Jiddu Krishnamurti was born in a small town in southern India in 1895. He was raised under the tutelage of the Theosophical Society, which proclaimed him to be a “world teacher” and established the Order of the Star to support his work. In 1929 Krishnamurti denounced the concept of saviors and spiritual leaders and dissolved the order, despite its large following. From then until his death in 1986 he traveled the world, speaking on philosophical and spiritual issues and emphasizing the need for radical change in the human psyche. “The Attentive Mind” is excerpted from Think on These Things by Jiddu Krishnamurti. Copyright © 1964 by Krishnamurti Writings, Inc. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of Harper-Collins Publishers.
Have you ever paid any attention to the ringing of the temple bells? Now, what do you listen to? To the notes, or to the silence between the notes? If there were no silence, would there be notes? And if you listened to the silence, would not the notes be more penetrating, of a different quality? But you see, we rarely pay real attention to anything; and I think it is important to find out what it means to pay attention. . . .
The kind of attention which I would like to discuss is entirely different from what we usually mean by attention, and it has immense possibilities because it is not exclusive. When you concentrate on a subject, on a talk, on a conversation, consciously or unconsciously you build a wall of resistance against the intrusion of other thoughts, and so your mind is not wholly there; it is only partially there, however much attention you pay, because part of your mind is resisting any intrusion, any deviation or distraction. . . .
If you listen both to the sound of the bell and to the silence between its strokes, the whole of that listening is attention. Similarly, when someone is speaking, attention is the giving of your mind not only to the words but also to the silence between the words. If you experiment with this you will find that your mind can pay complete attention without distraction and without resistance. When you discipline your mind by saying, “I must not look out of the window, I must not watch the people coming in, I must pay attention even though I want to do something else,” it creates a division which is very destructive because it dissipates the energy of the mind. But if you listen comprehensively, so that there is no division and therefore no form of resistance, then you will find that the mind can pay complete attention to anything without effort. Do you see it? Am I making myself clear? . . .
Either we try to discipline the mind so tightly that it cannot deviate, or we just let it wander from one thing to another. Now, what I am describing is not a compromise between the two; on the contrary, it has nothing to do with either. It is an entirely different approach; it is to be totally aware so that your mind is all the time attentive without being caught in the process of exclusion.
Try what I am saying, and you will see how quickly your mind can learn. You can hear a song or a sound and let the mind be so completely full of it that there is not the effort of learning. After all, if you know how to listen to what your teacher is telling you about some historical fact, if you can listen without any resistance because your mind has space and silence and is therefore not distracted, you will be aware not only of the historical fact but also of the prejudice with which he may be translating it, and of your own inward response.
I will tell you something. You know what space is. There is space in this room. The distance between here and your hostel, between the bridge and your home, between this bank of the river and the other — all that is space. Now, is there also space in your mind? Or is it so crowded that there is no space in it at all? If your mind has space, then in that space there is silence — and from that silence everything else comes, for then you can listen, you can pay attention without resistance. That is why it is very important to have space in the mind. If the mind is not overcrowded, not ceaselessly occupied, then it can listen to that dog barking, to the sound of a train crossing the distant bridge, and also be fully aware of what is being said by a person talking here. Then the mind is a living thing. It is not dead.