Silent Looking: Exploring Perception with J. Krishnamurti

On Keeping the Eyes Still
Letter to a New Teacher.
Whole Seeing & The Eyes Free to Go Apart Direction
Aikido Soft Eyes
Tom Brown Jr. & Splatter Vision
Seeing As If From Behind the Eyes
Looking Wide - Going Peripheral & Sports Greats
Exploring Headlessness with Douglas Harding
Carlos Castaneda & Soft Eyes
Yoga and Soft Eyes
Soft Eyes and Horseback Riding
Seeing with All the Senses as One Sense
To See As A Child
Out and Around Myself, H.D. Thoreau on Perception
About the Website Manager

Seeing Anew: Exploring Perception

Copyright 2002 Krishnamurti Foundation of America & John V.Christianson

"Our look is as bound by time-space as our brain. We never look, we never see beyond this limitation; we do not know how to look through and beyond these fragmentary frontiers. But eyes have to see beyond them, penetrating deeply and widely, without choosing, without shelter; they have to wander beyond man-made frontiers of ideas and values and tofeel beyond love."
(Krishnamurtis Notebook)

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 Krishnamurtis Notebook.

Krishnamurtis biographer and long-time friend Mary Lutyens noted about 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 and hour or more at a time, utterly still, utterly lost in looking.
(Lutyens, Mary: Krishnamurti and the Rajagopals)

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 previously, after reading a book on the Bates method of eyesight improvement, I had abandoned wearing prescription glasses for nearsightedness and a slight degree of astigmatism. At the time, I couldnt pass the California drivers test without my glasses, and I had worn glasses since I was around eight of nine years old. I was then twenty-four.

As I recall I had a front or second-row balcony seat the night K appeared at the Masonic Auditorium. When he first came out on the stage to take his seat, he was just a gray blur to me from the balcony. From my seat, I couldn't make out any features on the person who had just come out on stage. I reluctantly reached for my glasses in my coat pocket. I hadnt worn glasses in over six month, but I had brought them along in case I needed them to take full advantage of my first opportunity to see Krishnamurti in person. With mixed feelings of appreciation and disappointment, I viewed him clearly through my prescription glasses. I could see him sharp and crisply, but I needed these 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 having had a total of six or so headache in my entire life. Speculating on why I now had a headache, I attributed it to the unaccustomed strain of looking with the locked-in focus necessitated by the use of my prescription glasses. I removed my glasses, leaned forward and rested my closed eyes in my open palms.

After a little while, Krishnamurtis 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 the 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 didnt have my glasses on, and my ability to see his features started to slip immediately as I returned to my previous state of fuzzy, sans-glasses 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 experiential proof that some kind of pattern or habit of use was keeping me from seeing clearly. I now had my own experiential proof that I had the organic capacity to access that clarity without the aid of glasses, if only momentarily. I would go on to completely abandon wearing glasses, take Bates classes, and explore dietary modifications that would eventually enable me to pass the California drivers test 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. Huxley's wife, Laura, told me over the phone that when Krishnamurti got together with Aldous one time, Krishnamurti was very favorably impressed with Aldous improvement in health and asked him what he had been doing differently. Aldous reportedly then told Krishnamurti about Bates eye exercises and how much they had helped him. Apparently, Krishnamurti practiced Bates exercises daily for the rest of his life. He retained excellent vision, never needing glasses, until his death at the age of ninety. He also walked regularly, was a lifelong vegetarian, did two hours of yoga every day, and regularly practiced pranayama breathing exercises.

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 ones wife or boyfriend clearly, as they really are, without allowing an image or a flood of ideas to interfere with direct perception?

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.
(Saanen 1966: Public Talk #1)

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. I think, however, that Krishnamurti has given us some real clues that can help us see more broadly and wholly, should we truly explore them.

First of all, can you see with your eyes the tree as a whole? Can you see your wife of 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? (Brockwood Park 1978: Krishnamurti with Professor David Bohm, Mr. G. Narayan, and two Buddhist scholars: Conversation #3.)

Mark Lee recently shared a very interesting story about Krishnamurti and seeing. Back in the late 1960s, 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 everythingin 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 Krishnamurtis simple but daunting challenge.

Mark eventually came up with an idea that was implemented for a while at Rishi Valley School. Every schoolday morning, some classtime 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.

Mark took this information back to Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti listened attentively to Marks information 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 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 Krishnamurtis 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, cant the student attend to both the bird outside and the mathematics lesson?

An Oak Grove School teacher recently told me that he has had high school students who can do this kind of multitasking quite well, and who also seem to delight in drawing questions from their teachers by appearing to be unaware of what is going on in the classroom.

In an interview she gave me at her home in Ojai, Mary Zimbalist 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, for, as she said, "I used to swim 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, "Thats the kind of seeing that Im talking about!"

A few weeks later, he gave a public talk in Ojai on seeing with all the senses. Mary told me that she did not know if her description of ocean swimming had influenced Krishnamurti to talk about that particular topic. She also told me that he had said to many people, at Brockwood Park, England on numerous occasions, "Look widely as the Buddha looked." By this look widely as the Buddha looked statement she understood Krishnamurti to be advocating the wide-angled kind of looking that is suggested by the calm, wide-eyed gaze on the face of the Buddha in many statues. She said she wasnt sure she remembered the exact words, but look widely as the Buddha looked was pretty close.

Lets go back to Krishnamurtis previous statement: "Thats the kind of seeing Im talking about!" Throughout the decades of his talks all over the world, Krishnamurti made numerous references to the importance of seeing with all the sensesnot just with the eyes, but with the ears, the heart, with everything one hasin fact, he asserted that, if you really give everything to your seeing/perceiving, the self is not. Krishnamurti also indicated that, if were just seeing with our eyes, then were not really seeing at all.

If you totally attendwith our 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 attentionwhat takes place?
(Brockwood Park 1979: Talks with Buddhist scholars)

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 instantly in a moment.

At an international gathering of Krishnamurti Schools teachers and administrators, Krishnamurti reportedly opened proceedings by stating, "No more academics in Krishnamurti schools!" This sent shock waves through the conference, and participants struggled for a couple of days to deal with such a possibility, until Krishnamurti let them off the hook shortly before the end of the conference. What would Krishnamurti have wanted taught, instead of academics, in the schools that he helped to establish? Theres a good chance, I think, that there would have been room enough 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 1985: Questions-&-Answer Meeting #3)

Krishnamurti questioned the value of narrowed concentration. Attention, yes, but concentration, no. How can you tell if youre 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.
(Poona 1956: Talk #1)

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 other object are 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.

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 wont go into this because youll 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, p.218)

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 around.

But, on the other hand, you can do nothing and meditate, in the bus or when you are driving it is the most extra- ordinary thing, that you can meditate while you are driving, be careful, I mean this. The body has its own intelligence, which thought has destroyed.
(Beyond Violence, p. 92)

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.
(Meditations 1969, p.4)

The 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, and expanding, opening process that invites the other senses participation.

In short, Krishnamurtis writings invite us to see broader, further, more whollywith 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 forward to Krishnamurtis Notebook, the late Mary Lutyens describes the books contents as "the wellspring of Krishnamurti's teaching. The whole essence of his teaching is here, arising from its natural source." 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 Notebooks exquisite descriptions of nature is an intimate portrait portrayal of Krishnamurtis 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 the super- ficial 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.
(Krishnamurtis Notebook, p. 32)

Around 1977 or 1978, 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 that years Ojai Talks. As I recall, I was instructed by Alan just to be there I neednt run interference for him just be there, available. People had spoken to me of how Krishnamurti seemed to be able to look right through you. Others mentioned that he looked at you as if nobody were home. This was intended to imply his selflessness, not that he was vacant in some way.

I think both these statements were ineffective 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 train of free-association images to run though his mind. This different kind of seeing that he commonly used has a different quality than our conventional ways of habitually perceiving.

For me, initially, interacting with this man I 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 ad was just myself, whatever that meant at the time. We hardly said much more than good morning to one another and smiled.

Around himI was twenty-six at the timeI found myself sometimes 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 strong and somehow it wasn't inconsistent with the somewhat shy, unpretentious person I had observed before he took his seat on the stage, donned his lapel microphone, and looked silently out at the audience before he began to address everyone who had come to hear him speak.

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 relocate the event to the local public high schools gymnasium.

The next day, the gymnasium wasn't available, and the football stadium had to be used. Fortunately, it wasn't raining that day. Somehow, I found myself standing in the middle of the football field with Krishnamurti, Alan Kishbaugh, and the late Theo Lilliefelt, another KFA trustee. There was some kind of technical glitch with the public address system, so we were standing back from podium around the fifty-yard line of the football field while the technical crew was correcting the problem. The audience filled about two thirds of the west side of the stadium bleachers so that, instead of the usual home team 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, for, from the spacious stadium, there were panoramic views 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 like, "Whats 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 hurry to look at the mountains, but Krishnamurti had actually looked at the scoreboard as well. But, even with his drawing the others attention to the scoreboard, I couldnt make out what was misspelled. So much for awareness!

Earlier in this paper, I mentioned that I believe Krishnamurti has left us some clues as to how we can see and perceive more wholly, become more aware. Let me now briefly review some of those clues: First of all to look with long vision in ones seeing; to see more fully, perceive more whollyto see widely-widely as the Buddha looked and the Aborigines of Australia; and, to see in this way all of the time. Implied in these clues, also, is the necessity of seeing with all the senses together, not just the eyes and the rest gone to sleep. Krishnamurti asserts that, in profound seeing, there is a sense of seeing not with eyes only, but with ones whole head as though from the back of the head with ones entire being"(Krishnamurtis Notebook, page 11)

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."
(New Delhi 1963: Talk #3)

Where do all these clues lead? That is for each one of us to discover, for, as Krishnamurti once pointed out, "The challenge is as big as you make it."

To conclude:
"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 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 a 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 Two: November 1, 19??

Copyright 2002 by Krishnamurti Foundation of America & John V. Christianson
e-mail: jvchristianson(at)

The following passages have stumped me and challenged me from the first time I heard them to this very day.

From You Are The World by J. Krishnamurti. This was apparently recorded from a talk Krishnamurti gave to students at UC Berkeley.
"When you go to the office, or whatever you do, thought must operate, otherwise you cannot do anything. But the moment thought breeds or sustains pleasure and fear, then thought becomes inefficient. Thought then breeds inefficiency in realtionship and therefore causes conflict. So one asks whether there can be an ending of thought in one direction, and yet with thought functioning in its highest capacity. We are concerned with whether thought can be absent when the mind sees the sunset in all its beauty. It is only then that you see the beauty of the sunset, not when your mind is full of thoughts, problems, violence. That is, if you have observed it, at the moment of seeing the sunset thought is absent. You look at this extraordinary light on the mountain, it is a great delight and at that moment thought has no place at all. But the next moment thought says: "How marvelous that was, how beautiful, I wish I could paint it, I wish I could write a poem about it, I wish I could tell my friends what a lovely thing it is." Or thought says: "I would like to see that sunset again tomorrow, I will have that pleasure agtain, and when you don't have it there is pain. This is very simple and because of its very simplicity it gets lost.
...and so our question is: Can thought cease to interfere? And it is this interference that produces time.

Learning like seeing is a great art, when you see a flower what takes place? Do you see the flower actually, or do you see it through the image you have of that flower? The two things are entirely different. When you look at a flower, at a colour without naming it, without like or dislike, without any screen between you and the thing you see as a flower, without the word, without thought, then the flower has an extraordinary colour and beauty. But when you look at the flower through botanical knowledge, when you say: "This is a rose", you have already conditioned your looking. Seeing and learning is quite an art, but you don't go to college to learn it. If you are sensitive, alive, watching, then you will see that the space between you and flower disappears and when that space disappears you see the thing so vitally, so strongly. In the same way when you observe yourself without that space (not as the observer and the thing observed" then you will see there is no conflict. In seeing the structure of fear, one also sees the structure and nature of pleasure. The seeing is the learning about it and therefore the mind is not caught in the pursuit of pleasure. Then life has quite a different meaning. One lives - not in search of pleasure.
You Are The Whorld, J. Krishnamurti

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