Jiddu Krishnamurti

Although the thought of the modern Indian philosopher, J Krishnamurti (1895-1986), appears to spring out of the Indian mystical tradition (the Upanishads, the Vedanta), he is a maverick, denying all authority, tradition and belief.

I felt impelled to write up Krishnamurti because I wanted to share my appreciation of his profound ideas. I have not met another thinker whose insight cuts as deeply. While Krishnamurti's thought has freshness and uncommon wisdom, I only partially understand and accept what he says. Writing this page was my attempt to come to terms with his ideas.

His ideas

All the quotes given below are from "The Penguin Krishnamurti Reader" (two volumes) edited by Mary Lutyens. To benefit from the ideas you will need to read them very carefully and with as open a mind as possible. Try to forget, for the moment, all your opinions and conclusions and see whether Krishnamurti has something worthwhile to say to you.

On the self and the mind:
"The mind is the past, the mind is this conditioned response."

"The thinker is the thought, and the thinker separates himself from the thought for his self-protection and continuance." Krishnamurti regards the self as being nothing but an illusion perpetuated by the process of thought, using memories. That we create an illusory separation between the thinker and the thought, whereas there is no thinker, but only thought trying to continue itself from the past into the present. So to Krishnamurti the self is just thought in the present trying to establish continuity with the past.

He sees the self (the thinker, the observer, the ego) as the root of our problems; that the self must be eliminated. Yet any attempt to eradicate the self actually strengthens it. Only awareness of the operation of the mind allows us to see the self for the destructive illusion that it is. This awareness dissolves the self (the ' I '). This is how he explains the origin of the ' I ':

"Now, is there a perceiver or only perception?... Is there a thinker, or only thinking? Surely the thinker does not exist first. First there is thinking, and then thinking creates the thinker - which means that a separation in thinking has taken place. It is when this separation takes place that there comes into being the watcher and the watched, the perceiver and the object of perception... if you watch your mind, if you observe a thought, that thought disappears, it fades away; but there is actually only perception, not a perceiver. When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing? Seeing the flower makes you want to say, 'How nice it is, I want it'; so the ' I ' comes into being through desire, fear, greed, ambition, which follow in the wake of seeing. It is these that create the ' I ', and the ' I ' is non-existent without them."

"When there is a visual awareness of the tree without any psychological involvement there is no division in relationship. But when there is a psychological response [ie feeling or thought] to the tree, this response is a conditioned response, it is the response of past memory, past experiences, and this response is a division in relationship. This response is the birth of what we shall call the 'me' in relationship and the 'non-me'. This is how you place yourself in relationship to the world. This is how you create the individual and the community. The world is seen not as it is, but in its various relationships to the 'me' of memory. This division is the life and the flourishing of everything we call our psychological being, and from this arises all contradiction and division... When there is the awareness of the tree there is no evaluation. But when there is a response to the tree, when the tree is judged with like and dislike, then a division takes place in this awareness as the 'me' who is different from the thing being observed. This 'me' is the response, in relationship, of past memory, past experiences."

"I don't see why you give such importance to the unconscious. It is as trivial and shoddy as the conscious mind, and giving it importance only strengthens it. If you see its true worth it drops away as a leaf in the autumn."

On conditioning:
Questioner: How can I free myself from conditioning?
Krishnamurti: The very factor of conditioning in the past, in the present and in the future, is the 'me' which thinks in terms of time, the 'me' which exerts itself; and now it exerts itself in the demand to be free; so the root of all conditioning is the thought which is the 'me'. The 'me' is the very essence of the past, the 'me' is time, the 'me' is sorrow - the 'me' endeavours to free itself from itself, the 'me' makes efforts, struggles to achieve, to deny, to become.

Questioner: How can the action of the 'me' stop?
Krishnamurti: It can stop only if you see this whole thing, the whole business of it. If you see it in action, which is in relationship, the seeing is the ending of the 'me'. Not only is this seeing an action which is not conditioned but also it acts upon the conditioning.

On thinking:
"Thinking is a process of isolation. You think according to your reactions, experience, beliefs. Thought is nothing else but reaction; thought is not creative. Any reaction is conditioned and, through conditioning, there can be no freedom. Every reaction gives continuity to the self."

"Every movement of the mind is merely a form of strengthening the self."

"When thought acts it is the past which is acting as memory, as experience, as knowledge, as opportunity. All will is desire based on this past and directed towards pleasure or the avoidance of pain."

On truth:
"Truth is a pathless land."

"Truth is not in some far distant place; it is in the looking at what is. To see oneself as one is - in that awareness into which choice does not enter - is the beginning and end of all search."

"To find the purpose of life... you have to see and understand the causes which bring about confusion; and the causes of confusion are very clear. They are rooted in the 'me' that is constantly wanting to expand itself through possessing, through becoming, through success, through imitation; and the symptoms are jealousy, envy, greed, fear. As long as there is this inward confusion, you are always seeking outward answers; but when the inward confusion is cleared away, then you will know the significance of life."

On belief:
"Belief is one thing and 'what is' is another. Belief is a word, a thought, and this is not the thing, any more than your name is actually you."

"Through experience you hope to touch the truth of your belief, to prove it to yourself, but this belief conditions your experience. It isn't that the experience comes to prove the belief, but rather that the belief begets the experience... You will always experience what you believe and nothing else. And this invalidates your experience.... Belief conditions its own supposed proof."

Compare this with what Einstein once said about physics. He had built his special theory of relativity based on "observables". Later in life he criticised this very approach, arguing that it is the theory that decides what is an "observable".

"Is it fear, is it the uncertainty of life - the fear of the unknown, the lack of security in this ever-changing world? ...One encloses in the refuge of belief... Belief comes from fear and is the most destructive thing... Belief, like any other ideal, is an escape form 'what is'... A mind clouded by fear or belief is incapable of any kind of understanding, any realisation of what truth is."

"To carry the past over to the present, to translate the movement of the present in terms of the past, destroys the living beauty of the present... There is nothing sacred about tradition, however ancient or modern. The brain carries the memory of yesterday, which is tradition, and is frightened to let go, because it cannot face something new. Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay."

On religion:
Questioner: Isn't religious experience - of the saints and gurus - beneficial to us in our ignorance?
Krishnamurti: Not at all! The saint must be recognised by society and always conforms to society's notions of sainthood - otherwise he wouldn't be called a saint. Equally the guru must be recognised as such by his followers who are conditioned by tradition. So both the guru and the disciple are part of the cultural and religious conditioning of the particular society in which they live. When they assert that they have come into contact with reality, that they know, then you may be sure that what they know is not reality. What they know is their own projection from the past. So the man who says he knows, does not know. In all these so-called religious experiences a cognitive process of recognition is inherent. You can only recognise something you have known before, therefore it is of the past, therefore it is time-binding and not timeless. So-called religious experience does not bring benefit but merely conditions you according to your particular tradition, inclination, tendency and desire, and therefore encourages every form of illusion and isolation.

Note that by 'experience' Krishnamurti means something identified in the past and stored in the 'me'. In fact the 'me' is nothing but the collection of past experience.

"... Almost every human being is pursuing, under cover of respectability, his own secret desires and appetites and this is producing chaos in the world. We want to cover this up by passing laws, sanctions and so on. This is not freedom. Throughout the world there are people who have sacred books, modern or ancient. They repeat from them, put them into song, and quote from them endlessly, but in their hearts they are violent, greedy, searching for power. Do these so-called sacred books matter at all? They have no actual meaning. What matters is man's utter selfishness, his constant violence, hate and enmity - not the books, the temples, the churches, the mosques."

On understanding:
"Knowing is always related to the past and therefore it binds you to the past. Unlike knowing, understanding is not a conclusion, not accumulation. If you have listened you have understood. Understanding is attention... So the understanding of fear is the ending of fear."

"Understanding is not an intellectual affair, but that one has felt it deeply in one's heart. There is understanding only when the mind and the heart are in perfect harmony."

On learning:
"Learning through experience is the accumulation of conditioning. Real learning is observation in freedom, without accumulation. "

"There can be action in the very movement of learning; that is, learning is doing; it is not a question of having learnt and then acting... Having learnt, and acting from that accumulation is the very nature of the 'me', the 'I', the ego or whatever name one likes to give it."

"When we separate action from learning, then the observer comes between the learning and action; then he becomes important; then he uses action and learning for ulterior motives."

"Have we learnt about war through making war? We have learnt to make war more deadly, more efficient, but we haven't learnt not to make war. Our experience in warfare endangers the survival of the human race. Is this learning? You may build a better house, but has experience taught you how to live more nobly inside it?"

"Experience has taught us to have better food, clothes and shelter, but it has not taught us that social injustice prevents the right relationship between man and man. So experience conditions and strengthens our prejudices, our peculiar tendencies and our particular dogmas and beliefs."

"Experience teaches me to strengthen the family as a unit opposed to society and to other families. This brings about strife and division, which makes it ever more important to strengthen the family protectively, and so the vicious circle continues."

"The practice gives duration to problems. Practice is total inattention. Never practice: you can only practice mistakes. Learning is always new."

"An intelligent man is never static, he never says, 'I know'. He is always inquiring, always uncertain, always looking, searching, finding out. The moment he says 'I know', he is already dead."

On freedom:
"Attachment is dependence, which leads to resistance. I divide everything [including ideas] into the mine and not mine and resist any encroachment on the 'mine'. This makes me unfree. Freedom is a state where I have no resistance. In the process of understanding attachment there is freedom. We depend because we seek to find love, beauty and meaning outside ourselves while seeing in ourselves deep inward poverty and inadequacy, this dull hollow isolation. If you look at this emptiness without any condemnation or evaluation then there is no observer. The emptiness vanishes because it is the mind of the 'me' in all its self-centred activity that has created the emptiness. When that mind looks without the centre, the self-centred activity ends, so the loneliness is not. When the mind of the 'me' is still, then there is no desert and no escape. Looking without the centre is looking without any movement of thought, evaluation, liking, judging."

On happiness:
"Happiness comes when you are doing something because you really love to do it, and not because it gives you riches or makes you a prominent person."

"Real life is doing something which you love to do with your whole being so that there is no inner contradiction, no war between what you are doing and what you think you should do. Life is then a completely integrated process in which there is tremendous joy."

Question: Can one refrain from doing whatever one likes and still find the way to freedom?
"You know, it is one of the most difficult things to find out what we want to do... unless you find out for yourself what you really want to do with your whole being, you will end by doing something which holds no vital interest for you, and then your life will be miserable... once you discover what you love to do with your whole being, then you are a free man; then you have capacity, confidence, initiative... "

"But merely doing whatever you like is not doing what you love to do. To find out what you love to do requires a great deal of penetration, insight. Don't begin by thinking in terms of earning a livelihood; but if you discover what it is you love to do, then you will have a means of livelihood."

On love:
"To be sentimental, to be emotional is not love, because sentimentality and emotion are mere sensations. A religious person who weeps about Jesus or Krishna, about his guru or somebody else is merely sentimental, emotional, cannot possibly know love. Again, aren't we emotional and sentimental? Sentimentality, emotionalism, is merely a form of self-expansion. To be full of emotion is obviously not love, because a sentimental person can be cruel when his sentiments are not responded to, when his feelings have no outlet. An emotional person can be stirred to hatred, to war, to butchery. A man who is sentimental, full of tears for his religion, surely has no love."

"You want to be loved because you do not love; but the moment you love, it is finished, you are no longer inquiring whether or not somebody loves you. As long as you demand to be loved, there is no love in you; and if you feel no love, you are ugly, brutish, so why should you be loved? Without love you are a dead thing; and when the dead thing asks for love, it is still dead. Whereas, if your heart is full of love, then you never ask to be loved, you never put out your begging bowl for someone to fill. It is only the empty who ask to be filled, and an empty heart can never be filled by running after gurus or seeking love in a hundred other ways."

"Love is the only thing that is causeless, that is free; it is beauty, it is skill, it is art. Without love there is no art. When the artist is playing beautifully there is no 'me'. Art is the absence of the 'me'."

"We meet beauty, love springs up, and immediately it turns to attachment and all this misery begins and the love has gone out of the window."

On sex:
"Sex plays an extraordinarily important part in our lives because it is perhaps the only deep, first-hand experience we have. Intellectually and emotionally we conform, imitate, follow, obey. There is pain and strife in all our relationships, except in the act of sex. This act, being so different and beautiful, we become addicted to, so it in turn becomes a bondage. The bondage is the demand for its continuation - again the action of the centre which is divisive. One is so hedged about - intellectually, in the family, in the community, through social morality, through religious sanctions - so hedged about that there is only this one relationship left in which there is freedom and intensity. Therefore we give tremendous importance to it. But if there were freedom all around then this would not be such a craving and such a problem."

"The beauty in sex is the absence of the 'me', the ego, but the thought of sex is the affirmation of the ego, and that is pleasure. This ego is all the time either seeking pleasure or avoiding pain, wanting fulfilment and thereby inviting frustration."

"Passion is the freedom from the 'me', which is the centre of all fulfilment and pain."

On fear:
"Fear is the fear of losing what one has accumulated. To live without fear is to live without a particular pattern... Fear is a non-acceptance of what is."

"Fear is the awareness of our inner emptiness, loneliness and poverty, and of not being able to do anything about it."

"The flight from 'what is' is fear. Fear is flight away from something. What is is not the fear; it is the flight which is the fear..."

"If you want to know how to get rid of fear, you must not escape from it, you must face it; and the very facing of it helps you to be free of it. As long as we are running away from fear, we do not look at it; but the moment we stop and look at fear, it begins to dissolve. The very running away is the cause of fear."

Questioner: Can I be free of this fear?
Krishnamurti: Surely you are putting a wrong question, aren't you? You are the fear; you and the fear are not two separate things. The separation is fear which breeds the formula that 'I will conquer it, suppress it, escape from it.' This is the tradition that gives a false hope of overcoming fear. When you see that you are the fear, that you and the fear are not two separate things, fear disappears.

I think that what Krishnamurti is saying is that at the moment at which I am feeling fear, my awareness contains only fear, and I am my awareness. Hence at that moment I am fear. Escape makes no sense then.

AN Whitehead wrote: "But my present experience is what I now am." So if I feel fear in this moment then it makes no sense for the fear to try to escape from itself. It's important to realise that to Krishnamurti the self is transient and insubstantial, a thing of no importance.

Krishnamurti's solution

The key is to look at oneself without the observer. This means not looking "from a centre with all its conclusions of like and dislike, opinion, judgement, the desire to be free of this emptiness and so on." The inner emptiness and loneliness then disappear because:

The mind of the 'me' in all its self-centred activity has created this emptiness, this isolation. And when that mind, without the centre, looks, the self-centred activity ends. Loneliness is not... We see how the mind of the 'me' builds its own desert and its own escapes. When the mind of the 'me' is still, then there is no desert and there is no escape.

The 'me' comes to an end when it sees for itself that it must end; the seeing is the light of understanding.

My thoughts on Krishnamurti

As I read Pupul Jayakar's biography of Jiddu Krishnamurti, I became increasingly aware that his life had been full of contradictions.

His goal was to still the mind and to be inactive, yet he wanted radical change in the outside, as well as the inside world. He wanted not to act yet he acted by default, as the head of a spiritual movement. He denied being a guru yet this is exactly what he was. He railed against all organisations yet he set up one himself. He wanted to end thought yet he is renowned as a thinker.

His creed was to perceive directly without thought. His approach was supposed to be natural, effortless and instant, yet no-one else could apply it. He preached love yet, as far as I could judge, he was isolated from his fellow human beings.

Above all, he sought to end thought. Yet he built an edifice of thought. His central paradox is that he is a thinker who seeks to abolish thought. He wished to abolish all words and symbols, yet that was all he dealt in, as far as his interaction with the world was concerned. This is the most basic contradiction in Krishnamurti's thinking, that he uses symbols to deny the meaning of all symbols. He hopes that by some magic his own words will bypass thought and trigger a direct perception of reality in his listener.

Krishnamurti's thought is abstruse and hard to follow. In fact, to understand him at all, you have to condition yourself to the way in which he thought and to the way he used words. This is totally counter to what he wanted.

He takes language beyond its natural limits. Krishnamurti uses words like 'me', 'love', 'the mind' and 'silence', but gives them meanings that subvert, at a deep level, the process of human communication, which relies on the everyday meanings of these words.

Although he often speaks about love it is never clear what he means by 'love'. In fact, the way he uses the word makes it into a total mystery that is beyond words and thought. That may be very well, but does this have anything to do with what we normally mean by the word 'love'?

When I read a sentence of Krishnamurti, I think, "What does he mean by this?" I try to translate it into ideas I can understand, to relate it to what I know. This is the exact opposite of what Krishnamurti intends. That is why his teaching fails - he simply does not know where the reader or listener is coming from. His own mind is too different from those of other people. Krishnamurti thinks that his words will evoke in his listeners the same realisations that gave rise to his words. This is a very naive approach, one that ignores the deep problems of language and communication. Problems that become particularly acute at the frontiers of human consciousness.

He is also naive in thinking that the perception of a tree is a simple fact given to us by our senses. He contrasts this with what he sees as the secondary reactions of emotion and thought. Referring to his explanation of the self-defeating nature of the self, he asks, "Is this as clear as the tree itself?" This is absurd. How can a highly abstract analysis of the nature of a rarefied abstraction (the self) be 'seen' in the same way as we see a tree? What else can we do with Krishnamurti's abstract thoughts, except to respond at the level of thought, which is not perception.

"When you see a dangerous precipice or are faced by a dangerous animal there is no partial understanding or partial action." What he doesn't realise is that (1) even perception of depth and learning to identify dangers is something we have to learn as children, and (2) we cannot perceive abstractions in the way that we can see things in our physical environment. It is hard to reconcile Krishnamurti's views with the modern understanding of perception, that it is a complex process involving various brain mechanisms and that it relies on past experience. Simply put, that the perception of a tree is not a given but an artefact.

Krishnamurti expects us to grasp an extremely difficult act of mental gymnastics in the same way as we grasp a simple perception. He expects us to perceive abstruse abstractions as if they were concrete realities that can be touched. Perhaps they are directly perceptible to him, but not to me.

Perhaps the central problem in understanding what Krishnamurti says is that he is describing what to him are direct perceptions of reality, whereas to us they are deeply philosophical statements.

He refuses to give any method or answer to the problems he raises, claiming that none is possible. His only solution is bare, unconditioned, choiceless awareness. That is no answer, for I have tried stopping thought and attending to the moment, with no result.

Krishnamurti chides us for not being able to look at a flower without the image, symbol etc. He is right that we see with preconceptions, but after reading Oliver Sacks, on perception I wonder whether Krishnamurti is not trying to win an unwinnable battle. Sacks tells us that the person born blind whose sight is restored does not see a flower. They see only colour and movement, without any shapes or boundaries. It takes an enormous amount of learning, of accumulation in Krishnamurti's terms, to see the flower. The alternative is to make no sense of one's surroundings, to make no sense of anything.

I am uncomfortable with the fact that Krishnamurti did not work one day of his life. He never had to deal with any of the normal problems of life and never had a close friendship, though he had two sexual relationships. He spent his entire 90 years being looked after by others, like a child that must be protected from the world. He sought to find a path to happiness for mankind yet seemed not to be happy himself. If I had not previously read "The Krishnamurti Reader", I wouldn't have continued with the biography, but would have dismissed him as another airy-fairy mystic.

His programme failed. Revolution from within for each individual led nowhere, even for his most dedicated followers. Krishnamurti's injunction to instantaneously see the world as it is, by stripping away all illusion, ie all activity of the 'me', is not practicable.

The basic problem with Krishnamurti is that he was so radical he wanted to get beyond thought altogether, but if you do that then words become useless and communication impossible. He also sought to banish the past, to remove all accumulation. Yet without this we would all be like babies, we could not even speak.

To sum up: Krishnamurti probably had a deeper insight into reality than the rest of us. Yet he was largely unable to communicate this, possibly because it is incommunicable.

Ultimately, Krishnamurti and others of his ilk are saying that we should discard the very qualities that distinguish humans from other animals, ie discursive thought and awareness of being a self.

In fairness to Krishnamurti, I should add that he was not opposed to thinking, nor to science. In fact he esteemed the latter very highly. He is trying to induce us to use thinking when it is needed, and not to use it when it prevents us from relating to other people and to the world. To say that this is a difficult balancing act is an understatement.

Tad Boniecki


The above is just a sample of Krishnamurti's teachings. If you are interested to know more then have a look online and try the links below. If you are serious about his ideas (and have not already reached enlightenment as a result of reading the above) then you should read one of his books. Try "The Urgency of Change" or "The Penguin Krishnamurti Reader". Good luck!

Here is a new theory from Todd Williams that seeks to explain why no-one understands Krishnamurti's thought.

David presents his personal experience of Krishnamurti's teachings plus a unique epiphany that he underwent.

Krishnamurti wrote this statement of his core teachings.

Here is an introduction to Krishnamurti's thought by the eminent physicist David Bohm.

Read the text of a radio programme about Krishnamurti.

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