An interesting photo. Look at the space around him. Now notice his expression. To me it’s unreadable yet trustworthy, like he has nothing to hide. “The medium is the message” said Marshall McLuhan, and Krishnamurti seems almost to be at one with his, as if he had dissolved into the message itself. He often referred to himself as “the speaker”, as if what he spoke of were something found written on his body. “Let’s look at this” he seems to be saying, pointing to a metaphysical open door. But leading where? What was the message?
I must admit he baffled me as a teenager. My father directed me towards his writings as well as those of Alan Watts and a couple of epigrammatic Zen compilations, a strange spin on the dad and son talk about facts of life. The Japanese stuff grabbed me more, with its cruel humour and unexpected tenderness. But the messages of both camps are similar, and it was when I saw Krishnamurti speak in videos scattered across Instagram, forty years on, that I understood more about how to digest it.
Books, unlike music, give no indication of tempo, and were they not so tied to the destruction of rainforests, I would politely suggest that publishers restrict the layout to one sentence per page. You have to go…..slow….with his stuff. The space around the words, the framing of the delivery, makes all the difference. To understand a sentence of Krishnamurti’s, you need the words and then you need the air around the words. There is music in them.
There are plenty of quotes here, and to dive in is to see a consistent vision of humanity from multiple angles. Strangely, I find the short format of Instagram works well too: watching him speak is always a revelation. There is no monastic self denial in his philosophy, and gurus get little sympathy here. Enlightenment should happen, he says, “in the blink of an eye”.
Pick any one of his pithy observations, each works as a pin to poke into the thick rubber balloon of bullshit that we all carry around with us. Here’s a good example:
“Society is based on ambition and conflict, and almost everyone accepts this fact as inevitable.” (“Commentaries On Living, 2” 1958.)
It’s stated bluntly, not as opinion, but as fact. Can you argue with it? I can’t. Conflict between nations, individuals, the various parts of what we think of as the “self” is accepted as the only way forward, with a constant hope that the “good” prevail against the “evil”. It has become increasingly unfashionable to question this position, that collective pressure, whether on individuals, nations or society as a whole, must eventually create a better world. It’s so tempting to believe it.
But it hasn’t worked. For Krishnamurti the cause is obvious:
“When you separate yourself by belief, nationality or tradition, it breeds violence.” (Freedom From The Known, 1969)
We seek to make our institutions better, more fair, but to him their very existence implies conflict, imposing rules according to our membership of them and so dividing us. They are made by us, an extension of us. We are, as he said once, “educated to be cruel”. So what’s the alternative?
Well, perhaps just to sit and look at it, without prejudice. In Krishnamurti’s vision of mankind, from this state arises a pure love which is not for your country or your partner but a thing of itself that seeks nothing. Love without an object.
I’ve often played records to people, fixated on winning them over. It’s a form of violence in some ways, imposing an extra layer of expectation on what should simply be a collection of sounds.
It’s a fight, to stay vigilant, observant of ourselves and our surroundings, our fellow humans. Years of conditioning enslaves us, numbs our experience. My bafflement continues in many ways. I am, like most people, prey to all the usual weaknesses, vanities and denials. Krishnamurti talks about the “tyranny” of thought and experience, how we see things only in terms of what we have already seen, in terms of what we remember, never just looking at what is there in front of us. He would never have written this.