Friday, January 29, 2016

“Listening, looking and learning” – 3 ways of “knocking at the open door”

One side effect of having a dad who is a student of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s teaching is that I get to see new JK arrivals whenever I visit my parents in Mumbai. The book I picked up in my last visit was “Knocking at the open door – My years with J. Krishnamurti” by R. E. Mark Lee. Mark Lee was a teacher at Rishi Valley School in India in 60s and the founding director of Oak Grove School in Ojai, California from 1974 till 84. The book is biographical and also contains dialogues between JK and Mark Lee, students, teachers and others that Lee witnessed. The title of the book comes from a remark JK made to Mark Lee after a series of dialogues in Ojai in the spring 1979. Referring to a lady who was sitting on the floor in front during the talk, JK said, “Sir, every year she asks me the same questions. Every year sir. Doesn’t she see that the door is open? Why doesn’t she just come in?” Perhaps we are dealing with a paradoxical situation here and the questions may not go away unless there is a realization that “I am knocking at the open door”. How does that realization happen? Of course, we are dealing with a “pathless land” here and there is no sure-shot way. Nevertheless, JK emphasized 3 things which come out very well in this book – listening, looking and learning. Let’s see how these might help in knocking at the open door.

Listening: In 1966, during a talk to the older students at Rishi Valley, JK asked if they knew how to listen. Then he suggested following experiment, “Close your eyes and listen. Listen to the sounds far away, at the mouth of valley. Now, listen closer and closer. Do you hear the villagers talking on the road? Now, coming closer, listen [to] your own heartbeat. You have to be very still to listen to your heartbeat. Try it, just for the fun of it.”

Note that this experiment can be done anywhere, anytime and may not take more than a couple of minutes. You can do it right now by taking a pause from reading this article. Try it.

Looking: In 1967, while speaking to the whole student body, he suggested another experiment related to looking. He said, “When you walk into a room look straight ahead. Don’t turn your head to the right or to the left – look straight ahead without moving your eyeballs. As you walk into the room don’t look at anything, but see everything. See the colours; see the furniture or shapes of things, and the people in the room. But don’t look at them! See with the back of your eyes. Your seeing is awareness.”

Looking outward is just one aspect of looking. Perhaps even more important is looking inward. When Mark Lee once requested JK to teach him how to meditate, here is what JK said, “Sit comfortably, sit still. Don’t let your hands touch. Breathe without effort. Close your eyes. Don’t move your eyeballs. Now, watch your thoughts, how they move but don’t finish. Don’t think about your thoughts, just let them come and go.”  After doing this for some time, Mark Lee opened his eyes and asked, “Is that all, sir?” Reaching out and shaking his arm JK said, “No, you silly boy, that is just the beginning. But not just sitting, meditate as you walk, as you work, as you talk.”

Looking in this case is more like watching your thoughts come and go. This may work fine most of the time. But sometimes thoughts create disturbance – small disturbance like irritation or big disturbance like feeling deeply hurt. That is what JK advocated as the golden opportunity to learn. He called such opportunities “precious jewels” to be studied carefully. What are you learning here?

Learning: One Sunday morning in March 1983, Mark Lee met JK for breakfast at Pine Cottage in Ojai. As the discussion began, Mark Lee heard the noise of chain saw. Neighbours had begun their work of cutting two huge trees and the noise was intense. Mark Lee got up to close the window. “Why are you doing that?” JK asked. “To cut out the irritating chain-saw noise from the next door,” Mark Lee replied. “You are reacting. Don’t react; just let the noise pass through you. You have a habit of [getting irritated],” JK said.

“How do you overcome a habit?” asked Mark Lee. Then JK gave a three-day formula (more like three-step formula). “Habit is just conditioning. It takes three days. The first day you become aware of it, and you watch it. You listen to it. You get a sense of your habit, whatever it is. The second day you observe it in the others and observe it in yourself as it works. And the third day you watch as it begins to lose its strength and it disappear.”

In May 1985, a few days before JK’s ninetieth birthday, Mark Lee met JK for breakfast. By then Mark Lee had resigned as the director of Oak Grove School. Perhaps the separation wasn’t amicable. During the conversation at breakfast JK asked Mark Lee, “You are watching yourself. You have had a shock recently and are watching yourself. Right?” And then he asked, “Are you hurt by what happened?” Mark Lee said that there was no hurt but deep disappointment that he had not been able to deal with the situation effectively. JK then said, “Pardon me sir, but that is hurt.” That is when Mark Lee remembered what JK said to the director of Rishi Valley Dr. Balasundaram a decade earlier, “Old boy, if you are hurt, remember, there is something wrong with you.”

Investigating this “irritation” or “hurt” while it is happening is what learning is about. The investigation may lead us to find a “button” i.e. a thought or an image (typically an assumption of necessity) which when pressed, the negative reaction springs up like a reflex. Through this we learn more about the functioning of thought as a system of conditioned reflexes.

In short, I found the book helpful in understanding Krishnanmurti’s teaching in specific contexts.

Related articles:

Check out Mark Lee’s note on listening.
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1 comment:

  1. Excellent book by Mark Lee on highlighting the words of wisdom by J. Krishnamurti. One can learn a great deal from this book on education and practical application of J. Krishnamurti's teachings.