Krishnamurti on Self-knowledge
This week’s episode on Self-knowledge has six sections.
The first extract (2:10) is from Krishnamurti’s first question and answer meeting in Saanen 1980, titled ‘What is self-knowledge?’
The second extract (9:42) is from the fifth discussion in Saanen 1977, titled ‘Observing oneself in relationship’.
The third extract (22:38) is from the third talk at Brockwood Park in 1970, titled ‘We look at ourselves with knowledge’.
The fourth extract (37:56) is from the third question and answer meeting in Saanen 1981, titled ‘Reading the book of oneself’.
The fifth extract (45:40) is from the sixth talk in Ojai 1949, titled ‘Without self-knowledge there can be no meditation’.
The final extract this week (54:22) is from the third question and answer meeting in Ojai 1982, titled ‘Because we don’t know ourselves, we destroy’.
What Is Self-knowledge?
What is self-knowledge? The ancient Greeks and the ancient Hindus talked about knowing yourself. It is as old as the hills – Socrates and others in Greece and in India talked about knowing yourself. What does it mean to know yourself? Can you ever know yourself? What is the self, and must you know about it? What is the self that apparently is necessary to know?
Now, what do we mean by the word ‘know’? Sorry to be so careful about this – otherwise we shall be misleading each other if we do not understand the words. What do we mean by ‘know’? I know Gstaad because I have been there for twenty-two years. I know you because I have seen you here for twenty years or more. I don’t know why, but you are there, and I am here. And when we say, ‘I know,’ we mean by that not only recognition but also the remembrance of the face, the name. Which means recognition, remembrance and association. Or rather association and remembrance. Which is, I met you yesterday. I have recognised you today. That is memory operating. So when I say, ‘I know,’ it is the past expressing itself in the present. I hope you are following all this. Does it interest you, all this? So the past is the movement of knowledge.
I study, go to college, go to school, university, and acquire a great deal of information. Then I say I am a chemist or a physicist and so on. So when we say one must know oneself, do you come to that knowledge about the self afresh, or do you approach it already having knowledge about it? You see the difference? You understand my question? Oh, for goodness sake – am I making it difficult? No.
That is, I want to know myself. Do I approach myself through the knowledge I have acquired? Which is, I have studied psychology, I have been to psychotherapists and I have read a great deal, and I approach the understanding of the self through the knowledge I have acquired. Or, do I come to it without all the previous accumulation, knowledge about myself? You understand the question? We have explained what desire is, what will is, and when we say, ‘I must know about myself,’ I am already acquainted with myself, and so this acquaintance, this knowledge, dictates how I observe myself. This is very important if you want to go into this carefully. So having previous knowledge about myself, I use that knowledge to understand myself, which becomes silly, absurd. Which is, I have understood myself from the knowledge of others – Freud, Jung all the rest of it, the modern psychologists and so on. So can I – please listen – can I put aside all that knowledge because I am looking at myself through other people’s eyes? Therefore can I put all that aside and look at myself afresh, anew?
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1980, Question and Answer Meeting 1
Observing Oneself in Relationship
Self-knowledge, knowing oneself, must begin knowing the world outside, knowing what is happening in the world – politically, religiously, economically, socially, racially, the class differences, the totalitarian states, the left, right and centre. All that one must observe. It is not possible to observe if one is prejudiced. That is very simple and very clear. If I stick to my nationality, to my belief, to my race, I cannot possibly investigate, explore, observe the world.
Without observing what is going on around us, socially, morally, religiously and so on, merely to investigate oneself leads to insanity, because there is the object very clearly to be observed: what is going on. From there you begin. Move from the outer to the inner, not the inner then the outer. You can deceive yourself enormously if you begin with yourself. Whereas if one begins from the outer then goes deeply within oneself, one will see there is no difference between the outer and the inner. It may be like the sea, the ebb and flow, going out and coming in, all the time.
Now, to observe oneself, we said, one must be free to look. Freedom implies freedom from prejudice, belief, dogma and conclusion, so that you can observe yourself. Otherwise, you will see what you want to see, or deny what you see. So to observe, there must be freedom. That is simple. Now, can we do this as we are talking? Can we, wanting to understand the extraordinary complex structure and the nature of the self, the ‘me’, observe that structure and that nature of the self without any conclusion? If you say it is very difficult, one cannot do that, then you have blocked yourself. That’s simple. Whereas one is really involved in it because what one is – the society, the religions and all that are the result. If you are envious, greedy, seeking power and position, you create a society which will bring about what you are – greed, power, position and all the rest of it.
Is it possible to observe oneself without any distortion? Please follow this step by step. We say it is possible only when there is no direction, when there is no motive. Because the motive dictates the direction and distorts the observation. Then you say, ‘How can I observe myself without a motive because I am full of motives?’ – motives being reward and punishment essentially. So can one look at oneself freely without this tremendous tradition of seeking reward and avoiding punishment, but just to be free to look? Let’s do this as we are talking.
In observing, one of the most fundamental questions is: what is relationship between human beings? Relationship: man, woman, husband, wife, mother and baby. Because if our relationship is not correct, actual, truthful, right, then we either create a society which is so disintegrating, which is so appalling, or we create a world of totalitarianism. We create it and accept it.
So it is very important to understand relationship. Relationship, the meaning of the word, is to be related. Actually to be related, to be in contact, to have empathy, sympathy, a sense of sensitivity that understands the other completely, not partially. As most human beings have not that relationship at all, their relationship is based on conflict. How does this conflict arise? Please, this is important if you will go together into this because our life is involved. Don’t let’s waste our life; we have got only this life. Good enough. What the future life may be doesn’t matter. What we are now, if we don’t change what we are, we will continue in a different form and go on – I won’t go into that.
So it is very important to understand this question of relationship because that is part of self-knowledge, part of knowing oneself. Through relationship, which is the outside, you can then move from the understanding of relationship inwardly. So it is important to understand relationship. Which is, are we related at all to anything? Nature, to each other, private intimate relationship, sexual, the mother and the baby, and so on – relationship. Now, what is this relationship based on? Please follow it for yourself. You have your husband or wife, you’ve got your girlfriend or boyfriend, you are a mother with a baby – all that is part of our life, so please follow this, if you will. Be serious enough for once in your life!
What is this relationship based on? Is it two entities, two human beings deeply concerned with themselves, deeply occupied with their own ambitions, with their own worries, with their own anxieties, uncertainties, confusion? These two people meet – boy and a girl, and so on, and then there is all the problem of sex, and because each is separate inwardly, there is conflict.
So conflict becomes inevitable when each one of us is occupied so entirely with himself. Which we are. And in exploring this, we need to be tremendously honest, otherwise the game is not worth playing. Now the problem is: can this relationship exist without effort, without this constant strife between human beings? And what then is that relationship in which there is no conflict at all?
So why does this conflict exist, first? It seems that this conflict exists because each one is centred within himself. From himself he goes out. From himself he acts. From himself he says, ‘I love you.’ But the centre is the ‘me’, the self. This is clear, isn’t it? We are describing what is very obvious.
Now the question is: can that centre be understood and dissolved? Otherwise life, which is relationship, must inevitably be a series of incidents and conflicts. That is clear. So we are asking: can this centre be understood, watched? Can we see the nature of it, the structure of it, and end it? Not verbally but actually end it. That is our question. Therefore one must observe freely the nature and the structure of the self.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1977, Discussion 5
We Look at Ourselves With Knowledge
See first how the mind accumulates knowledge. Why it accumulates, where it is necessary and where it becomes an impediment to freedom.
To do anything one must have knowledge: driving a car, speaking a language, doing a technological job, you must have an abundance of knowledge, the more efficient, the more objective, the more impersonal, the better. Knowledge is necessary. But a mind that is full of information as knowledge, can that mind ever be free? Or must it always carry this knowledge, which is always the past? And we carry this past, this knowledge, and meet the present with that knowledge, and hence there is conflict. I met you yesterday and you flattered me or insulted me. I have the image of you, which is part of this knowledge. With this knowledge, which is the past, I meet you today, which is the image I have built about you. And therefore there is conflict between you and me. As I am the observer, there is conflict between you and me. This is simple enough. So the observer is the reservoir of knowledge. Please discover this, it’s more fun then.
The observer is the past, he is the censor, the entity that has accumulated knowledge, and from that knowledge he judges and evaluates. And he is doing exactly the same with regard to himself. He has acquired knowledge about himself through psychologists, and he has learnt what he is – or he thinks he has learnt about himself. And with that knowledge, he looks at himself. He doesn’t look at himself with fresh eyes; he says, ‘I know, I have seen myself, it’s rather ugly, parts of it are extraordinarily nice but the other parts are rather terrible.’ He has already judged, and his judgement is based on the past, which is his knowledge about himself. He never discovers anything new about himself because the observer is different from the thing observed, which he calls himself.
And that’s what we are doing all the time in all relationships – mechanical relationship or human relationship, relationship with the machine or relationship with another – all is based on the desire to find out a place where he can be completely secure, certain. And he now has sought and found security in knowledge. The keeper of this knowledge is the observer, the censor, the thinker, the experiencer. The observer is always watching as being different from the thing observed. The observer analyses himself, or he is analysed by the professional, who himself needs analysing, and this game goes on being played. So one asks: can one look at this whole movement of life without the burden of the past? That’s what we are all trying to do, aren’t we? We want to find new expressions. If you are an artist, non-objective, you play with that game for ever and ever. You want to write new books, have a new way of looking at life, a new way of living. You revolt against the old and fall into the trap of the new, which is the reaction to the old.
So one sees intelligence doesn’t lie in the hands of the observer but only when the mind is free, free to learn. Learning is not the accumulation of knowledge. On the contrary, learning is a movement and the accumulation of knowledge is static. You may add to it but the core of it is static. From this static state, one functions, one lives, one paints, one writes, one does all the mischief in the world. And you call that freedom.
So can the mind be free of the known? You know, this is really quite an extraordinary question if you ask it, not merely intellectually but really very, very, very deeply, to find out whether the mind can ever be free from the known. Otherwise, there is no creation. Otherwise there is nothing new. There is nothing new under the sun then; it is always reformation of the reformed.
So one has to find out why this division between the observer and the observed exists, and whether there is the possibility of a mind going beyond this division, which means the possibility of being free from the known to function at a different dimension altogether. This is intelligence, which will use knowledge when necessary, and be free of knowledge. So intelligence implies freedom – not what one wants to do, which is so immature and childish. Freedom implies the cessation of all conflict, and that comes to an end only when the observer is the observed. Because then there is no division. After all, this exists when there is love.
You know, that word is so terribly loaded. Like ‘God’, one hesitates to use that word because it is associated with pleasure, sex, fear, jealousy, dependency, acquisitiveness and all the rest of it. A mind that is not free does not know what love means. It may know pleasure, and hence know what fear is. But fear, pleasure and desire are certainly not what is called love. And that can only come into being when there is real freedom from the past. Is that ever possible?
You know, man has sought this out in different ways, to be free from the transiency of knowledge, and so he has always sought something beyond knowledge, beyond thought. Thought is the response of knowledge. And so he has created an image called God – with all the absurdities that arise around that. But to find out if there is something that is beyond the image of thought, there must be freedom from all fear.
Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1970, Talk 3
Reading the Book of Oneself
Krishnamurti: I think it is fairly obvious that we human beings are the history of mankind. In us is the totality of all human psychological knowledge. That is fairly obvious, I hope. Must I go into that?
K: That is, the story of mankind, which is wars, tears, bloodshed, pain, grief, laughter, agony, anxiety, loneliness, sorrow – all that is part of me. I am that. I am the story of all that. The book of history is me – I am all that. Now, reading that book, which is me, do I have to read it page by page, chapter by chapter, not missing a single line till I come to the end of the book?
I am the story of all mankind – that is fairly simple. See that even intellectually. Do I see intellectually that I am the story of all mankind? All mankind suffers, has shed tears, laughs, imitates, conforms. There is every sense of indignity, vulgarity, superficiality. I am all that – otherwise I wouldn’t elect the politicians as they are. I am all that, including the priest and the gods that thought has invented. I am all that. That book is me. Have I to read it page by page, or can I understand the whole book with one glance, with one single look?
We are saying it is impossible to read that book page by page, chapter by chapter. That will take you all your life because all your life is a period of time. During that time you are adding more and more, or taking away little by little, but you are gathering more and more. So the book can never be read page by page. It can never be read. If you understand that, which is logical, objective, if you realise that it cannot be read page by page then you have only one issue, which is to look at it with eyes that comprehend from the beginning to the end at a glance. What does that imply? What does it imply to look at yourself, which is the story of mankind, history, mankind, to look at it? This requires patience. To look at it with a patient, silent brain so that the book itself unfolds rapidly.
When you have a map of Switzerland with all the lakes and mountains, and all that, the beauty of the land, if you have a particular direction from Gstaad to Bern, you are only concerned with that route and you don’t look at the rest of the map. That is, you have a particular direction and if you have a particular direction you neglect to look at the rest of the map. But if you have no direction then you look all around. The moment you have a motive which gives you a direction, then you are only looking in a particular direction. But if you have no motive and also no direction then you look at the whole map at a glance.
Now, can you do this, the same, with one’s self – anger, jealousy, brutality, aggression, attachment – all that. That is the whole map of yourself, which requires quietness of the brain and no direction. Then you see clearly the whole of it; you hear the whole tone of that history and you have captured it immediately, the wholeness of it.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1981, Question and Answer Meeting 3
Without Self-knowledge, There Can Be No Meditation
Meditation is the beginning of self-knowledge. Without self-knowledge, you may sit in a corner, meditate on the masters, develop virtues, but they are all illusions and they have no meaning for the person who really wants to discover what is right meditation. Because without self-knowledge, you project an image which you call the master, and that becomes your object of devotion for which you are willing to sacrifice, to build, to destroy.
There is a possibility of self-knowledge only as we examine our relationship to these things, which reveals the process of our own thinking. And therefore there is a clarity in our whole being. This is the beginning of understanding, of self-knowledge. Without self-knowledge, there can be no meditation; without meditation, there can be no self-knowledge. Shutting yourself up in a corner, sitting in front of a picture, developing virtues month by month – a different virtue each month, green, purple, white, and all the rest of it – going to churches, performing ceremonies – none of those things are meditation or real spiritual life. Spiritual life arises in the understanding of relationship, which is the beginning of self-knowledge.
When you have gone through that and have abandoned all those processes, which only reveal the self and its activity, then there is a possibility that the mind can be not only superficially quiet, but inwardly quiet, for then there is a cessation of all demands. There is no pursuit of sensation. There is no sense of becoming, myself becoming something in the future, tomorrow – the master, the initiate, the pupil, the Buddha, you know, climbing the ladder of success, becoming something. All that has stopped because all that implies the process of becoming. There is a cessation of becoming only when there is the understanding of what is. The understanding of what is comes through self-knowledge, which reveals exactly what one is. And when there is the cessation of all desire, which can only come through self-knowledge, the mind is quiet.
The cessation of desire cannot come through compulsion, through prayer, through devotion, through concentration. All these merely emphasize the conflict of desire in the opposites. But when there is the cessation of all these, then the mind is really still – not only superficially, on the higher levels, but inwardly, deeply. Then only is it possible for it to receive that which is immeasurable. The understanding of all this is meditation, not just one part of it.
If we do not know how to meditate, we will not know how to act. Action, after all, is self-knowledge in relationship, and merely to shut yourself in a sacred room with incense burning, reading about other people’s meditations and their significance, is utterly useless, has no meaning. It is a marvellous escape. But to be aware of all this human activity, which is ourselves – the desire to attain, the desire to conquer, the desire to have certain virtues, all emphasizing the me as important in the now or in the future, this becoming of the me – to be aware of all that, in its totality, is the beginning of self-knowledge and the beginning of meditation.
Then you will see, if you are really aware, that there comes a marvellous transformation, which is not a verbal expression, which is not verbalization, mere repetition or sensation. But actually, really, vigorously, there takes place a thing which cannot be named, which cannot be termed. And that is not the gift of the few or the gift of the masters – self-knowledge is possible for everybody if you are willing to experiment, try. You don’t have to join any society, read any book, or be at the feet of any master, for self-knowledge liberates you from all that absurdity, the stupidities of human invention. And then only, through self-knowledge and right meditation, there is freedom. In that freedom there comes reality; but you cannot have reality through mental processes. It must come to you. It can only come to you when there is freedom from desire.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1949, Talk 6
Because We Don’t Know Ourselves, We Destroy
Can we be a light to ourselves, not depend psychologically on anyone? Is there an action that will not breed conflict, regret, sorrow, pain, inwardly? Can we understand ourselves so completely, or is that not possible? We have never tried. We have tried everything else – we have gone to the moon, invented the most marvellous machines and extraordinary surgical instruments. The brain has got extraordinary capacity, but that capacity we have never applied to ourselves because we have always asked for someone else to help us. And that is what you are doing here now. The speaker is not helping you, he is not teaching you. We are saying look at yourself.
We have got the capacity, the energy and sufficient intelligence to go into ourselves, look at ourselves, face ourselves; never escaping from ourselves. We have got all the energy to do that. Think what energy is needed to go to the moon – enormous cooperative energy and drive. But apparently when it comes to ourselves we kind of become slack, we wither, and we hope somebody will give us water that will bring us again to health. Nobody is going to give it to you. That is one absolute fact, an irrefutable fact. We have had leaders, we have had teachers, we have had saviours, we have had every kind of outside agency and infinite information about ourselves from others, and all that has not freed us from fear. And so, out of our laziness, out of our indifference, out of our callousness, we invent gods and all the rest of it. And the misfortune is that because we don’t know ourselves, we are destroying other human beings. We are destroying this marvellous earth.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1982, Question and Answer Meeting 3