Wisdom Is Not Accumulation of Knowledge

From Krishnamurti’s Book COMMENTARIES ON LIVING 1

The cabin was high up in the mountains, and to get there one had to cross the wide desert by car, passing through may towns, and through luxuriant orchards and rich farms that had been reclaimed from the desert by irrigation and hard work. One town was especially pleasant with green lawns and big shady trees, for nearby was a river that came down from the distant mountains into the very heart of the desert. Beyond this town, following the cascading river, the road led on towards the snowy peaks. The earth was now rocky, bare and sunburnt, but there were many trees along the river’s banks. The road curved in and out, rising higher and higher, and passing through forests of ancient pines with the scent of the sun among them. The air had become cool and fresh, and soon we arrived at the cabin.

After a couple of days, when it had got used to us, a red-and-black squirrel would come and sit on the window-sill and somewhat scold us. It wanted nuts. Every visitor must have fed it; but now visitors were few, and it was eager to store up for the coming winter. It was a very active, cheerful squirrel, and it was always ready to gather what it could for the many cold and snowy months ahead. Its home was in the hollow of a tree that must have been dead for many years. It would grab a nut, race across to the huge trunk, climb up it noisily, scolding and threatening, disappear into a hole, and then come down again with such speed that one thought it would fall; but it never did. We spent a morning giving it a whole bag of nuts; it became very friendly and would come right into the room, its fur shining and its large beady eyes sparkling. Its claws were sharp, and its tail very bushy. It was a gay, responsible little animal, and it seemed to own the whole neighbourhood, for it kept off all the other squirrels.

He was a pleasant man, and eager for wisdom. He wanted to collect it as that squirrel gathered nuts. Though he was not too well-to-do, he must have travelled a good bit, for he seemed to have met many people in many countries. He had apparently read very extensively also, for he would bring out a phrase or two from some philosopher or saint. He said he could read Greek easily and had a smattering of Sanskrit. He was getting old and was eager to gather wisdom.

Can one gather wisdom?

‘Why not? It is experience that makes a man wise, and knowledge is essential for wisdom.’

Can a man who has accumulated be wise?

‘Life is a process of accumulation, the gradual building up of character, a slow unfoldment. Experience, after all, is the storing up of knowledge. Knowledge is essential for all understanding.’

Does understanding come with knowledge, with experience? Knowledge is the residue of experience, the gathering of the past. Knowledge, consciousness, is always the past; and can the past ever understand? Does not understanding come in those intervals when thought is silent? And can the effort to lengthen or accumulate those silent spaces bring understanding?

‘Without accumulation, we would not be; there would be no continuity of thought, of action. Accumulation is character, accumulation is virtue. We cannot exist without gathering. If I did not know the structure of that motor, I would be unable to understand it; if I did not know the structure of music, I would be unable to appreciate it deeply. Only the shallow enjoy music. To appreciate music, you must know how it is made, put together. Knowing is accumulation. There is no appreciation without knowing the facts. Accumulation of some kind is necessary for understanding, which is wisdom.’

To discover, there must be freedom, must there not? If you are bound, weighed down, you cannot go far. How can there be freedom if there is accumulation of any kind? The man who accumulates, whether money or knowledge, can never be free. You may be free from the acquisitiveness of things, but the greed for knowledge is still bondage, it holds you. If a mind that is tethered to any form of acquisition capable of wandering far and discovering? Is virtue accumulation? Can a mind that is accumulating virtue ever be virtuous? Is not virtue the freedom from becoming? Character may be a bondage too. Virtue can never be a bondage, but all accumulation is.

‘How can there be wisdom without experience?’

Wisdom is one thing, and knowledge another. Knowledge is the accumulation of experience; it is the continuation of experience, which is memory. Memory can be cultivated, strengthened, shaped, conditioned; but is wisdom the extension of memory? Is wisdom that which has continuance? We have knowledge, the accumulation of ages; and why are we not wise, happy, creative? Will knowledge make for bliss? Knowing, which is the accumulation of experience, is not experiencing. Knowing prevents experiencing. The accumulation of experience is a continuous process, and each experience strengthens this process; each experience strengthens memory, gives life to it. Without this constant reaction of memory, memory would soon fade away. Thought is memory, the word, the accumulation of experience. Memory is the past, as consciousness is. This whole burden of the past is the mind, is thought. Thought is the accumulated; and how can thought ever be free to discover the new? It must end for the new to be.

‘I can comprehend this up to a point; but without thought, how can there be understanding?’

Is understanding a process of the past, or is it always in the present? Understanding means action in the present. Have you not noticed that understanding is in the instant, that it is not of time? Do you understand gradually? Understanding is always immediate, now, is it not? Thought is the outcome of the past; it is founded on the past, it is a response of the past. The past is the accumulated, and thought is the response of the accumulation. How, then, can thought ever understand? Is understanding a conscious process? Do you deliberately set out to understand? Do you choose to enjoy the beauty of an evening?

‘But is not understanding a conscious effort?’ What do we mean by consciousness? When are you conscious? Is consciousness not the response to challenge, to stimulus, pleasant or painful? This response to challenge is experience. Experience is naming, terming, association. Without naming, there would be no experience, would there? This whole process of challenge, response, naming, experience, is consciousness, is it not? Consciousness is always a process of the past. Conscious effort, the will to understand, to gather, the will to be, is a continuation of the past, perhaps modified, but still of the past. When we make an effort to be or to become something, that something is the projection of ourselves. When we make a conscious effort to understand, we are hearing the noise of our own accumulations. It is this noise that prevents understanding.

‘Then what is wisdom?’

Wisdom is when knowledge ends. Knowledge has continuity; without continuity there is no knowledge. That which has continuity can never be free, the new. There is freedom only to that which has an ending. Knowledge can never be new, it is always becoming the old. The old is ever absorbing the new and thereby gaining strength. The old must cease for the new to be. “You are saying, in other words, that thought must end for wisdom to be.

‘But how is thought to end?’

There is no ending to thought through any kind of discipline, practice, compulsion. The thinker is the thought, and he cannot operate upon himself; when he does, it is only a self-deception. He is thought, he is not separate from thought; he may assume that he is different, pretend to be dissimilar, but that is only the craftiness of thought to give itself permanency. When thought attempts to end thought it only strengthens itself. Do what it will, thought cannot end itself. It is only when the truth of this is seen that thought comes to an end. There is freedom only in seeing the truth of what is, and wisdom is the perception of that truth. The what is is never static, and to be passively watchful of it there must be freedom from all accumulation.