The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue I: December 2021

Dear Friends,

This is the first issue of the Book of Yourself Newsletter. As the word itself would suggest, it is intended as an open letter in which I will share some reflections and general information, keeping you updated about the news at my end and, more specifically, concerning our joint learning venture.

In that friendly spirit, it occurred to me that it might be an idea to start by sharing with you, by way of an introduction, a bit of my personal background.

I was born over six decades ago in a deeply rural area of Galicia, the north-western region of Spain. Most of you would have heard of Galicia on account of Santiago de Compostela, a popular Christian pilgrimage destination since the Middle Ages. Although the Middle Ages might seem far away, as a matter of fact our agrarian way of life did not differ all that much from the standard picture of those darkling times. It was a rather simple and primitive subsistence farming community on the Atlantic seaboard, with its ancient cycles of planting and harvesting and their accompanying ritual liturgy. While our economic and social conditions might have seemed backward by modern standards, it was amply clear that as human beings we were all in the same boat. If anything, our apparent lack of material and cultural refinement made our common predicament all the more evident.

The conditions of life were tough and our formal education growing up was rather poor. We were still living in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and in the shadow of Franco’s fascist regime. The war had set the country back economically, so that the State lacked the means to sustain a proper school system, especially for the most disadvantaged of society. The dictatorial structure seemed to reproduce itself everywhere, not only in the governmental institutions, but in church, in school and at home. This made for a fearful and oppressive atmosphere in which patriarchal authority and dogmatism prevailed, crippling sensitivity, affection and intelligence.

On the other hand, we lived in one of the oldest geological formations on Earth and in the bosom of nature, which not only gave of its bounty but daily overwhelmed us with its order and beauty. Realizing the sharp contrast between the ways of nature and the ways of society, I wondered why we human beings lacked the same qualities of beauty and order. We were selfish and violent, almost continuously inflicting pain and suffering on each other while preaching love and brotherhood. The human condition seemed to be essentially tragic, and I felt this could not possibly be the way we were meant to live.

It is perhaps not unrealistic to consider that a large number of people, if not all, may have had the same experience, quite early in life, of finding themselves feeling that they were strangers and afraid in a world they never made.[1] It seems to me that this is perhaps one of the most unacknowledged indictments of the human condition, namely that right from childhood we are made to feel out of place instead of truly and totally at home.

As a kid I showed something of an artistic talent, and this brought me in contact with the painters who lived in an old sprawling mansion in a nearby village of my native parish. I was fascinated by Art, by the beauty and order of it, which was a mirroring of those qualities I had first perceived so clearly and intensely in nature. And my education with them was not only artistic but literary. We had no books at all at home and there was no local library. The artists, however, were avid readers and they began to lend me books. I might not have understood everything I read, but such great masters as Pío Baroja, Knut Hamsun, Ivo Andric, Thomas Mann, Fyodor Dostoevsky, or Hermann Hesse opened a wide window on my own existence as a human being and, in so doing, allowed me to comprehend and transcend my seemingly limited circumstances.

Among the books they lent me was a set of talks given by J. Krishnamurti in Saanen in 1964, published in Spanish under the title La mutación psicológica (the psychological mutation). This was a revelation. What I was reading not only mapped out the human struggle with astonishing precision, but it offered a way out that was eminently feasible in the immediacy of daily life. It was just a question of paying attention and being sensitive to nature, to people and to oneself. The way the author went about the exploration of the human condition had both an unmistakable ring of truth as well as the promise of liberation. I could not help but feel that I might have stumbled upon one of the great teachers of all time. So, hearing that he was still alive, I formulated the wish to see and hear him speak in person.

This chance came when, in my last year in high school, a group of staff and students from Brockwood Park, the school Krishnamurti had founded in England in 1969, came to spend their winter holidays at the sprawling old mansion of my artist friends. The latter had applied to join Brockwood, but there had been no work for them. So they offered their place to whoever might want to spend their vacations in that remote but still pristine corner of Spain. These Brockwood people were incredibly sensitive, intelligent, joyful and kind. I loved being with them, basking in the wholesome atmosphere they created. When they asked me whether I would like to go to Brockwood, my answer, which had been waiting for the question, was an immediate and resounding ‘Yes’. Due, no doubt, to their recommendations, in 1975 I was accepted as a student at Brockwood, where I met Krishnamurti as well as his close associate David Bohm, in what became a fascinating and lifelong human adventure.

It seems to me that, whichever form it might take, the question of freedom and wholeness is innate to our human nature. Krishnamurti called it ‘the seed of a million years’,[2] meaning that such a fundamental intent has been with us from the beginning. The flowering of that seed of integrity and goodness remains our essential task and vocation. The very record of history points to our endemically mistaken approach to life and relationship, to the very purpose of our existence. When one begins to delve a little past the surface of one’s experiences and circumstances, there is the dawning appreciation of the universality of our predicament and the need for insight into the fundamental issues we face. The awareness of this human universality constitutes a worldview in which self-knowledge is the key to our transformative potential. Krishnamurti expressed the necessity and urgency of this flowering in rather dramatic terms:

“So this seed that has been planted in man, in his brain, for millions of years has never had the right soil, the right light, the right darkness – nothing. But it is there still. And during these talks we are going to find out whether it is possible for that seed to grow and flower, multiply and cover the earth. That is the function, the necessity of every man because in this world there is such confusion, violence, corruption, every form of degeneration. And if we do not find that seed and let it flower, we are going to destroy ourselves.” (The Seed of a Million Years, pg. 11)

[1] This expression is from ‘The Laws of God, The Laws of Man’, a poem by A.E. Housman (1859-1936): ‘I, a stranger and afraid / in a world I never made’.

[2] The Seed of a Million Years (2019) is the title of the published edition of K’s talks in Madras (Chennai) 1979-1980. In this set of talks he refers to this deep-seated intent to goodness in the very origins of humanity.

Photo 1: Fields and woods near Brockwood Park — Photo: F. Grohe

Photo 2: Scheienfluh, St. Antönien, Switzerland — Photo: F. Grohe

Krishnamurti’s teachings are aimed at this very discovery and flowering as the way to dissolve the factors or causes of human destructiveness. And that’s why they remain as relevant and urgent as ever. The Book of Yourself is my attempt at offering a comprehensive overview of the teachings as the sensitive and inspiring mirror of the human condition and conditioning that they are. The intent is that by looking into this mirror we can begin to see ourselves and the wider scope and implications of our being in the world. Krishnamurti saw such a reading of the book of oneself, which is also the book of the universal history of humanity – for we are the result of all that has gone before –, as the more fundamental task in his holistic educational vision. But such a vision is not confined to the schools, for the teachings are an education for mankind, making them truly universal.

The recent launching of the website and the announcement of the online course have met with rather limited response so far. It is early days, so we’ll see how that develops. Six people expressed an interest and two have registered for the course. There are all kinds of logistical issues in terms of making such a course of study readily accessible and affordable to everyone. Questions regarding the length of the sessions, whether the presentations will be recorded and made available to the participants, whether the dates and time slots fit with people’s agendas, etc. The question of discounts was raised, and discounts have been made available. This is the first time I venture to do it online, so I have a lot to learn in terms of how best to schedule and promote such a thing. So any comments or suggestions you might have about improving it are most welcome.

I had the idea for such a course quite a few years back. Finally, some friends, tired of hearing me reiterate the idea over and over again, challenged me to structure and put together the content of such a course of study, offering in turn to take care of the logistics involved in making it a reality. I took up the challenge and the first incarnation of the course took place between October 2016 and June 2017. That course proved very revealing and inspiring to the vast majority of those who took part, thus demonstrating the significance of taking such a journey of self-discovery in the light of Krishnamurti’s teachings. In fact, when the course was over, the participants indicated that it had been too interesting to leave it at that and asked for a follow-up. I then proposed that, since the theme was the reading of the book of oneself, we now establish a dialogue group to inquire together into our shared humanity. This dialogue group has proved so creative and inspiring that, in spite of the disruptions of the pandemic, it is still going on. It is on the basis of this experience that I now venture to offer the course online, in the hope that it might prove just as worthwhile for those who should take part.

The teachings, as you may know, are first and foremost concerned with the actuality of our daily lives. Perception and observation, seeing and listening, awareness and attention are fundamental aspects in the journey of self-discovery and transformation that Krishnamurti proposed, since without accurate perception we lack the proper foundation for understanding and action. He called that fluid and harmonious quality of perception, understanding and action the art of living. In this art there is no teacher or taught, only the challenge and beauty of learning. So I’ll leave you with a quote on this essential subject:

“The Greeks, and those before them, said ‘know yourself.’ That does not mean to go to somebody and find out about yourself. It means watch what you are doing, what you are thinking, your behaviour, your words, your gestures, the way you talk, the way you eat. Watch! Not correct, not say this is right or wrong, just watch. And to watch there must be silence. In that watching there is learning; and when you are learning you become the teacher. So you are both the teacher and the disciple, and nobody else on earth. There is nobody outside who can free oneself, only one’s own inward integrity, and having great humility so as to learn.” (The Krishnamurti Reader, pp. 93-94)

It occurs to me that, especially in these trying and uncertain times, bringing such a quality of attentiveness and sensitivity to bear on one’s daily life can be a significant source of light in the gathering darkness.

Be safe and have a great Christmas and New Year!

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