, that you are looking at yourself, then you can say, ‘I see myself as I am, and I don’t want to do anything about it,’ and that is the end of it. But if you say, ‘I see myself as I am, and there must be a change,’ then you begin to work out of your own understanding, which is entirely different from applying what the speaker is saying. If you want to work hard, you go at it; if you don’t, that is your affair. But you have to create a new world, a new society, a new group of people, and you cannot do that by saying, ‘I have listened to the speaker and I want to know how to apply what he is talking about.’
You are listening not to the speaker but to yourself, and you can listen to yourself either casually, indifferently, curiously, or attentively. If you are really attentive, then you have the energy, the passion to go on listening to yourself, and that is all you have to do. To listen to yourself means having no resistance to what you are listening to. There is no comparison, no saying, ‘This is good and that is bad,’ or, ‘I must be this and not that’ – all such stupid, petty nonsense is gone. Out of that passion and energy, there is action – the total thing is action. You don’t say, ‘Having listened to the speaker, I want to apply it.’ You cannot apply what you are listening to – if you do, it becomes tawdry, juvenile. But if, as the speaker is speaking, you are listening to yourself, then out of that listening there is clarity, there is sensitivity; out of that listening, the mind becomes healthy, strong. Neither obeying nor resisting, it becomes alive, intense. And it is only such a human being who can create a new generation, a new world.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1965, Talk 9