Krishnamurti on Action
This week’s episode on Action has four sections.
The first extract (2:06) is from Krishnamurti’s third talk in Ojai 1984, titled ‘What is action?’
The second extract (7:10) is from the first talk in Amsterdam 1981, titled ‘The cycle of thought and action’.
The third extract (19:24) is from Krishnamurti’s first talk at Brockwood Park in 1978, titled ‘Complete, immediate action’.
The final extract this week (41:19) is from the fourth talk in Saanen 1973, titled ‘Intelligent action’.
What Is Action?
What is action? Every day action, going to the office, going to the factory, talking to your wife or husband, rowing, walking, jumping, chasing ideas or chasing gurus (which is the same thing.) You are acting. Life is action, as relationship is action.
So what is action? Our action is based on reward and punishment, to put it very, very simply. I like life if I can get something out of it. And I will be punished if I don’t act rightly, therefore I attempt to act rightly. So our action is based on reward and punishment, our action is based on some futuristic concept, on an ideal, and action according to that ideal, conforming, adjusting to that ideal, therefore conflict. All our action has a motive, a direction, selfish generally, self-interest, self-concern, which is reward and punishment – a reward in the future: if I do this I will get that. Right? If I don’t do it, I might lose – therefore the fear of losing. So our action is always in this area of gain and reward, punishment and fear. Reward is always in the future. Punishment is also – that it might happen in the future. So there is never action per se, action for itself. Like a good carpenter who will make you a marvellous cabinet, the love of it itself, not the reward, punishment or gain.
So action in relation to time breeds conflict. Right? Is this clear? And is there action which is for itself? Is love action in itself? Not the love that has jealousy, hate, amusement, fun and excitement, sex and pleasure – love is not all that. When there is love, there is action without conflict. And love is not a slave to time. So there it is. If you can understand that, explain and deeply grasp the truth of it, then the brain becomes extraordinarily vital, strong, not confused in any way. Then you are living now, completely and fear of the future and the past disappear.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1984, Talk 3
The Cycle of Thought and Action
We have to understand the whole movement of thought because we live by thought. All our actions are based on thought; all the great buildings of the world are put together by thought, all the cathedrals, churches, temples and mosques are put there by thought, constructed by thought. And what is inside all these religious buildings, the inside, the figures, the symbols, the images, are all the inventions of thought. There is no refuting that. Thought has created not only the most marvellous architectural buildings and the contents of those buildings, but also it has created the instruments of war, the bomb and various forms of that bomb. Thought has also put together the surgeon: those marvellous instruments, so delicate in surgery. And also thought has made the carpenter: he must study the wood, the instruments and so on. So thought has done all this. The content of a church and the surgeon, the expert engineer who builds a beautiful bridge, are all the result of thought. There is no refuting that, however much one may argue.
So one has to examine what thought is. Why human beings live on thought. Why thought has brought about such chaos in the world – war, lack of relationship with each other, the great capacity of thought with its extraordinary energy – and also what thought has done through millions of years, bringing sorrow for mankind. Please observe this. Let’s examine it together. Don’t let’s oppose what the speaker is saying but let’s examine it, what he is saying together so that we understand what is actually happening to all human beings. We are destroying ourselves.
So we have to go very carefully into the question of thought. Thought is the response of memory. Memory is not only the remembrance of things past but also thought which projects itself as hope in the future. So thought is the response of memory; memory is knowledge; knowledge is experience. That is, there is experience. From experience there is knowledge. From knowledge there is memory or remembrance, and from memory you act. From that action, you learn, which is further knowledge. So we live in this cycle: experience, knowledge, memory, thought, action. In this cycle human beings live, always within the field of knowledge.
I hope this is not boring you. If you are bored, I am sorry. If you want something romantic, sentimental, something that pleases you, I hope you won’t listen. But what we are talking about is very serious. It is not something for the weekend, for casual listening because we are concerned with the radical change of human consciousness. So we have to think about all this, look together, see if it is possible, why human beings who have lived on this earth for so many million years are still as we are. We may have advanced technologically, better communication, better transportation, hygiene and so on, but inwardly we are the same, more or less: unhappy, uncertain, lonely, carrying the burden of sorrow endlessly. And any serious man confronted with this challenge must respond; he can’t take it casually, turn his back on it. That is why this meeting and tomorrow morning’s meeting is very, very serious because we have to apply our minds and our hearts to find out if it is possible to radically bring about a mutation in our consciousness and therefore in our action and behaviour.
So as we were saying, thought is born of experience, knowledge, and so there is nothing whatsoever sacred about thought. It is materialistic. It is a process of matter, thinking. And we have relied on that, on thought to solve all our problems, political, religious, relationship and so on. And our brains, our minds are conditioned, educated to solve problems. Thought has created the problem and then our brains, our minds, are trained to solve problems. If you have an engineering problem, you solve it; a problem of disease one solves it, and so on. Our minds are trained to solve problems. These problems are created by thought, psychologically, inwardly. You follow what is happening? Thought creates the problem psychologically and the mind is trained to solve problems, so thought creating the problem then tries to solve the problem. So it is caught in the same old process, a routine.
Problems are becoming more and more complex, more and more insoluble, so we must find, if it is at all possible, if there is a different way of approaching this life, not through thought because thought has not solved our problems. On the contrary, thought has brought about greater complexity. We must find if it is possible, or if it is not possible, if there is a different dimension, a different approach to life altogether. And that is why it is important to understand the nature of thought, the nature of our thinking. Our thinking is based on remembrance, remembrance of things past. Which is, thinking about what happened a week ago, thinking about it, modified in the present and projected into the future. This is the movement of our life, which is an actuality. So knowledge has become all-important for us, but knowledge is never complete. Knowledge about anything is still incomplete, will always be incomplete. Therefore knowledge always goes with ignorance. Knowledge always lives within the shadow of ignorance. That is a fact. It is not the speaker’s invention or conclusion, but it is so.
Krishnamurti in Amsterdam 1981, Talk 1
Complete, Immediate Action
What do we mean by the word ‘action’? Whether you are married, whether you are not married, whether you are in the office, whether you are fairly well off and independent, and so on, so on, so on, what is the correct thing to do in life, facing all this? Not according to any pattern – obviously that is not correct action – not based on certain ideologies – that also is not correct action because those ideologies are projected by thought, clever, cunning thought – and action based on certain authority, whether religious, political or your own particular authority based on your own experience and knowledge, that is not correct action either. Please understand all this because if you base your action on your own experience then your experience is very limited and you are constantly demanding greater and greater and greater experience, which is greater and greater sensation, not experience.
The word ‘experience’ means to go through, finish with something, and action based on a past conclusion, however right, however worthy, is still from the past and therefore still limited in terms of time. Or if your action is based on a future conclusion, on a future ideology or a future ideal, that again is not correct action because you have projected the ideal, what you should be or what your country should be or what your group should be, and you act according to what should be. Therefore you are not acting at all. Action implies doing something now, independent of the past and the future.
This is really quite fascinating and tremendously interesting, if I may use these words which are not the correct words but it doesn’t matter for the moment, to find out for oneself: is there an action totally devoid of time? You understand? Time being the past with all my memories, knowledge, experience, stored up in the brain as memory and acting according to that memory, which is the past acting in the present, which has had so many experiences, so many failures, so many anxieties, fears, sorrows, and projects something in the future as ideological, what should be, how happy it would be, and acts according to that, which again is non-action. Right? At least let’s meet together intellectually, then if you understand that intellectually, you can go still deeper into it. At least we can understand each other at that level, which is very limited.
Then is there an action in daily life, in our daily relationship with each other, intimate or not intimate, sexual or not sexual, is there an action which will be holistic, whole, which is not dependent on time, on environment, on circumstances? So we are challenging: is there such an action? Or we only know action based on the past or on the future. We don’t know any other action and we accept such action; it is much more convenient, more comfortable, easy to accept such action. So we are challenging each other to find out if it is possible to live a life of correct action, which is not dependent on environment, on circumstances, on the past, or on the future. This is the most difficult thing to find out.
When you want to find out such an action, if there is such an action, thought immediately begins to operate. Thought says, ‘Is there such a thing? I must inquire.’ So thought is the past, isn’t it? Thought is the outcome of memory, thought is the result of your experience, accumulated knowledge, and from that arises memory and then from the reaction of that memory is thinking. That is simple, very simple if you go into it. It is not complicated. So when there is such a challenge as saying: is there action which is not dependent on the past or the future, or on environment or circumstances, then thought begins to operate. Right? That is what you are doing. Then thought says, ‘I must find out such action.’ Since thought cannot find such action, you say it’s impossible.
You are following all this? We are all together in this, or am I talking to myself?
So action based on thought is limited because thought in itself is a broken-up thing, a fragment, limited because it is based on knowledge. And knowledge, however much you may accumulate, however much you may accumulate facts, expanding knowledge over and over, expanding constantly, it is still limited. That is obvious, again. Perhaps not to the people who advocate the ascent of man through knowledge because that is their particular form of conclusion, but one sees actually in daily life how knowledge is so extraordinarily limited. You may have technological knowledge, and you must have, and to that knowledge more can be added. It can be constantly expanded, but is there the accumulation of psychological knowledge from which action takes place?
One has accumulated knowledge, psychologically. I have been hurt many years ago as a boy or a girl. I have been hurt. And that hurt has become my knowledge. It is there inside my skin and I act according to that knowledge. Which is, I resist, I isolate myself in order not to be hurt more. And so there is constant division between me and another to prevent being further hurt. This is a common fact, again. So I act according to that knowledge. I may see the irrationality of it. I may go to psychologists. I may do all kinds of things about it but the wound is still there. And that wound is responding all the time. So I am acting according to a past incident. Whether that past incident is pleasurable or painful is irrelevant but it is the past event, which is my knowledge. I have had a lovely afternoon. That becomes my knowledge. I am going to have a marvellous day tomorrow –again, this whole process is based on the accumulative process of experience, desire and pleasure.
So is there an action which is totally independent of all this? You understand my question? To inquire into that, the operation of thought must be understood because you can’t stop thinking. If you force, as many people do through meditation, which is not meditation, to try control or shape thought, then they have divided themselves into the thinker who is superior and thought inferior, and so the superior tries to control the inferior – you know all this. So is there a way of an action which is totally divorced from all this? We are challenging you – I am challenging you and you are challenging me; together we are in a state of being challenged.
Perhaps if you have challenged sufficiently deeply and earnestly and with all your being then you will find an answer. Which is, I will tell you, but we are discussing this together, we are sharing this together, therefore I am not telling you and you are not accepting it because then it becomes futile. Then we might just as well go to some guru. But if you can discover this for yourself then you are free. You have understood action in all its full meaning and its depth, and the beauty of action.
We say… the speaker says there is such an action devoid completely from the past or the future, from environment, from circumstances. It is to have an insight into the total movement of thought as it expresses itself in the environment, in circumstances past and future, which is to have insight into action. That is, insight is not the response of memory.
Hasn’t it ever happened to you? Suddenly you say, ‘I have understood it’ – without words, without gestures, without circumstances, without the past, you suddenly feel, ‘By Jove, I’ve got it!’ And that is irrevocable, it is ultimate truth. You can’t say, ‘Well I have got it but next day I have lost it.’
So we are going to find out together the meaning of the word ‘insight’. To have an insight into something is not personal. It is not based on some ideological conclusions, memories or remembrances. One must be free of that to have instant insight into something. One must be free of knowledge to have immediate perception. This is not something extravagant, exotic or rather emotional, but it is actual. If you have ever had this kind of immediate understanding and therefore immediate action, that immediate understanding demands immediate action irrelevant of time. Hasn’t it happened? It happens, obviously, but then thought says, ‘I have had that insight, I have had that strange deep perception and therefore from that, immediate action, but I wish it would continue all the time.’ You understand? I want that insight, that immediate perception, immediate understanding, to continue. When you say it must continue, you have already begun the whole movement of thought. I wonder if you see this.
Insight, the quick perception of something is instantaneous and finishes there. You can’t carry it over. Whereas thought demands that it should be carried over and therefore prevents the next insight. I wonder if you get all this.
Have we understood something of this? It is very important because from this we can go into something further where quick insight is demanded, so that you never have to struggle, never have to have conflict. Because when you are acting upon insight, it is an irrevocable truth. It is not intuition. We are using that word carefully. People have intuitions, which is, they desire, project and, you know, all that kind of ugly stuff.
This is insight. Quick perception and action is not personal; therefore it is whole, it is holistic. And our actions are never whole. We do something and regret, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that.’ Or we have done something that gives us pleasure and we want more of that action. Whereas insight is something which is quite simple. But to have such an insight into things, one must have a quick mind, not a dull mind, not a mind that is frightened or a mind where thought says, ‘If I do that, what will happen? I might regret it or there might be failure; it might bring about hurt to others and to myself’ – and so action is never total, complete, whole. Whereas action which is born out of insight, immediate perception, has no regrets because it is actual. It is the only action.
Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park 1978, Talk 1
I never realise I am totally confused. I have pretended to myself that I am not confused. But when I am forced to the wall by logic, reason and action, I say, ‘Yes, I admit honestly I am really deeply completely confused.’ But I have to live in this world, therefore being confused I do all kinds of things, and this action produces more conflicts, more confusion. That activity is what we call living. That’s what we call positive action, born out of confusion. The mind sees that very clearly. That is the truth of it. That is the wisdom of it. And thought moving away from this confusion is an escape, is an action, a positive action.
So inaction, not action, when there is total confusion, is complete action. I wonder if you get this. The mind does not act out of confusion. Which means what? As long as there is deep confusion, it will not act. So I have to live in this world, therefore I have to act. So what is action which is not the outcome of confusion? Therefore action is a movement which is the outcome of the perception of that truth, and the action comes when there is intelligence out of that perception. I wonder if you see all this. It is this intelligence born out of wisdom that acts, not confusion.
So one has to live in this world. I have passed through areas of confusion, areas of non-confusion; the mind has realised the full meaning of all that. And the mind also realises the state of complete confusion and sees the truth of that. So perception has revealed the truth, and out of that perception wisdom comes. And intelligence is the action of that wisdom in daily life.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1979, Discussion 2