Is Krishnamurti’s Teaching Practical ?

Is Krishnamurti’s Teaching Practical ?

Talk delivered in Pine Cottage at KFA, Ojai, CA in May 2011 by Prof. P. Krishna, Secretary, KFI Rajghat Education Centre, Rajghat Fort, Varanasi 221001, India.


It is always a very great pleasure to be in Ojai, particularly in this spot which I, personally, consider to be a sacred spot. I am thankful to KFA for inviting me to speak here and discuss this question of whether K’s teachings are practical. I would like to approach this question the way we learnt from K how any serious question should be investigated: without forming firm conclusions, without being attached to any opinion either for or against, without relying much on one’s readings and knowledge, but instead explore more through observation and inquiry. So I ask myself what do we mean when we ask is it practical? And I observe that we use that phrase to mean different things at different times. Sometimes we mean is it something that is addressing my immediate problems. If it is not solving my immediate problems I consider it to be something philosophic, something interesting to talk about but not something that is relevant to my daily life. Or, we may mean it is not true therefore it is not practical because it won’t last for a long time. An illusion, a propaganda, a belief, a concept sustains you for some time but eventually when you are faced with reality it gives way. Therefore, if something is not true then also it is not practical. If it is true, then it is something that exists and therefore it has value, not because Krishnamurti thought so or said, not based on his authority but because it is something that exists and needs to be recognized. .A third sense in which we call something as impractical is that, though it may be true, it is highly improbable, statistically very unlikely to happen. It may happen occasionally with some people but as far as I am concerned it is not very practical for me. We use that word practical to mean something achievable.

Do they solve the immediate problem?

So, I would like to investigate this question from all three points of view, without coming to a conclusion but trying to find out to what extent the teachings are practical in that sense and to what extent they are not practical. Let me first take up its relevance to solving our immediate problems. One could take up the problem of Palestine between Jews and Arabs or the problem of Kashmir between Hindus and Muslims, or the problems of crime in society. These are all very practical problems which we are facing. Do K’s teachings address these problems? We think the way we are trying to meet these problems at present is what is practical. If it is, then why have these problems not disappeared? We are trying to make negotiated settlements between the two parties in Palestine or in Kashmir and we have set up a huge apparatus for containing crime, namely the police, the judiciary the prisons and all that. And we consider that those are practical steps because they seem to if not resolve the immediate problem contain it. Now, Krishnamurti points out that there is a deeper source from which these problems originate and unless we tackle that source we are never going to get rid of these problems. You might solve one problem but in the very solution of that problem another problem will crop up. So life becomes a series of problems to be solved and intelligence then becomes our ability to solve one problem at a time. He is saying that this is a very narrow-minded vision which does not see very far. It may appear very practical, it may appear to meet things immediately and modify them but it does not resolve or end the problems. He says that there is a completely different approach in which life is not looked upon as a series of problems to be resolved but a mystery to be lived and learnt from. Now is that true, or is that impractical?

If we look at the problem of division between Hindus and Muslims or Arabs and Jews, what is the cause of that division? It is not just a property dispute; there is behind it this deep-rooted feeling of the two groups feeling completely separate from each other. The Muslim feels he is completely different from the Hindu and the Hindus feel that they are completely different from the Hindus. From this originates the division between them. Each group itself originates out of the tendency to identify with people who are similar to them. This whole boundary between us and them arises from a psyche which is at the root of this division from which the conflicts spring. We may solve one particular conflict through some compromise but another conflict will soon arise for the same inner reasons the previous one arose. So we are never really going to be free of these problems by just having a negotiated settlement of one particular issue. So Krishnamurti is saying it is not practical or enough to go on doing this; which is not to say you don’t have to do this. But see that it will not really resolve the problem from a long term point of view. We want immediate solutions and there is nothing in his teachings to provide an immediate solution to any particular issue. Unless we eliminate the basic cause of the problems the effects are bound to recur. He is pointing out that our approach to the issue is mistaken or short-sighted.

I think this basically comes from his statement that the individual is not separate from the society, that we are the world. We should examine whether that is true or not, because he is saying that the quality of my relationships depends upon what the state of my consciousness is. If there is love, I relate with love; if there is respect I relate with respect, if there is suspicion, and fear and violence, I relate in that way. And this relationship between us determines the qualities of our society. Because, if I am violent and so are millions of individuals, each one interested in himself and so on, you can not have a society where there will be no conflict, no division, where there will be peace and harmony. That remains only an ideal which is not attainable and therefore is an illusion. That is what he is saying. Now, is that so or it is not so? If it is not so then the teaching is not practical. If it is so, then he is pointing to a truth which we will have to recognize and if we don’t we do so at our own peril, for living in ignorance has its own consequences.

If we look at any one society, let us say the whole of India, there are over one billion people, with their own superstitions, their ignorance, their illusions, their belief in God, their conditioning into casteism and so on. Most of these things are simply constructs of thought, they don’t have any existence in nature, unlike a tree or my hand. When a man calls himself a Brahmin or a Shudra, it is just a construct of thought. He says he is a Brahmin because he was born in a family so labelled and he calls himself a Shudra because he was born in a Shudra family. It is not a scientific fact, it is just a construct of human thought. Somebody started this 5000 years ago, for it is there in the Gita. It may not have originated in the same form in which it is obtaining today, but it continues in the society from generation to generation and the whole of society is divided like that. The Indian child grows up hearing all this, so it becomes part of his inner conditioning which his/ her mind accepts because it has grown up with that. That in turn, manifests itself in the outer, and therefore in the Indian society you do have this division of castes and so on. The government is trying its best to get rid of this discrimination and division among people but is not able to. You can legislate about it but it does not solve because it is built innately into the conditioning as the child grows up in that environment and sees casteism in operation around him. Given all that ignorance in the Indian mind the situation in the society can not really be fundamentally different from what it is. Krishnamurti seems to me to be saying, don’t just deal with the symptoms, that is like taking an Aspirin to solve the immediate headache; if you are getting headache everyday it is not intelligent to go on taking Aspirin. But that is what we call practical and he says it is not really practical. If we are are intelligent, we must find out what is the cause of all these headaches everyday and eliminate that cause, then we will return to good health. That metaphor applies also to our problems in society. We are experiencing these problems constantly: the problem of war, the problem of division. Sometimes it comes up between Blacks and Whites in Los Angeles, sometimes it comes up in the Middle East, sometimes it comes up in India. But if you look at human society as a whole you are constantly having these eruptions of these problems localized in various parts, and we have made an organization like the United Nation whose thankless job it is to keep solving or containing them all the time, but that only maintains the situation. Despite all these attempts, the world situation remains awful. So what is the deeper malaise from which all this springs up, the underlying disease? If we don’t remove that deeper malaise, we will never solve these problems. Indeed we have not solved the problems of war in the last 5000 years. Our whole history is a sequence of wars, fought earlier by kings and dictators, but we are still at war in various places in the world. We don’t lack experience but we are not learning from that experience. In fact we are ourselves contributing to it. The way we live, all this ignorance, these false assumptions, these beliefs, these divisions, exist because we accept them, we take them as inevitable. We ourselves are creating the situation in which we find ourselves in society and then complaining about it!

So at one level it seems that Krishnamurti’s teaching is not practical because it is not directly helping us to solve the Kashmir problem or Palestine problem; perhaps what Obama and other politicians are trying to do seems more practical and what K is saying appears like philosophy. But when you look at it with a longer vision, not only with the idea of solving a particular problem then you see that without educating ourselves, without coming upon a global mind, without ending all these illusions which are there in our mind it will never be possible to have a world which is one world, in which there is universal brotherhood, peace and harmony. All these will remain as ideal concepts but never become a reality because it is these illusions that divide us. We are not divided because of facts, we are divided because of our attachment to these illusions.

Let me take an example to illustrate this fact. The Hindu has his own concept of God, which has been given to him right from childhood. He grows up with it and he is told that he must worship in front of a statue in a temple and so on. He considers all that as religion and he believes in it. The Muslim is told something else about God and how he should be worshipped. He accepts what he is told and believes that and calls that his culture. The fact is that neither the Hindu knows what God is nor the Muslim knows what God is. If only they had the humility and honesty to accept that, what they have been told by their ancestors is different but neither of them really knows what God is they would both become friends and say let’s both investigate and find out what the truth is! Krishnaji is saying this quest for truth is the true meaning of religion: to discover for oneself what is true and what is false. At present each one of us has one’s own concepts to which he is attached, calling it “my culture, my morality” and that divides us from the other human beings. The division is coming because illusions can be different for different human beings but facts can not be different. So he is saying posit God as the unknown and explore in order to discover what God could possibly be. Similarly, posit the sacred as the unknown and don’t just attribute sacredness to one river, or one animal and then believe in that. That way we experience what we ourselves are believing and call it the sacred which is an illusion. These illusions are different in different cultures and they are maintained by that culture, thereby dividing the people of the world. Now, is that not true? If that is a fact, then the long term solution lies in getting rid of all these illusions so that we can all have a global mind which will eliminate all these divisions due to nationalism or due to religious bigotry an so on. This is a process of education in which one has to learn to shed all these illusion from one’s mind. Once that is done, he says you will realize that the truth is that the other man is yourself; not that this is a good thing to be believed in. He says that is the fact. We don’t see that as a fact because we have all these opinions and cultural conditioning to which we are so strongly attached. We can see the falseness of it only if we are willing to investigate these illusions and not invest in them and build oneself on it. Normally we are not interested in discovering what the truth is, but only in propagating our particular brand of illusion. One sees that this is true; this is what is going on throughout the world.. This is the root cause of the problem and so long as the cause is not eliminated the effects will keep occurring. So we find that before one conflict is resolved another raises its ugly head in our world.

Cause and effect

However, understanding the root cause of the problem may not solve the immediate problem that we are having. So, I personally think one needs to work at both levels. If you don’t educate yourselves, you will never solve these problems because our decisions themselves are based on illusions. For instance, we believe that the conflict will disappear if we arrive at a compromise but the compromises constantly breakdown when division and distrust are present. The reason all compromises always break down again and again is because the root cause of division has never been tackled. So, if we think practical means something that will immediately solve the problem, then Krishnaji’s teaching is not practical. But since it is true, if we continue to avoid that truth, our problems will never end. That is what he is pointing out; that our problems are just symptoms of a deeper malaise and we need to address the underlying disease and not just deal with the symptoms. Just as in the nature there is cause and effect which scientists study to discover how nature functions, there is cause and effect also in our psyche, in our social problems. If you examine the cause of war, it is nationalism; if you examine the cause of nationalism, it is the attachment to the me and the mine. If you examine further the reason for the attachment to the me and the mine, it is because of the feeling of insecurity, of loneliness of the individual and so on.

So it is a continuous chain of cause and effect; the effect becoming the cause for the next effect and so on. If we do not solve this at the individual level, namely our feeling of insecurity and consequent identification with a community in order to feel secure, we will never end the problem of division and of war. So he is saying that if we really want to solve the problem in the long run we have to transform our consciousness because whatever is there projects into our society. In short our society is the way it is because we are the way we are! We are constantly trying to control the symptoms through legislative control, economic control and so on, but these do not resolve the problem. Control never solves the problem at its root, is what he is saying. It seems to be true in our personal life too. If you just control your anger you don’t get rid of your anger. There is a causation within you and if that causation is rooted in illusion, it can be ended because illusion can be ended. If that causation is not rooted in illusion, it is biological, it cannot be resolved. Then you will have to take it as a fact. So you begin to discern what is fact and what is just a construct of thought. Sexuality is a fact but lust may be something that is created by the way we are approaching it, the way we are thinking about it. To discern what is factual and what is created by our thoughts is part of self knowledge, an essential part of understanding oneself. Krishnamurti is saying that without understanding oneself, without understanding our relationship with pleasure, with desire, with society and so on, there is no solid basis for our thinking: it so full of illusions. There is very little wisdom in a mind that is filled with illusions. Such a mind is not in contact with reality; it is living in a world of its own thinking.

These illusions are constantly colouring our opinions, our perceptions, and we are not able to examine anything objectively, we do not rely on truth, we rely on our particular illusion which is different from the other man’s illusion; so we come to different conclusions and fight over them, So Krishnamurti is saying that the ultimate answer to all these problems lies in understanding oneself, through understanding oneself. Through discerning what is true and what is false within our psyche, the false drops away and whatever disorder in consciousness followed from that illusion can end. But that which is not rooted in illusion cannot end, that is a part of nature. To discern the difference for oneself is a part of self-knowledge. To discover what is the creation of my own psyche and what is biological, is part of discerning what is true and what is false. If it is biological I must learn to put it in its right place, I can not eliminate it. But I can change my own approach if I understand that this approach is false. So he is saying that unless we give our time and energy to understand ourselves, we can never create a society which is peaceful where there is brotherhood and so on. We can have these notions, have these ideals till eternity but they will never become a reality.

What is the teaching?

More recently, I read a passage from Krishnamurti’s dialogues which was very interesting. Somebody asked him about his teaching and he said ‘Sir there is no such thing as my teaching; you don’t have to understand the teachings; you have to understand yourself. The entire purpose of the teaching is to make you realize the importance of understanding yourself.” So, he is just pointing out that if we do not distinguish what is pleasure from happiness, or what is love from what is attachment or desire and so on, then we are so confused that whatever decisions we may take in our life, things will always go wrong and it becomes impossible to be happy. Without that understanding, without that self-knowledge, we have no basis for operating in life. This understanding, clarity or wisdom is as necessary for human beings as food and shelter. From a long term point of view that seems to be true. It is like saying, while one may use aspirin to solve a particular headache it is not wise to neglect the cure of the underlying disease.. The one does not contradict the other. There is contradiction only if we are satisfied with the Aspirin. We may apply ourselves to solve the immediate problem, but it is necessary to be aware of the fact that it is only like taking an Aspirin, we are not thereby resolving the source of the problem. If we are all the time concerned with solving the immediate problem, we never address the deeper problem. Therefore life becomes a series of problems to be solved; and he says that is not an intelligent way to live.

So from a long term point of view what he is saying is the most practical. From immediate point of view it may appear impractical. Is the immediate solution practical? Is making war practical? Is living like we are living in society today practical? He says it is not practical. We have just got used to it and accept it as inevitable in life. He is saying we are satisfied with candles when we can have the sun; that we are accepting a very secondhand mediocre life and we do not have to live like this. I think one has to see the truth in both, the necessity for the immediate action to contain the symptoms of a disaster but also the deeper causation why we keep coming up with one disaster after another. We need to address ourselves seriously to a permanent solution too instead of just calling it practical or impractical. If we realize that and begin to enquire into our own beliefs, our own assumptions which are a part of our conditioning, we begin to understand that the source of the problems lies within oneself and that is where it needs to be tackled.

The ending of illusions

It is apparent that we all grow up in a particular culture, a particular family and we acquire a lot of values, thoughts and conditioning from there. He is saying examine them, watch out, don’t accept that whole thing as truth; there may be a lot that is false in it. Doubt it and discover for yourself what is true and what false. Now, thought is not a good instrument for doing this because it arises from memory, which is the storehouse of all our values and conditioning. Our thoughts are particular to us; so we must not mistake them to be the objective truth. Thought has its own place in our life and we need it for communication and for functioning in our daily life but there is also a lot of illusory thinking going on in the mind which we are not aware of. When we begin to examine all this with a learning mind, positing the truth as the unknown, discerning what is true and what is false, my own experience is that the more superficial illusions go away rather easily but there are deeper illusions at deeper levels of our consciousness which may remain. At the most superficial level there are superstitions, these go away even with intellectual enquiry and with science. Otherwise, if you are a Christian you are afraid of sitting on a seat with number thirteen and in India you are afraid of a cat crossing your road! Such superstitions create a lot of fear and disorder in our consciousness. Then there are these cultural illusions which are the result of centuries of propaganda done in each culture about their concept of God, about the church, about nationalism or our attitude towards women. For thousands of years, people all over the world believed that women must be in the home and look after children, cook and so on. That became the definition of a good woman and those that deviated from this model were called immoral. It becomes a cultural value and prevents one from seeing that it is discriminatory. For thousands of years this was accepted in society. Women were not allowed to vote, subjected to a lot of torture. We know all that and some of it we have ended.

So illusion can be ended; it exists only so long as we are not aware that it is an illusion. If we are aware that it is an illusion the disorder due to it ends. Fairy tales are also illusory but we know them to be so; we do not mistake them for a fact. Therefore they create no disorder. An illusion is just a construct of our own mind which we take to be true when it is not true; or when we give tremendous importance to something which is really not important. In certain culture they give tremendous importance to virginity and if you give tremendous importance to virginity that becomes a value but that is just your construct. If you say there is no great importance to virginity it ceases to have that importance. But when that construct of our own mind is mistaken for an absolute truth that assumption begins to guide our life and decisions and distorts our perceptions. Some of our cultural conditioning is quite innocent such as our sensitivity to a particular form of music; it doesn’t create any disorder. I may be sensitive to Indian Classical Music and you may be to Western Classical Music and that doesn’t create any division; so we don’t have to end that. But there are others that produce a lot of disorder in our consciousness and division in society; so we need to examine the causation of that. When you find out that it is coming from an illusion, it can be ended; so disorder in consciousness can be ended. But to end illusions thought is not a good instrument because it is the very creator of those illusions. More of the same kind of thinking won’t resolve it. Our capacity to observe is free of our conditioning but the interpretation of that observation is not free, because that is a thought process.

So, if we doubt what we have been told, doubt all our ideas and opinions, hold them lightly and observe life keenly, we can find out whether they are true or not. Only then can any truth be revealed to our mind. To keep the mind all the time in a state in which it can receive the new without translating or interpreting it in terms of the old conditioning is to have a learning mind. It is not very different from what a scientist considers to be a learning mind. In science too they value enquiry, they doubt every conclusion, they repeat experiments to test whether the result is true or not. Krishnaji is asking us to adopt the same approach for religious issues, to understand ourselves and our conditioning and discover what is true and what is false. In his study, when a scientist discovers a new truth about the order in nature, then there is nothing to be changed there. You cannot change gravitation, you can only study gravitation, discover how it operates and express that in a mathematical formula and so on. But in consciousness, because a lot of disorder arises out of illusions, you can end the disorder by ending the illusion and there is then an actual change in the state of one’s consciousness.

This is what the Buddha also pointed out long ago, that those illusions in the mind constitute ignorance and that is the cause of sorrow. Sorrow can be eliminated because ignorance can be eliminated but that requires this learning call self- knowledge which is the key to wisdom. That is the process of educating oneself, and living with reality and not with just some constructs of thought or some human assumptions, particularly those which create disorder and division and bring us to a state of war or misery. Such illusions are sinister; they are not innocent illusions in the mind like some poetic metaphor or fairy tale.

Is such learning possible?

Now, is such learning possible? If it is, then this is actually most practical. On the other hand, if it is possible only for very talented people, if only one in a million can do this then it is not practical in the sense large numbers of people will not be able to do it and statistically it is improbable. At first sight it does appear so, doesn’t it? You don’t find that in the Krishnamurti Foundations, where all this enquiry has been going on for years, there is less division or less of disorder or less of conflict than in any other group of human beings! One could say well, statistically, there was this one Krishnamurti, there are occasionally some people who become free, but on the whole, on a mass scale, it doesn’t seem to work because people remain more or less the same. They just throw out different words now than what they were throwing out before, but you don’t witness too much of a fundamental transformation of consciousness. Yes, I would say if you are talking about practical and impractical in that statistical sense it seems to be true. Observing as a scientist does, I don’t find a tremendous difference between people in the Krishnamurti foundations, or other so-called Krishnamurti groups, and any other group of people. There are of course minor differences, but those are always there between any two individuals in any society. Nevertheless, it is intrinsically true that if you live with a learning mind and you begin to learn for yourself, your outlook in life undergoes a change and your consciousness begins to function differently, though you may not come upon total freedom or discover what total freedom is.

Krishnaji has talked about total freedom but to me, it is still a question. On the other hand, the ending of an illusion is not such a rare thing. It is not something which is not within one’s experience. For instance, one can find out for oneself, through enquiry and observation whether one is nationalistic or whether one has ended religious prejudices. One can observe for oneself, whether one feels insulted when somebody criticizes you. May be you did before but now you don’t because you have understood something deeply. You can notice change but when he talks about total freedom from conflict, a total revolution in consciousness, it is indeed a rare occurrence. One doesn’t find many people coming upon that. So, I don’t know whether from the point of view of total freedom this is the practical way; perhaps there is no way, it is a pathless land ! It is like demanding creativity in a mind which is not creative. Can one do that? That may not be very practical.

I am not holding on to this opinion rigidly. This is how it seems to me and we should discuss it. But to me when Krishnaji says something and I don’t understand it, I don’t reject it. I think he was a very wise man who went very far into this enquiry and answered from what he was perceiving, he communicated that truth to us and said, “ Don’t accept it, investigate it, I could be mistaken. Find out for yourself, it has value only if it is true. It has no value if it is not true.” I can’t find any fault with that. He is saying, “I am telling you what I have seen and if you work at it you will find the truth too; you may not be able to, that’s a different matter. But you can, it doesn’t require some special talent, or some special ability to be able to do this. All it needs is awareness, keen senses, the capacity for observation, of paying attention and a learning mind, —all of which any normal human being has.” He is saying we have got the equipments needed to perceive the truth. If we get satisfied half way through, he says that is mediocrity. If we apply ourselves to discover it, then we live with this learning mind and keep investigating, wherever that takes us.

Is total freedom an aim, a goal to be achieved?

Is total freedom the aim of such learning about oneself? After all, when I learnt Physics, I was not aiming to be Einstein! As much Physics as I learnt, that much understanding of how nature functions I have; in the same way when you apply yourself to obtaining self-knowledge, you get as far as you get. Whatever disorder ends, to that extent you are living differently from the way you were living before. If that is your aim then it is completely practical; but if you make it a goal to come upon total revolution and total freedom or enlightenment then I don’t know if on a large scale human beings can carry this enquiry all the way to total freedom. That Krishnamurti did, I have no doubt about it; because I knew him closely and I could see that he was living what he was talking. But I haven’t seen among other people, who were inspired by him to do this enquiry, someone come upon total freedom. But my question is: why make total freedom into an end to be achieved? You are what you are. You see the value of learning about this, just as you see the value of learning Physics or languages or anything; you see the value of self knowledge, of coming upon wisdom. That is enough reason to live with a learning mind. We know how a human being grows in knowledge, but how does one grow in wisdom? For that you need the learning mind, not the knowing mind, which is what he is pointing out. He is also saying such a learning mind is the religious mind.

Completely free human beings are very rare but wise human beings are not very rare. Mandela is a wise human being, Vaclav Havel was a wise human being, Gandhi was a wise human being. There are numerous people who are wise human beings and they have made a tremendous difference to the world; but they may not be totally free people. Free people are few and far between, you can count them on your figures; in thousands of years, we have perhaps had a few totally free people. So, I don’t know whether through this enquiry large numbers of people can really come upon total freedom; but I don’t make total freedom into an aim, an ideal to be achieved; if you do, the quest seems impractical. He himself has pointed it out that if we make it into an ideal towards which we are going, it will turn into a desire process and that will build the ego and block you; which all seems to be so true. So why do that? Why not just approach life from wherever you are and begin to learn? Whatever changes come, come — no complaints. That is where this learning brought you in life; be content with it but continue to apply yourself and keep learning. If such is our view then it is completely practical!

The learning mind can pull us out of the small little self-enclosed shell in which we live otherwise when we just accept everything that our family believed and our culture told us, thereby becoming a part of it and keep doing propaganda for it! That is what we see happening around us and it creates so much chaos in the world, so much division. At least one can step out of that; so why feel frustrated, saying total freedom has not come. We don’t know what total freedom is, we just have a concept about it. So there is no need to make that the aim of this enquiry. One gets in life what one deserves; be grateful for it and live with it. For a long term education of oneself I don’t see any better way of educating oneself than what he is pointing out. But from the point of view of coming to total freedom I really don’t know. It has that potential because if we have the capacity to end one illusion, then potentially we have the capacity to end all illusions. If you apply yourself may be you can; but why measure, that is my question? You don’t say I’ll start learning Physics only if I can become Einstein! Similarly, why say I will start this learning only if I can come to the total freedom like Krishnamurti. Then it becomes impractical. So it depends on how we approach it!

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