Krishnamurti on Understanding

Episode Notes

‘In the state of understanding, there is no barrier between the fact and yourself. When you understand something, your whole attention is given to it.’

This week’s episode on Understanding has six sections.

The first extract (2:50) is from Krishnamurti’s fourth talk in Madras 1964, titled ‘In what sense are we using the word ‘understand’?’

The second extract (8:24) is from the first talk in Saanen 1962, titled ‘Will mental exploration bring about understanding?’

The third extract (16:06) is from the first question and answer meeting at Brockwood Park in 1985 titled, ‘Does asking for guidance prevent understanding?’

The fourth extract (30:10) is from Krishnamurti’s fourth talk in Ojai 1981, titled ‘Understanding brings its own discipline.’

The fifth extract (45:42) is from the third talk in Paris 1965, titled ‘Is understanding a matter of time?’

The final extract in this episode (58:35) is from the fourth talk at Brockwood Park in 1971, titled ‘Meditation can only begin with the total understanding of oneself’.

Part 1

In What Sense Are We Using the Word ‘Understand’? 

Understanding is not merely agreeing intellectually or verbally. Understanding is the comprehension and cognition of words and their meaning, not only intellectually but also with a great deal of feeling, not only mentally but neurologically, with your nerves, with your eyes, with your smell. Understanding can only take place when there is a total comprehension with all your being. Understanding is not partial, not fragmentary. ‘I understand what you are saying, intellectually’ – such a statement has no meaning whatsoever. It means merely that I understand the words you are using; because you and I both speak English, we understand the meaning of those words. But understanding is more profound, more real, than the mere understanding of words. When we say we understand, it means a total comprehension and, therefore, action.

To understand is to act. It is not to understand and then to act because then understanding merely remains as an idea, which is not understanding. The idea is separate from action, and then the whole problem arises: how to bring action to conform or bring it in approximation to the idea.

So there is always a contradiction if you do not understand this usage of words, the creation of ideas out of those words, the accepting or the rejecting of those ideas, and if you accept the ideas and try to conform or approximate your action to those ideas – all these processes are not a state of understanding. Understanding is a state of comprehending totally, with all one’s being, nervously, emotionally, intellectually, with feeling, with everything that one has. And when there is such understanding, there is action.

Life is action. These two are not separate. Life is not an idea carried out in action, just as you cannot have love as an idea. Love cannot be cultivated; it cannot be nurtured or produced – either there is love or there is not. Similarly, there is understanding or there is no understanding.

To understand something, one has to listen, and listening is an art. To listen to something implies that you are giving complete attention, not only to what the speaker is saying but also to those crows, to the sunset, to the clouds, to the breeze on the leaves, to the various colours that are here, so that your whole neurological system, as well as the cells of the brain, comprehend totally. Out of that total comprehension alone is there action which does not bring about contradiction and therefore conflict, endless pain and misery.

So in this sense we are using the word ‘understanding’.

Krishnamurti in Madras 1964, Talk 4

Part 2

Will Mental Exploration Bring About Understanding? 

Let us find out what we mean by exploration, and what we mean by understanding. Will mental exploration bring about understanding?

Please don’t agree or disagree; we are examining the question. The exchange of ideas, opinions and formulas, will that bring about understanding? What do we mean by understanding? How does the state of understanding come into being? I will go into it a little bit, and perhaps we may meet.

In the state of understanding, surely, there is no barrier between the fact and yourself. When you understand something, your whole attention is given to it. Attention is not fragmentary, as the mental process is. When you examine something mentally, it is a fragmentary process, a separative process; but when you understand, in that understanding your mind, your emotions, your body, your whole being is involved. You are quiet, and out of that quietness you say, ‘I understand.’

Understanding obviously does not come through fragmentation, but most of us think in terms of fragmentation. All our relationships in life are fragmentary. With one part of ourselves we are politicians; with another part we are religious; with a third part we are business people, and so on. Psychologically we are all broken up, and with these fragments of ourselves we look at life. And then we say, ‘Intellectually I understand, but I cannot act.’

So, mental examination or exploration is fragmentary, superficial, and it does not bring about understanding. Intellectually we agree, for example, that it is immature to have the world broken up into conflicting nationalities and religious groups, but at heart we are still English, German, Hindu, Christian, and so on. Our difficulty is to bring about a direct emotional contact with the fact, and this demands that we approach the fact negatively, that is, without any obsession of opinion.

There is a vast difference, then, between the mental examination of a fact and the understanding of that fact. Mental examination of the fact leads nowhere. But the understanding born of approaching the fact negatively, without opinion or interpretation – this understanding of the fact gives tremendous energy to deal with the fact.

I will go much more into it during the coming talks, because probably most of us do lack this energy. We have plenty of physical energy – at least I hope so – but to deal with a psychological fact requires astonishing energy of a different kind, and that energy is denied when you approach the fact through habit: the habit of association, the habit of words, the habit of thought. So the fact remains, and the intellect is separated from the fact. This naturally creates a contradiction, a conflict, and therefore a dissipation of energy.

Krishnamurti in Saanen 1962, Talk 1

Part 3

Does Asking For Guidance Prevent Understanding? 

Question: Does asking for guidance necessarily prevent understanding? Cannot seeking help be a means of discovery of ourselves? If not, what is the sense of listening to you, K?

Krishnamurti: Does asking for guidance necessarily prevent understanding? Cannot seeking help be a means of discovery of oneself? If not, what is the sense of listening to you, K?

There is no sense! You are not listening to K. If you are actually truthful, you are not listening to K. You are listening to see where you agree or disagree. You are listening, and in the process of listening you are translating what he says to your convenience, to your conditioning.

You are listening, not to K but to yourself. K is not talking about something extraordinary. There is something extraordinary far beyond all this, but he is not talking about that now. You are listening to yourself. As we said earlier, you are seeing yourself in the mirror. And you can distort the mirror, or say, ‘I don’t like the mirror, I don’t like what I see,’ and break the mirror, but you are still what you are.

So you are listening, not to K. You are not trying to understand what K is saying. You are actually listening to yourself. If you are listening to yourself for the first time, that is the greatest thing that can happen. But if you are listening to K, or X, Y, Z – no, sorry, not X, Y, Z – if you are listening to K, then they are just a lot of words, a lot of reactions and so on. That is so utterly, if one may respectfully point out, utterly meaningless, unnecessary.

You have listened to so many things, listened to the preachers, to the books, to poems; you have listened to the voice of your wife or husband, and the girl and so on, or you are casually listening. But if you give all your attention to listening, hearing, not only with the ear but hearing much more, much deeper, then you will listen to everything. And you will listen to what K has to say. Either you live with it, it is real, true, actual, or it is something verbal, intellectual, and therefore has very little meaning in our life.

And the questioner asks: does seeking, asking for guidance necessarily prevent understanding? Understanding of what? Chemistry? Mathematics? Some philosophical concept? Understanding Gorbachev? What do we mean by understanding? Please, the speaker is not trying to be rude; or he is rude – sorry, he is not trying to be; he is not rude, just asking.

What do we mean by the word ‘understanding’, first? We can then relate that word to understanding, to bringing about understanding through guidance, through seeking guidance. First, what do we mean by understanding? To understand. I understand French because I know some French, and the speaker understands Italian because he knows that. So there is an intellectual, verbal communication. That is one form of understanding. We use common language: you speak English and the speaker speaks English, so the verbal communication, if we mean the same thing and not give to the word a different meaning – like Alice says in Alice in Wonderland, ‘I give to the word what I want, the meaning I want’ – you can do that too, but communication becomes rather difficult then.

So what do we mean by understanding? A verbal communication? Intellectual comprehension of a concept or idea? Or understanding means actually listening to what another is saying, not trying to interpret, not trying to change it, not trying to modify it, actually what he says, not only intellectually but with all your being, with great attention. Then it is not merely intellectual, emotional or sentimental, all that kind of stuff, but entirely you are there. Then there is not only verbal communication but non-verbal communication.

And the questioner asks: does asking for guidance necessarily prevent understanding?

Why do I want guidance? About what? You answer me, those of you who follow these gurus and all the rest of it, the churches, temples and mosques, what do you mean by guidance? Another fellow human being in different robes, with beard or non-beard, especially from Asia, India included – why does one want guidance? Are you being guided now? Be simple, are you being guided now, or are we together investigating, exploring, communicating, saying, ‘I don’t understand what you are saying,’ and I say, ‘I’ll explain it,’ and then you explain something to me and I say, ‘Yes’ – we are moving together; there is no guidance. Are we?

We have had guidance galore: every newspaper, every magazine, every preacher, every priest throughout the world is guiding us, telling us what to do, what not to do, think this, don’t think that, surrender yourself, ‘Oh, don’t listen to him, he is a reactionary’ – we are being guided, shaped, moulded, all the time, consciously or unconsciously. Here we are not guiding anybody; we are talking like two friends talking over things together. That is totally different. And guidance prevents understanding, in the deeper sense of that word, because I can’t understand myself first, look at myself if you are guiding me all the time: do this, don’t do that. Then I am not looking at myself, I am listening to what you have said. That means you become the authority and I become your slave, whether a psychological slave or slave to some other factor.

These gurus’ ashrams become concentration camps. They tell you what to do, how to salute, all that tommyrot. I am not condemning; it is so.

So if we don’t seek guidance at all – which actually prevents understanding of ourselves – then cannot seeking help be a means of discovery of ourselves? Good God, need we go into all this again? Why can’t we be simple? Not in clothes – I don’t mean that. Simple: see things as they are, look, face things actually as they are, instead of all this labyrinth of maze. Why do we have to go through all this? Except the doctor – that is a different matter. Psychologically we are talking about – why can’t we be very, very simple and look at things as they are? Is our brain so incapacitated, so cunning, so desperately devious, that it cannot see things, what is in front of our nose or eyes?

If you are very, very simple psychologically, that very simplicity has immense subtlety, much more subtle than all the cunningness of the brain. But we are never simple. If it is raining, it is raining. I am lonely – not the speaker – one is lonely; that is a fact. Why all the circus round it?

Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1985, Question and Answer Meeting 1

Part 4

Understanding Brings Its Own Discipline

Patience is timeless; impatience is full of time. One must have patience to listen to oneself. Now we depend on specialists, professors, those who tell you what to do. We have lost self-reliance. We have become more or less slaves to authority, whether it is scientific authority, religious, economic or environmental authority. All over the world, we are losing our sense of integrity. We depend on books. Books have their place, but to understand ourselves through books, through another, has led us to this confusion, to this crisis. As we have pointed out over and over again, we are thinking, reasoning, observing together. We are not accepting what the speaker is saying, or rejecting it. He is merely acting as a mirror in which we see ourselves. And when we begin to see ourselves as we are, then we can throw away, break up the mirror. The mirror has no value.

So we are saying that the crisis is in our minds and our hearts. And we don’t seem to be able to understand that crisis. Understanding brings its own discipline – not the discipline of conformity, not the discipline of imitation, not the discipline to accept something, however great or small. Discipline means – the root meaning of the word ‘discipline’ comes from the word ‘disciple’. A disciple is one who learns – not from another, however wise, however enlightened, however knowledgeable, but learning from our own self-education, learning about ourselves – because there is our crisis. We have handed ourselves over to the priests, to the scholars, to the professors, to the philosophers, to the analysts, and unfortunately, recently, we have handed ourselves over to gurus from India or Asia – which is most unfortunate. They have become rich, exploiting people. It has become a great religion as it is now, a great business affair – which again is obvious.

So we are saying that one has to observe oneself, learn about oneself. Not from anybody because they themselves are not studying themselves. They have theories, speculative ideas. They have experimented on animals, pigeons and so on, but they have never looked at themselves actually as they are, with their greed, with their ambition, with their competition, with their aggressiveness, violence and so on – all that we are. In the understanding of that, actually understanding not merely the verbal description of what we are but the actual understanding of our reactions, our thoughts, our anger, our wounds, our aggressiveness, violence and so on, looking at it, out of that understanding, observation, comes this discipline which is constantly learning anew.

Perhaps we have lost the meaning of the word ‘discipline’; we have relegated it to the soldier, to some monks and so on. In this country especially, we have lost the meaning of that word. If you are a careerist, in that career there is a certain demand for discipline. If you are a carpenter, the very understanding of the wood, the tools, the nature of design, that observation, that understanding brings its own learning, its own discipline, its own action. But apparently we have lost that because we are all so terribly concerned to get on, to climb the ladder of success, to become something – if you observe all this – and therefore we are becoming more and more and more superficial. You have got a marvellous country, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, from the highest snow-capped mountains to the desert, to the vast rivers and the deep valleys, and the great trees. It is a marvellous country, and we human beings are destroying all that because we want to get on, god knows where, but get on.

We are observing all this ourselves, please, you are not following the speaker. The speaker is not your guru, your leader; you are not his followers. One has to wipe away all that and examine closely what we are doing as human beings.

In this consciousness there is disorder, and we are trying to bring order in that by conformity, by acceptance, by obedience. We have never understood what order is. As the speaker has been in this country for the last sixty years, I have seen every kind of phase, fad, always something new. And we live – practically, socially, morally, ethically – in disorder. Without understanding order in the deepest sense of that word, meditation becomes utterly meaningless. We think that through meditation, we will bring order. That is the trick that has been played upon us for a million years. But order begins at home, near.

So we have to investigate together what that order is because our consciousness, as we said, is in total disarray. It is in conflict; it is battling itself against something which it has created. So we are, together, going to inquire: what is order? We are using that word to imply a state of mind, not as an ideal, a state of mind, a state of heart in which there is no conflict whatsoever. Conflict indicates disorder. Choice indicates disorder. A man who chooses is really not actually free; he is confused.

Please don’t accept what is being said. It is important, one thinks, that one must cultivate or have this sense of scepticism, especially in psychological matters. There must be doubt. And if you observe, in the Asiatic world – India, and so on – doubt has been one of the precepts of religion. The Hindus and Buddhists have talked a great deal about doubt. But in the Christian world, doubt is denied because that world is based on faith. And if you question, you are either excommunicated or tortured – as they have done in the past, burnt – but now you are tolerated. There isn’t much difference.

So please observe yourself, your environment, your society and your own thoughts with considerable doubt. And also listen to the speaker with doubt, with questioning, demanding of yourself. You are doubting all that you have thought, observed, learnt, so that the mind, the brain is free to observe. And also doubt must be kept on a leash, like a dog. If you keep a dog on the leash all the time, the poor animal withers. You must know when to let it go, run, chase, jump. Similarly, one must hold doubt on a leash, and also one must learn the subtlety of when to let it go.

Krishnamurti in Ojai 1981, Talk 4

Part 5

Is Understanding a Matter of Time? 

Does time bring understanding? – a duration, a period, a length of time. I may learn a language in four months. Learning a new technique, a new craft, a new way of doing things, takes time. But is understanding a matter of time?

Do we come to understanding through experience? What is experience? And do we learn anything through experience? We have had two bloody, dreadful wars. Have we learnt anything – except perhaps new techniques, like how to build better aeroplanes? Have we learnt not to kill each other, physically, mentally, verbally, nationally, comparatively? Obviously not.

Now, take a simple thing like nationalism. Why are we nationalists? We are discussing this in relation to understanding. I identify myself with my country, which is greater than myself, and from that identification I derive a certain satisfaction. You do the same as a Frenchman, somebody else does it as a German or an American, with all the rest of that silly nonsense, and we are ready to go to battle – over what? Over our identification with an idea. Because you and I are human beings, with our passions, with our hatreds, with our agonies, with our nationalism, really to become a united Europe, a united world – to become united human beings – we say it will take time. What does that mean? It means that we don’t want to give up our particular little idiosyncrasies, our identifications – which we could give up tomorrow or immediately. When you see something to be poison, you give it up instantly. But we like to be called a Frenchman or an Englishman, and all the rest of it, and therefore we cling to our nation until circumstances gradually force us to become united. So we say, ‘By Jove, it will take time to get united.’

In the same way, we say that time is necessary to come to understanding. Is it? We say it is because we never give attention to anything. We give attention to something only when there is a tremendous crisis. And the world is in a state of crisis all the time, not just when you want it to be. As you sit in this hall, there is a crisis, there is misery, there is starvation in the world. Not in Paris, perhaps, not in France, but go in an aeroplane eight hours away, and you will know all about starvation, misery, disease, ugliness. Yet you sit quietly back in your comfortable chair and say it will take time to understand! The crisis is there but we don’t want to face it.

For God’s sake, do see that understanding doesn’t take time! Time, as we saw the other day when we talked about it, only creates more disorder. It is very simple, and I don’t want to go into it again.

Understanding comes when you give your mind, your heart and your body to something. When you don’t, you won’t have understanding. Either you do it voluntarily, easily, happily, or you are compelled. When you are compelled, you resist, and therefore you say, ‘Well, it will take time.’

You know, most of us are jealous or envious, and we like it. We like it because it involves possession, domination, comparison, the feeling that we own, that we are somebody, and all the rest of it. When you see what is actually involved in the whole comparative structure, either you like it and go on with it, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you understand it immediately. Because you understand it, you don’t go that way.

Questioner: Who is it that understands?

Krishnamurti: Who is the entity that understands? Is there an entity when there is understanding? We say, ‘I understand,’ but that is only a form of communication. I say to you, ‘I understand what you are talking about,’ but at the actual moment of understanding, is there an entity who says, ‘I understand’? At the moment when there is joy, which has no cause and which is completely different from pleasure, at that moment, is there an entity who says, ‘I am joyous’? And when you do say, ‘I am joyous,’ joy ceases. I do not know if you have noticed this. The moment you say, ‘I am happy,’ are you happy then? It is the same when you are completely attentive. Do try it for yourself, and you will see.

Look at a flower, a tree or a cloud, or what you will, look at it non-verbally, that is, without naming it, without saying it is good, bad, beautiful, this or that. Look at it non-verbally and therefore attentively – attentively in the sense of completely, with your whole mind, with everything. There is then a state of attention in which there is no effort, and in that state of attention, is there an entity who is attentive? The entity who is attentive and who is aware that he is attentive, is born of memory, which is inattention – and it is only in that state of inattention that there is an entity who observes.

If you ever go into a wood, and I hope you do, look at a tree quietly. Just look at it. By looking, I do not mean looking with your mind only – the mind thinks much more than the eye – but look at the whole tree with your whole being, so that you are in communion with the tree. This is not some mysterious or mystical phenomenon. You know, there is something tremendously mysterious in life which is not created by the ugly, stupid little mind. Sit down and look at that tree or at a flower; look at it attentively, without concentration. Concentration limits; concentration is exclusive. A businessman or merchant concentrates when he is bargaining to get something. When you want this or that, you concentrate, and thereby limit the mind; the mind fixes itself on a certain point. That is not what I mean by attention. When you look at a flower or a tree, look at it attentively, easily, and you will find that there is no entity as the observer, as the experiencer, as the thinker, because then the observer is the observed.

Krishnamurti in Paris 1965, Talk 3

Part 6

Meditation Can Only Begin With the Total Understanding of Oneself 

I do not know how to expose the whole content of my consciousness. I thought I could through analysis. I thought I could through drugs. I thought I could do it by following a teacher, philosopher, psychologist or analyst. I have tried all those ways, and I see I am still caught in the net of all that. And I discard all that because that doesn’t help me to know myself totally, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I have asked the impossible question, and the impossible question says, ‘I don’t know.’ Therefore the mind empties itself of everything it has – every suggestion, every probability, every possibility. So the mind is completely active, empty of the past, which is time, analysis, the authority of somebody. So it has exposed all the content of itself by denying the content.

Do you understand? No? Has somebody understood this, or am I talking to myself?

So, as we said, meditation can only begin with the understanding of myself totally. That is part of meditation, part of the beginning of meditation. Without understanding myself, the mind can deceive itself, can have illusions. That is, being conditioned by a particular culture in which one has been brought up – Hindu, Christian, communist, or whatever – if you are a Hindu, you will see according to your conditioning, the god, the illusions, the myths, the falseness, the lies; if you are a Christian you are conditioned according to your particular culture and you will see Christ, you will see this and you will see that; if you are a Hebrew – you know all the rest of it, the same phenomenon goes on right through. And so when you know your conditioning and are free of it, then there is no possibility of any kind of illusion. And that is absolutely essential because we can deceive ourselves so easily. So when I investigate into myself, I see that the consciousness emptying itself of all its content through knowing itself, not by denying anything, but by understanding the whole content, that brings about a great energy which is necessary, because that energy transforms completely all my activity. It is no longer self-centred and therefore cause of friction.

So meditation is a way of putting aside altogether everything that man has conceived of himself and of the world. So you have a totally different kind of mind. Meditation also means awareness – awareness both of the world and of the whole movement of oneself, without any choice, to see exactly ‘what is’ – without any distortion, to see. And distortion takes place the moment you bring in thought. Thought has function, absolute function, but when there is an observation, when thought interferes with that observation as image, then there is distortion, then there is illusion.

So to observe actually what is, in oneself and in the world, without any distortion – to so observe, a quiet mind is necessary, a very still mind is necessary. And one knows that it is necessary to have a quiet mind. Therefore they say: discipline, control it. And there are various systems to help you to control. And all that is friction. So if you want to observe passionately, with intensity, the mind inevitably becomes quiet. You don’t have to force it. The moment you force it, it is not quiet; it is dead. Whereas if you see the truth that to perceive anything you must look, and if you look with prejudice, you cannot see. If you see that, your mind is quiet.

So a quiet mind, a still mind, is necessary – not through any sense of conformity, discipline or enforcement. Now what takes place in a quiet mind? Because we are inquiring not only into that quality of energy in which there is no friction, but also we are inquiring how to bring about a radical change within oneself – oneself being the world and the world is oneself. The world is not different from me; I am the world. It is not just an idea, a theory, but an actual fact that I am the world and the world is me. So if there is a radical revolution, a change in me, it will inevitably affect the world because I am part of the world.

And in this inquiry into what is meditation, I see that any wastage of energy is caused by friction in my relationship with another. And is it possible to have a relationship with another in which there is no friction whatsoever? That is possible only when I understand what love is. The understanding of what love is is the denial of what love is not. Love is not anger, jealousy, ambition, greed, self-centred activity – you know, all that. Obviously that is not love. So, when in the understanding of myself there is the total setting aside of all that which is not love, then it is.

Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1971, Talk 4

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