Ideas Are Always of the Past

From Krishnamurti’s Book FREEDOM FROM THE KNOWN

Let us go into the question of what is thinking, the significance of that thought which must be exercised with care, logic and sanity (for our daily work) and that which has no significance at all. Unless we know the two kinds, we cannot possibly understand something much deeper which thought cannot touch. So let us try to understand this whole complex structure of what is thinking, what is memory, how thought originates, how thought conditions all our actions; and in understanding all this we shall perhaps come across something which thought has never discovered, which thought cannot open the door to.

Why has thought become so important in all our lives – thought being ideas, being the response to the accumulated memories in the brain cells? Perhaps many of you have not even asked such a question before, or if you have you may have said, ‘It’s of very little importance – what is important is emotion.’ But I don’t see how you can separate the two. If thought doesn’t give continuity to feeling, feeling dies very quickly. So why in our daily lives, in our grinding, boring, frightened lives, has thought taken on such inordinate importance? Ask yourself as I am asking myself – why is one a slave to thought – cunning, clever, thought which can organize, which can start things, which has invented so much, bred so many wars, created so much fear, so much anxiety, which is forever making images and chasing its own tail – thought which has enjoyed the pleasure of yesterday and given that pleasure continuity in the present and also in the future – thought which is always active, chattering, moving, constructing, taking away, adding, supposing?

Ideas have become far more important to us than action – ideas so cleverly expressed in books by the intellectuals in every field. The more cunning, the more subtle, those ideas are the more we worship them and the books that contain them. We are those books, we are those ideas, so heavily conditioned are we by them. We are forever discussing ideas and ideals and dialectically offering opinions. Every religion has its dogma, its formula, its own scaffold to reach the gods, and when inquiring into the beginning of thought we are questioning the importance of this whole edifice of ideas. We have separated ideas from action because ideas are always of the past and action is always the present – that is, living is always the present. We are afraid of living and therefore the past, as ideas, has become so important to us.

It is really extraordinarily interesting to watch the operation of one’s own thinking, just to observe how one thinks, where that reaction we call thinking, springs from. Obviously from memory. Is there a beginning to thought at all? If there is, can we find out its beginning – that is, the beginning of memory, because if we had no memory we would have no thought?

We have seen how thought sustains and gives continuity to a pleasure that we had yesterday and how thought also sustains the reverse of pleasure which is fear and pain, so the experiencer, who is the thinker, is the pleasure and the pain and also the entity who gives nourishment to the pleasure and pain. The thinker separates pleasure from pain. He doesn’t see that in the very demand for pleasure he is inviting pain and fear. Thought in human relation. ships is always demanding pleasure which it covers by different words like loyalty, helping, giving, sustaining, serving. I wonder why we want to serve? The petrol station offers good service. What do those words mean, to help, to give, to serve? What is it all about? Does a flower full of beauty, light and loveliness say, ‘I am giving, helping, serving’? It is! And because it is not trying to do anything it covers the earth.

Thought is so cunning, so clever, that it distorts everything for its own convenience. Thought in its demand for pleasure brings its own bondage. Thought is the breeder of duality in all our relationships: there is violence in us which gives us pleasure but there is also the desire for peace, the desire to be kind and gentle. This is what is going on all the time in all our lives. Thought not only breeds this duality in us, this contradiction, but it also accumulates the innumerable memories we have had of pleasure and pain, and from these memories it is reborn. So thought is the past, thought is always old, as I have already said.

As every challenge is met in terms of the past – a challenge being always new – our meeting of the challenge will always be totally inadequate, hence contradiction, conflict and all the misery and sorrow we are heir to. Our little brain is in conflict whatever it does. Whether it aspires, imitates, conforms, suppresses, sublimates, takes drugs to expand itself – whatever it does – it is in a state of conflict and will produce conflict.

Those who think a great deal are very materialistic because thought is matter. Thought is matter as much as the floor, the wall, the telephone, are matter. Energy functioning in a pattern becomes matter. There is energy and there is matter. That is all life is. We may think thought is not matter but it is. Thought is matter as an ideology. Where there is energy it becomes matter. Matter and energy are interrelated. The one cannot exist without the other, and the more harmony there is between the two, the more balance, the more active the brain cells are. Thought has set up this pattern of pleasure, pain, fear, and has been functioning inside it for thousands of years and cannot break the pattern because it has created it.

A new fact cannot be seen by thought. It can be understood later by thought, verbally, but the understanding of a new fact is not reality to thought. Thought can never solve any psychological problem. However clever, however cunning, however erudite, whatever the structure thought creates through science, through an electronic brain, through compulsion or necessity, thought is never new and therefore it can never answer any tremendous question. The old brain cannot solve the enormous problem of living.

Thought is crooked because it can invent anything and see things that are not there. It can perform the most extraordinary tricks, and therefore it cannot be depended upon. But if you understand the whole structure of how you think, why you think, the words you use, the way you behave in your daily life, the way you talk to people, the way you treat people, the way you walk, the way you eat – if you are aware of all these things then your mind will not deceive you, then there is nothing to be deceived. The mind then is not something that demands, that subjugates; it becomes extraordinarily quiet, pliable, sensitive, alone, and in that state there is no deception whatsoever.

Have you ever noticed that when you are in a state of complete attention the observer, the thinker, the centre, the ‘me’, comes to an end? In that state of attention thought begins to wither away.

If one wants to see a thing very clearly, one’s mind must be very quiet, without all the prejudices, the chattering, the dialogue, the images, the pictures – all that must be put aside to look. And it is only in silence that you can observe the beginning of thought – not when you are searching, asking questions, waiting for a reply. So it is only when you are completely quiet, right through your being, having put that question, ‘What is the beginning of thought?’, that you will begin to see, out of that silence, how thought takes shape.

If there is an awareness of how thought begins then there is no need to control thought. We spend a great deal of time and waste a great deal of energy all through our lives, not only at school, trying to control our thoughts – ‘This is a good thought, I must think about it a lot. This is an ugly thought, I must suppress it.’ There is a battle going on all the time between one thought and another, one desire and another, one pleasure dominating all other pleasures. But if there is an awareness of the beginning of thought, then there is no contradiction in thought.

Now when you hear a statement like ‘Thought is always old’ or ‘Time is sorrow’, thought begins to translate it and interpret it. But the translation and interpretation are based on yesterday’s knowledge and experience, so you will invariably translate according to your conditioning. But if you look at the statements and do not interpret them all but just give them your complete attention (not concentration) you will find there is neither the observer nor the observed, neither the thinker nor the thought. Don’t say, ‘Which began first?’ That is a clever argument which leads nowhere. You can observe in yourself that as long as there is no thought – which doesn’t mean a state of amnesia, of blankness – as long as there is no thought derived from memory, experience or knowledge, which are all of the past, there is no thinker at all. This is not a philosophical or mystical affair. We are dealing with actual facts, and you will see, if you have gone this far in the journey, that you will respond to a challenge, not with the old brain, but totally anew.