The world crisis
The current state of the world is marked by a series of global challenges whose gravity turns them into veritable crises. These crises are not due to natural phenomena but are the direct result of human action. They are the outcome of our conflicted relationships with nature, with things, with each other and with ideas. We are collectively failing in our total responsibility for peace and cooperation among human beings and for the welfare and protection of the biosphere. The wave of destruction humanity has unleashed has reached such proportions that scientists are talking about a new age of extinctions which they’ve named the Anthropocene as it is human beings who are causing it.
Our knowledge has given us power and that power has been deployed at the service of self-interest. Our general materialist outlook and our near-total disregard for the whole and wholeness of life are ever being enhanced by our increasingly more sophisticated technical prowess. The predominance of social tribalism and psychological fragmentation continue to ensure that our human condition is plagued by the universal blights of violence and sorrow. These endemic core problems have ever stained the pages of history, which is the story of humanity, the chequered record of both our great achievements and of our inherited brutality. This deeper crisis has been with us from the beginning and no amount of scientific progress is going to resolve it, for it is the result of our profound lack of self-knowledge.
The need for transformation of our common consciousness
In this author’s perspective, Krishnamurti’s teachings offer one of the broadest and deepest diagnosis of the human condition that has ever come to light. In K’s own metaphor, they constitute a read- ing of the book of humanity, which is our common consciousness. This consciousness is the repository of our universal history and the very field of time which limits our intelligence and condemns us to a mechanistic and conflict-ridden way of life. Insight into and freedom from this limitation is therefore critical in the trans- formation of consciousness and the liberation of humanity from its enduring ills and tragic mode of existence. The very perception of this global predicament, that it affects all human beings every- where independently of race, class, culture, language, ideology and belief, places each of us at the centre of the challenge and makes us all equally responsible, for we are the world.
This is one of the most fundamental insights at the core of K’s teachings, and one whose profound relevance and utter urgency is daily demonstrated by the ongoing panorama of social injustice, ecological devastation and war. For K it was a law that where there is division there must be conflict. These divisions are the result of our identifications with nations, ethnic groups, traditions, etc., which then enter into a struggle for power and resources. These separate entities are invested with the fundamental values of our security, happiness and self-worth and become the very definition of what we are. But at their core lies a deep and dangerous confusion concerning being. The insight that we share a common consciousness and, therefore, that we are the world, is a denial of these seemingly entrenched separate realities. Consciousness is not yours or mine, just as the earth is not yours or mine. The perception of the falseness of these conceptual divisions is a fundamental first step in the healing of the traditional psychopathology of mankind and the establishing of a truly wholesome and responsible relationship with the whole.
Relationship is life, while thought breeds division and conflict
Relationship, K never tired of reiterating, is life, for nothing can exist in isolation. And yet we live in a world whose culture is characterised by an insistence on separateness as the very trade- mark of identity. This insistence on identity may have its primary source in our animal background and its instinctual territorial, sexual and hierarchical survival strategies. This is an instance of what K called the spilling over of the biological into the psychological. This conditioning becomes the primary drive of thought and blinds it to the broader implications of its own actions. Although we consider that thought represents the glory of man and the pinnacle of evolution, as long as it remains bound to this instinctual background it fails to respond to intelligence and compassion. So, the universal issue of division and conflict has a deeper cause in this biological conditioning that has become the nucleus of our individual and group psychology. And no amount of environmental manipulation will solve it for, as K often said, in human affairs the inner invariably overcomes the outer.
This is another profound insight that seems to be lost on most people and cultures. Most of us appear to put our faith in social reformation and structural change, to the neglect of the inner or psychological dimension, whereas it is in the latter that the key to harmonious relationship and creative order is to be found. We ignore a simple truth, namely, that the troubled reality we face is of our own making, that the world is what it is because thinking makes it so and unless there is an insight into the nature of thought, the world will carry on in the same old way regardless of our best intentions. That brings the whole question of transformation directly home and places it right at the centre of our very psyche and sense of self.
Knowledge and the illusion of the self
Although K was not systematic in his use of language, with regard to bringing about a radical transformation, words such as ‘knowledge’, ‘consciousness’, ‘thought’ and ‘self’ have a very specific weight. Knowledge, which in its scientific aspect has been regarded as the ladder in the cultural ascent of man—as opposed to his biological descent—is made to include not only the factual and useful information we need to operate objectively and sanely in all kinds of fields, but also the whole cultural tradition with its inherited patterns of conditioning. In this sense knowledge is also ignorance, for it includes prejudice, superstition and all manner of bias. Not only is such content problematic but, as the result of past experience, it is inherently limited, which naturally reduces its domain of applicability. The past is memory and memory, how- ever vast or ancient, does not encompass and can never encompass the present. It has its place in the management of recurrent features, without which knowledge, which is recognition, would not be possible, but its outlook must of necessity miss out the new, without which we can hardly be said to be alive and, therefore, in relationship.
This memory, experience and knowledge constitute the content of consciousness and thought is its response. From there K infers the inherent limitation and danger of thought as the dominant factor that it has become in human existence. Not only is thought, with its emotional component, seen to be reduced to a mechanical reflex process but the very notion of self, which traditionally has stood for the spiritual in us—the soul, the atman—is perceived as a projection from that very same material psychological back- ground, for its essence is the identification with the content of consciousness, however vulgar or refined. Without such content, the self has no substance, which means that it has no independent existence, for the self, the thinker, is the product of thought. This denial of the independent existence of the self is perhaps an even deeper insight, as it concerns the most fundamental and pervasive duality at the heart of the psychopathology of our everyday life.
The encompassing nature of the teachings is amazing. K considered that they covered the whole of life. They move seamlessly from the outer dimension of the vast scope of relationship to the inner workings of consciousness in a perceptive unfolding of the true nature of the human predicament and its needful liberation. The inner and the outer are a single movement, the ebb and flow of existence. The individual is the world and the world is but the workings of fragmented consciousness. The dissolution of the factors of fragmentation is what allows the so-called individual to become the link between the cosmic and the collective dimensions, thus generating a total and harmonious whole.
A vision of freedom and wholeness
But this grand vision of freedom and wholeness is characterised by the greatest simplicity and immediacy, for it is founded on pure perception. K called it the art of living, the ‘art’ being to put everything in its right place, therefore implying a quality of unfolding creative order in relationship. The problems of humanity are generated by the persistence of illusion in the way we see, think, feel and act. This illusion is brought about by the interference of the observer, i.e., by the time-bound projections of self-centred thought. What is required is a heightened form of sensitivity in which thought and time do not distort seeing. This sensitivity establishes the facts and permits an action that is free from conditioning. This is the proper meaning of responsibility. Thus, the pure aesthetics of perception becomes the free foundation of a truly ethical behaviour. Laying this ethical ground of order is seen by K as the necessary foundation for a deeper movement. This deeper movement he calls meditation, which involves the emptying of consciousness of its psychological or self-centred content. This is equivalent, in fact, to perhaps the deep- est insight of all, namely that psychologically we are nothing which, paradoxically, signals the emergence of being from the delusions of becoming.
The true meaning of religion
Mankind has lost itself in a labyrinth of its own making and its technical dominance and selfish ways is the greatest threat to its own survival as well as to the sustainability of life on the only living planet in the known universe. Krishnamurti’s insights into the nature of consciousness are fundamental in the understanding and ending of violence and sorrow, which are the core endemic problems facing humanity since time immemorial. This author cannot think of a more relevant and urgent endeavour than the unfolding of the liberating potential of self-knowledge that the teachings so sensitively and truthfully reflect. This potential is not merely a matter of bringing about a quality of moral integrity and the corresponding social and universal order, but of discovering the inward or spiritual dimension he called the religious mind.
Again, in K’s language words such as ‘meditation’, ‘wholeness’ and ‘religion’ acquire a profound significance. The word religion, particularly in the West, has practically lost its meaning in our time. And yet K’s teachings are essentially concerned, from beginning to end, with awakening the religious spirit. His approach to religion is perhaps the purest there has ever been, for it dissolves all sectarian identity, dogma, authority and practice. It is perhaps the most austere, for at its core lies his essential insight that truth is a pathless land. And yet K also makes it clear that without the total freedom of that timeless truth there cannot be a wholesome culture or a peaceful world.
For this author K’s teachings represent a deep mirroring of the human condition and the way of its liberation and wholeness. That’s why they deserve the greatest attention, not only within the K institutions but in the world at large. They were freely given out of a compassionate concern with the whole of life and that is what they stand for. Anyone equally concerned will find them to be the clearest expression of spiritual wisdom in our time and a veritable and universal education for mankind.
 This article was published in the Journal of the Krishnamurti Schools, Special Issue No. 25, on the occasion of the 125 years since Krishnamurti’s birth.
Photo: Cloud below Wilson Peak, Colorado (Fall 2021) — by Carl Marcus (www.carlmarc.us)