November 8th, 2015
Jiddu Krishnamurti (b.1895 – 1986) was a philosopher, author and public speaker. He traveled the world and held seminars and discussions regarding his teachings, presiding over groups large and small. I’m still getting a sense of his teachings as a coherent body, but as of this writing I think I can summarize at least some of his worldview and major concerns as follows: a) to realize peace and to attain freedom from suffering for him/herself and for the world, a human being must focus first on improving his or her internal psychological processes; b) an important aspect of this is to observe with total freedom: to examine the self and the world outside the self as free from emotion, bias, and prejudice as possible; c) this kind of observation can help one realize the inseparability of self and World, which itself is a necessary realization for human betterment and advancement; d) all of this, and Krishnamurti’s other teachings, occur outside of established creeds, religions or spiritualities.
Another way to summarize his philosophy, in his own words: Truth can only be found “through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection.” And that observation, in its most unbiased form, is Freedom: “Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence.” Krishnamurti wrote very little, believing the kinds of insights he promoted could best come to humankind through the immediacy of discussion, but in 1980 his biographer asked him to summarize some of the main tenets of his thinking; both of the quotes above come from this summary, called “The Core of the Teaching”.
I stumbled across Krishnamurti’s teachings in the last few months, and have been working through audio transcriptions of the “Brockwood Park Seminars”, a series of six seminars given in 1979 and which attempted to systematically wrestle with the question: “What is one to do with the increasing violence in the world?”. By all accounts these seminars summarize Krishnamurti’s teachings fairly well, which is why I chose them as a primer. They are available in the audio section of the online repository of his teachings, found here. Each seminar’s about an hour and twenty minutes.
Now I don’t know who the Brockwood attendees were, and I don’t know the context of these talks (who funded them, how much did it cost to go, were they open to the general public, what is the relationship between the speaker and Brockwood, etc.). But what I do know is that I’ve found the seminars I’ve heard so far to be very compelling opportunities to sit in on charged, unfolding dialectic between a rigorous and passionate thinker and his active, sometimes contentious, sometimes stubborn audience. People during these seminars question Krishnamurti openly (as they should), struggle with concepts, go on tangents, exasperate the speaker. Sometimes this says something about Krishnamurti’s method — he’s going into this with what feels like a clear step-by-step progression that he’s trying to impose on his audience — and sometimes this says something about the difficult and at times revolutionary (intellectually, spiritually) content of his material. Sometimes this just suggests that any attempt to discover, rattle and then modify one’s core assumptions, in a live setting, with other intelligent humans, is going to be fraught, full of false starts, relapses, collapses, etc.
Listening to these seminars has convinced me that a live participatory forum is maybe one of the most invigorating means to not just convey philosophical teachings but enact actual thought and spirit-change. Which is perhaps why you find it repeatedly (though not often enough, to my tastes) in the literature, from Plato to Hume to Wittgenstein. The back-and-forth, the slow building of concepts, the interplay, the suggestion of thought being born right there, of being arrived at, not pre-codified and merely set down as law, stimulates the mind to better accept challenging notions.
Something also needs to be said here about repetition and its role in advancing absorption of gestalt shifts. Krishnamurti’s Brockwood Seminars are full of repetitions and rehashes of the same concepts, steps and summaries. As he builds each logical terrace on the ascending philosophical slope he’s constructing, he patiently — if at times exasperatedly — goes over the same territory over and over to make sure he’s laying the proper groundwork. This not only has a soothing effect, in the manner of, say, Zen sand-raking, but repetition with slight variation I believe activates the mind to receive truth, prevents the mind from settling into stagnation as it can, almost as a mode of paralytic self-preservation, when exposed to very challenging notions (this problem is compounded when the language used is stale and stock). Something about the way Krishnamurti establishes and re-establishes each step in his argumentative construction, serves to, over-time, create new perforations and openings until the weight of his argument can really percolate through the listener. It might be a slightly different metaphor the third time around, an inversion of argument, or a new window into the same challenge as presented by a different audience speaker — every time, as a listener, I’d witness the same vista painted in a slightly different way, I’d feel distinctly my heart and mind growing closer to what Krishnamurti was trying to say.
I think the most salient example of this to me was when he asked his students to, by way of metaphor, look out of the same window as him, NOT necessarily to agree about the window, or feel the same way about the window, or what’s visible through it. He wanted merely to attain consensus that, metaphorically speaking, we are all looking out of the same window. By the time I’d heard this angle on the point Krishnamurti was trying to make, I intellectually understood him but nothing had penetrated the whole of my being — as all ideas must if we are to make them ours.
But then it came with this window bit. An understanding of the real revolution in thought that occurs when we realize we are capable of looking at the world empty of bias, emotion, opinion, prejudice. Whether by “world” we mean a door, table, sky, bug, dog, or, more difficult yet, another human, or the self. That this can be done. And, what’s more, that we can do it alongside another person, and actually achieve togetherness of thinking thereby. And how being of one mind with another person doesn’t have to mean agreeing with him or her, or feeling as he or she does. No, it can just be both of you slowing down, breathing, and, metaphorically speaking, saying: “This is a window. You and I are looking outside this window at what’s beyond it. A tree is beyond it. A hill is beyond it. You and I are together in this simple act of looking.”
There is magnificent, thundering revolution in this humble little act. The fact that humans can, if they choose to (rather, if they choose to do the work that accompanies doing such a choice), strip their vision of everything and just observe a reality — good god, how often do we do the opposite? How often are we unable to do anything but shout or recite inherited talking points about any complex subject — and most are if you dig deep enough? How often do we fail to pause, and carefully try and build a shared intellectual edifice with someone representing how what we collectively, objectively observe about some phenomenon? How often do we fail to see clearly? How often does this failure hurt us? Inhibit real dialogue, real growth? Real healing?
And that’s Krishnamurti’s power and allure. There is nothing about his teachings which, on its face, is abstruse. It’s all concise language, simple ideas. It’s all blunt in its approach. But once you try to consider the implications of his teachings as they apply to your own life — the failure to observe reality in total freedom and how this gets in the way of actualization; how we must recognize we are the world and the world is us; how we must recognize that everything we do or say or think is pre-conditioned, etc. etc. — and once you consider the idea that you not only can but must begin to now, right now, in this room, as Krishnamurti so often adjures during these seminars — you begin to feel the electricity and enormity of his humble ideas. And you begin to feel, hopefully, as I did, full of well-being in light of all that is within our power to change.
What follows is a simple extrapolation of Krishnamurti’s argument, with some paraphrasing, taken from the first two of the Brockwood Seminars. This is to be followed by more in the future. Again, as I’ve suggested, these seminars need to be heard — well, they need to be attended, but that’s not possible without some future quantum tachyon-y tech, or some DMT or something — but there’s something to be gained from a summary of each session’s key points.
First Seminar: What is one to do in a world of increasing violence?
There is disorder, terror, pain and suffering in the world. Can humanity live free from violence, disorder, terror and pain? Or at least mitigate it? What do I do? How do I approach this problem?
Am I concerned with the world with the same anxiety and immediacy as I am with myself? Is the world’s suffering something I MUST fix, as urgently as, say, I MUST go to the dentist to treat the blinding pain from my toothache?
First let’s establish what our relationship is to the world. Short answer: we are formed from it, so we are it. We are formed by culture, school, institutions, parental instructions, our nation, our community, our family, in short, by the world outside of me which we have created in large part. I am the result of all that humanity has created; I am humanity. I am the world.
Second, let us confirm: we are only concerned with ourselves. We may wish to become just as concerned with the world as we are ourselves; or we may wish to be more concerned with the world than ourselves. But for now, we are largely concerned with ourselves. This is not always our fault; everything has formed us to be self-centered humans, everything has shouted to us: “You are First” – our biological needs, acculturation, upbringing, religion, family, etc. Again, those formative influences have created us and ARE us. We are that.
Third: There is no division between me and the world.
Second Seminar: Observing my Prejudice
Following from the fact that the world is me and I am the world, what is my action given the established state of misery, confusion and disorder in the world, knowing I am not different from humanity, that I am the world and the world is me?
First, what is meant by “action” above? Let us confirm that it is thinking as well as doing. And that all action is self-centered, conditioned, partial, prejudiced, freighted by how we have been formed.
Second, let us define prejudice for ourselves: it is the bundle of opinion, viewpoint, way of thinking, established opinion, concepts held dear, certain formative experiences, and other inherited thought and illusion that all of us carry inside of us.
Given this, is there an action we can take that is not divisive, self-centered, prejudiced? Or is all action the result of our conditioning, ideology, bias, upbringing, etc.?
What will make someone put aside his prejudices so he or she can act in a pure, unbiased way? Can this be done? Can the bundle be put away?
No. Because I am not separate from my bundle of prejudice. I am not different from the bundle. The bundle of prejudice is me. There is no division.
For more information about Krishnamurti, please check out jkrishnamurti.org .