1933, The Art of Listening
Talk in University Hall. Oslo, Norway; 5th September, 1933
Friends, I have been given some questions which I shall answer after my talk.
Wherever you go throughout the world you find suffering. There seems to be no limit to suffering, no end to the innumerable problems that concern man, no way out of his continual conflict with himself and his neighbours. Suffering seems to be ever the common lot of man, and he tries to overcome that suffering through the search for comfort; he thinks that by searching for consolation, by seeking comfort, he will free himself from this continual battle, from his problems of conflict and suffering. And he sets out to discover what will give him the most satisfaction, what will give him the greatest consolation in this continual battle of suffering, and goes from one consolation to another, from one sensation to another, from one satisfaction to another. Thus, through the process of time, he gradually sets up innumerable securities, shelters, to which he runs when he experiences intense suffering.
Now there are many kinds of securities, many kinds of shelters. There are those that give temporary emotional satisfaction, such as drugs or drink; there are amusements and all that pertains to transient pleasure. Again, there are the innumerable beliefs in which man seeks shelter from his suffering; he clings to beliefs or ideals in the hope that they will shape his life and that by conformity he will gradually overcome suffering. Or he takes refuge in systems of thought which he calls philosophies, but which are merely theories handed down through the centuries, or theories that may have been true for those who brought them out, but are not necessarily true for others. Or again, man turns to religion, that is, to a system of thought that tries to shape him, to mould him to a particular pattern, to lead him toward an end; for religion, instead of giving man understanding, gives him merely consolation. There is no such thing as comfort in life, no such thing as security. But in his search for comfort, man has built up through the centuries the securities of religion, ideals, beliefs, and the idea of God.
To me there is God, a living, eternal reality. But this reality cannot be described; each one must realize it for himself. Any- one who tries to imagine what God is, what truth is, is but seeking an escape, a shelter from the daily routine of conflict.
When man has set up a security - the security of public opinion or of the happiness that he derives from possessions or from the practice of virtue, which is but an escape - he meets every incident of life, every one of the innumerable experiences of life, with the background of that security; that is, he never meets life as it really is. He comes to it with a prejudice, with a background already developed through fear; with his mind fully clothed, burdened with ideas, he approaches life.
To put it differently, man in general sees life only through the tradition of time which he bears in his mind and his heart; whereas to me life is fresh, renewing, moving, never static. Man's mind and heart are burdened with the unquestioned desire for comfort, which must necessarily bring about authority. Through authority he meets life, and hence he is incapable of understanding the full significance of experience, which alone can release him from suffering. He consoles himself with the false values of life and becomes merely a machine, a cog in the social structure or the religious system.
One cannot find out what is true value as long as one's mind is seeking consolation; and since most minds are seeking consolation, comfort, security, they cannot find out what truth is. Thus, most people are not individuals; they are merely cogs in a system. To me, an individual is a person who, through questioning, discovers right values; and one can truly question only when one is suffering. You know, when you suffer, your mind is made acute, alive; then you are not theoretical; and only in that state of mind can you question what is the true value of the standards that society, religion, and politics have set about us. Only in that state can we question, and when we question, when we discover true values, then we are true individuals. Not until then. That is, we are not individuals so long as we are unconscious of the values to which we have become accustomed through securities, through religions, through the pursuit of beliefs and ideals. We are merely machines, slaves to public opinion, slaves to the innumerable ideals that religions have placed about us, slaves to economic and political systems that we accept. And since everyone is a cog in this machine, we can never find out true values, lasting values, in which alone there is eternal happiness, eternal realization of truth.
The first thing to realize, then, is that we have these barriers, these values given to us. To find out their living significance we must question, and we can question only when our minds and hearts are burning with intense suffering. And everyone does suffer; suffering is not the gift of a few. But when we suffer we seek immediate consolation, comfort, and therefore there is no longer questioning; there is no longer doubt, but mere acceptance. Hence, where there is want, there cannot be the understanding of right values which alone sets man free, which alone gives him the capacity of existing as a complete human being. And as I was saying, when we meet life partially, with all this traditional background of unquestioned and dead values, naturally there is conflict with life, and this conflict creates in each one of us the idea of ego consciousness. That is, when our minds are prejudiced by an idea or by a belief or by unquestioned values, there is limitation, and that limitation creates the self-consciousness which in turn brings about suffering.
To put it differently, as long as mind and heart are caught up in the false values that religions and philosophies have set about us, as long as the mind has not discovered true, living values for itself, there is limitation of consciousness, limitation of understanding, which creates the idea of "I". And from this idea of "I", from the fact that consciousness knows the limitation of time as a beginning and an end, springs sorrow. Such consciousness, such a mind and heart are caught up in the fear of death, and hence the inquiry into the hereafter.
When you understand that truth, life, can be realized only when you discover for yourself, without any authority or imitation, the true significance of suffering, the living value of every action, then your mind frees itself from ego consciousness.
Since most of us are unconsciously seeking a shelter, a place of. safety in which we shall not be hurt, since most of us are seeking in false values an escape from continual conflict, therefore I say, become conscious that the whole process of thought, at the present time, is a continual search for shelter, for authority, for patterns. to conform to, for systems to follow, for methods to imitate. When you realize that there is no such thing as comfort, no such thing as security, either in possession of things or of ideas, then you face life as it is, not with the background of intense longing for comfort. Then you become aware, but without the constant struggle to become aware - a struggle that goes on as long as your mind and your heart are seeking a continual escape from life through ideals, through conformity, through imitation, through authority. When you realize that, you give up seeking an escape; you are then able to meet life completely, nakedly, wholly, and in that there is understanding, which alone gives you that ecstasy of life.
To put it in another way, since our minds and hearts have through ages been crippled by false values, we are incapable of meeting experience wholly. If you are a Christian you meet it in one way, as dictated by all your prejudices of Christianity and your religious training. If you are a Conservative or a Communist, you meet it in another way. If you hold any particular belief, you meet life in that particular way, and hope to understand its full significance through a prejudiced mind. Only when you realize that life, that free, eternal movement, cannot be met partially and with prejudice, only then are you free, without effort. Then you are unhampered by all the things you possess - by inherited tradition or acquired knowledge. I say knowledge, not wisdom, for wisdom does not enter here. Wisdom is natural, spontaneous; it comes only when one meets life openly and without any barrier. To meet life openly man must free himself of all knowledge; he must not seek an explanation of suffering, for when he seeks such an explanation he is being caught by fear.
So I repeat, there is a way of living without effort, without the constant strain of achievement and struggle for success, without the constant fear of loss or gain; I say there is an harmonious way of living life that comes when you meet every experience, every action completely, when your mind is not divided against itself, when your heart is not in conflict with your mind, when you do all things wholly, with complete unity of mind and heart. Then in that richness, in that plenitude, there is the ecstasy of life, and that to me is everlasting, that to me is eternal.
Question: You say that your teachings are for all, not for any select few. If that is so, why do we find it difficult to understand you?
Krishnamurti: It is not a question of understanding me. Why should you understand me? Truth is not mine, that you should understand me. You find my words difficult to understand be- cause your minds are suffocated with ideas. What I say is very simple. It is not for the select few; it is for anyone who is willing to try. I say that if you would free yourselves from ideas, from beliefs, from all the securities that people have built up through centuries, then you would understand life. You can free yourselves only by questioning, and you can question only when you are in revolt - not when you are stagnant with satisfying ideas. When your minds are suffocated with beliefs, when they are heavy with knowledge acquired from books, then it is impossible to understand life. So it is not a question of understanding me.
Please - and I am not saying this with any conceit - I have found a way; not a method that you can practise, a system that becomes a cage, a prison. I have realized truth, God, or whatever name you like to give it. I say there is that eternal living reality, but it cannot be realized while the mind and heart are burdened, crippled with the idea of "I". As long as that self-consciousness, that limitation exists, there can be no realization of the whole, the totality of life. That "I" exists as long as there are false values - false values that we have inherited or that we have sedulously created in our search for security, or that we have established as our authority in our search for comfort. But right values, living values - these you can discover only when you really suffer, when you are greatly discontented. If you are willing to become free from the pursuit of gain, then you will find them. But most of us do not want to be free; we want to keep what we have gained, either in virtue or in knowledge or in possessions; we want to keep all these. Thus burdened we try to meet life, and hence the utter impossibility of understanding it completely.
So the difficulty lies not in understanding me, but in understanding life itself; and that difficulty will exist as long as your minds are burdened with this consciousness that we call "I". I cannot give you right values. If I were to tell you, you would make of that a system and imitate it, thus setting up but another series of false values. But you can discover right values for yourself, when you become truly an individual, when you cease to be a machine. And you can free yourself from this murderous machine of false values only when you are in great revolt.
Question: It has been claimed by some that you are the Christ come again. We should like to know quite definitely what you have to say about this. Do you accept or reject the claim?
Krishnamurti: I do neither. It does not interest me. Of what value, my friends, is it to you to ask me this? I am asked this question wherever I go. People want to know if I am, or if I am not. If I say I am, they either take my words as authority or laugh at them; if I say I am not, they are delighted. I neither assert nor deny. To me the claim is of very little importance because I feel that what I have to say is inherently right in itself. It does not
depend on titles or degrees, revelation or authority. What is of importance is your understanding of it, your intelligence and your own awakened desire to find out, your own love of life - not the assertion that I am or that I am not the Christ.
Question: Is your realization of truth permanent and present all the time, or are there dark times when you again face the bondage of fear and despair?
Krishnamurti: The bondage of fear exists as long as there remains the limitation of consciousness that you call the "I". When you become rich within yourself, then you will no longer feel want. It is in this continual battle of want, in this seeking of advantage from circumstances, that fear and darkness exist. I think I am free from that. How can you know it? You can't. I might be deceiving you. So do not bother about it. But I have this to say: One can live effortlessly, in a way that cannot be arrived at through effort; one can live without this incessant struggle for spiritual achievement; one can live harmoniously, completely in action - not in theory, but in daily life, in daily contact with human beings. I say that there is a way to free the mind from all suffering, a way to live completely, wholly, eternally. But to do that, one must be completely open towards life; one must allow no shelter or reserve to remain in which mind can dwell, to which heart can withdraw in times of conflict.
Question: You say that truth is simple. To us, what you say seems very abstract. What is the practical relation, according to you, between truth and actual life? Krishnamurti: What is it that we call actual life? Earning money, exploiting others and being exploited ourselves, marriage, children, seeking friends, experiencing jealousies, quarrels, fear of death, the inquiry into the hereafter, laying up money for old age - all these we call daily life. Now to me, truth or the eternal becoming of life cannot be found apart from these. In the transient lies the eternal - not apart from the transient. Please, why do we exploit, either in physical things or in spiritual things? Why are we exploited by religions that we have set up? Why are we exploited by priests to whom we look for comfort? Because we have thought of life as a series of achievements, not as a complete action. When we look to life as a means to acquisition, whether of things or of ideas, when we look to life as a school in which to learn, in which to grow, then we are dependent upon that self-consciousness, upon that limitation: we create the exploiter, and we become the exploited. But if we become utterly individual, completely self-sufficient, alone in our understanding, then we do not differentiate between actual living and truth, or God. You know, because we find life difficult, because we do not understand all the intricacies of daily action. because we want to escape from that confusion, we turn to the idea of an objective principle; and so we differentiate, we distinguish truth as being impractical, as having nothing to do with daily life. Thus truth, or God, becomes an escape to which we turn in days of conflict and trouble. But if, in our daily life, we would find out why we act, if we would meet the incidents, the experiences, the sufferings of life wholly, then we would not differentiate practical life from impractical truth. Because we do not meet experiences with our whole being, mentally and emotionally, because we are not capable of doing that, we separate daily life and practical action from the idea of truth.
Question: Don't you think that the support from religions and religious teachers is a great help to man in his effort to free himself from all that binds him?
Krishnamurti: No teacher can give us right values. You may read all the books in the world, but you cannot gather wisdom from them. You may follow all the religious systems of the world and yet remain a slave to them. Only when you stand alone can you find wisdom and be wholly free, liberated. By aloneness I do not mean living apart from humanity. I mean that aloneness which comes from understanding, not from withdrawal. It exists, in other words, when one is utterly individual, not individualistic. You know, we think that by continually practicing the piano under the direction of an instructor we shall become great pianists, creative musicians; and similarly we look to religious teachers for guidance. We say to ourselves, "If I practise daily what they have laid down, I shall have the flame of creative understanding." I say, you can practise it without end, and you will still not have that creative flame. I know many who daily practise certain ideals, but they become only more and more withered in their understanding, because they are merely imitating, they are merely living up to a standard. They have freed themselves from one teacher and have gone to another; they have merely transferred themselves from one cage to another. But if you do not seek comfort, if you continually question - and you can question only when you are in revolt - then you establish freedom from all teachers and all religions; then you are supremely human, belonging neither to a party nor to a religion nor to a cage.
Question: Do you mean to say that there is no help for men when life grows difficult? Are they left entirely to help themselves?
Krishnamurti: I think, if I am not mistaken - if I am, please correct me - I think the questioner wants to know if there is not a source, a person or an idea, to which one can turn in time of trouble, in time of grief, in time of suffering.
I say there is no permanent source that can give one understanding. You know, to me the glory of man is that no one can save him except himself. Please, as you look at man throughout the world, you see that he has always turned to another for help. In India we look to theories, to teachers, for help. Here also you do the same. All over the world man turns to somebody to lift him out of his own ignorance. I say no one can lift you out of your own ignorance. You have created it through fear, through imitation, through the search for security, and hence you have established authorities. You have created it for yourselves, this ignorance that holds each one of you, and no one can free you except you yourselves through your own understanding. Others may free you momentarily, but as long as the root cause of ignorance exists, you merely create another set of illusions.
To me, the root cause of ignorance is the consciousness of "I", from which arise conflict and sorrow. As long as that "I" consciousness exists, there must be suffering from which no one can free you. In your devotion to a person or to an idea you may momentarily sever yourselves from that consciousness, but while that consciousness remains it is like a wound that is always festering. The mind can free itself from that ignorance only when it meets life wholly, when it experiences completely, without prejudice, without preconceived ideas, when it is no longer crippled by a belief or an idea. It is one of the illusions that we cherish, that someone else can save us, that we cannot lift ourselves out of this mire of suffering. For centuries we have looked for help from without, and we are still held by that belief.
Question: What is the real cause of the present chaos in the world, and how can this painful state of things be remedied?
Krishnamurti: First of all, I feel, by not looking to a system as a remedy. You know, through centuries we have built up a system, the possessive system based on security. We have built it up; each one of us is responsible for this system wherein acquisition, gain, power, authority, and imitation play the most important part. We have made laws to preserve that system, laws based on our selfishness, and we have become slaves to these laws. Now we want to introduce a new set of laws, to which we shall again become slaves, laws by which possession becomes a crime.
But if we understood the true function of individuality, then we would tackle the root cause of all this chaos in the world, this chaos that exists because we are not truly individual. Please understand what I mean by being individual; I do not mean individualistic. We have for centuries been individualistic, seeking security for ourselves, comfort for ourselves. We have looked to the physical things of life to give us inward shelter, happiness, spiritual ease. We have been dead and have not known it. Because we have imitated and followed, we have blindly exploited beliefs. And being spiritually dead, naturally we have tried to realize our creative powers in the world of acquisition - hence the present chaos wherein each man seeks only his own advantage. But if each one individually begins to free himself from all imitation, and thus begins to realize that creative life, that creative energy which is free, spiritual, then, I feel, he will not look for or give emphasis to either possession or non-possession. Isn't that so?
Our entire lives are a process of imitation. Public opinion says this, so we must do it. I am not saying, please, that you must go against all convention, that you must impetuously do whatever you like: that would be equally stupid. What I am saying is this: Since we are merely machines, since we are ruthlessly individualistic in the world of acquisition, I say, free yourselves from all imitation, become individuals; question every standard, everything that is about you, not just intellectually, not when you feel at ease with life, but in the moment of suffering when your mind and heart are acute and awake. Then, in that realization which comes from the discovery of living values, you will not divide life into sections - economic, domestic, spiritual; you will meet it as a complete unit; you will meet it as a complete human being.
To put an end to the chaos in the world, the ruthless aggression and exploitation, you cannot look to any system. Only you yourselves can do it, when you become responsible, and you can be responsible only when you are really creating, when you are no longer imitating. In that freedom there will be true co-operation, not the individualism that now exists.
1933, The Art of Listening
Talk in University Hall. Oslo, Norway; 5th September, 1933
Jiddu Krishnamurti. The Art of Listening. The collected works of J.Krishnamurti, 1933.