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Jiddhu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986)


SEATED ON A raised platform, he was playing a seven-stringed instrument to a small audience of people who were familiar with this type of classical music. They were sitting on the floor in front of him; while from a position behind him another instrument, with only four strings, was being played. He was a young man, but completely the master of the seven strings and of the complex music. He would improvise before each song; then would come the song, in which there would be more improvisation. You would never hear any song played twice in the same way. The words were retained, but within a certain frame there was great latitude, and the musician could improvise to his heart's content; and the more the variations and combinations the greater the musician. On the strings, words were not possible; but all who sat there knew the words, and they went into ecstasies over them. With nodding heads and gracefully gesturing hands, they kept perfect time, and there would be a gentle slap on the thigh at the end of the rhythm. The musician had closed his eyes and was completely absorbed in his creative freedom, and in the beauty of the sound; his mind and his fingers were in perfect coordination. And what fingers! Delicate and rapid, they seemed to have a life of their own. They would be still only at the end of the song in that particular frame, and then they would be quiet and reposed; but with incredible rapidity they would begin another song within a different frame. They almost mesmerized you with their grace and swiftness of movement. And those strings, what melodious sounds they gave! They were pressed by the fingers of the left hand to the proper tension, while the fingers of the right hand plucked them with masterly ease and control.

The moon was bright outside, and the dark shadows were motionless; through the window, the river was just visible, a flow of silver against the dark, silent trees on the other bank. A strange thing was going on in the space which is the mind. It had been watching the graceful movements of the fingers, listening to the sweet sounds, observing the nodding heads and the rhythmical hands of the silent people. Suddenly the watcher, the listener, disappeared; he had not been lulled into abeyance by the melodious strings, but was totally absent. There was only the vast space which is the mind. All the things of the earth and of man were in it, but they were at the extreme outer edges, dim and far off. Within the space where nothing was, there was a movement, and the movement was stillness. It was a deep, vast movement, without direction, without motive, which began from the outer edges, and with incredible strength was coming towards the centre - a centre that is everywhere within the stillness, within the motion which is space. This centre is total aloneness, uncontaminated, unknowable, a solitude which is not isolation, which has no end and no beginning. It is complete in itself, and not made; the outer edges are in it but not of it. It is there, but not within the scope of man's mind. It is the whole, the totality, but not approachable.

There were four of them, all boys of about the same age, sixteen to eighteen. Rather shy, they needed coaxing, but once started, they could hardly stop, and their eager questions came tumbling out. You could see that they had talked it all over among themselves beforehand, and had prepared written questions; but after the first one or two, they forgot what they had written, and their words flowed freely from their own spontaneous thoughts. Though not of well-to-do parents, they were clean and neat in their dress.

"Sir, when you talked to us students two or three days ago," began the nearest one, "you said something about how necessary right education is if we are to be able to face life. I wish you would again explain to us what you mean by right education. We have talked it over amongst ourselves, but we don't quite understand it." What kind of education do you all have now?

"Oh, we are in college, and we are being taught the usual things which are necessary for a given profession," he replied. "I am going to be an engineer; my friends here are variously studying physics, literature and economics. We are taking the prescribed courses and reading the prescribed books, and when we have time we read a novel or two; but except for games, we are at our studies most of the time."

Do you think this is enough to be rightly educated for life?

"From what you have said, sir, it is not enough," replied the second one. "But that's all we get, and ordinarily we think we are being educated."

Just to learn to read and to write, to cultivate memory and pass some examinations, to acquire certain capacities or skills in order to get a job - is that education?

"Is not all this necessary?"

Yes, to prepare for a right means of livelihood is essential; but that's not all of life. There is also sex, ambition, envy, patriotism, violence, war, love, death, God, man's relationship to man, which is society-and so many other things. Are you being educated to meet this vast affair called life?

"Who is to so educate us?" asked the third one. "Our teachers and professors seem so indifferent. Some of them are clever and well-read, but none of them give any thought to this kind of thing. We are pushed through, and we shall consider ourselves lucky if we take our degrees; everything is getting to be so difficult."

"Except for our sexual passions, which are fairly definite," said the first one, "we know nothing about life; all the rest seems so vague and far off. We hear our parents grumbling about not having enough money, and we realize they are stuck in certain grooves for the rest of their days. So who can teach us about life?"

No one can teach you, but you can learn. There's a vast difference between learning and being taught. Learning goes on throughout life, whereas being taught is over in a few hours or years - and then, for the rest of your life, you repeat what you have been taught. What you have been taught soon turns to dead ashes; and then life, which is a living thing, becomes a battleground of vain efforts. You are thrown into life without the ease or the leisure to understand it; before you know anything about life, you are already right in the middle of it, married, tied to a job, with society pitilessly clamouring around you. One has to learn about life from early childhood on, not at the last moment; when one is all but grown up, it is almost too late.

Do you know what life is? It extends from the moment you are born to the moment you die, and perhaps beyond. Life is a vast, complex whole; it's like a house in which everything is happening at once. You love and you hate; you are greedy, envious, and at the same time you feel you shouldn't be. You are ambitious, and there is either frustration or success, following in the wake of anxiety, fear and ruthlessness; and sooner or later there comes a feeling of the futility of it all. Then there are the horrors and brutality of war, and peace through terror; there is nationalism, sovereignty, which supports war; there is death at the end of life's road, or anywhere along it. There is the search for God, with its conflicting beliefs and the quarrels between organized religions. There is the struggle to get and keep a job; there are marriage, children, illness, and the dominance of society and the State. Life is all this, and much more; and you are thrown into this mess. Generally you sink into it, miserable and lost; and if you survive by climbing to the top of the heap, you are still part of the mess. This is what we call life: everlasting struggle and sorrow, with a little joy occasionally thrown in. Who is going to teach you about all this? Or rather, how are you going to learn about it? Even if you have capacity and talent, you are hounded by ambition, by the desire for fame, with its frustrations and sorrows. All this is life, isn't it? And to go beyond all this is also life.

"Fortunately, we still know only very little of that whole struggle," went on the first one, "but what you tell us of it is already in us potentially. I want to be a famous engineer, I want to beat them all; so I must work hard and get to know the right people; I must plan, calculate for the future. I must make my way through life."

That is just it. Everyone says that he must make his way through life; each one is out for himself, whether in the name of business, religion or the country. You want to become famous, and so does your neighbour, and so does his neighbour; and so it is with everyone, from the highest to the lowest in the land. Thus we build a society based on ambition, envy and acquisitiveness, in which each man is the enemy of another; and you are `educated' to conform to this disintegrating society, to fit into its vicious frame.

"But what are we to do?" asked the second one. "It seems to me that we must conform to society, or be destroyed. Is there any way out of it, sir?"

At present you are so-called educated to fit into this society; your capacities are developed to enable you to make a living within the pattern. Your parents, your educators, your government, are all concerned with your efficiency and financial security, are they not?

"I don't know about the government, sir," put in the fourth one, "but our parents spend their hard-earned money to enable us to have a college degree, so that we can earn a livelihood. They love us."

Do they? Let's see. The government wants you to be efficient bureaucrats to run the State, good industrial workers to maintain the economy, and capable soldiers to kill `the enemy; isn't that so?

"I suppose the government does. But our parents are more kind; they think of our welfare and want us to be good citizens."

Yes, they want you to be `good citizens', which means being respectably ambitious, everlastingly acquisitive, and indulging in that socially accepted ruthlessness which is called competition, so that you and they may be secure. This is what constitutes being a so-called good citizen; but is it good, or something very evil? You say that your parents love you; but is it so? I am not being cynical. Love is an extraordinary thing; without it, life is barren. You may have many possessions and sit in the seat of power, but without the beauty and greatness of love, life soon becomes misery and confusion. Love implies - doesn't it? - that those who are loved be left wholly free to grow in their fullness, to be something greater than mere social machines. Love does not compel either openly or through the subtle threat of duties and responsibilities. Where there's any form of compulsion or exertion of authority, there's no love.

"I don't think this is quite the kind of love my friend was talking about," said the third one. "Our parents love us, but not in that way. I know a boy who wants to be an artist, but his father wants him to be a business man, and he threatens to cut him off if he doesn't do his duty."

What parents call duty is not love, it's a form of compulsion; and society will support the parents, for what they are doing is very respectable. The parents are anxious for the boy to find a secure job and earn some money; but with such an enormous population, there are a thousand candidates for every job, and the parents think the boy can never earn a livelihood through painting; so they try to force him to get over what they regard as his foolish whim. They consider it a necessity for him to conform to society, to be respectable and secure. This is called love. But is it love? Or is it fear, covered over by the word `love'?

"When you put it that way, I don't know what to say," replied the third one.

Is there any other way of putting it? What has just been said may be unpleasant, but it is a fact. The so-called education that you have now obviously does not help you to meet this vast complex of life; you come to it unprepared, and are swallowed up in it.

"But who is there to educate us to understand life? We have no such teachers, sir."

The educator has to be educated also. The older people say that you, the coming generation, must create a different world, but they don't mean it at all. On the contrary, with great thought and care they set about `educating' you to conform to the old pattern with some modification. Though they may talk very differently, teachers and parents, supported by the government and society in general see to it that you are trained to conform to tradition, to accept ambition and envy as the natural way of life. They are not at all concerned with a new way of life, and that is why the educator himself is not being rightly educated. The older generation has brought about this world of war, this world of antagonism and division between man and man; and the newer generation is following sedulously in its footsteps.

"But we want to be rightly educated, sir. What shall we do?"

First of all, see very clearly one simple fact: that neither the government, nor your present teachers, nor your parents, care to educate you rightly; if they did, the world would be entirely different, and there would be no wars. So if you want to be rightly educated, you have to set about it yourself; and when you are grown up, you will then see to it that your own children are rightly educated.

"But how can we rightly educate ourselves? We need someone to teach us."

You have teachers to instruct you in mathematics, in literature, and so on; but education is something deeper and wider than the mere gathering of information. Education is the cultivation of the mind so that action is not self-centred; it is learning throughout life to break down the walls which the mind builds in order to be secure, and from which arises fear with all its complexities. To be rightly educated, you have to study hard and not be lazy. Be good at games, not to beat another, but to amuse yourself. Eat the right food, and keep physically fit. Let the mind be alert and capable of dealing with the problems of life, not as a Hindu, a Communist, or a Christian, but as a human being. To be rightly educated, you have to understand yourself; you have to keep on learning about yourself. When you stop learning, life becomes ugly and sorrowful. Without goodness and love, you are not rightly educated.