Krishnamurti and the Direct Perception of Truth



by Prof. P. Krishna

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


Krishnamurti was one of the most original thinkers of our time who investigated fundamental questions about the purpose of life, the true meaning of love, religion, time, and death without seeking answers in any books or scriptures and without accepting any belief, organized religion or system of thought. Like the Buddha, he sought the answers to these questions through observation, inquiry and self-knowledge and arrived at a direct perception of truth which lies beyond intellectual concepts, theories and descriptions. He was not a scholar or an intellectual; he did not deal with theories and concepts, he spoke only from his own investigations and observations. What he has said may have been said earlier by others but he came upon the truth of it for himself. In an age dominated by science and the intellect, he has pointed out the fundamental limitations of thought and knowledge as a means of real change. In this article I propose to reflect on some of the essential aspects of his teaching and some of the great truths he has expounded.

1.The source of all human problems, big and small, lies in the psyche of the individual.

Over the million years or more that man has existed on this planet his knowledge of the external world has evolved greatly and increased his power and ability to cope with natural calamities. Inwardly, in his consciousness, man has not evolved very much. He is still very much like the primitive man - fearful and insecure, forming groups (religious and national ), fighting and preparing for war, seeking advantages for himself and hating others. He is now able to travel to the moon and communicate around the globe in a matter of minutes but he still finds it difficult to love his neighbour and live in peace. Modern man is as brutal, selfish, violent, greedy and possessive as the primitive man of a million years ago, though he may now be able to hide himself behind a lot of noble-sounding words and thoughts.

This lop-sided development of the human being has brought him close to self-annihilation. He stands now on the brink of nuclear war, just a hair's breadth away from total extinction. The power that his increased knowledge has given him has not been coupled with the right kind of intelligence and vision that are necessary. Why ? Why have we not evolved psychologically ? Is it because we have never directed our attention inwards, to understand our own mind, thoughts and feelings ? We are so satisfied, so dazzled by our achievements, our `progress' in the outer world, that we have completely neglected the inner world of our consciousness. Hatred in the primitive man could do only little damage; in modern man with all his power it is much more devastating and we are seeing the disastrous consequences of it every day all around us.

It seems to us that we can resolve this problem if we can organize things better in society. This is a deep-rooted illusion. One is of course not against efficient organization of daily life; but you cannot produce a non-violent and peaceful society with a million violent, aggressive, self-seeking individuals, however you may organize them. If you have a communist society, you will have the violence of communism; if you have a capitalist society you will have the violence of capitalism. You can contain the violence in some directions, but it will express itself in others. Revolutions have come and gone but man's tyranny on man has not ended, it has only assumed other forms.

A truly peaceful, non-violent society is only possible if the individual transforms, psychologically, fundamentally. Any other change is trivial, temporary-it will never resolve the problems, it will only enable us to cope with them for a while in certain directions. Society is what the individual is. Just as the characteristics of a bar of copper are determined by the characteristics of the atoms constituting it, the characteristics of a society are determined by those of the individuals. All problems that we see in society today are reflections of problems in the psyche of the individual. Therefore we must concern ourselves with the inner transformation of man and not just the outer organization of society.

2. The individual changes only when his consciousness changes. Virtue cannot be practiced.

All religions have tried to change man but they have failed. Had they succeeded, we would not have today so much cruelty, war and hatred. We must examine why religions have failed to change man and learn from this. Essentially, every religion has prescribed a path, a set of virtues to be practiced and vices to be eschewed. And man has struggled for thousands of years to do what they prescribed, but it has not worked. The practice of virtuous acts does not in itself alter the consciousness of man. The practice of pre-meditated kind acts does not produce kindness in one's consciousness. It becomes another achievement, another aim in life, another method of seeking self-satisfaction. On the other hand, if there is kindness in the heart, it will express itself in every action, every thought, word and deed. Then it does not have to be `practiced. Similarly, one cannot practice non violence, so long as one is aggressive, hateful, violent inwardly. Then non-violence becomes only a facade, a hypocritical exterior, a cold calculated performance. It is only by observing the causes of violence in oneself and eliminating them ( not through effort but through understanding) that there can be an ending of violence. And when there is the ending of violence, there is no need to practice non-violence. Only a lazy mind needs to discipline itself ! So, virtue cannot be practiced, it cannot be cultivated. It is a state of mind, a state of consciousness which is come upon when there is self-knowledge, understanding, clarity and vision. It cannot be achieved through willful effort, it requires insight. And insight comes through observation, through reflection, through sensitive awareness. It is the perception of truth that liberates consciousness from its ignorance and illusions; and it is ignorance that generates disorder in the psyche. Goodness must be spontaneous, otherwise it is not goodness. Any change in the outward conduct of man, brought about through fear, coercion, discipline, conformity, imitation and propaganda does not represent a true change in his consciousness and is therefore both superficial and contradictory.

3. Truth, liberation, illumination cannot be secured through another.

Man has from times immemorial depended on a Guru, a religion or a book to show him the way. Krishnamurti has pointed out that truth is a pathless land and no Guru, no path, no belief, no book can lead you to it. You have to be a light unto yourself and not seek light from another. The role of the Guru is only to point out, it is the individual himself who has to learn. And the ability to learn is far more important than the ability to teach. In this field, no one can really teach anything to anyone else. Each one has to come upon the truth for himself and one must begin with knowing oneself. Without understanding the workings of one's own thought-process and the conditioning one has acquired from one's own experiences, traditions, culture, religion etc., one cannot find the true answer to any serious question. Our beliefs, our opinions, conclusions, prejudices, prevent us from seeing things in their true perspective because they colour our vision. One must be aware of this fact and doubt every opinion, every conclusion that comes to the mind for it may not represent the truth. When one inquires into oneself in that way, with the intention of seeking the truth and not merely seeking satisfaction, learning takes place. And one must live with that state of inquiry, questioning and doubting all through one's life, without seeking to arrive.

What one can receive from another is a thought, a question; but the exploration has to be one's own. Unless you come upon the truth for yourself it is not the truth for you, it is only a description of the truth. That is the difference between the Buddha and the Professor of Buddhist philosophy. The former has the actual insight, the consciousness, the latter has only a description of it. Man has often confused the symbol, the word, the concept for the real thing. A true Christian is one who lives by the sermon on the Mount ( and you can only do that if you have the consciousness of Christ ), not the man who joins a church and performs all its rituals. A true Buddhist is one who partakes of the consciousness of the Buddha, not one who obeys the Buddhist church. All churches, all organized religions have only succeeded in reducing the great truth to a mere system, a symbol, a ritual. What matters is not the garment, the label, but the content of the consciousness within.

The role of a teacher (the Guru) is that of the lamp on the roadside. One must not sit and worship the lamp, one must walk the way. Krishnamurti repeatedly emphasized that it had very little significance if we either accepted or rejected what he said. It is only when we consider it, question it, examine it and find out for ourselves if it is true that it has value. Since truth and liberation are something the individual has to come upon by himself, through his own inquiry, any organization that tries to propagate "truth" through belief, conformity or propaganda only serves to further condition the mind of the individual and enslave him. A meaningful inquiry requires freedom from all belief, prejudices, conclusions and conditioning. It requires a deep awareness of oneself as one is. Since truth cannot be organized and spread, spiritual organizations which try to do this have no value.

4. Intellectual understanding is not real understanding.

We are often satisfied with an intellectual answer to a question, and that puts an end to our inquiry. When that happens, intellectual understanding is a hindrance to the discovery of the truth. It is easy to see intellectually that one must not worry when one's child is ill. The worrying does not help the child. What helps him is our fetching a doctor and giving the patient the medicine. Of course we do that, but does this logical conclusion prevent us from worrying ? Does the knowledge that anger is evil prevent anger? The truth is much deeper than mere logic and reason; and the intellectual answer is not a complete answer. So when one has understood something only intellectually one has understood but little. Intellectual understanding may be useful in some matters but it is trivial. It can be secured through a book or through another but it is only a thought-pattern held in memory; it should not be mistaken for the realization of the truth of something.

So if intellectual understanding is a limited thing, then what reveals the truth ? For this, one must observe oneself and one's thought process like a true scientist observes a phenomenon in which he is interested. He doesn't want to change it, he observes it without choice, without letting his own desires interfere with his observation. When one observes oneself in that way, with choiceless and passive awareness, without a desire to quickly form an opinion or come to a conclusion, hesitantly, patiently and with skepticism, for the sake of understanding oneself and life, only then can one discover what is true and what is false; and the false drops away by itself without any effort of will. Ignorance then dissolves in the light of understanding. Without such an objective and yet passionate investigation of oneself, of all one's conclusions, beliefs, attachments, desires and motivations, it has very little meaning to intellectually identify oneself with some group, some theory, some belief and plead for it like a lawyer for the rest of one's life. It is as absurd as saying, "My country is the best country because I was born in it". Yet, that is what nationalism implies.

It is a tragedy of our life that we are never educated to look at ourselves in the right manner. We are only educated to learn about the external world and to somehow cope with its problems. Therefore one grows up knowing so much about the external world and yet being totally ignorant of oneself, one's desires, ambitions, values and outlook on life. We may be very skilled at our jobs but we are totally confused whether pleasure brings happiness, whether desire and attachment are the same thing as love, and why differences between men turn into inequalities. Happiness, love, non-violence, humility are not something one can work for directly. They come as a by-product of inquiry, self-knowledge and understanding, which inwardly cleanse our consciousness without imposing on it any fixed opinions, beliefs or patterns of thought. If one sees very clearly, through close and careful examination, that the pursuit of pleasure does not lead to happiness, then one's outlook towards pleasure in life alters at the source and the pursuit of pleasure drops away without any effort, sacrifice or suppression. Then there is a natural austerity which is totally different form the self-imposed practice of austerities. Similarly if one actually realized, through one's own observation and investigation, that one is not essentially different from other human beings because one shares with them the same problems of fear, insecurity, desire, greed, violence, loneliness, sorrow and self-interest, which operate in the consciousness of all of us, then one would not feel so different from another human being. Through our ignorance we give tremendous importance to the relatively superficial differences between us, like the differences in belief, in property, in knowledge, in ability, which are all only acquisitions. We have not asked ourselves why we give such a tremendous importance to our acquisitions, why we let them divide one man from another, when in reality we share the same human consciousness. If you mentally strip a man of all his wealth, possessions, status, beliefs and knowledge and look into his consciousness, is it really very different from that of another human being ? Just as the caste, colour or creed of a human being do not change the composition of his blood, our acquisitions whether mental or material do not alter the content of our consciousness. If we do not prevent ourselves from seeing the truth of this we would actually realize the underlying unity of all mankind. It is ignorance that divides us, not the differences between us.

5. Conclusion

Mankind is caught in a great illusion. It thinks it can solve its problems through legislation, through political and social reform, through scientific and technological progress, through greater knowledge, greater wealth, greater power and greater control. It may solve some problems with all this; but those are all trivial problems and temporary curse. They will have the effect of aspirin but they will not cure the disease. We shall go on creating new problems on the one hand and trying to solve them on the other, to maintain the illusion of "progress". And not much time is left now, for the disease is growing at a wild pace and is about to consume Man. If man does not transform inwardly, though a mutation in his psyche, he will soon join the list of those unfortunate creatures that lives a million years or so on this planet and then became extinct for they could not adapt themselves. It is not certain yet if the evolution of man from the ape was really a step in the direction of survival or a retrograde step. Only time will tell.