Krishnamurti with David O’Hanlon
Daniel O’Hanlon was a Jesuit priest and respected theologian. He taught at Marymount University in Los Angeles and for more than 30 years at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He had many contacts in other religions, particularly of Asia, and included aspects of these religions in his teaching. Interested in integration of religions, in 1984 he published Integration of Christian Practices: A Western Christian Looks East.
This conversation with Krishnamurti, recorded in Malibu, California in 1972, asks whether organised religion brings about real depth of understanding. Does the past have any value in coming upon something new? Can the mind empty itself of the pettiness of what man has put together? Thought can be used legitimately and illegitimately. Krishnamurti urges us to find out if there is something beyond tradition and myth.
Krishnamurti: …together, sir, you don’t have to…
Daniel O’Hanlon: It’s hard to know where to begin, isn’t it? I have the impression, you know, having read some of your writings, that we would have things to talk about but I don’t know where to begin, you know? And in a certain sense I have the advantage of having read something of yours and I am a sort of unknown quantity to you.
K: Yes, quite. (Laughter)
DH: So where shall we begin? I don’t really know. In one way I feel a little out of place because in reading your writings I feel that people who are connected with organised religion in any way don’t come off too well, you know? (Laughter) And I am quite clearly, you know, part of a very discernible, tangible phenomenon on the religious horizon. I guess you’d have to say I’m part of organised religion, in some fashion.
K: Sir, do you think we could start: why there is division amongst all religions – the Protestants, the Catholics, the Episcopalian, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Jain, you know, there are dozens and dozens of divisions.
DH: Well, I’m certain, at least I feel fairly certain, that one of the very significant reasons why that’s true is that human experience in different places and in different circumstances is, you know, culturally diverse, people grow up with different backgrounds and in so many ways, and when they come to express the religious dimension of their lives, the garment which it wears, the form in which it’s expressed bears the imprint of the place from which they come. In fact that’s one of the questions I’m putting to myself in this year of sabbatical leave which I have coming up next year, is to try to… given the fact of this great diversity, try to in conversation with people who come out of these different traditions and going beyond the Christian tradition in which I have grown up, to try to discover what is that common basic human dimension that we all share.
So as a beginning toward the question which you ask, I would say I think the difference comes from just the variety of human backgrounds and different historical, cultural, economic circumstances.
K: Yes, yes.
DH: That maybe isn’t the most profound kind of an explanation.
K: But also these various groups condition their children, the young children and so on and so on. Right through the world this takes place.
K: So there is this cultural, economic, social conditioning, religious conditioning. If I am born as a Baptist I am forever a Baptist.
DH: Well, not always.
K: Unless I change over.
DH: Yes, I think in our world today the movement from one place to another is probably greater because the people are aware of various other possibilities.
K: I mean, I know several Hindus who have become Protestants; Protestants who have become Catholics. It’s the same, from one, if I may use the word cage to another cage.
DH: Well, you know, the kind of things which people do hand on to their children from generation to generation it seems to me are a mixture. Like everything human there are good things and there are bad things in them. And I think, you know, having read some of your writings, I would be less inclined to think that all of the things which come out of man’s past are to be rejected. You know, I would have the feeling that through the growing experience of men and communities over the centuries of human life there would be the possibility of them discovering, becoming aware of certain dimensions of human existence and handing on that experience. I’m little puzzled at some stages in reading your writings to find that – at least I have the impression – that all things which exist out of memory in time and thought are looked upon in a certain negative way. Do you see my problem?
K: Yes, sir, I understand.
DH: No, I’m perfectly, you know, willing to recognise that this dimension is there – the limitation, the kind of formalistic imprisonment in which people do find themselves by the way they have inherited and live in their religious traditions – but I certainly have met people who are living within these traditions who find somehow within this a sense of freedom, a sense of peace, a sense of genuine love at some depth, you know?
K: Yes, of course. But do you think – I mean, we’re talking, sharing over together – do you think if I as a Catholic or a Hindu remain there and find peace and tranquillity and all the rest of it, is it due to the conduct of my life or is it due to certain beliefs and concepts which I have and I accept them and they give me tremendous satisfaction and I call that peace, tranquillity?
DH: I don’t think it comes from concepts, no – I would agree with you there. I think that this deeper dimension of experience or of experiencing, as I think you refer to it, is the important thing.
K: But the experiencing or that quality of mind that perceives, it doesn’t belong to any group.
DH: Well, in a sense I think that’s true, but I think it does happen in groups and to some extent I would be willing to believe that it happens as a result of the kind of things which have gone on over the centuries in those groups. There is a kind of an inherited…
K: …unconscious, deep, racial…
DH: Well, I don’t know how to put it but it seems to me that… I guess what I’m saying is that I really feel that we do profit and learn from those who have gone before us and are able to share in some way, as a consequence of that, to more easily achieve this wisdom, this peace, this reality, this deep reality of love. But I think we would be in very solid agreement that the concepts, the thoughts, those things on that level are not the…
K: …the real thing, no.
DH: They’re not the centre, they’re not the central issue. But I don’t think I would see them in quite the same way as you do necessarily as obstacles. I can see that they could be obstacles if they are made into things in themselves, but I would be more inclined to see them having the possibility of being the means through which, the setting in which, the symbols through which this deeper reality is reached. You know?
K: Are you saying, sir, that the tradition, whether the Asiatic tradition or European tradition, has something in it, has some truth in it which is embedded in the unconscious or whatever you like to call it, in the mind, through centuries and that… you can’t put all that… throw it all out, but use it, let it operate?
DH: I guess, yes, I think that’s sort of what I am saying.
K: This is quite… Because if I am born as a Catholic or a Hindu – I’ll take Hindu; doesn’t matter whether they’re Catholic or Hindu – all the racial concepts, beliefs, the enormous tradition of five thousand years gathered in the forefathers, handed over from generation to generation, twisted, a little bit coloured, at a bias – all that is in me – Catholic, Protestant, whatever it is. And will that actually – I am just inquiring – will that actually bring real depth of understanding?
DH: Certainly not in an automatic way.
K: No, we are… Understanding, see something totally original, in the sense something new that’s never been handed over. After all, the whole idea of the Greeks with their measurement, the Hindus who stepped out of measurement, trying to find the immeasurable and measuring it by thought, calling it immeasurable, experiencing that, saying that exists – all that is handed over to a born Hindu. Surely in all this there must be an opening, a door through which I see, through which there is a perception, which is unrelated to all the things that have been handed to me.
DH: Why does it have to be unrelated to all the things which have been handed to me?
K: Because that thing must be totally new. New not in the sense of old and new but something entirely different, not to be captured by thought, by sentiment, by the accumulated experience of generations which are all in time. That must be something…
DH: Well, I think this is where some of my problems emerge with that. I don’t think I feel that there is that kind of a gap between the reality of time and this deeper dimension which is below thought and time. I think I’m more inclined to see these as having an integral relationship to each other, and that when one says that there is newness, there is freshness, there is originality, creativity…
K: I mean, those are just words.
DH: Yes, but the reality which lies beneath those words. It seems to me that the reality which lies underneath those words can be in some way assisted, influenced, engendered, you know, like Socrates is the midwife…
K: Oh, I…
DH: …in such a way that they help us. It’s like our conversation now – I think we’re…
K: I understand this very well because this is what the whole traditionalists and non-traditionalists maintain, that the past helps – to put it brutally – the past has some value in coming upon that thing.
DH: Yes, I think so.
K: Sir, if I am egocentric, not only outwardly but inwardly, concerned with myself and my progress, my experience, my possession, domination, all that, self-centred – we’ll use that word – which is also part of this whole tradition, movement of this tradition, that self-centredness may be attached to an idea, to a nation, to a deity, to a concept, to a ritual, to a something – which is all the past. My self-centredness is the cultural residue, religious aspirations that I must become God or perfect or reach heaven, nirvana, whatever it is. All that is enclosed – if we can use that word – in my self-centred outlook, in my self-centred ambitious drive, aggression, all that. That’s part of the past.
DH: Yes, I feel, at least in the Christian tradition in which I have grown up, that I have been constantly encouraged to somehow escape…
K: …from the self.
DH: …that kind of self-centredness.
K: In India, too, they maintain that.
DH: No, I don’t maintain that I have achieved, you know, the…
K: …freedom from the self.
DH: …reality of genuine love in which I go out of myself, but at least this is proposed to me as what should happen. And, you know, I’ve been thinking this over, reading your writings and trying to understand – I think there is something very similar in what you are saying and the kind of things I read in people like John of the Cross and the various mystic writers, even in the New Testament where it speaks of the seed falling into the ground and dying. And even perhaps in the, you know, central reality of Christian belief which has to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus and our entering into that, that this may not be that different from what you speak of: a dying to all of these things and an entering into the void in some sense. If we are genuinely loving then we are not, as my students say, on an ego trip where… (laughter) we are truly… you know, I don’t claim that I have achieved that – in fact, I’m afraid I haven’t – but that we really are not self-centred, we are outgoing.
K: No, I want to see, I want to go into this a little bit, if I may, if there is self-centredness of the thing… of the kind we were talking about. That must be set aside, that must be negated.
DH: I think so.
K: The very negation of that opens the door.
DH: Well, yes, I think so.
K: That is what we’re talking about – aren’t we? – you and I.
DH: I think we are saying something very similar.
K: Similar. Now wait a minute, sir.
DH: Maybe not, but it seems so at the moment at least. (Laughter)
K: You see, the whole Asiatic outlook – as I understand it; I may be mistaken – is that self-centred, self-concern, self-assertion exists round a soul, an atman, a God, a truth. And through various incarnations – it may be a day or it may be many lives – you peel off the self till that centre is reached. Which is the assumption that there is a centre – you follow? – clothed with various kinds of idiotic things: superstitions, half-truths, hypocrisy, jealousy, envy, you know. But peel it off and gradually you’ll reach whatever is to be reached. I think that’s more or less the various religious concepts.
DH: Well, say a little more about that.
K: A little more – I am going… I want to…
DH: I’m not quite sure I…
K: That maintains a continuity of self-centredness: I’ll reach God if I do the right thing, sitting on his right hand – (laughs) you know, all the rest of it. This personalised, personal experience becomes very important. And that personal experience is part of the self-centredness. And that keeps me going, gives me vitality, gives me… I become more and more mischievous in a different way and more and more righteous in another way. A contradiction grows in me. And all this is the past. And unless there is a definite negation of this, not verbally or conceptually, but actually a negation of all this – not gradually, but to cut it out instantly – I think that is the central issue.
Whether the Hindus say it in one way, the Christians say it in another way, or so on, that is the central issue. Because born in Europe I might believe in Jesus and saviour and resurrection and all that, and in India I believe something else. I say, ‘There is no… I have never heard of Jesus, what are you talking about? Why should some man suffer for me? It’s my karma, my misery I have brought into this world, I am mischievous.’ So it is a matter of conditioning, one this way… So I say, look, look at all this phenomenon: East and West, all of them trying to reach something. Because this world is such a shoddy affair anyhow, whether you are a millionaire or a poor man, whether you are a communist or a marvellous artist or a spiritual whatever it is, it is a dreadful world we live in, brought about by our lack of right relationship. And that right relationship can’t exist if the self-centred thing continues.
DH: Well, I don’t say that this is the only thing which Christians say.
K: No, they say much more, of course.
DH: Yes, but this may be the central thing which they mean to say, as I understand the message of the gospel, that it is only in dying…
K: Of course, sir.
DH: …that we enter into it.
K: Dying to that.
DH: Yes. But…
K: Sir, may I put it this way, differently?
K: I don’t read books of any kind – the Upanishads, Gita, Bible, all that. I don’t read it. Somehow I have never read it, philosophies and all that. Suppose you and I never read a thing, you and I don’t belong to anything or committed to any group, any religion, and we say: now there must be something more than this ordinary world. The communists say yes, there is, only a super state – but I’m not talking of that. There must be something more than this awful living – battle, battle, battle, inside, outside, this chaos that’s going on. So I say: now I am going to find out. I really want to find out. Therefore I must have a mind that is never… not capable of illusion at all. You follow, sir? That to me is the essence of inquiry.
DH: Complete openness is what you’re asking for.
K: No, no, not complete openness. I know nothing. I don’t know if God exists. People have told me. I don’t know if somebody came to life after death. I don’t know. They say so. That may be 60, 100 years after, when the disciples – you know what they are – exaggerate, propaganda, anything is possible, as they did with the Buddha, as they did with various other teachers. I say: I know nothing. I won’t accept a thing. I want to find out. Not that I am vain – that would be stupid. So as I know nothing I can only begin with what is and not to get deceived, not be caught in an illusion, whether that illusion is self-created or projected. Then I can begin to find out.
DH: I’m afraid that I don’t have the same confidence in the possibility of man beginning in that kind of totally unoriginated way. It seems to me that our experience of children growing up is that the child who does not grow up within the setting of other human beings never even becomes human.
K: Yes, sir. No, I mean, children need security. Children need protection.
DH: And I think whether we like it or not – and I think there are good elements to it – I think that from living with our parents and other people, even if we don’t read books, because books are simply a more sophisticated way of living with other people, that we do…
K: Through observation.
DH: Yes, but even the language we use, you know? We are speaking the English language and that carries with it a certain…
K: Of course. An image, a certain style, certain nuances and references and all the rest of it. But, sir, I mean, how do we meet then? How? A man says, ‘I want to find out.’ I don’t say there is or there is not – I want to find out. And to find out I must have a mind that is really clear, that cannot be deceived, because it’s very easy to deceive myself.
DH: Yes, as a matter of fact, I don’t think any of us are completely free of being deceived. Our understanding is always, you know, limited and fragmentary.
K: So I say to myself: I’ll begin with myself. I know nothing about God, anything. I’ll begin with myself. I’ll find out how to inquire so that the self doesn’t enter into the field at all. No jealousy, no possessiveness – you know, all the rigmarole the self is caught in – I’ll go into it and face it.
DH: It is easier to say than to do, isn’t it?
K: Sir, otherwise what’s the point of all this? What’s the point of my believing there is a Brahman or there is God? It has no meaning. My life is there and I have to do something with it. I can’t just say, ‘Well, I’ll live casually or very seriously.’ It is my life. It is the thing I have got.
DH: That’s right.
K: And I have to either to radically revolutionise myself – and it is possible. And I say, ‘I’ll take exactly what is. I won’t imagine. I won’t contrive to change what is.’
DH: I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.
K: So look at it, face it. Then if I observe that thing without all the speculative translations of what is, then I have energy to go much deeper into it. I don’t know…
DH: Well, I really think, that as I was saying earlier on, that I am less inclined to feel that all of the thoughts and the writings and the ideas that surround us are totally a hindrance. I think there are things that can help us.
K: All right, sir, that means…
DH: For instance, people read your writings and I think that this probably helps them, you know, to move toward a deeper level. Which is not being caught simply in what somebody says because somebody else said it, but it kind of helps them to deal directly with their own experience and their own contact with what is. But I feel a bit uneasy about this kind of cleavage between, you know, what is and…
K: No, it’s not a cleavage, sir.
DH: Maybe I’m not understanding you.
K: No, I’m afraid not. I don’t know anything. I know nothing beyond what is. The what is is my shoddiness, my little anxieties, worries, fears, jealousy, you know, the self-centred movement that goes on eternally. So that is what I know, both consciously as well as unconsciously. That’s my basket of goods. And I want to understand that and see what happens from that.
DH: I think that’s fine. All I’m saying is that I don’t see the kind of things which other people… the kind of efforts which other people have made presumably to do something similar…
K: …are valueless.
DH: …are valueless.
K: I don’t say that. I don’t. I know nothing about them. They have told me if I was born as a Brahmin, they said do this and do that. I say, ‘All right, but that’s all hearsay. That’s what you believe, what you don’t believe. Somebody else says that’s all rubbish.’ The communist says, ‘For goodness sake, there is no such thing as God, there is no such thing as the priest. It is all bourgeois mentality,’ and brush it all out. So I say: all right. I say: let’s begin with something very common, which is what I am. I won’t introduce into what I am all kinds of speculative ideas – just what I am. The knowing of myself is the beginning of wisdom.
DH: I don’t deny that.
K: (Laughs) So therefore from that question arises: is it possible to do this?
DH: Is it possible to?
K: To empty all this, empty the mind of all the trivialities and pettiness – you follow? – the whole works.
DH: I think it’s very difficult.
K: That’s it.
DH: Actually there is a way in which – well maybe here we are saying the same thing – but I think there is a way in which I don’t feel I want to empty myself of all of the collective experience of my fellow human beings down through the centuries. I feel that there is some value in being born as a part of that and that my life here on earth is not simply a matter of this deepest dimension. It is centrally that, but that deepest dimension should give a quality to all of the rest of what happens.
K: Of course, that’s understood. But the deepest thing cannot flower – if we can put it – has no beauty, if the thing is surrounded by shoddy little me.
K: So from that the question comes: can the mind empty itself of the pettiness? We will call that pettiness, including all the things that man has put together, whether he calls it noble or ignoble, you know, all that, pettiness invented by thought.
DH: Yes. Well I guess I don’t really think that everything invented by thought is petty. I think that’s where my problem is. There are many things which thought has invented which are petty and trivial but I don’t think that everything…
K: Sir, let’s again look at it. What thought has created – the marvellous technology, going to the moon, all the rest of it – it is the result of thought, marvellous.
DH: One of the results of thought.
K: One of the results. Thought also has divided the countries – my country, your country, my God, your God, my hope, security – it seeks security. In that process it has created various pockets, divided.
DH: I’m not too sure.
K: Pakistani fighting India – what the… – killing.
K: America killing those people and those people killing Americans.
DH: Do you think that thought is the reason for that?
K: Partly. Which is, you know, all the rest of it. Thought has created not only the marvellous things – comforts and physical wellbeing and all that – but also thought has created this division between people. And also thought says: I must find unity. On the one hand – look at it, what’s going on – one hand they say we must have peace, other hand you have wars.
DH: I would be more inclined to think that our human selfishness has more to do with wars than thought.
K: Of course, sir, which is part of our thinking: me first and you second.
DH: Well, maybe we’re using the word thought in different ways – that’s possible.
K: Perhaps. Thought in the sense, thought is the response of the collective or racial or individual memories. I am born in India, all the tradition, you know, all that stuff, and I call myself a Brahmin, if I do, and I have certain vanity, pride, all the business that goes with selected people, like the Jews – you know, all that business. So thought is the response of memory. Otherwise if I have no memory there is no thinking. Thought, memory as knowledge, experience.
DH: Isn’t it possible in my thought to remember something good?
K: Oh yes, which is still thought. That’s what I mean – it is thought which creates what is good or its opposite.
DH: Well certainly there are various things that can be done with thought.
K: Of course. It can be legitimately used and illegitimately used.
K: We do both. We don’t say: well, this is where legitimately thought has its function.
DH: But don’t you think that when thought becomes harmful and divisive and destructive…
K: That’s illegitimate.
DH: Don’t you think the reason that that happens is not simply because there is thought but because there is selfishness?
K: That’s what I… Of course, sir. I don’t say because… Thought is illegitimately used when it is selfish.
DH: Yes. Maybe it’s the way we’re using words. It takes us a long time to talk back and forth before we see what we’re doing with our words.
So, sir, can the mind be free of the self? I want to come back to that. Free of the self: the self being both good and bad, the opposites. The self which says I must behave beautifully, conduct is necessary, etc.; and thought also invents the gun which I am going to kill somebody with which. So that goes on in me, this contradiction all the time. And that’s part of the egotistic way I am living. I say to myself: now can this thing be legitimately used in one direction and not at all in another direction? I mean, legitimately in the sense if I am in a relationship with any human being I must protect, I must look after – you follow? – care, build, build roads, not cut up hills, you know, make the world beautiful – not my country, my home – you know? But the illegitimacy of thought exists when I use thought as myself expanding, aggressive, violent, becoming, you know, the chief minister of a blasted little country.
DH: So maybe it would seem that we’re agreeing on that.
K: Then the next step is: how is this to be done?
K: No, I don’t think so, sir. It think it… Difficult – I think it requires a great deal of energy, both physical and psychological energy.
DH: Well, certainly in my experience, you know, is limited.
K: No, sir, we are not talking limited experience.
DH: Well I have to speak out of, you know, what happens to me in order to try to understand what we’re saying. And for me to really become an unselfish, loving person is something which is a constant effort.
K: You see, effort is distortion. To function without friction – that is the real question. Here I am, a bundle of idiocy. Now how is to be shod or set aside without the least effort? Which means, effort means friction, effort means will.
DH: Yes. This is actually, since you mention you haven’t read these various traditional writings, this is a very classic notion in the Christian tradition, that if one does achieve the reality of love in any deep and profound way one receives it as a grace. One does not lay hold of it and seize it and grasp it, but in some mysterious way one must use this energy which you speak of in a somewhat passive and negative way. And the grace, you know, this is given to me, it is not something which I can summon up by my own efforts.
K: No, but I need energy. Right?
DH: Well that’s where it gets difficult.
K: No, wait, sir. I need energy because I am dissipating this energy logically and illogically. And if the mind can use it logically and not illogically, illegitimately, then there is more energy, there is an abundance of it. This contradiction is wastage of energy. So can this contradiction come to an end in myself? I say it can come to an end if I watch, if there is an awareness of what’s going on, without any choice, without any compulsion, without any direction. Just to watch, be aware, that I am a stupid ass or that I am completely caught in my own little thoughts and, you know, paddling in a little pond. To be aware of that choicelessly.
DH: Yes, I’m afraid I don’t entirely understand that.
K: Sir, you see, that’s why…
DH: I think I see something of it, you know, from the remarks I’ve made, I think that…
K: Yes, there is a communication, obviously.
DH: To some extent. But I have the feeling for myself that for you the ability to kind of achieve this in a flash, in a total way, is something which does not seem possible to me.
K: No, I think it is possible, sir. I think it is. It may be a verbal blockage. It seems so frightfully simple to me. You follow?
DH: (Laughs) I can see that it does seem very simple to you the way you put it.
K: To see something, sir, directly. To see the flower and not bring in the image of the flower. In the same way, to see what is in myself without any preconceived idea or image or concept – just to see. Because the image, the concept, the contrivance wastes energy, takes it away. So I say I’m going to watch, I’m going to see without any effort. You follow?
DH: Well, in a sense I follow you and in a sense I don’t. (Laughs) In a sense I see what you’re describing but I’ve not succeeded in…
K: Of course, description is not the described. I mean, the word isn’t the thing.
DH: No, but I haven’t succeeded in realising in myself, you know, in a concrete way that I see in that sense.
K: Quite, quite, quite. You see, sir, to step out of all this with one – you follow?
K: It doesn’t mean you cut off your human relationship, it doesn’t mean that you stop being a good citizen, or just grow long hair, short hair. You follow? It means a tremendous living differently. And then you see, sir, what we call God or whatever that is, cannot be measured. And my mind is always measuring because the whole Western world is based on measurement.
DH: However, I would want to say that there is, you know, in the Christian tradition in which I live, there is a permanent element which says precisely that God is not measurable; that thought, in the sense of conceptual thought, is quite incapable of grasping or reaching.
K: Therefore thought must be quiet.
K: Now that’s it.
DH: Fine. You know, I don’t find this foreign notion. I find, you know, if I read Theresa of Avila, if I read John of the Cross, I find them saying… You know, St Theresa talks about the mind being a little monkey chasing around in the middle of her head, you know, distracting her from this.
K: There’s a famous book by a Tibetan. I never read it but a friend of mine was telling me. The Buddha is sitting quietly meditating and suddenly in his hand appears the monkey. And the monkey says, ‘Lord, here I am. At last I have reached you. I am in your hand.’ And the Buddha says, ‘Oh, is that so?’ (Laughs) And he said, ‘I can do anything because I have travelled so long, for so many ages. I can fly, I can do anything you want. I have conquered evil, I have conquered…’ – you know, boasting and says, ‘Here I am. At last I have reached your hand.’ And the Buddha says, ‘What next?’ He says, ‘I’ll show you. I’ll go right round the world over the heavens and come back.’ The Buddha looks at it and says, ‘But you’ve just made a little mess in my hand.’ (Laughter)
DH: Yes, it sounds like these Zen Buddhist koans, doesn’t it?
K: That’s it.
I think one of the difficulties I am having in trying to understand better what you are saying, I’m trying to see to what extent it agrees with, you know, what I am and the way I live and the kind of things that my – whatever you want to call it – my inner life… I see a problem in a kind of an integration of man’s whole life: his history, his body, his mind, his emotions. I don’t feel that these are – I guess I’m repeating myself at this stage but I don’t feel that these are necessarily only obstacles. They can be obstacles.
K: No, no, they can be, of course.
DH: They can be.
K: But we’re saying there must be harmony between the body, mind and heart, the whole structure.
DH: Yes. I think maybe I would be saying a bit more, that even harmony with man’s collective history. I think even there, there can be an element of something positive. I don’t see the things coming out of man’s collective experience as being simply cages, you know?
K: No, sir, no. Collective experiences – racial, collective, family, individual experiences – why should I carry them? I am that. I am that. I don’t say I am not that. But the whole million years or whatever as a human being has collected all this – falseness, truth, every kind of collection it has. It’s like a museum. I say, ‘It’s excellent, I’ll take something out of it and drop the rest, the rest has no value,’ but that taking out, selection, is not going to give me the door which opens… the door, the key to the door.
DH: Isn’t it conceivable that there have been people in this tradition who have found the key to the door, you know?
K: Or is it, sir, or is it knowing the tradition they stepped out of it?
DH: Well, no, if by definition…
DH: …one has to step out of the tradition in order to do this then, you know, I would have to agree with what you’re saying. Maybe again here words are an obstacle to what we’re trying to do.
K: I mean, take what happens, sir. I mean, take a very orthodox family, whether in Europe or in Asia – in the religious sense orthodox. In the old days, my fathers and all the rest of it said don’t kill, don’t kill, don’t kill, be kind, you have advanced – you know, in the sense a Brahman, higher than the others – so pay attention, look, be kind, be generous – you know, all that stuff. That’s racial inheritance. One is that. But that doesn’t… You can be desperately good in the beautiful sense of that word but that doesn’t…
DH: Yes. But isn’t it also possible for one to inherit the message, the encouragement?
K: I don’t want to be encouraged. I want to find out.
DH: All right.
K: I don’t want to be encouraged by my fathers.
DH: Suppose they encourage you to find out.
K: No. On the contrary, they don’t. They say, ‘Look, follow tradition, be Brahman, be…’ – you follow?
DH: I think we are understanding tradition perhaps in different ways.
K: Again. (Laughs)
DH: If tradition is simply, you know, a rigid pattern that says, ‘Take this…’
K: No, the word itself means to give over, carry over.
DH: That’s what the word means – that’s right – to hand on.
K: To hand on. I am full of carrying on.
DH: But, you know, aren’t you at the moment trying to hand on something to me?
K: No, sir. Forgive me, I’m not. Because that would be…
DH: What are you doing, I mean?
K: We are trying to inquire into this. You and I, applying our minds and our hearts and everything at a level where there is an intensity, an affection, a love, to see what this is, how to go beyond this.
DH: I think that’s the way things are handed on. Maybe the word handed on has pejorative overtones that make it an unsuitable phrase to use.
K: I mean, I have seen in India, in Benares and other places, the weavers. Out of tradition they do things, the most marvellous things, as though it was something original, and really extraordinarily beautiful. But it’s all carried over unconsciously. It happens with them. You see them doing it.
DH: Yes. Yes, well, you know, if tradition is simply that I would agree that it’s a…
K: Of course, that is death.
DH: It’s a deathly thing, yes.
K: I agree. I think most of us agree.
DH: But maybe I don’t understand tradition just in that sense. Maybe that’s the difference here. I really do feel that…
K: Sir, take for instance the tradition of a myth. Myth is a form of tradition which holds people together, together in a society. Like the Brahmanical in the Asiatic world, that India had certain religious division and, you know, all that business, so it held for a while, for centuries and centuries. Now it is disappearing because the myth is broken. And they are trying to invent or supplement or find a new myth that will hold the people together. This is what is happening in this country. There is no myth here and therefore everybody – you know. That’s also deep, unconscious, traditional acceptance of a myth. When that goes, people… Therefore that kind of tradition is both destructive and helpful. But we’re not talking of destructive or helpful. We’re trying to find out something that’s beyond all this.
DH: Yes, well that’s maybe just the point at which we are having our problem because whereas what we’re looking for is beyond all this, I don’t think I feel in the same way as you do that it kind of happens by a total…
DH: …separation from all that.
K: No, no, it’s not separation. It’s seeing the false as the false. Which doesn’t mean I am separating. Seeing something not true.
DH: Fine. Certainly no-one can object to that. (Laughs)
K: So I have to… Sir, you see that’s one’s difficulty. We have so many collections of things and I have to see the truth in the false and the false in the truth. I have to, you know, tread on such so delicately.
DH: No, I think that every responsible human being comes to the point of having to make, you know, this personal option or this personal way of shaping his life. You know, the way I understand what comes from tradition, it’s not simply a routine thing like these people making the rugs but it’s something which comes and presumably – and I think even more in the kind of world we live in today – when a person reaches a stage of awareness that person has to make a decision, he has to make a choice. And it’s a personal involvement; he may reject everything in that setting in which he has grown up.
K: But is truth a matter of choice?
DH: No. Well, yes and no. I think it’s a matter of choice in the sense that I can refuse to see it if I care to. I think we are put together in such a way that that’s possible. But basically I think I would agree with you that truth is a matter of seeing or not seeing.
K: Perception. And in perception there is no choice. There it is. (Laughs)
DH: Well, you know, the very fact that many people don’t see these things would suggest to me that there’s some kind of choice involved in what happens to them so that they don’t see it. People in a sense choose not to see.
K: I mean, they want to deceive themselves.
DH: Oh, I’m sure.
K: Well, all right, do deceive… (laughs)
DH: I think, you know, that’s a very common thing. I am sure I do it myself. To really be, you know, fully open to truth is a difficult thing. (Laughs)
K: But, sir, one has to… I think one has to begin right at the bottom, right… Begin there, first step. I deny, negate all the things that man has put together about virtue, goodness, truth, love, God, and begin and say, ‘Look, I am going to… There must be true perception. I must see things clearly.’ Not out of vanity or anything, stupid stuff like that. Otherwise if I don’t see clearly the way I live, the way I believe, why I believe – see that clearly – there is no honesty in me. And if there is no honesty how can I see the other?
DH: Yes, well, I’m not denying that the seeing is very basic. I think maybe this is introducing a new dimension to our discussion, but I think that… Maybe this is just restating what I said a moment ago. If we really do see ourselves as we are, we will see that we are the kind of creatures, kind of beings for whom the matter is not decided simply by seeing. My freedom is engaged. This is an old kind of an argument. Plato apparently felt that to see the truth would automatically produce goodness in a person. I feel that seeing is tremendously important.
K: Yes, if I see a precipice, if I see a danger, I avoid it. That is the truth.
DH: Well not everybody does.
K: (Laughs) Therefore see. See what you are. Not through coloured glasses, not through prejudices, wishing I were not like this.
DH: Then you feel that… where does freedom come in? That’s my problem.
K: That is freedom. That is freedom. I cannot see if there is no freedom. If I am prejudiced then I can’t see. Seeing the truth of that frees me from prejudice. Seeing there is no perception if I am – what? – greedy. Greedy not only outwardly but inwardly, reaching God – you follow? – this ambitious drive of comparison, all that. If I see that… To see that there must be freedom. So freedom is perception. (Laughs) Not to do what I like, not to burn the houses and throw bombs.
DH: Yes, I would have thought that freedom and truth are inextricably related.
K: They are, sir.
DH: But that they’re not the same thing.
K: No, of course not. I said freedom is necessary to perceive. What you perceive and how you perceive matters.
DH: Yes. But I find that I have the possibility of seeing something and then freely choosing to act, you know, not in accordance with what I see.
K: Ah, because we don’t see. If I saw a cobra there is no choice. If I saw a precipice there is no choice. I don’t say to a bomb that is going to burst, ‘Well, I’ll choose.’ I run.
DH: Yes. Those are examples where that’s what would normally happen.
K: Go further. Go deeper, deeper. If I see greed is the greatest danger because it divides man, it does horrible things to people – I see that – then it’s finished. And also I see fear very clearly what it does to the mind – conscious or unconscious fear. So – you follow? it is the full… it is the lack of completely seeing that makes it difficult.
DH: I’m still a little puzzled about the role of freedom in here. I can see, you know, a very close association between seeing and freedom, but maybe the way it works is that I am free to choose not to see.
K: That’s not… I mean, if I refuse to see the danger then I refuse to see it. Sir, I refuse to see the danger of killing people – Pakistan, India, Vietnam or whatever it is – I refuse to see the awfulness of it.
DH: That’s where freedom is exercised.
K: No, it’s my stupidity I refuse to see it, because I want my security, I want to live as I am, it doesn’t matter if my son gets killed.
DH: You see what’s puzzling me is, you know, if some people see and some people don’t see, how does that happen?
K: Partly because our education, partly our society, our culture; we listen to Nixon, X, Y, Z and say, ‘This is most important,’ and I love to be told, and also I love to follow somebody because I can’t think clearly – a dozen reasons.
DH: Yes. So I still am puzzled about the freedom bit because I think freedom is, you know… Of course freedom can be used in two ways. We can speak of freedom as the kind of positive achievement of liberation or we can speak of freedom as the ability to choose between alternatives.
K: That’s not freedom, sir. That’s not freedom. Is that freedom? When there is choice is there freedom?
DH: Well that’s certainly the way the word is usually used.
K: I know, I know. But is there in freedom a choice?
DH: Let’s take whether I choose to see or not to see.
DH: It seems to me that there is an exercise of freedom there.
K: Sir, wait a minute. Do you choose in freedom to see or not to see? Is that freedom?
DH: Well, I guess it depends how you want to define freedom. You see, I think, as I say, one can speak of freedom as the liberation which comes from having moved in the right direction, as it were, or one can speak of freedom as the possibility which man has…
K: …of going right or wrong.
DH: …of going right or wrong.
K: I mean, we are talking of total freedom, in which choice is…
DH: What would we call that in man which gives him the possibility of moving one way or the other, of choosing right or wrong?
K: The Hindus call it Karma – you know what that means? – my samskara, the way I have lived.
DH: But that’s not freedom though.
K: I’m just showing you.
DH: In that description it’s determined, isn’t it?
K: Yes, that is determination through the freedom of choice. I determine to go there instead of there or there, depending on my past memories, experiences, racial and all the rest of it. And that’s not freedom. Where there is choice how can there be freedom?
DH: Well, again it depends on how you’re using the word. You know, it seems to me that the normal English…
K: I know, sir, the normal thing is very clear.
DH: …usage is that…
K: Yes, of course. But choice, why do I have to choose at all?
DH: Well, that’s…
K: Because I am uncertain, I am unclear. Why do I have to choose between Mr Nixon and Mr X? Why? Both are wrong; both create division in the world. Why should I choose between them?
DH: Well, it’s quite possible that if you’re choosing between the two of them, one might create a little less division than the other.
K: Maybe less or more. I mean, the whole question of choice exists only when I am uncertain, when I am unclear, when I’m confused.
DH: Yes. What I really…
K: If I know the road from here to Santa Barbara there is no choice – I know exactly what road to take and go. It’s only when I am uncertain I begin to ask, I begin to question. You follow? So uncertainty, unclarity makes me choose. Sorry. And that’s not freedom.
DH: Yes. What word would you use when you’re speaking of man moving toward this negation, this negation of thought and time and memory?
K: I would say liberate negatively from the self, because the moment you exercise will it becomes the positive and then it’s another form of self.
DH: So you would feel that the will is not involved in that at all.
K: Will is desire. No. I mean, will creates suppression, contradiction: I will, I will not.
DH: Yes. We’re having problems with our words again here.
K: (Laughs) Will…
DH: Let’s take the word love. The way I have always understood love was that it’s a particular way man wills. He gives himself to others.
K: I can’t give myself if I will to. Will. Good Lord, that’s an act of volition based on my pleasure.
DH: Well maybe that’s the way you define it.
K: No, I’m saying… I mean, will. Sir, to use, exercise will – which means what? Conquering.
DH: Yes, well, that’s not the way I would use the word, I guess.
K: I am exploring that word – conquering, suppressing, controlling, changing from this to that.
DH: Giving a direction, a certain direction to my life.
K: Giving a direction. And all control and all that is a form of will. Which is not necessary when I see danger. I see danger only when there is freedom.
DH: Yes. The real practical case out of which I think all of these questions are arising is an attempt to understand this description that you have been giving of seeing, you know? And I’m puzzled as to why, you know, that would happen in some cases and not happen in others. If it is all predetermined then…
K: Of course, then you are lost.
DH: Maybe the words that you are using to express what I would express by will are the use of energy.
K: Yes, sir, that is right, sir – energy. Let’s use that word energy. I need energy to perceive. I cannot have total energy if I am dissipating in various directions. And I need complete energy to observe. I do this when there is danger, physical danger. All my body, adrenal glands, everything operates and I have energy to run or do something about it. Psychologically we are not aware of this danger, inward danger of things, and we just trot along, you know. (Laughs)
Sir, we have talked enough, haven’t we? (Laughs)
Krishnamurti in Malibu, 18 February 1972