Interview by Oliver Hunkin
Oliver Hunkin was head of religious programmes at the BBC, where he revolutionised the format. He was also an author and cartoonist. In his memoirs he wrote: ‘We have to admit there is an air of antique unreality about organised religion. The majority of people do not see the point of it. Have we lost track of the fact that religion is a specific experience rather than a system of dogma?’ Indeed, he had a revelatory spiritual experience one evening whilst driving, later saying: ‘I felt totally at one with the landscape, and with myself, and with all creation. The memory of it has affected my attitude to life ever since’.
This interview with Krishnamurti was recorded at Brockwood Park in 1970. In the conversation, Krishnamurti states that authority has crippled the mind, religiously and inwardly. The authority of belief, imposed by religions, destroys the discovery of reality. One relies on authority because one is afraid to stand alone. To understand fear one must also understand pleasure, as they are two sides of the same coin. Are we seeing each other with an image? There is love only when I have understood myself and so in myself there is no fragmentation, anger, ambition or greed. Effort is a contradiction of energies. A meditative mind is a very silent mind.
Oliver Hunkin: Mr Krishnamurti, you say all our problems stem from one root problem: we are second-hand people; we live as we’ve been told to live; for centuries we’ve been conditioned by… (inaudible) …authority and today the young… (inaudible) …against these authorities. What have you personally against authority?
Krishnamurti: I don’t think I have anything personally against authority but authority right throughout the world has really crippled the mind, not only religiously but inwardly; because authority of a belief, imposed by religions, surely destroys the discovery of reality. Because authority… one relies on authority because one is afraid to stand alone.
OH: I am a little puzzled by this because surely the accumulated wisdom of the human race is not to be thrown away totally?
K: No, but what is wisdom? Is wisdom mere accumulation of knowledge or is it… does wisdom come only when suffering ends?
K: You follow what I mean?
K: After all, wisdom isn’t in books, wisdom isn’t in the accumulated knowledge of others’ experiences. Wisdom comes, surely, in self-understanding, in self-discovery of the whole structure of oneself, and in the understanding of oneself the ending of sorrow is the beginning of wisdom. How can a mind be wise when it is caught up in fear and sorrow? It’s only when sorrow ends, surely – which is fear – then there is a possibility of being wise.
OH: You said that the basis of authority is fear, and I agree about that; I think the Roman Catholic… many of the Christian Churches have kept people on the straight and narrow – or tried to – on the straight and narrow by fear, but now we are all afraid.
K: Fear and reward.
OH: That too – the carrot as well as the stick.
K: The carrot as well as the stick.
OH: That’s right. But how – let’s get down to the real question – how does one cope with fear, because we are full of fear?
K: I think to really understand fear, one must also understand what is pleasure. I think they are the two sides of the same coin. So what is fear, and can the human mind be ever free from fear, not only at the conscious level but at the deeper layers, the hidden layers of the mind? You see, I think first of all this division between the conscious and the unconscious is (inaudible – unreal?) and fear, physical fear can easily be understood and dealt with – physical forms of fear: darkness, danger, certain forms of neurosis and so on… (pause in recording) …easily dealt with. But the fears, the psychological fears are much more difficult. Because first of all, we want to escape from them, escape through various forms of entertainment, whether it’s religious entertainment or ordinary entertainment. So to understand fear, all escape must come to an end. One must be able to look at it. And how you look at it is really the vital point.
OH: Take fear of death – how do you look at that?
K: Fear of death – you see, fear there implies the ending of what one is and entering into something that one doesn’t know. And this fear of the future, that is, tomorrow I might die, is the fear of not having lived a totally complete life. I don’t know if I’m conveying… Because we have divided life into death and living, so-called living and the… (pause in recording) … constant battle; therefore we try to invent a meaning or give a significance to life intellectually, and hold on to that. And so having divided living and dying, thought then postpones death, pushes it further and further and further away. So thought is the origin of fear. If death is to happen immediately, there is no fear, but if it is to happen in ten days’ time, then thought begins to think about it, what is going to happen, what has been done, whether I will carry to heaven my furniture (laughs), my fortune or my memories. All that breeds fear. Thought is responsible for fear and so thought is also responsible for pleasure.
OH: Yes, fear and pleasure are going together. Why is pleasure equally suspect? Because we all are in pursuit of pleasure. The modern world is…
K: Oh, the modern world and the whole human existence is based on the pursuit of pleasure. Pleasure. What is pleasure? You have enjoyed, say, for example, an evening sunset, marvellous thing; a lovely colour and all the rest of it. Then you want to repeat it the next day because you had a great delight in that. The repetition of it is brought about by thought; the thinking that you had a pleasure yesterday and you want to repeat it again tomorrow. And not being able to get that pleasure tomorrow, you feel frustrated, you feel angry, you feel afraid. So thought is responsible for both the continuance of pleasure and the sustaining of fear. I don’t know if I am making myself clear.
OH: Yes, but what you’re saying, I think, is that the present moment is the important moment. In the present moment, when we are sitting looking at each other now…
K: Now, wait a minute. We are looking at each other now. What are we looking at? What are you seeing? What am I seeing? Am I seeing you with an image which I have about you or you seeing me with an image you have about me? The image is the past.
OH: Well there are associations and memories which surround you.
K: Yes. Which is all the past.
K: So you are looking at me with the memories, associations, experiences, the knowledge about me, which are all… which is the image you have. So you’re really not looking at me – your image is looking at me, or rather, through the image you are looking. I think this is fairly simple, isn’t it? Do we look at anybody with fresh eyes?
OH: Well, I know you say that one ought to try and look at one’s child, one’s girlfriend…
K: …one’s wife, one’s husband…
OH: … as for the first time, but it’s very difficult. We’ve been trying this in the office, actually.
K: Why is it difficult? Because we like to live in the past. I have hurt you, I have said something brutal to you and you remember it; and next time you meet me that remembrance comes forward. I might have changed but you have that memory, so you are looking at me with the image which you have, which has come about through the insult or through the hurt or through pleasure, and so you can never look at another afresh. And it’s only when you can look at another afresh there is an understanding, there is real relationship.
OH: We have dealt now, or talked about fear and we’ve talked about pleasure. What about the third most powerful drive: love? You say a mind that has no fear of authority is capable of great love. Now, is this an invitation to kick over the traces?
K: Not at all, sir; on the contrary. I mean, one has to find out what we mean by love. Is love pleasure? Is love desire? Is love limited to sex? Or is love of the country, love of the family, the love of a country and so on? When we talk of love, what does it mean?
OH: Well, it’s something to do with attraction, is it?
K: Which is all pleasure – pleasure, sexual pleasure and so on. And is love… Or could we put it this way: could we look at it and find out what is not love?
OH: Perhaps that might be easier. But can you have love, for instance, without a repetition of pleasure?
K: That’s just it. That’s the whole point, you see? I mean, is love jealousy? Can there be love if there is ambition?
OH: I don’t know – can there be?
K: Obviously not.
K: If there is any form of violence, sexual or… any form of violence, can there be love? Anger, hatred, aggression – how can love be?
OH: Why is it we all so desperately want to be loved?
K: Because we are so desperately empty, lonely.
OH: But you say that loving, on the whole, is more important than being loved?
K: Yes, of course, obviously. Which means one must understand this emptiness, this loneliness in oneself. So this question of love is really an extraordinary thing because a mind that is frightened obviously cannot love; a mind that is self-concerned, with its own ambitions, greeds, fears, guilt, suffering has no capacity to love. A mind that is divided in itself, that lives in fragments obviously cannot love; a mind that lives in division. After all, division implies sorrow. That is the root cause of sorrow: division between you and me, between me and they, or we and they; the black, the white, the purple, the pink and all the rest of it. So wherever there is a division, a fragmentation, love cannot be. Because goodness is the state of non-division. The word itself means indivisible.
OH: But love between two human beings, you say there shouldn’t be division but there…
K: That’s just it, sir. That’s just it. Look, when the husband says to the wife, or the boy says to the girl, ‘I love you,’ what does that mean? The sexual enjoyment, all the rest of it, is that what he calls love? Or is it a relationship, a close, intimate companionship?
OH: That, I think, is nearer it. But often they have an idealised picture of each other, which…
K: Which means what? An image of each other.
K: One image loves the other image. That image, the mechanism of that image is the accumulation of insults, pleasures, anxieties and so on, the nagging – all that is built up through months or years of living together, and each image has a relationship with the other. And is that relationship? Relationship means direct relationship now, not I had relationship, or the image that brings about the idea that I’ve had a relationship. So love, surely, is not the image of the past. Love is not cultivated by thought.
OH: You say, in fact, that love can only come into being when there is a total self-abandonment.
OH: But how does one achieve self-abandonment?
K: The total abandonment can only happen with the understanding of oneself. Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom; and therefore wisdom and love go together. Which means there is love only when I have really understood myself and therefore in myself there is no fragmentation at all. Which means no sense of anger – you know? – ambition, greed, separative activity.
OH: But, you see, we have to still live in society, and a rather sick society at that, and this impinges on us; we are not free really to be ourselves partly because of the society.
K: No, but surely, sir, we are the society. We have built the society; the society is us. The world is us. It is not the world is something different from me. I am the result of the world, of the society, the culture, the religion, the environment in which I have lived.
OH: You said, you see, that it is effort that destroys us, that life is a series of battles and the only happy man is one who is not caught up in effort, but can you do any work in the world without some hard effort?
K: Why not, sir?
OH: Well, they say, you know, 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.
K: I know, I know, elbow grease and all the rest of it.
OH: All that – elbow grease, exactly.
K: But what is effort?
OH: Well, it’s…
K: What is effort? It is a contradiction of energies, isn’t it? One energy opposing another energy.
OH: Couldn’t it be a steadfast drive in one direction?
K: Then if there is one drive, a pursuit, where is there a contradiction in that? There is no wastage of energy, there is no conflict. If I want to go out for a walk, I go out for a walk. But if I want to go out for a walk and yet I have to do something else, then the contradiction begins, then conflict, then effort. So that’s why, to understand effort one has to find out how contradictory we are.
OH: Now, I think we’ve cleared the way to come on to the basic question: how do we do it? Now, your book, you mention the word ‘meditation’ and I looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary where it defines it as ‘indulgence in thought’ – but you don’t want us to do this.
K: One has to go into this, sir, this is really… for me, meditation is one of the most important things and one has to really know what it means.
OH: Can you tell me what it is not – that’s what I’m saying?
K: Yes, I think that’s better. I was just going to suggest what it is not. You see, there are various schools of meditation who offer various systems, methods, and they say if you practice these methods, these systems day after day you will achieve a certain form of enlightenment, realise, experience an extraordinary state. Now, first of all, that is, to me, that is the whole idea of systems, method, implies mechanical repetition, and that is not meditation. Now, is it possible not to make the mind dull by repetition but to be aware of this movement of thought, without suppression, without trying to control them but just to be aware of this whole momentum of thinking, this chattering going on?
OH: But we verbalise our thoughts, don’t we, all the time?
K: That’s it. Thought exists only in words or in images.
OH: But you see, there is the old Punch joke about the old lady, asked what she did, and she said, ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.’
K: I know.
OH: But what’s she doing when she’s just sitting? Is she meditating?
K: No. She’s just vague, daydreaming, or lost in some kind of fancy. That’s not meditation – good Lord! Meditation means the most extraordinary… demands a great discipline. Not the discipline of suppression or conformity, the discipline that comes when you observe your thinking. When there is an observation of thought, that very observation brings about its own extraordinary subtle discipline. That is absolutely necessary.
OH: Do you set aside time for this?
K: Sir, you can do it any old time. You can do it while you’re sitting in a bus; that is, watch, observe, be attentive what is happening around you, what is happening in yourself, aware of this whole movement. You see… and meditation is really a form of emptying the mind of everything known; otherwise you cannot know the unknown. Now, to see anything new, totally new, the mind must be empty of all the past.
K: Truth or God, or whatever name you like to give to it, must be new, not something which is the result of propaganda, which is the result of conditioning. I mean, a Christian is conditioned by two thousand years of propaganda, and the Hindu and the Buddhist for ten thousand years, or more or less – so God or truth, according to them, is the result of propaganda, and that is not truth. Truth is something living every day, therefore the mind must be empty to look at that truth.
OH: Right – you sort of wipe the slate clean.
K: And that is meditation.
OH: And that’s meditation. Then you get this total, relaxed perception of ‘what is’.
K: That’s right, sir. And the ‘what is’ is not a thing that is static, it’s a thing that is extraordinarily alive. And therefore the mind that is really in meditation – a meditative mind is really a very silent mind. And the silence is not the product of suppression of noise, it is not the opposite of noise; it comes when the mind has completely understood itself and therefore no movement at all takes place. Which means the body must be completely quiet, the brain… – this is an extraordinary thing, if one has observed it – the brain cells themselves become quiet and then in that silence everything happens.
K: That is real meditation, not all this phoney acceptance of authority and repetition of words and all that business – that’s all nonsense.
OH: Can I try and recapitulate? And do tell me if I get it wrong. You see, meditation seems to me then… where we started, to be the essential de-conditioning process…
K: That’s right, sir.
OH: But if I discard this dead weight of authority, if I discard everything I’ve been told, I shall be totally alone at that moment, but in my solitude there is a chance I may understand what I really am.
K: That’s right. That’s right. And what truth is.
OH: And what truth is.
K: Or God or whatever name you like to give it.
Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park, 15 June 1970