Krishnamurti on the Observer

Episode Notes

‘When the observer is looking at itself, the observer is absolutely silent. If the observer is absolutely quiet, you see what actually is. If the observer is totally silent, then that which is, is non-existent.’

This week’s episode on The Observer has six sections.

The first extract (2:43) is from Krishnamurti’s first talk at Brockwood Park in 1974, titled ‘Who is the observer?’

The second extract (15:56) is from the first talk at Brockwood Park in 1970, titled ‘The observer is one of many fragments’.

The third extract (27:30) is from Krishnamurti’s third talk at Brockwood Park in 1970, titled ‘The observer is the reservoir of knowledge’.

The fourth extract (42:40) is from the first question and answer meeting in Ojai 1980, titled ‘The observer is the image maker’.

The fifth extract (56:08) is from Krishnamurti’s second talk in Saanen 1978, titled ‘Is there an observer?’

The final extract in this episode (1:12:53) is from the sixth talk in Ojai 1978, titled ‘In meditation there is neither the observer nor the observed’.

Part 1

Who Is the Observer?

Our consciousness with its content is the consciousness of the world because wherever you go, people are suffering; there is poverty, there is misery, there is brutality, which is part of our daily life. There is social injustice, the tremendously wealthy and the poor, and so on and on and on. Wherever one goes, this is an absolute fact. Each one of us is suffering, caught in all kinds of problems: sexual, personal, collective and so on. This conflict goes on right through the world in every human being. Our consciousness is theirs – and therein lies compassion. Not intellectual compassion but the actual passion for this whole human being, who is caught in this extraordinary travail. And when one looks at this consciousness without interpreting it as good or bad, or noble or ignoble, or beautiful or ugly, just to observe it without any interpretation, then you will see for yourself that there is a tremendous sense of fear, insecurity, lack of certainty. Because of that sense of insecurity, we escape into every form of neurotic security.

Please do observe it in yourselves, not merely accept what the speaker is saying. And when you observe it, who is the observer? Who is the observer that is observing this whole phenomenon? Is the observer different from the thing observed? Is the thinker different from the thought? Is the experiencer different from the thing experienced? It seems to me that is one of the basic things that we have to understand. To us, there is a division between the observer and the observed, and this division brings about conflict. Wherever there is division there must be conflict – the Arab, the Jew and the whole business.

So one must be very clear about this question: who is the observer and is the observer different from the thing observed? I look at my consciousness – I don’t know if you have ever tried to look at your consciousness; look at it as though you were looking at yourself in the mirror. To look at all the activities, conscious as well as unconscious, activities of this consciousness, which is within the field of time, which is within the area of thought. Now, can one observe it? Or does one observe it as though it was something outside of oneself? And if you do observe it, is the observer who is observing different from the thing observed? What makes him different?

Are we all meeting each other? We are taking a journey together; don’t let me walk by myself, please. We are all together in this.

What is the observer? What is the structure and the nature of the observer? Is the observer the past, with his experiences, with his knowledge, with his accumulated hurts, with his sorrows and so on – is the observer the past? Is the observer the ‘me’? The observer, being the past, is he capable of looking at what is going on around him now? That is, if I am living in the past – the remembrances, the hurts, the sorrows, all the knowledge the mind has accumulated – and all knowledge is always in the past – and with that mind observe – when I do observe with that mind, I am always looking through the eyes that have been wounded, through the eyes that have remembered things of the past. So I am always looking through the past, through the accumulated tradition, and so I am never looking at the present. There is a division between the observer who is the past, and the active, moving, living present. So there is a conflict between the observer and the observed.

May I go on? Is this clear?

Can the mind observe without the observer? This is not a conundrum. This is not a trick. This is not something to speculate about. You can see it for yourself; you have an insight into the reality. That is, the observer can never observe. He can observe what he wants to observe. He observes according to his desires, to his fears, to his inclinations, his romantic demands and so on, so on.

Is not the observer the observed? The observed becomes totally different when the observer is himself totally different. If I have been brought up as a Catholic or a Buddhist or a Hindu, or God knows what else, and I observe life, this extraordinary movement of life, with my conditioned mind, with my beliefs, with my fears, with my saviours, I am observing not ‘what is’ but I am observing my own conditioning, and therefore I never observe ‘what is’.

When I observe, is the observer different from me? Or the observer is the observed. You understand this? Which eliminates altogether conflict. Because, you see, our life, our education, our way of living is based on conflict – in all our relationships, in all our activities, the way we live, the way we think springs from this everlasting conflict between you and me, between each other, outwardly as well as inwardly. And the religious life, so far, has been heightened conflict, a life of torture – you must come to God, or whatever that thing is, through torture, through conformity, through acceptance of a belief – which are all forms of conflict. And a mind that is in conflict is obviously not a religious mind.

Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1974, Talk 1

Part 2

The Observer Is One of Many Fragments

In observing, there is always the observer. The observer who, with his prejudices, with his conditioning, with his fears and guilts and all the rest of it, he is the observer, the censor, and through his eyes he looks, and therefore he is really not looking at all, he is merely coming to conclusions based upon his past experiences and knowledge. The past experiences, conclusions and knowledge prevent actually seeing. And when there is such an observer, what he observers is something different, or something which he has to conquer or change and so on. Whereas if the observer is the observed – I think this is really a radical thing to understand, really the most important thing to understand if we are going to discuss anything seriously, that in us there is this division, this contradiction, the observer and the many fragments which he observes. The many fragments make up the ‘me’, the ego, the personality, whatever you like to call it – the many fragments. And one of the fragments becomes the observer or the censor, and that fragment looks over the various other fragments.

Please do this as we are talking, not agreeing or disagreeing, but observe this fact that is going on within oneself. It becomes terribly interesting and rather fun if you go at it very, very seriously.

We are made up of many fragments, each contradicting the other, both linguistically, factually and theoretically, contradictory desires, contradictory pursuits, ambitions that deny affection and love, and so on. One is aware of these fragments. And who is the observer who decides what he should do, what he should think, what he should become? Surely one of the fragments. He becomes the analyser; he assumes the authority. One fragment, among the many other fragments, assumes the censorship, and he becomes the actor, the doer, compelling other fragments to conform, and therefore brings about contradiction. I don’t know if we see this very clearly. Then what is one to do, knowing most of us are made up of these many fragments? Which fragment is to act? Or are all the fragments to act? Or, action by any one of the fragments brings about contradiction, conflict and therefore confusion.

Are we communicating with each other? Communication being thinking together, not only verbally but understanding together, going together, creating together.

One fragment believes in God, or doesn’t believe in God, and another fragment wants security, not only physical but psychological security. One fragment is afraid; another fragment tries to dominate that fear. Seeing this extraordinary contradiction in ourselves, what is one to do? The fragments cannot be integrated – which implies there is an integrator. That is, the integrator becomes another fragment. So it is not integration; it is not one fragment which assumes superior position as the higher self, or the most intellectual thing and dominates the rest, or one fragment which feels greatly emotional and tries to function along emotional lines.

So seeing this very clearly, what is the action that will be total, that will not be contradictory? And who is it that is seeing the whole fragments? Is it another fragment that says, ‘I observe all the many other fragments’? Or there is only observation without the observer.

Is there an observation, seeing without the ‘me’ as the observer seeing and therefore creating a duality, a division? That is really our problem, isn’t it, basically?

We have divided the world, the geographical world, as the British, the French, the Indian, American, Russian and so on, and inwardly, psychologically, we have divided the world, those who believe and those who do not believe – my country, your country, my God, your God, and all the rest of it. This division has brought about wars, and a man who would live completely at peace, not only with himself but with the world, has to understand this division, this separation. Can thought bring about this complete total observation?

Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1970, Talk 1

Part 3

The Observer Is the Reservoir of Knowledge

See first how the mind accumulates knowledge, why it accumulates, where it is necessary and where it becomes an impediment to freedom. To do anything, one must have knowledge: driving a car, speaking a language, doing a technological job – you must have an abundance of knowledge, the more efficient, the more objective, the more impersonal, the better. Knowledge is necessary, but a mind that is full of this information as knowledge, can that mind ever be free, or must it always carry this knowledge, which is always the past – carrying this past, this knowledge, and meeting the present with that knowledge, and hence conflict? I met you yesterday. You flattered me or insulted me. I have the image of you, which is part of this knowledge. This knowledge, which is the past, with that knowledge I meet you today, which is the image I have built about you today. And therefore there is conflict between you and me, as the observer, and hence there is conflict between you and me.

So the observer is the reservoir of knowledge – no? Please discover this; it is more fun. The observer therefore is the past. He is the censor, the entity that has accumulated knowledge, and from that knowledge he judges, he evaluates. And he is doing exactly the same with regard to himself. He has acquired knowledge about himself through psychologists, and he has learned what he is, or he thinks he has learned about himself, and with that knowledge, he looks at himself. He doesn’t look at himself with fresh eyes – he says, ‘I know, I have seen myself, it’s rather ugly. Parts of it are extraordinarily nice, but the other parts are rather terrible.’ He has already judged, and his judgement is based on the past, which is his knowledge about himself. Therefore he never discovers anything new about himself because the observer is different from the thing observed which he calls himself. And that is what we are doing all the time, in all relationships – mechanical relationship or human relationship, relationship with the machine, or relationship with another – all based on the desire to find out a place where he can be completely secure, certain. And he now has sought and found security in knowledge. The keeper of this knowledge is the observer, the censor, the thinker, the experiencer. And the observer is always watching as being different from the thing observed. The observer analyses himself, or he is analysed by the professional, who himself needs analysing, and this game goes on being played.

So one asks: can one look at this whole movement of life without the burden of the past? And that is what we are all trying to do, aren’t we? We want to find new expressions. If you are an artist, non-objective, you know, you play with that game forever and ever – you want to write new books, a new way of looking at life, a new way of living; revolt against the old, and fall into the trap of the new which is the reaction to the old.

So one sees that intelligence doesn’t lie in the hands of the observer, only when the mind is free, free to learn. Learning is not the accumulation of knowledge. On the contrary, learning is a movement, and accumulation of knowledge is static. You may add to it, but the core of it is static. And from this static state, one functions, one lives, one paints, one writes, one does all the mischief in the world. And you call that freedom. So can the mind be free of the known? You know, this is really quite an extraordinary question if you ask it, not merely intellectually but really very, very, very deeply – to find out whether the mind can ever be free from the known. Otherwise, there is no creation. Otherwise there is nothing new. There is nothing new under the sun then, it is always reformation of the reformed.

So one has to find out why this division between the observer and the observed exists, and whether there is the possibility of a mind going beyond this division, which means the possibility of being free from the known, to function at a different dimension altogether, which is intelligence, which will use knowledge when necessary and be free of knowledge.

So intelligence implies freedom – not what one wants to do, which is so immature and childish. Freedom implies the cessation of all conflict, and that comes to an end only when the observer is the observed because then there is no division. After all, this exists when there is love, doesn’t it. You know, that word is so terribly loaded, like God. One hesitates to use that word because it is associated with pleasure, with sex, with fear, with jealousy, with dependency, with acquisitiveness and all the rest of it. A mind that is not free does not know what love means; it may know pleasure and hence know what fear is. But fear and pleasure, fear and desire and pleasure are certainly not what is love. And that can only come into being when there is real freedom from the past. And is that ever possible? You know, man has sought this out in different ways, to be free from the transiency of knowledge, and so he has always sought something beyond knowledge, beyond thought. Thought is the response of knowledge. And so he has created an image called God, and all the absurdities that arise round that. But to find out if there is something that is beyond the image of thought, there must be freedom from all fear.

Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1970, Talk 3

Part 4

The Observer Is the Image Maker

When one is observing, is one aware that one is observing, or only aware of the thing being observed? Does the awareness lead to analysis?

First of all, let us talk over together what we mean by observing. There is visual observation – the tree, the hearing, not only hearing with the ear but also hearing inwardly. You know this. So when we observe, do we really observe at all? Or we observe with the word. That is, I observe that thing and I say ‘tree’, so I observe with the word. There is an observation with the word. So can I find out, can we find out to observe without the word?

So the word has become all-important, rather than the seeing. We observe, if we have a wife or a husband, with all the memory, pictures, sensations, irritations, and so on, of each other, so we never observe. So the next step is: can we observe a person with whom we have lived, intimate and so on, without the image, without the picture, without the idea? Can you do it? Perhaps we are able to perceive that thing which we call the tree without the word. That is fairly easy. If you have gone into it, that is fairly easy. But to observe a person with whom you have lived, and observe without the accumulation of memory about that person, if you have gone into it, if you are interested in it. This observation through the image, through the picture, through the sensations and all the rest of it, through this accumulated memory, is no relationship at all. It is a relationship of one picture with another picture, and that is what we call relationship. But when you examine it closely, it is not relationship, it is my idea and your idea. So can we, in the observation, not make an abstraction of what we observe as an idea?

You are following all this? Don’t be puzzled. You are not used to all this, are you?

So this is what we mean by psychological knowledge. That is, I have built up psychologically a great deal of information about my wife – if I have a wife – or girlfriend. I have built up this knowledge about her, correctly or incorrectly, depending on my sensitivity, depending on my ambition, greed, envy and all that, depending on my self-centred activity. So that knowledge is preventing actual observation of the person, which is a living thing. So I never want to meet that living thing because I am afraid. It is much safer to have an image about that person rather than to see the living thing.

So my psychological knowledge is going to prevent pure observation. So can one be free of that? Can the machinery that builds these images come to an end? Then you will say, ‘How am I to end it? I have got an image about my friend,’ or whatever it is, ‘and it is there, like a tremendous fact, like a stone round my neck – how am I to throw it away?’ Is the stone, the image around one’s neck different from the observer? I am going slowly into this. That image, that weight round your neck, is that different from the observer who says, ‘I have an image’? I wonder if you catch it. You understand my question? Meet me – let’s talk together, move.

Is the observer who says, ‘I have the image,’ and says, ‘How am I to get rid of it?’ is that observer different from the thing he has observed? Obviously not. So the observer is the image-maker. I wonder if you see that. Do you meet this?

So what is the observer? Who is this observer that is making the image and then separating himself from the image, and then saying, ‘What am I to do about it?’ You understand? That is the way we live, that is the pattern of our action, and that is our conditioning to which we are so accustomed, so naturally accept. So we are saying something entirely different, which is, the observer is the observed. Let me go into it a little more.

I observe the tree, but I am not the tree – thank God! That would be too stupid to say, ‘I am the tree,’ or ‘I have identified myself with the tree,’ and so on, so on. All this process of identification is still the observer trying to be something or become something. So we have to inquire into what is the observer, who is the observer. The observer is the result of all the past knowledge – his experience, his knowledge, his memories, his fears, his anxieties – the past. So the observer is always living in the past. If you have noticed, you can watch it in yourself. And he is modifying himself all the time, meeting the present, but still rooted in the past. So there is this movement of time, which is the past, modifying itself in the present, going on to the future. This is the momentum or the movement of time. I won’t go into that now for the moment.

So when we observe, we are observing through the image we have created about that thing or that person. Can we observe that thing without the word, and can we observe the person without the image? That means, can the observer be absent in observation?

Do you get the point? Are you working with me?

When you look at a person – of course, if it is a stranger you have no picture, or you say, ‘Oh, he is a foreigner, throw him out!’ – when you look at somebody whom you know fairly intimately – the more intimately you know them, the more the image – can you look at that person without the image? Which means, can you look at that person without the observer? That is pure observation.

Krishnamurti in Ojai 1980, Question and Answer Meeting 1

Part 5

Is There an Observer?

When you are jealous, greedy, angry, violent, are you different from that violence, greed, envy, anger? Are you? Or you are that anger, that greed, that violence. So can you observe yourself in the mirror not as an observer but only the thing that is being observed, without the observer?

Does this become rather difficult? Or is this old hat that you have heard before umpteen times and you say, ‘Please get on with it’? This is very important to understand because as long as there is a division between the observer and the observed, there must be conflict, there must be effort, there must be a sense of either conquering it, suppressing it or avoiding it. So to totally eliminate altogether effort, there must be no division. If there is no division between the Jew and the Arab, it is finished. Or Northern Ireland and Ireland – it is over.

So in ourselves there is this division – the observer and the observed – which is dualistic. And we are conditioned through education, culture and all the rest of it, through religion, so-called religion, to maintain this division, to seek God. You are nobody – you follow? – this whole division, which is the corridor of opposites – and when there is the corridor of opposites, there must be conflict, effort, practice. So it is absolutely necessary to understand that there is only observation, not the observer trying to control the observation, that which is observed.

Is this clear? Can one do this. You may hear this, you may say, ‘I see the gist of it, I have a feeling for it, I think what you are saying is true,’ but it avoids you, it escapes you. But it is yours; you have to find out. Which means that as there is no division between yourself and anger – you are anger – at the moment when you are angry, there is no observer; you are only that. Later on you say, ‘I have been angry.’ Then you say, ‘I shouldn’t be angry’ – or you give reasons, explanations for being angry. Or you suppress anger. The moment of anger, of greed, of violence, there is no division. This is a fact. So, similarly, is there an observer at all?

Please give your mind, your attention, your love, your care to understand this because we are totally, completely eliminating conflict if you understand this. One can live a life in which there is not a shadow of conflict, not only within yourself but outwardly. And this is immensely important to understand, because as we said, the manner of your observation in the mirror – there is no mirror, you are watching yourself – but for the moment we invent the mirror. Who is the observer? When you say, ‘I observe the tree, the stream, I observe you and I observe myself’ – who is this observer? That is very important to understand before we begin to understand the observed.

Are we coming together? Are we communicating with each other? Say yes or no, for God’s sake.

Questioner: Yes.

Krishnamurti: Are you all asleep?

So who is this observer? When you say, ‘I have been angry’ or ‘I have been violent’ – who is that entity that says, ‘I have been’? That entity is the observer, isn’t it, who says, ‘Yes, I have been angry.’ Is not the observer the past who says, ‘I have been angry’? Not only in that instance, but whenever he observes, the whole observation is the movement of the past. I observe a Frenchman – because I have been told he is a Frenchman – you follow? – the conditioning, the past, knowledge. So this whole movement of observation is born from the past. So the observer in essence is the past. Don’t accept what I am saying. That is the fact. Looking in the mirror, there is no speaker because you are questioning desperately, anxiously, passionately. You are questioning. I hope you are!

So the observer is the past – past memories, past experiences, past knowledge. With the past, he is observing himself in the mirror. So you have created a division between what you see now and what has been. So there is a division between the observer and the observed. So the conflict begins. In your occupation with yourself, don’t you have a conflict with another, however intimate your relationship be? So to totally eliminate that conflict permanently, everlastingly, one must understand the nature of the observer. And as you observe and inquire and learn, the observer is the past, so the past is always dividing. I am a Jew and you are an Arab. The Jew is tradition, propaganda, belief, a certain mode of life and so on, so on, and the Arab has his own mode of life, and so on. So wherever there is division there must be conflict, not only outwardly but inwardly.

Is this clear? That is, if you are serious, if you want to live completely without contradiction, without effort, and therefore live in peace, live in love and compassion – if that is to be, you must eliminate totally the division in yourself outwardly. This is not an idea, an intellectual concept but actuality.

So can you look at yourself in the mirror without the observer? This is the real issue, in which identification ceases and therefore division. Where there is no identification, there is no division. So can you observe your anger, your violence, your hurts and all the rest of it, without bringing in the past memories, past knowledge, past struggles, just to observe without the observer? Then what takes place? I am not asking the question – you are asking the question yourself. Then what takes place when you are looking at the fact? Not with the memories about the fact. Is this possible? Can you do it? If you can’t, we cannot go further. This is a very important issue as man has lived millennia upon millennia constantly in battle with himself, with the devil and God, with the lower self and the higher self. This battle, this conflict, you see it in all the ancient pictures, drawings – the division between that which is good and that which is bad, that constant battle. And why should we live in this way?

So we are going to inquire and find out if it is possible to live totally in a different way. That is if you are serious.

So do you see the truth – not the idea but the truth, the fact, the reality – that the observer is the past, accumulated memories, knowledge, and so he never perceives the present? To perceive the present, there must be the absence of the past. And there is no effort involved in removing or putting aside the observer.

Krishnamurti in Saanen 1979, Talk 2

Part 6

In Meditation There Is neither the Observer nor the Observed

So the observer is examining itself. You understand what is taking place? That is, he is seeing himself as he is, not as something to be observed. I wonder if you see this. You know, it is like looking at yourself in the mirror when you shave or comb your hair, or when you make up your face – there it is. In the same way, the observer is watching himself. Then what takes place? Do it, please – find out. What takes place when the observer is watching himself? Isn’t there – I am suggesting, I am not saying it is or it is not; it is for you to look and find out – isn’t there a sense of observation without the observer? Which means there is neither the observer nor the observed.

I wonder if you get this. This is very important because we are leading up to meditation. Have you got this? That is, when the observer is looking at itself, the observer is absolutely silent. No? When you look at something, unless you are very silent, quiet, you cannot see, you cannot observe clearly. You may see a bird on a flight or a tree, but if the observer is absolutely quiet, you see what actually is, don’t you? So there is only ‘what is’, not how to change ‘what is’. And if you observe – no – if the observer is totally silent, then that which is is non-existent because it is changing too.

I wonder if you see this. This is very important because meditation means, if I may go into it – I will go deeply further – meditation means that there is neither the observer nor the observed. Do you understand this? No, you don’t. The observer is put together by thought. The observed is also put together by thought. Anger is brought about by thought and reaction. And the observer who says, ‘I am angry, I must do something about it,’ is also part of thought. So thought has divided itself as the observer and the observed, and has brought about conflict between the two. So when there is this insight into the observer, there is no conflict whatsoever. I wonder if you see that – because meditation is the total elimination of complete conflict; no shadow of conflict.

So the observer is not – only ‘what is’. Only ‘what is’. That is, one is the result of cultural, social, ethical, religious, spiritual, economic pressure. For a million years, one is that. And that is actual. Without understanding the actual there is no move away from it. I can escape, but the escape becomes an illusion. You can take drugs and have an extraordinary experience through drugs, which destroys the mind, which destroys the quality and the sensitivity of the mind. Here in this country, drugs are becoming such appalling things.

So in meditation there is no observer or the observed. Then what takes place in meditation when there is this total absence of conflict between the observer and the observed, and they both cease to be?

Krishnamurti in Ojai 1978, Talk 6

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