The perception of beauty is an essential aspect of the teachings of J. Krishnamurti and has deep implications for education. Just as the development of the intellect can be easily confused with intelligence we too readily assume that the awakening of a sense of beauty has to do with the cultivation of an aesthetic sense. An aesthetic sense may be part of the nurturing of beauty but may not encompass the whole of it. It seems to me that Krishnamurti refers to it in the sense of an awakened sensitivity which is able to perceive without the interference of thought. This perhaps leads to a relationship with the world around without a barrier. It also implies a certain level of vulnerability. It seems to be connected to a sense of order, of goodness and love. Thus the nurturing of a sense of beauty is of utmost importance. Without it life indeed becomes rather drab and perhaps the need and craving for incessant pleasure comes out of this lack of a sense of beauty.
A sense of beauty, in the way Krishnamurti uses it, has a ‘completeness’ about it. Perhaps the exploration of beauty can happen in two distinct ways. It seems to me that the modern mind explores beauty primarily in terms of the self: its reactions, its experiences, and its ability to conceptualize what has been perceived. The intellect plays a predominant role in the engagement with the world. Though the senses play a role in the whole exploration of beauty it is the intellect that shapes and guides the whole perception. However, Krishnamurti is talking of a sense of beauty in which thought has no role to play. Indeed he says that beauty is when the self is not. In eastern cultures there was once an exploration of beauty free of the self. One hears of sculptors staying with a piece of wood or stone till the sense of self disappeared and then picking up the tools. Even in Indian classical music, there is the ideal of allowing a raga to reveal itself, rather than the musician imposing on it a form born merely out of training and memory.
What then is the role of training? What relationship does it have to awakening a feeling for beauty? Does training support or hinder the feeling for beauty? This question is perhaps related to the question of whether knowledge, and freedom from knowledge can go together. The state of mind which is free of knowledge can hold knowledge in its right place. Nor do these operate merely as parallel streams. This idea needs some elaboration. Freedom from knowledge does not imply amnesia. It is an act of attention in which knowledge does not interfere and therefore something new can happen. Similarly the mind which is sensitive to beauty can hold training and knowledge in their right place. To awaken this sensitivity to beauty, one starts, not with training or activity, but with observation and silence. The observation is of the bird, the tree and the cloud and later of the movement of thought. Without this quality of beauty filling the heart and the mind, the mind turns to the seeking of pleasure and stimulation through the senses rather than the awakening of the senses.
All this may sound very difficult and impractical but that is perhaps because we do not think it is important enough. Life seems to go on after all without a supreme sense of beauty and there are more urgent matters which preoccupy us. The immediate, as always, seems more urgent than the eternal. Krishnamurti has said that only with the abandonment of the self does the passion of beauty come into being. Beauty is not merely the outward expression of form, colour, shape or sound, but the nature of a mind free of the sense of separation which is expressed as the self. He has also said that beauty has no opposite. How does one perceive that which has no opposite? Thought can only perceive through opposites: through comparison and definition. The perception of something which has no opposite is a perception free of thought and free of division as the ‘me’ and the ‘other’.
All this seems very far but one begins with the very near: with ‘choiceless’ awareness of colour, sound, shape, light and shade and the movement of thought. That is why ‘beauty is dangerous to the man of desire’. I doubt if it can be found by immersing oneself in varied experiences or trying to change one’s way of perception through drugs. We are willing to experiment in those ways but not through the act of being aware of our thoughts and reactions and feelings. Thus the craving for experience seems to be overpowering and beauty is seen as indissolubly linked to experience. For Krishnamurti it is freedom from experience, with the senses being fully awake and the mind being passively attentive.
Freedom and Order
Freedom, order and discipline are recurring themes in the teachings of Krishnamurti. Perhaps most of us conceive of freedom and order as inevitably in opposition to each other. We talk of the balance needed between order and freedom. To us chaos lurks behind the demand for freedom. The longing for freedom is deeply restricted by the fear of disorder. It is fascinating to see the struggle to sustain the concepts of freedom and order and hold them simultaneously in our minds. The starting point for me has been the clear understanding that freedom and order are one movement. Freedom is not merely the freedom to choose. Choice is anyway dictated by past experiences, likes, dislikes, habits and patterns and in that there is no freedom. We often begin to argue through a confused use of language. I don’t choose to refrain from putting my hand into fire. Intelligence negates that action. In taking that decision there is no choice, though thought may articulate it as such. Going deeper, there is no choice involved in not moving into a state of isolation through creating a barrier. Again intelligence shows the meaninglessness and danger of such activity and it is negated. This is not the action of thought but of perception and in it there is no choice.
Seeing that choice does not mean freedom, allows for the perception of the nature of freedom; to listen, to see and to observe. Freedom is this listening, looking and observing without the distorting factors of pattern, idea and conclusion. Since these are essentially the ground for disorder, freedom and order are indeed one movement. I am sure many will feel that all this is theoretical and abstract and does nothing to help address the issues on the ground. But I feel it is utterly essential to see that there is no dilemma between freedom and order, otherwise order is always seen through the framework of control. In fact the dilemma of freedom and order is really the dilemma of freedom and control. We assume the exercise of control is necessary to create and maintain order. As long as we have this as the primary means we will use it to different degrees, relying on our common sense and innate kindness to ensure that control never becomes oppressive. But control can never give the flavour of freedom just like a benign patriarchy never gives the same environment as genuine equality does.
Only in putting aside control does the mind open itself up to the other ways of creating order in which freedom is not compromised. What is being talked about is obviously not applicable to large institutions and systems, but then large institutions and systems are rarely concerned with freedom and order and goodness, but with control and output. But the primary concern of a school is, or ought to be, freedom and order—without which goodness cannot flower.
Order perhaps is not something to be maintained but has to be renewed from moment to moment through relationship and dialogue. Perhaps we look for a situation where things are put in order and remain in order. This may happen with inanimate objects but not in a living relationship. We need to keep in mind that the very movement of learning creates its own discipline. Thus dialogue at many levels becomes imperative. It cannot be only in the context of certain situations. What is needed is an ongoing dialogue about the nature of freedom, order and discipline, so that larger universal perspectives are always linked to the particular. The student begins to sense the quality of freedom and order and begins to relate it to his own life and to the contexts in which he lives.
All this requires great attention and sensitivity on the part of the adults and a patience which is not merely a willingness to wait longer for a result. Learning, which is its own discipline, must flower in an atmosphere of dialogue and relationship. A culture of freedom and order can be sustained in a school through attention which is renewing itself from moment to moment. It is inattention that demands an order that can be archived and frozen through innumerable rules and consequences. With attention as the source, there is a place for rules which is really the common understanding among large numbers of individuals who have to work together in cooperation. This has to be reiterated with endless patience because there is always a new group of students, or a new situation, or the renewal of attention which has slipped into inattention. ‘How many times do I have to do it?’ is the reaction of an impatient, inattentive mind.
The very creation of order becomes a movement of learning for the teacher and the student. Can the adults pre-empt situations? Can the adult never take recourse to ‘policy’ to ward off questioning? Can the students be involved in the creating of common agreements and understandings? Can the students be involved in the responses to breaches of trust and broken commitments? And can we take a re-look at the unnecessarily rigid structures we create more for our convenience as adults than for the nourishment of an atmosphere of order and freedom?