Art of listening
J. Krishnamurti declared that the very purpose of his existence was `to set man totally, unconditionally free'. Yet, the words were pointers and feeble substitutes for the `real thing', because `verbally we can go only so far: ... What will open the door is daily awareness and attention', writes S. RAMACHANDER.
"Any person who pays attention, who wants to hear, who is passionate and not just casual about it and who really says, `I must find the source of life' will listen. He will listen, not to me; he will just listen. It's in the air... And if it is the truth, it will operate."
TO Krishnamurti, listening itself was an art, and a miracle. When the brain was absolutely quiet and there was no sound made by the word that was real listening. So how you received a question mattered much more than finding an answer. When one listened to it totally and did not translate it nor convert it into an idea, something tremendous happened. "Do you feel it, it is there in this room" as he once said to his biographer and friends when deep in a meditative conversation. Such a dialogue itself was real meditation, not just sitting and breathing according to a particular system. In the taped discussions, you can hear Krishnaji talk, for instance, to a famous Vedanta scholar or answer mundane questions from typically perplexed householders and 9-to-5 office-goers, weary from the daily struggles of Mankind.
When Swami Venkatesananda asks why it all seems so crystal clear and so true when sitting next to him and talking, but very different when reading the same thing from a book, Krishnaji replies: "I agree.... You are a serious person and the other person being serious there is a contact, a relationship... there must be a meeting at the same level, at the same time, with the same intensity." Without this, one is apt to say, "Well, it was very nice talking about all these things" and walk away. And that, alas, is what many of us are apt to do. If on the other hand, you are genuinely interested in a profound question about how to live rightly and what is the right action, and are "burning with it" then these words bear a vastly different meaning. "The speaker has said that going to an office everyday from 9-to-5 is an intolerable imprisonment. But in any society all kinds of jobs have to be done. Are K's teachings therefore only for the few?" Or, "Is sex compatible with religious life?" is a good example of probing questions he faced.
Many who listened to him confessed to feeling that they were alone with Krishnamurti and he spoke to their innermost troubles as if he read their mind. There was no magic to this. He was so completely without a sense of separateness, and spoke from such depth and silence, that he could hold a clear mirror up to the whole world. And so the world saw itself reflected in his verbal picture. Krishnaji revealed to us how a questioner could never be free of his confusion until he saw himself as the root of the problem and that the separate person and the one that wanting to do something about the separation were both the same! It is an illusion by which the brain divides one into two the observer and the observed. When one actually sees this, the change is almost magical, at the core of one's being. Therefore there is nothing that the "you" can do about it. Anything that you attempt will only strengthen this false dichotomy. Until this point the brain itself follows Krishnaji in tranquillity on an intellectual level. Then thinking takes over and compares: "Ah, but Sankara or the Buddha or Jesus said the same thing". We are brought up on comparison, our education is based on it, and so is our culture. "So there is everlasting struggle to be something other than what one is. The understanding of what one is uncovers creativeness, but comparison breeds competitiveness, ruthlessness, ambition, which we think brings about progress. Progress has only led so far to more ruthless wars and misery than the world has ever known. To bring up children without comparison is true education". You will see for yourself here that K might well have been speaking to any one of us in person.
It is always difficult to keep simple and clear. The world worships success, the bigger the better; to be a real revolutionary requires a complete change of heart and mind, and how few want to free themselves. One cuts the surface roots; but to cut the deep feeding roots of mediocrity, success, needs something more than words, methods, compulsions. There seem to be few, but they are the real builders the rest labour in vain. David Bohm, the renowned physicist, was drawn to K through the shared insight that the observer was an involved entity in observation and affected the thing observed. When those two sat exploring honestly and openly together, there was a palpable intensity and energy as well as a great deal of warmth and love, which Bohm said he felt only when he talked with Einstein. Their public dialogues were very helpful to Westerners, a way to come to Krishnamurti thanks to David Bohm's scientific mind.
To Krishnaji the only revolution was within the mind, the content of one's consciousness. He was once asked: You say that we should revolt against society, and at same time you say that we should not have ambition. Is not the desire to improve society an ambition? He replied: To revolt within society in order to make it a little better, to bring about certain reforms, is like the revolt of prisoners to improve their life within the prison walls; and such revolt is no revolt at all, it is just mutiny. Do you see the difference? Revolt within society is like the mutiny of prisoners who want better food, better treatment within the prison; but revolt born of understanding is an individual breaking away from society, and that is creative revolution. Krishnaji maintained that the mind that understood the structure of society based upon greed and acquisitiveness, and broke away from it was in constant revolution. "It is an expansive, a creative mind; therefore, like a stone thrown into a pool of still water, its action produces waves, and those waves will form a different civilisation altogether". He goes on to ask his friend of many years, Pupul Jayakar to put this into words. "Do you see the immensity of all this? ... Do you say, I've got the perfume of it?" And the usually fluent Pupul Jayakar gently demurs. Krishnaji reminds us that Nagarjuna, Sankara and the Buddha all came to this point that "you must deny the whole thing, everything, the very movement of the psyche". He then muses: "Yes it is there in the tradition. Now why haven't they pursued that (the denying of the me, not the world)? - And they have ended up making a mess of their lives"! K said this at the end of an intense dialogue with a long time friend. "Say for instance, you tell me that time-thought is the whole movement of man's life; therefore limited. I listen to it without the sound of the word. I've captured the significance, the depth of that statement, and I can't lose it. That means, the sound has conveyed the fact that it is so. And what is so is absolute, always." The ending of thought-time is to be nothing. Nothing contains the whole universe not my petty little fears, petty little anxieties ... nothing means the entire world of compassion. And therefore that nothingness is supreme intelligence. That's all there is. To his listeners he repeatedly offered hints, but seldom a direction. If some of them, even a few, were to "give their lives to this" to seriously explore together and live the teachings, then the "other" would come. But it could not be invited. Because, quite simply, where you are not, (only then) the other is.
Krishnamurti declared that the very purpose of his existence was "to set man totally, unconditionally free" and his body existed only in order to talk. Yet, all the words were pointers and feeble substitutes for the `real thing', because "verbally we can go only so far: what lies beyond cannot be put into words ... no words or explanations can open the door. What will open the door is daily awareness and attention awareness of how we speak, what we say, how we walk, what we think. ... And out of this choiceless awareness perhaps the door will open and you will know what that dimension is in which there is no conflict and no time".
The writer is the director of the Academy of Management Excellence, Chennai.
The first part of this article appeared in The Hindu Sunday Magazine issue dated October 27, 2002.
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