The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 2: January 2022

Dear Friends,

I trust you have been keeping well.

Winter in these northern latitudes has been rather mild so far this year. Twice we woke up to see the rooftops and the backyards covered in a thin layer of frost, but no snow. Lately our sleepy town has been waking up under a thick blanket of fog, sometimes lasting all day. The temperatures are likely to take a plunge in the next couple of months. Usually the lakes would freeze over, to the delight of the natives, who love skating on natural ice. But for a few years now that has become a rare treat. The effects of climate change are evident in every corner of this beautiful Earth.

On Saturday 15th January we had our first online meeting of The Book of Yourself. This first chapter consisted of an introduction to the course, an overview of Krishnamurti’s biography and a brief incursion into the core of his teachings. Since we would be taking this journey together over the next three and a half months, we began by briefly introducing ourselves. This first chapter contained a great deal of information, and we ran out of time to have an exchange. I just hoped that the participants did not feel too overwhelmed, and I promised that in future we would make sure to hold a conversation. After all, the course was intended to map out the broad spectrum of the human condition as a springboard to its active exploration in our own existence. So it should be as participatory as possible. The challenge then is to find the right balance between information and dialogue within the restricted timetable. I felt tempted to add that a degree of frustration was to be expected, if nothing else because the themes we will be addressing are too vast for us to cover satisfactorily and at the depth they deserve. But, at the same time, experience also teaches that there is usually room for improvement.

When looking at Krishnamurti’s biography, I usually wonder how much of it might sound too mythological rather than real. I mean specifically his early upbringing and mission within the Theosophical Society. The theosophical conception of the Masters and their intervention in the cyclical rise and fall of civilizations as part of the karmic evolution of humanity might feel like a promising but rather esoteric vision of man and his place in the cosmos. Their further prophesy that our age of chaos would give rise to a world teacher, whose task was to set the religious foundation for a new culture, might seem even more outlandish. And that they then went on to identify the human ‘vehicle’ for the manifestation of divine wisdom in our time might just overstep the limits of credulity.

The contemporary positivist XIX century worldview, with its predominantly secular outlook and materialist drive, would certainly be skeptical of any such mystical and teleological vision of humanity. The advances in scientific knowledge did not contemplate any such elevated spiritual purpose in their scheme of things. On the contrary, their outlook reduced creation to a random material process with no ultimate meaning, with matter going mechanically and blindly about its motions, life emerging as a fluke of nature and evolving according to chance mutations and changing circumstances, and consciousness developing as the epiphenomena of brain activity and structuring itself according to the stratification of experience, all of it driven by the compelling principle of the survival of the fittest. If anything, what the new age of progress implied was the confinement of religion and metaphysics to the dust bin of history. Science had superseded them as the source of truth and so it was up to it to tackle the whole human problem, from the material to the biological, from the sociopolitical to the psychological, with the laws of nature and the facts in hand. Except that instead of delivering on its utopia, it plunged humanity into existential despair, unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence in two devastating world wars, and finally bloomed into a mushroom cloud whose shadow has ever since become the terror of humanity.

Photo 1: Photo: F. Grohe

Photo 2: Photo: F. Grohe

The Theosophists were unswerving in their purpose and their identification of that scrawny and seemingly moronic Brahmin boy on the beach outside their international headquarters came from their own perception that his aura had no speck of selfishness in it. Whatever else one might say of the Theosophists, their clairvoyance cannot be denied. They saw something and staked their whole reputation on it. It took a while for their predictions to come true and when they did, they found themselves faced with a new challenge, as the teacher refused to put the new wine of truth into the old bottles of tradition. The outbreak of K’s profound experience of transformation in Ojai, the so-called ‘process’, remains a mysterious phenomenon to this day. Most of the extant accounts are wrapped in esoteric language. K, however, did his best to offer a more psychological reading of it as his inner journey through the barren wasteland of experience to the summit of liberation. This is the essence of his early work The Path, which is his poetic description of the emptying of consciousness of its psychological content. (In the Blog you can find my attempt at a condensed abridgement of this work under the title ‘A Study in Loneliness I: Into the Wasteland’.) It was this very emptiness of the past that allowed him to channel the energy of supreme intelligence and compassion.

The teachings, it seems to me, are K’s way of conveying this journey of liberation, wholeness and truth without recourse to esoteric language. K was always aware of a deeper dimension, but for him the key was to understand oneself so deeply that there was no room for self-deception, thus opening the doors of perception in which that ‘otherness’ would become manifest. His concern was not with conjecture but with discovery, and this required the sharpening and purifying of the instrument of observation to its highest sensitivity. This meant leaving no stone unturned so that one’s own being might be impeccably free of self. In this process he did not appeal to external agents but rather to the inherent capacity of humanity to rise through self-knowledge to such a level of excellence and integrity that the gods would come chasing after it instead of the other way around!

Although he stated his mission as setting humanity absolutely and unconditionally free, the fact was that he could not liberate anyone because the truth cannot be given by another. All he could do was to reflect accurately the scope and depth of the reality we must learn to see for ourselves. This seeing might then precipitate the flash of insight that is the factor of liberation and wholeness. Such truth is indeed ‘pathless’ because insight is not the result of a mechanical process but the culmination of sustained self-awareness, the first and last step of which is the freedom to observe. His life’s work was to mirror our human nature as an aid to this unfolding self-awareness of consciousness as the creative ground of insight.

K stated that self-knowledge was the beginning of wisdom. To that end, we had a series of mirrors in which to see ourselves. For him the principal mirror was relationship, but he also suggested other aids to self-awareness. One was writing down one’s thoughts. He recommended it to the students in his schools and especially to his public audiences in the mid-forties and early fifties:

“Without understanding the process of thought, how thought comes into being, the ways of your own individual thinking, how your thought is driven by motives, by desires, by anxieties – without knowing the whole content of thought you cannot possibly bring about tranquility. I suggested once that by writing down, being acquainted with your own thinking, with your own thought, perhaps self-knowledge would come out of it. For without self-knowledge there is no understanding. Without knowing the intricacies of your own thought, at both the conscious and the unconscious levels, without knowing the depths of it, then, do what you will, all superficial activities of control, of domination, of adjustment, of what to believe and what not to believe, are utterly useless. So, perhaps you can get to know yourself more deeply, not only by observing superficially your daily thoughts, but also by writing them down; and perhaps thereby you will release the unconscious motives, the unconscious pursuits, desires and fears.”
London, 3rd Public Talk, 15 April 1952
The Collected Works, Vol. 6, pp. 345-346

Another such aid to self-awareness was meditation. While he denied that meditation had anything to do with any programmatic system of concentration and control – which he termed ‘pre-meditations’ –, he did have very concrete proposals on how to go about it. Here is one such instruction to the students in his schools:

“First of all, sit very quietly; do not force yourself to sit quietly, but sit or lie down quietly without force of any kind. Do you understand? Then watch your thinking. Watch what you are thinking about. You find you are thinking about your shoes, your saris, what you are going to say, the bird outside to which you listen; follow such thoughts and enquire why each thought arises. Do not try to change your thinking. See why certain thoughts arise in your mind so that you begin to understand the meaning of every thought and every feeling without any enforcement. And when thought arises, do not condemn it, do not say it is right, it is wrong, it is good, it is bad. Just watch it, so that you begin to have a perception, a consciousness which is active in seeing every kind of thought, every kind of feeling. You will know every hidden secret thought, every hidden motive, every feeling, without distortion, without saying it is right, wrong, good or bad. When you look, when you go into thought very, very deeply, your mind becomes extraordinarily subtle, alive. No part of the mind is asleep. The mind is completely awake. This is merely the foundation. Then your mind is very quiet. Your whole being becomes very still. Then go through that stillness, deeper, further – that whole process is meditation.”
On Education, pp. 35-36

I would encourage you, if you feel so inclined, to experiment with these approaches to self-knowing. Not as mechanical methods but as possible avenues of a free and creative encounter with oneself and the depths of one’s being.

Stay safe, amigos,

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