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1933, The Art of Listening

Talk in The Colosseum. Oslo, Norway; 10th September, 1933

Friends, you know, we go from belief to belief, from experience to experience, hoping and searching for some permanent understanding that will give us enlightenment, wisdom; and thereby we also hope to discover for ourselves what truth is. So we begin to search for truth, God, or life. Now to me, this very search for truth is a denial of it, for that everlasting life, that truth, can be understood only when mind and heart are free from all ideas, from all doctrines, from all beliefs, and when we understand the true function of individuality.

I say that there is an everlasting life of which I know and of which I speak, but one cannot understand it by searching for it. What is our search now? It is but an escape from our daily sufferings, confusions, conflicts; an escape from our confusion of love in which there is a constant battle of possession, of jealousy; an escape from the continual striving for existence. So we say to ourselves, "If I can understand what truth is, if I can find out what God is, then I will understand and conquer the confusion, the struggle, the pain, the innumerable battles of choice. Let me therefore find out what is, and in understanding that, I shall understand the everyday life in which there is so much suffering." To me, the understanding of truth lies not in the search for it; it lies in understanding the right significance of all things; the whole significance of truth is in the transient, and not apart from it.

So our search for truth is but an escape. Our search and our inquiry, our study of philosophies, our imitation of ethical systems and our continual groping for that reality which I say exists, are but ways of escape. To understand that reality is to understand the cause of our various conflicts, struggles, sufferings; but through the desire to escape from these conflicts, we have built up many subtle ways to avoid conflict, and in these we take shelter. Thus, truth becomes but another shelter in which mind and heart can take comfort.

Now that very idea of comfort is a hindrance; that very conception from which we derive consolation is but a flight from the conflict of everyday life. For centuries we have been building avenues of escape, such as authority; it may be the authority of social standards, or of public opinion, or of religious doctrines; may be an external standard, such as the more educated people today are discarding, or an inner standard, such as one creates after discarding the external. But a mind that has regard for authority, that is, a mind that accepts without question, a mind that imitates, cannot understand the freedom of life. So, though we have built up through past centuries this authority that gives us a momentary pacification, a momentary consolation, a transient comfort, that authority has but become our escape. Likewise, imitation - the imitation of standards, the imitation of a system or a method of living; to me, this also is a hindrance. And our searching for certainty is but a way of escape; we want to be sure, our minds desire to cling to certainties, so that from that background we can look at life, from that shelter we can go forth.

Now to me, all these are hindrances which prevent that natural, spontaneous action which alone frees the mind and heart so that man can live harmoniously, so that man can understand the true function of individuality.

When we suffer we seek certainty, we want to turn to values that will give us comfort - and that comfort is but memory. Then again we come into contact with life, and again we experience suffering. So we think that we learn from suffering, that we gather understanding from suffering. A belief or an idea or a theory gives us momentary satisfaction when we suffer, and from this satisfaction we think that we have understood or gathered understanding from that experience. Thus we go on from suffering to suffering, learning how to adjust ourselves to outward conditions. That is, we do not understand the real movement of suffering; we merely become more and more cunning and subtle in our dealings with suffering. This is the superficiality of modern civilization and culture: many theories, many explanations of our suffering are put forward, and in these explanations and theories we take shelter, going from experience to experience, suffering, learning, and hoping through all this to find wisdom.

I say that wisdom is not to be bought. Wisdom does not lie in the process of accumulation; it is not the result of innumerable experiences; it is not acquired through learning. Wisdom, life itself, can be understood only when the mind is free from this sense of search, this search for comfort, this imitation, for these are but the ways of escape that we have been cultivating for centuries. If you examine our structure of thought, of emotion, our whole civilization, you will see that it is but a process of escape, a process of conformity. When we suffer, our immediate reaction is a desire for relief, for consolation, and we accept the theories offered without finding out the cause of our suffering; that is, we are momentarily satisfied, we live superficially, and so we do not find out profoundly for ourselves what the cause of our suffering is.

Let me put this in another way: Though we have experiences, these experiences do not keep us awake, but rather put us to sleep, because our minds and hearts have been trained for generations merely to imitate, to conform. After all, when there is any kind of suffering, we should not look to that suffering to teach us, but rather to keep us fully awake, so that we can meet life with complete awareness - not in that semi-conscious state in which almost every human being meets life.

I shall explain this again, so as to make myself clear; for if you understand this you will naturally understand what I am going to say.

I say that life is not a process of learning, accumulating. Life is not a school in which you pass examinations in learning, in learning from experiences, learning from actions, from suffering. Life is meant to be lived, not to be learnt from. If you regard life as something from which you have to learn, you act but superficially. That is, if action, if daily living, is but a means towards a reward, towards an end, then action itself has no value. Now when you have experiences, you say that you must learn from them, understand them. Therefore experience itself has no value to you because you are looking for a gain through suffering, through action, through experience. But to understand action completely, which to me is the ecstasy of life, the ecstasy which is immortality, mind must be free of the idea of acquisition, the idea of learning through experience, through action. Now both mind and heart are caught in this idea of acquisition, this idea that life is a means to something else. But when you see the falseness of that conception, you will no longer treat suffering as a means to an end. Then you no longer take comfort in ideas, in beliefs; you no longer take shelter in standards of thought or feeling; you then begin to be fully aware, not for the purpose of seeing what you can gain from it, but in order intelligently to release action from imitation and from the search for a reward. That is, you see the significance of action, and not merely what profit it will bring you. Now most minds are caught in the idea of acquisition, the search for a reward. Suffering comes to awaken them to this illusion, to awaken them from their state of semi-consciousness, but not to teach them a lesson. When mind and heart act with a sense of duality, thus creating opposites, there must be conflict and suffering. What happens when you suffer? You seek immediate relief, whether it be in drink or in amusement or in the idea of God. To me, these are all the same, for they are merely avenues of escape that the subtle mind has devised, making of suffering a superficial thing. Therefore I say, become fully aware of your actions, whatever they may be; then you will perceive how your mind is continually finding an escape; you will see that you are not confronting experiences completely, with all your being, but only partially, semi-consciously.

We have built up many hindrances that have become shelters in which we take refuge in the moment of pain. These shelters are but escapes and therefore in themselves of no inherent worth. But to find out these shelters, these false values that we have created about us, which hold and imprison us, one must not try to analyze the actions which spring from these shelters. To me, analysis is the very negation of complete action. One cannot understand a hindrance by examining it. There is no understanding in the analysis of a past experience, for it is dead; there is understanding only in the living action of the present. Therefore self-analysis is destructive. But to discover the innumerable barriers that surround you is to become fully conscious, to become fully aware in whatever action is taking place about you, or in whatever you are doing. Then all the past hindrances, such as tradition, imitation, fear, defensive reactions, the desire for security, for certainty - all these come into activity; and only in that which is active is there understanding. In this flame of awareness, mind and heart free themselves from all hindrances, all false values; then there is liberation in action, and that liberation is the freedom of life which is immortality.

Question: Is it only from sorrow and suffering that one awakens to the reality of life?

Krishnamurti: Suffering is the thing with which we are most familiar, with which we are constantly living. We know love and its joy, but in their wake there follow many conflicts. Whatever gives us the greatest shock which we call suffering, will keep us awake to meet life fully, will help us to discard the many illusions which we have created about us. It is not only suffering or conflict that keeps us awake, but anything that gives us a shock, that makes us question all the false standards and values which we have created about us in our search for security. When you suffer greatly, you become wholly aware, and in that intensity of awareness you discover true values. This liberates the mind from creating further illusions.

Question: Why am I afraid of death? And what is beyond death?

Krishnamurti: I think that one is afraid of death because one feels that one has not lived. If you are an artist, you may be afraid that death will take you away before you have finished your work; you are afraid because you have not fulfilled. Or if you are a man in ordinary life, without special capacities, you are afraid because you also have not fulfilled. You say, "If I am cut off from my fulfillment, what is there? As I do not understand this confusion, this toil, this incessant choice and conflict, is there further opportunity for me?" You have a fear of death when you have not fulfilled in action; that is, you are afraid of death when you do not meet life wholly, completely, with a fullness of mind and heart. Therefore, the question is not why you are afraid of death, but rather, what prevents you from meeting life fully. Everything must die, must wear out. But if you have the understanding that enables you to meet life fully, then in that there is eternal life, immortality, neither beginning nor end, and there is no fear of death. Again, the question is not how to free the mind from the fear of death, but how to meet life fully, how to meet life so that there shall be fulfillment.

To meet life fully, one must be free of all defensive values. But our minds and hearts are suffocated with such values, which make our action incomplete, and hence there is fear of death. To find true value, to be free of this continual fear of death, and of the problem of the hereafter, you must know the true function of the individual, both in the creative as well as in the collective.

Now as to the second part of the question: What is beyond death? Is there a hereafter? Do you know why a person usually asks such questions, why he wants to know what is on the other side? He asks because he does not know how to live in the present; he is more dead than alive. He says, "Let me find out what comes after death", because he has not the capacity to understand this eternal present. To me, the present is eternity; eternity lies in the present, not in the future. But to such a questioner life has been a whole series of experiences without fulfillment, without understanding, without wisdom. Therefore to him the hereafter is more enticing than the present, and hence the innumerable questions concerning what lies beyond. The man who inquires into the hereafter is already dead. If you live in the eternal present, the hereafter does not exist; then life is not divided into the past, present, and future. Then there is only completeness, and in that there is the ecstasy of life.

Question: Do you think that communication with the spirits of the dead is a help to the understanding of life in its totality?

Krishnamurti: Why should you think the dead more helpful than the living? Because the dead cannot contradict you, cannot oppose you, whereas the living can. In communication with the dead you can be fanciful; therefore you look to the dead rather than to the living to give you help. To me, the question is not whether there is a life beyond what we call death; it is not whether we can communicate with the spirits of the dead; to me, all that is irrelevant. Some people say that one can communicate with the spirits of the dead; others, that one cannot. To me, the discussion seems of very little value; for to understand life with its swift wanderings, with its wisdom, you cannot look to another to free you from the illusions that you have created. Neither the dead nor the living can free you from your illusions. Only in the awakened interest in life, in the constant alertness of mind and heart, is there harmonious living, is there fulfillment, the richness of life.

Question: What is your opinion regarding the problem of sex and of asceticism in the light of the present social crisis? Krishnamurti: Let us not look at this problem, if I may suggest, from the point of view of the present condition, because conditions are constantly changing. Let us rather consider the problem itself; for if you understand the problem, then the present crisis can also be understood.

The problem of sex, which seems to trouble so many people, has arisen because we have lost the flame of creativeness, that harmonious living. We have but become imitative machines; we have closed the doors to creative thought and emotion; we are constantly conforming; we are bound by authority, by public opinion, by fear, and thus we are confronted by this problem of sex. But if the mind and heart free themselves from the sense of imitation, from false values, from the exaggeration of the intellect, and so release their own creative function, then the problem does not exist. It has become great because we like to feel secure, because we think that happiness lies in the sense of possession. But if we understand the true significance of possession, and its illusory nature, then the mind and heart are freed from both possession and non-possession.

So also with regard to the second part of the question, which concerns asceticism. You know, we think that when confronted by a problem - in this case, the problem of possession - we can solve it and understand it by going to its opposite. I come from a country where asceticism is in our blood. The climate encourages the custom. India is hot, and there it is much better to have very few things, to sit in the shade of a tree and discuss philosophy, or to withdraw entirely from harrowing, conflicting life, to take oneself into the woods to meditate. The question of asceticism also arises when one is a slave to possession.

Asceticism has no inherent value. When you practise it, you are merely escaping from possession to its opposite, which is asceticism. It is like a man who seeks detachment because he experiences pain in attachment. "Let me be detached", he says. Likewise, you say, "I will become an ascetic", because possession creates suffering. What you are really doing is merely going from possession to non-possession, which is another form of possession. But in that move also there is conflict, because you do not understand the full significance of possession. That is, you look to possession for comfort; you think that happiness, security, the flattery of public opinion, lies in having many things, whether they be ideas, virtues, land, or titles. Because we think that security and happiness and power lie in possession, we accumulate, we strive to possess, we struggle and compete with each other, we stifle and exploit each other. That is what is happening throughout the world, and a cunning mind says: "Let us become ascetic; let us not possess; let us become slaves to asceticism; let us make laws so that man shall not possess." In other words, you are but leaving one prison for another, merely calling the new one by a different name. But if you really understand the transient value of possession, then you become neither an ascetic nor a person burdened by the desire for possession; then you are truly a human being.

Question: I have received the impression that you have a certain disdain for acquiring knowledge. Do you mean that education or the study of books - for instance, the study of history or science - has no value? Do you mean that you yourself have learned nothing from your teachers?

Krishnamurti: I am talking of living a complete life, a human life, and no amount of explanation, whether of science or of history, will free the mind and heart from suffering. You may study, you may learn the encyclopaedia by heart, but you are a human being, active; your actions are voluntary, your mind is pliable, and you cannot suffocate it by knowledge. Knowledge is necessary, science is necessary. But if your mind is caught up in explanations, and the cause of suffering is intellectually explained away, then you lead a superficial life, a life without depth. And that is what is happening to us. Our education is making us more and more shallow; it is teaching us neither depth of feeling nor freedom of thought, and our lives are disharmonious.

The questioner wants to know if I have not learned from teachers. I am afraid that I have not, because there is nothing to learn. Someone can teach you how to play the piano, to work out problems in mathematics; you can be taught the principles of engineering or the technique of painting; but no one can teach you creative fulfillment, which is life itself. And yet you are constantly asking to be taught. You say, "Teach me the technique of living, and I shall know what life is." I say that this very desire for a method, this very idea, destroys your freedom of action, which is the very freedom of life itself. Question: You say that nobody can help us but ourselves. Do you not believe that the life of Christ was an atonement for our sins? Do you not believe in the grace of God?

Krishnamurti: These are words that I am afraid I do not understand. If you mean that another can save you, then I say that no one can save you. This idea that another can save you is a comfortable illusion. The greatness of man is that no one can help him or save him but man himself. You have the idea that an external God can show us the way through this conflicting labyrinth of life; that a teacher, a saviour of man, can show us the way, can take us out, can lead us away from the prisons that we have created for ourselves. If anyone gives you freedom, beware of that person, for you will but create other prisons through your own lack of understanding. But if you question, if you are awake, alert, constantly aware of your action, then your life is harmonious; then your action is complete, for it is born out of creative harmony, and this is true fulfillment.

Question: Whatever activity a person takes up, how can he do anything else but patchwork as long as he has not fully attained the realization of truth?

Krishnamurti: You think that work and assistance can help those who are suffering. To me such an attempt to do social good for the welfare of man is patchwork. I am not saying that it is wrong; it is undoubtedly necessary, because society is in a state which demands that there be those who work to bring about social change, those who work to better social conditions. But there must also be workers of the other type, those who work to prevent the new structures of society from being based on false ideas.

To put it differently, suppose that some of you are interested in education; you have listened to what I have been saying, and suppose you start a school or teach in a school. First of all, find out if you are interested merely in ameliorating conditions in education, or whether you are interested in sowing the seed of real understanding, in awakening people to a creative living; find out if you are interested merely in showing them a way out of troubles, in giving them consolation, panaceas, or if you are really eager to awaken them to an understanding of their own limitations, so that they can destroy the barriers which now hold them.

Question: Please explain what you mean by immortality. Is immortality as real to you as the ground on which you stand, or is it just a sublime idea?

Krishnamurti: What I am going to tell you about immortality will be difficult to understand, because to me immortality is not a belief: it is. This is a very different thing. There is immortality - and not that I know or believe in it. I hope that you see the distinction. The moment I say "I know", immortality becomes an objective, static thing. But when there is no "I", there is immortality. Beware of the person who says, "I know immortality", because to him immortality is a static thing, which means that there is duality: there is the "I", and there is that which is immortal, two different things. I say that there is immortality, and that it is because there is no"I" consciousness.

Now please don't say that I don't believe in immortality. To me belief has nothing to do with it. Immortality is not external. But where there is a belief in a thing there must be an object and a subject. For example, you don't believe in sunshine: it is. Only a blind man who has never seen what sunshine is, has to believe in it.

To me there is an eternal life, an everbecoming life; it is everbecoming, not evergrowing, for that which grows is transient. Now to understand that immortality which I say exists, the mind must be free of this idea of continuity and non-continuity. When a person asks, "Is there immortality?" he wants to know if he, as an individual, will continue, or if he, as an individual, will be destroyed. That is, he thinks only in terms of opposites, in terms of duality: Either you exist or you do not. If you try to understand my answer from the point of view of duality, then you will utterly fail. I say that immortality is. But to realize that immortality, which is the ecstasy of life, mind and heart must be free from the identification with conflict from which arises the consciousness of the "I", and free also from the idea of annihilation of the ego consciousness.

Let me put it in a different way. You know only opposites - courage and fear, possession and non-possession, detachment and attachment. Your whole life is divided into opposites - virtue and non-virtue, right and wrong - because you never meet life completely but always with this reaction, with this background of division. You have created this background; you have crippled your mind with these ideas, and then you ask: "Is there immortality?" I say there is, but to understand it, mind must be free from this division. That is, if you are afraid, do not seek courage, but let the mind free itself from fear; see the futility of what you call courage; understand that it is but an escape from fear, and that fear will exist as long as there is the idea of gain and loss. Instead of always reaching out for the opposite, instead of struggling to develop the opposite quality, let mind and heart free themselves from that in which they are caught. Do not try to develop its opposite. Then you will know for yourself, without anyone's telling you or leading you, what immortality is; immortality which is neither the "I" nor the "you", but which is life.

1933, The Art of Listening

Talk in The Colosseum. Oslo, Norway; 10th September, 1933

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


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