In the context of a Krishnamurti Study Centre, small group and panel dialogues are often organized to bring people together to explore serious issues of life. Dialogue is different from debates or discussions. A dialogue does not aim to achieve a specific goal or win an argument by convincing and persuading others. Instead, the purpose of these dialogues is to enquire into the questions of daily living. In dialogue, one is willing to examine one’s beliefs and assumptions. Often these dialogues are challenging—one needs to explore the nature of the challenge and what prevents dialogue from flowing like a river between friends.

This article explores some of the stumbling blocks to dialogue in Krishnamurti Schools and Study Centres as well as in other forums where dialogue is attempted. Significant time and energy goes into organizing such a dialogue—this article explores some of the considerations for organizing dialogues in these spaces. Immense care and thoughtfulness is required in facilitating as well as participating in a dialogue. This article examines factors which may prevent a dialogue.

Intent of dialogue

The intent is to create an environment in which sensitive individuals can examine afresh matters that concern each one of us so that the investigation is carried out not as an academic exercise but to probe deeper into life’s problems to gain insight. One finds that most of us do not have the capacity to ask fundamental questions and stay with the question. For example, “Is there psychological evolution?” Is it possible to ask a question and go into it with such meticulous care that the answer comes out from the question itself?

Looking for a result prevents dialogue. For example, if a person wants to have a good relationship with his teenage son or daughter and he comes to the dialogue with some expectations, this would prevent the act of learning because he would be concerned about how he is going to apply what is going on in dialogue to this particular relationship all the time. The intent of the dialogue, on the contrary, is to discover for oneself how one’s own mind is contributing to the conflict in the relationship in the first place.

The resolution of the problem in relationship does not come about through wanting tips and pointers from others, but to learn the process of thinking and to see through the illusions and deceptions of the mind. A goal-oriented approach prevents learning of the processes of the mind as one gets easily satisfied with ready-made answers.

The facilitator should make the intent of the dialogue clear before the start of the dialogue. Dialogue is not about some concepts or theories. It has everything to do with our daily lives and the state of the world in which we co-exist. Self-enquiry and dialogue is rooted in the fact that we can indeed explore together and discover truths which may have escaped us so far. One essential aspect of dialogue is to hold conclusions very lightly so that the mind is in a state of learning and observation and, thus, within a space in which insight can happen. The primary responsibility of the facilitator is to have this quality in himself and, therefore, be able to facilitate this in others.

Format of dialogue

Some of the formats in which dialogue can be organized have been given below:

  • Dialogue among friends: In this format, individuals who are serious about examining the existing human situations get together to delve into the nature of the human mind.

  • Dialogue based on a theme text: a text of Krishnamurti’s teachings is read together and the dialogue is around the questions raised in the text.

  • Dialogue with a panel of persons who are quite familiar with the process of dialogue: In this format two or more persons may be invited to open up a theme. The panellists have a dialogue among themselves and then the participants ask them questions.

  • Dialogue with a facilitator: In this format one person is designated as a facilitator who will take up a subject, talk for few minutes about that subject and then open the forum for discussion. Most of the communication will take place between the facilitator and participants. This may turn into a question and answer session.

Role of the facilitator

A facilitator is needed in all these formats of dialogues. The facilitator is the person who makes the process of dialogue flow smoothly. He is not an authority who controls the process of dialogue. He is very careful that, in the process of facilitating, he does not become the centre of dialogue and start steering the dialogue in a pre-determined direction.

It is necessary to point out that the role of the facilitator cannot be defined in terms of what he should do and what he should not do. All that is needed is awareness of what is going on at that moment and realization of the fact that the problems that arise in the course of dialogue are the product of the way we all think. Therefore, one cannot find fault with what a particular person is saying. Rather, the underlying cause of the problem can be discussed in the dialogue so that it becomes clear how our habits and attitudes hinder the process of communicating with each other. When the facilitator notices a pattern emerging that prevents dialogue, he may then gently point this out.

Some participants may only sit quietly and listen to what is being said. Perhaps they may be feeling hesitant. The facilitator can then encourage such individuals to express their thoughts. Dialogue without a facilitator is a challenge. Sensing a lack of authority in a dialogue, one of the participants may start telling others what to do and what not to do. He may start dictating rules on the basis of his own judgements and conclusions. Other participants may get offended. Hence, the participants themselves have to be alert to such a situation arising and gently point out as to what is going on.

By being fully aware of what is going on, the facilitator can ensure that the dialogue adheres to the main theme under consideration. He is also cautious and alert that his intervention does not discourage the participants from enquiry. The facilitator can play a crucial role in avoiding the various pitfalls discussed here.

Dialogue is not merely an intellectual activity

People who find dialogue intellectually stimulating need to be aware of ‘what prevents dialogue?’ Dialogue offers a unique opportunity to be with one’s thought-feelings simultaneously. The mind does not want to stay with uncomfortable feelings, and has a strong tendency to move towards intellectualization. Usually, the participants are committed to certain ideas, opinions and beliefs and they argue from their respective points of view. The facilitator may help the participants to realize that their knowledge, beliefs, prejudices, ideas and opinions divide us and that we need to explore the issues of life with a fresh and objective mind. In the dialogue, the participants need not try to convince each other of anything. Rather, the mind needs to be in the state of enquiry and understanding.

In dialogue it is imperative for the participants to make a distinction between the art of seeing and conceptualization. Conceptualization is the process of forming ideas. In dialogue there is a tendency to pick up statements that resonate with ideas that one has already formed. The problem is that the person often labels the statements as right or wrong and this labelling process prevents us from finding out the truth of the matter. There may be a tendency to respond quickly to a question raised during the dialogue without completely listening to what the other person has said. The inner conceptual commentary that goes on in the form of judgement and interpretation of what the other person is saying also prevents us from listening. Responding means to listen and attend to what someone is saying so completely that one hears not only the words, but also what is behind the words.

We can listen to each other and observe our own reaction only when there is complete attention. Attention indicates affection. Dialogue rooted in affection is vastly different from the dialogue of the intellect. We can listen to each other only when there is no screen of prejudices, no screen of resistance and no screen of ideas, opinions, judgements and conclusions.

Enquiry without framework

There is an art of enquiry, an act of observing, and articulating from that observation. From experience we find that most of the time, this does not happen. Rarely do we take up a question and investigate it together. The academics have great difficulty with dialogue because they have a theoretical framework within which they converse with each other. The framework gives them the meaning and direction. They are not able to enquire without the framework. So, there lies the difficulty in dialogue. In a dialogue there is no framework within which one enquires. The mind is too vast and too complex to fit into a framework. Thinking tends to run ahead of observation. This happens in the form of projection or speculation. Then the seeing is no longer precise.

Being second-hand

Quoting others is a distraction from dialogue. Quoting Krishnamurti may give a person a false sense of confidence and a feeling of authority in what he is saying. On many occasions words are not accurately quoted because of too much reliance on memory; or the quotes are misinterpreted so as to convey one’s own point of view.

The most distracting aspect is to narrate anecdotes of Krishnamurti and adding one’s own imagination to the anecdotes in order to ‘score points’ during the conversation. The anecdotes do not address the immediacy of the issue that is being discussed. The same applies to quotes and anecdotes of religious or spiritual leaders both living and dead. We need to be really careful and not get distracted by ideas that we have already formed.

Identification with memories blocks dialogue

As a participant, one needs to be aware that words and statements evoke memories through association. Getting carried away with reactions and associations in our memories prevents listening. Reactions arising out of past memory take us away from the movement of dialogue. The word ‘anger’ may trigger the memory of oneself getting angry and the story behind losing control over oneself. One needs to be aware whether one’s verbal expressions in dialogue are arising out of memory or out of seeing the functioning of the mind directly.

Observation of oneself is the key to learning

Dialogue has the potential to open the door to a wider movement of learning and a subtle shift may happen that leads to clarity of perception. The process of dialogue could clarify the teachings in the context of one’s own life. Dialogue could show the limitations and contradictions of one’s way of thinking. Observation of oneself is the key to having a dialogue. This implies that the participants are involved in the act of observation of thoughts and feelings as they arise. It is then that there is a possibility of movement within oneself.

In our day to day life we need to be aware of the operation of our own mind and our responses and reactions to the various challenges that we face. We also need to use our senses to observe nature and be aware of the immediate environment where we live. Shortly before his death in 1992, David Bohm, while having a conversation regarding the vagaries of dialogue, said, “I think people are not doing enough work on their own, apart from the dialogue groups.” What is being suggested is that apart from attending dialogues, it is essential that the individual is involved in self-study. This may involve writing one’s thoughts as they arise, reading books and listening to audios or videos of Krishnamurti’s talks and dialogues.

In considering what prevents dialogue, one becomes alert to the inner movement of thought and to the outer movement of conversation among the participants. There is no effort to control or steer the dialogue in a particular direction. The alertness has its own movement and the outcome of dialogue is unknown. Through alert awareness and attentiveness, the participants in the dialogue learn the art of listening, the art of observation and the art of learning. Learning is the outcome of observation of things as they actually are.