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Exploring Seeing with J. Krishnamurti

By John Christianson

"Is it possible to live with all our senses completely awakened, with a mind that is not cluttered, with a perception that is total, a seeing that is not only visual but is beyond the conditioned thinking? If we could, it would be worthwhile to go into all that."
J. Krishnamurti, New Delhi, Talk #1, 1961

I discovered J. Krishnamurti's writings in the late 60's. In addition to the incredible clarity with which he wrote and spoke, I especially appreciated his sensitively rich and vivid descriptions of nature. They appear throughout the three volume Commentaries on Living series and Krishnamurti's Notebook.

In her 1996 book, Krishnamurti and the Rajagopals, his longtime friend and biographer, Mary Lutyens, noted of Krishnamurti:

"One of his ever constant characteristics was his feeling for natural beauty. He would stand and watch a sky or a mountain or a tree or shadows on water for half an hour or more at a time, utterly still, utterly lost in looking."

Krishnamurti died at the age of 92 in 1986. Despite the fact that he spent virtually his entire adult life talking with people all over the world about radically transforming consciousness in humankind, he died convinced that no-one had 'gotten it' - this transformational way of selfless seeing and being that he and other great religious teachers have so passionately and eloquently advocated. Through extensive research I have found that Krishnamurti left some very specific, but relatively unnoticed instruction regarding the characteristics of this transformational kind of seeing. Instruction, that if fundamentally applied, could facilitate a radical shift in how one perceives the world.

In this article I will present the essential aspects of his instruction in seeing which he presented over nearly six decades of talking with people throughout the world.

I invite the reader to try them out. See where they leads, play with them, explore them and let them take you where they will. They're there to explore if we but have eyes to see, ears to listen, tongues to taste, fingers to touch and hearts to feel.

Who am I to suggest that anyone could have a breathrough in consciousness from such exploration? I am nobody special, certainly at least as consensus consciousness-bound as the next person, but, nevertheless, I see clearly that the ability to see with a truly new perspective is available to most of us. These essential aspects of seeing that Krishnamurti emphasized provide rich ground for exploration. These aspects of seeing, though previously, largely unheralded, are fundamentally sound and explicit.

Perhaps they will enable you to see what you could not see before, or enable you to sustain a perception that, up to now, you had only gotten fleeting glimpses of. The world is crying for us to abandon our old, self-centered ways of seeing and to see truly and wholly with new eyes. Good luck in your exploration.

I had my first opportunity to see Krishnamurti in person around 1973. I was living in Santa Cruz, California when I learned he would be speaking at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco, a two-hour drive away.

About six months previous, after reading a book on the Bates method of eyesight improvement, I abandoned wearing my prescription glasses for nearsightedness and slight astigmatism.

At the time, I couldn't pass the California Drivers exam without my glasses, and I had worn glasses since I was around eight or nine years old. I was then 24.

I had a front or second row balcony seat the night Krishnamurti appeared at the Masonic Auditorium. When he first came out on the stage to take his seat, he was just a gray blur from the balcony. From my seat I couldn't make out his features.

I dejectedly reached for the glasses I hadn't worn in over six months. I had brought them along in case they were needed to take full advantage of my first opportunity to see Krishnamurti in person.

With mixed feelings I viewed him clearly through my prescription glasses. I could see him very sharp and crisp, but I needed crutches-for-the-eyes to do it.

Within a short while I began to get a headache. I am not prone to headaches and can recall only having had a total of six or more headaches in my entire life.

Speculating to myself on why I now had a headache, I attributed it to the unaccustomed strain of seeing with the locked in focus necessitated by the use of my prescription glasses.

I removed my glasses and leaned forward and rested my closed eyes in my open palms. After a little while, Krishnamurti's words mirrored some of my own deeply held thoughts and feelings. I felt a strong resonance with what he was saying.

Without really thinking about it, I took my palms down from my now opened eyes and looked out toward this man who spoke so directly to me. I could see him quite clearly, as I continued to listen with rapt attention.

Then I suddenly realized that I didn't have my glasses on, and his features started to slip immediately, as I returned to my previous state of blurred distance seeing.

This experience enabled me to realize that my eyes truly were not irreparably damaged, but that some kind of pattern or habit of use was keeping me from seeing clearly. I now had my own proof that I had the organic capacity to see clearly without the aid of glasses; even if only momentarily.

I would go on to completely abandon wearing glasses, take Bates vision classes and explore dietary modifications, that would eventually enable me to pass the California Drivers exam without glasses on several different occasions when renewing my drivers license over the next twenty-five years.

I learned only recently that Krishnamurti was introduced to the Bates method by his friend, Aldous Huxley, author of the book The Art of Seeing. Aldous Huxley's wife, Laura, told me over the phone, that Krishnamurti had noted a dramatic improvement in Aldous's health when they got together one time, and Krishnamurti asked him what he had been doing differently. Aldous then told Krishnamurti about Bates eye exercises and how much they had helped him.

Krishnamurti apparently practiced Bates eye exercises daily for the remainder of his life. He retained excellent vision, never needing glasses all the way up to his death at the age of 90. He also walked regularly, was a lifelong vegetarian, did two hours of yoga every day, and regularly practiced pranayama breathing.

Krishnamurti, in his six decades of speaking with people all over the world, talked extensively about seeing and perception. Many times he would 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 thoughts to interfere with direct perception.

Krishnamurti explored this topic one day in July during a public talk in Switzerland, "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."
1966 1st Public Talk, July 10th, Saanen, Switzerland

I find it very challenging to look at anything, whether it is a tree, or rock, or my wife, without the image-making process coming into play. I think, however, that Krishnamurti, as he challenges us to see and live more passionately and deeply, has pointed out some important aspects of seeing that can help us to perceive more broadly and wholly, if we seriously explore them.

"First of all can you see with your eyes the tree as a whole? Can you see your wife or your husband, or your girl friend, or boy friend, as a whole entity? Do you understand my question? Can you see anything totally, or are you always seeing partially?"
Brockwood Park, 1978

Mark Lee, the Editor in Chief of Krishnamurti Publications of America, recently recounted a very interesting story regarding Krishnamurti and seeing.

It seems back in the late 60's when Mark was teaching at Krishnamurti's 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.

Krishnamurti went into each aspect with the Rishi Valley teachers, and when he got to seeing, he mentioned the Australian Aborigines. He said 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, around them, and he reportedly said, "I swear they can even see behind them."

Krishnamurti reportedly then asked, "How can we help our students here at Rishi Valley to see with this kind of awareness?"

Mark indicated that he went away from that 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. Every school day morning, some class time was dedicated for the students to explore expanding their range of perception with their arms extended horizontally out to their sides.

The students and teachers would then extend their fingers back out of their range of view 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 continuing to look straight ahead.

However, after a little practice, the students grew much more adept at noticing their extended fingers from a wider field of view.

Mark took this information back to Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti listened attentively and then exclaimed, "This is great." "Now if we can just get the students to do this 'All the time and not just for fifteen minutes in the morning."

In another related story, Krishnamurti in the late sixties suggested to a small group of 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".

Mark Lee related that some students told him afterwards, that they had tried out Krishnamurti's suggestion and felt they had noticed new things and been more visually aware than they had been.

Speaking in Brockwood Park, England, one time, Krishamurti pointed out that, if the teacher sees a student looking out the window, the student is generally admonished by the teacher to not look out the window and to pay attention to the mathematics lesson - but Krishnamurti asks, can't the student attend to both the bird outside and the mathematics lesson at the same time?

In an interview at Mary Zimbalist's home in Ojai, Ms. Zimbalist told me that one day while driving along the ocean near Malibu, she tried to describe to Krishnamurti what it was like swimming in the ocean, for, "I used to be an ocean swimmer."

She spoke of trying to describe to Krishnamurti the bracing coldness of the water, the force of the waves and currents, the sensory intensiveness of the experience. Krishnamurti listened very attentively, and when she finished her description, he exclaimed, "That's the kind of seeing that I'm talking about."

A few weeks later Krishnamurti gave a public talk in Ojai on seeing with all the senses. Ms Zimbalist explained to me that she did not know, if her description of ocean swimming had influenced Krishnamurti to talk about that particular topic in one of his talks.

Ms. Zimbalist also told me that she heard Krishnamurti, at Brockwood Park in England, tell many people on numerous occasions, "Look wide like the Buddha looks!"

By his "Look wide like the Buddha" statement, she understood Krishnamurti to be advocating a wide-angled kind of looking that is suggested in the calm, wide-eyed look portrayed in many statues of the Buddha.

She told me she wasn't sure she remembered the exact words Krishnamurti would say, but "Look wide like the Buddha looks." was pretty close she thought

Returning to Krishnamurti and the ocean swimming, throughout his decades of talks, he made numerous references to the importance of 'seeing' with all the senses - not just with the eyes, but with your ears, your heart, everything you have. In fact he suggested 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 than we're not really seeing.

..."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?"
Brockwood Park, 1979 Talks with Buddhist Scholars

There is a story of Krishnamurti visiting a factory, and after a tour of the factory, he asked the factory manager some questions that indicated Krishnamurti had picked up through his skills of observation some intricacies of the overall factory operation that were quite astounding to the factory manager.

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.

At an international educational gathering of Krishnamurti teachers and administrators Krishnamurti, reportedly, opened the conference by telling all the participants: "No more academics in Krishnamurti Schools!"

This apparently sent shock waves throughout the conference, and participants struggled for a couple of days to deal with such a possibility, until Krishnamurti let them off the hook in the closing days of the conference.

What would Krishnamurti have taught in the schools that he helped to establish instead of academics? I think there's a good chance there would have been enough room in the curriculum for the study of seeing and perception:

..."What do you think is the greatest, the supreme art? Is it the art of listening, the art of seeing, observing, perceiving and so on, and the art of learning?"...
Saanen, 3rd Public Question and Answer Meeting, August 27th, 1985

Something Krishnamurti reportedly had little affinity for being taught in his schools was concentration. Attention -- yes, but concentration -- no.

"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.". Poona, India, Talk 4, 1965

Looking at concentration and attention draws us close to the topic of meditation.

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 some other object are truly meditation.

In addition to the importance of keeping the spine straight in meditation, whether sitting or lying down, he places special importance on keeping the body very still, especially the eyeballs.

..."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 Wholeness of Life,
page 2l8

Krishnamurti also pointed out, as he did to the students at Rishi Valley, that we can also see more with our eyes open by looking straight ahead without moving our eyes all around.

..."But, on the other hand, you can do anything and meditate; when in the bus, or when you are driving - it is the most extraordinary thing, that you can meditate while you are driving - be careful, I mean this. The body has its own intelligence, which thought has destroyed."…"Meditation can, however, take place when the eyes are open and one is surrounded by objects of every kind. But then these objects have no importance at all. One sees them but there is no process of recognition, which means there is no experiencing and therefore love; love then is joy and timeless."
Beyond Violence,
Page 92

This different kind of seeing that Krishnamurti is pointing to is not to be confused with staring. It 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 other senses’ participation.

In short, Krishnamurti’s writings invite us to see broader, farther, more wholly, with full attention, with all the senses and with an appreciation of nature that is both renewing and life affirming.

They are eyes that I believe many children are more familiar with than most adults. It as simple and as challenging as taking in the full 180 degree range of vision that is potentially available to most of us 'All of the time.'

Many people familiar with all of Krishnamurti’s writings regard Krishnamurti’s Notebook simply as 'His best.'

The editor of Krishnamurti's Notebook, the late Mary Lutyens, in the book’s Foreword calls that volume: "the well-spring of Krishnamurti’s teaching." "The whole essence of his teaching is here, arising from its natural source." and she continues,…."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 to them; 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 intimate portrayal of Krishnamurti's inner perceptions including his 'process'. Seeing 'as if from the back of the head' is mentioned several times:

"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 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. And later, still in bed, there was a seeing in which all life seemed to be contained."
Krishnamurti's Notebook, Page 33

Around 1977 or 78, Alan Kishbaugh, the current Executive Director of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, asked me to escort Krishnamurti from his car out to the podium during the year's Ojai Talks. As I remember, I was instructed by Alan just to be there – I needn't run interference for him, just kind of be there -- available.

People had spoke to me of how Krishnamurti seemed to be able to look right through you. Others mentioned that he looked at you as if nobody was home. This was intended to imply his selflessness, not that he was checked out in some way.

I think these statements were attempts to describe a person who is seeing differently -- who isn't narrowing down and concentrating with tunnel vision, nor looking at something and allowing a whole train of free association images to run in one's mind as many of us so often do. This different kind of seeing that he commonly used doesn't fit our usual more, choice-oriented ways of perceiving.

For me, initially interacting with this man I so greatly admired was just plain unnerving. I didn't know how to act.

Fortunately, within a short while, I gave up trying to figure out how to act and opted for addressing the moment by moment situation as fully as I could as it unfolded.

As I recall, Krishnamurti and I hardly said much more than good morning to each other and smiled. Around him, with my 26 years, I sometimes found myself feeling jaded and pretentious in contrast to his more open, direct, and childlike freshness.

That is until he got on the stage. Then he became a lion - not ferocious, but so strong - and somehow it didn’t seem inconsistent with the somewhat shy, unpretentious person that he seemed to be prior to taking his seat on the stage, donning his lapel microphone, and looking out at the audience.

One April in the late seventies it rained and rained, and it was impossible to hold the talks in the Ojai Oak Grove. Last minute arrangements were made to hold the talks in the local high school's gymnasium.

Then the next day the gym wasn't available, and the football stadium had to be used. Fortunately, it wasn't raining that day. Somehow I found myself standing out in the middle of the football field with Krishnamurti, Alan Kishbaugh and another Krishnamurti Foundation of America Trustee, Theo Lilliefelt.

There was some kind of technical glitch with the public address system, so we were standing back from the podium around the fifty-yard line of the football playing field while the tech crew was correcting the problem.

People attending filled two thirds of the West side of the stadium bleachers, so that, instead of the usual Home Team high school football fans, the bleachers now held people who had come to hear Krishnamurti speak.

I felt very self-conscious standing there in front of all those people, so I thought to myself, 'what should I do?' 'Look at the mountains' came to me. From the spacious stadium there were panoramic views of the Ojai Mountains available for the looking. I started trying to take in the mountains circling clockwise. I barely noticed the scoreboard, as I looked past it thinking to myself 'look at the mountains!'

But then Krishnamurti asked Theo and Alan something to the effect of, 'What's that up there?' as he pointed up at the scoreboard.

Apparently there was a misspelled word on the scoreboard and Krishnamurti had noticed it. I had looked only perfunctorily at the scoreboard in my rush to 'look' at the mountains, but Krishnamurti had actually looked at the scoreboard as well.

Even with Krishnamurti's drawing the other's attention to the scoreboard, I still couldn't quite figure out what he was talking about, so much for awareness!

That same year, when the talks were rained out in the Oak Grove, Krishnamurti addressed a core topic of his teachings, the observer and the observed, in a public dialogue at the Ojai Art Center:

..."Who creates conflict, me and you, we and they, the Arabs and the Jews, the American, the Russian, the Indian, and the Muslim, we are eliminating totally all that if you see the observer is the observed."
"Look: the Hindu in India and the Muslim in Pakistan divided by a boundary, divided by nationality, divided by language, divided by their religious beliefs, all that is created by thought. Right?"
"The thought is memory, the past. So when you see that, that one is conditioned by belief, whether it is Hindu, Muslim, Jew, you are then observing the belief. So what happens when the observer is the observed because there you have eliminated - there is the elimination, not you have eliminated - there is the elimination of conflict."

Krishnamurti later in the same dialogue links the true awareness of the observer is the observed with profound psychological change:

"We don't change fundamentally as human beings because we have divided the observer different from the observed. Right? So there is no fundamental change. But there is a fundamental change radically and at great depth, when the observer is the observed so there is only pure observation. When there is that pure observation that which is being observed undergoes a radical change because there is no naming it, no conclusion about it, no abstraction, no escape, just observe. Have you got this. Are you doing it?
1st Public Dialogue, Ojai, 4th of April, 1978

Something that Krishnamurti mentioned but a few times, and then only in the Notebook, is that when intensely involved in his 'process', there was a sense of seeing, "not with eyes only, but with one’s whole head as though from the back of the head with one's entire being." Krishnamruti's Notebook, Page 11

To review some of the aspects of seeing that Krishnamurti emphasized, he suggested when seeing that we not stare or look with our eyes only. -- that we not narrowly concentrate, with its accompanying resistance and excluding.

Instead, with all of our senses together, we can give full attention and widen, open, and expand our perception. He asked us to invite the possibility of seeing life anew without the interference of the past, the word, thinking.

Numerous times Krishnamurti also emphasized that moving the eyes and thinking are connected and asked: What happens when we look straight ahead and keep our eyes still? What happens when we perceive with full attention with the eyes and brain 'alive completely but still?'
Krishnamurti's Notebook, Page 26

Also not to be overlooked, in some of Krishnamurti's most profound seeing he notes a sense of seeing 'as if from the back of the head.'

Finally, Krishnamurti 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, to really see that the observer is the observed is essential for directly perceiving reality. "There is no division between the world and you, you are the world."
3rd Public Talk,
30th October, 1963, New Delhi

Where does all this lead? That is for each one of us to discover, for as Krishnamurti once said, "The challenge is as big as you make it."

I would like to close this article with one of Krishnamurti's letters to the schools dated November 1, 1983:

..."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."

"Be really in communion with nature, not verbally caught in the description of it, but be a part of it, be aware, feel that you belong to all that, be able to have love for all that, to admire a deer, the lizard on the wall, that broken branch lying on the ground. Look at the evening star, the new moon, without the word, without merely saying how beautiful it is and turning your back on it, attracted by something else, but watch that single star and new, delicate moon as though for the first time."

"If there is such communion between you and nature, then you can commune with man, with the boy sitting next to you, with your educator, or with your parents. We have lost all sense of relationship in which there is not only a verbal statement of affection and concern but also this sense of communion which is not verbal. It is a sense that we are all together, that we are all human beings, we are all living on this extraordinary, beautiful earth".
Letters to the Schools, Volume 2, November 1, 1983


Throughout his many decades of talks Krishnamurti spoke of seeing, looking, and the eyes in a variety of ways. I find many of his following quotes to be quite evocative. Your own searches in the Krishnamurti CD-ROM or the Krishnamurti Text online Index may reveal others.

"Beauty that is beyond the eye of the beholder", "eyes sparkle with forgotten tears", "eyes of love and understanding", "with eyes that had no knowledge", "to see it as though it had never been seen before", "to see with innocence", "to see it with eyes that have been bathed in emptiness, that have not been hurt by knowledge", "eyes ready to laugh", "eyes that have lost their sleep", "cleansed eyes", "eyes seeing without choosing", "looking with fresh eyes", "look with clear eyes", "look with eyes that are young and fresh and innocent", "Only seeing, seeing with eyes means there is no opinion, no thought, no judgment, no naming but looking."

"Open the door of the eye", "laughter in our eyes", "fresh eyes", "wide open eyes",