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Jiddhu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986)

Ojai, Tuesday, 15 March, 1983

THIS END OF the valley, particularly on this lovely quiet morning, was peaceful, there was no sound of traffic. The hills were behind you and the tallest mountain in this region was over 6,000 feet. This house is surrounded by orchards, bright yellow oranges, and the sky was blue without a single cloud. You could hear the murmur of bees among the flowers in the still quiet morning. The old oak tree [the Californian evergreen holm oak] behind the house was a great age; the strong winds had broken many dead branches. It has survived many storms, many summers of great heat and the cold winters. Probably it could tell you a lot of stories but this morning it was very quiet, there was no breeze. Everything around you was full of green and bright oranges, yellow and shining, and perfume filled the air - the perfume of jasmine.

This valley is far from all the noise and the bustle of human traffic, of humanity, of all the ugly things that are going on in the world. The orange trees were just beginning to show their fresh young flowers. The scent of it would fill the valley in a week or two and there would be the hum of thousands of bees. It was a peaceful morning and beyond all this lay the sick world, a world that is becoming more and more dangerous, more and more corrupt, vastly dull in search of entertainment, religious and otherwise. The superficiality of existence is thriving. Money seems to be the greatest value in life, and with it naturally goes power, position and the sorrow of it all.

`On such a beautiful morning I want to talk over with you a rather sad subject, frightening, the sense of apprehension that pervades humanity and myself. I would really like to understand, not merely intellectually or descriptively, why, with so many others, I dread the ending of life.

`We kill so easily - it is called blood sport, shooting birds for amusement to show off one's skill, chasing the fox, killing by the million the things of the sea; death seems to be everywhere. Sitting on this quiet veranda, looking at those bright yellow oranges, it is difficult - or rather it seems so unseemly - to talk over something that is so frightening. Man throughout all the ages has never really solved or understood the thing called death.

`Naturally I have studied various religious and scientific rationalizations, beliefs, and they assume realities; some of them are logical, comforting, but the fact remains that there is always the fear of the unknown.

`I was discussing this fact with a friend of mine whose wife has recently died. He was a rather lonely man and he was inclined not only to live in his memories but also to find out for himself through seances, mediums and all that whether his wife, whom he really loved, had just evaporated into thin air, or was there still a continuity of her in another dimension, in another world than this?

`He said, "Strangely enough I found that at one of these seances the medium mentioned my name and said that she had a message from my wife. And the message was something only known to her and me. Of course the medium may have read my thoughts or my wife may exist. That thought was in the air, the thought of that secret which was between us. I have asked many people of their experiences. It all seems so vain and rather stupid, including the message from my wife which was so trivial, so deeply meaningless." I don't want to discuss with you whether there is an entity of a person which continues after death. That is not my interest. Some say there is a continuity, others say there is total annihilation. This contradiction - annihilation, total ending of a person or the continuity of that individual - has been in all literature, from the ancients to the present day. But to me, all this is beside the point. Its validity is still in the realm of speculation, superstition, belief and the desire for comfort, hope. I am really not concerned with all that. I really mean this. I am at least quite certain of that. But I would like to have a dialogue with you, if I may, about what is the meaning of it all - this whole business of living and dying. Is it all utterly meaningless, vague, without any depth, without any significance whatsoever? Millions have died and millions will be born and continue and die. I am one of those. I always ask myself: what is the meaning of living and dying? The earth is beautiful, I have travelled a great deal, talked to many people who are supposed to be wise and learned, but they too die.

`I have come a long way so perhaps you would be good enough to take time and have the quiet patience to talk over this subject with me.'

`Doubt is a precious thing. It cleanses, purifies the mind. The very questioning, the very fact that the seed of doubt is in one, helps to clarify our investigation. Not only doubting what all the others have said, including the whole concept of regeneration, and the Christian belief and dogma of resurrection, but also the Asiatic world's acceptance that there is continuity. In doubting, questioning all that, there is a certain freedom which is necessary for our enquiry. If one can put all that aside, actually, not merely verbally but negate all that deep within oneself, then one has no illusion. And it is necessary to be totally free from any kind of illusion - the illusions that are imposed upon us and the illusions that we create for ourselves. All illusions are the things that we play with, and if one is serious then they have no place whatsoever, nor does faith come into all this.

`So having set aside all that, not for the moment but seeing the falseness of all that, the mind is not caught in the falsehood that man has invented about death, about god, about all the rituals that thought has created. There must be freedom of opinion and judgement, for then only can one deliberately, actually, hesitantly explore into the meaning of daily living and dying - existence and the end of existence. If one is prepared for this, or if one is willing, or even better if one is actually, deeply concerned to find out the truth of the matter (living and dying is a very complex problem, an issue that requires a very careful examination) where should we begin? With life or with death? With living or with the ending of that which we call living?'

`I am over fifty, and have lived rather extravagantly, keeping an interest in many, many things. I think I would like to begin - I am rather hesitant, I am rather doubtful where I should begin.'

`I think we ought to begin with the beginning of existence, man's existence, with one's existence as a human being.'

`I was born into a fairly well-to-do family, carefully educated and brought up. I have been in several businesses and I have sufficient money; I am a single man now. I have been married, had two children, who all died in a car accident. And I have never married again. I think I should like to begin with my childhood. From the beginning, like every other child in the world, poor or rich, there was a well developed psyche, the self-centred activity. It is strange, as you look back upon it, that it begins from very early childhood, that possessive continuity of me as J. Smith. He went through school, expanding, aggressive, arrogant, bored, then into college and university. And as my father was in a good business I went into his Company. I reached the top, and on the death of my wife and children, I began this enquiry. As happens to all human beings, it was a shock, a pain - the loss of the three, the memories associated with them. And when the shock of it was over I began to enquire, to read, to ask, to travel in different parts of the world, talking the matter over with some of the so-called spiritual leaders, the gurus. I read a great deal but I was never satisfied. So I think we ought to begin, if I may suggest, with the actual living - the daily building up of my cultivated, circumscribed mind. And I am that. You see, my life has been that. My life is nothing exceptional. Probably I would be considered upper middle class, and for a time it was pleasurable, exciting, and at other times dull, weary, and monotonous. But the death of my wife and children somehow pulled me out of that. I haven't become morbid but I want to know the truth of it all, if there is such a thing as truth about living and dying.'

`How is the psyche, the ego, the self, the I, the person, put together? How has this thing come into being, from which arises the concept of the individual, the "me", separate from all others? How is this momentum set going - this momentum, this sense of the I, the self? We will use the word "self" to include the person, the name, the form, the characteristics, the ego. How is this self born? Does the self come into being with certain characteristics transmitted from the parents? Is the self merely a series of reactions? Is the self merely the continuity of centuries of tradition? Is the self put together by circumstances, through accidents, happenings? Is the self the result of evolution - evolution being the gradual process of time, emphasizing, giving importance to the self? Or, as some maintain, especially the religious world, does the outward shell of the self really contain within itself the soul and the ancient concept of the Hindus, of the Buddhists? Does the self come into being through the society which man has created, which gives strength to the formula that you are separate from the rest of humanity? All these have certain truths in them, certain facts, and all these constitute the self. And the self has been given tremendous importance in this world. The expression of the self in the democratic world is called freedom, and in the totalitarian world, that freedom is suppressed, denied and punished. So would you say that instinct begins in the child with the urge to possess? This also exists in the animals, so perhaps we have derived from the animals this instinct to possess. Where there is any kind of possession there must be the beginning of the self. And from this instinct, this reaction, the self gradually increases in strength, in vitality, and becomes well-established. The possession of a house, the possession of land, the possession of knowledge, the possession of certain capacities - all this is the movement of the self. And this movement gives the feeling of separateness as the individual.

`Now you can go much further into details: is the you, the self, separate from the rest of mankind? Are you, because you have a separate name, a separate physical organism, certain tendencies different from another's, perhaps a talent - does that make you an individual? This idea that each one of us throughout the world is separate from another, is that an actuality? Or may the whole concept be illusory just as we have divided the world into separate communities, nations, which is really a glorified form of tribalism? This concern with oneself and the community being different from other communities, other selves - is that in actuality real? Of course you may say it is real because you are an American, and others are French, Russian, Indian, Chinese and so on. This linguistic, cultural, religious difference has brought about havoc in the world - terrible wars, incalculable harm. And also, of course, in certain aspects there is great beauty in it, in the expression of certain talents, as a painter, as a musician, as a scientist and so on. Would you consider yourself as a separate individual with a separate brain which is yours and nobody else's? It is your thinking, and your thinking is supposedly different from another's. But is thinking individual at all? Or is there only thinking, which is shared by all humanity, whether you are the most scientifically talented person or the most ignorant, primitive?

`All these questions and more arise when we are considering the death of a human being. So would you, looking at all this - the reactions, the name, the form, the possessiveness, the impulse to be separate from another, sustained by society and by religion - would you in examining all this logically, sanely, reasonably, consider yourself to be an individual? This is an important question in the context of the meaning of death.' `I see what you are driving at. I have an intuitive comprehension, cognizance, that as long as I think that I am an individual, my thinking is separate from the thinking of others - my anxiety, my sorrow is separate from the rest of humanity. I have a feeling - please correct me - that I have reduced a vast complex living of the rest of mankind to a very small, petty little affair. Are you saying in effect that I am not an individual at all? My thinking is not mine? And my brain is not mine, separate from others? Is this what you are hinting at? Is this what you are maintaining? Is this your conclusion?'

`If one may point out, the word "conclusion" isn't justified. To conclude means to shut down, to end - conclude an argument, conclude a peace after a war. We are not concluding anything; we are just pointing out, because we must move away from conclusions, from finality and so on. Such an assertion limits, brings a narrowness into our enquiry. But the fact, the observable rational fact, is that your thinking and the thinking of another are similar. The expression of your thinking may vary; you may express something in one way if you are an artist, and another person, who is not an artist, may express it in another way. You judge, evaluate, according to the expression, and the expression then divides you into an artist and a football player. But you, as an artist, and he, as a football player, think. The football player and the artist suffer, are anxious, have great pain, disappointment, apprehension; one believes in god and the other doesn't believe in god, one has faith and the other has no faith, but this is common to all human beings, though each one may think he is different. You may think my sorrow is entirely different from another's, that my loneliness, my desperation, are wholly opposite to another's. Our tradition is that, our conditioning is that, we are educated to that - I am an Arab, you are a Jew, and so on. And from this division there arises not only individuality but the communal racial difference. The individual identifying himself with a community, with a nation, with a race, with a religion invariably brings conflict between human beings. It is a natural law. But we are only concerned with the effects, not with the causes of war, causes of this division.

`So we are merely pointing out, not asserting, not concluding, that you, sir, are the rest of humanity, psychologically, deeply. Your reactions are shared by all humanity. Your brain is not yours, it has evolved through centuries of time. You may be conditioned as a Christian, believe in various dogmas, rituals; another has his own god, his own rituals, but all this is put together by thought. So we are questioning deeply whether there is an individual at all. We are the whole of humanity; we are the rest of mankind. This is not a romantic, fantastic, statement, and it is important, necessary, when we are going to talk over together the meaning of death.'

`What do you say to all this, sir?'

`I must say I am rather puzzled by all these questions. I am not certain why I have always considered myself to be separate from you or from somebody else. What you say seems to be true but I must think it over, I must have a little time to assimilate all that you have said so far.'

`Time is the enemy of perception. If you are going to think over what we have talked about so far, argue with yourself, discuss what has been said, analyse what we have talked over together, it is going to take time. And time is a brand new factor in the perception of that which is true. Anyhow, shall we leave it for the moment?'

He came back after a couple of days and he seemed more quiet and rather concerned. It was a cloudy morning and probably it was going to rain. In this part of the world they need much more rain because beyond the hills there is a vast desert. It gets very cold here at night because of that. `I have come back after a couple of days of quiet thinking. I have a house by the sea, I live by myself. It is one of those little seaside cottages and you have in front of you the beach and the blue Pacific, and you can walk for miles on the beach. I generally go for long walks either in the morning or evening. After seeing you the other day I took a walk along the beach, probably about five miles or more, and I decided to come back and see you again. I was at first very disturbed. I couldn't quite make out what you were saying, what you were pointing out to me. Though I am rather a sceptical person about these matters, I allowed what you were saying to occupy my mind. It wasn't that I was inwardly accepting or denying it, but it intrigued me, and I purposely use the word "allow" - to allow it to enter into my mind. And after some deliberation I took a car and drove along by the coast and then turned inland and came here. It is a beautiful valley. I am glad to find you here. So could we continue with what we were talking about the other day?

`If I understand it clearly, you were pointing out that tradition, long conditioned thinking, can bring about a fixation, a concept that one readily accepts, perhaps not with a great deal of thought - accepts the idea that we are separate individuals; and as I thought more about it - I am using the word `thought` in its ordinary sense, thinking, rationalizing, questioning, arguing - it was as though I was having a discussion with myself, a prolonged dialogue, and I think I really do grasp what is involved in that. I see what we have done with the marvellous world we live in. I see the whole historical sequence. And after considerable to and fro of thought I really do understand the depth and the truth of what you said. So if you have time I would like to go much further into all this. I really came to find out, as you know, about death, but I see the importance of beginning with one's comprehension of oneself, and through the door of the self - if one can use the word - come to the question of what is death.'

`As we were saying the other day, we share, all humanity shares, the sunlight [he had not said this; that sunlight is not yours or mine. It is the life-giving energy which we all share. The beauty of a sunset, if you are watching it sensitively, is shared by all human beings. It is not yours setting in the west, east, north or south; it is the sunset that is important. And our consciousness, in which is included our reactions and actions, our ideas and concepts and patterns, systems of belief, ideologies, fears, pleasures, faith, the worship of something which we have projected, our sorrows, our griefs and pain - all this is shared by all human beings. When we suffer we have made it into a personal affair. We shut out all the suffering of mankind. Like pleasure; we treat pleasure as a private thing, ours, the excitement of it and so on. We forget that man - including woman, of course, which we needn't repeat - that man has suffered from time beyond all measure. And that suffering is the ground on which we all stand. It is shared by all human beings.

'So our consciousness is not actually yours or mine; it is the consciousness of man, evolved, grown, accumulated through many, many centuries. In that consciousness is the faith, the gods, all the rituals man has invented. It is really an activity of thought; it is thought that has made the content - behaviour, action, culture, aspiration; the whole activity of man is the activity of thought. And this consciousness is the self, is the "me", the I, the ego, the personality and so on. I think it is necessary to understand this very deeply, not merely argumentatively, logically but deeply, as blood is in all of us, is part of us, is the essence, the natural process of all human beings. When one realizes this our responsibility becomes extraordinarily important. We are responsible for everything that is happening in the world as long as the content of our consciousness continues. As long as fear, nationalities, the urge for success, you know the whole business of it - as long as that exists we are part of humanity, part of the human movement.

`This is utterly important to understand. It is so: the self is put together by thought. Thought is not, as we have said, yours or mine; thinking is not individual thinking. Thinking is shared by all human beings. And when one has really deeply seen the significance of this, then I think we can understand the nature of what it means to die.

`As a boy you must have followed a small stream gurgling along a narrow little valley, the waters running faster and faster, and have thrown something, such as a piece of stick, into the stream and followed it, down a slope, over a little mound, through a little crevasse - followed it until it went over the waterfall and disappeared. This disappearance is our life.

`What does death mean? What is the very word, the threatening feeling about it? We never seem to accept it.'