Effort of attention.

Eskimo story — In the eternal darkness, the crow, unable to find any food, longed for light, and the earth was illumined.
If there is a real desire, if the thing desired is really light , the desire for light produces it. There is a real desire when there is an effort of attention.
              Simone Weil – Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God.

14 thoughts on “Effort of attention.

  1. On the other hand Martin . . .

    Is there attention without any form of motive, influence, compulsion? If you can give full attention without being absorbed in something, and without any sense of exclusion, then you will find out what it is to meditate; because in that attention there is no effort, no division, no struggle, no search for a result. So meditation is a process of freeing the mind from systems, and of giving attention without either being absorbed or making an effort to concentrate.
    – JK

  2. To say that there is no effort in attention is like saying that there is no effort in having a mind free of thoughts. Mind is passive naturally (in default position?), and the easiest thing is letting thoughts have their play, being carried away by them, especially if they are pleasurable; to bring attention to the present moment, which is what awareness is all about, requires some effort, is that not so? Mind is then in a dynamic, though not necessarily tense state.

    If an interesting thought arises, focusing the mind, being attentive to it implies some effort, and there is some energy consumption as a a result. So I would agree with Simone Weil rather than with J.K.

  3. The problem with what you / Weil say is that there is an ‘I’ that is trying to make an effort to be aware, trying to realise a desire, trying to reach a goal. But that is the fundamental error. The mind – the thoughts – including the thought to apply effort to attend – are all a function of one’s past, one’s conditioning. So the question is whether there is any action that is free of the past.

    Bhagavan Ramana, Nisargadatta, JK, with one voice urge you to examine yourself, watch your thoughts, and come to realise that they are not true. That the ‘you’ that you think you are, is not true. So this is the meditation – not to try to control the mind, but to see that the controller is the controlled – one thought trying to control another. In seeing that, effort, and ultimately the ‘I’, can only drop away.

    Here is what Bhagavan said:
    I had no idea of meditation or contemplation. Even when I came to hear of such things later I was never attracted by them. Even now my mind refuses to pay any attention to them. Sādhana [spiritual practice] implies an object to be gained and the means of gaining it. What is there to be gained which we do not already possess? In meditation, concentration and contemplation, what we have to do is only not to think of anything, but to be still . . . the Self is realized not by one’s doing something, but by one’s refraining from doing anything — by remaining still and being simply what one really is.

    I think the effort is required to understand what enlightenment is, who ‘I’ is, what value thoughts have. Once this is understood, then one naturally is attentive to one’s thoughts, actions, feelings, the sense of ‘I’ whenever it arises. As JK says if you know there is danger of a precipice (the ‘I’), you naturally are alert and stay away from it.

    As an aside, my observation of ‘traditional’ vedantins is that they have got engrossed in the beauty and elegance of Sanakara’s upanishads and so focus their examination on the finger rather than seeing the moon. The upanishads are there as a pointer, not as a bible. Once you have grasped what they are saying – that through discrimination and detachment you will see that the ‘I’ is false – then what further purpose do they serve?

    Einstein put it simply:
    The fact that man produces a concept “I” besides the totality of his mental and emotional experiences or perceptions does not prove that there must be any specific existence behind such a concept. We are succumbing to illusions produced by our self-created language, without reaching a better understanding of anything. Most of so-called philosophy is due to this kind of fallacy.

    Simply seeing the truth of this statement is enough isn’t it? Is any more effort needed after that?



  4. Martin, here is another quote from Einstein.

    A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.

    Breath-taking isn’t it? The mind cannot but stop, effortlessly.

  5. Very good points Venkat – with most of which I fully agree. You write: “watch your thoughts, and come to realise that they are not true”. This is what I said in my reply to your comments, though I opined that some effort is required for this, i.e., for being attentive. It is not ‘trying to control one’s mind’, knowing that one is not a thinker or a doer. I read someplace that there are about two (or was it ten?) thousand thoughts occurring spontaneously during one 24 h. period in anyone’s mind. So it is not a question of controlling these random thoughts, but of bringing the mind, the attention, to the present moment, and I, along with S. Weil, suggested that some effort is required, even if a minimal one; the expression, ‘the effort of attention’ is not a current one for nothing, regardless, in my opinion, one’s ‘understanding’. Attention is active, not passive. But, why be concerned as to whether there is or is not effort involved in paying attention to whatever it is?

    ‘Who’ – or where is there a mind that is thought-free? One can, however, live in the present moment even when thoughts, sensations, etc., keep appearing – precisely by not paying attention to them, or perhaps paying attention to some of them. Is this not meditation? You wrote: “then one naturally is attentive to one’s thoughts, actions, feelings, the sense of ‘I’ whenever it arises”. This was implied in what I wrote, if you read carefully. To continue with what I was saying, anything else is either deep sleep or nirvikalpa samadhi. In my experience, moments of objectless consciousness are but brief, but one is not bothered by the vritti-s, if one is alert. By the way, “trying to realize a desire, trying to reach a goal” – as the impediments they really are, is well understood here.

    Apart from all of the foregoing, I do not think that JK was very original when he repeatedly pronounced or wrote those words: ‘the thinker is the thought… the controller is the controlled’. It is in the Upanishads. Of course, it was new for a good number of people at the time, which is perhaps fortunate. Kind regards,

  6. Martin

    JK was original in that he never read the upanishads. So his ‘controller is the controlled’ was not a repetition but a result of his self-examination. His originality was in logically, systematically highlighting the fact that we are entirely conditioned entities, that all thought is just a result of this conditioning, and that all that can be done is deconstruction through ‘choiceness awareness’ of one’s thoughts, feelings etc as they arise, flower and fade; and not through following anyone or any book.

    And of course the essence of what he said cannot be different from the essence of the upanishads!

    You said that ‘the controller is the controlled’ is in the upanishads – could you please give me the reference?

    Many thanks,


  7. It is everywhere in the Upanishads! – nothing else than the triputi: thinker-thought-thinking; cognizer… controlling… experiencer… , etc. The three are one, well understood.

    Cf. Sve. U. I,12: ‘The enjoyer, the objects of enjoyment, and the Ruler (Ishvara) – the triad described by the knowers of Brahman – all this is nothing but Brahman. This Brahman alone,which abides eternally within the self, should be known. Beyond it, truly, there is nothing else to be known.’

    Vivekananda once said: ‘If perception were dual, the known could have existed independently of the knower, and vice-versa.’

    It is not impossible that JK, similarly to R. Maharshi with respect of the sacred texts of Hinduism, could have heard these words floating around in thin air. He spoke against all philosophers, gurus, scriptures, etc., as if he was the only one to have ever discovered the truth!!… never mind the sages/seers of old and the experience of humanity over the passed millenia.

  8. Martin

    Yes the Upanishads say that the jiva, the world and Brahman are one, and knower, knowing and known are one. But they do not as clearly as K point out the ridiculousness of the idea that one fragment of thought (the ‘I’ thought) can control another thought. And if that is really understood, then there is no point in trying to control.

    With respect, I think you fundamentally misunderstand K. When he negated all philosophies, scriptures, etc, he included himself and his teachings in that list. He was not trying to set himself up as the sole authority. He was trying to get people to be independent, to think for themselves, to observe themselves, rather than just follow robot-like something someone else said. He tried to free people from all conditioning, all beliefs. Because therein lies the only route to freedom.

    Have a look at the advaitin yahoo group discussion,. It comprises auto-scholastic, sometimes bordering on fanatical / chauvinistic, missives on vedanta, nonsense about preserving hindu dharma, etc etc. These people do not think for themselves. They just follow and analyse minutely what scriptures say. Don’t you see this is the kind of mind that K was trying to steer us away from?

    if you ever get a chance, have a look at these two dialogues, one with children and one with Swami Venkatesananda:



    I first read K in my teens, and then thought I had processed onto Nisargadatta and Bhagavan. Going back to reading him again, I can appreciate the beauty of his expression.

    With best wishes


  9. Venkat, instead of disputing what you wrote last, I did a mini research concerning some other opinions, some critical, some laudatory, of JK. I once read that his philosophy could be considered as Neo-Buddhism. After watching the two videos you provided I realized some of the difficulties in communication he had.

    “… But he did, of course, end up getting his teachings organised. Sure, the Krishnamurti foundations aren’t as closely knitted together as the Theosophical Society was (and is), but they’re still organisations…”
    “My main criticism of Krishnamurti is that while he asked great questions, and made many insightful comments, ultimately he was not enough of a teacher… His message was very much to “Be a light unto yourself” which can only happen after you have dropped the need to be told what to do by somebody else… You can trace the very essence of his teachings in the fundamentals of the upanishads, the vedantas, buddhism…”
    “The other major flaw in Krishnamurti’s reasoning is that he often concluded that thought or cognition was the problem for man, and that man needed to transcend thought altogether, and achieve some sort of hypersensitive attention not distorted by thought. It was a confusing idea that is not correct. One doesn’t abandon thought altogether, just delusional thinking, or thinking that is not logical.
    The perception he is talking about is beyond the bounds of one’s regular thought-bound perception. It hits you like a ton of bricks. It is a moment of complete stillness in which there is such a complete, whole, perception of what IS that your awareness stretches beyond it to the underlying nothingness that encompasses and is inside everything. From that perception arises real compassion from which action arises.”
    “After their falling out, Bohm criticised certain aspects of the teaching on philosophical, methodological, and psychological grounds. He also criticised what he described as Krishnamurti’s occasional “verbal manipulations” when deflecting challenges. Eventually, he questioned some of the reasoning concerning the nature of thought and self, although he never abandoned his belief that “Krishnamurti was on to something…

    A few days before his death, in a final statement, he declared that nobody among either his associates or the general public had understood what had happened to him (as the conduit of the teaching), nor had they understood the teaching itself. He added that the “immense energy” operating in his lifetime would be gone with his death, again implying the impossibility of successors.” — From Wikipedia
    “He was the most intelligent man of this century, but he was not understood by people… Krishnamurti’s teaching is beautiful, but too serious. And my experience and feeling is that his seventy years went to waste because he was serious… I am sorry that his teaching did not reach the human heart because it was too dry, juiceless, with no humor, no laughter… But still I love him, because amongst the philosophers he comes the closest to the mystic way of life. He himself avoided the mystic way, bypassed it, and that is the reason for his failure. But he is the only one amongst the modern contemporary thinkers who comes very close, almost on the boundary line of mysticism, and stops there.” OSHO

  10. Dear Martin

    Firstly, let me say that I am really enjoying this conversation. So thank you. And a lovely Osho quote to end with!

    Secondly, a daily K quote popped into my inbox yesterday, which I guess was sent appropriately (given this current conversation) by the emptiness that we are:

    “That is why it is important, as I said, to understand the process, the ways of our own thinking. Self-knowledge cannot be gathered through anybody, through any book, through any confession, psychology, or psychoanalyst. It has to be found by yourself, because it is your life; and without the widening and deepening of that knowledge of the self, do what you will, alter any outward or inward circumstances, influences – it will ever be a breeding ground of despair, pain, sorrow. To go beyond the self-enclosing activities of the mind, you must understand them; and to understand them is to be aware of action in relationship, relationship to things, to people, and to ideas. In that relationship, which is the mirror, we begin to see ourselves, without any justification or condemnation; and from that wider and deeper knowledge of the ways of our own mind, it is possible to proceed further; then it is possible for the mind to be quiet, to receive that which is real.”

    I am not interested in defending K or in being evangelical about him. But his pointing out that freedom must be won for yourself, and cannot possibly come through any form of conditioning strikes a chord that is true. It is the closest to Socratic inquiry that I can think of in our age. That all you can say is that I don’t know, and be in that not-knowingness. Of course, this is not essentially different from what Vedanta, Bhagavan, Nisargadatta, Osho, Zen, Dzogchen all so beautifully point towards.

    He taught more clearly than anyone else that liberation means liberation from yourself, which in turn means liberation from all knowledge, conditioning, beliefs etc. And leaving aside the personality of K, and flaws, that freedom from the known is what ultimately we are trying to grapple with . . . Not just the book learning that says that “the world is illusion; only Brahman is real; Brahman is the world” – however helpful that may be at the outset of the path.

    If there is no “you”, then there really is no “you” and the whole concept of
    “His message was very much to “Be a light unto yourself” which can only happen after you have dropped the need to be told what to do by somebody else”
    becomes a non-sequitur because there is nobody else, indeed there is nobody. Full stop.

    Freedom can only really mean freedom, in every possible dimension.

    With best wishes


  11. Thank you, Venkat, for your lucid comments, particularly at the end of your letter. I have also enjoyed this conversation. Just one more thing, this time concerning Osho (realizing we are branching off into something else). I wonder what you think about the following quotation of his:

    “I have met thousands of Krishnamurti people—because anybody who has been interested in Krishnamurti sooner or later is bound to find his way towards me, because where Krishnamurti leaves them, I can take their hand and lead them into the innermost shrine of truth. You can say my connection with Krishnamurti is that Krishnamurti has prepared the ground for me. He has prepared people intellectually for me; now it is my work to take those people deeper than intellect, to the heart; and deeper than the heart, to the being.” OSHO

  12. Martin, I do understand Osho’s comment. I mentioned that I first read K in my teens, and then came across Osho and his beautiful commentaries on Zen (eg. ‘No water no moon’) and Tao (‘Empty Boat’ and ‘The shoe doesn’t fit’). At that stage Osho’s poetic pointing appealed more directly than K’s questioning. How can one not but be entranced by Osho’s:

    “The mind is the chooser; the being is always choiceless. Being is a let-go. How can you be miserable if you don’t choose, if you don’t ask for a particular result? If you live life choicelessly and allow life to happen, you don’t control it, only then there is total relaxation . . . Remain a choiceless witness and then nothing is lacking. Then this existence is the most perfect existence possible. Nothing can be more beautiful, nothing can be more blissful.”

    But this choiceness awareness, this don’t control, is what K has always articulated. Anyway this led me into zen and tao, and ultimately via Nisargadatta and Bhagavan Ramana back full circle to advaita, and to K again.

    What Osho does superbly is to teach through the parables of mystic philosophies. And that teaching is essentially a lecture – or at least that is how it comes across in his books. And so, he can be relatively easy to follow, especially early on, because his poetry resonates deep down as true, even if you can’t necessarily intellectually rationalise it.

    By contrast K, if you are not just listening as an entertainment, urges you to use your mind as far as logic can take you, in a kind of Socratic dialogue, pointing out the idiocies of the way we live and think and feel . . . And takes you to the point where he explains that thought is forever limited and fragmentary, and so all that can be done, is the detached awareness / attention in which thoughts / feelings arise, without making any judgement or seeking to control. In this, they will inevitably subside, and then there is the silence in which the infinite may come upon you, without asking (for otherwise there is still a subtle I).

    I’d say K is truer than Osho to the sense that freedom really has to be freedom, including freedom from all doctrines, gurus, conditioning, the past, all of which make up the ‘I’. And so he starts with freedom and treats us as such (as adults), rather than postulates it as a goal at the end of sadhana (through some adult-child disciple relationship). I actually find that K’s articulation of what meditation is, is far deeper and more meaningful, than what most focus on in meditation (posture, breathing, emptying the mind – essentially just to control).

    The difficulty with understanding K is that there is such a multitude of books – many of which repeat the same themes, but here and there suddenly get deeper – that it is difficult to readily follow his line of thought through to the end. I am currently reading his “Tradition and Revolution” which is a series of dialogues in India, with some of his close followers (including Maurice Frydman) on vedantic / buddhist themes – and this does go deeper than his general talks.

  13. Osho was very intelligent, sharp, with a great sense of humour; and knew many things (philosophy among others). But I think it is unquestionable that not only was he a manipulator, but suffered (if that is the word) from a clinical condition, narcissism, which is listed among a number of other ‘personality disorders’; this opinion is not only mine. I definitely cannot consider him a mystic. (I wonder what Sitara would think about this).

    As to JK, yes, his method was one of deconstruction, a very difficult and demanding one at that, which very, very few can accomplish to the end. Is it less demanding, and more successful, than the slower, more gradual method of advaita, adhyaropa-apavada? These are only surmises. Anyway, the times and circumstances in which K (and we) lived have to be taken into consideration. Personally, I struggled with his teaching for two years and discarded it at the end, despite intellectually understanding the core of it. I needed – and most people need – a log and arduous preparation, which requires constancy of purpose.

    “… the silence in which the infinite may come upon you, without asking”, you write . Was JK’s method a combination of mysticism and neti-neti (‘via negativa’), which is rational? As we know, in advaita even the sacred books are mythia, to be discarded at the end; it is ultimately a mystical philosophy, with a strong component of rationality, tarka — thus essentially not different from JK’s.

  14. Martin, you don’t believe Osho was enlightened? I must say I have vacillated on this many times. Some of his books which comment on parables from various traditions show a depth of understanding and an ability to communicate that is rare to find, and have undoubtedly served as pointers for many. So sometimes I wonder whether his eccentricities were just play for him, not taking life seriously. On the other hand, if enlightenment is the total extinction of ego, it becomes tricky to reconcile with some of his behaviour.

    I think this is why it is important not to accept any authority, because how do you know that someone else knows, has realised the truth? You have to figure it yourself, albeit with some pointers to guide you at the outset.

    And ultimately is it that difficult? Simple observation of nature, let alone science, shouts at us that our character is but a product of the accident of the circumstances (genetic and environmental) into which we were born, that we have no real choice in any of this, that everyone / everything is inter-dependent (has no independent, inherent existence), and that life and death flow together, continually recirculating the basic building blocks of which we are constituted. So even at this level, there is no duality. A bit of further reflection also enables the observation that everything (including ‘my’ body / mind / feelings) all happens on a screen of consciousness. However, the mind gets conditioned into the thought / feeling that because of the continual concurrence of awareness, with ‘this’ body-mind, then ‘this’ is who I am, separate from other things in the field of awareness, and worthy of protection and self-aggrandisement. Hence comes all the sorrow and suffering, fear and desire, selfishness and conflict. [And oh, what maya this is – just look around at the current state of the world: ever-accumulating wealth to the top 1%, non-stop conflict to secure access to increasingly scarce resources, a voracious race to exploit nature to its full; and all the while, karma is gradually building for its last laugh, as homo sapiens blindly races to the precipice].

    So what is enlightenment? Isn’t it just the hard and fast understanding that this sense of separation, of ego, is just an illusion in consciousness. Or if you have a materialistic bent, a bit of programming that has arisen in the neuronal circuitry of the brain. Either way, there is no separate ‘I’, and paraphrasing Mandukya, there is no one to be bound or liberated. When one first hears this, there may be doubts as the sense of separation is so strong; then one reflects and applies logic to this, to test its veracity – then you have a certain intellectual conviction; ultimately this conviction would seem to have to deepen such that, in materialistic terms, the neuronal circuitry itself is rewired, such that the ‘I’ is absent. One assumes that the body/minds of a Bhagavan, Nisargadatta, and a JK lived such a state. [Was Osho in this state, and just playing up his eccentricities to accentuate the follies of the way we live; or was he just a charlatan?]

    This has veered off where you started! But anyway, this is my understanding Martin – please do correct me if I have missed something.

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