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Can the mind be free of thought?

Fourth Discussion with Students at Claremont Colleges

Thursday, November 14, 1968

Krishnamurti: If you will allow me, I’ll talk a little first and then perhaps you might be inclined to ask questions and we can talk it over together.

Seeing the extraordinary confusion and the state of misery of the world, one must ask, I think, at least to oneself: what is the right thing to do? Not only at the political or the social and also much more fundamentally, at the religious level. What is a human being, living in this world, which is extraordinarily confused, contradictory, fragmentary, what is one to do? Should one have confidence in the leaders – religious, political, social, what you will? And the more you observe the so-called leaders and teachers, the less one has faith in them, trust in them, because they have not contributed actually to the peace of the world, to bring about a unity of mankind. On the contrary, they have betrayed. They have not, after these centuries upon centuries, brought about a true relationship between man and man, a happy, harmonious life. And if one has no faith or trust in any of this, in any book, in any priest, in any teacher – and obviously one has very little faith in the politicians – does one have confidence in oneself? If you have no confidence in others, one must look for that confidence in oneself. And can one trust oneself? This is really quite a significant and enormous problem.

If I don’t trust anything or anybody, any book around me, excepting the technological books – I don’t mean that – then where am I to look? Whom am I to consider trustworthy? And as one observes objectively without too much prejudice or being committed to one particular philosophy or teacher, then am I to consider myself, in whom I can trust? And am I trustworthy, also? Why should I place confidence in myself if I have no confidence in others? In myself I’m so fragmented, so broken up. In myself I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do. I am torn by different desires, by pleasures that momentarily satisfy, and at other moments there is great pain. I feel very humble and yet very proud. In myself I am so contradictory, and can I trust myself to do the right action? Because action is necessary. All life is relationship in action. Without action there is no relationship. Life is a movement in this action in relationship. And a human being, like all of us, how am I, or you, to find right action, the action that will be complete, total, consistent, not contradictory, that’ll be true under all circumstances, that’ll not be right at one moment and wrong at the other, that’ll have meaning, significance, weight, depth? I am sure most of us must have asked this question. And if one has asked, probably one has looked to somebody else to tell us. And if one rejects, as one must, all authority, then where am I to look? Where am I to find an action that’ll be total, that’ll be complete, harmonious? And, if I may, I would like to talk about that, unless you wish to talk about something else.

I can only find out what right action is, which will be true, not contradictory, complete, that’ll have no regrets, that’ll have no future hope – because when there is a hope, in that there is also regret – an action that is not merely complete in the present but for all time. And to find that out, one must obviously ask: what is the action that we do now? What is our action based on? Not only the action in the present at the moment, given moment, but also the action that has been and that will be. Doesn’t one find, if one observes, that our actions are based on concepts, an ideal, on a supposition, what should be? I project, or thought projects what should be from what is and it tries to conform or approximate the action to the pattern, to the ideal. That is, most of our actions are based on that – not only action now but also in the past. So, our total action as it is now is, is it not, based on conceptual thinking and conceptual, ideational pattern. There is the ideal of what should be or what should not be, laid down by the social morality or the religious sanction, and so on. So there is the ideal, the principle, the pattern, different from what is. I act in terms of what should be, or approximate my action according to the ideal. That is the basis of our action – the image and the corresponding action according to that image – the symbol, the image, the pattern, the ideal, and acting, imitating, conforming, adjusting, approximating the action according to that. I think that is fairly obvious and that is so. I don’t think there is any doubt about it.

So there is a division, a dualistic process between what is and what should be. And in this division and in this approximation to the pattern, there must be conflict. The what is is so different from what should be. And so if one observes it rather closely, one sees not only the conflict between what is and what should be but also the conflict in the very action in the present, because it is always bound by the past. Right? There is conflict in division, and that division is contradictory, and therefore conflict, and thought that says: I must adjust myself to the pattern – which again breeds another form of conflict. Right? So our action, whatever we do, breeds conflict. Whatever we touch with the mind or with the heart brings about confusion, contradiction, conflict. That is what is actually taking place in our life. Right? Can we – not agree – do we see this? Because as we said, this is not a talk where you just listen to a lot of ideas, agree or disagree, go home and say, ‘Well, that was a fairly entertaining talk,’ and forget it. We are serious people, if we are, and a serious mind demands an answer to all these problems. Therefore you’re not, if I may say so, you’re not merely listening to a lot of words. We are together examining for ourselves what is action.

As we said, life is action, the coming and the going and the staying still. All relationship is action, and in all relationship there is so much misery, conflict, travail. And one must naturally ask this question. And it will have significance only when we examine not what should be a theoretical state but actually what is. That what is is this action based on conceptual thinking, and therefore dualistic, opposing, contradictory, and therefore fragmentary. Is there action without the idea? Is there action without the ideology, the what should be? If there is no what should be, the ideal, then there is only action in the present. Right? If I have no tomorrow – actually, not theoretically – psychologically, inwardly there is no tomorrow, and therefore my action must be complete now, whatever I do. So I have to enquire, haven’t I, because I have nobody I can turn to. They have all failed me. I am not cynical, nor bitter, nor afraid.

So, I ask myself: is it possible to so live, so utterly, completely, totally in the now that whatever I do, not based on some formula or some memory, a remembrance of things past, whatever I do now will be total, complete, non-fragmentary, harmonious? And that is only possible, isn’t it, to understand the totality of the now, I must understand this whole structure of the past. We are the past. We are never the present. We are the result of a thousand years of the past, the thousand experiences, memories. And with those memories, experiences, knowledge, we live in the present. And obviously, where there is the past working through the present there must be the future – future hope, future this and future that. So to live so completely, so utterly in the present, there must be an understanding of the past and ending the past. And therefore action is not shaped by time.

Is this all becoming rather too difficult or abstract? Well, we’ll see as we go along.

The past is the memory, the experience, the knowledge. Not the technological and all that side – we’re not always... we don’t have to bring all that in. The past is me, with my memories, memories, remembrances of pleasure, pain, the insults, the flatteries, the aching sorrows, the confusion. That, meeting the present, which is the challenge, which is always new, is translating what is new into the old. So I never... so the mind never meets the present. Which again is an obvious fact. When you say, ‘I know somebody,’ you really don’t know that somebody – you know what he has been five years ago, ten years ago, or yesterday. But in the meantime that person might have changed and you might have changed. So, one asks: is it possible to be totally free of the past – the memory, the experience, the hatreds, the pride, the regrets, the aching fears, and so on – the past? The photo that I was, the image which I have built about myself out of the past – can there be an ending to all that? Or otherwise I cannot possibly live in the present and therefore act truly.

Action is always an active movement. It is in the active present, otherwise it is not action. What has been is not action, or what will be is not action. Action is only in the present, the doing. And to come to that point, the worship of a day, not of the yesterday or of tomorrow, can the mind, which is the result of time, the past, which has projected what should be , the ideal, therefore the future, the tomorrow – I shall be something, or I shall not be something – and therefore in it the seed of fear, can the past come to an end so that the mind is fresh, young, innocent, vulnerable? Otherwise action is fragmentary and therefore breeding pain, sorrow and fear. Right? Is the question clear, the problem, I hope, clearly put? Because if we don’t understand the problem, look at it very clearly, we shall look for an answer outside the problem. But the answer is in the problem not outside it. So it is important to look at the problem very clearly, because out of that clarity of perception of the problem, you will find there is no problem at all. This is not rhetorical or poetical.

So the mind, which is thought, is the past. Thought is always old. There can be no thought... new thought. There can be no freedom in thought because thought is the response of the whole structure of the past, conscious as well as the unconscious. And nobody on earth or in heaven can free the mind of the past, except the mind itself – not another’s mind. Right? You understand the problem? Action broken up into the past, the present and the future is a fragmentary action, a dualistic action, an opposing action. And therefore in that there’s contradiction, and that contradiction is conflict. And if a mind wants to understand and go beyond this contradiction in action, it has to enquire freely – not according to any guru, all those rubbish – enquire freely whether the mind can be free of time, of the bondage of time. Which is the memory, the remembrances of yesterday as pleasure and pain, and the looking forward to pleasure and pain of tomorrow. And therefore in this divided, fragmentary action there is confusion, misery. So one asks whether it is possible to think about – not think, because you can’t think freshly – to look at all this totally differently, not gradually but immediately.

What is the mind to do except to think? Think very cleverly, rationalize or quote somebody, or compare, measure, judge, evaluate, discern, distinguish the true and the false, which are all the process of thought. And thought is the past, not only the response of the past, but thought is the past. And as long as thought operates in action, action must be fragmentary and therefore of the past, and therefore of confusion. Right? So, again, one asks: can the mind be free of thought? This is not such a crazy question as you think it is, or a neurotic question, it’s a valid question, a rational, logical question.

Thought, knowledge, must function at a certain level. Technologically, a mind that is like a computer, but it’s not so good as a computer, there it must function precisely, clearly, objectively, unemotionally. But when we are enquiring into action – and action is only in the present not in the future – and can the mind live so completely in the present? And we don’t know what it means. Don’t imagine what it is or speculate what it is. We don’t know what it means to live so completely, wholly in the present. And it is only then there is a non-fragmentary action. And to do that, not only there must be freedom from the past, which is fairly simple at the conscious level, but at the deeper recesses of the mind, where all the past is hidden, where our temperaments are, prejudices, motives, drives, racial inheritance, and so on, all that messy stuff – can the mind be free of all that? If it is not then we must everlastingly live in conflict, everlastingly struggle in this fragmentary state.

So can the mind – to put it very briefly – can the mind be completely and totally silent, and out of that silence act? Not out of knowledge, out of experience, because experience is the most deadly thing. Experience is something that you go through, not hold on to. It’s finished, it’s over. But you live... if you live in the past of an experience then your life is a dead life. So the question is, seeing all this intricate construction of thought, which is really meditation, can the mind become completely silent? Not enforced, not taken some chemical result, but understanding, observing this whole structure of thought, and therefore thought itself becomes quiet. And out of that there is action which is complete, immediate, free.

Questioner: It seems to me that to get rid of all these divisions and the past and these images, that you have to either destroy or render powerless the ego. And the ego, it seems to me, its whole purpose is to exist and to enhance itself. So what is going to motivate the ego to stand by and allow itself to be...

Krishnamurti: Destroyed.

Questioner: ...destroyed?

Krishnamurti: Have I to repeat that question? Yes, all right. The ego, the questioner says, is so strong. It thrives on its own activity. Will it allow itself to be destroyed.

What do you think, sirs?

We are selfish human beings, vain, ambitious, violent human beings – that is the very nature of the ego, plus more. And can that ego submit itself to be destroyed? By whom? By society? And society is destroying it, only building it in a different way. The Church? Your wife, your husband? Will anybody destroy it? Will circumstances destroy it? They have tried that too. The communists have tried that, they said the State is important, not you. The religions have tried that too – you are not important, God is important, forget yourself. The family also has said to you: the family is much more important than you. And yet it has not been destroyed, though this thing has been repeated over and over again the last ten thousand years. So who is going to destroy it, or undo it or tear it to pieces? Thought? Thought, which has put it together. Thought, in its conflict between what is and what should be , this interval, this time-lag, in that thought has bred the ego. So will time dissolve it? Time being not chronological time but psychological time – many days working at it, wearing it down, controlling it, twisting its tail, pushing it around, subjugating it, beating it – I must, I must not, it must be different – determination, will – will all that change it? Because the ego is the result of all that. So nothing can destroy it. Right?

Wait, sir, look at it, go step by step. If no outside agency can destroy it – and no outside agency can ever destroy it – it’ll come up in another way. Right? You have a thousand examples of that coming. So no outside agency – guru, the master, the saviour, the Church, the State, the commissar, the policeman – nobody. They can twist, they can shape, reshape it, but it is always there. And one sees how it has come into being, by the society, the culture in which I live, and that society, that culture is part of me, which I have created. So what will put an end to this circus? Will will not do it – which is suppression, control, drilling, making it conform, imitate. Will will not do it, circumstances will not do it, a new motive invented by thought obviously cannot do it, a reward, punishment, that will not do it. So, when you see all this, that nothing outside, or your own will, will never end this, when you understand it, not logically – logically is necessary – but much more than logically, actually feel it, taste it, smell it, that nothing on earth can end it. And see the stupidity of it, that thought cannot put an end to itself. So when thought realizes this, when thought realizes that it produces its own fear, its own misery, its own conflict, its own pain and pleasure, then thought becomes quiet. Then there is the ending of the ego when thought is completely quiet.

Questioner: As we more and more seriously understand the world around us, is there room for laughter?

Krishnamurti: Is there room for laughter when we understand the world around us. [Laughs] [Laughter]

Questioner: Thank you. [Laughter]

Krishnamurti: You know, there is a story: A teacher every morning used to give a sermon to his disciples, and one morning as he was just about to begin, a bird comes and sits on the window, and everybody listens quietly. And the bird flies away and so the teacher says, ‘For this morning the sermon is over.’ Right? [Laughs]

Questioner: When you speak about memory being at different levels, is there really any difference between technological memory and other memory?

Krishnamurti: All memory is memory, but technological memory is necessary otherwise you can’t go to your house. But memory in action, that’s what we are discussing for the time being – memory as an idea of what should be done because I have suffered in doing the wrong thing, therefore I want to do the right thing, the right thing being the ideological state – and I’m back again. So, memory is essential, and memory at a deeper level is detrimental.

Yes, sir?

Questioner: Living in the now, how can you submit to a contract, which is a promise for the future? Living in the now, as you say, it seems to me there is a conflict between living always in the now...

Krishnamurti: I didn’t say always. Living in the now implies certain things. Living totally in the present, one has to understand the content of the past. The content is the past. One has to understand that. And therefore there is no contradiction, living in the present, contradiction between the past and the future. Have I understood your question, sir?

Questioner: He says: If you repudiate the future, how can you commit yourself to some future action. In life we have to take commitments for the future.

Krishnamurti: Ah, I see.

Questioner: We have responsibilities, commitments and contracts.

Krishnamurti: Oh, you have contracts with the future. Have you?

Questioner: Yes.

Krishnamurti: Really, have you?

Questioner: Examinations.

Krishnamurti: Examinations? Responsibility?

Questioner: I have said so.

Krishnamurti: Yes, sir. Responsibility for my parents, responsibility for my wife – is that it? I have committed myself to the family, to the children, to the wife, to the husband. And being committed, in that commitment there is the future, tomorrow. Right?

Questioner: Right.

Krishnamurti: Does love contain responsibility? When I’m thinking about responsibility, do I love? I may insure my life, or whatever you do – I haven’t because I’m quite different. If I insure my life for my future wife... for my... [laughter] for my wife, it’s the responsibility that I have to undertake living in this monstrous society. And that is the concern with the future. But when I say, ‘I’m responsible for the family’ – economically I understand, but otherwise, ‘I’m responsible’ – does one ever say that if one loves? Duty, responsibility. Has love a future?

Questioner: No, I’m afraid this wasn’t what my question was concerned with. It was more a business contract sort of thing.

Questioner: Material contracts.

Krishnamurti: We’ve answered that question haven’t we? Material contract. You engage me as a professor – I hope you don’t – for the next five years and I sign a contract. Obviously if I have signed it, I have to stick to it. It’s a bargain. I have a certain capacity which you hire. But do you hire the responsibility in family? Has love a future? Is love of the past? If you are thinking about the past, enjoyment or pain, is that love? Or if you’re afraid of tomorrow and say, ‘I will love tomorrow,’ is that love? Is love of time? Is love to be cultivated, and therefore of time? Or is love something totally different, at a different dimension altogether, which has nothing whatsoever to do with contracts, with responsibility, with duty? Either you love or you don’t love, and all the circus round it has no meaning.

Oui, madame?

Questioner: Is there anything such as not loving? Is not love the ideal that can be worked towards? Is there such a thing as not loving?

Krishnamurti: Is love an ideal. My lordy.

Questioner: Is it the ideal?

Krishnamurti: Is it the ideal. The very thing which we have been saying all through this hour. Ideals are idiotic – full stop. Love is not an ideal – my God! What has happened to us?

Questioner: Continuing the vein of the two questions before the last one, it seems to me that still there is here a certain gap, certain dichotomy between the technological world, which you call in quotation marks ‘technological’ but you mean something more than this.

Krishnamurti: Of course, sir.

Questioner: And there’s the real world.

Krishnamurti: No, I don’t... It is not a dichotomy. I mustn’t use that word dichotomy , that’s too difficult a word.

Questioner: Let me ask this: Where is the border? Do you lead part of life, the business life...

Krishnamurti: Sir, that’s what I was going to, if you’ll...

Questioner: The study life, the examination life and so on, in one part of your being.

Krishnamurti: Quite right, sir. Really there is no such division. It’s only a division for convenience. Life is a movement, isn’t it? Movement in the technological world, with all its implication, and also, not away from it, a movement of confusion, struggle, all that. It’s a tide that... like a tide that goes out and comes in. The going out is not different from the coming in – it’s one unitary movement, and we divide it merely for sake of communication. If I am technologically involved then I divide life as the technological and the family, the social, the other. But if we treat the whole thing as a whole, the technological as well as the other, then we have to ask – that’s the whole point – what action is. Which is not technological at one level, at another level non-technological.

Yes, sir?

Questioner: What is the relationship between right action and right occupation?

Krishnamurti: What is the difference between right occupation and right action. Is there a difference, or are both the same? A soldier, an officer in the army, is it his right occupation? You find it out, sir.


Questioner: I’m still not sure I accept your definition of life as movement, because machines have movement.

Krishnamurti: Ah, no, please.

Questioner: But life for me would be... a more correct, precise definition would be imminent activity, activity or movement that starts within and ends within the being, the person.

Krishnamurti: No, madame. Will you, please, forgive me if I used the word movement? I meant it non-mechanically. I mean, movement is... most of our life is mechanical. I function according to some pattern, some memory.

Questioner: I’m not questioning the movement part but it’s the starting and the end. I can go and turn the machine on and that would be an action of movement, but some outside agency would have to start it. Therefore, for me, life is imminent activity.

Krishnamurti: But that’s what we are trying to say. It’s not for you or for me as an idea, but we were saying that, madame, we were saying: movement, non-mechanical. We said action is now. All that we explained just now.

Yes, sir?

Questioner: [Inaudible] mentioned meditation... [inaudible]

Questioner: You said you’d go into meditation. Would you, please.

Krishnamurti: Sir, shall we do it together? I don’t lead you to meditation but we’ll find out what it is together. I don’t give you a pill or a mantra or some kind of trick for you to meditate and transcend and God knows what else.

First of all, sir, what do you know about it?

Questioner: What do I know about it?

Krishnamurti: Yes, I’m just asking. It’s not a rhetorical question. What do you know about meditation?

Questioner: I know of various different disciplines.

Krishnamurti: Ah, you know various disciplines.

Questioner: I think I also understand the mind and the state that you were describing in recognizing the present as action, as an action being never from the past or the future.

Krishnamurti: No, sir, do you know what it means? Or have you learned from others, from books, what you have been told, how you must meditate, breathe, sit, repeat?

Questioner: Both.

Krishnamurti: So you really don’t know. You only know what people have told you.

Questioner: I feel I know both.

Krishnamurti: What people have said…

Questioner: I personally believe that I do know about my mind.

Krishnamurti: No, no, sir, sir, if you’ll forgive me, I’m asking – this is not a personal enquiry, sir, this is not personal – I am asking: do you know what meditation means, for yourself not according to somebody else? Because, as we said, I distrust everybody about all these matters. They may be totally wrong – from the highest authority, the Buddha – they might be totally wrong, because their disciples have interpreted it and so on – I won’t accept because I don’t read any of it. Therefore I say: what is meditation you’re all talking about? Do you know what it means? Or do you know according to somebody, and you may think that you are meditating on your own, which is not part of somebody else’s. So could we start as though we know nothing about it? Which would be the only right enquiry, wouldn’t it? If I say I know what meditation is, how do you know what I know? How do you know that I have... what it means? Because you like my face or my gesture or because I promise you something? So if you distrust, doubt, then we can both start together to find out what it is. Right? Could we do that? Shall we do that? He seems rather doubtful about all this. [Laughs]

I know nothing about meditation but I want to understand the misery and the confusion and the agony I live in. Right? That’s all I know – my fears, anxieties, guilt, and the enormity of... the burden of time. That’s all I know. And from there I start. Not over there in some distant nirvana or in some heaven. I start from there. I see that a mind, confused, in sorrow, cannot possibly go beyond itself unless it is free from that. Right? Unless the mind is free from sorrow there is no possibility of going, looking beyond. So can sorrow end? Do you understand, sir? Or are you bored with this?

Questioner: No.

Krishnamurti: I don’t know – the gentleman asked a question, he may be bored.

Questioner: I asked the question, sir.

Krishnamurti: You are bored?

Questioner: No.

Krishnamurti: Ah, bene, bene.

Can sorrow end? Please see the importance of this. Sorrow with its self-pity, the sorrow – oh, you know what sorrow is – the ache of loneliness, the sense of frustration, immaturity, ignorance – not ignorance of books, knowledge – ignorance, not knowing oneself, sorrow at the loss of somebody whom you love, death. And unless that ends, the mind is clouded, cannot see clearly. Do what it will, it can invent all kinds of things, but unless the mind is free from sorrow there is no light. And the ending of sorrow is the beginning of wisdom, which is meditation. Right?

Let me finish this question, please.

The ending of sorrow is meditation, therefore meditation is wisdom. And the ending of sorrow is the beginning of understanding of oneself. To understand oneself, which is a very complex, extraordinarily subtle thing, there must be a mind that is free to look, to observe and be in a state of meditation, which is observation. And to observe there must be freedom, freedom from condemnation, justification, all the rest of it.

So here I am in sorrow. You know what that means, sir, to be in sorrow? Not only the sorrow of oneself, of one’s own loss, but the sorrow of the world, the terrible mess, the agony, the wars, the social injustice of it all – the sorrow of it. And the sorrow, the human sorrow, individual sorrow – my son dies, my wife leaves me, I am lonely, isolated, neurotic, holding on to some ugly idea or beautiful idea, attached, aching – they’re all... that is the agony of sorrow. And in that I have to go very deep, the mind has to enter into it, understand it, come into contact with it directly, not through words. To do that there must be no escape. And the word is not the thing, the description is not the described.

So in understanding sorrow there is an understanding of oneself. And that is the beginning of meditation. And it is only through meditation that sorrow ends. Not through books, not through outside agency, not through an idea called God, but the ending of sorrow is the ending of the observer, the censor. For then there is only perception. That is part of this vast thing called meditation. Then if you do that you can go into great ecstasy, which is not pleasure, in meditation. Which means the mind becomes very still, silent – not made silent through ugly discipline – becomes completely quiet, the brain-cells themselves, brain cells which hold memories, brain cells which have been conditioned to certain responses. The old brain, that becomes quiet, and the new brain, which is still in the part of the whole structure of the stuff inside, all that becomes extraordinarily quiet – non-chemically, through no trick. And it is when it is silent totally, completely, then there is a totally different movement, a dimension that cannot possibly be described.

Questioner: As the mind discards the outside agencies, the books and the theologies and the philosophies and so on, and focuses more and more on inner enquiry...

Krishnamurti: That’s right, sir.

Questioner: ...still there are stages in which one doubts one’s own mind.

Krishnamurti: One must.

Questioner: But one doubts. And how does one know that the mind is not playing tricks?

Krishnamurti: When there is no desire to achieve anything. When there is no desire to achieve anything, to become something, to reach a level – nothing – when the mind, sir, is totally empty. When it is totally empty, it is totally positive, active.

Questioner: Is that not an ideal?

Krishnamurti: Oh! [Laughter] Sorry, I didn’t mean that. It is not an ideal, please.

Questioner: I realize that, but you can know when your mind is thinking, you can know when there’s thought there, you can know that it should not be there.

Krishnamurti: Ah, the ‘should not’!

Questioner: I know, I know. I’m having trouble with that.

Krishnamurti: No, sir, madame, this is not... I can’t go into it now because I’ve talked an hour and a half nearly. What matters is what is not what should be. The what is is the only truth; what should be is a myth. If you understand what is then you’re free of what is.

Fourth Discussion with Students at Claremont Colleges

Thursday, November 14, 1968

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