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Jiddhu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986)


Achyut Patwardhan: Sir, there is a general feeling of a deepening crisis. This feeling is due to various factors in the environment - the arms race, pollution, economic problems, underlying all this is a deep feeling of moral decline; in a country like India, this feeling is quite overpowering. It would be valuable to understand the relationship between this inner moral crisis and its outer manifestations which threaten the survival of man. The problem is: Can we discover for ourselves the relationship of the crisis within man and the crisis outside?

Romesh Thapar: Sir, I would just like to add a word to what Achyutji has said. I, as a person who has been analysing problems, presenting a perspective within a time-span of about twenty-five to thirty years, look at the world and see it shrinking. When I look at the problem in my country, I see that I have to texture by the year 2000 A.D. a society for a thousand million people. I know that the texturing of that society cannot be done in the way in which other societies have been textured. If I want to be honest to my people, the texturing has got to be a special kind; the civilizational underpinning has to be of a special kind. But with the world shrinking and with communications playing the role that they do, value systems towards which I grope are constantly under attack and may even be destroying those modernizing elements that exist within society. Now I ask myself; Is it possible to work out some system of thought which will protect me from this horrendous scenario? For, if I am unable to retexture my society on just principles, and in isolation from what corruption is taking place elsewhere, I will establish a society which is very brutal and unjust.

T.N. Madan: I would like to seek a clarification regarding the first question which was raised. I do not know of any age, time, culture or country when people have not felt there was a moral crisis. The question, therefore, seems to be that one should first define what is the nature of our moral crisis; otherwise, we come much too close to our immediate problems and immediate surroundings and think that ours is the worst of times, that the best of times were in the past; or we think in terms of utopias. So, in the first place, could we define the nature of the moral crisis? And a clue to that might lie in what Mr. Thapar was saying. We adhere to the values we think were good, but perhaps those values no longer exist because the world has shrunk. The values of the village community will not serve the world community. We seem to be caught in a split - a split represented by changes which are being forced upon us, and value systems which we have inherited and which we naturally think are precious. How do we resolve this dilemma between a shrinking world which we have to accept and the world of values which we do not want to leave, do not want to get away from?

Rajni Kothari: Sir I would say that a feeling of moral crisis has from time to time arisen essentially when institutions are breaking down. There are many views about the present crisis. One is that we are going through a period of such rapid transformation that this crisis is bound to occur; we will have, as a result, to restructure all this at some point. I don't clearly see the outlines of an alternative system, a new way of restructuring human activity or the human intellect, and as there is nothing taking the place of what is crumbling, this sense of a moral crisis has come in.

Ashish Nandy: Frankly, I do not see any real moral crisis. But there is a moral crisis in people like us, and this has been manifest for many years. I am a great votary of the common man, and I don't think he suffers from a moral crisis; he suffers from a crisis of survival.

Q: One of the most significant facts is that today we have some technological tools which will make a big impact on the future of man. I happen to be a computer scientist and I am aware of some of the very important things that are taking place in the computer business. And what I would very much like to learn from this seminar is how to quantify and think about these value systems so that machines that are going to come about in the future, electronic computers which will have the ability to think and learn, will be able to make the right kind of choices.

Sudhir Kakkar: I question the feeling of moral crisis, also the pessimism expressed by previous speakers.

P.J.: I wonder why we are using the word `moral'. Is the crisis facing the human being of the same nature as the crises in the past? Or, because of a special set of circumstances, due to the pressures generated by the action of human beings - genetic engineering, computer engineering and the limitless possibilities of the computer taking over the functions of the human mind - is the crisis of a totally different order? It is not only a moral crisis; we have had moral crises in the past, but the crisis which strikes at the roots of the human mind is of a very different order. I think it is time we brought into this aspect, that the crisis that man faces today is the crisis of survival. With the growth of modern genetics and computer technology, methods will be forthcoming which will take over the functions of the human mind; the distinct possibility of the human mind itself atrophying is something which we can no longer disregard. If this is so, then shouldn't we start thinking of the crisis we face today? A few years later it may be beyond consideration. If there is a threat to the very root of the human mind, to the survival of what is called human, then what is the action of man? Is there such a threat? Is it possible to meet it? If it is possible to meet it, with what tools, what instruments of our own being, do we meet it?

A.P.: May I explain the point I raised? Consider Sakharov, the scientist, who, under pressure of circumstances, was responsible for inventing the hydrogen bomb but, later, finding that he was responsible for a colossal threat to human survival, sought ways to meet the crisis. This may be dramatic in the case of scientists. But the crisis exists as much for the farmer in the village as for the ordinary citizen in the town. There is a challenge to his integrity, created by the pressure of the environment.

J.U.: There is a political, scientific, social and also a moral crisis. What is the resolution of this crisis? Is it faith?

Jai Shankar: We have all talked about a moral crisis. The question is: Does it exist for all people? I don't think a moral crisis exists, for instance, for makers of computers, or for the makers of armaments and those who buy them, or for the people who wield political power at all cost. And at the other end of the spectrum, as Dr. Nandy said, the poor don't face any moral crisis; they face a crisis of survival. So what is the crisis we are talking about? The crisis is really not a moral crisis per se, but the result of dissociating morality from knowledge.

K.V.: Apropos of all that has been said, does fear play a part in this amoral knowledge ?

P.J.: I don't think anyone will question the premise that a tool is neither moral or immoral. It is only the application of the tool which is moral or immoral. Nobody can stop tools being made; but their application, the way they are used, can be controlled.

R.K.: I think Mr. Jai Shankar was referring to an integral part of the nature of modern science, whose motive, dynamic force, is manipulation, conquest of nature, the re-ordering of society; and it is not that there is no moral perspective behind modern science. There is a moral perspective which has led today to our becoming aware of the manipulative kind of knowledge which turns out to be amoral. I think Achyutji has already pointed this out in the case of Sakharov: it is also true of Einstein. After what they invented, they felt sorry for what had happened as a consequence. I think Jai Shankar is talking of something inherent in the nature of modern knowledge, which tends to make science and technology amoral.

J.S.: When does the tool cease to be a tool and become the master? That is the question. You presume that at all times tools can be controlled. I think that there could be tools that could overtake you; in fact, tools have already overtaken you; they control you, and there is very little freedom that is left to you.

O. V. Vijayan: I was wondering whether this crisis is modern at all, whether it is not the repetition of a perennial crisis with a contemporary, modern reference. What causes the collapse of morality?

J.U.: It is true that scientific and political developments have affected human consciousness. However, I feel that if human consciousness or that which is at the centre of human consciousness is strengthened, then it would always be possible for human consciousness to be the master of all the tools that it creates. The problem is awakening human consciousness so that it can master the tool it creates.

K. V.: At what point do tools become masters?

R.K.: There is a fantastic stirring of consciousness at the level of the ordinary person. In fact, the shrinkage that Romesh spoke of is not only the shrinkage that telecommunication and technology have brought about; it is also a shrinkage between the bottom and top layers of society. And that shrinkage gives rise to forms and issues that the mind has discovered. I have no answers to these two issues; it is an extremely complicated process. A process of the transformation of consciousness is on in such a radical manner that it makes me pretty nervous.

K: If I may point out, I don't think the crisis is in morality or values at all. I think the crisis is in consciousness and knowledge. Unless human beings radically transform this consciousness, we are going to end up in bloody wars. Has knowledge transformed man at all, at any time? This is the real crisis. Man has lived for twenty-five thousand years, from what modern discovery has shown. During these two hundred and fifty centuries, he has not radically changed. Man is anxious, frightened, depressed, unhappy, aggressive, lonely, all that. The crisis is there, and the crisis is in modern knowledge. What havoc has knowledge played? Has it any place at all in the transformation of man? That is the real question. We have to understand, not intellectually, not verbally, but deep down in our being the nature of our consciousness and this tremendous accumulation of knowledge in the last hundred and fifty years, whether that has brought about the destruction of man, or the ascent of man, or if it has any place at all in the transformation of man.

P.J.: What kind of knowledge are you talking about? When you ask, `What place has knowledge in the transformation of man?' should we not clarify your conception of knowledge?

T.N.M.: We surely have a problem here of communicating with each other and understanding each other, I was trying to explain to myself what Krishnaji meant by his observation about knowledge, and suggesting that perhaps what he meant was the will to be human through experience, to convert knowledge into experience. Now, this could be knowledge at any level. This could be the knowledge of the scientists. Let me, for a moment, be the devil's advocate and say that the rubric of the scientist is bad enough but his moral righteousness can be worse. And one must remember that the scientist who produces the computer does not do it in the name of bringing about human freedom. I think we should try to find out whether the problem is one of moral crisis or in the nature of knowledge or in the acquisition of knowledge.

P.J.: We seem to be going round and round this factor of knowledge. You spoke of consciousness, which contains not only knowledge about machines, computers, etc., but of more potent things, fear, greed, sorrow, envy, loneliness. This is not knowledge in the ordinarily recognised sense of the word, though you may consider all this part of the process of knowledge because it arises out of experience.

K: I would like to discuss what consciousness is, and what is the nature of knowledge. These two factors apparently are dominating the world. Thought is knowledge. Knowledge is experience. Knowledge, memory, thought, action - this is the cycle man has been caught in for twenty-five thousand years. I think there is no dispute about that. This cycle has been a process of accumulating knowledge and functioning from that knowledge, either skilfully or unskilfully. The process is stored in the brain as memory, and the memory responds in action. This is the cycle in which man is caught; always within the field of the known. Now what will change man? That is one problem.

The other is consciousness. Consciousness is its content; its content makes up consciousness. All the superstitions, beliefs, the class divisions, the brahmanic impressions, all that falls within consciousness. The idol, the belief, the idea of god, suffering, pain, anxiety, loneliness, despair, depression, uncertainty, insecurity, all that is within human consciousness. It is not my consciousness; it is human consciousness, because wherever you go, America or Russia, you meet the same problem. Human beings carry this complex burden of consciousness which contains all the things that thought has put together.

R.K.: I would like a definition of the content of consciousness. Is it all that thought has put together? Do you say both are co-terminous?

K: We will come to that presently. When you examine your own consciousness, whether you are a doctor, a scientist, a philosopher, a guru, you find your own anxieties, your uncertainties - all that is your consciousness. And that consciousness is the ground on which all humanity stands. J.S.: Is that all? Is all this added up the sum of consciousness; or is consciousness more than this sum?

G.N.: If you say that the content of consciousness is the sum of man's past thoughts, of the things that man has known, then there is nothing that is added through aggregation. The question is: Is consciousness the sum of its past thoughts, knowledge, all that is put together, or, is there something more to it?

K: Is that the question?

R.K.: Is there something in consciousness which is not just an aggregation of anxiety and fear?

J.S.: There has been talk in our tradition about pure consciousness as well, a consciousness which is not an aggregate of anxiety, pain, despair. That one is more than the sum of these parts is a possibility that must be considered.

K: Even positing something as pure consciousness is part of our consciousness. Would you agree so far: whatever thought has put together, whether it is super-consciousness, ultimate consciousness, pure consciousness, is still part of our consciousness, is still part of thought, and thought is born of knowledge, and, therefore, completely limited? All knowledge is limited. There is no complete knowledge of the computer or of the atom bomb or of anything.

P.J.: Is consciousness a putting together of many fragments of different types, or has it a holistic quality in it?

T.N.M.: Consciousness must be integrated.

K: If it is limited, it is not holistic.

T.N.M.: If consciousness is not holistic, what about knowledge?

K: Consciousness is knowledge. Would you not say that our whole existence is experience? From experience - whether it is scientific, emotional or sexual - we acquire knowledge. And that knowledge is stored in the brain as memory. The response of memory is thought. Put in any way, the process is that.

S.K.: Thought is born of fear.

K: Fear is the product of thought, not the other way round. Would you admit that thought arises from knowledge, that knowledge can never be complete about anything? Therefore, thought is always limited, and all our actions - scientific, spiritual, religious - are limited. So the crisis is in knowledge, which is consciousness.

P.J.: The question which has been raised is: Is fear independent of thought? Does thought arise as a reaction to fear? How does fear arise?

J.S.: You had said that thought arises out of knowledge.

K: It is a fact.

S.K.: Well, I was suggesting that there is an intermediate step, that out of knowledge first comes fear; fear is the father of thought rather than the other way round.

J.U.: Knowledge constructs itself through a process: previous knowledge is replaced by new knowledge, there is conquest of knowledge by knowledge; knowledge rides on its own shoulders.

K.V.: Does that then constitute consciousness or does it not? Upadhyayaji said `yes', some of us certainly say `no'.

K: I don't quite follow the argument.

P.J.: We are not communicating; perhaps if you open up the whole problem of knowledge, thought, consciousness, it may be simpler to come to a meeting point.

K: Sir, what is reality? I would like to explore that question. What is nature, the tree, the tiger, the deer? Nature is not created by thought; what is not created by thought is reality. Thought has created everything that I know - all the temples, the churches, the mosques. There is nothing sacred about thought; the rituals, the mass, the namaz, the prayers, all that is the invention of thought. Then I ask myself: What is thinking? If you ask my name, I respond immediately because I am familiar with it. But if you ask me something which is more complex, it takes time to investigate, to answer. That is, I look to my memory and try to find the answer or I consult books or talk to somebody to find the answer.

So there are: an immediate response, a response of time, and the response which says, `I really do not know.' We never say, `I do not know.' We are always responding from memory. That memory is in the cells of my brain, derived through tradition, education, experience, perception, hearing and so on. I am all that. Born in India, educated abroad, the content of my consciousness is the result of Indian culture, European culture, Italian culture, so on and so forth; the content of my consciousness is the result of innumerable talks, discussions with scientists, religious people. My consciousness is me; I am not different from my consciousness. So the observer is the observed. That is a fact. My consciousness is the consciousness of humanity; it is not separate. And this consciousness has known conflicts, pain. It has invented god. Human beings have lived for twenty-five thousand years in this misery, inventing technology, using that technology to destroy each other.

Seeing all that, what am I to do? What I am is the rest of the world; I am the world. This is no intellectual idea, but fact. I am an ordinary man, not a highly intellectual type. I have looked to the gurus; they have not helped me; the politicians have not helped me; the scientists have not helped me; on the contrary they have destroyed me, apart from technological convenience, communication and all that. Their atom bombs, their military technology, are perpetually creating wars. For the last five thousand years we have had wars every year. This is a historical fact. However, will all this accumulation of tremendous knowledge help me to change all that? That is the real crisis. I have relied on everyone to help me. I have to discard all that help totally. I feel the crisis is there, and not in the world of technology or in the intellectual world or in the totalitarian world.

R.K.: Are you not ascribing a certain homogeneity to everything? You are giving the same character to different civilizations, different religious systems, systems of modern science and systems of thought that create wars all over the world.

K. Of course, I don't see any difference.

R.K.: I have no difficulty in seeing that a human being is a result of all those factors. But to give the same kind of character to all that without differentiation, that I don't see.

K: Physically you are taller, I am shorter; and psychologically there are certain characteristic tendencies depending on different cultures, following certain values.

T.N.M.: At a certain level we are different. But at the level of what we are, I think he has a point. Whether you are living in the Amazonian jungle or in a modern town, here is a basic universality to the human predicament. But surely in terms of what we have, whether we have the computer or the sewing machine, there is a difference.

R.K.: The question is not of differentiation but about the stream of consciousness that have gone on in the past. You talk in terms of twenty-five thousand years. Can the modern, scientific, homocentric view of knowledge and its impact on consciousness be put on a par with some of the ancient streams of consciousness? In other words, do experience and the accumulation of experience offer no choices to us at this moment of history, or are we doomed?

P.J.: As long as we continue within our known consciousness, its concern with the little better, the little worse, we are still caught in the grip of something from which we do not seem to be able to get out. Krishnaji is hinting at a quantum leap, and we are still within the structure of time. Perhaps tomorrow we may see clearly, but can we do so with the instruments with which we see the world, which are the instruments we have? Can we somehow come to this point from which we see? Otherwise, we will go round and round; we can be better, more moral, less moral, less destructive or more destructive, but we will still be caught within this framework. I think that is the problem.

J.S.: Sir, I understand your anguish. But I do not understand the problem. If this is the way we have been for the last twenty-five thousand years without any change, then we cannot go back to a period or a state where things would be more desirable than they are. If that is what we are, I don't see how we can make the quantum leap.

R.K.: That was exactly my point.

K: My question is: At the end of twenty-five thousand years I am what I am. We all see that. Hitler has left his imprint on us; the Buddha also has; if Jesus ever lived, he also has. The result of all that is my conditioning. Is it possible to be totally unconditioned? I say `yes', it is possible to be completely unconditioned.