Jiddhu Krishnamurti is a spiritual teacher I have come back to again and again. For me, reading J. Krishnamurti is like getting a splash of fresh, pure, cold mountain stream water in one’s face. The man is uncompromising in his message that nothing less than a complete transformation of consciousness is needed in order to break free of the conditioned and mundane into true freedom of mind and spirit.
Most of all, J. Krishnamurti insists that this radical change cannot come from outside us or from any external teaching or thought system. From his standpoint, every religious teaching, every social and political system has failed to set humanity free, and in fact, has enslaved humans.
Instead of looking to the Buddha, or Christ, or Mohammed, or to a guru, or to any technique or method or teaching, Krishnamurti tells us to look to ourselves, to our own thoughts and hearts for enlightenment. He radically rejects all outside authority and tells us to seek that which is not tied to or created by the conditional, the contingent, the fabricated. We cannot rely on thought, the past, ideas, or concepts, however lofty or “spiritual.” We must look to ourselves, our own minds and hearts.
One cannot help but agree with this essential truth. In meditation one does finally arrive at the point of “choiceless awareness” that Krishnamurti points to in all that he says and writes. But from the standpoint of what the Buddha taught, I feel Krishnamurti’s teachings have some limitations in terms of showing seekers just how to discover this unconditioned awareness that is totally free.
Some Limitations to Krishnamurti’s Approach
This “limitation” has two sources, as far as I can see: 1) Krishnamurti tends to speak from and respond to questions from the standpoint of choiceless awareness, not from the standpoint of one who is trying to awaken to it. 2) because Krishnamurti knows how humans cling to techniques, to teachings, to spiritual concepts and ideas, he resolutely refuses to offer a “teaching,” a “technique,” or set of rules or ideas that the human mind can “get a hold of” and put into practice. Instead, he says, “just look within, observe, without judgment or thought; what do you see?“
This way can be very skillful, and much of Zen teaching has this flavor, as does vipassana, or insight meditation. But the Buddha’s dharma cannot be pinned down to one approach, one “flavor,” one method, one emphasis over all others. The Buddha’s teaching both transcends and includes all skillful means. The genius of the Buddha’s teaching is that it meets every human being right where he or she is and shows how to use what is right at hand.
Although the Buddha was completely enlightened and free, he did not speak or act as if others were too. The compassion of the Buddha was to speak to people right where they were, not to disdain their ignorance or people’s inveterate tendency to want to reduce the path to enlightenment to words and ideas without genuine change of mind and heart.
The Buddha does not say, “This is how it is on the other shore of the river of suffering; act and think as if you were already there.” Rather, he shows the skillful means for making a raft to cross the river, all the while showing us not to cling to anything we use, and to abandon aids as they no longer serve us. This doesn’t mean we won’t have great awakenings or clear vision of the other shore; we will. But we also won’t think we’ve crossed the river of samsara, delusion, when we’ve barely begun paddling across.
The Buddha’s Middle Way
The Buddha taught a middle way. He did not teach an absolutist approach that disdains all technique or intermediate steps. Nor did he reduce the path to a series of rote steps or “things you do.” Technique will never get one to nirvana, nor will believing with all our hearts that we are already free when we demonstrably aren’t. If we believe liberation is something we “attain,” we will miss the boat to the other shore; and if we think we are on the other shore while we live our daily lives filled with egotism, selfishness, anger, hatred, we become moral idiots who believe we are “enlightened.”
Being truly free of ego, the Buddha was humble enough to see how even the simplest things of human life could become a means to liberation. There are always skillful means leading to awakening, but they are always temporary and provisional—to be abandoned as soon as it is skillful to do so. For example, there is the need to develop concentration, and there is also direct insight, or seeing, vipassana, which is without process or technique.
From all that I’ve read of Krishnamurti, and from what people who knew him have written of him, I don’t think he was some absolutist that dismissed what people do “on the cushion,” whatever the tradition. I’ve read that he had a real affection for genuine Buddhist monks who walked the walk and didn’t just talk the talk. He did not disparage the Buddha, but he did scorn people who blindly accepted a Buddhist belief system. In this, Krishnamurti is very much of the Zen “kill the Buddha if you see him on the road” school of thought. I think much of what Krishnamurti says about “Buddhism” would make the Buddha smile, actually!
Even so, Krishnamurti could be ferocious in his talks with Hindu and Buddhist monks and priests when they got caught up in words or when they wanted to tie down him or the path to “choiceless awareness” with words or concepts or techniques.
I offer these comments after years of reading Krishnamurti and wrestling with what he says and trying to put it into practice. But see for yourself. The man and his message are a shining light. So, without further introduction or comment, here’s the opening to the first Krishnamurti book I ever read, his brilliant “Freedom from the Known.” It will give you a strong taste of the powerful, refreshing teaching and spirit of this remarkable spiritual visionary.
Freedom From the Known
Man has throughout the ages been seeking something beyond himself, beyond material welfare – something we call truth or God or reality, a timeless state – something that cannot be disturbed by circumstances, by thought or by human corruption.
Man has always asked the question: what is it all about? Has life any meaning at all? He sees the enormous confusion of life, the brutalities, the revolt, the wars, the endless divisions of religion, ideology and nationality, and with a sense of deep abiding frustration he asks, what is one to do, what is this thing we call living, is there anything beyond it?
And not finding this nameless thing of a thousand names which he has always sought, he has cultivated faith – faith in a saviour or an ideal – and faith invariably breeds violence.
In this constant battle which we call living, we try to set a code of conduct according to the society in which we are brought up, whether it be a Communist society or a so-called free society; we accept a standard of behaviour as part of our tradition as Hindus or Muslims or Christians or whatever we happen to be. We look to someone to tell us what is right or wrong behaviour, what is right or wrong thought, and in following this pattern our conduct and our thinking become mechanical, our responses automatic. We can observe this very easily in ourselves.
For centuries we have been spoon-fed by our teachers, by our authorities, by our books, our saints. We say, ‘Tell me all about it – what lies beyond the hills and the mountains and the earth?’ and we are satisfied with their descriptions, which means that we live on words and our life is shallow and empty. We are secondhand people. We have lived on what we have been told, either guided by our inclinations, our tendencies, or compelled to accept by circumstances and environment. We are the result of all kinds of influences and there is nothing new in us, nothing that we have discovered for ourselves; nothing original, pristine, clear.
Throughout theological history we have been assured by religious leaders that if we perform certain rituals, repeat certain prayers or mantras, conform to certain patterns, suppress our desires, control our thoughts, sublimate our passions, limit our appetites and refrain from sexual indulgence, we shall, after sufficient torture of the mind and body, find something beyond this little life. And that is what millions of so-called religious people have done through the ages, either in isolation, going off into the desert or into the mountains or a cave or wandering from village to village with a begging bowl, or, in a group, joining a monastery, forcing their minds to conform to an established pattern. But a tortured mind, a broken mind, a mind which wants to escape from all turmoil, which has denied the outer world and been made dull through dis- cipline and conformity – such a mind, however long it seeks, will find only according to its own distortion.
So to discover whether there actually is or is not something beyond this anxious, guilty, fearful, competitive existence, it seems to me that one must have a completely different approach altogether. The traditional approach is from the periphery inwards, and through time, practice and renunciation, gradually to come upon that inner flower, that inner beauty and love – in fact to do everything to make oneself narrow, petty and shoddy; peel off little by little; take time; tomorrow will do, next life will do – and when at last one comes to the centre one finds there is nothing there, because one’s mind has been made incapable, dull and insensitive.
Having observed this process, one asks oneself, is there not a different approach altogether – that is, is it not possible to explode from the centre?
The world accepts and follows the traditional approach. The primary cause of disorder in ourselves is the seeking of reality promised by another; we mechanically follow somebody who will assure us a comfortable spiritual life. It is a most extraordinary thing that although most of us are opposed to political tyranny and dictatorship, we inwardly accept the authority, the tyranny, of another to twist our minds and our way of life. So if we completely reject, not intellectually but actually, all so-called spiritual authority, all ceremonies, rituals and dogmas, it means that we stand alone and are already in conflict with society; we cease to be respectable human beings. A respectable human being cannot possibly come near to that infinite, immeasurable, reality.
You have now started by denying something absolutely false – the traditional approach – but if you deny it as a reaction you will have created another pattern in which you will be trapped; if you tell yourself intellectually that this denial is a very good idea but do nothing about it, you cannot go any further. If you deny it however, because you understand the stupidity and immaturity of it, if you reject it with tremendous intelligence, because you are free and not frightened, you will create a great disturbance in yourself and around you but you will step out of the trap of respectability. Then you will find that you are no longer seeking. That is the first thing to learn – not to seek. When you seek you are really only window-shopping.
The question of whether or not there is a God or truth or reality, or whatever you like to call it, can never be answered by books, by priests, philosophers or saviours. Nobody and nothing can answer the question but you yourself and that is why you must know yourself. Immaturity lies only in total ignorance of self. To understand yourself is the beginning of wisdom.
And what is yourself, the individual you? I think there is a difference between the human being and the individual. The individual is a local entity, living in a particular country, belonging to a particular culture, particular society, particular religion. The human being is not a local entity. He is everywhere. If the individual merely acts in a particular corner of the vast field of life, then his action is totally unrelated to the whole. So one has to bear in mind that we are talking of the whole not the part, because in the greater the lesser is, but in the lesser the greater is not. The individual is the little conditioned, miserable, frustrated entity, satisfied with his little gods and his little traditions, whereas a human being is concerned with the total welfare, the total misery and total confusion of the world.
We human beings are what we have been for millions of years – -colossally greedy, envious, aggressive, jealous, anxious and despairing, with occasional flashes of joy and affection. We are a strange mixture of hate, fear and gentleness; we are both violence and peace. There has been outward progress from the bullock cart to the jet plane but psychologically the individual has not changed at all, and the structure of society throughout the world has been created by individuals. The outward social structure is the result of the inward psychological structure of our human relationships, for the individual is the result of the total experience, knowledge and conduct of man. Each one of us is the storehouse of all the past. The individual is the human who is all mankind. The whole history of man is written in ourselves.
Do observe what is actually taking place within yourself and outside yourself in the competitive culture in which you live with its desire for power, position, prestige, name, success and all the rest of it – observe the achievements of which you are so proud, this whole field you call living in which there is conflict in every form of relationship, breeding hatred, antagonism, brutality and endless wars. This field, this life, is all we know, and being unable to understand the enormous battle of existence we are naturally afraid of it and find escape from it in all sorts of subtle ways. And we are frightened also of the unknown – frightened of death, frightened of what lies beyond tomorrow. So we are afraid of the known and afraid of the unknown. That is our daily life and in that there is no hope, and therefore every form of philosophy, every form of theological concept, is merely an escape from the actual reality of what is.
All outward forms of change brought about by wars, revolutions, reformations, laws and ideologies have failed completely to change the basic nature of man and therefore of society. As human beings living in this monstrously ugly world, let us ask ourselves, can this society, based on competition, brutality and fear, come to an end? Not as an intellectual conception, not as a hope, but as an actual fact, so that the mind is made fresh, new and innocent and can bring about a different world altogether? It can only happen, I think, if each one of us recognises the central fact that we, as individuals, as human beings, in whatever part of the world we happen to live or whatever culture we happen to belong to, are totally responsible for the whole state of the world.
We are each one of us responsible for every war because of the aggressiveness of our own lives, because of our nationalism, our selfishness, our gods, our prejudices, our ideals, all of which divide us. And only when we realize, not intellectually but actually, as actually as we would recognise that we are hungry or in pain, that you and I are responsible for all this existing chaos, for all the misery throughout the entire world because we have contributed to it in our daily lives and are part of this monstrous society with its wars, divisions, its ugliness, brutality and greed – only then will we act.
But what can a human being do – what can you and I do – to create a completely different society? We are asking ourselves a very serious question. Is there anything to be done at all? What can we do? Will somebody tell us? People have told us. The so-called spiritual leaders, who are supposed to understand these things better than we do, have told us by trying to twist and mould us into a new pattern, and that hasn’t led us very far; sophisticated and learned men have told us and that has led us no further.
We have been told that all paths lead to truth – you have your path as a Hindu and someone else has his path as a Christian and another as a Muslim, and they all meet at the same door – which is, when you look at it, so obviously absurd. Truth has no path, and that is the beauty of truth, it is living. A dead thing has a path to it because it is static, but when you see that truth is something living, moving, which has no resting place, which is in no temple, mosque or church, which no religion, no teacher, no philosopher, nobody can lead you to – then you will also see that this living thing is what you actually are – your anger, your brutality, your violence, your despair, the agony and sorrow you live in. In the understanding of all this is the truth, and you can understand it only if you know how to look at those things in your life. And you cannot look through an ideology, through a screen of words, through hopes and fears.
So you see that you cannot depend upon anybody. There is no guide, no teacher, no authority. There is only you – your relationship with others and with the world – there is nothing else. When you realize this, it either brings great despair, from which comes cynicism and bitterness, or, in facing the fact that you and nobody else is responsible for the world and for yourself, for what you think, what you feel, how you act, all self-pity goes. Normally we thrive on blaming others, which is a form of self-pity.
Can you and I, then, bring about in ourselves without any outside influence, without any persuasion, without any fear of punishment – can we bring about in the very essence of our being a total revolution, a psychological mutation, so that we are no longer brutal, violent, competitive, anxious, fearful, greedy, envious and all the rest of the manifestations of our nature which have built up the rotten society in which we live our daily lives?
It is important to understand from the very beginning that I am not formulating any philosophy or any theological structure of ideas or theological concepts. It seems to me that all ideologies are utterly idiotic. What is important is not a philosophy of life but to observe what is actually taking place in our daily life, inwardly and outwardly. If you observe very closely what is taking place and examine it, you will see that it is based on an intellectual conception, and the intellect is not the whole field of existence; it is a fragment, and a fragment, however cleverly put together, however ancient and traditional, is still a small part of existence whereas we have to deal with the totality of life. And when we look at what is taking place in the world we begin to understand that there is no outer and inner process; there is only one unitary process, it is a whole, total movement, the inner movement expressing itself as the outer and the outer reacting again on the inner. To be able to look at this seems to me all that is needed, because if we know how to look, then the whole thing becomes very clear, and to look needs no philosophy, no teacher. Nobody need tell you how to look. You just look.
Can you then, seeing this whole picture, seeing it not verbally but actually, can you easily, spontaneously, transform yourself? That is the real issue. Is it possible to bring about a complete revolution in the psyche?…”