Why Do We Conform?

From Krishnamurti’s Book BEGINNINGS OF LEARNING

Questioner: Am I always self-centred? It is a question that I find difficult to answer for myself.

Krishnamurti: Here we are, in a beautiful countryside, living in a small community where relationship matters enormously. Can we live here with that quality of mind and feeling that is not wholly self-centred? Then, when we do leave this place – as we must – perhaps we shall be able to live in the world at a different level, with a different feeling and affection and with a different action. And to live like that, not just occasionally, but with a deeper sense of significance and worthwhileness and a feeling of sacredness, I think one has to be free of fear, or understand what fear is. Most of us are afraid of something, aren’t we? Do you know what you are afraid of?

Questioner: Not at the moment.

Krishnamurti: Agreed, because you are sitting here safely. But what is it that one is generally afraid of? Do you know what you are afraid of?

Questioner: The unknown.

Krishnamurti: The unknown? What do you mean by the unknown? The tomorrow? What is going to happen to you, what the world will be like when you grow up and you have to face all the noise and the racket and absurdity of it? Is that what you are frightened of?

Questioner: Well, that is what I mean by the unknown.

Krishnamurti: And how will you be free of that fear so that you can face it without darkness, without withdrawal, without a neurotic reaction to what the world is? How will you meet that? If you are afraid of it you can’t meet it, can you? Discuss it with me! If you have any kind of belief as to how you should behave in the world, which is so chaotic, of which one is afraid, if you have already set a pattern of your behaviour with regard to that, won’t that idea, won’t that conclusion make it much more difficult?

Do you know what you are afraid of? Are you afraid of your parents? Are you afraid of not being like the others? – having long hair, smoking, drinking, having a good time? Are you afraid of being rather odd, cranky, different? Are you afraid of being alone, standing alone? Are you afraid of what people might say? Of not making a good life in the sense of having money, property, house, husband or wife and all that – is that what you are afraid of? I feel if I don’t smoke it is odd socially and I can’t fit in; therefore I must force myself to smoke and do the things they do; I am a little frightened that I don’t conform. Is that what you are afraid of: not conforming, not imitating, not fitting into the pattern, being square? So what are you afraid of? And throughout life are you going to carry any kind of fear with you?

Do you know what fear does? It makes you aggressive, violent. Or, you withdraw and become slightly neurotic, odd, peculiar; you five in a darkness of your own, resisting any kind of relationship with anybody, building a wall around yourself, with this nagging fear always going on. So if you don’t solve these fears now, when you are young, fresh, have plenty of vitality and energy, later on you won’t be able to, it will become much more difficult.

So shouldn’t we consider what our fears are and see if we can’t get rid of them now, while we are protected, while we are here, where we feel at home, meeting each other all the time? Shall we go into this?

Questioner: Yes.

Krishnamurti: How do you go into this problem of fear? For instance, you are afraid of the unknown, the unknown being the tomorrow, having to face the world which is so chaotic, mad, vulgar and violent. Not being able to meet it you are frightened of the future. How do you know what the future will be? And why are you afraid of it?

Questioner: Aren’t we projecting an image of ourselves into the future? And then we are afraid of not being able to live up to that image.

Krishnamurti: You have an image of yourself and if you don’t live according to that image you are frightened. That is one of the fears, isn’t it? He said just now he is afraid of the unknown – the unknown being the tomorrow, the world, his position in the world, of what is going to happen to him in the future, whether he will become a businessman or a gardener. How will you meet that? How will you understand the fear of the unknown? Because if you are going to be afraid now, as you grow older it will get worse and worse, won’t it?

Why do you think about the future? Why do you look at the future in terms of what you are now? You are young, fifteen, seventeen, whatever it is, and how do you know what you will be in twenty years’ time? Is there a fear because you have an image of yourself or of the world in twenty years’ time?

Questioner: We have been conditioned to have such an image.

Krishnamurti: Who conditions you? The society, the culture?

Questioner: The whole environment.

Krishnamurti: Now why do you submit to it?

Questioner: It’s fear again. Krishnamurti: That means what? Go into it. You feel you have to conform and you don’t want to conform. You say, ‘I don’t want to conform’, and yet you are conforming. You have the image of yourself, which has been created by the culture in which you live, and you say, ‘That image must conform to the pattern.’ But it may not conform, and you are frightened. Is that it? Why do you have an image about yourself or the world? The world is cruel, brutal, harsh, violent, full of competition and hate; everybody is trying to get a job, struggle, struggle, struggle. That is a fact, isn’t it? Why do you have an image about it? Why don’t you say, ‘That is a fact’? The sun is shining: that is a fact. Or it is a cloudy day: that is a fact. You don’t fight the fact. That is what it is. Do you want to fit into that? Do you want to accept the world as it is? Do you accept it and join it and become like that, do you want to be that?

Questioner: Well, one doesn’t.

Krishnamurti: First see, just look. The world is like that, isn’t it? The world has created the culture in which you were born. That culture has conditioned you and that conditioning says: you must conform, whether it is a Communist or Catholic or Hindu background. And now you are here being educated, not merely with books but also deeply to understand yourself. So you must ask yourself, do you want to fit into all that? Do you want to conform to the pattern to which culture has conditioned you, do you want to fit into that?

Questioner: Obviously not.

Krishnamurti: Don t say, ‘Obviously not.’

Questioner: I think most people do.

Krishnamurti: You – leave the others out.

Questioner: We don’t.

Krishnamurti: Don t say, ‘Most people do; they don’t even think about it. They just run along with the rest. Here we are thinking about it, we are looking at it, we are questioning it. Do you know what it means not to conform to something? It means going against the whole structure of society. Morally, in business, in religion you are going against the whole culture; which means you have to stand alone. You may starve, you may have no money, you may have no job – you have to stand alone. Can you? Will you? You don’t know, do you? – you may or may not.

That is one of our fears, isn’t it? One of the great fears in our life is about conforming. If you conform, then you become like the rest – and that is much easier. But if you don’t conform then the whole world is against you. And this is very serious, unless you have the intelligence to withstand the world; otherwise you will be destroyed. If you have fear you cannot have that intelligence. Or you will probably get married and your wife will want to conform and you won’t. Then you are stuck! You have children before you know where you are and it’s much worse – because then you have to earn money to support the children.

Questioner: Then you are back again.

Krishnamurti: Then you are caught in a trap. So from now on you have to look at the whole problem, understand it, go into it. Don’t just say, ‘I am frightened.’ You see the culture in which we are born makes us conform, doesn’t it? It makes you conform and it makes you envious not to be like somebody else. So conformity and comparison make you afraid – do you follow? At home, in school, in college, and when you are out in the world, life is based on it. So if you are frightened, then you are caught for ever. But you can say, ‘I am not going to be frightened, let’s examine it, let’s find out how to live in the world which demands acceptance, conformity and comparison.’ How can you live in this world without being frightened, without conforming, without always comparing yourself with somebody? Then, if you know how to live that way, you will never be frightened. You understand?

Begin here, don’t look at the time when you will be fifty years old. Begin here, now, when you are very young, to find out how to live a really intelligent life in which there is no imitation, conformity and comparison, which is without fear. Your brain cells, while you are young are much more active, much more pliable, more inquisitive. Later on, when you are older, you will get conditioned, you will have a family, a house: ‘I can’t think of anything except business, it is dangerous to think more.’ Now, how will you live a life in which you don’t compare and conform, because you are not afraid. Which means what? Fear is engendered, is bred, when you have an image about yourself; and you have that image to conform. You, that image, wants conformity. Now we have to examine very carefully what conformity is. What do you mean by con forming? You have long hair; are you doing it because other boys and girls and older people have long hair? All the pop singers have long hair – have you seen their faces? Do you want to be like that? Having long and sloppy hair – which you have – do you consider that conforming? Are you doing it because others are doing it?

Questioner: If you have short hair you are also conforming.

Krishnamurti: Are you conforming? You have long hair; are you conforming, wearing sandals because others are doing it? – walking in Piccadilly or Fifth Avenue with naked feet. Do you also walk around with naked feet?

Questioner: Usually I think it is the conditioning in which you are living.

Krishnamurti: Which means: are you reacting against the short hair? I will tell you why I have short hair. I have had hair down to my waist, much longer than any of you here. And when I first came to England and went to school they used to say, ‘Get your hair cut!’ Give your minds to find out why you wear long hair. Are you doing it because others are doing it, or do you like it?

Questioner: I like it.

Krishnamurti: What does that mean? You like to wear it because you are going to save money at the barber’s? (Laughter.) You have to keep it clean, well brushed, otherwise it looks ugly. Do you do it because you like it? That is a good reason, isn’t it?

That means you are not conforming, because tomorrow the fashion will be short hair – will you all wear short hair then? So are you doing it because you want to do it, irrespective of what others do?

Questioner: Isn’t it the same with clothes?

Krishnamurti: Do you put on these strange clothes because others do?

Questioner: Every boy is concerned about his appearance to a greater or lesser extent.

Krishnamurti: Right. You think this makes a good appearance, it’s nice looking when you wear sloppy clothes?

Questioner: You might feel that yourself.

Krishnamurti: Do you do it because you like it, or because you want to conform?

Questioner: Not necessarily because you want to conform.

Krishnamurti: Find out! Don’t say, ‘Not necessarily.’

Questioner: I think it is all a matter of like and dislike.

Krishnamurti: I am asking. The pop singers wear purple trousers and yellow shirts – you have seen that. They say, ‘I like these clothes, they flatter me’ – is that why you are doing it? So hair, clothes, the way you think, the way you feel – is it because the rest are feeling that way? The rest are Frenchmen, Germans, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics – and you become one or the other because that is the easiest. Is that why you follow? Or do you say, ‘No, that is all wrong, I won’t be like that.’

So first find out why you have long hair and clothes like this, whether you are American, French or German, so that you begin to exercise your own mind. You see, while you are young, if you are not revolutionary then – I don’t mean throwing bombs, which is not revolution at all – if you are not enquiring, questioning, doubting, looking at yourself, finding out what you think, investigating the whole field of yourself, later on it will be much more difficult.

Questioner: I think the main point in all this is fear. For example, say I have long hair; if I cut my hair it’s because I know that everything will go smoothly and there will be no problems at all. I feel I do most things for security, for ease.

Krishnamurti: I understand. So you are frightened – why?

Questioner: Frightened that I don’t fit in with the pattern that is going on.

Krishnamurti: Then what will you do? Live with that fear? Why should you fit into the pattern?

Questioner: If you want to stay here it is better to do so.

Krishnamurti: You are saying, if you want to keep alive, you must fit into the pattern. And do you want to live that way – fighting, quarrelling, hating, envy, struggle, wars?

Questioner: No.

Krishnamurti: As we said the other day, to be really educated means not to conform, not to imitate, not to do what millions and millions are doing. If you feel like doing that, do it. But be awake to what you are doing – quarrels, hatred, antagonism, division between people where there is really no relationship at all, wars – if you really like living that way. Then you will invite all the mess round you, you are part of that, then there is no problem. But if you say, ‘I don’t want to live that way’, then you have to find out how to live differently. And that demands intelligence. Conformity doesn’t demand intelligence, it demands cunningness.

The world is this and you are here to be educated in every department of life, both inwardly and outwardly. Which means: inwardly don’t have fears. Not to have fears means you must find out how to live without fear, therefore you have to investigate what fear is. Enquiring into what fear is, your mind becomes intelligent; that intelligence will then show you how to live in this world sanely.

Fear is one of the greatest problems in the world, probably the greatest problem. So you have to face this thing, you have to completely understand it and be out of it. You said, ‘I am afraid of the unknown, the tomorrow, the future’. Why do you think of tomorrow at all? Is that a healthy sign? You are young, full of the strange beauty of this countryside, curious about birds, about living – why are you concerned about tomorrow? Because your mother, your father, the neighbours are already asking what will happen to you tomorrow? They are frightened people – why do you fall into their trap? The world is becoming more and more populated – do you know what that means? In India, I believe, twelve or thirteen million new babies are born every year. And in China many more. The world is getting fuller and fuller of people, and they all want jobs, they all want homes, children, position, prestige, power, money. The more you look at it the more frightened you get and you say, ‘What is going to happen to me?’ How do you know now what you will do or be like in twenty years’ time? You see what you are doing? While you are young, live, enjoy, don’t think about the future. If you live now without fear, then when you grow up you will be the same, you will live – it doesn’t matter what you do, whether you’re a gardener, a cook, whatever it is, it will be a happy thing for you. But if you say, ‘My God, how shall I fit into this world, how shall I manage when I am thirty’, then you are destroying yourself.

You see, each generation more or less conforms to the past generation, therefore no generation is ever a new generation. What we are trying to do here is to create a new generation. It may be forty people – that is good enough – who won’t be afraid, who won’t conform, who will have the intelligence to find out what to do when they grow up; this intelligence will tell you what to do. But if you are frightened, from now on you will be caught.

Are you afraid of standing alone? Do you know what I mean by that? Are you, Rachael? Are you afraid of being alone? – not in the dark. Alone means not to have companions, not to be dependent on people, on their flattery, on their encouragement, on their saying, ‘You are marvellous.’ Are you dependent on anybody? Obviously we are dependent on the milkman, on food, on who cooks it – we are dependent in that way. But emotionally are we dependent on anybody? Find out! Look at it. Does love demand dependence? ‘I love you’ – does it mean I depend upon you? Or do you depend upon me emotionally? I may earn the money, that is a different kind of dependence. But psychologically, inwardly, in our feelings, when we say ‘I love’, does that mean I depend upon you, that without you I would be lost? Is love like and dislike? That is a form of dependency – do you understand that? Do you see the difference between like and love, between love and pleasure? To like is a form of pleasure, isn’t it?

Questioner: If I say, ‘I like you’, it means I choose, but if I don’t choose then it is all right.

Krishnamurti: Look! I am saying: do you depend psychologically on anybody? If you do, in that there is fear, isn’t there? Because if anything happens to you I am frightened. I become jealous if you look at somebody else. Which means I possess you – right? I depend on you, therefore I must be assured that I possess you in every way, otherwise I am lost. Therefore I am frightened, therefore I become more and more dependent and more and more jealous. So do you depend on anybody? And all this dependence is generally called love, isn’t it?

Questioner: Dependence is a fear of being without.

Krishnamurti: Find out, don’t agree, find out if you are dependent. And then find out why you depend and see what are the implications of that dependence – fear, loneliness, lack of comfort. If you don’t depend on people then you are not frightened, are you? Then you don’t mind standing alone. You are standing alone not out of fear; the moment you are alone you are much more honest, much more sure, nobody can corrupt you, there is no question of being hurt. So find out if you are dependent on people. And not only on people, on drink, tobacco, chatter, talking endlessly about nothing.

Questioner: We do depend on our parents, don’t we?

Krishnamurti: We depend on our parents because they have brought us into the world, they feel responsible and we depend on them because they give us money to be educated. That is a different kind of dependence.

Questioner: That is a necessary dependence.

Krishnamurti: It is necessary. I depend on the postman. When I get into the train I depend on the engine driver.

Questioner: Is one dependent if one thinks incessantly of one object or person?

Krishnamurti: Yes, obviously.

Questioner: It seems to me that one of the main things is that society is dependent on its art, which becomes part of any form of self-expression and art becomes incredibly important.

Krishnamurti: ‘Self-expression’ – what does that mean? ‘I must express myself’, ‘I must be myself’. Look at it carefully – ‘I’ must express myself. ‘I’ must be myself. ‘I’ must find my identity – myself. You know all the phrases. Now what does that mean: ‘I must be myself’? Is the ‘I’ the fear, the ‘I’ that is envious, the ‘I’ that says, ‘I am so frightened of the future, what is going to happen to me?’ The ‘I’ that says, ‘It is my house, my book, this is my husband, my boyfriend?’ That is the ‘I’, isn’t it? And that ‘I’ says, ‘I must express myself’ – how silly it sounds! No?

Questioner: Isn’t expression creativity?

Krishnamurti: Find out. Is expression creativity? Painting a picture, writing a poem, making a pot – is that creativity? I am not saying it is or it is not.

Questioner: It does bring into being something that was not there before.

Krishnamurti: To make something that was not there before is to be creative, is that it?

Questioner: That is not what you mean.

Krishnamurti: I don t know. People say expression is creativeness. Follow this step by step – self-expression is creative. The self: what is that self?

Questioner: That kind of creativity is limited.

Krishnamurti: Look at those words, ‘I express myself and therefore I am creative.’ What does it mean?

Questioner: It may be a sort of therapy, to be able to do that.

Krishnamurti: You are saying, by expressing yourself you will become healthy, you will become sane? Listen: ‘Self-expression is creative.’ Think of that.

Questioner: I suppose it is just identifying oneself.

Krishnamurti: Just look. What is the ‘I’. Go into it, don’t accept these terms: ‘I am expressing myself.’ What does it mean? Who is the ‘I’? My long hair, my short hair, my anger, my jealousy, my memories, my pleasures, my dislike, my sex, my little enjoyment – is that the ‘me’? It is the ‘me’, isn’t it?, that wants to express itself – which is my anger, my jealousy, my this and that, whatever it is. Is that creative? So what is creativeness? This is an immense question. Does the creative man, or the creative mind, ever think about expressing?

Questioner: No.

Krishnamurti: Wait, This is a little difficult. Don’t say yes or no. Whoever says, ‘I am expressing myself’ ought to be kicked in the pants!

Questioner: To express something does not mean to be creative…

Krishnamurti: Therefore, what does creativeness mean? I exist and express myself – is that creativity? Or is creativity when the ‘I’ is not? When the ‘I’ says, ‘I must express myself by kicking somebody’, the ‘I’ expressing itself is violence. So is the state of creativity the absence of the ‘I’? When there is the absence of the ‘I’, do you know that you are creative? That is all! Have you understood? When you are doing something with a motive behind it – of becoming popular, famous, having more money – that is not doing something which you really love to do. A musician who says, ‘I love music’, but who is watching how many titled people there are in the audience, how much money he is going to make, he is not creative, he is not a musician; he is using music in order to become famous, to have money. So there can be no creativity if there is a motive behind it. See this for yourself.

So when we use these words, ‘I must express myself’, ‘I must be creative’, ‘I must identify myself’, it has no meaning. When you really see this, live that way, understand it, your mind is already free of the ‘me’.

Questioner: Is it valid to make things of beauty?

Krishnamurti: Valid for whom?

Questioner: For yourself.

Krishnamurti: What do you mean, ‘yourself’? Do you remember, we talked about beauty the other day? Look at that tree and the shadow and the sunlight: that is beauty. How do you know what is beautiful? Because somebody told you? A famous artist has painted a picture, or a great poet has written about that light and the tree and the clouds and the shadows and the movement of the leaves. And you say, ‘He is a great man, I like that, it is beautiful.’ Is beauty something that comes to you through another? Is beauty something that you have been told about? What then is the sense of beauty? Not what is beautiful, but the sense of beauty? Does this beauty lie in the building, in the tree, in the face of a person, in music, in a poem, in things outside? Or do the things you see become much more intensified because you have this sense, this sense of beauty? You understand what I mean? – because you have the feeling of beauty. Therefore when you see something extraordinary like that, you delight in it because in yourself you have this sense. Now how do you arrive at this, or happen to have this sense? How do you come by it? Can you come by it by training, through an image, through any amount of reading, studying, collecting paintings and having a lovely house? How does this happen?

Do you remember what we said the other day? It happens when you are physically very sensitive, watching – sensitive, not only about yourself but sensitive to others, to everything – sensitive to how much you eat, the way you sit, the way you talk, the way you walk. I am going to come down to something very practical. I have seen a lot of you eating: you touch something, lick your fingers thoroughly and go back and pick up something else – do you think that is to be sensitive?

Questioner: It is then on your own plate.

Krishnamurti: I didn’t mean that. You can do whatever you like on your own plate. But you lick your finger and pick up a piece of bread.

Questioner: It is unhygienic.

Krishnamurti: I don’t want to lick your spittle! I have seen everybody do it. First of all it is not hygienic. I touch my mouth and then pick up a piece of bread or something else – you follow? I have contaminated it.

38 You are unaware of what you are doing, you do it automatically. Now to do something automatically is not to be sensitive – that is all. So when you become aware of it, of the implications, you won’t do it. When you sit down to eat, some of you don’t chew your food at all. You just swallow it, and food is meant to be chewed. When you become aware of everything, you become sensitive and to be sensitive is to have an awareness of beauty, to have the sense of beauty. And without the sense of inward beauty you may do the most marvellous things, but it won’t contain the flame.