Enlightenment, Time, Attachment, Attention and the End of Experience – A Passage from Krishnamurti’s Notebook.

A while back I posted an extract from Krishnamurti’s Notebook, the published text of the diary Krishnamurti kept for a few months during 1961. I felt it shed a useful light on what the word ‘enlightenment’ means in mysticism, bringing it to life a little. Later in the book there is a wonderful passage that expresses key ideas about enlightenment, time, attachment and experience in words that are more clear and direct than I have come across elsewhere. I reproduce it below, but first a few comments.

My 67,000 regular readers will remember that a few months I put together a little video for a philosophical poem by Bernardo Kastrup. https://vimeo.com/117902959

The first line of the main text reads:

Only untruths can be experienced.

At first glance this is not obviously a sensible statement. Krishnamurti’s words below may shed some light on what it might mean. It is not insignificant that the author describes this poem as the outcome of experience/being and not merely of cogitation. The attitude towards experience of the mystics and sages causes much confusion and here we see why. The journey would take us beyond experience.

The next line runs:

Hence only untruths can exist

Again, this might appear to be cryptic nonsense. Krishnamurti’s words again offer an explanation. The journey would take us beyond existence.

My immediately previous post here expressed some disagreement with Bernardo Kastrup over the use of language in his books (not in the ‘Legacy’ poem), in particular the idea that ‘all is consciousness’ or ‘all is mind-at-large’, as might be implied by his ‘monistic idealism’. Krishnamurti’s words might partly explain this linguistic disagreement, for they speak of what is beyond consciousness, thought, time and experience, where the terms ‘idealism and ‘monism’ may become inappropriate or misleading.

The central issue in the quoted passage would be attention, what it means and how it is achieved. It may be an explanation or description of Eckhart’s ‘Perennial Now’. I searched my file of quotations for ‘attention’ and it came back with more references than I could deal with, so important is this topic to the philosophy and practice of enlightenment. As a preface to Krishnamurti this seemed a good one.

One day a man approached Ikkyu and asked:
“Master, will you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?”
Ikkyu took his brush and wrote: “Attention.”
“Is that all?” asked the man.
Ikkyu then wrote: “Attention, Attention.”
“Well,” said the man, “I really don’t see much depth in what you have written.”
Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times: “Attention, Attention, Attention.”
Half-angered, the man demanded: “What does that word ‘Attention’ mean, anyway?”
Ikkyu gently responded, “Attention means attention.”

(The Little Zen Companion, Ed. David Schiller, Workman Publishing (1994))

In his notebook Krishnamurti expands on Ikkyu’s explanation.

“In complete attention there is no experiencing. In inattention there is; it is this inattention that gathers experience, multiplying memory, building walls of resistance; it is this inattention that builds up the self-centred activities. Inattention is concentration, which is exclusion, a cutting off; concentration knows distraction and the endless conflict of control and discipline. In the state of inattention every response to any challenge is inadequate; this inadequacy is experience. Experience makes for insensitivity; dulls the mechanism of thought; thickens the walls of memory, and habit, routine, become the norm. Experience, inattention, is not liberating. Inattention is slow decay.

In complete attention there is no experiencing; there’s no centre which experiences, nor a periphery within which experience can take place. Attention is not concentration which is narrowing, limiting. Total attention includes, never excludes. Superficiality of attention is inattention; total attention includes the superficial and the hidden, the past and its influence on the present, moving into the future. All consciousness is partial, confined, and total attention includes consciousness with its limitations, and so is able to break down the borders, the limitations. All thought is conditioned, and thought cannot uncondition itself. Thought is time and experience; it is essentially the result of inattention.

What brings about total attention? Not any method nor any system; they bring about a result, promised by them. But total attention is not a result, any more than love is; it cannot be induced, it cannot be brought about by any action. Total attention is the negation of the results of inattention but this negation is not the act of knowing attention. What is false must be denied not because you already know what is true; if you knew what is true the false would not exist. The true is not the opposite of the false; love is not the opposite of hate. Because you know hate, you do not know love. Denial of the false, denial of the things of non-attention is not the outcome of the desire to achieve total attention. Seeing the false as the false and the true as the true and the true in the false is not the result of comparison. To see the false as the false is attention. The false as the false cannot be seen when there is opinion, judgement, evaluation, attachment and so on, which are the result of non-attention. Seeing the whole fabric of non-attention is total attention. An attentive mind is an empty mind.”

(Krishnamurti’s Notebook, Harper Collins, (1976))

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4 Responses to Enlightenment, Time, Attachment, Attention and the End of Experience – A Passage from Krishnamurti’s Notebook.

  1. dondeg says:

    Hi Peter!
    I finally got around to checking out this post. Very interesting set of ideas. It touches on rather weird and abstract things. Like trying to communicate our experiences to each other. Or just on communication in general. Trying to convey meaning is extraordinarily slippery. It is very abstract if you consider: why do we do this? Why do we try to understand these things and then try to communicate them to each other?

    Anyway, those are tangential thoughts in response to your post.

    To the main ideas of your post; it too is quite abstract. Attention implies a foreground/background relationship. That which is attended to makes up the foreground and everything else goes into the background. At that instant, everything else not attended to becomes unconscious. I don’t know if you are checking out my latest posts where I am discussing the unconscious. Anyway, that is why its on my mind and coming up in this context too.

    I would guess that “total attention” could mean bringing everything into the foreground, and there being no background. This could be another way to think about enlightenent/Kaivalya/nirvana. It would certainly be a state of unity and wholeness. It would be a state of total consciousness in the sense that nothing is unconscious.

    I can understand the hesitation to use the word “conscious” for the state because, usually, “being conscious” of something is synonymous with “attending to” something, which, again, implies the foreground/background or conscious/unconscious distinction. This is why I like to use the Hindu word “drisimatrah” instead of the English word “consciousness”. Drisimatrah is the seer dissolved in itself. A cleaner way to think about it, even though it is the light of our consciousness.

    As usual, Peter, very thought provoking! Thanks for sharing it.

    Best wishes,


    • PeterJ says:

      Yes, the word ‘consciousness’ is a bit dodgy given all its meanings. I also prefer to drop it when speaking of what is beyond intentional consciousness. ‘Drisimatrah’ would be the perfect word but I’m poor at remembering all these terms.

      My feeling is that for full attention the background/foreground thing would cease to be an issue. The crucial remark would be ‘In complete attention there is no experiencing’. I suspect that his use of the word ‘attention’ here should not imply foreground and background, and that this lack of structure would be the reason that Ikkyu does not explain attention but simply repeats the word. Something like this anyway. I’m travelling a little beyond my competence.

  2. dondeg says:

    Its a common idea that Kaivalya/nirvana/satori/whatever-you-call-it is beyond experience. It is a tricky thing to interpret. I see two possibilities: (1) it really is beyond what we experience as experience, or (2) it is a semantic thing and when they say “experience” they are talking about the qualitative content of our experience in the world of relative stuff, which obviously is lacking in experiences of wholeness, but that the essential quality of “being-ness” is still present.

    It is quite a sticking point for me in my writing because I don’t know what word to use when referring to things like Kaivalya. Does one say that something “experiences Kaivalya”? I don’t know either. In a state with no subject and no object, words like this fall apart.

    • PeterJ says:

      It is certainly a very difficult topic to write about and I don’t suppose it is any easier even for someone who isn’t speculating. Apparently the Buddha wondered whether it was worth teaching the Dharma given the scale of the task, but was persuaded by the gods.

      I’d vote for the your first interpretation. This would be consistent with Nagarjuna and Kant. It seems quite possible to delineate and define emptiness in natural language, but not to describe what lies beyond. Logic and language can take us this far but then, as you say. break down in problems of self-reference and turn to gibberish. Russell’s paradox, strikes again, as it always does for dualism. I’ve heard that Zen masters tend to draw empty circles in the air rather than risk words. .

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