Krishnamurti with Keith Berwick 1
Keith Berwick is a four-time Emmy Award winning television broadcaster, and senior fellow of the Aspen Institute. His career also includes historian, educator, newspaper publisher and editor. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.
This first interview was recorded in Los Angeles in 1981. Berwick begins by asking: Why, in 1929, Krishnamurti gave up being the head of The Order of the Star. Other themes include: What is the major theme of the teachings? The fundamental issue is whether the human condition, with all its misery, anxiety and sorrow can be changed. We don’t realise that our consciousness is the common ground on which we all stand; we thinks we are separate. There is nothing sacred in what thought has created. How does one achieve right action, right relationship? If you have no image you can never be hurt. Freedom is to be free from the image-building machinery, which is thought.
Keith Berwick: On our program today we’re going to hear a most remarkable interview with Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti is reputed by some to be the most outstanding thinker and philosophical writer in the world today. Keith Berwick recently spoke with him about a few of his basic concepts. Keith Berwick: In 1929, having been born in India, a Brahmin and a devout Theosophist, you were the head of a large and powerful religious organization and you gave that all up.
Krishnamurti: Yes, sir.
K: I think it was because – it is so long ago – I don’t think religious organizations have helped man at all. Basically, man has not been helped but rather these religious organizations have helped him to escape from actualities of life. That’s one of the reasons. And also it became very personal; they began to worship the person rather than what he was saying.
KB: You were regarded as the new messiah, a guru.
K: Yes, all that kind of stuff.
KB: And you think that kind of stuff is not useful; in fact, is…
K: No, I don’t.
K: I think, on the contrary, it hinders people from actually thinking their problems out together.
KB: Aha. Then what role have you taken upon yourself since that time, in all of your travels and teachings?
K: I don’t think we should call it a role. This is what I want to do, and I’ve spent sixty years at this, and what I talk about is very clear and very plain, pointing out various forms of how human beings are being destroyed, by nationalism, by separate religions, Catholics, Protestant, Hindus, Muslims — religions have not brought them together.
KB: And you are trying to cause us, to help us to transcend these limitations?
K: Yes, limitations, that’s right.
KB: Then what would be the major theme of your teachings? Is that the appropriate word, ‘teachings’?
K: Yes, that would be the appropriate word. But it’s such a tremendously large subject to be covered in a few minutes like this. I should think, sir, the main issue is – considering what the world is becoming, degenerate, destructive, there is tremendous lot of violence, wars and so on – I think the crisis is not in politics, in economics, in social structure, but in consciousness itself, in the mind of man itself.
KB: Aha. You have said that choice is somehow the problem, because so long as we choose…
K: …we are not free.
KB: And I don’t understand that, because here in this country we celebrate choice.
K: I know. When do we choose? We choose only when we are confused, between this and that and the other, and so on, but if you see something very clearly, there is no choice, you act.
KB: Aha. But how do…
K: …to see clearly?
KB: …you come to see clearly?
K: That’s the whole point. First of all, human beings are conditioned in various ways. There are all those philosophies and philosophers who say, ‘Accept the condition of man, make the best of it, modify it but you cannot fundamentally change the condition of man.’
K: That’s one… the whole school there is.
KB: Yes. I don’t believe that.
K: No, of course not, but they maintain that, and the more clever you are, erudite and capable of writing well – it becomes fashionable and so on. But I think the un-conditioning of man, to uncondition him, to free him, is a responsibility of education…
KB: And so you have a school, for example at…
K: We have various schools. I have one school at Ojai; in England; five schools in India, and so on. But the real point is whether the human condition with all the misery, travail and anxieties, sorrow, can ever be changed. That is the fundamental issue.
KB: And you believe…
K: Not believe – it can be done.
KB: It can.
K: Of course.
KB: So it it’s not a matter of belief…
KB: …it’s a matter of fact.
K: Yes. Belief is one of the factors that really is very destructive.
KB: Ah, I begin to understand.
K: Belief atrophies the mind. If I say I’m a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Christian and keep on repeating endlessly, repeating the rituals, you know, the dogma, gradually my brain becomes mechanical.
KB: Becomes merely habit.
K: Habit. And so it becomes atrophied. There is no nourishment to the brain, no challenge to it.
KB: Was that the essence of what you were doing in 1929, then, coming to that perception?
K: That was the beginning of it.
KB: Aha. How did you come to it?
K: I don’t know. (Laughs) Probably I had a flash of insight, and being at that time a Brahmin and all the rest of it – I was very moral and all that kind of thing — and I said, ‘This is wrong.’ So we dissolved the whole thing, returned the properties and everything.
KB: It must have been a great shock.
K: To people who followed, yes.
KB: Yes, yes. Aha.
K: They were rather angry, upset, and they wondered how I am going to live.
KB: (Laughs) How you were going to live?
K: Live – because I have no money. I had no money then and I have no money now. So they said, ‘What’s going to happen to you?’
KB: And what did you say?
K: I said, ‘We’ll see.’
KB: (Laughs) And so we are seeing.
One of the themes which recurs again and again in your writings, your teachings, is the theme of death. You talk a great deal about death.
K: Yes. I talk a great deal, sir, not only about death, but fear, pleasure, anxiety, loneliness, sorrow, love, compassion, all that. Human beings have not solved this problem; they are frightened of death.
K: Scared to end life. The life they live is a tremendous travail.
K: And they cling to that.
KB: They cling to the travail, fearing death.
K: Yes, fearing death. So there is living, which has become such a monstrous affair – conflict, competition, you know, all the rest of it – and death is the ending of all that. The physical organism dies but the consciousness of humanity goes on.
KB: And is a part of the mind?
K: Yes. No, I would like going into that. Let’s look at it closely.
KB: Yes, please.
K: Human beings, wherever they live, suffer, whether India or Japan, Russia, America. So human consciousness with its content… The content makes the consciousness. Logically.
KB: It is logical.
K: So this consciousness is common to mankind. I don’t know if I’m making it clear.
KB: Is it shared? Is that your implication?
K: No, it’s common, because human beings suffer right through the world. They are tremendously anxious…
K: Fearful, great pain, seeking all the time security in one way or another, both physical and psychological.
K: And that is the common factor whether you are an American or Indian, or a Catholic or a Buddhist, whatever it is.
KB: We call that the human condition.
K: Human condition, which is the consciousness.
K: Now, that’s common to man. It is not your consciousness separate from another, it is the consciousness of man, of human beings, which is common to all. Unless we liberate ourselves from that content, that consciousness will go on. And man is afraid of death because he doesn’t realise actually that… This is the common ground on which we all stand. He thinks he is separate.
K: I don’t know if I’m making it clear.
KB: Oh, yes. Yes, I understand. But here… this is the leveller, this is the thing that unites us all.
KB: But so does consciousness, as you describe it.
How does one prepare for death?
K: Sir, look, we have put death at a distance. Death means the ending of something, ending of attachment, ending of lots of things. Now, is it not possible to invite death — not commit suicide but invite death, which means to end? To end, say for example, attachment. Especially psychological attachments. That’s what’s going to happen when one dies.
KB: Are you suggesting, though, that one has a choice?
K: No, not choice – either you continue along that line, which is fear of death and if there is reincarnation after death – you know, the whole belief of the Asiatic world which has been brought over here.
K: And if you believe in all that you’ll just carry on.
KB: And be locked in that kind of prison.
K: In that framework.
K: But if you say, let’s find out what the significance of death actually is, apart from the death of the organism, what is the meaning of death, the depth of it, the beauty of it, the enormous significance of it.
KB: Ah, then you open yourself to that. Yes. And to life itself, as a consequence.
K: Yes. So, you see, what we have done is separated life from death, living from death. From the moment we are born till we die this constant conflict, struggle, pain, anxiety, loneliness, misery.
KB: Then what’s the connection between the mind, or the vehicle or the spirit, and the body? What sort of connection do you feel to your body?
K: The senses create the feeling, the emotions, and also you begin with the senses and thought is born. Thought is the reaction of memory. Memory is knowledge.
K: Knowledge is experience. All this is stored in the brain. So thought, for vast majority of people is the most important factor.
K: But thought is always limited. Because knowledge is always limited.
KB: So that you’re always in the shadow of that limitation of one’s own knowledge.
K: Yes, that’s right.
KB: There is a paradox there, a profound paradox.
K: Yes, there is a paradox but that paradox can be cleared. You see, look, sir, thought has created the technological world.
K: With the atom bomb, all that, war machines…
KB: We call it progress.
K: Thought has also created the marvellous churches and the cathedrals – at the architectural level.
KB: Magnificent on the outside and empty on the inside.
K: But the inside is also created by thought.
K: The rituals, the images; the saviour is the result of thought. And go to India, it is exactly the same thing, only the name changes, the shape of the image changes, the symbol changes, but it’s the same actions of thought. So thought is a material process.
K: So there is nothing sacred which thought has created.
KB: (Laughs) This then is a conundrum, because all of our established methods of…
KB: …of action seem to be retrograde. So how does one achieve right action, right relationship?
K: That’s it.
KB: How do you do it?
K: That is the real question. When you use the word relationship, what does that mean? To be in contact with something.
KB: It is what we are experiencing now.
K: Now. Now, if you have an image about me and if I have an image about you, where is the contact?
KB: There is no contact…
K: At all.
KB: …because we’re dealing with images.
K: Most of our relationship, whether intimate or not, is based on images.
KB: Well, you know, this is an ironic place to be talking about images, if I may say so.
K: (Laughs) Of course.
KB: (Laughs) So what are we doing here? Why are we here?
K: Why do we do it?
KB: Why are we talking right now of these things? If what you say about images…
K: But that’s a fact.
KB: …is true, as I believe it is…
K: It’s a fact, not…
KB: But how do we through and beyond those images?
K: That’s the point; whether man can live without images. Then he’ll have a direct relationship with his wife or husband or with his children or something or other.
KB: But you believe – no, not the right word; excuse me – you know that this is true, that…
K: Yes, sir, because I have no images.
KB: You have no images?
K: Images imply… thought creating the image about oneself, giving importance to oneself, and all that. So if you have no image, you can never be hurt. Nobody can pull you down or pull you up.
KB: Are you then free? Is that the condition of freedom?
K: That is… That’s right, sir.
KB: Because here in this country, and I suppose everywhere in the world, people allegedly seek freedom through means that are retrograde.
KB: Self-defeating means.
K: Yes. Here – I mean in the Western world — freedom is very important. Not in the communist world but here it’s very important, and that freedom implies to do what you like. Which is what is happening.
KB: Yes, yes.
K: Sexually, emotionally, romantically, religiously, it’s all, ‘Do what you like.’ Now, is that freedom? It’s not.
KB: That’s not even what you like, (laughs) usually.
K: Of course not. So freedom is this: to be free from the image-building machinery, which is thought. Thought has its right place. I couldn’t come here without…
KB: …without thought.
K: I couldn’t speak English without thought. But psychologically, inwardly, what place has thought? You understand my question?
KB: Thought gets in the way of the psychological process that we…
K: Psychological understanding we think can be done through thought, through the intellect, through words. But the word is not the thing, so…
KB: But, you see, I would have thought – and this is a confusion of mine – that the opposite of thought in these terms is experience, just to open oneself to experience.
K: Or rather, would you put it this way: observation?
K: Not experience. To experience there must be an experiencer.
KB: And that again sets you at a remove from the experience.
KB: So, observation?
K: Observation. But we never observe because we have always a motive behind observation, so our observation is directed, distorted.
KB: Aha. But when it’s directed it is distorted.
K: Of course.
KB: Because though has intruded in the process. Then how does one peel away all of these layers, all of these things that stand between oneself and observation, in your sense?
K: Sir, that implies… Let’s look at it differently. May I put the question differently?
K: Is the observer different from the observed? Like anger, is there an observer who says, ‘I am angry’? Or anger is part of the observer. I don’t know if you are following what I’m talking about.
KB: I think so.
K: To have an experience there must be an experiencer. And the experiencer must recognize the experience, otherwise it has no meaning, it’s meaningless.
K: So the experiencer is the experience. There is no… He has divided himself, which leads to illusion.
In all of this, you’ve talked of the difficulties, you’ve talked of the retrograde conditions of mankind. How do you feel about the future? How do you look to the future? What is the future to be, do you think?
K: Sir, as long… – man apparently has lived over five million years or ten million years – right? – that’s what the scientists, biologists and all those say – and man has lived during that time with constant conflict, fear.
K: Struggle, not only physically to survive, but psychologically in battle within himself and outwardly. So this battle has been going on, psychologically, and wars have been going on for the last five thousand years, historically. So man has not changed. There is a great deal of knowledge how to change him…
K: All the psychologists are at it.
K: Knowledge. And the scientist tell you, but man remains the same. Even though he is a scientist, even though he is a philosopher, he remains the same: he’s anxious, jealous, ambitious, aggressive, you know, the whole business of it.
KB: Yes, yes.
K: And that’s part of one’s consciousness, part of consciousness of man. We have never completely gone into this question, whether one can be totally unselfish. That is the root of the problem.
KB: Ah. So…
K: We are always self-centred and acting from that centre.
K: That’s obvious, sir.
KB: I see then that the key to the question that I’ve asked again and again is that we have to get to that selfless position.
K: Now, that’s only possible if you understand the nature of the self, the ‘me’, the ego.
K: That is put together by thought: my vanity, my aggressiveness, my violence, my so-called relationship with another; and thought has built the structure of me. So one has to really go into the question of what is thinking – which we went into just now.
Well, you have given us so much to… – I was going to say to think about; I’ll change my form – so much to ponder and to challenge us.
KB: I want to thank you very much for being with us here today.
Krishnamurti in Los Angeles, 18 May 1981