– J. Krishnamurti, Talks in India, 1966
I discovered J. Krishnamurti’s writings in the late 1960s. In addition to the incredible clarity with which he wrote and spoke, I especially appreciated his rich, vivid descriptions of nature which appear throughout the three-volume Commentaries on Living and Krishnamurti’s Notebook.
Krishnamurti’s biographer and long-time friend Mary Lutyens noted about him:
“In his decades of speaking with people all over the world, Krishnamurti talked about seeing and perception extensively. How many times did he invite audience members to look with him at the mountains with their dappled light and to look at a tree or one’s wife or boyfriend clearly, as they really are, without allowing an image or a flood of ideas to interfere with direct perception?”
At a public talk in Saanen, Krishnamurti asked:
“I wonder how you see things. Do you see them with your eyes, with your mind? Obviously, you see things with your eyes, but you see with the mind much more quickly than with the eye. You see the world much more quickly than the eye can perceive. You see with memory, with knowledge, and when you so see things, that is with the mind, you are seeing what has been, not what actually is.”
I find it very challenging to look at anything, whether it is my wife, or a tree or a rock, without the image-making process coming into play. However, Krishnamurti has given us some real clues for perceiving freshly, wholly, and with full awareness, for anyone seriously interested in inquiring into this.
For instance, I quote Krishnamurti with Professor David Bohm and others saying:
“Can you see with your eyes the tree as a whole? Can you see your wife or your husband or your girlfriend or boyfriend as a whole entity? Do you understand my question? Can you see anything totally, or are you always seeing partially?”
Mark Lee recently shared a very interesting story about Krishnamurti and seeing. Back in the late 1960’s, when Mark was teaching at Rishi Valley School in India, Krishnamurti was talking with the teachers there. He indicated that he wanted the teachers to pay more attention to how the students walked, how they talked, how they looked, and how they listened. Apparently, he went into each aspect with the teachers and, when he got to seeing, he mentioned the Aborigines in Australia. He explained that it was his understanding that, when the Aborigines were in the Outback, their senses were very, very sharp and they were aware of everything—in front of them, behind them, and he reportedly asserted, “I swear, they can even see behind them!” Krishnamurti then asked, “How can we help our students here at Rishi Valley to see with that kind of awareness?” Mark said that he went away from the meeting feeling hard pressed to address Krishnamurti’s simple but daunting challenge.
Mark eventually came up with an idea that was implemented for a while at Rishi Valley School. Every school day morning, some class time was allotted for the students to explore expanding their range of perception with their arms extended horizontally out to their sides. The students and teachers would extend their fingers back out of their range of vision while looking straight ahead and notice when their fingers first came into view. Initially, the students had to bring their fingers well forward of 180 degrees before they could perceive them while looking straight ahead. After a little practice, however, they grew much more adept at noticing their extended fingers from a wider field of vision.
In another story related from the late sixties, it seems Krishnamurti suggested to a group of five to ten Rishi Valley students, “When you go into a room—just for fun—look straight ahead. Don’t look around at anything, but be aware of everything in the room; see the shapes, the colors, the people, and the furniture, everything, without looking at it. Don’t move your eyes.” Later, some students reported to Mark that they had tried out this suggestion, and they felt they had noticed new things in their familiar classroom and been more visually aware than they had been previously.
Speaking at Brockwood Park, England, one time, Krishnamurti pointed out that if the teacher sees the student looking out the window, the student is generally admonished by the teacher not to look out the window, but to pay attention to the Mathematics or whatever subject is at hand in the classroom. But, Krishnamurti asks, can’t the student attend to both the bird outside and the Mathematics lesson?
In an interview she gave me at her home in Ojai, Mary Zimbalist, a close friend of Krishnamurti told me that one day while driving by the Pacific near Malibu, she had tried to explain to Krishnamurti what it was like swimming in the ocean. She spoke of trying to describe the bracing coldness of the water, the force of the waves and currents, the sensory intensity of the experience. Krishnamurti listened attentively and, when she had finished her description, he exclaimed, “That’s the kind of seeing that I’m talking about!” Mary also told me that Krishnamurti had said to many people “Look widely as the Buddha looked.”
Throughout the decades of his talks all over the world, Krishnamurti made numerous references to the importance of seeing with all the senses — not just with the eyes, but with the ears, the heart, with everything one has—in fact, he asserted that, if you really give everything to your seeing/perceiving, the ‘self’ is not. Krishnamurti also indicated that, if we’re just seeing with our eyes, then we’re not really seeing at all. “If you totally attend—with your ears, with your eyes, with your body, with your nerves, with all your mind, with your heart in the sense of affection, love, compassion, total attention—what takes place?”
In one of his talks, Krishnamurti suggested that when you go into an auditorium, you can notice the curtain, the stage, the audience, the ceiling, individually, one at a time, or you can take all of it in instantly — in a moment. Krishnamurti questioned the value of narrowed concentration. Attention, yes, but concentration, no. How can you tell if you’re concentrating rather than paying attention? If you are startled, as I often am, when someone suddenly comes up to you or says something to you, then you can be pretty sure you were narrowly concentrated rather than fully attentive.
“When there is concentration, which is a process of exclusion, there is a resistance and, therefore, a contradiction. But when there is attention, there is no contradiction, because an attentive mind can concentrate without exclusion.”
For the most part, Krishnamurti offers little instruction in meditation, except to question whether common practices of repeating a mantra or concentrating on a flame or any other object is true meditation. In addition to the importance of keeping the spine straight in meditation, whether sitting or lying down, he lays special emphasis on keeping the body very still, especially the eyeballs. Hewould say:
“What is observation? You observe through the eye, don’t you? Now, can you observe without moving the eye? Because, if you move the eye, the whole operation of the thinking brain comes into being. I won’t go into this because you’ll turn it into some kind of mystical, nonsensical thing—mysterious—and you know all the rest of that. And, in inquiring, can you observe without any movement of the eye? Because the eye has an effect on the brain.”
The different kind of seeing that Krishnamurti is pointing to is not about narrowing down, holding, which often accompanies a restricting and holding of the breath. It is instead, an expanding, opening process that invites the participation of other senses. In short, Krishnamurti’s writings invite us to see broader, further, more wholly—with full attention, with all the senses, and with an appreciation of nature that is both renewing and life-affirming. Many children, it seems to me, are more familiar with this kind of vision than most adults. It is as simple and as challenging as taking in the full 180-degree range that is potentially available to us all the time.
In her foreword to Krishnamurti’s Notebook, Mary Lutyens says, “the trees, mountains, rivers, clouds, sunlight, birds and flowers that he describes over and over again are forever‘new’ because they are seen each time with eyes that have never become accustomed tothem; each day they are a totally fresh perception for him, and so they become for us.”Accompanying the Notebook’s exquisite descriptions of nature is an intimateportrayal of Krishnamurti’s inner perceptions. Seeing as if from the back of the head is mentioned several times. For instance:
“Early in the morning when the sun was not yet up and the dew on the grass, still in bed, lying quietly, without any thought or movement, there was a seeing, not the superficial seeing with the eyes but seeing through the eyes from behind the head. The eyes and from behind the head were only the instrument through which the immeasurable past was seeing into the immeasurable space that had no time.”
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that Krishnamurti has left us some clues for perceiving wholly, freshly, and with full awareness. Please let me now briefly review some of those clues: They include keeping the eyes “completely alive, but still” and “seeing widely, as the Buddha looked” as also the aborigines of Australia. Included in these clues, is the necessity of seeing with all the senses together, not just the eyes ‘and the rest gone to sleep.’ Krishnamurti also mentions that, in profound seeing, there is a sense of seeing ‘not with eyes only, but withone’s whole head as though from the back of the head with one’s entire being.’
Additionally, Krishnamurti also put great emphasis on the importance of seeing that the observer is the observed, the thinker is the thought, the experiencer is the experienced. He asserted that the ability to truly see that the observer is the observed, not just intellectualize it or take it on as a belief, is essential for directly perceiving reality - “There is no division between the world and you: you are the world.”
Where do all these clues lead? That is for each one of us to discover, for, asKrishnamurti once pointed out, “The challenge is as big as you make it.”
I would like to conclude with one of Krishnamurti’s letters to the schools:
“Is it that we are so caught up in our own network of problems, our own desires, our own urges of pleasure and pain that we never look around, never watch the moon? Watch it. Watch with all your eyes and ears, your sense of smell—watch. Look as though you are looking for the first time. If you can do that, that tree, that bush, that blade of grass you are seeing for the first time. Then you can see your teacher, your mother and father, your brother and sister, for the first time. There is an extraordinary feeling about that: the wonder, the strangeness, the miracle of a fresh morning that has never been before, never will be.”
In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.