Interview by Eric Robson
Eric Robson is a broadcaster, author and documentary film maker, based in the UK where he also farms. For 25 years he chaired Gardeners’ Question Time.
This 1984 conversation was part of a television series he hosted, called Revelations. Questions Robson asks Krishnamurti include: Did you ever believe, as the people who were sponsoring you believed, that you were some sort of messiah? Can you explain why you are so positively against organised religion? Is your system rooted in any religion? How do you strip away conditioning? Is there only one truth or are there many truths? When you approach the pathless land of truth, do you have to do anything with that truth? Is it possible for everyone to achieve truth? You said that the world can only change through personal transformation, and yet the world is sliding to the edge of a black abyss. Won’t personal transformation simply come too late?
Eric Robson: Hello. In the next two weekends thousands of people will arrive at a country house in Hampshire; their pilgrimage is to see and hear a man who, for many of them, is a spiritual figurehead in the same league as Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus Christ. Now, these are comparison which J. Krishnamurti, now 89 years of age, would be the first to shrug aside.
He was born in India to parents who were neither particularly influential nor wealthy; there was however something special about him right from the start. At the age of 14 he was discovered by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater of the Theosophical Society, a group of radical thinkers who believed there was a common strand of truth to all the world’s great religions. They believed the young Krishnamurti was the new Messiah and groomed him to become the world’s spiritual leader.
At the age of 27 while in California, Krishnamurti had a revelation which changed his life. It happened while he was watching a man mending a road. He wrote: ‘That man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; I was in everything or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate.’ Later that day, Krishnamurti felt the presence of the Lord Buddha. He went on: ‘I have seen the light; I have touched compassion which heals all sorrow and suffering. It’s not for myself but for the world.’ Not long after this, Krishnamurti rejected his title of world spiritual leader and disbanded the organisation that had grown up round him. Everyone, he said, and still says, must find his or her own way to the truth.
Well, nevertheless, although he rejects organised religion and titles such as leader or teacher, he has a huge following. Schools which bear his name have been set up in various parts of the world, which along with many other subjects study his thinking and writings. We went to one of these schools, Brockwood Park in Hampshire, to talk to Krishnamurti himself.
ER: Throughout your life you’ve been regarded as someone special, but what was it like at the age of 14 to be suddenly plucked from obscurity?
Krishnamurti: I’m afraid I don’t remember actually, but I was rather shy; I avoided all this; I didn’t like all the personal worship and kind of looked up to as a great man and all that kind of stuff. As I grew up, I avoided crowds. When I was asked to speak in a public meeting, I was so shy I tried to speak behind a curtain (laughter) and that didn’t work out, so I came out from behind the curtain and talked. Probably I’ve led a rather a lonely life; not lonely in the sense apart but keeping away from all the noise and all the fuss and all the absurdities.
ER: Did you ever believe, as the people who were sponsoring you believed, that you were some sort of messiah?
K: You know, that word messiah is really a Jewish word; it comes from… – you know, all that. I never bothered about it, really (laughter). It sounds rather funny but really, seriously, I never bothered about it, who I was, what I was. It was not very important, and I really mean it. And I was given a great many properties all over the world – a castle in Holland with five thousand acres. I returned all that because I didn’t believe – I don’t believe still, organised religious structure, hierarchical attitude towards life.
ER: But before you renounced the position that your sponsors were trying to put you in, in California you had what I suppose I would describe as a revelation. What was revealed to you? I have read the story of when you saw a roadman.
K: Yes. Yes, yes.
ER: You felt that you were part of him, part of the hammer he had in his hand.
K: Yes, yes, yes. But you see the difficulty is, to go into it very seriously… I don’t know how to put it clearly to you. You know, there is a great tradition among the religious… serious religious people, perhaps not so much in the West, that you must go through various forms of self-purification. Not by starving, fasting and all that torturing the body, but a sense of inward cleansing, as it were, if we can so put it, a purification of a brain that is not self-centred, that is not concerned with personal progress, personal achievement and all that business. I think it was, and it still is, part of deep religious feeling that, not the abandonment of the world, but share very little of it, as much… as little as you can, because you have to live in this ugly world – not the beautiful nature but what man has made of it. I think that’s what happened, to put it very, very simply.
ER: That was what you realised when you…
K: Yes, yes.
ER: …on those incidents when you saw the road men there…
ER: …and when you stood under the pepper tree…
ER: …and experienced – I think you described it as a supreme happiness.
K: Yes. More than… happiness is really a side issue; but much more a sense of wholeness.
ER: You’ve already mentioned your rejection of organised religion, but can you explain to us why you are so positively against those things?
K: How can you organise a human being according to a pattern? Whether it is a religious pattern – faith, belief, dogma rituals – how can you shape man, who is extraordinarily alive, to a particular mode, like the communists are trying to do? The totalitarians are trying to force man to a certain way of thinking, which is so contrary to freedom. Freedom… I mean, man has always sought throughout history to be free. That was one of his urgent, constant demands – not only from poverty, environmental ugliness and so on, but to be free from the sorrow, pain and anxiety and so on, those things. And how can any structured religious attitude give him freedom?
ER: So if you’ve rejected religion and you’ve rejected faith, what’s your alternative?
K: It’s rather complex. To put it simply, human beings have been always self-centred, always selfish – to put it very brutally, simply – and various religions have tried to help him not to be so self-centred, and identify yourself with something greater. But “the greater” is still part of selfishness. And so I think one should really begin with self-knowledge. The ancient Hindus, long before the Greeks, have said ‘know thyself first,’ because if you don’t understand yourself, basically, fundamentally, whatever you do will still be the activity of illusions. So, know thyself – not according to some philosopher or some psychologist but know yourself in your relationship with the world; not only the external world of nature – I’m saying this, not the ancient… – not only your relationship with nature but also your intimate relationship with whom you live. Relationship is like a mirror in which you see yourself directly as you are: no pretensions, watch your reactions, understand your reactions and go beyond them. And it’s much more complex – human structure, the human brain, human behaviour and so on – so begin with yourself.
ER: Is your system rooted in any religion? Is your method…
K: Ah, a method and a system is again a pattern.
ER: You don’t have a method, you don’t have a system?
K: Ah, of course not. Because after all, that’s what human beings have sought, and lived with patterns: obedience to the pattern, obedience to a certain ideal. All that has led to such enormous conflict. Look what is happening now: the ideals of the communist and the ideals of the democratic world, they are in conflict. So really one has to ask a much more serious question: what place have ideals in life at all? They may have no place at all. What is important is to begin with what is, actual.
We are having a conversation now, a dialogue, in which both of us are sharing. We talk freely – I hope – inquire, investigate, therefore there is no system in that; both of us are seriously concerned about something and we begin to have a dialogue about it: why human beings throughout the world live in conflict. Why should I have a system about that? And whether we can live without conflict. Because conflict is destroying the world, not only in personal relationship but with nature, with other human beings. So is it possible to live without conflict? Is it possible to live a life of great – if I can use that word which has been so spoiled – love? And be free of suffering. This is… why should we have a system of inquiry into that? But in inquiring we discover a great many things. If we are both attentive, watchful, we discover the most fantastic and real things. And the perception of that brings us together; there is no “you” and “me”: perception.
ER: I know you’ve written that before you can be sure of anything, you have to strip away the conditioning, but how exactly do you do that? I mean, you are presumably conditioned as a Hindu.
ER: You’ve stripped that away?
K: Oh, long ago. As a… when I… It meant nothing, really, to me, whether to be a Hindu or a Muslim or, you know, a Christian. I mean, these are all… human brains have been programmed, like computers.
ER: Well, I’ll come back to my system and method now though.
ER: How do you strip away the conditioning?
K: That is the whole point. Is there a difference between you and your conditioning? You understand my question?
ER: It’s very deeply ingrained.
K: No, just look at it. You say, ‘How can I strip away, put away my conditioning?’ That means there is a “you” and a conditioning, which means there is a division. Right? The “you” is also conditioned. I don’t know if you follow it.
ER: Yes, I do.
K: Therefore the problem is not you and the conditioning; there is only conditioning. But we have grown in the habit of ‘me and the conditioning; I must do something about it,’ as though I was different from it. Right? So when there is that division, there is conflict. Right? That conflict is totally false; because I and the “it” are the same. Right? The observer is the observed. Are we together in this? So, if that is a fact, which it is, then watch it, without any movement of thought. I don’t know if…
K: This becomes a little more complex. Say for example, human beings are frightened, have fear – right? – fear of death, fear of living, fear of tomorrow, fear of… they have, from most primitive, most ancient man to present time, man has fear – fear of tomorrow, insecurity, all the rest of it – and he has always tried to overcome it, suppress it, run away from it. But the “I” is fear. Right? So can one watch this fact… is there an observation of this fact without division? I don’t know… The “I” is, if you want to go into it much more deeply, the “I”, the self who is the watcher, is the past – past memories, past incidents, past recognitions and so on – and then that past which is the “I” looks upon the present as though it was something separate from itself; and then there is conflict in that. But the “I” is that.
ER: Is there only one truth or are there many truths?
K: There is only one truth. There is not Muslim truth and Christian truth, or Hindu or Buddhist; there is only truth. Would you agree or see that truth has no path? – it’s not Christian path, Hindu path or communist path. So it’s a pathless land. If truth was fixed, then there is a path to it. But it’s a living thing; you can’t say… – you follow? It’s a living thing, and each one interprets it in his own… according to his own conditioning. They generally agree truth is universal. Any obviously thinking man does. But I’ve been brought up… suppose one has been brought up as a Christian; you translate that truth according to your… what you have been programmed to. You see, the question really is whether one can be free of this conditioning totally and have a brain, have a mind that is completely free from all program; then there is a different state altogether.
ER: I follow you up to there, but doesn’t that lead us to a paradox, that the people who listen to you, who come to this school, who listen to you in India or California, do they not regard you as a signpost in a pathless land?
K: No, no. I’ve always said there is no authority, including myself. I am not your leader, guru and all that nonsense. I really mean it. For me that is an abomination; to me that is the original sin (laughs), if I can so put it. Each man must be a light to himself. Right? Because freedom is necessary: freedom from one’s conditioning, freedom from all the travail that is part of our consciousness.
ER: But really how can someone who speaks as powerfully as you do, who thinks as clearly as you do, not be regarded as leader by lesser men?
K: Sir, at every talk, at every discussion I say this: don’t do it, be careful, don’t… – you follow? – it’s so silly, because you’re destroying yourself, you’re following… I may… what K is talking about may be utterly false. Begin with scepticism, don’t accept anything, including what I’m saying. Work it out; let’s discuss it, let’s go into it together, so that there is no you as the leader and I the follower; we are together in this beastly business of living.
ER: (Laughs) Can I ask you what happens when you approach the pathless land of truth, when you step over its boundaries and you find yourself there, do you have to do anything with that truth or does it just do it for you?
K: Do you remember… I invented a story long ago of two men walking in the street, and they have been friends for a long time; and one day as they are walking along the road, path, along the street, one of them picks up something, looks at it, and his whole face is absolutely changed, radiant; and the other says, ‘What the Dickens has happened to you?’ He said, ‘I have picked up something which is part of truth, it is most marvellous.’ And the other fellow says, ‘Let’s go and organize it.’ (Laughs)
ER: Is it possible for everyone to achieve this truth?
K: Obviously. If they apply their mind, their heart to this.
ER: You said that you believe that the world can only change through this personal transformation, and yet the world is sliding, it seems, to the edge of the black abyss. Won’t the personal transformation simply come too late?
K: If you change radically in that sense, you are going to affect the world. It may be very little but you are going to affect it. Like a bad case, like Hitler – it’s a bad case; he was insane and all the rest of it – he affected the whole world. He… all the rest of it. So I think if a few of us radically changed, there would be tremendous effect, naturally.
ER: Thank you very much indeed for talking to us.
Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park, 22 June 1984