Action Without Purpose

From Krishnamurti’s Book COMMENTARIES ON LIVING 1

He belonged to various and widely different organizations, and was active in them all. He wrote and talked, collected money, organized. He was aggressive, insistent and effective. He was a very useful person, much in demand, and was forever going up and down the land. He had been through the political agitations, had gone to prison, followed the leaders, and now he was becoming an important person in his own right. He was all for the immediate carrying out of great schemes; and like all these educated people, he was versed in philosophy. He said he was a man of action, and not a contemplative; he used a Sanskrit phrase which was intended to convey a whole philosophy of action. The very assertion that he was a man of action implied that he was one of the essential elements of life – perhaps not he personally, but the type. He had classified himself and thereby blocked the understanding of himself.

Labels seem to give satisfaction. We kept the category to which we are supposed to belong as a satisfying explanation of life. We are worshippers of words and labels; we never seem to go beyond the symbol, to comprehend the worth of the symbol. By calling ourselves this or that, we ensure ourselves against further disturbance, and settle back. One of the curses of ideologies and organized beliefs is the comfort, the deadly gratification they offer. They put us to sleep, and in the sleep we dream, and the dream becomes action. How easily we are distracted! And most of us want to be distracted; most of us are tired out with incessant conflict, and distractions become a necessity, they become more important than what is. We can play with distractions, but not with what is; distractions are illusions, and there is a perverse delight in them.

What is action? What is the process of action? Why do we act? Mere activity is not action, surely; to keep busy is not action, is it? The housewife is busy, and would you call that action? ‘No, of course not. She is only concerned with everyday, petty affairs. A man of action is occupied with larger problems and responsibilities. Occupation with wider and deeper issues may be called action, not only political but spiritual. It demands capacity, efficiency, organized efforts a sustained drive towards a purpose. Such a man is not a contemplative, a mystic, a hermit, he is a man of action.’

Occupation with wider issues you would call action. What are wider issues? Are they separate from everyday existence? Is action apart from the total process of life? Is there action when there is no integration of all the many layers of existence? Without understanding and so integrating the total process of life, is not action mere destructive activity? Man is a total process, and action must be the outcome of this totality.

‘But that would imply not only inaction, but indefinite postponement. There is an urgency of action, and it is no good philosophizing about it.’ We are not philosophizing, but only wondering if your so-called action is not doing infinite harm. Reform always needs further reform. Partial action is no action at all, it brings about disintegration. If you will have the patience, we can find now, not in the future, that action which is total, integrated. Can purposive action be called action? To have a purpose, an ideal, and work towards it – is that action? When action is for a result, is it action?

‘How else can you act?’ You call action that which has a result, an end in view, do you not? You plan the end, or you have an idea, a belief, and work towards it. Working towards an object, an end, a goal, factual or psychological, is what is generally called action. This process can be understood in relation to some physical fact, such as building a bridge; but is it as easily understood with regard to psychological purposes? Surely, we are talking of the psychological purpose, the ideology, the ideal, or the belief towards which you are working. Would you call action this working towards a psychological purpose?

‘Action without a purpose is no action at all, it is death. Inaction is death.’ Inaction is not the opposite of action, it is quite a different state, but for the moment that is irrelevant; we may discuss that later, but let us come back to our point. Working towards an end, an ideal, is generally called action, is it not? But how does the ideal come into being?, Is it entirely different from what is). Is antithesis different and apart from thesis? Is the ideal of non-violence wholly other than violence? Is not the ideal self-projected? Is it not homemade? In acting towards a purpose, an ideal, you are pursuing a self-projection, are you not?

‘Is the ideal a self-projection?’ You are this, and you want to become that. Surely, that is the outcome of your thought. It may not be the outcome of your own thought, but it is born of thought, is it not? Thought projects the ideal; the ideal is part of thought. The ideal is not something beyond thought; it is thought itself. ‘What’s wrong with thought? Why shouldn’t thought create the ideal?’ You are this, which does not satisfy, so you want to be that. If there were an understanding of this, would that come into being? Because you do not understand this, you create that, hoping through that to understand or to escape from this. Thought creates the ideal as well as the problem; the ideal is a self-projection, and your working towards that self-projection is what you call action, action with a purpose. So your action is within the limits of your own projection, whether God or the State. This movement within your own bounds is the activity of the dog chasing its tail; and is that action?

‘But is it possible to act without a purpose?’ Of course it is. If you see the truth of action with a purpose, then there is just action. Such action is the only effective action, it is the only radical revolution. ‘You mean action without the self, don’t you?’ Yes, action without the idea. The idea is the self identified with God or with the State. Such identified action only creates more conflict, more confusion and misery. But it is hard for the man of so-called action to put aside the idea. Without the ideology he feels lost, and he is; so he is not a man of action, but a man caught in his own self-projections whose activities are the glorification of himself. His activities contribute to separation, to disintegration.

‘Then what is one to do?’ Understand what your activity is, and only then is there action.