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Chapter 24 - The word prevents actual perception
The greatest art is the art of living, greater than all things that human beings have created by mind or hand, greater than all the scriptures and their gods. It is only through this art of living that a new culture can come into being. It is the responsibility of every teacher, especially in these schools, to bring this about. This art of living can come only out of total freedom.
This freedom is not an ideal, a thing to take place eventually. The first step in freedom is the last step in it. It is the first step that counts, not the last step. What you do now is far more essential than what you do at some future date. Life is what is happening this instant, not an imagined instant, not what thought has conceived. So it is the first step you take now that is important. If that step is in the right direction, then the whole of life is open to you. The right direction is not towards an ideal, a predetermined end. It is inseparable from that which is taking place now. This is not a philosophy, a series of theories. It is exactly what the word philosophy means-the love of truth, the love of life. It is not something that you go to a university to learn. We are learning about the art of living in our daily life.
We live by words, and words become our prison. Words are necessary to communicate, but the word is never the thing. The actual is not the word, but the word becomes all- important when it has taken the place of that which is. You may observe this phenomenon when the description-the symbol we worship, the shadow we follow, the illusion we cling to-has become the reality instead of the thing itself. Words, the language, shape our reactions. Language becomes the compelling force and our minds are shaped and controlled by the word. The words nation, State, God, family, and so on, envelop us with all their associations, and so our minds become slaves to the pressure of words.
Questioner: How is this to be avoided?
Krishnamurti: The word is never the thing. The word wife is never the person; the word door is not the door. The word prevents the actual perception of the thing or person because the word has many associations. These associations, which are actually remembrances, distort not only visual but also psychological observation. Words then become a barrier to the free flow of observation. Take the words Prime Minister and clerk. They describe functions, but the words Prime Minister have tremendous significance of power, status and importance, whereas the word clerk has associations of unimportance, little status and no power. So the word prevents you from looking at both of them as human beings. There is ingrained snobbery in most of us, and to see what words have done to our thinking and to be choicelessly aware of it, is to learn the art of observation-to observe without association.
Q: I understand what you say, but the speed of association is so instantaneous that the reaction takes place before one realizes it. Is it possible to prevent this?
K: Isn't this a wrong question? Who is to prevent it? Is it another symbol, another word, another idea? If it is, the none has not seen the whole significance of the enslavement of the mind by words, language. You see, we use words emotionally; it is a form of emotional thinking, apart from the use of technological words, as in numbers, or measures, which are precise. In human relationship and activity, emotions play a great part. Desire, sustained by thought creating the image, is very strong,. The image is the word, is the picture, and this follows our pleasure, our desire. So the whole way of our life is shaped by the word and its associations. To see this entire process as a whole is to see the truth of how thought prevents perception.
Q: Are you saying that there is no thinking without words?
K: Yes, more or less. Please bear in mind that we are talking about the art of living, learning about it, not memorizing the words. We are learning; not I teaching and you becoming a silly disciple. You are asking if there is thinking without words. This is a very important question. Our whole thinking is based on memory, and memory is based on words, images, symbols, pictures. All these are words.
Q: But what one remembers is not a word; it is an experience, an emotional event, a picture of a person or a place. The word is a secondary association.
K: We are using words to describe all this. After all, the word is a symbol to indicate that which has happened or is happening, to communicate or to evoke something. Is there thinking without this whole process? Yes, there is, but it should not be called thinking. Thinking implies a continuation of memory, but perception is not the activity of thought; it is really insight into the whole nature and movement of the word, the symbol, the image and their emotional involvements. To see this as a whole is to give the word its right place.
Q: But what does it mean to see the whole? You say this often. What do you mean by it?
K: Thought is divisive because in itself it is limited. To observe wholly implies the non-interference of thought; to observe without the past as knowledge blocking the observation. Then the observer is not, for the observer is the past, the very nature of thought.
Q: Are you asking us to stop thought?
K: Again, if we may point out, that is a wrong question. If thought tells itself to stop thinking, it creates duality and conflict. This is the very divisive process of thought. If you really grasp the truth of this, then thought is in abeyance naturally. Thought then has its own limited place. Thought then will not take over the whole expanse of life, which it is doing now.
Q: Sir, I see what extraordinary attention is needed. Can I really have that attention; am I serious enough to give my whole energy to this?
K: Can energy be divided at all? Energy is expended in earning a livelihood, in having a family, and in being serious enough to grasp what is being said. It is all energy, but thought divides it, and so we expend much energy on living and very little on the other. This art of living is the art in which there is no division. This is the whole of life.