Krishnamurti on War
War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday life. It is an outward expression of our inward state, an enlargement of our daily action.
From the book The First and Last Freedom
In this short but powerful quote, Krishnamurti sums up the causes of war, that it is the amplified result of what goes on inside ourselves: the conflicts, the divisions and the feeling that things or emotions are other than ourselves. We feel that warfare is something ‘out there’, something others are instigating, and yet we live perpetually with internal ‘wars’ even as we attempt to live a peaceful life.
In this feature, we unfold what Krishnamurti has to say about war, something that has been with humanity for millennia and has not left us, and explore whether it is possible to live truly peacefully inwardly and so outwardly.
The problems of war have existed before, but most of us have not been concerned with them as they were remote, and not affecting us personally and deeply, but now war is at our door and seems to dominate the minds of most people.
From Ojai 1940, Talk 1
Perhaps outward events can energise our inquiry into not only why the current wars are taking place, but moreover into the very cause of conflict, and whether it is possible for humanity to live without war.
The problem that we should discuss, which is ever-present, is that of the individual and his relationship with another, which is society. If we can understand this complex problem then perhaps we shall be able to avoid the many causes that ultimately lead to war. War is a symptom, however brutal and diseased, and to deal with the outer manifestation without regard to the deeper causes of it, is futile and purposeless. In fundamentally changing the causes, perhaps we can bring about a peace that is not destroyed by outer circumstances.
From Ojai 1940, Talk 1
There can be no peace if there is division as nationalities
There are political divisions, ideological divisions, religious divisions, national divisions, and the divisions between man and man. There are divisions as the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Christian and the Muslim, with all their sub-divisions. Wherever there is division there must be conflict. Wherever there are nationalities, the American, the Russian, the Chinese, there must inevitably be various forms of economic, social, military and political struggle. Perhaps most of us are aware of this, but we seem to be unable to do anything. See that where there is a division of any kind, there must be conflict.
These divisions exist, they are actual, not theoretical. And these divisions have brought about wars. Apparently, nobody is interested in stopping wars. Nobody is interested to find out the causes of war and whether those causes can be totally, completely eliminated. Neither the politicians nor the religious hierarchy are interested in ending war. They may talk endlessly about peace but you cannot have peace if there is division as nationalities.
From New York 1983, Talk 1
VIDEO: We are pursuing war and talking about peace
One of the major causes of war is industry. When industry and economics go hand in hand with politics they must inevitably sustain a separative activity to maintain the economic stature. All countries are doing this, the great and the small. The small are being armed by the big, some quietly, surreptitiously, others openly. Is the cause of all this misery, suffering and the enormous waste of money on armaments, the visible sustenance of pride, of wanting to be superior to others?
From the book Krishnamurti to Himself
Erasing the cause of war
To see the extraordinary depth and beauty of life, the immensity of all living things, one must have peace, and that peace is denied wherever there is poverty. Even in affluent countries, there is a great deal of poverty. No nationalistic government can ever solve poverty because it is a global problem, one for the whole world, not a particular government, whether totalitarian, communist, or so-called democratic. The effects of poverty are degradation, the utter slavery of it, the brutality. And there is also the poverty of the mind, which is not resolved by books, institutions, organisations, or forums – that poverty ends when one understands the whole existence of oneself and one’s relationship to the world at large.
Religions have not encouraged or brought about peace in the world. They talk a great deal – the Christians talk about peace in the world – but religions have divided humanity. Just in this small town, there are I don’t know how many religious groups, dozens of them, institutions and foundations, each trying to tell people what to do. Religions have prevented peace and have brought wars: The Hundred Years War in Europe; torture and all the brutality of a culture based on religious concepts, dogmas and beliefs. And religions throughout the world have prevented right relationship between human beings. There have been five thousand years of war and we are still going on with it, killing each other – at the beginning with clubs and now we are able to vaporise millions. We have not evolved psychologically, inwardly, and as long as we are primitive psychologically, our society will be equally primitive.
So, can there be peace on this earth? This is a very, very serious question. Also, is it possible to live peacefully in oneself, without conflict, or are we forever condemned to live in conflict, to be at war? Is there a way out of all this? Certainly not through religions as they are, nor through political organisation, whether democratic, totalitarian or communist; nor through the division of nationalities. Governments are created by what we are. They have been structured, put together by our own demands. As long as you remain an American, and others remain Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim, we will have no peace on earth. Nor while there is racial division or cultural division. So, it is a very important question to ask of ourselves, not of another.
There have been five thousand years of war and we are still going on with it
Is it possible to have peace on this earth? This has been a cry for millennia. Two and a half thousand years ago, the Buddha was talking about peace, long before Christianity came into being. And we are still talking about it. And so realising all this, what is one to do? Individual efforts to live in peace don’t affect the whole world. You may live peacefully in this lovely valley; quietly, not too ambitious, not too corrupt, not too competitive; just living here quietly, perhaps getting on with your wife or husband. But will that affect the whole of human consciousness?
Or the problem is much greater, much more profound. We have to think together; not the speaker thinks, explains and describes, but together like two old friends sitting in the shade of the trees, talking about all this, not merely intellectually but with hearts disturbed, being greatly concerned about what is happening in the world and what is happening to ourselves. Like two old friends who have an amiable conversation, not convincing or stimulating each other, not sticking to their own opinions, judgements and conclusions, but two old friends who have lived together, walked together, seen many things of the world. You and the speaker are like that, so that we can think together. Not what to think or how to think, but observe together; observe the same tree, the skies, the birds, and the astonishing beauty of the mountains. And so together, actually together, not you listening to the speaker, but together exploring the question of whether we can live in peace. Not only you and I, but the rest of humanity, because this earth is ours, not American or English or French. It is our earth. We are its guests and we have to live here peacefully.
And one friend says to the other: what is the cause of all this? If one can find the cause, then the effect, the symptom, can end. War is a symptom. The cause is very, very deep and complex. Just as when you can find the cause of a disease, that disease can be cured. So the two friends talking over together ask: what is the cause of all this? Why have human beings become like this? So thoughtless, only concerned with themselves, with nothing mattering except their own desires, urges, impulses, their own ambition, their own success, whether in business or academically. And also psychologically, inwardly, we want to be somebody, to become somebody.
So please, one says to the other, do listen carefully. Is there psychological evolution at all? That is a very, very serious question. Is there becoming at all, psychologically? Is there becoming, inwardly achieving, from what is to what should be, from misery to some form of happiness, from confusion to enlightenment? Moving from that which is to what should be, that is becoming and that becoming implies time. And this becoming, each one trying to become something psychologically, may be the same movement as physically for a priest to become a bishop, a clerk to become an executive. It is the same movement, the same wave, brought over to the psychological realm. The friend says to the other, I hope I am making myself clear. He replies, you are not quite clear, go into it a little bit more.
In all religions and the psychological world, the idea of change is to become. I am confused, I must change this confusion to become clear. I quarrel with my wife, but the change is to end quarrelling, to move from violence to non-violence. In other words, there is always the attempt to be something that is not. So the friend says, that is fairly clear – fairly, not too clear – but we’ll go on with our conversation. It is a lovely morning, we have plenty of time, the sun is warm and the shadows are many. And the shadows matter as much as the sun. There is great beauty in the shadows; but most of us are concerned with light, enlightenment, and we want to achieve that. The very idea of psychological achievement may be one of the factors of conflict in life.
So the friend says, let’s examine that. What is it to become? Is that the fundamental cause of division? Division must exist, the other explains, as long as there is the psyche, the self, the ‘me’, the ego, the person, that is separating himself from the other. But the other says there has been a long history of this; this is the human condition. We have been trained, educated to accept religiously and economically that we are individuals, separate from the rest of humanity, separate from another. And the friend says, is that so? Are we really individuals? I know this is the tradition. This is what all religions have said: separate souls in Christianity, Hinduism, and so on. But together, you as the friend and the speaker as the other, are going to examine whether we are really individuals at all. Be patient, please. See all the implications of it before you deny or accept. Now you accept that you are an individual; it is your conditioning that you are free to do what you want to do. And the totalitarians deny this; they say you are just a cog in the social structure.
So, we are questioning not only that psychological becoming may be an illusion, but also that psychologically we are not separate, whether we are individuals at all. Or we are like the rest of humanity. The rest of humanity is unhappy, sorrow-ridden, fearful, believing in fantastic romantic nonsense; they go through great suffering and uncertainty, like you. And our reaction, which is part of our consciousness, is similar to another’s. This is an absolute fact. You may not like to think about it, you might like to think that you are totally separate from another, which is quite absurd. So your consciousness, which is you – what you think, what you believe, your conclusions, prejudices, vanity, arrogance, aggression, pain, grief, sorrow – is shared by all humanity. That is our conditioning, whether you are a Catholic or a Protestant, or whatever you are.
The very idea of psychological achievement may be one of the factors of conflict in life
Our consciousness is our essence, what our life is. That is the truth. And so you actually share humanity; you are the rest of humanity. You are humanity. This is a tremendous thing to realise. You may believe in a certain form of saviour and others believe in a certain ideology, but belief is common to all of us, fear is common to all of us. The agony of loneliness is shared by the rest of humanity. When one realizes the truth of this, then becoming – that is, to change from what is to what should be – has a totally different meaning. The friend says, I don’t understand that, what do you mean? The other friend says, I don’t quite know, let’s examine it. Let’s examine the facts of our life, look at ourselves sanely, rationally, without any distortion, see things as they are without being frightened or ashamed, just observing.
So the friend says, all my life I have tried to change from what is to what should be. I know violence and disorder, I’ve known that very well. I have tried to change disorder and violence, move from violence to non-violence, from disorder to order. Now, the other friend asks: is non-violence a fact, or just an imaginary conclusion, a reaction to the fact of violence? I am violent and I project the idea of non-violence because that is part of my conditioning. I have lived in disorder and I try to seek order, that is, try to change what is to what should be. That is part of becoming and that may be the cause of conflict.
So the friend asks: can this violence end? Not become non-violent. Can envy, greed and fear end? Not become courageous, free from this or that. That is the question. So the other friend says, I’ll show it to you. Perhaps this may be new to you, so please kindly listen most attentively.
First realise what we are doing: moving from what is to become the ideal, what should be The ideal is non-existent, non-fact. But what is is a fact. So let’s understand what is and not the idea of non-violence – which is absurd and has been preached by people in India, by Tolstoy and others. This is our tradition, this is our conditioning, this is our attempt to become something. But we have never achieved anything; we have never become non-violent. Never. So let’s examine carefully whether it is possible to end that which is, to end that disorder or violence. End, not become something. The becoming implies time. This is very important to understand.
Let’s understand whether it is possible to end what is, not to change what is into what we would like it to be. We will take the question of violence. And if you prefer disorder, both are the same; it doesn’t matter what you take. Violence is inherited from time immemorial, from the animal, from the ape to us. We have inherited it. It is a fact that we are violent people – otherwise, we wouldn’t be killing or hurting anybody, we wouldn’t say a word against anybody. But we are by nature violent. Now, what is the meaning of that word? Hold that word violence, feel the weight of it, the complications of it. Not merely physical violence: terrorists who throw bombs wanting to change society have not changed society.
Violence must exist as long as there is division outwardly and inwardly
Violence is not only physical but psychological, much more so. Violence is conformity. Not conformity to understanding what is but to make one conform, imitate. And violence must exist as long as there is division outwardly and inwardly. Conflict is the very nature of violence. The friend says yes, I see that, it is fairly clear, but how do you end it? How do you end the whole complex question of violence? He says, I understand very well that to become non-violent is a part of violence because you have projected non-violence from violence. That projection is an illusion. So I have rejected that concept or idea, the feeling that I must become non-violent. He says, I understand that very clearly. There is only this fact. Now, what am I to do? The other friend says, don’t ask me that, but let’s look at it. The moment you ask what to do, or how to act, you take the other as your guide, you make them your authority. But together let’s look at it. While being wholly free from the idea of non-violence, observe what violence is, look at it, give attention to the fact, not escaping from it, not rationalizing it. Don’t say why you shouldn’t be violent, or that violence is part of myself. If that is a part of yourself, you will always create wars of different kinds: wars between yourself and your wife, wars, killing others and so on.
So, look at it without conflict; look at it as though it was not separate from you. The point is, you are violent, just as you are greedy. Greed is not separate from you. Suffering is not separate from you. Anxiety, loneliness, depression, all that is you. But our tradition and education have implied that you are separate from all that. And where there is separation, where there is duality, there must be conflict. As with the Jew and Arab – probably you’ll understand that better – division and conflict between two great powers, and so on. So it is you; you are that; you are not separate from that. The analyser is not different from the analysed. The friend says, go on, explain a bit more.
You observe the tree or the mountains, you observe your wife or husband, or your children. Who is the observer and who is the observed? Please, I am going into it carefully, follow this. Is the observer different from the tree? Of course he is different! The observer is different from that mountain; the observer is different from the computer. But is the observer different from anxiety? Anxiety is a reaction, put into words as anxiety, but the feeling is you. The word is different, but the word is never the thing. The thing is the feeling of anxiety or violence. The word violence is not that. So watch carefully that the word doesn’t entangle your observation. Because your brain is caught in a network of words.
So the friend says, observe this feeling without the word. If you use the word, you strengthen past memories of that particular feeling. This is the act of observation in which the word is not the thing and the observer is the observed. The observer who says, ‘I am violent,’ that observer is violence. The observer is the observed. The thinker is the thought. The experiencer who says, I must experience nirvana or heaven or whatever, is the experience. So look at the fact of that feeling without a word, without analysing it, just look. That is, be with it. Be with this thing as is. Which means you bring all your attention to it. Analysing or examining is a waste of energy, whereas if you give total attention, which is to give all your energy to the feeling, then that feeling has a total ending.
The friend says, are you mesmerising me by being so vehement, by being so passionate about it? I say no. I am not stimulating you, I’m not telling you what to do. You yourself have realised that non-violence is non-fact, is not real. What is real is violence. You yourself have realised it. You yourself have said, ‘Yes, I am violent, not separate from the violence.’ The word separates but the fact of the feeling is me. Me is my nose, my eyes, my face, my name, my character… That is me; I am not separate from all that. When you separate, you try to act upon it, which means conflict. So you have therefore fundamentally erased the cause of conflict when you are that, not separate from that. Is this clear?
So the friends have learned something. You have learnt a great phenomenon, which you have never realised before. Before, I separated my feelings as though I was different from my feeling. Now I realise the truth that I am that. Therefore you remain with it. And when you remain with it, hold it, that gives tremendous energy. And that energy dissipates, ends that violence completely. Not for a day, not just while you are sitting here; it is the absolute end of it.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1983, Talk 2
VIDEO: Can we live without bringing suffering or death?
We accept war as the way of life
On the screen was shown the actual war that was raging, the enormous tanks and the low-flying jets, the noise and the calculated slaughter. The politicians were talking about peace but encouraging war. The crying women were shown and the desperately wounded, the children waving flags and the priests intoning blessings.
The tears of mankind have not washed away man’s desire to kill. No religion has stopped war; all of them, on the contrary, have encouraged it: blessed the weapons of war. Religions have divided the people and governments are isolated and cherish their insularity. Scientists are supported by governments; the preacher is lost in his words and images.
You will cry, but educate your children to kill and be killed. You accept it as the way of life; your commitment is to your own security; it is your God and your sorrow. You care for your children so carefully, so generously, but then you are willing for them to be killed.
Then they showed on the screen baby seals, with enormous eyes, being killed.
The function of culture is to transform man totally.
From the book Krishnamurti’s Journal
You must demand peace with all your heart, you must find the truth of it for yourself, not through organisations, propaganda and clever arguments for peace and against war. Peace is not the denial of war. Peace is a state of being in which all conflicts and all problems have ceased.
Krishnamurti in Bombay 1950, Talk 2
Suggested further listening: Krishnamurti on War and Killing
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