We are familiar with dialogue in film scripts and novels where it means, simply, a conversational exchange—one person speaks, the other responds. It began, probably, with the dawn of language itself. Only later, with the ancient Hindus and the Greeks, did it acquire the sense of a discourse pursued with the clear intention of arriving at truth. Though there is little doubt that Socrates ‘knows’, it is the way of discovery that is important; it is by the discarding of false ideas that one arrives finally at the truth. Coherent, rational thinking is central to it.
We live in a time shot through with information; indeed, it is often called the Information Age. And, though it is still in its infancy, it promises to be as far-reaching a development as were the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. It is remodelling how we see ourselves, developing our potential in new and different ways and presaging, some say, a new Golden Age. Unfortunately, it does not—indeed, it cannot—say anything to us about the meaning of life. Whatever evidence there is, on the contrary, suggests that the avalanche of information is as likely to bury as it is to redeem us. The ‘ancient question’ still remains—what is meaning, and where can we find it? It is to this need/ question that dialogue responds.
At the beginning of his mature life’s work, in the speech he gave at Ommen (Holland) in 1929, Krishnamurti declared that his sole aim was, “to set men totally, unconditionally, free”. He pursued this aim for the rest of his life. It is significant in the context we are exploring because he also often said, it is the truth that sets us free, not our attempts to capture it. It takes what he called a ‘passive alertness’, a receptivity to the ‘New’, which he equates at the same time with listening and learning. For these are presenttense activities which stem from, and inhere in, the movement of attention. And, while the latter cannot be predicated, nor can it be said to exist a priori, it is by its very nature comprehensive and precise. One knows it by being it, being part of it.
The same holds true for dialogue. In dialogue what we bring to the table is not first and foremost our knowledge and experience, but an unforced quality of listening attention—we are willing to make space for whatever may come up. Apparently innocuous, this is the vital first step since it opens the field to something ‘greater’, more significant, than the back-and-forth of discussion, debate and dialectic. This ‘something’ cannot be known in advance; indeed, to speak truly, it cannot be known at all. But it can be sensed, felt, intuited, ‘known without knowing’—the access to it is via a different door. The poor village boy on a bluff above the Ganga releases his home-made kite to the breeze.
Dialogue groups vary in size, age and composition, but the thread of listening unites them all. For listening is a quality both of heart and mind. In a sense, it has no resting place; it is as open as the sky, and as unpredictable. Also, like the sky, it has no end. I am listening not just to the literal meaning, but to the tone of voice, the ‘resonance’ of the speaker, and implied in that listening is an unfettered willingness to receive what is said without barriers or reaction. It is this alignment/attunement that is important, not the ideational content of what is being said, for it is at this moment that we leave behind the divisive, often confrontational, exchange of thought for the deeper waters of communion. There is a felt shift, a ‘change of heart’. Or, perhaps it is simply that the heart takes its place—not the heart of emotion and reaction, but the subtle sense of wholeness, of oneness—that truth does not lie in the ideational, but in the shift to a deeper level of being.
This deeper level has its own radiance, its own unborrowed light; we may call it intelligence. It arises in a group when the separative self, which is the outcome of thought, becomes aware of itself—sufficiently, at least, for it to be temporarily suspended. There is a diminution of its controlling grip—without, incidentally, any loss of acuity—a sense that what looks continuous, the ‘I’, is not the impenetrable wall it seems but is, in fact, discontinuous. It is in the gap that communion takes place. By its very nature it is untenanted: it is the free and open space waiting to be filled. Or, rather, not filled exactly—more inhabited, played in, enjoyed. The breeze catches the kite. It is moving now, though held.
What is the need for, the raison d’etre of, dialogue? In a strict sense, it has no purpose;, like life itself, it is its own reason for being. Nevertheless, we restrict ourselves greatly if our lives are so dense with experience and information that we make no room for ‘something else’ to enter, that something which, as K says, “man has always sought”. We sense it at first perhaps vaguely, ill-definedly, then it becomes of compelling importance. At the same time, it takes shape in us; it becomes the nature, the substance, of who we really are. So, to put it bluntly, we are dumbing ourselves down if we restrict ourselves to the level plane of action laid out for us by modern materialistic society. This includes the latest wave of technological invention as it does the pursuit of self-advancement, the narcissistic craving to be seen and recognised.
The ‘something else’ we seek is not far away; indeed, it is exactly and precisely where we are. It is at the core of our daily lives. It is in this sense that dialogue creates the opportunity to explore the immediate what is of existence. What is may be the ultimate truth; it may also be the truth of our own conflicted lives. And the relevance of it may pertinently lie in the direct exposure of the nature of such conflict—impersonally, because it is common to us all. And the commonality of consciousness implies not only that we share the same content, as we share our DNA, but that the way into the unravelling of this content lies in observation of the common pool. We are not in-dividuals (= un-divided), whatever we may think, and our ‘salvation’ does not lie within the pursuit of this illusion, but in the seeing that consciousness really is common and that we are part of the stream; it is our inheritance. In this sense, truly, I am ‘my brother’s keeper’.
In this sense also—naturally, easily—a sense of affection should pervade the group. Once it is understood that point-scoring is not the object and that individualistic competition injures all the competitors, winners and losers alike, there is again room for that space to emerge wherein true learningin- attention can take place. Unlike book learning, it is non-accumulative; indeed, it is unrepeatable. We are speaking psychologically, of course. We all need to be aware of the world we are living in, but self-knowledge, or self-knowing, is of a different kind. For, while we may by reflection and analysis put aside the blocks to the awakening of intelligence, this alone will not bring it about. The kite is hovering, thirty feet above the ground. What shall we do? Wait for it to fall? This is the moment of suspension, the moment of non-action, the empty atom. If we fill it with the known, we are back where we were; if we strain to go beyond it, similarly so. Can we simply sit and wait? It is an arduous task, one that the brain is quite unused to. It is used to the forward movement of time; in fact, that movement is thought-time. And anything it projects is still tied to time; therefore, it is never original. Originality does not lie in the promptings of thought, however high-flown, far-reaching and inventive. It lies in the nuanced in-between, the abeyance, but not the control, of thought. Originality flows from its own ground, once the way to that ground is unimpeded. The ‘I’ as the doer, the agitator, the mover cedes his central place; he ceases to exist. It is at this moment that intelligence may enter, quicker than lightning and equally destructive. It is death to the time-worn trammels of thought. The kite takes a nosedive but soars up again.
We have touched something now—it is a new equation. Whatever the topic—love, death, relationship—we are launched, in touch with the actuality of it, not merely with the verbal cipher. In other words, we are looking at the moon and not at the finger which points to it. A subtlety has entered our field of perception, and with that perception we can travel far. At the same time, it is nothing abstruse, nothing mystical or requiring explanation. It is the simplest, most commonplace thing on earth, available to all, anywhere, any time. For it unites the what is of ultimate truth with the equal what is of daily life and, indeed, reveals them to be one and the same. There is no work too grand, no task too humble. This is Krishnamurti’s legacy.
What is required of us is implementation, a fearless setting forth, an application. No kite-flying manual can teach us what to do, for the stuff of its building is our own. And the making of it is its own goal, the flying of it its own transcendence. From first to last it was meant to fly.