Religion means total attention

I was recently reminded of a discussion with Anderson (‘Being hurt and hurting others’, from 1974) in which Krishnamurti shares his own understanding of what religion truly means.

Religion, for Krishnamurti, is not organised religion, what most people understand by the word religion. For Krishnamurti, popular or organised religion is merely

a vast superstition, a great propaganda, incredible beliefs and superstitions, worship of images made by the hand or by the mind.

All this is not religion for Krishnamurti. Rather, religion means

gathering together all energy, at all levels, physical, moral, spiritual, at all levels, gathering all this energy which will bring about a great attention

The gathering of all energy so that there is total attention, and in that quality of attention the immeasurable comes into being?

In the discussion they talk about how religion, in Krishnamurti’s sense, originally had to do with a feeling for, or proximity to, nature, and the sense of an immeasurable quality or sacredness of nature.

If you have read the Rig Veda - I was told about it because I don’t read all this - that there, in the first Veda there is… only this worship of something immense, expressed in nature, in the earth, in the clouds, in the trees, [etc.]

However, this was lost when human beings lost touch with nature. And it was then that the role of priestly interpreters of the sacred became important, who became intermediaries between the individual person and the sacred.

If one can deny this mediated form of religion, the religion of belief and faith, then the question for us, according to Krishnamurti, is

Can the mind be so attentive in the total sense that the unnameable comes into being? … one sees the absolute necessity of a mind that is completely quiet. Because it’s only out of quietness you perceive what is happening.

If I am chattering I won’t listen to you. If my mind is constantly rattling away, to what you are saying I won’t pay attention. To pay attention means to be quiet…

Attention means not only the brain giving its energy, but also the mind, the heart, the nerves, the total entity, the total human mind giving all its energy to perceive.

So Krishnamurti re-defines religion as essentially an act of total attention. Rather than a belief system, a series of ideas and dogmas, religion is a gathering of all one’s energy - intellectual, emotional, sensory - so as to be completely attentive, to be in a state of total attentiveness.

Elsewhere (Talk 3, Ojai, 1955) Krishnamurti has also said

There is goodness only when there is complete attention.

So religion means total attention.

In a light hearted reflection, I was wondering what participating in a religion of total attention might mean in practice? (though clearly this is meant tongue-in-cheek, because by ‘religion’ Krishnamurti didn’t mean a special club, an identity, but rather an action).

If one’s religion was to be totally attentive, then wouldn’t one experiment daily with looking at things with all one’s senses fully active, fully heightened?

From talk 4, Brockwood Park, 1978:

Is it possible for the senses to operate as a whole; to look at the movement of the sea, the bright waters, the eternally restless waters, to watch those waters completely, with all your senses? Or a tree, or a person, or a bird in flight, a sheet of water, the setting sun, or the rising moon, to observe it, look at it with all your senses fully awakened.

One would probably experiment constantly with looking and listening and being aware of oneself and others. One would find out if one’s mind or brain can be quiet, be still, so as to be able to see, listen, perceive more clearly. This would be one’s primary interest and concern.

What do others think about all this?


Experimenting is finding out for oneself. Present moment attention, without judgement…some may call it “choiceless awareness”, others call it “mindfulness” (Kabat-Zinn), and others may find it to be freedom’s portal where thought dissolves and “the immeasurable comes into being”.

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Yes - present-centred, non-judgemental awareness. Which is also called, by different people, mindfulness, open presence, open awareness, open monitoring, choiceless awareness, the attentional field, or just awareness and attention.

This makes a lot of sense to me James. The loss of connection with nature seems particularly interesting - can we understand ourselves and the world if we are disconnected from nature? How many of us are really deeply connected to nature nowadays?

Attention seems to be central to so much of what K talked about.

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Now, the flip-side of this attention business - although this may be something for a separate thread - is that Krishnamurti has said that knowledge the root of all human problems.

Knowledge being all the ways in which human beings are programmed psychologically by tradition, religion, culture, nationalism, race, society, family, and one’s own accumulated and acquired experiences.

Knowledge creates images of each other in relationship. Knowledge creates the images we have about ourselves. Knowledge is what creates our images about the world.

Knowledge is put together by our thinking. The thinker is not separate from his/her thoughts. So we are not separate from this movement of knowledge.

So what will make us break this chain of knowledge?

Is it the non-movement away from seeing this fact - the remaining with this fact - that knowledge has created our whole psychological world and that we ourselves are not separate from this knowledge? That is, the perception of the truth or falsehood of this fact.

Perception being complete seeing, complete perception without the interference of thought, which means total attention.

So can there be total attention, complete perception, of the fact that we are completely dominated by thought and knowledge - that we are knowledge?

This is a little bit off the tracks from the OP question of attention, awareness, seeing with all the senses, but I think it is related.

Yes. I feel that unless we have some kind of daily relationship to nature - whether this takes the form of looking at the fields and the sky on our daily commute, seeing the trees as we walk to the shops, taking the dog for a walk and listening to the morning chatter of the birds, or just looking outside our window at the garden - then we will not have the sensitivity to go further.

There is something about contact with nature that rejuvenates, brings us back to our senses, suggests something more primordial about existence, opens us up to new possibilities. If we are only living in our heads, in books or in computer screens, we will miss this deeper, more vital relationship to the world.

Nature brings into our awareness the whole movement of the senses, of the vitality of perception.

What I want to get at is that total attention is also the total attention of the whole movement of suffering.

Total attention is also the feeling or perception that I am part of the entire humanity - the perception that my consciousness is the consciousness of all humankind.

Total attention is also the total awareness of the whole movement of the mind - both the conscious as well as the unconscious movements.

Total attention is also emptiness, space (according to Krishnamurti).

And total attention is love, intelligence, insight (according to Krishnamurti).

So total attention is attention to the whole of knowledge, as well as the dissolution of knowledge, which is freedom, emptiness, etc.

Can one have a sense of what this total attention is - without actually having total attention?

Can one have a feeling, for example, of the wholeness of humanity, or the wholeness of the mind, of one’s consciousness?

Do these questions interest anyone, or do they only interest me?

Total attention is also the feeling that one is a part of nature, of the whole universe.

Can we have a feeling for this, even if we cannot say we have total attention?

I think there can be “total attention, complete perception of the fact that we are completely dominated by thought and knowledge - that we are knowledge” when one is so acutely aware of how constant and oppressive thought and knowledge are that it is an untenable condition.

But I don’t know if this awareness is possible if we’re not as aware of how many and how varied are the escapes we have from it.

Can one be so aware, so attentive, of the many forms that knowledge takes, if one hasn’t also the sensitivity to perceive the colour of a flower, the breadth of the sky, the space in the room, etc?

This is what I’m saying. I feel that unless one has this sensitivity, this capacity or willingness to look at something with all one’s senses, then what we call knowledge just becomes a verbal, theoretical trap.

There must be an awareness of the outer - which is perception with the senses - an awareness of society, what is taking place in my relationships around me; and there must be an awareness of the inner - of my thoughts and reactions, the whole content of knowledge as it shows itself in my actions, in my brain.

Awareness is sensitivity to the outer as well as the inner - this is holistic attention: with the body, brain, feelings, as well as with the mind.

Wouldn’t you agree?

So one’s relationship to nature, to sensation, to perception, is central to the question of knowledge also. The two go together.

Intellect, @Inquiry , is the past participle of intelligere “to understand, discern”, which is the act of intelligence. So intellect is the residue or memory of previous acts of intelligence. It is not actual perception. And intelligence - the active understanding or seeing of something - is the perceiving, the direct seeing, perception, without memory.

So intellect and intelligence are two different things. The one is based on memory, on knowledge. The other is an act of perceiving now.

So in looking at the question of knowledge, is it a matter of intellectual comprehension, or seeing directly through perception? If it is the latter, then our capacity for seeing, sensing, perceiving, is central.

Or, @Inquiry , a different way of putting it is that we do not have this quality of total attention. So can we be aware of the fact that our attention is partial, limited, dulled (by whatever factors)?

Such awareness implies careful observation, in the present, to the what is of our limited capacity, our limited attention.

Do you see what I mean?

Is the reason why we - @macdougdoug @danmcderm @Inquiry (and others) - find it so difficult to communicate with each other because because we each have a separate language system, a different way of understanding and using words, a different valuation or emphasis on certain words, and so we miss each other’s meanings?

And not only miss each other’s meanings, but reject the authority of each other’s language systems: we reject being imposed upon by another’s language, use of words, emphasis of certain words?

So there is both naturally misunderstanding, as well as naturally the rejection of authority.

And this is also because words, language, and thinking are all limited forms of communication (not only communication but also of understanding). So our words, language, thinking, separates us from each other.

Can we go beyond this separateness of our different language systems? Can we have the same attitude, the same understanding, the same perception of the same thing (whatever it is)?

I feel that this is where perception has value, because seeing, hearing, sensing is common to each of us, even without words or ideas to share this.

And the inner world of our consciousness is also common. Do we need to dispute these basic factors?


I can be aware of what I’ve missed in the moment when faced with the evidence, but I don’t see how I can be aware of what I am not aware of.

So, the question is: can we be aware of our own limited capacity for attention, or own partial experiencing of the world?

In this question we are not asking ourselves whether we are aware of what we are not aware of.

Simply: am I aware that when I look out onto the world I do so with partial sensory responses, partial or fragmented perception, with the interference of my own thinking, reactions, and so on?

This is all I am asking.

what is energy ?

  • my body, my senses, my heart, my mind, my brain, gathered, as one “flow” which is one with the “what is”, which is the “what is”, “I am the what is”. In the “what is”, there is already great attention. Then K says total attention, in the total the immeasurable comes into being.

  • K also says together, which is the latin “religare” - as he mentions in another talk = this is religion

The tyranny of words is a sad and dangerous thing. Especially when it is taken for passionate inquiry.
What we usually call religion is the attraction to the tyranny of words, an attraction due to a desire for salvation.

When someone responds to my words must they repeat my exact words in the same exact manner? Why? Because if they don’t they might be disagreeing, which means they might be implying that I am wrong? But if I am the most intelligent and passionate etc etc its so sad.

If I am the most intelligent and passionate this does not free me from my relationship and identification with words - I wish it did - it just changes my position in the hierarchy, my shining intellect and passion becomes a beacon.

Even here, we are all humans, acting like those other dangerous humans out there.

In conversation I think it does help tremendously if people can stick to the same words as much as possible, so meaning of what is being said doesn’t get lost.

You must have been in dialogues, or seen group dialogues with Krishnamurti, in which the conversation becomes completely confused by the overabundance of different words. This is because for any one word there will already be several different meanings for each person involved in the conversation. And so to be clear on the meaning of a single word is already a big deal.

If you remember during a recent conversation we had on perception, it took us several days and countless in-depth posts just to agree mutually on the meaning of the words ‘seeing without images’. If we had not stayed with those few words then we would likely never have come to an agreement about them even if we had talked for weeks and months.

This was also why I asked @danmcderm not to bring in words such as ‘innocence’, ‘love’, ‘freedom’, etc on the self-knowledge thread, because I knew that these words would all be understood in quite different ways by each participant, and that going into the meaning of each word (so as to make them clear for all parties) would just take too long, with each word really requiring its own thread.

I’m not sure what you are wanting to convey by ‘intelligence’ and ‘passion’ here. Intelligence, as I understand it, is not confined to or limited by words - so if we find ourselves being identified with certain words then this is clearly a sign of one’s lack of intelligence.

As I was suggesting before, we are each of us used to using words in a certain way, we have been habituated to different usages - through education, custom, one’s own reading, etc. Which is why sharing a deep communication with another becomes challenging, because it means stepping out of one’s habit patterns and looking at the way one uses words anew.

This is also why I feel it is important to use as few primary words as possible. By primary words I mean words like ‘total attention’, or ‘consciousness’, or ‘self’, or ‘death’, or ‘love’, etc. Because each of these words requires a lot of unpacking, they can mean so many different things.

However, an important consideration in this is that we are not on a Buddhist website, or an Advaita Vedanta website, or on a neuroscience or psychoanalytic website. Everyone on this website is here because they have some idea of the way that Krishnamurti used language, which is often different from all these other usages.

For instance, in the neuroscience of perception the way they talk about the word ‘attention’ is often the complete opposite of the way that Krishnamurti uses the word ‘attention’. For these neuroscientists the word ‘attention’ means focussed attention, which is what Krishnamurti calls concentration. For Krishnamurti ‘attention’ is different to concentration, and refers to a comprehensive state, a holistic state of awareness or perception.

So you see, if one was on a neuroscience website wanting to use the word ‘attention’ in Krishnamurti’s sense, one would have to clarify all this, and probably one would have to drop this usage altogether to be understood by other participants on that website, because probably none of them would be familiar with Krishnamurti.

But on a Krishnamurti website we shouldn’t have to face quite as much turmoil in clarifying these words, because we are all somewhat familiar with the language Krishnamurti used.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that when we use the word ‘attention’ on Kinfonet we do not need to clarify what we mean - there is still a need for us to filter out our own distinct meanings of such a word so that we can share it together without misunderstanding. But at least the general ground has already been laid by our familiarity with Krishnamurti, which is what I assume people have here.

I hope this makes sense.

Out of curiosity, James, have you been hired to “clean-up” Kinfonet?

Ha! :sweat_smile: Is this what I sound like to you?

No. Nobody has hired me, I am a free agent!

By ‘clean-up’ I suppose you are referring to where I talk about this being a Krishnamurti website?

All I feel I am doing is stating the obvious. Wouldn’t you expect people to use words in a certain way if you went on a Buddhist website, an Advaita website or a neuroscience website?

Take the word ‘self’.

On an Advaita website probably this word would be used in a very special way, it would be capitalised, and refer to something spiritual.

On a Buddhist website the word ‘self’ would probably have more negative connotations, and would be analysed in a certain way that would be rejected by Advaitins.

And on a neuroscience website the self would be understood is yet a further distinct way.

So that one word can be the cause of a great many different interpretations, valuations, perspectives.

Because we have to use words to communicate here, and because we are here because of our interest in Krishnamurti (whatever form that interest takes), isn’t it reasonable that we begin our investigation into a word like ‘self’ with some familiarity with Krishnamurti’s approach to the self?

This doesn’t mean accepting what Krishnamurti has said about the self, but just a familiarity, an openness, an interest in what he has said about ‘self’. If one genuinely had no interest in what he had to say about these matters then one probably wouldn’t be here at all, right?

Surely it is only natural that the way we use words on a Krishnamurti website will reflect the way that Krishnamurti used those words?

As I mentioned previously, if every time we use the word attention we need to carefully explain that we do not mean by that word what the neuroscientists mean by that word, then this would imply that be need to read neuroscience before we can use the word attention here. And this would become ungainly and overly demanding after a while, because every primary word we use - such as attention, self, innocence, love, death, suffering, consciousness, etc - has been used by other people in multiple different ways already, and so we would have to clarify our terms endlessly before a conversation could even begin.

Yes; as one movement, whole, holistic - with all one’s senses and nerves, as well as one’s heart and mind.

K talks about attention being

So the gathering of one’s total energy implies wholeness of the brain-body, the whole organism, of the whole heart-mind, a wholeness of action; like a bird gathering itself bodily before taking flight :eagle: