Self-knowledge Is the Beginning of Freedom


Many of us seem to think that by teaching every human being to read and write, we shall solve our human problems; but this idea has proved to be false. The so-called educated are not peace-loving, integrated people, and they too are responsible for the confusion and misery of the world.

The right kind of education means the awakening of intelligence, the fostering of an integrated life, and only such education can create a new culture and a peaceful world; but to bring about this new kind of education, we must make a fresh start on an entirely different basis.

With the world falling into ruin about us, we discuss theories and vain political questions, and play with superficial reforms. Does this not indicate utter thoughtlessness on our part? Some may agree that it does, but they will go on doing exactly as they have always done – and that is the sadness of existence. When we hear a truth and do not act upon it, it becomes a poison within ourselves, and that poison spreads, bringing psychological disturbances, unbalance and ill health. Only when creative intelligence is awakened in the individual is there a possibility of a peaceful and happy life.

We cannot be intelligent by merely substituting one government for another, one party or class for another, one exploiter for another. Bloody revolution can never solve our problems. Only a profound inward revolution which alters all our values can create a different environment, an intelligent social structure, and such a revolution can be brought about only by you and me. No new order will arise until we individually break down our own psychological barriers and are free.

On paper we can draw the blueprints for a brilliant Utopia, a brave new world; but the sacrifice of the present to an unknown future will certainly never solve any of our problems. There are so many elements intervening between now and the future, that no man can know what the future will be. What we can and must do if we are in earnest, is to tackle our problems now, and not postpone them to the future. Eternity is not in the future; eternity is now. Our problems exist in the present, and it is only in the present that they can be solved.

Those of us who are serious must regenerate ourselves; but there can be regeneration only when we break away from those values which we have created through our self-protective and aggressive desires. Self-knowledge is the beginning of freedom, and it is only when we know ourselves that we can bring about order and peace.

Now, some may ask, ‘What can a single individual do that will affect history? Can he accomplish anything at all by the way he lives?’ Certainly he can. You and I are obviously not going to stop the immediate wars, or create an instantaneous understanding between nations; but at least we can bring about, in the world of our everyday relationships, a fundamental change which will have its own effect.

Individual enlightenment does affect large groups of people, but only if one is not eager for results. If one thinks in terms of gain and effect, right transformation of oneself is not possible.

Human problems are not simple, they are very complex. To understand them requires patience and insight, and it is of the highest importance that we as individuals understand and resolve them for ourselves. They are not to be understood through easy formulas or slogans; nor can they be solved at their own level by specialists working along a particular line, which only leads to further confusion and misery. Our many problems can be understood and resolved only when we are aware of ourselves as a total process, that is, when we understand our whole psychological make-up; and no religious or political leader can give us the key to that understanding.

To understand ourselves, we must be aware of our relationship, not only with people, but also with property, with ideas and with nature. If we are to bring about a true revolution in human relationship, which is the basis of all society, there must be a fundamental change in our own values and outlook; but we avoid the necessary and fundamental transformation of ourselves, and try to bring about political revolutions in the world, which always leads to bloodshed and disaster.

Relationship based on sensation can never be a means of release from the self; yet most of our relationships are based on sensation, they are the outcome of our desire for personal advantage, for comfort, for psychological security. Though they may offer us a momentary escape from the self, such relationships only give strength to the self, with its enclosing and binding activities. Relationship is a mirror in which the self and all its activities can be seen; and it is only when the ways of the self are understood in the reactions of relationship that there is creative release from the self.

To transform the world, there must be regeneration within ourselves. Nothing can be achieved by violence, by the easy liquidation of one another. We may find a temporary release by joining groups, by studying methods of social and economic reform, by enacting legislation, or by praying; but do what we will, without self-knowledge and the love that is inherent in it, our problems will ever expand and multiply. Whereas, if we apply our minds and hearts to the task of knowing ourselves, we shall undoubtedly solve our many conflicts and sorrows.

Modern education is making us into thoughtless entities; it does very little towards helping us to find our individual vocation. We pass certain examinations and then, with luck, we get a job – which often means endless routine for the rest of our life. We may dislike our job, but we are forced to continue with it because we have no other means of livelihood. We may want to do something entirely different, but commitments and responsibilities hold us down, and we are hedged in by our own anxieties and fears. Being frustrated, we seek escape through sex, drink, politics or fanciful religion.

When our ambitions are thwarted, we give undue importance to that which should be normal, and we develop a psychological twist. Until we have a comprehensive understanding of our life and love, of our political, religious and social desires, with their demands and hindrances, we shall have ever-increasing problems in our relationships, leading us to misery and destruction.

Ignorance is lack of knowledge of the ways of the self, and this ignorance cannot be dissipated by superficial activities and reforms; it can be dissipated only by one’s constant awareness of the movements and responses of the self in all its relationships.

What we must realize is that we are not only conditioned by environment, but that we are the environment – we are not something apart from it. Our thoughts and responses are conditioned by the values which society, of which we are a part, has imposed upon us.

We never see that we are the total environment because there are several entities in us, all revolving around the ‘me’, the self. The self is made up of these entities, which are merely desires in various forms. From this conglomeration of desires arises the central figure, the thinker, the will of the ‘me’ and the ‘mine; and a division is thus established between the self and the not-self, between the ‘me’ and the environment or society. This separation is the beginning of conflict, inward and outward.

Awareness of this whole process, both the conscious and the hidden, is meditation; and through this meditation the self, with its desires and conflicts, is transcended. Self-knowledge is necessary if one is to be free of the influences and values that give shelter to the self; and in this freedom alone is there creation, truth, God, or what you will.

Opinion and tradition mould our thoughts and feelings from the tenderest age. The immediate influences and impressions produce an effect which is powerful and lasting, and which shapes the whole course of our conscious and unconscious life. Conformity begins in childhood through education and the impact of society.

The desire to imitate is a very strong factor in our life, not only at the superficial levels, but also profoundly. We have hardly any independent thoughts and feelings. When they do occur, they are mere reactions, and are therefore not free from the established pattern; for there is no freedom in reaction.

Philosophy and religion lay down certain methods whereby we can come to the realization of truth or God; yet merely to follow a method is to remain thoughtless and unintegrated, however beneficial the method may seem to be in our daily social life. The urge to conform, which is the desire for security, breeds fear and brings to the fore the political and religious authorities, the leaders and heroes who encourage subservience and by whom we are subtly or grossly dominated; but not to conform is only a reaction against authority, and in no way helps us to become integrated human beings. Reaction is endless, it only leads to further reaction.

Conformity, with its undercurrent of fear, is a hindrance; but mere intellectual recognition of this fact will not resolve the hindrance. It is only when we are aware of hindrances with our whole being that we can be free of them without creating further and deeper blockages.

When we are inwardly dependent, then tradition has a great hold on us; and a mind that thinks along traditional lines cannot discover that which is new. By conforming we become mediocre imitators, cogs in a cruel social machine. It is what we think that matters, not what others want us to think. When we conform to tradition, we soon become mere copies of what we should be.

This imitation of what we should be, breeds fear; and fear kills creative thinking. Fear dulls the mind and heart so that we are not alert to the whole significance of life; we become insensitive to our own sorrows, to the movement of the birds, to the smiles and miseries of others.

Conscious and unconscious fear has many different causes, and it needs alert watchfulness to be rid of them all. Fear cannot be eliminated through discipline, sublimation, or through any other act of will: its causes have to be searched out and understood. This needs patience and an awareness in which there is no judgment of any kind.

It is comparatively easy to understand and dissolve our conscious fears. But unconscious fears are not even discovered by most of us, for we do not allow them to come to the surface; and when on rare occasions they do come to the surface, we hasten to cover them up, to escape from them. Hidden fears often make their presence known through dreams and other forms of intimation, and they cause greater deterioration and conflict than do the superficial fears.

Our lives are not just on the surface, their greater part is concealed from casual observation. If we would have our obscure fears come into the open and dissolve, the conscious mind must be somewhat still, not everlastingly occupied; then, as these fears come to the surface, they must be observed without let or hindrance, for any form of condemnation or justification only strengthens fear. To be free from all fear, we must be awake to its darkening influence, and only constant watchfulness can reveal its many causes.

One of the results of fear is the acceptance of authority in human affairs. Authority is created by our desire to be right, to be secure, to be comfortable, to have no conscious conflicts or disturbances; but nothing which results from fear can help us to understand our problems, even though fear may take the form of respect and submission to the so-called wise. The wise wield no authority, and those in authority are not wise. Fear in whatever form prevents the understanding of ourselves and of our relationship to all things.

The following of authority is the denial of intelligence. To accept authority is to submit to domination to subjugate oneself to an individual, to a group, or to an ideology, whether religious or political; and this subjugation of oneself to authority is the denial, not only of intelligence, but also of individual freedom. Compliance with a creed or a system of ideas is a self-protective reaction. The acceptance of authority may help us temporarily to cover up our difficulties and problems; but to avoid a problem is only to intensify it, and in the process, self-knowledge and freedom are abandoned.

How can there be compromise between freedom and the acceptance of authority? If there is compromise, then those who say they are seeking self-knowledge and freedom are not earnest in their endeavour. We seem to think that freedom is an ultimate end, a goal, and that in order to become free we must first submit ourselves to various forms of suppression and intimidation. We hope to achieve freedom through conformity; but are not the means as important as the end? Do not the means shape the end?

To have peace, one must employ peaceful means; for if the means are violent, how can the end be peaceful? If the end is freedom, the beginning must be free, for the end and the beginning are one. There can be self-knowledge and intelligence only when there is freedom at the very outset; and freedom is denied by the acceptance of authority.

We worship authority in various forms: knowledge, success, power, and so on. We exert authority on the young, and at the same time we are afraid of superior authority. When man himself has no inward vision, outward power and position assume vast importance, and then the individual is more and more subject to authority and compulsion, he becomes the instrument of others. We can see this process going on around us: in moments of crisis, the democratic nations act like the totalitarian, forgetting their democracy and forcing man to conform.

If we can understand the compulsion behind our desire to dominate or to be dominated, then perhaps we can be free from the crippling effects of authority. We crave to be certain, to be right, to be successful, to know; and this desire for certainty, for permanence, builds up within ourselves the authority of personal experience, while outwardly it creates the authority of society, of the family, of religion, and so on. But merely to ignore authority, to shake off its outward symbols, is of very little significance.

To break away from one tradition and conform to another, to leave this leader and follow that, is but a superficial gesture. If we are to be aware of the whole process of authority, if we are to see the inwardness of it, if we are to understand and transcend the desire for certainty, then we must have extensive awareness and insight, we must be free, not at the end, but at the beginning.

The craving for certainty, for security is one of the major activities of the self, and it is this compelling urge that has to be constantly watched, and not merely twisted or forced in another direction, or made to conform to a desired pattern. The self, the ‘me’ and the ‘mine,’ is very strong in most of us; sleeping or waking, it is ever alert, always strengthening itself. But when there is an awareness of the self and a realization that all its activities, however subtle, must inevitably lead to conflict and pain, then the craving for certainty, for self-continuance comes to an end. One has to be constantly watchful for the self to reveal its ways and tricks; but when we begin to understand them, and to understand the implications of authority and all that is involved in our acceptance and denial of it, then we are already disentangling ourselves from authority.

As long as the mind allows itself to be dominated and controlled by the desire for its own security, there can be no release from the self and its problems; and that is why there is no release from the self through dogma and organized belief, which we call religion. Dogma and belief are only projections of our own mind. The rituals, the puja, the accepted forms of meditation, the constantly-repeated words and phrases, though they may produce certain gratifying responses, do not free the mind from the self and its activities; for the self is essentially the outcome of sensation.

In moments of sorrow, we turn to what we call God, which is but an image of our own minds; or we find gratifying explanations, and this gives us temporary comfort. The religions that we follow are created by our hopes and fears, by our desire for inward security and reassurance; and with the worship of authority, whether it is that of a saviour, a master or a priest, there come submission, acceptance and imitation. So, we are exploited in the name of God, as we are exploited in the name of parties and ideologies – and we go on suffering.

We are all human beings, by whatever name we may call ourselves, and suffering is our lot. Sorrow is common to all of us, to the idealist and to the materialist. Idealism is an escape from what is, and materialism is another way of denying the measureless depths of the present. Both the idealist and the materialist have their own ways of avoiding the complex problem of suffering; both are consumed by their own cravings, ambitions and conflicts, and their ways of life are not conducive to tranquillity. They are both responsible for the confusion and misery of the world.

Now, when we are in a state of conflict, of suffering, there is no comprehension: in that state, however cunningly and carefully thought out our action may be, it can only lead to further confusion and sorrow. To understand conflict and so to be free from it, there must be an awareness of the ways of the conscious and of the unconscious mind.

No idealism, no system or pattern of any kind, can help us to unravel the deep workings of the mind; on the contrary, any formulation or conclusion will hinder their discovery. The pursuit of what should be, the attachment to principles, to ideals, the establishment of a goal – all this leads to many illusions. If we are to know ourselves, there must be a certain spontaneity, a freedom to observe, and this is not possible when the mind is enclosed in the superficial, in idealistic or materialistic values.

Existence is relationship; and whether we belong to an organized religion or not, whether we are worldly or caught up in ideals, our suffering can be resolved only through the understanding of ourselves in relationship. Self-knowledge alone can bring tranquillity and happiness to man, for self-knowledge is the beginning of intelligence and integration. Intelligence is not mere superficial adjustment; it is not the cultivation of the mind, the acquisition of knowledge. Intelligence is the capacity to understand the ways of life, it is the perception of right values.

Modern education, in developing the intellect, offers more and more theories and facts, without bringing about the understanding of the total process of human existence. We are highly intellectual; we have developed cunning minds, and are caught up in explanations. The intellect is satisfied with theories and explanations, but intelligence is not; and for the understanding of the total process of existence, there must be an integration of the mind and heart in action. Intelligence is not separate from love.

For most of us, to accomplish this inward revolution is extremely arduous. We know how to meditate, how to play the piano, how to write, but we have no knowledge of the meditator, the player, the writer. We are not creators, for we have filled our hearts and minds with knowledge, information and arrogance; we are full of quotations from what others have thought or said. But experiencing comes first, not the way of experiencing. There must be love before there can be the expression of love.

It is clear, then, that merely to cultivate the intellect, which is to develop capacity or knowledge, does not result in intelligence. There is a distinction between intellect and intelligence. Intellect is thought functioning independently of emotion, whereas, intelligence is the capacity to feel as well as to reason; and until we approach life with intelligence, instead of intellect alone, or with emotion alone, no political or educational system in the world can save us from the toils of chaos and destruction.

Knowledge is not comparable with intelligence, knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not marketable, it is not a merchandise that can be bought with the price of learning or discipline. Wisdom cannot be found in books; it cannot be accumulated, memorized or stored up. Wisdom comes with the abnegation of the self. To have an open mind is more important than learning; and we can have an open mind, not by cramming it full of information, but by being aware of our own thoughts and feelings, by carefully observing ourselves and the influences about us, by listening to others, by watching the rich and the poor, the powerful and the lowly. Wisdom does not come through fear and oppression, but through the observation and understanding of everyday incidents in human relationship.

In our search for knowledge, in our acquisitive desires, we are losing love, we are blunting the feeling for beauty, the sensitivity to cruelty; we are becoming more and more specialized and less and less integrated. Wisdom cannot be replaced by knowledge, and no amount of explanation, no accumulation of facts, will free man from suffering. Knowledge is necessary, science has its place; but if the mind and heart are suffocated by knowledge, and if the cause of suffering is explained away, life becomes vain and meaningless. And is this not what is happening to most of us? Our education is making us more and more shallow; it is not helping us to uncover the deeper layers of our being, and our lives are increasingly disharmonious and empty.

Information, the knowledge of facts, though ever increasing, is by its very nature limited. Wisdom is infinite, it includes knowledge and the way of action; but we take hold of a branch and think it is the whole tree. Through the knowledge of the part, we can never realize the joy of the whole. Intellect can never lead to the whole, for it is only a segment, a part.

We have separated intellect from feeling, and have developed intellect at the expense of feeling. We are like a three-legged object with one leg much longer than the others, and we have no balance. We are trained to be intellectual; our education cultivates the intellect to be sharp, cunning, acquisitive, and so it plays the most important role in our life. Intelligence is much greater than intellect, for it is the integration of reason and love; but there can be intelligence only when there is self-knowledge, the deep understanding of the total process of oneself.

What is essential for man, whether young or old, is to live fully, integrally, and that is why our major problem is the cultivation of that intelligence which brings integration. Undue emphasis on any part of our total make-up gives a partial and therefore distorted view of life, and it is this distortion which is causing most of our difficulties. Any partial development of our whole temperament is bound to be disastrous both for ourselves and for society, and so it is really very important that we approach our human problems with an integrated point of view.

To be an integrated human being is to understand the entire process of one’s own consciousness, both the hidden and the open. This is not possible if we give undue emphasis to the intellect. We attach great importance to the cultivation of the mind, but inwardly we are insufficient, poor and confused. This living in the intellect is the way of disintegration; for ideas, like beliefs, can never bring people together except in conflicting groups.

As long as we depend on thought as a means of integration, there must be disintegration; and to understand the disintegrating action of thought is to be aware of the ways of the self, the ways of one’s own desire. We must be aware of our conditioning and its responses, both collective and personal. It is only when one is fully aware of the activities of the self with its contradictory desires and pursuits, its hopes and fears, that there is a possibility of going beyond the self.

Only love and right thinking will bring about true revolution, the revolution within ourselves. But how are we to have love? Not through the pursuit of the ideal of love, but only when there is no hatred, when there is no greed, when the sense of self, which is the cause of antagonism, comes to an end. A man who is caught up in the pursuits of exploitation, of greed, of envy, can never love.

Without love and right thinking, oppression and cruelty will ever be on the increase. The problem of man’s antagonism to man can be solved, not by pursuing the ideal of peace, but by understanding the causes of war which lie in our attitude towards life, towards our fellow-beings; and this understanding can come about only through the right kind of education. Without a change of heart, without goodwill, without the inward transformation which is born of self-awareness, there can be no peace, no happiness for man.