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1933, The Art of Listening

2nd Public Talk. Stresa, Italy; 8th July, 1933

Question: It has been said that you are really enchaining the individual, not liberating him. Is this true?

Krishnamurti: After I have answered this question, you yourself can find out whether I am liberating the individual or enchaining him.

Let us take the individual as he is. What do we mean by the individual? A person who is controlled and dominated by his fears, his disappointments, his cravings, which create a certain set of circumstances that enslave him and force him to fit into a social structure. That is what we mean by an individual. Through our fears, our superstitions, our vanities and our cravings, we have created a certain set of circumstances to which we have become slaves. We have almost lost our individuality, our uniqueness. When you examine your action in daily life, you will see that it is but a reaction to a set of standards, a series of ideas.

Please follow what I am saying, and do not say that I urge man to free himself so that he can do what he likes - so that he can bring about ruin and disaster.

First of all I want to make it clear that we are but reactions to a set of standards and ideas which we have created through our suffering and fear, through our ignorance, our desire for possession. This reaction we call individual action, but to me, it is not action at all. It is a constant reaction in which there is no positive action.

I shall put it differently. At present, man is but the emptiness of reaction, nothing more. He does not act from the fullness of his nature, from his completeness, from his wisdom; he acts merely from a reaction. I maintain that chaos, utter destruction, is taking place in the world because we are not acting from our fullness, but from our fear, from the lack of understanding. Once we become aware of the fact that what we call individuality is but a series of reactions in which there is no fullness of action; once we understand that, that individuality is but a series of reactions in which there is a continual emptiness, a void, then we will act harmoniously. How are you going to find out the value of a certain standard that you hold? You will not find out by acting in opposition to that standard, but by weighing and balancing what you really think and feel against what that standard demands. You will find that the standard demands certain actions, while your own instinctive action tends in another direction. Then what are you going to do? If you do what your instinct demands, your action will lead to chaos, because our instincts have been perverted through centuries of what we call education - education that is entirely false. Your own instinct demands one type of action, but society, which we, individually, have created through centuries, society to which we have become slaves, demands another kind of action. And when you act in accordance with the set of standards demanded by society you are not acting through the fullness of comprehension.

By really pondering over the demands of your instincts and the demands of society, you will find out how you can act in wisdom. That action liberates the individual; it does not enchain him. But the liberation of the individual demands great earnestness, great searching into the depth of action; it is not the result of action born of a momentary impulse.

So you have to recognize what you now are. However well educated you may be, you are only partly a true individual; the greater part of you is determined by the reaction to society, which you have created. You are but a cog in a tremendous machine which you call society, religion, politics, and as long as you are such a cog, your action is born of limitation; it leads only to disharmony and conflict. It is your action that has resulted in our present chaos. But if you acted out of your own fullness you would discover the true worth of society and the instinct causing your action; then your action would be harmonious, not a compromise.

First of all, then, you must become conscious of the false values which have been established through the centuries and to which you have become a slave; you must become conscious of values, to find out whether they are false or true, and this you must do for yourself. No one can do it for you - and herein lies the greatness and glory of man. Thus, by discovering the right value of standards, you liberate the mind from the false standards handed down through ages. But such liberation does not mean impetuous, instinctive action leading to chaos; it means action born of the full harmony of mind and heart. Question: You have never lived the life of a poor man; you have always had the invisible security of your rich friends. You speak of the absolute giving up of every kind of security in life, but millions of people live without such security. You say that one cannot realize that which one has not experienced; consequently, you cannot know what poverty and physical insecurity really are.

Krishnamurti: This is a question frequently asked me; I have often answered it before, but I shall answer it again.

First of all, when I speak of security I mean the security that the mind establishes for its own comfort. Physical security, some degree of physical comfort, man must have in order to exist. So do not confuse the two. Now each one of you is seeking not only a physical but also a mental security, and in that search you are establishing authority. When you understand the falsity of the security which you seek, then that security ceases to have any value; then you realize that although there must be a minimum of physical security, even that security can have but little value. Then you no longer concentrate your whole mind and heart on the constant acquisition of physical security.

I shall put it differently, and I hope it will be clear; but whatever one says can be easily misunderstood. One has to pass through the illusion of words in order to discover the thought that another wishes to convey. I hope you will try to do that during this talk.

I say that your pursuit of virtue, which is merely the opposite of that which you call vice, is but a search for security. Because you have a set of standards in your mind, you pursue virtue for the satisfaction that you get from it; for to you virtue is merely a means of acquisitive security. You do not try to acquire virtue for its own intrinsic value, but for what it gives you in return. Your actions, therefore, are concerned merely with the pursuit of virtue; in themselves they are valueless. Your mind is constantly seeking virtue in order to obtain through it something else, and thus your action is always a steppingstone to some further acquisition.

Perhaps most of you here are seeking a spiritual rather than a physical security. You seek spiritual security either because you already possess physical security - a large bank account, a secure position, a high place in society - or because you cannot attain physical security and therefore turn to spiritual security as a substitute. But to me there is no such thing as security, a shelter in which your mind and emotion can take comfort. When you realize this, when your mind is free from the idea of comfort, then you will not cling to security as you do now.

You ask me how I can understand poverty when I have not experienced it. The answer is simple. Since I am seeking neither physical nor mental security, it matters nothing to me whether I am given food by my friends, or work for it. It is of very little importance to me whether I travel or do not travel. If I am asked, I come; if I am not asked, it makes little difference to me. Because I am rich in myself (and I do not say this with conceit), because I do not seek security, I have few physical needs. But if I were seeking physical comfort, I would emphasize the physical needs, I would emphasize poverty.

Let us look at this differently. Most of our quarrels throughout the world concern possession and non-possession; they are concerned with the acquisition of this and the protection of that. Now why do we lay such emphasis on possession? We do it because possession gives us power, pleasure, satisfaction; it gives us a certain assurance of individuality and affords us scope for our action, our ambition. We lay emphasis on possession because of what we derive from it.

But if we become rich in ourselves, then life will flow through us harmoniously; then possession or poverty will no longer be of great importance to us. Because we lay emphasis on possession, we lose the richness of life; whereas, if we were complete in ourselves, we should find out the intrinsic value of all things and live in the harmony of mind and heart.

Question: It has been said that you are the manifestation of the Christ in our times. What have you to say to this? If it is true, why do you not talk of love and compassion?

Krishnamurti: My friends, why do you ask such a question? Why do you ask whether I am the manifestation of Christ? You ask because you want me to assure you that I am, or that I am not the Christ, so that you can judge what I say according to the standard that you have. There are two reasons why you ask this question: You think that you know what the Christ is, and therefore you say, "I will act accordingly; or, if I say that I am the Christ, then you think that what I say must be true. I am not evading the question, but I am not going to tell you who I am. That is of very little importance, and, moreover, how can you know what or who I am even if I tell you? Such speculation is of very little importance. So let us not be concerned about who I am, but let us look at the reason for your asking this question.

You want to know who I am because you are uncertain about yourselves. I am not saying whether I am or whether I am not the Christ. I am not giving you a categorical answer, because to me the question is not important. What is important is whether what I am saying is true, and this does not depend on what I am. It is something that you can find out only by freeing yourselves from your prejudices and standards. You cannot attain real freedom from prejudice by looking towards an authority, by working towards an end, yet that is what you are doing; surreptitiously, sedulously, you are searching for an authority, and in that search you are but making yourselves into imitative machines.

You ask why I do not speak of love, of compassion. Does the flower talk about its perfume? It simply is. I have spoken about love; but to me the important thing is not to discuss what love is or what compassion is, but to free the mind from all the limitations that prevent the natural flow of what we call love and compassion. What love is, what compassion is, you yourself will know when your mind and heart are free from the limitation which we call egotism, self-consciousness; then you will know without asking, without discussion. You question me now because you think that then you can act according to what you discover from me, that then you will have an authority for your action.

So I say again, the real question is not why I do not talk about love and compassion, but rather, what prevents the natural harmonious living of man, the fullness of action which is love. I have talked about the many barriers that prevent our natural living, and I have explained that such living does not mean instinctive, chaotic action, but rich, full living. Rich, natural living has been prevented through centuries of conformity, through centuries of what we call education, which has been but a process of turning out so many human machines. But when you understand the cause of these hindrances and barriers which you have created for yourself through fear in your search for security, then you free yourself from them; then there is love. But this is a realization that cannot be discussed. We do not discuss the sunshine. It is there; we feel its warmth and perceive its penetrating beauty. Only when the sun is hidden do we discuss the sunshine. And so with love and compassion.

Question: You have never given us a clear conception of the mystery of death and of the life after death, yet you constantly speak of immortality. Surely you believe in life after death?

Krishnamurti: You want to know categorically whether there is or is not annihilation after death: that is the wrong approach to the problem. I hope you will follow what I say, for otherwise my answer will not be clear to you, and you will think that I have not answered your question. Please interrupt me if you do not understand.

What do you mean when you speak of death? Your sorrow for the death of another, and the fear of your own death. Sorrow is awakened by the death of another. When your friend dies, you become conscious of loneliness because you have relied on him, because you and he have complemented each other, because you have understood each other, supported and encouraged each other. So when your friend is gone, you are conscious of emptiness; you want that person back to fill the part in your life that he filled before.

You want your friend again, but since you cannot have him, you turn to various intellectual ideas, to various emotional concepts, which you think will give you satisfaction. You look to such ideas for consolation, for comfort, instead of finding out the cause of your suffering and freeing yourself eternally from the idea of death. You turn to a series of consolations and satisfactions which gradually diminish your intense suffering; yet, when death returns, you experience the same suffering over again.

Death comes and causes you intense sorrow. One whom you greatly love has gone, and his absence accentuates your loneliness. But instead of seeking the cause of that loneliness, you try to escape from it through mental and emotional satisfactions. What is the cause of that loneliness? Reliance on another, the incompleteness of your own life, the continual attempt to avoid life. You do not want to discover the true value of facts; instead, you attribute a value to that which is but an intellectual concept. Thus, the loss of a friend causes you suffering because that loss makes you fully conscious of your loneliness. Then there is the fear of one's own death. I want to know if I shall live after my death, if I shall reincarnate, if there is a continuance for me in some form. I am concerned with these hopes and fears because I have known no rich moment during my life; I have known no single day without conflict, no single day in which I have felt complete, as a flower. Therefore I have this intense desire for fulfillment, a desire that involves the idea of time.

What do we mean when we talk about the "I"? You are conscious of the "I" only when you are caught in the conflict of choice, in the conflict of duality. In this conflict you become conscious of yourself, and you identify yourself with the one or the other, and from this continual identification results the idea of "I". Please consider this with your heart and mind, for it is not a philosophical idea which can be simply accepted or rejected.

I say that through the conflict of choice, mind has established memory, many layers of memory; it has become identified with these layers, and it calls itself the "I", the ego. And hence arises the question, "What will happen to me when I die? Shall I have an opportunity to live again? Is there a future fulfillment?" To me, these questions are born of craving and confusion. What is important is the freeing of the mind from this conflict of choice, for only when you have thus freed yourself can there be immortality.

For most people the idea of immortality is the continuance of the "I", without end, through time. But I say such a concept is false. "Then, " you answer, "there must be total annihilation." I say that is not true either. Your belief that total annihilation must follow the cessation of the limited consciousness we call the "I", is false. You cannot understand immortality that way, for your mind is caught up in opposites. Immortality is free from all opposites; it is harmonious action in which the mind is utterly freed from conflict of the "I".

I say there is immortality, immortality which transcends all our conceptions, theories and beliefs. Only when you have full individual comprehension of opposites, will you be free from opposites. As long as mind creates conflict through choice, there must be consciousness as memory which is the "I", and it is the "I" which fears death and longs for its own continuance. Hence there is not the capacity to understand the fullness of action in the present, which is immortality.

A certain brahmin, according to an old Indian legend, decided to give away some of his possessions in the performance of a religious sacrifice. Now this brahmin had a little son who watched his father and plied him with many questions until the father became annoyed. At last the son asked, "To whom are you going to give me?" And the father replied in anger, "I shall give you to Death." Now it was held in ancient times that whatever was said had to be carried out; so the brahmin had to send his son to Death, in accordance with his rashly spoken words. As the boy made his way to the house of Death, he listened to what many teachers had to say about death and life after death. When he arrived at the house of Death, he found that Death was absent; so he waited for three days without food, in accordance with the ancient custom which forbade eating in the absence of the host. When at last Death arrived, he apologized humbly for having kept a brahmin waiting, and as a token of regret he granted the boy any three wishes that he might desire.

For his first wish the boy asked to be returned to his father; for his second, he requested that he be instructed in certain ceremonial rites. But the boy's third wish was not a request but a question: "Tell me, Death", he asked, "the truth about annihilation. Of the teachers to whom I have listened on my way here, some say that there is annihilation; others say that there is continuity. Tell me, O Death, what is true." "Do not ask me that question", replied Death. But the boy insisted. So in answer to that question Death taught the boy the meaning of immortality. Death did not tell him whether there is continuity, whether there is life after death, or whether there is annihilation; Death taught him rather the meaning of immortality.

You want to know whether there is continuity. Some scientists are now proving that there is. Religions affirm it, many people believe it, and you may believe it if you choose. But to me, it is of little importance. There will always be conflict between life and death. Only when you know immortality is there neither beginning nor end; only then does action imply fulfillment, and only then is it infinite. So I say again, the idea of reincarnation is of little importance. In the "I" there is nothing lasting; the "I" is composed of a series of memories involving conflict. You cannot make that "I" immortal. Your whole basis of thought is a series of achievements and therefore a continuous effort, a continuous limitation of consciousness. Yet you hope in that way to realize immortality, to feel the ecstasy of the infinite. I say that immortality is reality. You cannot discuss it; you can know it in your action, action born of the fullness, the richness, of wisdom; but that fullness, that richness, you cannot attain by listening to a spiritual guide or by reading a book of instruction. Wisdom comes only when there is fullness of action, when there is complete awareness of your whole being in action; then you will see that all the books and teachers that pretend to guide you to wisdom can teach you nothing. You can know that which is immortal, everlasting, only when your mind is free from all sense of individuality which is created by the limited consciousness, which is the "I".

Question: What are the causes of the misunderstanding which makes us ask you questions instead of acting and living?

Krishnamurti: It is good to question, but how do you receive the answers? You ask a question, and receive a reply. But what do you do with that reply? You have asked me what there is after death, and I have given you my answer. Now what will you do with that answer? Will you store it in some corner of your brain and let it remain there? You have intellectual granaries in which you collect ideas that you do not understand, but which you hope will serve you in trouble and sorrow. But if you understand, if you give yourself heart and mind to what I say, then you will act; then action will be born of your own fullness.

Now there are two ways of asking a question: You may ask a question when you are in the intensity of suffering, or you may ask a question intellectually, when you are bored and at your ease. One day you want to know intellectually; another day you ask because you suffer and want to know the reason for the suffering. You can really know only when you question in the intensity of suffering, when you do not desire to escape from suffering, when you meet it face to face; only then will you know the value of my answer, its human value for man.

Question: Exactly what do you mean by action without aim? If it is the immediate response of our whole being in which aim and action are one, how can all the action of our daily life be without aim? Krishnamurti: You yourself have given the answer to the question, but you have given it without understanding. What will you do in your daily life without an aim? In your daily life you may have a plan. But when you experience intense suffering, when you are caught in a great crisis that demands immediate decision, then you act without aim; then there is no motive in your action, because you are trying to find out the cause of suffering with your whole being. But most of you are not inclined to act fully. You are constantly trying to escape from suffering, you try to avoid suffering; you do not want to confront it.

I shall explain what I mean in another way. If you are a Christian, you look at life from a particular point of view; if you are a Hindu, you look at it from another angle. In other words, the background to your mind colours your view of life, and all that you perceive is seen only through that coloured view. Thus you never see life as it really is; you look at it only through a screen of prejudice, and therefore your action must ever be incomplete, it must ever have a motive. But if your mind is free from all prejudice, then you meet life as it is; then you meet life fully, without the search for a reward or the attempt to escape from punishment.

Question: What is the relationship between technique and life, and why do most of us mistake the one for the other?

Krishnamurti: Life, truth, is to be lived; but expression demands a technique. Now in order to paint, you need to learn a technique; but a great artist, if he felt the flame of creative impulse, would not be a slave to technique. If you are rich within yourself, your life is simple. But you want to arrive at that complete richness through such external means as the simplicity of dress, the simplicity of dwelling, through asceticism and self-discipline. In other words, the simplicity that results from inner richness you want to obtain by means of technique. There is no technique that will guide you to simplicity; there is no path that will lead you to the land of truth. When you understand that with your whole being, then technique will take its proper place in your life.

1933, The Art of Listening

2nd Public Talk. Stresa, Italy; 8th July, 1933

Jiddu Krishnamurti. The Art of Listening. The collected works of J.Krishnamurti, 1933.


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