Madras 1st Public Talk 22nd October 1958
I think it is quite important, if we are to understand each other, that we establish the lines of right communication between ourselves, because if we do not have the means of communion with each other we shall never come to a full comprehension of what we are talking about, or be in any position to agree or disagree. I think it is fairly important to find out for ourselves what we mean by listening. Are we only capable of really listening to another when something is urgently demanded of us or when circumstances force us to do so, when there is a necessity? If we see that all our life depends on definite understanding then we are wholly all-there and we listen with eager attention, and then between the speaker and the one who listens there is established a right communication. Obviously you are here to listen to something, and I want to say something, but how are we to establish the right communication between yourself and myself? It is really very important, so please do not just brush it aside and say, `Well, talk, and we will see if we can understand.' I do not think it is quite as easy as that because what is important is not only what I have to say but also how you listen to what I have to say, if there is to be real communication.
If you translate what I say in terms of your own ideas and opinions, or according to your own prejudices and conditioning, obviously there is no communication. Then you are listening to your own opinions, to your own ideas. So if you want to listen it is essential, is it not?, to first find out what the speaker has to say. You must find out if what he has to say is logical, reasonable, sufficiently clear to be applicable to the problems with which one is confronted, or whether he speaks from a particular prejudice and argues from that point of view to a certain conclusion, and so on. But it seems very difficult to listen, because I have talked for over thirty years, here and all over the world, and apparently it seems as if it is almost impossible to communicate what I have to say. It is quite a phenomenon.
So what prevents the understanding of what another says, and can you and I understand each other? For most of us listening is merely a habit, is it not? You come to a meeting and you listen, but what actually takes place when you are listening? First of all you have certain opinions about the speaker, certain conclusions, he has a reputation of some kind, you like his face or you dislike this or that, so you are listening, really, not to him but to what your opinions are about him or to what you think yourself. If you watch yourselves, your own way of listening, you will soon find out that actually you are not listening at all; one is translating what one hears according to what is most convenient to hear, what one wants to hear, and so on. So there is a barrier, and when you say you are listening you are really not listening at all.
So I feel it is very important for us to remove that barrier. And I assure you that it is one of the most difficult things - to be able to listen to another without any of these mental interruptions, without any form of translation, interpretation, comparison; just to listen. Then we shall establish a communion with each other; then we will get at the heart of the matter and not merely argumentatively stick at words. So I hope we can listen to each other in that way, because I think that in the true act of listening there is a miracle. If I know how to listen to what another has to say then I go beyond the words, then I capture his meaning. But I must first listen, then I can agree or disagree, then I can see the falseness or the truth in what he says. So I must have the capacity not to project my own ideas, my opinions, my conclusions, my experiences, for these act as a barrier to that comprehension. So if I may suggest, please listen in that manner if you can. It is one of the most difficult things; it is an art.
You cannot learn to play a violin in a day, and similarly you cannot listen rightly immediately, because you have never listened before. I don't know if you have ever tried to listen to anybody - to your wife, your husband, your neighbour, to a politician, to an authority - have you ever really listened? If you try you will find out how extraordinarily difficult it is. In listening you will begin to discover whether what is being said is false or true, you will find out from what source or from what background the speaker is talking, what is the fullness of his thought, whether it has reason, intelligence and sense or whether he is merely projecting his own prejudices, his temporary reactions.
Listening does not demand concentration; when you concentrate there is no understanding; when you concentrate you are forcing yourself to listen, are you not? You listen only when there is a sense of freedom, when the mind is relaxed, observing. Then there is a possibility of learning. What I have to say is not merely the communication of certain information, knowledge, but if we can learn then we shall be able to face all our problems. Then we shall be able to learn about the problem. I feel that we have got so many problems in life that unless we learn about these problems we shall never be able to resolve them. We have to learn, not how to meet the problem but about the nature of the problem itself.
Now what is the state of the mind that learns? That is, if I have a problem - economic, social, religious, they are innumerable - and if I know how to learn about a problem, then I can resolve the problem. But if I come to the problem with a mind that already desires to resolve it in a certain way, or if the problem has innumerable complications and side issues which I do not follow, then I shall not be able to meet it fully. I can only meet it when I am capable of learning all about it. I don't know if I am explaining what I want to say.
I hope you see the difference between a mind that accumulates knowledge and a mind that learns? Learning is a living process; it is not an additive process. I am going to go into this very carefully and you will see presently that a mind that accumulates knowledge cannot learn. To learn, the mind must be free, capable of swift movement; but a mind that is accumulating is not capable of swift movement; it has a fixed point from which it moves. You will see, as we go along, that to understand the problems of our existence we must approach the matter totally. I am using that word `totally' to indicate that our approach must not be through departments, not as a technician, an engineer, a scientist, a lawyer, a scholar, a politician and so on, but we must approach life as a whole, because life is all these things. Life is earning a livelihood, life is the constant battle in relationship, life is beauty as well as ugliness, life is the sense of adjustment to all things. So to approach a problem we must come to it totally, not as a specialized entity. That being so, let us look at what is taking place in the world, because what you are, the world is, from what you think, you create the world; you are part of the world not separate from the world; your problems are the world's problems - the world being your neighbour, and the neighbour being he who is next door or 10,000 miles away.
Now what is taking place in the world, what is actually happening? There is overpopulation, there is over-organization, there is mass communication. Through these things the human mind is being controlled. When there is overpopulation, inevitably there is confusion with a curtailing, conditioning, limiting of thought, - which is what is happening in India. There is overpopulation in this country and so there is enormous confusion, deterioration, corruption, and to control this corruption, this deterioration, there must inevitably be a dictatorship controlling the mind of man. And over-organization also tends to bring about control of man and his thought; and through mass communication, the radio, newspapers, politicians, television you are being influenced and therefore controlled. So through every channel of existence, every channel of perception, we are being shaped, conditioned, controlled. Society, religions, books, newspapers, magazines, organizations, whether they are spiritual or not spiritual, economics, politics, everything is influencing man and shaping him according to certain ideas, opinions, concepts. I do not know if you are aware of all this. If you are at all thoughtful you must be aware of what is taking place, not only in Russia or in China but throughout the world. What you think - as a Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic and all the rest of it - is really conditioning your mind to a particular type of thought, habit, symbol, activity and social relationship. That is obvious, is it not? That is so natural that we accept it as inevitable. It is an irrefutable fact that what you think, what you feel is shaped by your environment. Everything - books, teachers, environment, food, climate - shapes your thought, and as society becomes more and more organized, the conditioning of the mind is deepened. This is a fact whether you like it or not.
When you realize that fact, then the question arises as to what place the individual has in relation to that process of conditioning. Please, we are not arguing about this; we are trying to learn about it - about the fact that you are influenced by everything, by the past and by the present which creates the future. In relation to that fact, where is the individual? Is there an individual at all? It is very important to discover this, very important for each one of us to learn about it, to learn whether you are really an individual or merely the expression of conditioned thought, influenced through the centuries and therefore thinking in a particular way, so that the individual has really ceased to be altogether. I hope you see the point.
The dictators want to eradicate free thought, not only the dictators in Russia or in China but the dictators in this country and everywhere, because the moment you are able to think for yourself you are a danger to society, according to their point of view. And so education, religion, social influences, radio and television tell us what to think, and we repeat their opinions, arguments and counter arguments. You read the Gita, or the Bible, and you repeat, or you read Marx and you repeat, taking sides, agreeing or opposing.
So, seeing all this, is there an individual at all? If there is not, then how is an individual to be created? I do not know if I am communicating what I want to say. I feel we are not individuals at all. Though you may have a different body from another, a different face, a different form, you are the mass. You are a Communist, Socialist, Capitalist, you belong to certain categories, professions, callings. You have certain functions and you identify yourself with those functions, or with the job, the capacity, and you cease to be an individual. Obviously, to be an individual there must be freedom, total freedom, which means an action which is not the reaction of a conditioning. I hope you follow this.
Now what is freedom? We only know the freedom from something, do we not? Freedom from anger, slavery, oppression, freedom from the wife, the husband, and so on. We only know the freedom from something in order to be something else, do we not? I only want to be free of my anger to be something different. That is all we know about freedom. So freedom is a reaction, is it not? That is, I am a prisoner and I want to escape. The wanting to escape is a reaction from being a prisoner, and that reaction I call freedom. So, as far as we are concerned, freedom factually is a reaction. But surely freedom in itself is not a reaction? If it is, it ceases to be freedom. Please think about it and do not say `You are talking nonsense', but let us find out about it, learn about it.
So seeing what is taking place in the world we realize that the individual has ceased to exist, and the question is how is the individual to be created anew? People see the need for this. The reformers, the socialists, many people say we must create a society which will produce a new type of individual, we must create the environment which will bring about such an entity. Perhaps I am oversimplifying it, but all reformers, all social revolutionaries have said, let us create an environment which will produce the individual who will be free and therefore creative. To me that is a false idea altogether. Because if the individual is merely the product of environment then however magnificent, however orderly, however beautiful the society may be, the individual will still only be a made-up thing, a result. He may be more clever, more kind, and this and that, but he is still essentially a product, and therefore he ceases to be an individual. If you observe, the real individual is never a slave to the environment, he dominates it or he leaves it and goes away; he is not a plaything of environment and environment does not shape his thinking. We see that, but we say that they are exceptions, and leave it at that. That is merely a good excuse. It is a way of not really tackling the problem - to say that those people are exceptions, God-sent or whatever it is, and that we are not capable.
So the reformer has not solved the problem and never will. He is concerned with the reformation of society to produce the right individual, but the right individual is not the product of society, he is totally free of society. He dominates, breaks through the conditioning of his environment; he acts upon society, society does not act upon him.
So seeing all this - seeing how the mind is shaped by every social, religious and economic influence, seeing that with every form of dictatorship there is tyranny, and also seeing that the social reformers, the economic revolutionaries hope by creating the right environment to produce the right individual - seeing all this, do you not ask yourself how a right individual can come into being, an individual who is not the plaything of circumstances? Perhaps this is the first time you have asked yourself this question, and if you are really enquiring into this, what is the answer? I hope you understand the problem, because unless you are very clear about the problem your answer will not be clear.
Perhaps I can put it differently. Our minds are conditioned; that is a fact. There are multitudinous ways of being conditioned and the mere reformation of that conditioning will not bring about the true individual. Every well-organized, efficient society must condition thought, and whether they do it brutally or with kid gloves it is the same thing; they must condition thought. So seeing all this, how is one to be an individual? Because if you are not an individual there cannot be a creative society.
You see, if you are not an individual you are bound to create more confusion, more sorrow, more problems for yourself and for society - which again is an obvious fact. So how are you to become an individual, how are you to be the individual who is not driven by circumstances, who is not influenced by society, who is not controlled by the politician, and all the rest of it? How is such an individual to come into being? If that were your problem, how would you set about it? If you are interested in this, as you must be since you are supposed to be intelligent, supposed to be concerned with religious matters, with society, and so on, how will you tackle this problem? How will you be that individual? This is really a very important question because it is only such an individual who will find Reality, it is only such an individual who will find if there is God, or no God, it is only such an individual who will be free of time, and who will discover the Immeasurable. Others can talk about the Immeasurable, God, the Timeless and all the rest of it, but they only deal in words. What they say has no meaning because they are like so many parrots merely repeating what they have been told.
So our problem is the mind. The mind which is conditioned, which is shaped, which is the plaything of every influence, every culture, the mind which is the result of the past, burdened with innumerable memories, experiences - how is such a mind to free itself from all this and be a total individual? I say it is only possible when there is serious, earnest study of oneself - the self being not the Atman or some so-called higher self because those again are just words. I am talking of the self of everyday existence, the self that gets angry, the self that is ambitious, that gets hurt, that wants to be seen, that is very keen, that says, `I must be secure', `I must consider my position', and so on. That is the only self we have. The higher self, the super-Atman is only an ideology, a concept, an unreality; and it is no good going after unreality for that leads to delusion. I know all the sacred books talk about the super-Atman, whatever that is, and for the man who is caught in the daily self it is a marvellous escape. The more he speculates, the more he writes about it, the more religious he thinks he is. But I say that if you can go into the self which we all know, the self of everyday movement, then through that self-knowledge, through careful analysis, careful observation, you will find that you are capable of breaking away from all influences which condition thought.
Another thing is that thought, by the very thinking process, conditions itself. Is it not so? Whatever thought you have affects the mind, and it is necessary to understand this. Whether the thought is good or bad, ugly or beautiful, subtle or cunning - whatever thought it be, it shapes the mind. So what is thinking? Thinking, surely, is reaction - the reaction of what you know. Knowledge reacts, and we call it thinking. Please observe it, Sir, and think it out; we will go into it again and again. If you are alert, aware of your own process of thinking, you will see that whatever you think has already shaped the mind; and a mind that is shaped by thought has ceased to be free, and therefore it is not a mind that is individual.
So self-knowledge is not a process of the continuity of thinking, but the diminishing, the ending of thinking. But you cannot end thinking by any trick, by denial, by control, by discipline, and so on. If you do, you are still caught in the field of thought. Thinking can only come to an end when you know the total content of the thinker; and so one begins to see how important it is to have self-knowledge. Most of us are satisfied with superficial self-knowledge, with scratching on the surface, the ordinary A, B, C of psychology; it is no good to read a few books on psychology, scratch a little, and say you know. That is merely applying to the mind what you have learnt. Therefore you must begin to enquire as to what is learning. Do you not see, Sir, the relationship between self-knowledge and learning? A mind that has self-knowledge is learning; whereas a mind that merely applies acquired knowledge to itself and thinks it is self-knowledge, is merely accumulating. A mind that accumulates can never learn. Please do not agree with me, but observe. Do you ever learn? Have you found out yet whether you learn anything, or whether you just accumulate information?
I said just now that without self-knowledge there is no individuality, and I have explained what I mean by individuality, the individual. I say that without self-knowledge there is no individual. You have heard that statement, and what is your reaction to it? You say, do you not?, `What do you mean by that?'. That is, you say, `explain and I will either agree or disagree with you; and you say afterwards that you have learnt something - but is that learning? Is learning a matter of agreement or disagreement? Can you not enquire into that statement without agreement or disagreement? Surely you want to find out if that statement is false or true - not whether you agree or disagree. No one cares if you agree or disagree, but if you find out for yourself whether that statement has truth in it or not, then you are beginning to actually see, to learn.
So a mind that agrees or disagrees, that comes to a conclusion, is not capable of learning. That is, a specialized mind is never a creative mind. The mind that has accumulated, the mind that is steeped in knowledge, such a mind is incapable of learning. To learn there must be a freshness; there must be a mind that says, `I do not know, but I am willing to learn. Show me; and if there is no one to show, it begins to enquire of itself. It does not start from a fixed point and move to another fixed point. That is what we do, isn't it? We come to a conclusion and from that fixed point we think more and move to another conclusion. And this process we call learning. But if you observe you will see that you are tied to a post and merely move to another post; and I say that is not learning at all. Learning demands a mind that is willing to learn but not in order to add to itself. Because the moment you are engaged in adding to yourself you have ceased to learn. So self-knowledge is not a process of addition. What you are learning is about the self, about the ways of the mind. You are learning of its cunningness, its subtleties, its motives, its extraordinary capacities, its depth, its vastness; and to learn you must come to it with enormous humility. A man who has accumulated knowledge can never know humility. He may talk about humility, he may quote about humility, but he has no sense of humility. The man who learns is essentially humble.
So we have this problem of bringing about the true individual. Such an individual cannot be created except through self-knowledge; and you have to learn about the self. There cannot be any condemnation of what you find and there cannot be any identification with what you find, for any identification, justification or condemnation is the result of accumulation; and therefore you cease to learn. Please do see the importance of this. It may sound very contradictory, but it is not. If you will observe you will see how necessary it is to learn, and to learn there must be a sense of complete humility, and there is no humility if there is condemnation of what you see in yourself. Similarly, if you see something good and identify yourself with that, then you cease to learn. So a mind that is capable of learning is the true individual mind, not the mind that has accumulated. At present we are all the time adding to our accumulations.
For instance, have you ever examined what experience is? Observe, Sirs, do not just listen to me but watch your mind and go into it as I am talking. When you say, `I have had an experience', what do you mean by that? Experience means, does it not?, a sensation, a reaction which is recognizable. I recognize that I am having a pleasurable experience, or a painful one. I recognize it because I have had a similar experience before. So the previous experiences condition the present experience. It is not a fresh experience. If it is a new experience it is immediately recognized and translated and put into the old. So, every experience conditions the mind, because all experience is recognized by means of previous experience. So, experience is never a liberating factor.
While the whole world is developing technicians, specialists, with every thought shaped and conditioned, there is no possibility of anyone being an individual. The possibility of being an individual comes only when you begin to understand and learn about yourself, not through books because the self - what you are - cannot be understood through someone else. You have to observe it yourself, and you can observe it with clarity, with strength and purposive directiveness only in relationship. The way you behave, the way you talk, how you look at a flower, a tree, the way you speak to a servant, the movement of your hands, your eyes, - everything will show, if you are at all aware, how your mind works, and the mind is the self. It can invent the super-self or it can invent the hell, but it is still the mind.
So, unless the mind understands itself there is no freedom. Freedom cannot come by accumulation. You have to learn what an extraordinary thing the mind is. It is the most marvellous thing we have but we don't know how to use it; we only use it at certain levels, specialized self-centred levels. It is a magnificent instrument, a living thing of which we still know very little. We only know the superficial stretches, the thin layers of consciousness, but we do not know the total being of the mind, the extraordinary depths; and you cannot know it merely by speculating about it. You can only learn about it, and to learn you must give total attention. Attention is different from concentration. Concentration merely narrows the mind, but attention is a state in which everything is.
So, what is of importance for a religious man is not the repetition of what he has learnt from books or the experiences which his conditioning has projected, but his being concerned with the understanding of himself - without any delusion, without any warping, without any twist; to see things in himself as they are. And to see things as they actually are is an enormous task. I do not know if you have ever done it. I do not know if you have ever observed anything without colouring it, without twisting it, without naming it. I suggest you try, for a change, to look at what you call greed, or envy, and see how difficult it is to look at it, because the very word `greed', `envy', carries with it a condemnatory significance. You may be a greedy man, an ambitious man, but to look at ambition, the feeling, the sensation, without condemning it, just to look at it requires, as you will see, extraordinary capacity.
All this is a part of self-knowledge, and without self-knowledge do what you will, reform, have every kind of revolution, super-leaders, super-politicians, you will never create a world in which the individual becomes a total being and so can influence society. So if you are interested in this, then we will go into it very, very seriously. But if you only want to go into it superficially please do not come; it is much better not to come. It is far better to have a few people who are really serious than many who are followers. What is necessary is earnestness, an earnest mind that begins to enquire within itself. Such a mind will find for itself that which is real.
October 22, 1958
Madras 1st Public Talk 22nd October 1958
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