I have been volunteering at the Krishnamurti Centre in Summer Hill, Sydney, since it was opened by Andrew Hilton in March 2012. It was a great opportunity for Krishnamurti Australia to generate interest in the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti in the city of Sydney. It also gave me a wonderful opportunity to further explore his work with children and explain how he unveiled our powers of observation as being the vital ground for learning to take place.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work at the Krishnamurti Centre is listening to anecdotes about the impact of Krishnamurti’s teachings on people’s lives. One comment a young man made about his encounter with Krishnamurti’s work left a lasting impression on my mind. He declared that he had been given the Commentaries on Living by his father on his fifteenth birthday. To his surprise, he found it to be the most interesting book he had ever read! After reading the book, he said, he had begun to observe his thinking for the first time in his life. Soon, he realized the fact that thinking usurps the feeling of action! By now, we were both leaning forward with our elbows on our knees, sitting on the edge of our sturdy white chairs. Thankfully that morning, I had put aside the two which had begun to wobble in the far corner to get them out of the way. The trucks trundled past outside, their brakes hissing as the vehicles came to a halt at the traffic lights. The pedestrian crossing remained empty and the drivers waited impatiently for the lights to change.
Over the next hour we explored the difference such an insight into the movement of thought could make on the mind. I took down an old brown copy of Krishnamurti’s Education and the Significance of Life from a corner shelf. The young man was studying at Sydney University. He was doing a course in anthropology because he loved to learn about indigenous cultures around the world, he said, laughing self reflectively. “I know it is the past, and Krishnamurti would probably not approve of such things, but I find it fascinating!”, he admitted looking rather apologetic. “Can it be, that before the advent of classrooms, timetables and strict curriculum guidelines, so totally unrelated to our direct perception of the flux of life, the intensity of ‘seeking’ for truth would have been less of a grind than it is now?” I asked. We had been discussing our attitude to indigenous people and our complacent attitude to modernity. The common assumption that modern times are complex and thereby more superior enabling us to look down on older cultures, had been the first assumption to be set aside.
Why had Krishnamurti placed such emphasis on direct perception and direct learning from life? From sitting through his talks year after year over a twelveyear period, that was the clearest message I could readily relate to him. All other teachers went straight to the curriculum and covered content zealously with careful attention to detail. They were covering the portions assigned to them. Krishnamurti on the other hand, would often begin with, “What shall we talk about today?” This question left the whole of life open for consideration. Often in the middle of a discussion, he would suspend a line of thought and ask of no one in particular, “What are we talking about Sirs?”
The train of thought we were pursuing in an attempt to follow what was being said, would cease and the room would fill with attention as we became aware of ourselves deep in thought while life went on all around us. Our intimate connection with the wider context of life was the gift that Krishnamurti often pointed to when he spent time with us. The grandeur of the intricate web of life which sustained us all was never too far away from our minds when he was on campus. Even though he only spent a few weeks with us each year, he left behind him an impression that beauty and wonder is in the actual realm of living and not in our recollection of some theory or formula handed down by previous generations. Not only was he raising awareness of the complex network of thought clamouring for attention in our heads, he was also entreating us to be aware of the sublime feeling of life itself cradled by the magnetic blue hills of the Deccan plateau.
Growing up in that astonishingly beautiful valley I learned to appreciate the fact that intelligence does not rely on my memory alone. Memory is in fact suspended in the wider context of life actively sustaining us. To lose sight of this fact is to get caught in the narrow groove of identification which is inspired by an intense desire for truth emulating the feeling of action. The young man had seen this at the age of fifteen and I was thrilled to hear of his discovery.
“We are learning together, exploring together, investigating together!” Krishnamurti would often emphasize while he was speaking to us. He was vigorously drawing our attention to the living ground we occupied. To push his point across, he would look through the glare of spot-lights turned on his low dais to try and make contact with the students sitting on the floor before him. I wondered why he tried so hard to put this fact across to us. At that time I had no idea how surely the habitual grip of conditioning would surely begin to draw on my memory insisting that my knowledge base was the centre of all that is right and true.
By pleading with us to observe and not lose sight of the flux of life in our search for the right answer, Krishnamurti was also skilfully introducing us to a process of keen inquiry which would continue to rake over the dead leaves of yesterday’s preoccupations every day and reveal the truth about life in the light of a new day every day. Staying abreast of the flux of life, the mind learned to draw on the storehouse of memory at will and not get carried away by a craving for the ultimate fix of being right all the time. Rather than being conditioned to depend on my limited knowledge base, with Krishnamurti’s intervention in our education, I learned to exercise my intelligence as a whole. At the time, I did not realize the full implications of his holistic approach to learning. By shifting my attention from my knowledge base to my powers of observation, he had transformed the way I learned from life. Once I began to explore my powers of observation, I never lost sight of the significance of life. Like the young man at the Centre, I gradually began to appreciate that although thoughts cleverly usurp the feeling of action, in their restless search for answers, the act of perception, effortlessly transcends the accumulated pool of knowledge we are conditioned to rely on. Only observation can reveal the vital context in which life as a whole is unveiled. Directing our attention early to the fact that human intelligence naturally transcends the knowledge base through observation and that we can therefore effortlessly appraise the whole realm of life as it unfolds, is the timeless gift of Krishnamurti’s holistic approach to education.