What is Holistic Living ?

What is Holistic Living ?

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

( Talk delivered at the Ojai Institute, Ojai, California on 23rd May 1998. )

The question, ‘What is holistic living?’ is a fundamental question, and fundamental questions don’t have any answers; but we learnt from Krishnamurti that it is important to investigate such questions. He said we must ask the impossible question, and investigate into it; that the answer does not lie outside the question but within it. He was of course referring to the answer, not as an intellectual answer, or a concept or a theory about the truth, but the truth itself. I think it’s important for us to bear that distinction in mind, because the purpose of inquiring into this question is not to come upon more information, more knowledge, more ideas, and more refined concepts; but to come upon a deeper insight into the truth – the truth itself being something that is not known. It’s a little bit like the game of a treasure hunt which children often play, where the treasure is hidden in some field. The question defines that field, and the truth is that treasure, but we don’t know where it is hidden; therefore there is no path by which we can reach there. We have to explore the whole field and perhaps we may chance to come upon it.

But the analogy ends there, because the treasure is not only for the person who finds it first. It can be seen by anybody. However, along the way, one comes across a whole lot of answers, or descriptions given by other people. And sometimes the quest ends into finding a satisfying description, which then becomes the answer, and the inquiry ends before it can reach the stage of perception. That danger one must bear in mind. One must not accept answers given by another, however great an authority or intelligent a person that may be, including Krishnamurti; because the answers given by others are only descriptions for us, and the description is not the described.

It’s a little like trying to explain to a man who has grown up in the desert and never seen a tree what a tree is like. You can give him the most poetic and brilliant descriptions of a tree; but it can never be quite the same as his seeing a tree for himself. So that’s the difference between a conceptual answer and the truth, the latter being at the level of direct perception. A religious inquiry is a quest for truth, and it’s precisely because the truth is not known that it is some- what of a mystery how one gets to it. Nobody really knows how the truth enters the human mind; but we know that it is possible for the truth to reveal itself to the human mind — which is why, I think, Krishnamurti talked of it as a pathless land. One is exploring in that pathless land in conducting a religious inquiry.

I would like to begin without any assumptions — from first principles, as we are fond of saying in science. We shall use thoughts and ideas and knowledge to communicate with each other; but they are being used merely as tools. And the purpose is not to come upon more thoughts and more ideas and more knowledge. So let’s begin with observation. What does it mean to live holistically ? Life itself seems to be a multitude of relationships. From the day one is born until the day one dies, one is in relationship with everything in the world — with people, with the stars, with ideas and books, and of course also with oneself. So holistic living must mean right relationship. We often use that term ‘right’ to mean that which serves the purpose. So I ask myself, is there a purpose to life ? Not only our life, but to all life. Because if one knew the purpose, then in relation to that purpose one could define what is right.

The scientists tell us that life appears to be an accident, which they don’t quite know when it occurred, or how it occurred; but they have some intelligent guesses about it. We still don’t know how from non-living material, namely chemicals and atoms and so on, even the simplest living thing could result, because we can’t replicate that in the laboratory. Nobody has been able to do that uptil now. They are trying very hard, but it is still a mystery. Once that had happened, they have a reasonable explanation of biological evolution, of which we are the end results so far. All this seems to be a part of the cosmic order in which the entire universe is developing. It seems that we live in a very intelligent universe, not in a dumb universe — because if it takes a lot of intelligence for us to make a computer, or to make this building surely only a tremendous intelligence could make a tree or make a lotus flower bloom out of the mud ! The stars in the universe and the law of gravitation must also be products of that intelligence.

We don’t know whether the whole universe was set up deliberately to bring about life, to bring about evolution and to create us, or whether this has happened as a matter of chance. Even the scientists are debating that. There are some who think it’s just chance, and there are others who say, it couldn’t have been pure chance or pure accident; that somehow the intelligence out there has regulated things in such a way as to make this happen. But it’s an open question.

Scientists try to study nature and discover the laws that are part of that intelligence. So one thing is clear; that there is a tremendous cosmic intelligence which operates right through the universe. You may call it god, or you may be an atheist but you can’t deny that there is an intelligence that is operating in the universe; and that we ourselves have come into being as part of that development, of that cosmic order.

So it means that our body is part of that cosmic order, as is the tree, and as are all the animals and birds and the living forms that we see around us. So I ask myself, if I am just one life form, what does holistic living mean for a tree ? Or does that question arise only for a human being ? If so, why ? Since nobody knows what is the ultimate purpose of life, if there is one, I’ll leave that as an open question. If we look around, we see that all life starts from a seed; then develops according to an order which is part of that cosmic order. It goes through infancy, then youth, and comes to old age till it finally dies. And that’s true of all life including human beings.

So does holistic living mean, living vigorously, passionately, in accordance with that cosmic order ? Consider a tree that has received proper manure, that has received sunlight, that has been free to grow, which has not been destroyed by any storms, so that it is healthy, it is whole, and it blooms. Would you agree that that seems to be what is holistic living for that tree — to sway in the breeze, to live the way nature has ordained it to live, to flower fully, in accordance with that cosmic order. That seems to be holistic living for that tree.

We have a pretty good idea about what it means for a tree to bloom.

We like to look at a tree in full bloom; it’s a joy, a great delight for us to see a tree in full bloom. So is it to see a dog or a tiger or a horse which is healthy, vigorous, sprinting, full of life. That seems to be the very purpose of life. We don’t know if there is any ultimate purpose to this whole activity — whether it would have made any difference to the stars and the whole universe if we had just not existed. It may be our conceit to think that the whole purpose of the universe was to bring us about. That makes me ask myself, What does it mean for a human being to bloom ? We have some idea what it means for a tree to bloom or a horse to bloom. It may not be quite exact; but we have a rough idea. But what does it mean for a human being to bloom ? That may be what it means to live holistically, for us too.

In the case of the human being, there is not just the body, there is also the consciousness. The blooming of the body is not very different from that for a tree or an animal. If it’s nourished properly; if it has had exercise; if it has been protected from diseases, and damages or accidents; then it is a healthy, energetic body. Surely that would be part of holistic living. But it doesn’t end there for a human being. What does it mean for the consciousness to bloom ? Because if the consciousness doesn’t bloom, the body doesn’t bloom either. The two are connected together, intimately. So that brings me in my explorations to this fundamental question, which we must ask: what is it for the human consciousness to bloom ? What is a really healthy human consciousness ? Our consciousness has also come into being as a part of the cosmic order. The capacity to think, to remember, to imagine is there in every child. So all that must also be part of the cosmic order as it is a part of evolution. The animal has these capacities in very small measure, while we have them very much more. These faculties have come to us as part of the cosmic order in its development.

So then I ask myself: Is the ego also part of that cosmic order ? Because the ego is born out of the faculty of imagination, and that faculty is part of the cosmic order. The animals don’t seem to have much of an ego. The trees — none whatsoever. We can learn a lot by watching trees. When they are overcrowded in the forest, they don’t kill each other. They share, they adjust to each other; they manage to share the sunshine. They don’t fight with each other. So there’s a lot man can learn from the trees. There doesn’t seem to be any ego in nature. Nature doesn’t get angry with us. When we ill-treat nature, its reactions are all part of that cosmic order. It can’t help it. The tiger eating the goat is also part of that cosmic order.

It is not being violent. It is not deciding out of cruelty to eat the goat. But it’s not so with a human being, because we are not completely caught in our instincts and in our conditioning. There is in us this possibility of being free from that. That is why the whole question of morality, and immorality arises only for man not for the animal or for the tree.

So what does it mean for us to live rightly, to live holistically ? If we say that the ego is also part of the cosmic order, then there is no escaping it. Then it’s like my hand; it’s like my stomach, my digestive process, the circulation of blood in my veins, which is all part of that cosmic order. I don’t make these things happen. Is the ego also something like that ? Is it also an inevitable part of us, like an organ of our body ? Or, is it something I create out of my imagination ? Surely everything that I can imagine is not a part of reality. My body is part of reality. The fact that I can remember, that I have the capacity to think, that I have the capacity to imagine — all that is fact. But, is everything that I imagine a fact ? Doesn’t seem so, because I can imagine a ghost and conjure up all kinds of fairy tales which are not real; they are not a part of nature. They exist only in our imagination. We also have the capacity to think factually: to plan our journeys, to decide how to get somewhere, to design a building and then take the necessary steps to build it and so on. We are familiar with that activity, which is all factual thinking. But we also have this capacity to think of something totally illusory which doesn’t exist in nature. Then that’s not part of the cosmic order.

So is the ego like this house or that tree, something that exists, or is it something illusory which I create only in my imagination ? That has been a deep question which inquirers have asked, even thousands of years ago. The Buddha, after all his investigations into consciousness said, “Thinking exists, but the thinker is not found”.

That is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching: that there is no entity called the thinker. There is thinking; but the thinker, as the I, the psychological me is only a mental construct. It doesn’t actually exist. In the last few years the brain scientists have examined that.

They have now the ability to locate specific areas in the brain which correspond to our emotions. If one has fear, if one is feeling sexual desire, they know precisely the corresponding area in the brain which is activated. They can take pictures of the neurons which get lighted up when we are having a particular emotion. But they find that there is no such area of the brain which corresponds to the ego.

So they have now scientifically discovered what the Buddha had found through investigating his own consciousness: that the thinker does not exist. He is an illusory entity.

It is the ego that creates division: as me and you, as my family and your family, my property and your property, my country and your country, our religion and their religion, and so on. It is this me, that identifies itself with another human being and calls it my family, or identifies itself with some property and calls it my property, or attaches itself to some opinion and calls it my opinion.

That builds up the ego the whole of the me and the mine. And once that is established, then the mind, the entire thought process, the capacity to imagine and remember — all that begins to function like a personal lawyer of the me and the mine. So the thought process which came about as a part of the cosmic order now gets limited to argue for and to justify the me and the mine, to expand the me and the mine, and to cultivate power for the me and the mine. That’s how fragmentation begins. And that which is divided, which is fragmentary, is not whole. So that’s not holistic living. The consequences of this we see all round us. The psychological source of that is the self, or the ego it is due to this that whatever man has touched becomes so complicated if you watch, The complication comes from the division, and the division comes from the ego.

Take any field. Take a simple invention like money, which man invented for mere convenience of barter, so that we did not have to bring all our goods to the market for a spot-exchange. I could give you a coin or a piece of paper so you could come back and take your things any time later. That’s all that it meant. That simple invention of man, has turned into the present economic structure, with stock markets, interest rates, investments and the competition in the international economy. Nobody knows now what is happening and why it’s happening. It has got so complicated because the entire psyche of man has got involved with that, with money. And it’s now the money which is driving man, and no longer man who is using the money. You can observe that: we publish what will get money, we do that work which will get us money. So the simple thing which we invented is now governing us. Wars between nations occur because we attach ourselves to a nation. I care only for my nation and its people, I am willing to exploit everybody else, because what is right for me is to benefit my country. I don’t think of the whole. I think only of my country.

All countries promote that. We promote nationalism, we promote patriotism. They are dancing in the streets when India explodes the nuclear bomb because they feel that is good for them. Their country has become powerful. It may be bad for the whole of mankind — but they are not concerned about that. They are concerned about their people and they say “For us, it is good.” And every nation is doing the same.

So long as there is the me and the mine, and our concern is limited to the me and the mine whether the immediate me and the mine or the expanded me and the mine like the nation – it’s not holistic because one is not thinking of the whole. And when the concern is not for the whole, it is not right, not from some limited religious point of view or because some Pope says it is not virtuous, but because we are all part of the whole. If it’s bad for the whole of the world, how can it be good for the Nation ? The Nation is part of the world. But our thinking has got fragmented. Everybody is thinking of themselves and therefore, creating chaos totally, for everybody. And so we have brought mankind to the brink of disaster. Each person trying to become very safe in his own nation is bringing the whole of mankind to disaster.

When you look at all the ecological imbalances, they also came from the same source. It’s the greed of each individual nation to exploit nature for its own economic benefit and the competition between nations to be the first to get the benefit that has created all the ecological problems out of the so-called ‘progress’ for the me and the mine. We are not thinking of the whole. When the businessman is making his factory, he is thinking only of what is good for his factory, how the production will increase, how he will make maximum profits. He is not bothered whether there is pollution coming out of that, and how that problem will affect others. He says that’s the job or the government, it’s not his concern. So we have specialized, we have fragmented and we have said, “My responsibility is only to do this”. Everybody is arguing and saying, “I am doing what is my responsibility”, but it’s not good for the whole. If the ozone layer gets depleted, if there is global warming because we produce more and more carbon dioxide in the air, it’s not good for any of us, but we are not thinking of the whole. Therefore this is not holistic living.

It is clear that the root of it all lies in the ego, the self. And if that is not solved, do what you may, I don’t see how there can be holistic living. Whether it is in health, whether it is sports — whatever man touches turns into a horror, turns into a complicated affair. Sports is no longer fun, it is no longer a joy to play a game — it’s like winning war. If Steffi Graf wins against Monica Seles, it’s Germany that has won against Yugoslavia; it’s no longer that one girl played better than another girl on one particular day, which is the fact. That fact gets blown up into an illusion of victory for a whole people. The source of these illusions is the ego. And if you don’t handle that source, you can do what you like outwardly. Make any amount of scientific progress, the ego will use that science too, as indeed it has, in making more destructive bombs. There’s nothing wrong with the scientific activity itself; it is an exploration of a certain aspect of truth in nature discovering the laws governing the Universe. That mass and energy are convertible into each other is a great truth. But the ego exploits that truth to make a bomb, because it wants power for its own country, to be able to attack another country. This animosity, this feeling that they are different from me, and I must be more powerful than them, this desire to exploit others is the problem, not science.

Whatever we touch, whether it is money, whether it is science, whether it is sex, is complicated by the ego. Therefore the root of fragmentation, the greatest barrier to holistic living is the self.

Therefore, it is important to ask ourselves whether it is possible that our motivations be not self-centred. We have assumed that human beings are energized only out of greed, out of self centred activity — that if we were not ambitious, we wouldn’t do anything. We have assumed that personal success, the desire for reward, approval of everybody else is what we work for. One has to question all that. Is that true, or has that become true because we have assumed it to be so ? Will I just go to sleep and have no energy, if I don’t have the personal desire to achieve, to get something more for myself ? Will I stagnate ? Or is there an energy in us which is not born out of self-interest ? Krishnamurti said, there is love only when the self is not. That means all this self-centred activity, however beneficial it may seem to us — whether it be building a hospital or constructing the most beautiful park – if one is doing it egoistically, then one is also spreading division while doing that noble activity.

Therefore the problem is not only whether what you have built has good results or bad results, but also, how you are going about it is equally important. We are not objecting to doing noble things, we are not saying a hospital should not be built, or social work should not be done — that goes without saying — we are saying, if you do it because you want status, because you want power, because you want recognition, then it will all turn into ashes. On the other hand if you do it because that’s what you love to do — not because you are seeking something for yourself — then that same activity has a totally different significance, because then it is not egoistic, it is not caught up in fragmentation. The problem is not in the activity which one is doing — whether one is doing scientific research, or one is studying a novel, or writing a book — it is in the motivation.

Why am I doing that ? Is it because that’s my passion, that’s what I love to do ? In that case I am living creatively, working holistically. The painter who is painting because that is the love of his life is a creative painter. Not necessarily the one who is the best painter — he may be a thorough egoist ! Then it is not creative. He may be doing it in order to earn name and fame, then it is not creative.

So one has to find out if it’s possible to have an energy which is not born of the self the energy of love, if you like to call it so. That requires a flowering of virtue in consciousness; and perhaps that’s what it means for the consciousness to bloom, as the tree blooms with flowers. Can virtue bloom in the consciousness ? Not you bring virtue into consciousness — you can’t bring it any more than you can make that tree bloom. You can only provide manure, it blooms. The flowering of virtue means it must bloom naturally, spontaneously, effortlessly, as a by-product of our understanding. Our understanding is not something static. If we keep an open mind, and we are observing and learning, then our understanding is not static, and virtue is a by product of that understanding, it is a by-product of self knowledge. Here we are not talking about learning as the accumulation of knowledge but as the discrimination between the true and the false.

There is a distinction between knowledge and wisdom. I once read a small poem which illustrated that. It said, “Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one Home oft-times no connection Knowledge dwells in mind replete with the thoughts of others; Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.

Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; Wisdom is humble that it knows no more.

We are not talking about the accumulation of knowledge; we are talking about wisdom. How does one come upon wisdom ? For the accumulation of knowledge there is a path. You can take courses, you can go to the “university, and you can accumulate knowledge. Or you can read books on your own, in the library. But how does wisdom come to the human mind ? Without that, there is no virtue. Without that, there is not the blooming of consciousness. Without that, there is no holistic living. That’s why, I think, Krishnamurti emphasized, that in education it is important, not only to give knowledge of the world, but to help the child to come upon self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is all this understanding about oneself, is this quest for truth, which comes from the exploration of a question, not from the acceptance of answers. The search for answers is the domain of the scholar. To be satisfied with finding a beautiful definition of love, or even a poem about love, is not to come upon love itself.

I think in the later part of this seminar, we shall go into the details of what this has meant in the field of health, what this has meant in the field of ecology, or in society — different speakers are going to go into it. But it seems to me that all those complications that we are seeing in the field of health, in the field of ecology, in the field of society — and as I said, in sports, or in economics in everything — the source of all that lies in the ego, in the self.

And so long as we don’t face this problem, so long as we don’t inquire and learn for ourselves, what is holistic living in everyday life, we can never solve it out there in society because that structure has been built by human beings who are not living holistically. If my consciousness is not holistic, it can’t involve itself in another activity which it considers holistic. You can do something else you can put more parts together, but the consciousness which is doing that work, is also a part of the work, it’s not separate from the work.

And if that consciousness is divisive, is fragmented, then the whole thing is divided, fragmented. The entire structure on which our society is based at present begins with the assumption of division, begins with the assumption that every person is an egoist, and that we can exploit the ego.

We do exploit the ego of individuals, by offering rewards, by threatening with punishment. And when we talk about order, we talk only about the outer order, and we neglect the inner order, which requires freedom from fear. So the very thinking, the very definition that we give to order, to religion, to democracy, is all affected by a narrow vision; and that narrow vision comes from not being whole, from looking at it fragmentarily.

Therefore the greatest barrier to holistic living is the self. When I am attempting to live holistically I must be acutely aware that I am also my self the barrier in my way !

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