Krishnamurti on Ambition

Episode Notes

‘Ambition is the same, whether it is in the world or turned towards God.’

This week’s episode on Ambition has four sections.

The first extract (2:18) is from Krishnamurti’s first talk in London 1962, titled ‘Denying ambition totally.’

The second extract (13:46) is from the sixth talk in Saanen 1981, titled ‘Where there is ambition, can love exist?’.

The third extract (25:52) is from Krishnamurti’s first talk at Brockwood Park in 1973, titled ‘Ambition is a waste of energy’.

The final extract this week (43:30) is from the ninth talk in Ojai 1949, titled ‘Are you free of ambition?’

Part 1

Denying Ambition Totally

Only a mind that is really free of conflict at every level because it has no psychological problems of any kind – only such a mind can find out if there is something beyond itself.

Essentially our problem is not how to make more money or how to stop the hydrogen bomb, or whether to join the Common Market – such problems are not very deep; they will be shaped and controlled by economic factors, by historical events, and by the innumerable pressures of sovereign governments, of societies and religions. What matters is to be capable of abstracting oneself from all that, not by withdrawing, not by becoming a monk or a nun, but by actually understanding its whole significance. One has to find out for oneself if it is at all possible to be completely free from the psychological structure of society, which is to be free of ambition. I say it is entirely possible, but it is not easy. It is a very difficult thing to be free of ambition.

Ambition implies ‘the more’. ‘The more’ implies time, and time means arriving, achieving. To deny time is to be free of ambition. I am not talking of chronological time – that you can’t deny, for then you will miss your bus – but the psychological time which we have created for ourselves in order to become something inwardly. That you can deny. Which means, really, to die to tomorrow without despair.

You know, there are clever people, intellectuals who have examined the outward processes of man. They have examined society with its endless wars; they have examined the churches with their beliefs, dogmas, saviours, and after doing so, they are in despair. Out of despair, they have contrived a philosophy of accepting the immediate, of not thinking about tomorrow but living as completely as possible in the now. I don’t mean that at all. That is very easy – any materialistic, shallow person can do it, and he doesn’t have to be very clever. And that is what most of us do, unfortunately – we live for today, and today is extended into many tomorrows. I don’t mean that at all. I mean to deny ambition totally and immediately; to die psychologically to the social structure so that the mind is never caught in time, in ambition, in the desire to be or not to be something.

You know, death is a marvellous thing, and to understand death requires a great deal of insight: to die to ambition naturally, without effort; to deny envy. Envy implies comparison, success, the pursuit of ‘the more’. You have more, and I have less; you have a great deal of knowledge, and I am ignorant. Can one end this process totally, instantly? One can end it, one can die totally to envy, ambition, competition, only when one is capable of looking at it without any distortion. There is distortion as long as there is motive. When you want to die to ambition in order to be something else, you are still ambitious. That is not dying at all. When you renounce with a motive, it is not renunciation. And inmost renunciations have behind them this motive to be, to achieve, to arrive, to find.

So it seems to me that we are merely becoming more and more clever, better and better informed. We are brought up on words, ideas, theories and knowledge, and there is very little empty space in the mind from which something can be seen clearly. It is only the empty mind that can see clearly, not the mind that is crammed with a lot of information and knowledge, nor the mind that is incessantly active, seeking, achieving, demanding. A mind that is empty is not just blank. To be aware of an empty mind is extraordinarily difficult. And only in that emptiness is there understanding. Only in that emptiness is there creation.

To come to that state of emptiness, one has to deny the whole social structure – the psychological structure of ambition, prestige and power. It is comparatively easy for older people not to be ambitious, to deny power and position, but such denials are very superficial. That is why it is so important to understand the unconscious. To understand the unconscious, that which is hidden and which you don’t know, you cannot examine it with a positive, educated, analysing mind. If you examine the unconscious by the conscious process of analysis, you are bound to create conflict.

Krishnamurti in London 1962, Talk 1

Part 2

Where There Is Ambition, Can Love Exist?

Where there is motive, can love exist? And where there is ambition, whether in the physical world or in the psychological world, ambition to be on top of everything, to be a great success, to have power, religiously or physically, where there is aggression, competitiveness, jealousy, can love exist? Obviously not. But we recognise it cannot exist and yet we go on. Look what happens to our brain when we are playing such kinds of tricks. I say, ‘I love you’ – I have a motive behind that love. I am ambitious, I want to be spiritually next to God – especially on his right hand! – I want to achieve illumination – you know, all that deception. You cannot achieve illumination; you cannot possibly achieve that which is beyond time. But that is our constant endeavour, psychologically.

So I am ambitious, competitive, conforming, jealous, fearful, hating – all that is going on psychologically, inwardly. Either we are conscious of it or deliberately avoiding it. And yet I say to my wife or father, whatever it is, ‘I love you.’ So what happens when there is such deep contradiction in my life, in my relationship? How can that contradiction have any sense of deep integrity? And yet this is what we are doing all the time, till we die.

So can there be no ambition and yet live in this world – going to the office, factory, being a shop steward; the ambition of a guru? Can one live in this world without ambition, without competition? Look what is happening in the outward world. There is competition between various nations, which is taking place. Please look at it, for God’s sake, what is happening in the world! The politicians are competing with each other, economically, technologically in the instruments of war. They are competing and so we are destroying ourselves. We allow this to go on because we are also inwardly competitive. And we realise the politicians are never going to solve a thing. But if we are totally responsible for ourselves and have this deep integrity, then we’ll affect the consciousness of the world.

As we pointed out, if a few of us really understand this whole movement of what we have been talking about for the last sixty years, and if a few of us are really deeply involved and have brought about the end of fear, sorrow and so on, it will affect the whole consciousness of mankind. You are doubtful whether it will affect the consciousness of mankind. Hitlers have affected the consciousness of mankind. Napoleon, the Caesars, the butchers of the world have affected mankind. And also the good people have affected mankind. I mean good people, not respectable people, but the good being those who live a life wholly, not fragmented. And the great teachers of the world have affected human consciousness. Individuals have affected human consciousness. But if there were a group of people who have understood all this, what we have been talking about, not verbally but actually live that life with great integrity, then it will affect the whole consciousness of man. This is not a theory; this is an actual fact. Because great warriors have affected mankind. If you understand that simple fact, you will see it goes right through: television, newspapers, everything is affecting the consciousness of man.

So love cannot exist where there is a motive, where there is attachment, where there is ambition and competitiveness. And love is not desire and pleasure. Just feel that, see it. And also, what is the relationship between human beings when death occurs, when death takes place? Let’s talk about it together because we are going into all this in order to bring about order in our life, order in our house which has no order, where there is so much disorder in our life. And without establishing an order that is whole, integral, meditation has no meaning whatsoever. See the logic of it. Because if my house is not in order, I may sit in meditation, hoping through meditation I will bring order. But what happens when I am living in disorder and I meditate? I have fanciful dreams and illusions and all kinds of nonsensical results. But a sane man, intelligent, logical, must first establish order in daily life, then we can go into the depths of meditation together, the meaning of that meditation, the beauty of it, the greatness of it, the width of it and so on.

Krishnamurti in Saanen 1981, Talk 6

Part 3

Ambition Is a Waste of Energy

I am ambitious – I am not, but I am taking that – I am ambitious, I want to be something enormous, you know. That is a fact – if I am. Before, I wanted to fulfil my ambition: I became brutal, ruthless, the pursuit of self-fulfilment, bitterness, frustration – all a waste of energy. And ambition is cultivated in this culture. I am ambitious, with all its conflicts, frustrations, bitterness, anger – you all know it very well. I realise I am ambition. There is no division between the observer and the observed, there is only ambition. Can the mind remain with that? That is, can the mind not escape from it, try to transform it, try to deny it or suppress it, but see it exactly as it is. Then what takes place?

As long as there is a way out, as long as there is the desire to overcome it, or to rationalise it, or to suppress it, there is conflict, but when all that ceases because the observer is the observed, then is there ambition at all? Or a total summation of energy no longer called ambition, no longer this pursuit of its fulfilment. Are we sharing this together? Not as an idea, that would be hopeless, but as an actuality. Take your own ambition, take your own whatever it is, look at it, see all the implications involved in it – always wanting to be powerful – you know what ambition is, it is a self-centred activity, in the name of society, in the name of God, in the name of whatever it is, it is self-centred activity. And when it is frustrated, there is anger and bitterness. And in seeing all that, which is a wastage of energy, the mind then realises the observer is the observed. There is no division therefore there is no conflict. And then is there ambition, or is there an energy that has come out of this observation? It is no longer ambition; it has tremendous energy, which you are wasting now in conflict. Then the problem arises: how does that energy express itself?

Being ambitious, competitive, seeking power, position, all that is self-centred activity. One may write a marvellous book, and you may write it through a desire to fulfil your particular talent, or it may be desire to have more money – you know all that business – and you spend a great deal of energy on all that. And when that self-centred activity comes to an end, you have an extraordinary sense of energy. How does that energy act?

We know how ambition acts. We know how self-centred activity acts. Now, when there is not that self-centred activity, and therefore a great, total summation of energy, without the ‘me’, then what is its activity? Will it go and join communism, socialism, become a capitalist, go to church, temple, mosque, follow some guru? Come on, what will you do with that energy? This is one of our problems, you understand?

You realise how one wastes energy in conflict, in battles. It took tremendous energy to kill people in wars. Now you have no war – actual, physical war – but you have economic war going on, you have religious war. We know how all that energy is being wasted. Now you say, ‘I have this energy,’ there is this tremendous sense of vital energy which is no longer wasted – what is its action? I wonder if you have asked these questions, have you? I am asking them for you.

Now how does this energy come about? It comes about only when it has observed what is and remains with what is – and it can only do that when there is no division between the observer and the observed. The mind has examined what is implied in jealousy, examined what is implied in ambition, and various problems – one can examine them all – looked at them, observed them, felt them, investigated them, and through that investigation and observation comes a realisation that there is no division between the observer and the observed; and the summation of that is intelligence. The summation of that energy is intelligence. It is not your intelligence or my intelligence or the racial intelligence; it is something entirely different. And that intelligence will operate, not doing something silly, neurotic, selfish. And that is the real transformation of the mind.

All this involves a mind that is capable of observing – observing without any distortion, without any neurotic illusions. Can you observe without any colouring, observe your life exactly as it is? However silly, absurd or beautiful, whatever it is, exactly as it is – narrow, petty, ambitious, greedy, frightened, competitive, wanting position, you know, all that, caught in a network of fears – can you observe all that without the division as the observer and the observed? If you can, really, not as an idea but actually, if you have done it, if you do it, then you will see that out of this observation comes an extraordinary sense of great creative intelligence, and that operates in our relationship. Because all life is relationship. You can’t live by yourself, though we try to. We enclose ourselves with our ideas of how important we are or how little we are – we enclose ourselves. It is this part of self-centred activity which destroys relationship.

So, as our life is movement in relationship – movement, not just a static state of relationship, it is a movement – and as our relationship in our daily life is so terrible, so ugly, so contradictory, such a battle – probably you know this better than I do, what your relationships are: the fight between man and woman, the attachments, the dominance, you know what goes on, the sexual pleasures – you know all this, don’t you, better than I – and if there is no right relationship, which can only be brought about when the observer is the observed, when relationship isn’t based on an image, the image which you have created about another, and what the other has created about you, in that there is division and therefore there is conflict. So as life is all a movement in relationship, to understand that relationship is to understand the self-centred activity, which separates you and me, and therefore conflict between you and me. And that conflict is essentially between the observer and the observed. The observer is the past, and he tries to control the observed, tries to change the thing that is what is. But when there is only what is, then there is complete change of what is, and therefore complete summation of energy, which is intelligence.

Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park in 1973, Talk 1 

Part 4

Are You Free of Ambition?

As long as we do not understand, do not experience that the thinker and the thought are one, all these problems will exist. But the moment we experience that, the maker of effort comes to an end. To experience that, one must be completely aware of the process of one’s own thinking and feeling, of one’s desire to become. And that is why it is important, if one is seeking reality or God, or what you will, to see that this whole mentality of climbing, evolving, growing, achieving, must come to an end. We are much too worldly. With the mentality of the clerk becoming the boss, the foreman becoming the executive, with that mentality we approach reality. We think we will do the same thing, climb the ladder of success. I am afraid it cannot be done that way. If you do, you will live in a world of illusion and therefore of conflict, pain, misery and strife. But if one discards all such mentality, such thoughts, such points of view, then one becomes really humble. One is – not becomes. Then there is a possibility of having a direct experience of reality, which alone will dissolve all our problems – not our cunning efforts, not our great intellect, not our deep and wide knowledge.

Question: I am free from ambition. Is there something wrong with me?

Krishnamurti: If you are conscious that you are free from ambition, then there is something wrong. Then one becomes smug, respectable, unimaginative, thoughtless.

Why should you be free from ambition? And how do you know you are free from ambition? Surely, to have the desire to be free from something is the beginning of illusion, of ignorance. You see, we find ambition painful; we want to be something, and we have failed. And so now we say, ‘It is too painful. I will get rid of it.’ If you succeeded in your ambition, if you fulfilled yourself in the thing which you want to be, then this problem wouldn’t arise. But not succeeding, and seeing there is no fulfilment there, you discard it and condemn ambition.

Obviously, ambition is unworthy. A man who is ambitious surely cannot find reality. He may become the president of some club or some society or some country, but surely he is not seeking reality. But the difficulty is, with most of us, if we don’t succeed in what we want, we either become bitter and cynical or we try to become spiritual. So we say, ‘That is a wrong thing to do,’ and we discard it. But our mentality is the same. We may not succeed in the world and be a great person there, but spiritually we still want to succeed, in a little group, as a leader. Ambition is the same, whether it is in the world or turned towards God.

To know consciously that you are free from ambition is an illusion, is it not? And if you are really free of it, can there be any question that you are or are not? Surely one knows within oneself when one is ambitious, and we can see very well all the effects of ambition in the world – the ruthlessness of it, the cruelty of it, desire for power, position, prestige. But when one is consciously free of something, is there not the danger of becoming very respectable, of being smug, satisfied with oneself?

I assure you, it is a very difficult thing to be alert, to be aware, to walk delicately, sensitively, not to be caught in the opposites. It requires a great deal of alertness, intelligence and watchfulness. And then even if you are free from ambition, where are you? Are you any more kindly, any more intelligent, any more sensitive to the outward and inward events? Surely there is a danger in all this, of becoming stultified, of becoming static, become dull, weary; and the more one is sensitive, alert, watchful, the more there is a possibility of really being free – not free from this or that.

Freedom requires intelligence, and intelligence is not a thing that you sedulously cultivate. Intelligence is something which can be experienced directly in relationship, not through the screen of what you think the relationship should be. After all, our life is a process of relationship. Life is relationship, and that requires an extraordinary watchfulness, alertness, not speculating whether you are free or not free from ambition. But ambition perverts that relationship. The ambitious man is an isolated man, therefore he cannot have relationship, either with his wife or with society. Life is relationship, whether with the one or with the many, and that relationship is perverted, is destroyed, is corrupted through ambition. When one is aware of that corruption, surely there is no question of being free from it.

So, in all this our difficulty is to be watchful. Watchful of what we are thinking, feeling, saying – not in order to transform it into something else, but just to be aware of it. And if we are so aware – in which there is no condemnation, no justification, but mere attention, full cognisance of what is – that awareness in itself has an extraordinary effect. But if we are merely trying to become less or more, then there is dullness, a weariness, a smug respectability. And a man who is respectable surely can never find reality. Awareness demands a great deal of inward discontent which is not easily canalised through any satisfaction or gratification.

Now if we see all this, all that we have discussed this evening, not merely on the verbal level but really experience it, not at odd moments, not when we are pushed into a corner as perhaps some of you are now, but every day, from moment to moment; if we are aware, silently observing, then we become extremely sensitive – not sentimental, which only blurs, distorts. To be sensitive inwardly needs great simplicity – not wearing a loin cloth or having few clothes, or no car, but the simplicity in which the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’ are not important, in which there is no sense of possession; simplicity in which there is no longer the maker of effort. Then there is a possibility of experiencing that reality, or of that reality coming into being. After all, this is the only thing that can bring about real, lasting happiness.

Happiness is not an end in itself, it is a by-product, and it comes into being only with reality. Not that you go after reality – you cannot; it must come to you. And it can come to you only when there is complete freedom, silence. Not that you become silent. That is a wrong process of meditation. There is a vast difference between being silent and becoming silent. When there is real silence, not put together, then there is something inexplicable, and then creation comes into being.

Krishnamurti in Ojai 1949, Talk 9

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