On Good and Evil


Alain Naudé: Do good and evil really exist, or are they simply conditioned points of view? Is there such a thing as evil and if so what is it? Is there such a thing as sin? And is there such a thing as goodness? And what is it to be really and deeply good?

KRISHNAMURTI: I was thinking this morning on the same theme as your questions imply, whether there is an absolute good and absolute evil: as the Christian idea of sin and the Asiatic idea of Karma – as action which breeds more misery and more sorrow and yet out of that conflict of sorrow and pain a goodness is born. I was thinking about it the other day when I saw on the television some men killing baby seals. It is a terrible thing; I turned my head away quickly. Killing has always been wrong, not only human beings but animals. And religious people, not the people who believe in religion, but the really religious mind, has always shunned every form of killing. Of course, when you eat a vegetable you are killing – a vegetable – but that is the least form of killing and the simplest form of survival: I wouldn’t call that killing.

One has watched in India, in Europe, and in America the acceptance of killing in war, in organized murder, which war is. Also ‘killing’ people with words, with a gesture, with a look, with contempt: this form of killing has also been decried by religious people. But in spite of it all, killing has been going on – killing, violence, brutality, arrogance, aggressiveness – all ultimately leading, in action or in thought, to hurting, to brutalizing others. Also one has seen those ancient caves in North Africa and in the South of France where man is shown fighting animals, where perhaps fighting evil is understood. Or is it fighting as a form of amusement, to kill something, to overcome? So when one looks at all this, one asks if there is such a thing as evil in itself, totally devoid of the good; and what is the distance between evil and good. Is evil the diminution of good, slowly ending in evil? Or is good the diminution of evil, gradually becoming good? That is, through the time interval, moving from goodness to evil, and from evil to good?

Naudé: You mean are they two ends of the same stick?

Krishnamurti: Two ends of the same stick – or are they two wholly separate things? So what is evil and what is good? The Christian world, the Inquisition, used to burn people for heresy, considering that was good.

Naudé: Communists do the same.

Krishnamurti: Communists do it in their own way: for the good of the community, for the good of society, for the good of an economic well-being for the whole of man, and so on. In Asia too they have done all this kind of thing in various forms. But there has always been a group, until recently, where killing in any form was considered evil. Now all that is slowly disappearing, for economic and cultural reasons.

Naudé: You mean the group that avoids killing…

Krishnamurti: …is gradually disappearing. So there it is. Now is there such a thing as absolute good, and absolute evil? is it a gradation: relative goodness and relative evil?

Naudé: And do they exist as facts outside of conditioned points view? For instance, for the Frenchman during the war the invading German was evil; and similarly for the German, the German soldier was good, he represented protection. Now is re a good and an evil, absolutely? Or is it simply the result conditioned point of view?

Krishnamurti: Is goodness dependent on the environment, on culture, on economic conditions? And if it is, is it good? Can goodness flower as an environmental, cultural condition, and is evil also the result of environmental culture? Does it function within that frame, or does it function outside it? these questions are implied when we ask: is there an absolute goodness and absolute evil?

Naudé: Right.

Krishnamurti: First of all, what is goodness? Isn’t the word ‘goodness’ related to the word ‘God’? God being the highest form of the good, truth, excellence, and the capacity to express in relationship that quality of godliness, which is goodness; and anything opposite that is considered evil. If goodness is related to God, then evil is related to the devil. The devil being the ugly, the dark, the…

Naudé: …the twisted…

Krishnamurti: …the distorted, the purposefully directed harmful, such as the desire to hurt – all that is contrary to the good; that is, the idea of God being good and the devil being the evil – right? Now I think we have more or less indicated what is good and what is evil. So we are asking if there is such a thing as absolute good and absolute, irrevocable evil.

Naudé: Evil as a fact, as a thing.

Krishnamurti: Therefore let us first examine if there is absolute good. Not in the sense of goodness being related to God, or approximating itself to the idea of God, because then that goodness becomes merely speculative. Because God to most people is really a pretence of a belief in something – something excellent, noble.

Naudé: Felicity?

Krishnamurti: Felicity and so on. Now what is good? I feel goodness is total order. Not only outwardly, but especially inwardly. I think that order can be absolute, as in mathematics I believe there is complete order. And it is disorder that leads to chaos, to destruction, to anarchy, to the so-called evil.

Naudé: Yes.

Krishnamurti: Whereas total order in one’s being, order in the mind, order in one’s heart, order in one’s physical activities – the harmony between the three is goodness.

Naudé: The Greeks used to say that perfected man had attuned in total harmony his mind, his heart and his body.

Krishnamurti: Quite. So we shall say for the moment that goodness is absolute order. And as most human beings live in disorder they contribute to every form of mischief, which ultimately leads to destruction, to brutality, to violence, to various injuries, both psychic and physical. For all that one word may be used: ‘evil’. But I don’t like that word ‘evil’ because it is loaded with Christian meaning, with condemnation and prejudice.

Naudé: Conditioning.

Krishnamurti: That’s right. In India and in Asia the words ‘evil’, ‘sin’, are always loaded – as ‘goodness’ is always loaded. So could we brush away all the accumulations around these words and look at it as though anew. That is: is there absolute order in oneself? Can this absolute order be brought about in oneself and therefore in the outer world? Because the world is me, and I am the world; my consciousness is the consciousness of the world, and the consciousness of the world is me. So when there is order within the human being then there is order in the world. Now can this order, right through, be absolute? Which means: order in the mind, in the heart and in the bodily activities. That is, complete harmony. How can this be brought about? That is one point.

Then the other point is: is order something to be copied according to a design? Is order pre-established by thought, by the intellect, and copied in action by the heart? Or in relationship? So is order a blueprint? How is this order to be brought about?

Naudé: Right.

Krishnamurti: Order is virtue. And disorder is non-virtue, is harmful, is destructive, is impure – if we can use that word.

Naudé: One thinks of the Sanskrit word ‘Adharma’.

Krishnamurti: Adharma, yes. So is order something put together according to a design drawn by knowledge, thought? Or is order outside the field of thought and knowledge? One feels there is absolute goodness, not as an emotional concept, but one knows, if one has gone into oneself deeply, that there is such a thing: complete, absolute, irrevocable goodness, or order. And this order is not a thing put together by thought; if it is, then it is according to a blueprint, but if it is imitated then the imitation leads to disorder, or to conformity. Conformity, imitation, and the denial of what is, is the beginning of disorder, leading ultimately to what may be called evil. So we are asking: is goodness, which is (as we said) order and virtue, is it the product of thought? Which means can it be cultivated by thought? Can virtue ever be cultivated? To cultivate implies to bring slowly into being which means time.

Naudé: Mental synthesis.

Krishnamurti: Yes. Now is virtue the result of time? And is order therefore a matter of evolution? And so is absolute order, absolute goodness, a matter of slow growth, cultivation, all involving time? As we said the other day thought is the response of memory knowledge, and experience, which is the past which is stored up in the brain. In the brain cells themselves the past is. So does virtue lie in the past and is it therefore cultivatable, to be pushed forward? Or is virtue, order, only in the now? The now is not related to the past.

Naudé: You are saying that goodness is order and that order is not the product of thought; but order, if it exists at all, must exist in behaviour, behaviour in the world and in relationship. People always think that proper behaviour in relationship, in the world must be planned, that order is always the result of planning. And quite often people get the idea, when they have listened to you, that awareness, the state of being you speak about in which there is no room for the action of thought, they get the feeling that this is a sort of disincarnate energy, which can have no action and no relationship to the world of men and events and behaviour. They think that therefore it has no real value, and not what you might call a temporal and historical significance.

Krishnamurti: Right, sir.

Naudé: You are saying that goodness is order and order is not planned.

Krishnamurti: When we talk about order, don’t we mean order in behaviour, in relationship, not an abstract order, not a goodness in heaven, but order, goodness in relationship and action in the now. When we talk about planning, obviously there must be planning at a certain level.

Naudé: Architecture.

Krishnamurti: Architecture, building railways, going to the moon and so on there must be a design, a planning, a very co-ordinated intelligent operation taking place. We are surely not mixing up the two: there must be planning, order, co-operation, the carrying out together of certain plans, a well laid-out city, a community – all that demands planning. We are talking of something entirely different. We are asking if there is absolute order in human behaviour, if there is absolute goodness, as order, in oneself and therefore in the world. And we said order is not planned, can never be planned. If it is planned, then the mind is seeking security, because the brain demands security; seeking security it will suppress, or destroy, or pervert what is and try to conform, imitate. This very imitation and conformity is disorder, from which all the mischief begins, the neuroses and various distortions of the mind and the heart. Planning implies knowledge.

Naudé: Thinking.

Krishnamurti: Knowledge, thinking and ordering the thought as ideas. So we are asking: is virtue the outcome of planning? Obviously it is not. The moment your life is planned according to a pattern then you are not living, you are merely conforming to a certain standard and therefore that conformity leads to contradiction in oneself. The ‘what is’ and the ‘what should be’ that breeds contradiction and therefore conflict. That very conflict is the source of disorder. So order, virtue, goodness is in the moment of the now. And therefore it is free of the past. That freedom can be relative.

Naudé: How do you mean?

Krishnamurti: One may be conditioned by the culture in which one lives, by the environment and so on. One either frees oneself totally from all the conditioning and therefore is absolutely free; or there may be partial unconditioning.

Naudé: Yes, get rid of one set of conditions…

Krishnamurti: …and fall into another.

Naudé: Or just discard one set like Christianity and it taboos.

Krishnamurti: So that slow discarding may appear orderly, but it is not; because the slow peeling off of conditioning may temporarily give the appearance of freedom, but is not absolute freedom.

Naudé: Are you saying that freedom is not the result of particular operation with regard to one conditioning o another?

Krishnamurti: That’s right.

Naudé: You have said that freedom is at the beginning and not at the end. Is that what you mean?

Krishnamurti: Yes, that’s it. Freedom is now, not in the future. So freedom, order, or goodness, is now, which expresses itself in behaviour.

Naudé: Yes, else it has no meaning.

Krishnamurti: Otherwise it has no meaning at all. Behaviour in relationship not only with a particular individual, who is close to you, but behaviour with everybody.

Naudé: In the absence of all those elements of the past which make most people behave, what will make us behave? This freedom seems to so many people such a disincarnate thing, such a bleak sky, such an immaterial thing. What is it in that freedom which will make us behave in the world of people and events with order?

Krishnamurti: Sir, look. We said in the last conversation that I am the world and the world is me. We said the consciousness of the world is my consciousness. My consciousness is the world’s consciousness. When you make a statement of that kind either it is purely verbal and therefore has no meaning at all or it is something actual, living, vital. When one realizes that it is vital, in that realization is compassion – real compassion, not for one or two, but compassion for everybody, for everything. Freedom is this compassion, which is not disincarnate as an idea.

Naudé: As a state of withdrawal.

Krishnamurti: My relationship is only in the now, not in the past, because if my relationship is rooted in the past I am not related now. So freedom is compassion, and that comes when there is the real deep realization that I am the world, the world is me. Freedom, compassion, order, virtue, goodness are one; and that is absolute. Now what relationship has non-goodness – which has been called evil, sin, original sin – what relationship has that with this marvellous sense of order?

Naudé: Which is not the product of thinking, of civilization, of culture.

Krishnamurti: What is the relationship between the two? There is none. So when we move away from this order – move away in the sense of misbehave – does one enter into the field of evil, if we can use that word? Or is evil something totally apart from the good?

Naudé: Whether deviation from the order of goodness is already an entry into the field of evil, or can these two not even touch at all?

Krishnamurti: That’s right. I may misbehave. I may tell a lie. I may consciously or unconsciously hurt another, but I can clear it. I can wipe it away by apologizing, by saying ‘forgive me’. It can be done immediately.

Naudé: It can be ended.

Krishnamurti: So I am finding out something, which is: the non-ending of it, carrying it over in one’s mind day after day, as hate, as a grudge…

Naudé: …guilt, fear…

Krishnamurti: …does that nourish the evil? You follow?

Naudé: Yes.

Krishnamurti: If I continue with it, keep within my mind the grudge which I bear against you, carry it on day after day, the grudge which involves hate, envy, jealousy, antagonism – all that is violence. So what is the relationship of violence to evil and goodness? We are using the word ‘evil’ very…

Naudé: …cautiously.

Krishnamurti: Cautiously. Because I don’t like that word at all. So what is the relationship between violence and goodness? Obviously none at all! But the violence which I have cultivated – whether it is the product of society, the product of the culture, the environment, or inherited from the animal – that violence, by becoming aware of it, can be wiped away.

Naudé: Yes.

Krishnamurti: Not a gradual wiping away; wipe it away as you wipe out a clean…

Naudé: …take a mark off the wall.

Krishnamurti: Then you are always in that goodness.

Naudé: Are you saying that goodness is a wholly negative affair then?

Krishnamurti: Yes, it must be.

Naudé: And in that way the negative is not related at all to the positive, because it is not the result of a gradual decline or accumulation of the positive. The negative exists when the positive is wholly absent.

Krishnamurti: Yes; put it round the other way. The negation of the grudge, the negation of violence and the negation of the continuity of the violence, that negation of it is the good.

Naudé: Is the emptying.

Krishnamurti: The emptying of violence is the richness of the good.

Naudé: Therefore the good is always intact.

Krishnamurti: Yes, it is never broken up, not fragmented. Sir, wait! So is there such a thing as absolute evil? I don’t know if you have ever considered this: I have seen in India little statues made of clay in which needles, or thorns, have been put; I have seen it very often. The image is supposed to represent a person whom you want to hurt. In India there are very long thorns, you have seen them, from bushes, and they are stuck into these clay statuettes.

Naudé: I didn’t know they did that in India.

Krishnamurti: I have seen it. Now there is a determined action to produce evil in another, to hurt another.

Naudé: An intent.

Krishnamurti: The intent, the ugly, deep, hatred.

Naudé: Deliberate. This must be evil, Sir.

Krishnamurti: What is its relationship to good – good being all that we have said? This is a real intent to hurt people.

Naudé: Organized disorder, one might say.

Krishnamurti: Organized disorder, which is the organized disorder of a society that rejects the good. Because the society is me. I am the society; if I don’t change, society cannot change. And here is the deliberate intention to hurt another, whether it is organized as war or not.

Naudé: In fact, organized war is the group manifestation of the phenomenon you are speaking about in India, putting the thorns through the little statues.

Krishnamurti: This is well known; this is as old as the hills. So I am saying this desire to hurt, consciously or unconsciously, and yielding to it, and giving it sustenance, is what? Would you call that evil?

Naudé: Of course.

Krishnamurti: Then we shall have to say that will is evil.

Naudé: Aggression is evil. Violence is evil.

Krishnamurti: Wait, see it! Will is evil, because I want to hurt you.

Naudé: Someone might say though: the will to do you good – is that will also evil?

Krishnamurti: You cannot will to do good. Either you are good, or not good, you can’t will goodness. Will being the concentration of thought as resistance.

Naudé: Yes, you said that goodness is the absence of a blueprint.

Krishnamurti: So I am asking: is evil related to the good, or are the two things totally apart? And is there such a thing as absolute evil? There is absolute good, but absolute evil cannot exist. Right?

Naudé: Yes, because evil is always cumulative, it is always to some degree or another.

Krishnamurti: Yes. So a man with the deep intention to hurt another – some incident, some accident, some affection or care, might change the whole thing. But to say that there is an absolute sin, absolute evil, is the most terrible thing to say. That is evil.

Naudé: The Christians have personified evil as Satan and as an almost immutable force, almost equal to the good, almost equal to God. The Christians have enthroned evil almost eternally.

Krishnamurti: Look, Sir. You have seen those bushes in India, they have got long thorns, nearly two inches long.

Naudé: Yes.

Krishnamurti: There are snakes which are poisonous, deadly poisonous, there are other things which are frighteningly cruel in nature, like the white shark, that appalling thing we saw the other day. Is that evil?

Naudé: No.

Krishnamurti: No?

Naudé: No, Sir.

Krishnamurti: It is protecting itself: the thorn is protecting itself against the animal so that the leaves are not eaten.

Naudé: Yes and so is the snake.

Krishnamurti: So is the snake.

Naudé: And the shark is following its nature.

Krishnamurti: So see what it means. Anything that is self-protective in the physical sense is not evil. But protecting oneself psychologically, resisting any movement, leads to disorder.

Naudé: If I may interrupt here. This is the argument which many people use about war. They say that building up an army and using it, for instance, in South East Asia is the kind of physical protection which the shark…

Krishnamurti: That is too absurd an argument. The whole world is divided up for psychological reasons as ‘my country’ and ‘your country’, ‘my God’ and ‘your God’ – that and economic reasons are the cause of war, surely? But I am trying to get at something different. Nature is terrible in certain ways.

Naudé: Ruthless.

Krishnamurti: We human beings looking at it say, ‘That’s evil, how terrible.’

Naudé: Lightning.

Krishnamurti: Earthquakes which destroy a thousand people in a few seconds. So the moment we assert that there is absolute evil, that very assertion is the denial of the good. Goodness implies total abnegation of the self. Because the ‘me’ is always separative. The ‘me’, ‘my family’, the self, the person, the ego, is the centre of disorder, because it is a divisive factor. The ‘me’ is the mind, is thought. And we have never been able to move away from this egocentric activity. To move completely away from it is complete order, freedom, goodness. And to remain in the circle of self-centred movement breeds disorder; there is always conflict there. And we attribute this conflict to evil, to the devil, to bad karma, to environment, to society; but the society is me and I have built this society. So unless this me is totally transformed I am always contributing to a major extent or to a minor extent to disorder.

Order means behaviour in freedom. And freedom means love and not pleasure. When one observes all this, one sees very clearly that there is a marvellous sense of absolute order.