Krishnamurti on Death
‘Why have we put death at the far end of one’s life? Because we cling to what is known, and death is unknown.’
This week’s podcast has five sections. The first extract (2:12) is from Krishnamurti’s sixth talk in Ojai 1981, titled ‘What is the meaning of death?’
The second extract (11:36) is from the fourth talk in Madras 1985, titled ‘Living with death’.
The third extract (31:30) is from Krishnamurti’s second question and answer meeting in Saanen 1982, titled ‘What is it that dies?’
The fourth extract (42:34) is from the third talk at Brockwood Park in 1975, titled ‘What is immortality?’
The final extract this week (1:03:54) is an exclusive to this podcast, never being heard before outside of the archives. It is from a direct recording by Krishnamurti in 1984, titled ‘The extraordinary simplicity of dying.’
What Is the Meaning of Death?
What is the meaning of death? It is very important to ask this question because this is part of our life. It is not something at the end of life.
Obviously, the organism comes to an end, through disease, old age, an accident, and so on. And living as we are, in conflict and misery, confusion and uncertainty, having faith in some fantastic projection of thought, we cannot face the fact: what is death, what is the meaning, what is its beauty, what is the significance of it?
As we pointed out earlier, our consciousness is made up of its content. The content is our life – the beliefs, the dogmas, the rituals, the fears, the sorrows, the anxieties, the wounds, the division of nationalities, the Christian, the Buddhist, the Hindu, and the Islamic world – our consciousness actually is the consciousness of all mankind. So your consciousness is the consciousness of all human beings. You are the entire world. The world is you. You may have different skin, you may belong to a different religion, call yourself by a nationalistic name, but actually, psychologically, you are like the rest of mankind: driven, uncertain, tremendously anxious, imitating, conforming, and so on, so on.
So, when there is death the organism dies, and that consciousness of mankind goes on. Only those who free themselves from those contents of consciousness liberate themselves from that; they liberate themselves from the significance of death. So we must go and inquire very closely what is the meaning of death.
Have you ever ended anything without explanation, without resistance, without seeking a reward or punishment – ended something? Have you? Have you ever ended completely attachment? That is what it means to die: to end. When death comes, all that is cut off: your attachment to a person. So the significance of death in its most profound sense is the ending. So a wise man doesn’t wait for death to end, but ends, brings to an end fear, sorrow, attachment, loneliness and sorrow. And when there is an ending so completely, there is totally a different dimension.
That is only part of the significance of death. Death has an extraordinary sense of beauty. You will be surprised to hear it. With death, the ending of something also is the beginning of something else, which is love. Yes, I’ll show it to you. It is good to be sceptical, it is good to doubt, it is good not to accept anything anybody says, including the speaker – especially the speaker. Doubt your gurus, and they will disappear! (Clapping) Don’t clap, sir. Doubt your own beliefs, your own longings, your own desires, your own ambitions, your own sectarian spirit. And also you should doubt, question, be sceptical so that you find for yourself what is truth, not depend on anybody: the priests, the rituals, the authority, especially in the world of the spirit, in the world of so-called spirituality. One must be a light to oneself. And you cannot be a light to yourself if you are always depending on somebody else. This dependence, to end it, not in some years, but now. Which is, ending is death. And when you end something, in that ending there is great beauty, not in that which is continuous.
So the whole idea of personal immortality becomes nonsensical when we realise that our consciousness is the consciousness of the rest of mankind.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1981, Talk 6
Living With Death
Have you ever asked yourselves whether you are wasting your life? Please ask it now. And find out for yourself whether you are wasting it. Of course, you have to earn a livelihood, have a vocation – that is granted – but otherwise, are you wasting your life, spending energy on things that don’t matter?
As we said the other day, our brains contain all memory. Our brain holds our consciousness. Our consciousness makes up the content of our consciousness, makes consciousness. That is the content, which is our anxiety, our fears, our beliefs, our superstitions, our faith, our quarrels, jealousy, hate, fears, sorrow, and the search for truth. All that is part of our consciousness. Your consciousness is what you are. Your consciousness is not separate from you; you are consciousness – your feelings, your emotions, your sentiments and so on. The whole of that consciousness is in turmoil, confusion, constantly changing, but it is limited. That consciousness is what you are. This is a fact. Look at it; you don’t have to accept what the speaker is saying.
That consciousness is me. That consciousness is self-interest. That consciousness is the ego, the personality, the characteristics, the tendencies. That is the whole content of our consciousness, its reactions and actions, its appreciations, depressions, loneliness and all that. We say, is that the end? At death, does my consciousness die too, or will it continue? That is what you are interested in, no? Aren’t you interested in the continuity of yourself? Or you want to end it quickly?
Surely we all long for a continuity, otherwise we would not talk about reincarnation. Reincarnation implies that which you are now, not having all the opportunities, all the things – perhaps next life you will have it, a better house, more refrigerators, better cars, more power; or if you are religiously inclined, a little more saintly, more moral, not so corrupt – the same desire for continuity.
We all want to continue. We never question what it is to continue. We have never asked ourselves: what do I mean by continuity? Everything is changing – our cells, our blood; the cells in the brain are constantly dying, renovating – and what we mean by continuity is all the memories which we have collected, all the beliefs, all the experiences, the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness, the despair, all that, we want it to continue because we want to continue the ‘me’. Is the speaker saying something false or true? Don’t become suddenly silent. Everybody longs for this continuity, which is continuity as security. And if there is death, is that the end of everything? What do we mean by ending? Let’s go into it, talk about it a little bit.
Have you ever ended something voluntarily – your anger, your jealousy, your aggression – have you ever said, ‘I’ll end it’? Not tomorrow, but now, completely end it. But our brains are conditioned to the idea of gradation, gradualness, therefore we never end anything.
For example, one is attached, attached to an idea, to an experience, to some form of ideal, to some form of concept which thought has created. And we cling to that as security. So we are attached to a house, to the family, to a name, and where there is attachment there is anxiety, there is fear, there is jealousy – insurance, mortgage, all the implications of attachment. And death says: that is the end of it. I may be attached to my wife, to my friend, to my family, and death comes along and says: it’s over. We want to remain attached all the time through the next life. I have lost my brother, or my son, and I hope to meet him in the next life. Don’t you feel all these things, or am I talking to myself about nothing? There is continuity in our life through attachment, and to voluntarily say, ‘I will end attachment’ – have you ever done it?
So we are asking, and you are asking too, do we voluntarily ever give up anything, not for a reward, for itself? And you don’t see the beauty of ending something completely. So ending has great significance.
Now the question is: why have we put death at the far end of one’s life? We cling to what is known. Death is unknown and we would rather live with all the turmoil we have, all the misery, the confusion, the longings, we would rather have that which we call life, living, and avoid death as far as possible, put it at the end of everything. We are asking you as a friend, can you live with death while living? That is, when you die, not only is the organism cremated or buried, or whatever your friends do to you when you die, is that the end of everything? Though we may want continuity next life, is the actuality an end? Death means that: to end. Can you live with death, life and death together? Have you ever asked that question? Will you ask it now, as a friend? To end attachment now, not when you die. Can you end your fear now, not when you are gone?
So is it possible – this is a very serious question, please do pay attention to it, I am telling my friend – to live with that? Not commit suicide, I am not talking of that, but living with death means ending everything every minute, all that you have accumulated as memory. Of course, you cannot leave your house because you have got to pay the mortgage, insurance – you have to have a shelter, you can’t let that go or your job, then you will be unemployed, and all the misery of it – or you join a community or become a sannyasi, a monk. They also have their misery.
So can you, can I, live every day with death? That means ending my experience every day. Only the memories of those experiences and knowledge, physically, are necessary. Psychologically, can I end the memories? That is death. Death is going to tell us at the end of our life, ‘You can’t carry your memories with you.’ So to live with death all the time. It’s a marvellous thing if you do it. This is not a reward.
Our memories are entirely in the brain, in the very cells of the brain, and memories, which are the past, are gone, are dead. Memories have no meaning really, but yet we are full of memories, which is our knowledge. Can you end knowledge today? Not the knowledge of doing carpentry and technological things but the memories, the knowledge that you have carried? You have to have memories to do certain things in the physical world, but psychologically don’t carry a single memory, not a single hurt, not a word of hate, or the feeling of hate, or seeking power and position. Power is evil, whether it is political power or the power you have over your wife or husband. Any form of power or being near power is evil, ugly. And can you end all that psychologically? That means to live with death all the time.
Krishnamurti in Madras 1985, Talk 4
What Is It That Dies?
We’re asking each other, what is it that dies? This becomes a rather complex question. My friend and I have time, it’s Sunday morning and no work, so we can sit down and go into it. Is it the individual that dies? Please inquire as a friend: who is it that dies? Apart from the biological ending of an organism, which has been ill-treated, has had several diseases, illnesses. That inevitably comes to an end. You may find a new drug that will help man to live 150 years, but always at the end of 150 years, that extraordinary thing is there, waiting.
Is my consciousness, the whole of it, with all its content, mine? That is, my consciousness is its content. The content is my belief, my dogmas, my superstitions, my attachment to my country, patriotism, fear, pain, pleasure, sorrow and so on. That is the content of my consciousness, and yours. So both of us, sitting on a bench, recognise this fact, that the content makes up consciousness. Without the content, consciousness as we know it doesn’t exist. So my friend and I see the logic of it, the rationality of it, and so on. We agree to that. Then, is this consciousness which I have clung to as mine – and my friend also clings to it, calling ourselves individuals – is that consciousness unlike other consciousness? Please be clear on this point.
That is, if you’re lucky to travel, observe, talk over with other people, you’ll find that they are similar to you. They suffer, they are lonely. They have a thousand gods though you may have one God. They believe, they don’t believe, and so on. All most similar to you though on the periphery there may be varieties, on the outskirts of consciousness. You may be tall, you may be short, you may be very clever, you may be scholarly, you’ve read a great deal, you’re capable, you’ve a certain technique, efficiency – it’s all on the periphery, on the outside. But inwardly we are similar. This is a fact. Therefore our conditioning which says we are individual, separate souls, is not a fact.
This is where my friend begins to squirm, because he doesn’t like the idea that he is not an individual. He can’t face the fact because all his conditioning has been that. So I say to my friend, look at it, old chap, don’t run away from it, don’t resist it, look at it. Use your brains, not your sentiment, not your desire, just look at it – is that a fact or not? And he accepts it, vaguely.
So, if our consciousness is similar to all mankind, then I am mankind. You understand? Please understand the depth and the beauty of this. If I am the mankind, the entire mankind, then what is it that dies? I move away from that entire consciousness, which is me, cleanse the whole of my being from that – that I am not individual, that I am the whole of humanity. Then is there emptying of the consciousness, which is my belief, my anxiety, my pain, my blah, blah – all that? Is there ending to all that? If I end it, what importance is it? What importance is it, or what value to humanity is it? I am humanity. I am asking this question. What value, what significance has this when, after a great deal of intelligence and love, I observe this, and in that observation there is the total ending of those contents. Has it any value? Value in the sense of moving humanity from its present condition. Surely it has, has it not? One drop of clarity in a messy bucket of dirt, confusion, that one drop begins to act.
The questioner, my friend, says: I’m beginning to understand the nature of death. I see that the things I’m attached to, if I hold onto them, death has a grip on me. If I let them go, each day as they arise, I am living with death. Death is the ending, so I’m ending while living everything that I will lose when I die. So the question my friend asks is: can I let go every day my accumulation, end it, so that I am living with death and therefore a freshness, not living in the past, in memories? So from this arises a very complex question: what is immortality?
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1982, Question and Answer Meeting 2
What Is Immortality?
Thefirstfewwords The whole of the Asiatic world believes in reincarnation. They have proof of it – they say so, at least. That is – watch this thing, it is extraordinary – the thing that has been put together through time as the ‘me’, the ego, that incarnates until that entity becomes perfect and is absorbed into the highest principle, which is Brahman or whatever you like to call it. You are following all this? Does this interest you? I don’t know, it doesn’t matter. Time has created the centre, the ‘me’, the ego, the personality, the character and so on, the tendencies, and through time you are going to dissolve that very entity, through reincarnation. You see the absurdity? That thought has created something as the ‘me’, the centre, and through evolutionary process, which is time, you will ultimately dissolve that and be absorbed into the highest principle. And yet they believe in this tremendously.
The other day I was talking to somebody who was a great believer in this. He said: if you don’t believe it you are not a religious man – and he walked out. And Christianity has its own form of continuity of the ‘me’ – resurrection, you know, Gabriel blowing the whistle and so on. So we have all these principles.
When you believe in reincarnation, what is important is that as you are going to live next life, and you suffer this life because of your past actions, if you do not behave this life righteously, according to the highest principles, the next life you are going to pay for it. This is a tremendous belief, and naturally they don’t behave; they just carry on like everybody else – cruel, bitter, angry, jealous, vain, arrogant, full of antagonism, you know, just like everybody else. So what is important is, if one actually, really, basically is committed wholly to that belief, it means that you must behave rightly, accurately, with tremendous care now. And we don’t do that. That demands superhuman energy.
So there are several problems involved in this: what is immortality, and what is eternity, which is a timeless state, and what happens to human beings who are still caught in this movement of time? That is, we human beings live extraordinarily complex, irresponsible, ugly, stupid lives. We are at each other’s throats. We are battling about beliefs. We have authority, politically, religiously, which has suppressed all freedom, and our daily life is a series of endless conflicts. And we want that to continue! And because our life is so empty, full of meaningless words, we say: is there a state where there is no death, immortal, immortality, a state where there is no movement of time? I wonder if you see.
That is, time through centuries has created the idea of the self – the self, the ‘me’ evolving. It has been put together through time, which is a part of evolution. And there is inevitably death. With the ending of the brain cells, thought comes to an end. Therefore one hopes there is something beyond the ‘me’ – the super consciousness, the super ego, a spark of God, a spark of truth, that can never be destroyed, and therefore that continues. That continuity is what we call immortality. That is what most of us want. If you don’t get it through some kind of fame, you want to have immortality sitting next to God who is timeless. The whole thing is so absurd.
So is there something which is not of time, which has no beginning, no end, and therefore timeless, eternal? And our life being what it is, we have this problem of death. If I, a human being, have not totally understood the whole quality of myself, what happens to me when I do die? That is, a human being has totally resolved the centre, the ‘me’, through understanding himself, through studying himself, inquiring into himself, not according to any philosopher, to any psychologist or analyst – those are all too childish – understood himself and therefore understood the world, because he is the world, and is that the end of me. If I have understood myself totally then that is a different problem, which we will come to. If I have not understood myself totally – not intellectually; I am not using the word ‘understand’ intellectually – actually aware of myself without any choice, all the content of my consciousness, if I have not deeply delved into my own structure and nature of consciousness, when I die what happens?
Who is going to answer this question? No, wait. No, I am putting it purposely. Who is going to answer this question? Because we think we cannot answer it, we look for someone else to tell us – the priest, the books, the people who have said, ‘I know’ – the endless mushrooming gurus. If one rejects all authority – and one must; totally all authority – then what have you left? Then you have energy because you have rejected that which dissipates energy – gurus and hopes, fears and somebody to tell you what happens. If you reject all that, which means all authority, then you have tremendous energy. With that energy you can begin to inquire what actually takes place when you have not totally resolved the structure and the nature of the self, the self being time and therefore movement and therefore division – the ‘me’ and the ‘not me’, and hence conflict.
Now, what happens to me when I have not ended that conflict? You and I and the rest of the world, the rest of us, what happens to us? We are all going to die – I hope not soon but sometime or other. What is going to happen? When we are living as we are living, are we so fundamentally different from somebody else? You may be more clever, have greater technique, greater knowledge of technique; you may be more learned; you might have certain gifts, talents, inventiveness. Not creativeness – inventiveness and creativeness are two different things. You and another are exactly alike, basically. Your colour may be different, taller, shorter, but in essence you are the same. So while you are living you are like the rest of the world, in the same stream, in the same movement. And when you die, what happens? You go on in the same movement. I wonder if you understand what I am saying.
Only the man who is totally aware of his conditioning, his consciousness, the content of it, and moves and dissipates it, is not in that stream. Am I making this clear? That is, I am greedy, envious, ambitious, ruthless, violent, and so are you. And that is our daily life – petty, accepting authority, quarrelling, bitter, not loved and aching to be loved, the agonies of loneliness, irresponsible relationship – that is our daily life. And we are like the rest of the world. It is a vast endless river. And when I die, I’ll be like the rest, moving in the same stream as before, when I was living. But the man who understands himself radically, has resolved all the problems in himself psychologically, he is not of that stream. He has totally stepped out of it.
So there are two things involved. The man who moves away from the stream, his consciousness is entirely different, therefore he is not thinking in terms of time, continuity or immortality. But the other man, or woman, is still in that. So the problem arises: what is the relationship between the man who is out and the man who is in? What is the relationship between truth and reality? Reality being, as we said, all the things that thought has put together. Reality means in essence, the root meaning of that word, is ‘things’. And living in the world of things, which is reality, we want to establish a relationship with a world which has no thing – which is impossible.
So what we are saying is: consciousness, with all its content, is the movement of time. In that movement, all human beings are caught. And even when they die, that movement goes on. It is so. It is a fact. And the man or woman, the human being – not man and woman, cut that out – the human being who sees the totality of this, that is, fear, pleasure and the enormous suffering which man has brought upon himself, and created that suffering for others, the whole of that, and the nature and the structure of the self, the ‘me’, the total comprehension of that, actually, then he is out of that stream.
Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1975, Talk 3
The Extraordinary Simplicity of Dying
It was spring and the sky was extraordinarily blue; there wasn’t a cloud in it, and the sun was just warm, not too hot. It felt nice. The leaves were shining, and a sparkle was in the air. It was really a most extraordinarily beautiful morning. The high mountain was there, impenetrable, and the hills below were green and lovely. As you walked along quietly, without much thought, you saw a dead leaf, yellow and bright red, a leaf from the autumn. How beautiful that leaf was, so simple in its death, so lively, full of the beauty and vitality of the whole tree and the summer. Strange that it had not withered. Looking at it more closely, one saw all the veins and the stem and the shape of that leaf. That leaf was all the tree.
Why do human beings die so miserably, so unhappily, with disease, old age, senility, the body shrunk, ugly? Why can’t they die as naturally and as beautifully as this leaf? What is wrong with us? In spite of all the doctors, medicines and hospitals, the operations and all the agony of life, and the pleasures too, we don’t seem able to die with dignity, simplicity and with a smile.
Once, walking along a lane, one heard behind one a chant, melodious, rhythmic, with the ancient strength of Sanskrit. One stopped and looked round. The eldest son, naked to his waist, was carrying a terracotta pot with a fire burning in it. He was holding it in another vessel and behind him were two men carrying his dead father, covered with a white cloth, and they were all chanting. One knew what that chant was; one almost joined in. They went past, and one followed them. They were going down the road chanting, and the eldest son was in tears. They carried the father to the beach where they had already collected a great pile of wood, and they laid the body on top of that heap of wood and set it on fire. It was all so natural, so extraordinarily simple: there were no flowers, there was no hearse, there were no black carriages with black horses. It was all very quiet and utterly dignified.
One looked at that leaf, and a thousand leaves of the tree. The winter brought that leaf from its mother onto that path, and it would presently dry out completely and wither, be gone, carried away by the winds and lost.
As you teach children mathematics, writing, reading and all the business of acquiring knowledge, they should also be taught the great dignity of death, not as a morbid, unhappy thing that one has to face eventually but as something of daily life – the daily life of looking at the blue sky and the grasshopper on a leaf. It is part of learning, as you grow teeth and have all the discomfort of childish illnesses. Children have extraordinary curiosity. If you see the nature of death, you don’t explain that everything dies, dust to dust and so on, but without any fear, you explain it to them gently and make them feel that the living and the dying are one – not at the end of one’s life, but that death is like that leaf.
Look at the old men and women, how decrepit, how lost, how unhappy and how ugly they look. Is it because they have not really understood either the living or the dying? They have used life, they waste away their life with incessant conflict, which only exercises and gives strength to the self, the ‘me’, the ego. We spend our days in such varieties of conflict and unhappiness, with some joy and pleasure, drinking, smoking, late nights and work, work, work, and at the end of one’s life, one faces that thing called death and is frightened of it. One thinks it can always be understood, felt deeply – the child with his curiosity can be helped to understand that death is not merely the wasting of the body through disease, old age and some unexpected accident, but that the ending of every day is also the ending of oneself every day.
There is no resurrection; that is superstition, a dogmatic belief. Everything on earth, on this beautiful earth, lives, dies, comes into being and withers away. To grasp this whole movement of life requires intelligence. Not the intelligence of thought or books or knowledge, but the intelligence of love and compassion with its sensitivity. One is certain that if the educator understands the significance of death and the dignity of it, the extraordinary simplicity of dying – understands it not intellectually but deeply – then they may be able to convey to the student, to the child, that dying, the ending, is not to be avoided, is not something to be frightened of, for it is part of one’s whole life, so that the student, the child, grows up he will never be frightened of the ending.
If all the human beings who have lived before us, past generations upon generations, still lived on this earth, how terrible it would be. The beginning is not the ending. And one would like to help – no, that’s the wrong word – one would like in education to bring death into some kind of reality, actuality, not of someone else dying but of each one of us, however old or young, having inevitably to face that thing. It is not a sad affair of tears, of loneliness, of separation. We kill so easily, not only the animals for one’s food but the vast unnecessary killing for amusement, called sport – killing a deer because that is the season. Killing a deer is like killing your neighbour. You kill animals because you have lost touch with nature, with all the living things on this earth. You kill in wars for so many romantic, nationalistic, political, ideologies. In the name of God, you have killed people. Violence and killing go together.
As one looked at that dead leaf with all its beauty and colour, maybe one would very deeply comprehend, be aware of, what one’s own death must be, not at the very end but at the very beginning. Death isn’t some horrific thing, something to be avoided, something to be postponed, but rather something to be with day in and day out. And out of that comes an extraordinary sense of immensity.
Krishnamurti in Ojai 1984, Direct Recording