Interview by Bernard Levin
This interview with Krishnamurti was first broadcast in 1981. Recorded at Brockwood Park in Hampshire, as part of The Levin Interview TV series, it serves as a good introduction to Krishnamurti’s work. Bernard Levin was one of Britain’s best-known journalists. Questions explored include: Why don’t we realise the damage we are doing in the world? Is it wrong to seek happiness? What is action? What is right living? Can society be changed? How is man to be free?
Bernard Levin: We are in Brockwood Park in Hampshire at the School and Centre founded by a figure who has been called a philosopher, a sage, a guru, a holy man, and who rejects all these titles, yet for more than half a century he’s been one of the world’s most influential thinkers and teachers, bringing the timelessness of the East to the restlessness of the West – Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Krishnaji, what is the secret? What do you know that the rest of us don’t know?
Krishnamurti: Oh, I don’t know about that.
BL: But you must know something, in that, look at you – serene, realised, content, with no conflict.
BL: How have you managed it? What is it?
K: I’ve never had conflict in my life.
BL: No conflict?
K: At all.
BL: You must be almost unique among human beings if that’s so.
K: Yes. It’s not because of circumstances, it’s not because I was protected, it was not because of any outside influence that kept me safe, but I think it was a realisation that conflict destroys not only the mind but the whole sensitivity of awareness. So, I’ve never had conflict. Which seemed quite natural to me. It wasn’t an effort not to be in conflict.
BL: Well, for most of us it is an effort, so how can we conquer it?
K: I think it comes really when you have a direct perception of something – that conflict does destroy human dignity, human sense of depth and all the rest of it, and if you have a deep insight into it, it stops immediately, for me.
BL: Ah, but what about for us? What about for us?
K: Oh yes, for everybody.
BL: For everybody? Then how do we attain that? It’s almost like finding Nirvana, finding the ultimate goal, isn’t it?
K: No, no, the ultimate goal, if you can put it that way, is to find that which is completely sacred, totally uncontaminated by thought.
BL: Is thought the contaminant then?
BL: See, that is a very strange concept for most people.
K: It’s not a concept, it’s an actuality. Why do you reduce it to a concept?
BL: Well, because that is one’s way, our way of thinking; we learn to think that thought itself is the most important and strongest and most powerful means we have.
K: Of course.
BL: And is that not so?
K: But thought is very limited.
BL: Go on – why?
K: Because it’s born out of knowledge.
K: Born out of memory, experience, so knowledge is never complete about anything.
BL: But what is more complete than that? You say born out of experience, memory, knowledge – of course it is, but how can we go beyond those?
K: I think that comes really when you give thought its right place. You need thought to come here.
K: You need to have thought to have all these lights and cinema, all the rest of it, cameras and so on. You also need thought to build the atom bomb, the cruise missile and so on, so on, so on. But thought, as it is limited, as it is conditioned by knowledge, which is never, never complete under any circumstances – so thought, when one realises thought has its right place, then psychologically you don’t build an image about oneself, about anything. You see facts as they are.
BL: We all like to think we do that all the time.
K: No. No. Say for example, all the religions – doesn’t matter whether it’s Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam, are based on thought. So thought, whatever it has created is not sacred – all the rituals, all the things that go on in the name of God, in the name of… all the rest of it, is not sacred.
BL: But you’re talking about the rituals, you say yes, for that matter the structure of the churches, the hierarchies and the rest of it, but what about the original teaching? You wouldn’t say that about the teaching say, of Christ or of Buddha, would you?
K: I would say yes.
K: Because they have been put in print, translated by man to accommodate himself – they are called revelations some of them, in Christianity, and in Buddhism there is definite handed down from the Buddha, his disciples and so on, so on, but it’s still not a direct perception, direct understanding, direct and vital insight into that which is eternal.
BL: But how else can such teaching be transmitted? After all, you write books and give discourses.
K: Unfortunately, yes.
BL: And appear on television.
BL: I mean, this is the way these things are transmitted. How else can they be transmitted?
K: No but if you could see, for example, the word is not the thing. Right? The word, the book, whatever is printed is not the real thing, they’re only a means of communication by people who have seen something and then want to communicate to others.
K: And that during that communication it gets twisted, and the person becomes all-important, not what he said.
BL: Well, that I think is what I said a moment ago about the churches. The churches institutionalise the great teacher, the great leader, the great seer, and distort it as you say, but that again doesn’t affect the teaching. After all, let us take something we’re all familiar with, the Sermon on the Mount. Well, Christ spoke those words, they have been written down and now we read them for ourselves.
K: Yes, you read them.
BL: But they are still his words, are they not?
K: Sir, could we put it differently, the whole thing?
K: One has to be a light to oneself.
BL: Go on.
K: And you cannot possibly depend on anyone. You cannot have light from another. It cannot be lit by, whoever it is, God or by saviours and buddhas. It cannot be handed down to another. One has to be totally, completely a light to oneself. It doesn’t mean selfishly, it doesn’t mean egotistic, egocentric activity. On the contrary, to be a light to oneself means the understanding of oneself so completely that in that understanding there is no distortion of what one is.
BL: Well, do you mean then that none of us needs any of this teaching handed down to us, that we can all discover these things for ourselves?
K: It is certain that every man is the story of mankind. Obviously. And if I know how, if one knows how to read oneself, the story of oneself, which is very complex, which needs a great deal of attention, a mind that doesn’t distort facts, what is actually seen, such an attention, attentive, sensitive awareness, if one… that’s easy to cultivate, easy to have, then one can read about oneself without any illusion.
BL: But there’s a fine line, I think, separating what you say about that attention from what we do most of the time, which is to concentrate on ourselves.
K: Oh, that is merely egocentric activity.
BL: Well, indeed, of course it is, but then we are egocentric.
K: So, as we are egocentric, and that is creating havoc in the world, why don’t we realise the mischief that we are bringing?
BL: Well, that’s a question I should ask you. Why don’t we realise it?
K: Either we are totally indifferent to the world, what is happening, or we are so consumed by our own desires and pleasures it doesn’t matter what happens, as long as we fulfil.
BL: But must we not even seek happiness?
K: No. Happiness is a side effect, it’s not an end in itself.
BL: No, but I mean let’s take happiness that does not depend upon anyone else’s suffering, let us say that no one else is harmed. Is it wrong then to seek happiness, the condition of happiness for ourselves, or indeed for others, for our loved ones?
K: What do you mean by that word ‘happiness’?
BL: Well, what the world means by it is an innocent pleasure, if you like.
K: That’s all. As long as one has pleasure you call that happiness. Is pleasure love? Say for instance, is love desire, pleasure?
BL: Well, it’s part of it, clearly.
K: Ah, no, no.
BL: I mean, it is at the moment, it is as we see it.
K: We accept it.
BL: It is as we use it, as we live it.
K: Yes, we accept that.
BL: Yes we do.
K: That’s our human condition.
BL: Ah, right.
K: We never break through it. So, what makes human beings throughout the world break, finish with all this?
BL: But why should we? After all, love is one of the most, is it not – I mean, I want to know what you think about this, I’m not telling you – but is not love one of the most beneficial aspects of mankind?
K: It is, but it is now identified with desire, with pleasure, sex, fulfilment, a sense of fun, having fun in life – all that is called love. I think that’s not love.
BL: What is?
K: I think one can come to the realisation of really what love and compassion, which is, also with it goes intelligence, when we discover what it is not. It’s certainly not ambition.
BL: What about – I can see the selfish ambition, the ambition to exert power over people – but what about the ambition to do good, to help people?
K: You do good. You’re not ambitious to do good. Then it becomes selfish, a self-centred activity. You do good – finished.
BL: But we live in a world which depends on these things, don’t we?
K: Sir, we live in a world that thought has created.
K: We live in a world where we have given tremendous importance to thought, and thought has created all these problems – the atom bomb, wars, instruments of war, national divisions, religious divisions.
BL: It has indeed created those things, but has it not also created the good things in the world also?
K: I was going to say – surgery, medicine.
K: Art, all the other things. Of course it has. But the most destructive part of thought is under which we are living – wars, eternal wars. And nobody seems to be able to stop it. Nobody wants to stop it – commercialism, you know, all the rest of it, we don’t have to go into all that.
BL: Well, then how can we stop it? And we’d better start I suppose with ourselves.
K: Yes, that’s all.
BL: How do we do that?
K: After all, sir, human consciousness is the consciousness of mankind. Right? It’s not my consciousness, your consciousness, it’s the consciousness of humanity. And the content of that consciousness is put there by thought, greed, envy, ambition, all the conflicts, misery, suffering, extraordinary sense of isolation, loneliness, despair, anxiety – all that is there in our consciousness – belief. I believe in God, I believe in it. So faith, and belief brings about atrophy to the brain.
BL: But do you reject belief itself?
K: Oh, yes.
BL: Do you?
K: Completely. Because if you… Look…
BL: You don’t leave much standing, do you Krishnaji? You don’t leave much standing, do you Krishnaji?
K: Of course not. That’s what I said. One has to be free of all the illusions that thought has created, to see something really sacred, which comes about through right meditation.
BL: Right meditation.
BL: And what is right meditation? You suggest that there is also a wrong meditation.
K: All the meditations that are being put forward now by the gurus and all the rest of it, is nonsense.
K: Because first you must put the house in order.
BL: But isn’t this the way to put it in order?
K: Ah, you see that’s a wrong… They think by meditating you put the house in order.
BL: Yes. No?
BL: Not so?
K: No. On the contrary, you must put the house in order, which is – house, you understand? – the house in order. Otherwise, if you don’t, it becomes an escape.
BL: But we need, surely, to escape from the ego, from the self, from these desires, these demands in ourselves. Surely, the silence of meditation is a valuable path to that, isn’t it?
K: You see, please, the question of meditation is very complex. Unless one puts the house in order, which is no fear, the understanding of pleasure, the ending of sorrow, from that arises love, compassion, intelligence. And the process to that, we’ll call it process for the moment, is part of meditation. And then to find out whether thought can ever stop. Which is, time has to have a stop. And then out of that comes the great silence. It’s in that silence alone that one can find that which is sacred.
BL: Well, but to stop thought is, as far I’m concerned and I’m sure this is true of most people, the most difficult thing in life is to turn off, switch off the mind.
K: Ah, no. This is again rather complex. Who is it that switches off the mind?
BL: I suppose what I have to say is, it’s the mind itself, switching itself off, which I suppose is impossible.
K: Now, when one realises the observer is the observed, the controller is the controlled, the experiencer is the experience, when one actually realises it, not intellectually, verbally, but profoundly, then that very perception stops it. It’s like seeing danger. If you see danger you move away from it.
K: So, if you see the ‘danger’ – quotes – if you see the danger of conflict, for example, the danger, the psychological danger of a human being who is perpetually in conflict – he may meditate, he may do all kinds of things, conflict will go on – but when he sees the danger of it, like a poison, then you stop it. There is an end of it.
BL: But, see, from what you say, it seems to me that there is no path to this.
K: Oh, no.
BL: Well, how do we get there? I mean to get somewhere where there is no path seems to be a very difficult idea indeed.
K: Sir, look, these paths have been laid down by thought. Right? There’s the whole Hindu idea of paths, of which you know, the Buddhist, the Christian. Truth is not a fixed point, so you can’t have a path to it.
BL: But there must be a path, or I hope there’s a path, to the ending of conflict of which we’re speaking.
K: There is – not a path – there is an ending of conflict, sorrow and all that when one realises – no, let’s put it that way – when there’s actual sensitive awareness of what one is, without any distortion. Awareness of it, without any choice. Out of that there’s the ending of it, all this mess.
BL: Well, then that sounds, when you say there is only this awareness of what one is, the full awareness without choice, without illusion, it sounds as though we all have to sit around waiting for instant revelation.
K: Then you can sit around for a million years.
K: As we have done.
BL: Indeed we have.
K: I don’t think… You see, then we have to go in to find out what is action. Is there an action which doesn’t create conflict, in which there is no regret, which under all circumstances, whether one lives in a poor society or an affluent society, it has… action then is, must be always correct? To find that out, one has to go into the question of what actual action is now. It’s either idealistic action, future, or action based on past memories, which is knowledge. Or is there an action independent of the future, of time? That’s the whole point isn’t it?
BL: Well, we can’t stop time in its tracks; it rolls on.
K: Now, time as by the watch, by day, it goes on, but is there psychological time, inward time? There isn’t; we have created that.
BL: So it seems then that whatever the thing is, it is complete and instantaneous.
BL: It is not something you build up layer by layer.
K: Absolutely not. Illumination is not a gradual process. Then it is not an illusion, it is not enlightenment, because you allow time, gradually becoming something.
BL: You know, in this context I would like to ask you this. You have a school here; what do you teach the children? If you can’t build this up for them, for any of us, old or young, I presume, what do you teach?
K: The academic subjects.
BL: Yes, but in this area, in these areas?
K: Of course. And also point out all this. How to live correctly, what it means.
BL: Well, you see, philosophers throughout the ages have discussed that very point – how to live correctly. What is correct living, right living, as Socrates said?
K: That’s right living.
BL: And can you teach that?
K: You can point out. You can say, ‘Don’t be a slave to society,’ don’t be this and that, but you have to show it, point out. It’s up to them.
BL: But can we live in the real world that we do live in, in which we have to catch trains and go to offices and buy bread in the shop, and…
K: Yes, sir, I’ve done all those.
BL: How can we combine all the pressures of the mundane around us…
K: I don’t admit pressure. I wouldn’t do anything under pressure.
BL: You wouldn’t. I wish I didn’t.
K: No, both intellectually and psychologically, I refuse to be under pressure. I don’t mind starving, I don’t mind having no job, but I refuse to be put in that position.
BL: But you see, this is really what I meant when I said, ‘What is the secret?’ because you say you will never be put under pressure, and indeed I can see and understand that, one has only to look at you or read you or listen to you to know that, but what about the rest of us? How do we get out from under this burden?
K: If we all say we won’t be under pressure…
BL: We all are under pressure all the time.
K: No, we won’t be.
BL: How can we refuse it? I mean, how can we live in the real world? The job is waiting for us, we’re going to be late, we’ve got an appointment, we’ve got…
K: Now, just a minute, that brings up that society can be changed.
BL: Well, cannot society be changed?
K: No, whether society can be changed.
K: The communists have tried it, the socialists are trying it, various systems are trying to change society.
K: Now, what is society? It’s an abstraction of our personal relationship. Now, if our personal relationship changes radically, society changes. But we’re not willing to change. We admit wars – you follow? – we accept all this terrible state of existence.
BL: Yes, we do. We do. How do we stop it?
K: No. Revolt against it. Not revolt in the sense become a communist, all that kind of stuff – psychologically revolt against it.
BL: But that, presumably, must be each individual. This is not something that can be done collectively.
K: No, again, what do you mean by individual?
BL: Well, we’re all independent, in separate personalities.
K: Are we?
BL: Well, aren’t we?
K: I doubt it.
BL: Go on.
K: We’re not individuals. We are the result of a million years of collective experiences, memories, all that. We think we are individuals. We think we are free. We are not. To us, freedom means choice. Choice means confusion. You don’t choose if you are clear.
BL: You said once, one of your most striking phrases, I remember, that your purpose was to set man free.
K: Yes. It sounds…
BL: Oh, yes, it’s the most important thing in the world, after all, but how do you go about that, how do we set ourselves free? Because presumably we have to set ourselves free, is what you meant, to show us how we set ourselves free. How do we set ourselves free?
K: Sir, to be aware of our conditioning.
BL: But our condition may be terrible, miserable, wretched.
K: No. What is our conditioning?
BL: Well, that varies from individual to individual, surely.
K: I doubt it.
K: No. We are conditioned by fear.
K: Which is common to all mankind. We are conditioned by our pleasure, which is common to all mankind. We are conditioned by our anxieties, by our loneliness, by our desperate uncertainty. All these are the factors that condition the mind.
BL: And can we simply put them aside?
K: No. You put a wrong question there. That if one sees the consequences of all these conditionings – consequences, the pain, you know, all the rest of it – naturally you stop, it stops. There is no entity which says, ‘I must stop it.’ That is intelligence.
BL: And then we are free?
K: Now, what do you mean by free?
BL: Well, what I mean by it is to be rid of these fears, these anxieties, these impossible desires, vain yearnings.
K: Yes, that’s right. That is freedom.
BL: It certainly seems so to me.
K: Unless there is that freedom you cannot be a light to yourself. Unless there is that freedom, meditation is meaningless.
BL: You see, everybody thinks it’s the other way round. You reverse it, don’t you?
K: That is a fact.
BL: You see, we think of the systems, the beliefs, the faith, the work as a means to getting to this state of freedom. You start with a state of freedom.
K: No, sir, belief brings, atrophies the brain. If you keep on repeating, repeating, repeating, as they do, your brain is atrophied.
BL: Then can we just do it by one great leap into freedom?
K: Yes. That is to have insight into all this.
BL: And any of us can do it?
K: Anybody who is attentive, who is inquiring, exploring, trying to understand this terrible confusion of life.
BL: At any age?
K: No, no, no, you are putting… No, of course not. A baby can’t do it.
K: A child can’t do it.
BL: But we don’t have to spend a lifetime practising it?
K: Of course not. Then death is waiting for you.
BL: It’s waiting for all of us.
K: For all of us.
BL: Thank you very much, Krishnamurti.
Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park, 25 May 1981