Is Self an Illusion?



by Prof. P. Krishna

Ex-Rector, Rajghat Education Centre, Krishnamurti Foundation India, Varanasi 221001, India


We have seen that the conflict and violence in society arise from the conflict and violence that is there in our consciousness. And the conflict and violence that is in our consciousness arises from the ego process in our consciousness. So the next question that we must explore is what is this ego? Does it actually exist as a reality in nature, or is it an illusion in the sense that it is merely a creation of our own imagination? That is an important question, because if it exists in nature, then you cannot eliminate it. Then it is something like the tree, or your body; you cannot eliminate it. But if it is based on some assumptions, which don't have any existence except in our own imagination, then it has no existence in nature, it has an existence only in the imagination. Just as fairy tales are created only out of our imagination. They may be in a book, but they are not real, they are not actual stories. And when we know that it is only imaginary, it doesn't create illusion. But when it is created in imagination, and I take it to be real, then it becomes an illusion. If the ego is something that actually exists in nature, then we can only learn to cope with it and the problems it creates. Then we need to study Dale Carnegie's books, which teach us how to manage the ego: How to Win Friends and Influence People.It teaches us how to oil our way through society in order to be successful.

But what we are exploring here is something quite different. We are exploring whether it is possible to dissolve the ego, through understanding the process by which it forms, so that you do not have to manage it. So freedom is something totally different from management of the ego, or the refinement of the ego. The highly sophisticated, highly educated person expresses his ego in a refined way, a more sophisticated way than the uneducated person. But inwardly there is not a tremendous difference between the two individuals. On the other hand there is a tremendous difference between the person who is free from the ego and the one who is trapped in it.

So I want to explore with you this afternoon whether the ego is an illusion created by our own mind. First of all one can observe for oneself that there is no ego anywhere in nature other than in human consciousness. Animals may be violent to some extent but animals don't have an ego. They are not intentionally and deliberately violent. And the human child,when it is born, is like an animal,it has no ego since it doesn't have the capacity for thinking and imagining. So we must examine: when does the ego come into existence as the child grows and how does it arise? Because, after all, we have all been children, so we have gone through that process. If I examine that, I find that after a few years of its birth the child acquires a language and acquires the capacity to think and to imagine. These capacities in themselves are not the ego. They have come to us in the process of biological evolution, which is a part of the order of nature. When we couple these capacities with the instinct of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, which is there also in the animal, then that produces the recipe for the formation of the ego, because with the human consciousness there is not only physical pain and physical pleasure, but there is also psychological pain and psychological pleasure.

I not only remember factually what happened, but I also record in my memory the pleasure and pain of that experience. I remember it and I can desire repetition of that pleasure in the future. And I also remember an insult, and feel enmical towards the person who insulted me. The memory of that insult can create a permanent enmity. I remember the person who ill-treated me and therefore in future I avoid him. The memory produces fear, because I am afraid he will ill-treat me again. But you must have noticed that when you ill-treat a dog, it comes wagging its tail again the next day, it has forgotten that ill-treatment and not felt insulted! But we have the capacity, not only to remember the event but also to nurse this psychological grievance within us. That is what brings in fear and suspicion in our relationships. Children are also capable of getting hurt, but you must have noticed that after a few days, they have forgotten the hurt and quickly make friends with the same person. But as we grow older, it becomes increasingly difficult to do this. And that is the beginning of the ego process within us.

So the question arises whether it is possible not to record anything psychologically; to record only facts, but not to record insults and flattery. One is not objecting to all memory, because factual memory is necessary and it does not create illusion or the ego. But the psychological memory interferes with the quality of my relationships in the present. That means you may have fought with your husband or wife ten years ago and you may factually remember that you had a fight, but if you are not carrying the residue of it in terms of hurt then it does not affect your relationship today. It is the memory of the hurt, that constitutes psychological memory. And that is what creates a difficulty in the relationship. We often observe that we have friends, both of whom are very good human beings, but something goes wrong between them; they can't manage to live peacefully together. It is not that they don't want to but they just can't. And that's how relationships harden and break down.

So that is the next thing to look at in our life, why do we record flattery and insult? They are non-facts. If somebody comes and says to me," Oh, your lecture was divine, it was wonderful, you are a great man ", it's an exaggeration, it's a lie. Why do I find that so pleasant, why do I record it? Or he comes and says,"You are a stupid fool, you're wasting your time, you don't understand anything" and I feel insulted and I keep that insult in my mind and I feel enmical towards this person. We looked at that this morning. We said if you're carrying a begging bowl, and if somebody puts something in it, you treat him as a friend and if he takes something out of it then you treat him as an enemy. So is there some kind of an image I am forming, a reputation I am seeking, for which I find that flattery useful and the insult painful?

So I must ask myself why I have this image, why I seek this reputation for myself? You will find that it comes from the fact that we would like the community to think us better than we actually are. I don't want people to know me exactly as I am, I pretend, and I like to create an image of a superior human being and let them carry that image about me. Of course that creates a conflict in me because I have to be constantly living up to this image and acting different from what I actually am. But I am willing to tolerate that conflict because I want the advantages of what this good image in society gets me, which means that I am not completely honest. And we are dishonest because we are seeking some profit out of it. That itself is the ego-process.

So the next question that I must ask is, is it possible to live without a single image? Be completely honest, be myself, irrespective of what people may think about me. Let your wife or your friend know you exactly as you are, with all your weaknesses and faults and so-called virtues and accomplishments and let them decide whether they want to stay with you or not. I don't want to pretend in order that that person remains friendly with me, because I have seen the complication that results from such pretence. It lowers the quality of our life. It creates the conflict between what I am and what I want others to think I am. That image is just an imaginary thing, that is not the actuality of me, so it is based on illusion. The ego, that division, comes from the image, not from the fact. The ego arises from the manner in which I approach life.

It is easy to see that my house doesn't create the ego in me, but I create the ego in relation to my house. It arises if I feel attached to it and become very possessive of it. And that seems to be true of everything. I can approach everything non-egotistically or I can approach it egotistically. I can do my work non-egotistically and I can do the same work egotistically. So the ego is not in the activity. It lies in the manner in which I look at that activity and involve myself in that activity. Which means, I need to watch my motive. With what motive am I relating, with what motive am I doing the work? A scientist may be working 16 hours a day in his laboratory, because he wants to learn about space, he wants to learn how the sun shines and why the sky is blue. That is his interest, that is his passion, that is what he wants to learn about. In that, there is no ego. But the moment he starts feeling that he should be the first to discover that, that he wants to do this in order to get the Nobel Prize, the same activity becomes an ego activity, because then he is not doing it for the joy of learning, he is doing it for a result, a reward.

So the ego is very subtle and nobody else can really know what my motives are.

There is an interesting dialogue between Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna asks Krishna, what is the liberated man like? How does he sleep, how does he work, how does he live? And Krishna says, he lives like the ordinary man, he works like the ordinary man and he sleeps like the ordinary man, but it is not the same thing because he does not do it for the same reasons.

It just the inward difference of motive which distinguishes if it is an ego-process or it is not an ego- process. So it is not a matter of what you are doing or what you are not doing, but how you approach what you are doing and how you approach the not-doing.

This is not something that is highly philosophical and difficult to understand. After all, we teach students in school to play a game for the joy of playing and to excel at the game for the love of excellence and not give too much importance to the result, as to who wins and who loses.If you give too much importance to the result it becomes egotistical activity. So you can play the game egotistically and you can play the same game non-egotistically. If you are not egoistic then it doesn't matter even if you lose, there is the joy of having played and it gives you joy to compliment your friend on having played better and having won the game. There is no frustration. That is what we mean by the sportsman spirit. Now, ife is also like a game. And if a game can be play non-egotistically, why can't life be lived non-egotistically? Of course it can be. We have somehow accepted that it can't be and that assumption may be an illusion.

The ego is born out of the illusion that we think that if we work out of self-interest, we will benefit. Actually if you work with self-interest,which means in order to receive rewards, to have more power, more money,a better reputation, it lowers the quality of your life. We want all that in order to be happy but happiness is destroyed by the egotistic approach and therefore the quality of your life is lowered. So it is an illusion to think that to approach life with self-interest is in our self-interest! Normally we think that it is bad to be selfish, because other people will suffer and I will benefit by my selfishness. We are saying, you are defining benefit too narrowly, too unintelligently. You are not separate from the other person and what you consider to be a benefit is really, deeply, not a benefit.

If we see the truth of that and we really perceive the danger of the ego process, not through an explanation, not merely as a rational conclusion with which we agree, then that perception of danger will act on consciousness and eliminate the ego process. Your wanting to do it doesn't act. Your agreement also doesn't act, because knowledge and ideas don't change consciousness. But a deep perception of the truth changes consciousness. And we have this capacity for insight.

Let me give you an example. Let's consider addiction to smoking. The human being, before he took to smoking, was not addicted to smoking, which means he could look at a cigarette and it did not create an irresistible desire in him to have that cigarette. But for various social reasons he starts smoking and that gives a sensation of pleasure. That pleasure is recorded and he wants to repeat that pleasure. He wants to have more and more of it, and that sets up a chemistry, and now, when he looks at a cigarette it produces an irresistible desire to have a cigarette and he has got addicted. So something has changed in his brain, in the computer we talked about this morning. Earlier, the computer was not creating the desire when it saw a cigarette but now it creates an irresistible desire when it sees a cigarette. And the question we are asking is, can that habit break? Or must he constantly struggle with this, can he only control the urge but never be free of it again? I have watched my friends. They keep struggling with this. They have to avoid all places where people are smoking or where cigarettes are kept; otherwise they are tempted back to the cigarette. But, occasionally, you do come across a person who felt a pang of pain in his chest and he realizes that the cigarette is killing him. When that happens and the danger is actually perceived the desire disappears! Something deeply changes in his brain and breaks the neural circuit which was creating that irresistible desire. Krishnamurti called it a mutation in the brain. If that happens you are free, you don't have to cope with that problem again. The habitual cycle is broken.


Question: Can it be that we need some illusions to begin with for our growth and have to outgrow them later on? Could the illusions be stages in which the mind goes to the truth?

PK: The questioner is asking if it is necessary to have some illusion in order to discover what is true. No illusion is necessary for the discovery of truth. Different religions promulgate different illusions in the form of beliefs. Why do I have to go through them in order to discover what is true? There are no stages to truth. Socially the consequence of one illusion may be less bad than another, but from the point of view of perception of what is true; all illusion is a barrier. There is biological evolution, which is part of nature; but there is no psychological evolution. We were egotistic 5,000 years ago, we are still egotistic, and I am not sure that evolution will eradicate the ego, because each one of us creates it through the capacity for imagination, memory and thought. These capacities are present in each person and they are not going to go away. The instinct of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain also exists and is not going to go away. So I don't think we can rely on evolution, we need to learn this as part of right living.

Question: Isn't pain as natural as pleasure? So how can we eliminate it ?

P.K.: Physical pain is a biological process. You fall down and break your bones and there is pain, that is so for animals, that is so for us. What is there additionally for us is that that pain can create self-pity. So it is what we additionally make in addition to the physical pain, is due to the ego process. Physical pain is just a natural consequence, but self-pity is not a natural consequence, it is our creation. I'd like to give you an example of this. One can look at one's own life factually and you can know that you have this much money, you have this house, you have this family, you are so many years old, you have this much knowledge, you don't have that and so on. In all this factual perception there is no ego. But if I evaluate these conditions and say I am unfortunate in life, or I look at them and I feel I am very fortunate in life, then that feeling is our own creation and we must understand why we do that. It is a psychological process, a self-created process. What the mind does is, it compares these conditions with some other conditions or somebody else. It chooses whom to compare with, it chooses what to compare about, it evaluates and it feels fortunate or unfortunate.It is a game our mind plays. It is like asking, is the number 50 big or small? The question cannot be answered. It is bigger than 49 and smaller than 51! So the elation and the depression are both created by our own mind and therefore all frustration is the creation of our own mind. A difficulty in life may not be the creation of our own mind, but the frustration is. It is the result of an unintelligent response to life.

So these ego processes are psychological processes, and come to an end if we free our mind of comparison, not through a voluntary decision but by learning about how it happens and what it does. For instance, if we discover for ourself that comparing oneself with others is just a disease of one's own mind and it produces a lot of complications in life, you stop comparing. And if you stop comparing, then there is no inferiority, there is no superiority, no jealousy, no envy.Then you are not influenced by what is happening to the other person. So you lead your own life and you're friends with others.You share their joys and you share their sorrows too, but there is no comparison. This is not something very difficult to learn. Anyone can learn this and then a big burden is gone. All this complication of feeling jealousy , rivalry, competition and enmity with others, that whole baggage is dropped off. And that's an actual transformation because you live differently now. Your consciousness functions differently. It may not be total enlightenment in the sense that you're not free from all illusion but at least one illusion you have dropped, which conserves a lot of energy, which was being wasted earlier in friction. And we need energy to learn, to explore further.

So this is a very energising quest because the ego process is a very dissipating process, it dissipates energy tremendously. It corresponds to friction in physical systems.

Question: Can you tell us what the 'process' which Krishnamurti went through was?

P.K. : No, it is a great mystery to me, what that process was, which Krishnamurti apparently went through all his life and it is described in his biographies. I don't think anybody knows, but different people have different guesses and a good scholarly guess about this you can find in the new book by Aryel Sanat, who has researched into it (The Inner Life of Krishnamurti). But I think it is not important for us to understand what happened to Krishnamurti. You can do that for your own academic interest, but from the point of view of one's own learning it has no value. For writing a book on Krishnamurti it has value; but Krishnamurti is asking us to understand ourselves and to understand life, not to understand him! I am also curious to know about him, because I look upon him as a wise friend I had in my life but It would be an illusion to think that that understanding is going to bring any wisdom to our mind. I don't think there is any point in speculating; I just don't know what that process was. But I don't think everybody needs to go through that. And I am also not sure if Krishnamurti himself knew what it was because he was questioned about it and he himself also questioned what it was, he was not sure. But this enquiry is not for becoming like him. The truth about life is independent of Krishnamurti. Just as the scientific truths are independent of the scientists. Gravitation existed before Newton, it exists after Newton. The ego problems were there before Krishnamurti and they are there after Krishnamurti. So understanding what happened to him is only of academic interest. Nothing is wrong with having an academic interest, I am myself an academic, but to think that that will bring some understanding is an illusion.

Question: Is there a difference between the ego and the self?

P.K. : This is a question of semantics, I think. These words are not precisely defined like scientific terms, like mass, force and energy. In science we define terms precisely. Different people use the words self and ego in somewhat different senses, and they are often also interchangeable. You will find that in religious literature they often use self with a small s and Self with a capital S. The self with a small s is used to imply the ego and the self with a capital S implies pure awareness that we are capable of, which Krishnamurti called choiceless awareness, because the choice comes from the ego. You have to anyway go behind the word and understand the actuality. And that is why this is like an art; you can't learn it from definitions and from guidelines. You cannot make a beautiful painting with any kind of instructions and similarly you can't lead a life of high quality, free from the ego, through any instructions. That's why Krishnamurti never bothered to define his terms precisely. He said, you must discover the meaning behind them for yourself anyway. That's why professors of philosophy, who define these terms very precisely are no closer to the truth. As an academic exercise it has value, but in the religious quest it has no value.

Question: Since we are conditioned by our past and it sits in our memory, how can we ever be free of it?

P.K. : The observer is a product of the past. It is the conditioned part of our consciousness. It is what is held in our memory, from which the mind responds. So all thought is tied down to the past. No thought is ever completely new. It may be an addition of two different thoughts and therefore nobody may have made that thought but it is still arising from the past. The only faculty, which we have, which is not based on the past, is awareness. I can even be aware of my conditioning. I can be aware of the thought process and awareness is something in the present. So that is the only hope for man. Otherwise we are completely trapped in the past. So Krishnamurti pointed out that so long as we are attached and identified with our conditioning, that becomes the content of our consciousness. It is only when we free ourself of this content, which doesn't mean that this content does not exist anymore, but that it does not dominate in our consciousness, only then is there the possibility of something totally new taking place. This is true even in the scientific quest. If you consider how a totally new discovery is made in science, like for instance Einstein's discovery that space and time and connected to each other. This was not known in classical physics. People had always considered that space is something totally different from time and that is our experience too. So it was not in Einstein's experience either. So, from where did he see this connection? It was not in his knowledge; it was not in his experience. It was something totally new, which came as a flash to him. This is the capacity for insight, which the human consciousness has. We have not valued it sufficiently. We are terribly attached to the thought process and we feverishly work with it and that's what continues the ego, continues the past.

If you don't use the thought process to solve your problems and stay silently with them and watch, you will find that something different takes place in your mind.We don't let that happen because we are scared and feverishly working with our thought process. So when the observer is very actively working, there is not sufficient energy available for observation. But when the observer is silent, which means that the thought process is silent, then there is the possibility of something new, since the observer is not interfering and there is only observation taking place.This is connected with what I was talking about this morning, whether we have to identify with this computer, which is sitting there in our brain and must therefore accept everything that it says. Can I not look at my own reactions in the same way as I look at my friends' reactions? I am not trapped in that, but I listen to it, I consider it. So if I can listen to my own brain, but not necessarily accept it, I am free.

It is a bit subtle. Once I asked Krishnamurti,"Sir, I have read in your biographies that as a young boy you were very shy. How did you overcome that shyness?" And he said, " I have not overcome it, Sir. I am still shy."

Now to me that meant that he was pointing out that he had just become aware of the fact that K's brain is shy. He didn't fight with it, but did not always accept what it said. So I could see that sometimes when we were walking in front of his house, and he was looking from the terrace, he would withdraw out of shyness. But, surely, when he was going to give his talk and there were thousands of people sitting in that hall, the shyness must have come up and said, there's all kinds of strangers sitting there, don't go in, but he did not accept it and said ' I don't listen to you this time ! ' So, by neither fighting with it, nor identifying with it, you are free. So to me that is all implied in this choiceless awareness. It implies that the observer is not actively interfering with the observed.

If I separate myself from the observed, then that is already a division between me and what I am observing. And in that space the me wants to manipulate and that becomes the ego process.

So I don't give tremendous importance to this computer. Awareness is not in that computer, which is why the religious literature addresses it as the Self with a capital S. But Krishnamurti never accepted that. He said, there is only the ending of this. And before you have freed yourself from this, to talk about the Self with a capital S is only speculation. But you can ask the question, if he had freed himself from the self, from where was he talking and from where was he acting? After all, there was still thinking going on, there was still action being taken, only the ego process was absent..One can know that state only after the ego process has come to an end. But when we speculate about it, then we are only academically discussing it, we do not know what it is. It is said that the sages lived with the Self with a capital S; to me there is no difference between that and living with choiceless awareness. You can't deliberately cultivate the capital S. Any deliberate attempt on our part belongs to the self with the small s.

I see it in the following way: We live on two planes, on one plane is will and effort and knowledge and there are paths and new achievements and so on. The entire thought process belongs in this plane. There is another plane, which often we are not aware of, which is not a thought process. In that plane lie awareness, perception, observation, attention, silence, meditation, insight. They are not thought processes. One can be aware of the thought process also, so awareness is not a thought process. And there is a mysterious connection between that plane and this plane of our thoughts. Though we live in live in the lower plane, occasionally, a channel opens up from the higher plane and through that perception we grasp the truth.That is the only way things fundamentally change in the lower plane. It is a mysterious process, it is pathless and it is timeless. Krishnamurti said that truth enters the mind like a burglar. When a burglar enters your house, you don't know by which path he enters, you cannot specify when he will enter and he has to break through the defences of your house in order to enter. Similarly, truth has to enter through the defences we have built around our brain, which are our attachments, our illusions and so on. And there is no method for this. And yet it is a capacity which our consciousness is capable of. Otherwise, as we discussed in the morning, we are completely trapped in the past. And if I am completely trapped in my past then I am not responsible for my actions because my decisions are inevitable. Since it is not so, that is why freedom is possible. We are not like a computer, a very complex computer, which is programmed. A computer has no awareness.

That's why K talks about the emptying of consciousness as we know it. It's only awareness that is not influenced by the past. All thought is influenced by the past. He makes a very radical statement. He says, thinking cannot solve our problems, because on the one hand, your thinking process is creating the problems and on the other hand you are relying on the thought process to solve them. You have to go above that to see the source of the problem. It's a little like, sitting in front of the sea and trying to make the waves flat. You can keep counting how many waves you have flattened today, but it is all stupid activity because the waves will keep coming so long as the source of the waves is not eliminated.

So you can very intelligently go on solving your problems but the kind of thinking that creates problems is still going on. It's more important to understand the mechanism that creates problems than to solve individual problems. For that you have to watch how these problems are arising and what is happening in your life.

You know, wise people in different cultures have expressed similar thoughts in different times. So there is this beautiful verse in the Upanishads about two birds on a tree. One bird is nibbling at the fruit and tasting the sourness or sweetness of it and the other bird is only watching what this bird is doing. The human consciousness, it says, consists in both these birds. The first bird is the ego, the second bird is awareness, it's just watching. That reflective, silent, quiet watching brings far more wisdom than all your effort to solve the problems. And a single perception may be worth more than one million thoughts!

Question: Has there been no evolution in the human consciousness? Then how is it we see no slavery today?

P.K. : I think that there is a change in the manner in which the disorder in our consciousness manifests outwardly, externally. But there is no real deep change in human consciousness. So we find that the form of slavery and so on which was there in the Middle Ages is not there now but still domination continues. That crude manifestation of domination is no longer there. Actual occupation of one country by another and colonisation has ended but economic exploitation continues. So that's what I mean, when I say that the outer form which the disorder takes has changed somewhat, for the better, but inwardly the state of consciousness does not seem to have evolved. And of course the deeper question to ask is why that is so? I think the reason is that all it takes to constitute an ego is memory, imagination and the instinct of pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. And these are there in all human beings. They were there 2,000 years ago, and they are there now. Plants and animals do not have this capacity to the extent to which we have it and therefore they are not capable of becoming egotistic. They respond only according to their instinct, set by nature, and they are also limited by their instinct and by their nature. Take for instance sexuality. Sexuality is there in plants, sexuality is there in animals, sexuality is there in man. It has come to us in evolution. But when coupled with our capacity to imagine and remember, it has turned into lust and pornography and rape and all kinds of manifestations, which you do not find in other species in nature. So we need to learn what is the right use of these faculties, which we have received in the course of biological evolution, and that needs self-knowledge. What is the right use of these faculties and what is wrong use of these faculties? The faculties in themselves are not evil, but when they are used in the wrong way, they create evil.

That is why I was saying in the morning that self-knowledge is needed by every human being; because without it you will form the ego and then out of the ego comes all the violence and the greed and the selfishness and so on. How it manifests is a different matter, it is a circumstantial, cultural matter. But we are not completely trapped in this process and we have the possibility and capacity to free ourselves of this process. But we have not paid attention to this learning. And of course this learning is very personal, very individualistic; you cannot get this learning from another. Whereas the scientific learning and knowledge is constantly expanding because it can be transmitted and learnt quickly and you can build further. But Buddha's son does not receive anything from the Buddha. He has to again see the truth for himself. But since it is necessary we need to create an atmosphere in which every human being is learning and acquiring self-knowledge. But instead of cultivating such an enquiry, we have cultivated belief and we have cultivated identity and pride in one's own culture and one's own belief, and so on, which divides us. That is why the greatest amount of violence and fighting has resulted from religion, whereas the true meaning of the word 'religion' is that which binds, that which unites. So we have misunderstood religion. That's why I feel that it is something that needs to be looked at in education.

Question: Why am I so afraid of the emptiness in myself?

Isn't it because we feel comfortable with the known? We feel secure in known surroundings, with known people. There is fear of facing the unknown. I think that is also the fact which prevents us from discovering the truth, because the truth is the unknown, whereas the illusion is the known. And we have invested in the illusion, and it gives us a sense of security and purpose and we are afraid to lose that. But this whole thing, this whole truth can be understood by personally watching how it is happening within oneself. So it is not a truth that is inevitable, it is not like gravitation, which will act on you. Put a stone there or a mass here, the gravity is inevitably going to act. But this ego-process can be understood and eliminated, because the capacity is there in us to understand that and go beyond it. We are not completely trapped in the past and in our conditioning.

That is why the whole question of what is moral and what is immoral, what is right and what is wrong, arises only for man. If you say that my actions and my decisions are completely determined by my instincts and by my past, then I am not responsible for what I do. But we do not accept that position, because we consider that for a human being he is not completely trapped in his past and in his circumstances. An animal is. When a dog barks, there is nothing else he can do but bark. But a human being decides to bark. The biologists, of course, explain the violence in man in terms of what has come to us in evolution from the animals. If you accept that explanation, then there is no possibility of being non-violent. So while the explanation of the scientists and the biologists about violence in man is true, it is not true that we are completely trapped in that. It is possible for us to go beyond that through our understanding. And that is the religious quest. That is why self-knowledge is essential, more essential than knowledge of the world. Socrates said, self-knowledge is the only knowledge. He refused to accept any other knowledge as knowledge; he considered all other knowledge as information. And the Buddha said that knowledge of the world is lower knowledge, avidya, whereas true knowledge is self-knowledge. So 2,000 years ago, when these people existed, the concern of mankind was the understanding of the self and the cultivation of wisdom. But then we went to an era of knowledge and a profuse expansion of knowledge; artistic knowledge, scientific knowledge, literary knowledge and so on. And now we are going beyond knowledge to the era of information-technology. Now nobody has time even to write like Shakespeare or write love letters like Robert Browning; you send messages by email.

This was expressed by the English poet Eliot in a poem. He said:

Where is the wisdom we have lost in our knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? In 2,000 years, the cycles of fate, Take us away from God and unto dust.

Because mankind's concern has moved from wisdom to knowledge and from knowledge to information.

Question: Is instinct a form of physical conditioning?

I would say instinct is biological conditioning. But freedom from conditioning does not mean the ending of conditioning. It means right relationship with the conditioning. Sexuality is there in animals, but it does not create the kind of problems we have created from it. We must learn from the animals. When you put it in its right place, it does not create problems. But we have not discovered the right place, we exploit it to serve so many ends of our own creation.

Question: Many animals fight for their food. Is it possible that people, who have a similar instinct, can ever get rid of this?

We are far more immoral than the animal, because we fight for an idea while an animal fights only for food. If you fight also only for food, then you become equal to him. Violence is a big affair with man, much bigger than with animals. You know, we think we are superior to animals, but it is not possible to prove that objectively. We are superior in the sense that we have more ability of remembering and planning and so on than they do, but we have not used these abilities to be kinder and more protective. We have used these abilities to destroy, to be more cruel, therefore we are not superior. We have more abilities, but we are not superior.

Question: Is there a point in our development as human beings, when we can overcome this biological conditioning?

Overcoming it not in the sense of fighting and becoming victorious over it, but overcoming it in the sense of understanding our relationship with it and therefore being free is certainly possible.

Question: For this should one suppress or examine one's instincts while one still has them?

If you directly want to achieve a result, such as freedom from sexuality, you will end up fighting with it and suppressing it and distorting it. Some religious people have tried that. They have tried to take vows and prevent themselves from sexual activity. It creates distortion, they are burning inside. Sexuality and instincts are part of nature and we must respect nature because it exists. But we must understand our relationship with that instinct. I will give an example. You come into contact with a person of the opposite sex, and it produces a sexual response in your body and mind, a sexual desire arises. It is like any other desire. From where does the insistence come, that my desires must be fulfilled? If I am willing to kill, I am willing to be violent, I am willing to force another person in order to fulfil my desires then it creates a problem. >From where does that insistence come? That insistence is the ego. The desire and the sexuality is not the ego. If I watch it, and if it can be fulfilled without any cruelty, I am quite happy to fulfil it. If it cannot be fulfilled, I let go. Then you are free! So find out if all desires can be held like wishes. Wishes are innocent things, there is no addiction to their fulfilment. In fact, nothing in itself is evil, until the ego gets attached to it. The house does not create possessiveness. I have become possessive in relation to the house. My wife does not create attachment; I get attached. You take any virtue, you add the ego to it and it will turn into a vice. You take humility and you add the ego to it and it will become feeling small, inferior. You take love and you add the ego to it and it will become possessiveness, attachment, jealousy and all that. You take sexuality and add the ego to it and it will become lust and rape and all that. So the problem is not in the external thing, the problem is in the ego. Find out if it is possible to relate with everything without bringing in the ego. The ego is a beggar. It is always wanting something for itself. Stop being a beggar and just be a friend. That is all that has to be learnt. Nothing is wrong with nature, nothing is wrong with the world. But I create the ego, and then everything goes wrong. That is the only problem. You know, Bin Laden is not the enemy of Bush. Bush's ego is his enemy. And Bush is not the enemy of Bin Laden, Bin Laden's ego is his enemy. So if both these people understood that, they would become friends and fight the common enemy, which is the ego. My enmity with you is based on illusion. We have a common enemy. It applies not only to Bush and Bin Laden, it applies to all of us when we are inimical to each other.

That is why ignorance is the cause of sorrow. Not understanding all this is ignorance. Ignorance is the cause of sorrow, but I think you are causing the sorrow, the circumstances are causing the sorrow. Ignorance not a lack of knowledge but ignorance as illusion. We take something to be true when that is not true. Or we give tremendous importance to something that is not important then that is also illusion. And because the disorder comes from illusion, therefore it can be ended. There is disorder only in human consciousness, there is no disorder in nature anywhere. Even the storms, the cyclones, the earthquakes are not disorder; there is no ego in them because there is no intention to destroy you. They are merely following the laws, which are the order of nature. And so the animal just follows its instinct, which is the order of nature. And that order is operating in our body, too. I do nothing to make the body work, it just works on its own. But we have not learned how to function with a consciousness that is in order. That learning, that wisdom is the religious quest.

Long ago, Socrates pointed out that there is only one virtue, and that is this state of order in consciousness. All virtues are then simply branches from that root. We respect these sages, but we have not investigated what they mean.

Question: Is it possible in a society like ours, in which we are all so conditioned, to bring up children without conditioning them?

I think all human beings are conditioned. You cannot avoid conditioning, because that is just memory. Memory functions involuntarily. But I can be aware of my conditioning and I need not give tremendous importance to it. Conditioning is the past. I am the result of the past. The biological past of millions of years, the cultural past of a few thousand years, and the psychological past from my birth till today. All that is stored in memory, I cannot erase it; it is something that exists. But I can learn about it, because from there my thoughts and feelings arise and I can watch these operating in my consciousness. They come up in relationships and therefore I can watch what is going on and learn about my conditioning, without taking sides with it, without calling it a shame or getting attached to it. We do not need to get rid of all our conditioning. We need to get rid of only that which is false and which creates disorder or problems in life. Otherwise it is like the colour of our skin, you don't have to change it. It is a part of you. But if you start saying this is the most beautiful skin in the world, you create a problem. There is such a thing as one's own personality. We need to respect that too; that is what this chap (pointing to himself) is. There is no reason to fight this chap. There is nothing very great about this chap also, he is just one of the several chaps developing and growing in this world ! You know, all life starts with a single cell with a programme, and it develops according to that programme and it ends. That is true of the tree, that is true of you, me, that's true of the dog around the corner. I can assure you that a hundred years later, some other people will be sitting here and listening to lectures. But while we exist we make such a big hullaballoo about it. It is just an opportunity to see this world and learn about ourselves, if you want to. Otherwise, live like that tree, but don't fight! There is a poem written several hundred years ago by a poet in India.

He said, O man, learn from the trees. When somebody cuts off a branch the tree does not hit back. When somebody throws stones at them, they yield fruit in exchange. They take the hot sun on their heads and provide shade to the weary traveller. They give the perfume of their flowers without asking whether you deserve it or not. O man, learn from the trees! When they are crowded in the forest, they do not fight with each other, they adjust to each other and share the sunshine. That is what life would be like if we had no egos! We have a bigger problem than trees and animals. Nature has completely determined life for them. We have been granted some choice, but we are misusing the choice!

Prof. P. Krishna
Last modified: Tue Apr 26 00:10:01 PST 2005