Exploring perception with J.Krishnamurti

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Seeing Anew: Exploring Perception

Exploring perception with J.Krishnamurti

"To discover anything you must look; and to look, your look must be silent. Sir, if you look at your husband, your wife, or child, if you have any ideas about that child, or about the image of your wife or your husband, then you are not silently looking; your mind is cluttered up with all these things, and therefore you cannot look. So, to look, your mind must be silent, and the very urgency of looking makes the mind silent. Not that you first have a silent mind and then look, but rather the very necessity of looking at the world's problem and therefore at your problem -- that very urgency of looking makes the mind quiet, silent1"

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 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.2

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 couldn’t pass the California driver’s test without my glasses, and I had worn glasses since I was around eight or nine years old. I was then twenty-four.

As I recall 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 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 hadn’t worn glasses in over six month, but I had brought them along in case I needed them to fully experience 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 headaches 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, 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 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 didn’t 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 conditioned habit of use was keeping me from seeing clearly. I would go on to completely abandon wearing glasses, take Bates natural vision classes, and explore dietary modifications that would eventually enable me to pass the California driver’s test without glasses on several different occasions when renewing my driver’s license over the next twenty-five years.

I later learned that Krishnamurti was introduced to the Bates method by his friend Aldous Huxley, author of many books including the 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’s improvement in health and asked him what he had been doing differently. Aldous reportedly then told Krishnamurti about the Bates method and how much they had helped him. Apparently, Krishnamurti practiced Bates exercises daily for the rest of his life. Krishnamurti retained excellent vision, and never required glasses throughout his ninety years of life. He also reportedly walked regularly, was a lifelong vegetarian, did two hours of yoga every day, and regularly practiced pranayama breathing exercises.

As seriously as Krishnamurti looked at many things in life, he remained a man who appreciated humor:

Do you have humor? Does humor exist in your lives, to laugh, not at somebody, not at some joke, stupid joke, but to have laughter in your eyes, in your mind, in your mouth, laughter. That is necessary. If you don't know how to laugh at yourself, you will never be able to laugh at all.3


Unless you are capable of laughter, real laughter, you don't know what sorrow is, you don't know what it is to be really serious. If you don't know how to smile, not merely with your lips, but with your whole being -- with your eyes, with your mind and heart -- then you don't know what it is to be simple and to take delight in the common things of life.4


In the 1970s a friend, who was a parent of a student attending the Oak Grove School which was founded by Krishnamurti in Ojai, California, was mixing up a large bucket of paint at a Parents' Volunteer day. Krishnamurti passing by, stopped for a moment and enthusiastically commented, “That's a nice pot of soup you have there.” My friend reportedly nodded his head affirmatively in playful agreement.

In the late seventies I helped park cars at the Krishnamurti talks in the Oak Grove in Ojai, California. In directing drivers to their respective parking spaces, I developed my own combination of Tai Chi, Mime and Paris traffic patrolman to the enjoyment of many of the talk attendees. On the last day of the talks, as Krishnamurti was being driven away from the talks by Mary Zimbalist, to my delight, as they passed me we made eye contact and, Krishnamurti mimed his own animated version of my traffic directing hand signals.

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? 

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.5

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. Krishnamurti often suggests that to observe a tree or a rock is relatively easy compared to clearly observing your wife or boy friend. However I recently came upon a quote by Krishnamurti that acknowledges the inherent difficulty of clearly observing anything.

To observe is one of the most, difficult things. To observe a tree, for example, is very difficult, and that is because you have ideas, images, about that tree, and these ideas -- botanical knowledge -- prevent you from looking at that tree. To observe your wife or your husband is even more difficult, again because you have an image about your wife and she has an image about you, and the relationship is between those two images.6

Another aspect of perception that Krishnamurti talks about extensively, that I did not bring up in the earlier version of this booklet, is the importance of not recording or registering when perceiving wholly. Krishnamurti again and again asserts that a mind that is directly perceiving wholly is not registering nor recording.

So my question is: is it possible -- please listen -- is it possible not to register? You understand? Because if I keep on registering all the time, the brain is always conditioning itself. I wonder if you understand this! If I am always acting within the field of knowledge - what I have learnt, what my experiences are and I am always acting within that limited area, the conditioning becomes stronger and stronger and stronger, which is what is happening with all of us. Right? And so one asks: is it possible not to register psychologically? You understand my question? This is a very, very serious question. Is there a part of the brain which is capable of not registering? You understand? If a human being is always operating within the field of the known, which is his conditioning, then the very activity of that produces greater volume of resistance. So we are asking a most fundamental question, not an idiosyncratic question, or a neurotic question: is it possible for a brain not to register at all? Is there a part, or is there a quality of the brain that understands the need of not registering?7

And then there is the art of learning, accumulating knowledge which means registering all the things that are necessary for skillful action, and non- registering any psychological responses, any psychological reactions so that the brain is employing itself where function, skill are necessary through knowledge and the brain is free not to register. Right? I wonder if you understand this. This is very arduous, this, to be so totally aware so that you only register what is necessary and not, absolutely not, register anything which is not necessary.8

Mark Lee, former Krishnamurti Foundation of America Executive Director, who had a long standing friendship with Krishnamurti, shared a very interesting story with me 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. Krishnamurti 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, Krishnamurti went into each aspect with the teachers and, when he got to seeing, he mentioned the Aborigines in Australia. Krishnamurti 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, beside 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.
Mark took this information back to Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti listened attentively to Mark’s description of the vision activity he had been doing with the students, and then he reportedly exclaimed,

This is great! Now, if we can just get the students to see in this way all the time, and not just for fifteen minutes in the morning!” 

In another story Mark 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 Krishnamurti’s suggestion, and they felt they had noticed new things in their familiar classroom and been more visually aware than they had been previously.9

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 asked, "Can’t 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. 

Mary Zimbalist related to me, in an interview she gave me at her home in Ojai, that one day while driving by the Pacific Ocean near Malibu, she had tried to explain to Krishnamurti what it was like swimming in the Pacific, for, as she said, I used to swim in the ocean. She spoke of describing to him the bracing coldness of the water, the force of the waves and currents, the sensory intensity of the experience. She reported that Krishnamurti listened attentively to her, and when she had finished describing what her ocean swimming, had been like for her, he exclaimed, That’s the kind of seeing that I’m talking about!”

A few weeks later, he gave a public talk in the Oak Grove 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 Krishnamurti 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 wasn’t sure she remembered the exact words, but “look widely as the Buddha looked” was pretty close.

Let’s go back to Krishnamurti’s previous statement:
“That’s the kind of seeing I’m talking about!” Throughout the decades of his talks all over the world, Krishnamurti made numerous references to seeing with all the senses, with the eyes, ears, the heart, with everything one has -- in fact, he asserted that, if we really give everything to seeing/perceiving, the ‘self’ is not. Krishnamurti also indicated that, if we’re seeing with just our eyes, then we’re not really seeing at all.


Can all your senses awaken and function together as a whole? Have you ever tried it? Then you will find when all your senses are active, not sexual senses only, but all your senses, the seeing, the hearing, the touching, the emotions, the thought, all your senses – because thought is a material process. When all of your senses are at their highest excellency, the self is not. It is only when there is partial, dull operation of one or two senses, then the self builds up.10


Krishnamurti questioned the value of narrowed 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.11

"And to look with attention means to look with your nerves, your body, your ears, your eyes, your heart, everything that you have, and therefore it means energy. And that energy is dissipated when you have an image about the object. Then if you do this, you will find out for yourself that a mind which is so completely attentive is an empty mind. And from that emptiness and silence there is action even with regard to the most ordinary thing.12

"You cannot attend if you are not silent. You listen to those crows, actually listen, give your attention - not resistance. Listen to those crows and listen to the speaker simultaneously - not two different things. And to pay complete attention to the crows and to the speaker, and to watch your own mind, how it is working, you need that attention which comes out of complete silence. Otherwise, you are merely resisting the crows and trying to listen to the speaker; so there is a division, there is a conflict; so there is a pushing away, an exclusion - which is what most people do, which is concentration.13

"Now attention means listening, seeing, without any distortion, doesn't it? Which means no opinion, no comparison, you follow, all that? No disorder, so when the mind listens completely, attends at the moment when you call me a fool, completely attends, there is no image, there is no time or energy to create images because all your energy is taken in complete attention.14

"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.15

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 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. 16

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.17

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, an expanding, opening process that invites the other senses’ participation. 

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 visual range that is potentially available to us all the time.

In her forward to Krishnamurti's Notebook, the late Mary Lutyens describes the book's contennts as, “the wellspring of Krishnamurti's teachings.” 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.18

Accompanying the Notebook’s exquisite descriptions of nature is an intimate portrait 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 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.19

Around 1977 or 1978, Alan Kishbaugh, a former Krishnamurti Foundation of America Trustee, asked me to escort Krishnamurti from his car out to the podium during that year’s Ojai Talks. As I recall, I was instructed by Alan just to be there -- I needn’t 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 any way.

I think both of 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 had 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 and was just myself, whatever that meant at the time. We hardly said much more than good morning to one another and smiled.

Around him -- I was twenty-six at the time -- I 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 walked with before he took his seat on the stage, donned his lapel microphone, and looked silently out at the audience and began addressing everyone who had come to hear him speak.

Recently, while further exploring the Krishnamurti CD which can be accessed on the Internet at www.jkrishnamurti.com, I discovered that Krishnamurti gave a great deal of attention to the flash of understanding.

Question:“If understanding is not permanent, if it is only to be caught in a flash, then what happens during the interval between flashes?”

Krishnamurti:One has to understand the whole inward nature of experience. For most of us, experience is a reaction; it is the response of our memory to a challenge. That memory of things we have known may be very ancient or very modern; it may be superficial or profound, and we experience according to that background. This further experience is accumulated, stored up, and so it strengthens the background.

Now, when there is a flash of understanding, it is not the response of the background. At that moment the background is completely silent. If the background is not silent, there is no understanding, for you are merely interpreting in terms of the old whatever you hear or see. The flash of understanding is not continuous, not permanent. Continuity or permanence belongs entirely to the background of experience and knowledge which is everlastingly responding to challenge.

Understanding comes only in a flash, and how does this flash take place? This flash cannot take place in a mind that is lazy, distorted, traditional, dull, stupid, nor in a mind that is seeking power, position, prestige. This flash of understanding occurs only in a mind that is very alert, and when there is no flash, the mind is still alert. Such a mind is completely awake, aware. And to be totally, choice-lessly aware, observing every movement of thought and feeling, seeing everything that is going on -- this is far more important than to await the flash of understanding.20


In The Ending of Time Krishnamurti discusses the flash extensively and summarizes at one point with Dr. Bohm and others by stating:

The question Dr Bohm put, posed, was: why do you say insight changes, brings about a mutation in the brain cells. That was the question. That question has been put after a series of discussions. And we have come to a point when we say that flash, that light, has no cause, and that light operates on that which has cause, which is the darkness. Which is, that darkness exists as long as the self is there, is the originator of that darkness, that light dispels the very center of darkness. That's all. We have come to that point. And therefore there is a mutation and so on and so on.21

Throughout Krishnamurti's Notebook there are other numerous references to “flash” including:

How deeply nature and tender everything has become and strangely all life is in it; like a new leaf, utterly defenseless. There was, as one woke up this morning early, a flash of ``seeing'', ``looking'', that seems to be going on and on for ever. It started nowhere and went nowhere but in that seeing all sight was included and all things. It was a sight that went beyond the streams, the hills, the mountains, past the earth and the horizon and the people. In this seeing, there was penetrating light and incredible swiftness. The brain could not follow it nor could the mind contain it. It was pure light and a swiftness that knew no resistance.22

Earlier in this paper, I stated that Krishnamurti has left us some clues as to ways we can see and perceive more wholly, be more aware. Let me now briefly review some of those clues: He emphasized the importance of perceiving freshly, with innocent eyes free from thought by keeping the eye balls “still, but completely awake.”

Krishnamurti also emphasized looking widely as the Buddha had and the Australian Aborigines, and he encouraged us to learn to see in this broader way “all of the time.”

Included in these clues, also, is the necessity of seeing with all the senses together, not just the eyes and the rest gone to sleep.”and he also pointed out that, in profound seeing, there is a sense of seeing “with one’s whole head as though from the back of the head with one’s entire being.”

The importance of keeping registering and recording to a minimum was also emphasized.

The brain became very quiet; quivering fully alive; every sense was alert; the eyes were seeing the bee on the window, the spider, the birds and the violet mountains in the distance. They were seeing but the brain was not recording them. One could feel the quivering brain, something tremendously alive, vibrant and so not merely recording.23


Additionally, 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.

"There is no division between the world and you: you are the world.24

"Perception without the word, which is without thought, is one of the strangest phenomena. Then the perception is much more acute, not only with the brain, but also with all the senses. Such perception is not the fragmentary perception of the intellect nor the affair of the emotions. It can be called a total perception, and it is part of meditation. Perception without the perceiver in meditation is to commune with the height and depth of the immense. This perception is entirely different from seeing an object with an observer, because in the perception of meditation there is no object and therefore no experience.25

But there's an inward observation which is not the outward observation turned inward. The brain and the eye which observe only partially do not comprehend the total seeing. They must be alive completely but still; they must cease to choose and judge but be passively aware. Then the inward seeing is without the border of time-space. In this flash a new perception is born.26


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 com- munion 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.27





1 New Delhi 1966: Talk 3

2 Mary Lutyens: Krishnamurti and the Rajagopals

3 Bombay 1982: Talk 6

4 Bombay 1960:Talk 8

5 Saanen 1966: Public Talk #1

6 Talks in Europe 1967: 1st Public Talk Paris

7 Saanen 1976: July 13th

8Saanen 1977: July 14th

9 Mark Lee, Presentation given at a Montessori International Conference in San Diego, California in the mid 1990s.

10 Ojai,1985: Talk 3

11.Poona 1956: Talk 1

12 New Delhi 1966: Talk 3

13 Bombay 1964: Talk 6

14Brockwood Park 1971:Talk 2

15 Meditations 1969: p.4

16Beyond Violence, P. 92

17 The Wholeness of Life, p.218

18 Krishnamurti's Notebook, Forward, 2003

19Krishnamurti’s Notebook, p. 32

20 Talks by Krishnamurti in Europe 1962 (Verbatim Report)

21 The Ending of Time 1980: J. Krishnamurti Sixth Dialogue with David Bohm

22Krishnamurti's Notebook, p. 45

23Krishnamurti's Notebnook, p.11

24New Delhi 1963: Talk #3

25 Meditations 1969, P. 19

26Krishnamurti's Notebook, P. 27

27Letters to the Schools, Volume Two: November 1, 1988 

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