Thanks to prompts from John Graham, Chaitanya Pullela, Paul Heft and Locrian Rhapsody, I have been reading Krishnamurti, and just finished his Freedom from the Known. It’s timely for me, since it’s really about learning to let go and live in the Now, which I’ve been writing about rather obsessively lately. He’s delighfully anti-organized religion and anti-orthodox meditation. Meditation, he says, is the practice of paying complete attention, every moment, to every thing, being aware of every thought and feeling without judgement. To do so, he says, we need to start by understanding ourselves, our alone-ness and our interconnectedness with all-life-on-Earth. And we must appreciate that no one and no system can teach us these things. No one can teach us how to pay complete attention, even though “we all want to be told [what to do], because we are the result of the propaganda of ten thousand years. We want to have our thinking confirmed and corroborated by others.” He offers no prescriptions, just suggestions on what has worked for him, and what not to do. He asks a lot of questions, some rhetorical to nudge your thinking, others genuine to get you started on your own journey to self-understanding and hence to letting go and living in the Now.
We must take personal responsibility for all the suffering on the planet, he insists, before we will act. We must reject all orthodoxy and authority, all the stories we have been told of what to believe and what to do and who we are and our place in the world, things which ‘condition’ us, make us everybody-else. We must let go of all of our beliefs and knowledge and ideas and conceptions and images and hurts and conceits and principles and ideals and intentions and memories and experiences, because these are all fictions that are rooted in the past or future and merely hold us back. Our organism (our intuitive and sensual selves) cannot be separated from our psyche (our intellectual and emotional selves) — and he seems to suggest that it is our psyche, our social self, that must change to reintegrate with our organism, our visceral self. (This of course makes sense to me, after writing about my two ‘selves’ and the conflict between them.) For example, he argues that our name ‘tree’ or ‘oak tree’ comes between ourselves and our ‘seeing’ an actual tree. We can’t see, or be, when our head, and heart, with their representations and stories and conceptions and judgements and reactions, get in the way, between ourselves and ourselves.
Likewise, he asserts, we blame others (through sentences beginning with ‘if’ or ‘because’) for everything that disturbs us, and then we get used to and accept or escape from these things. Until we face these things, he says, we can never be present. To really see, we need to face the full responsibility and emotional impact of these things (let our heart be broken?) Yet paradoxically, we cannot ‘learn’ over time to really see, with our full attention; it is a breakthrough experience, a discovery of who we really are, here, now, that may come suddenly after a day’s or ten years’ meditation/practice, or never at all. This ‘really seeing’, he says, is like another dimension, one in which fear, time, and self-as-other cease to exist.
When we really see, he asserts, we are really free: free from our mental and emotional constructs, from sorrow, from time. Time is nothing but “the interval between idea and action”, so living in the Now, in what others call “Now Time”, is about getting rid of that interval, letting go of our ideas and other time-bound and time-binding constructions. “Sorrow is self-created, by thought, sorrow is the outcome of [non-Now] time.”
He has an interesting take on love which is consistent with polyamory: “To love without hate, without jealousy, without anger, without wanting to interfere with what [the people you love] are doing or thinking, without condemning, without comparing…When there is love there is no duty and no responsibility.” Love is “passion without motive — to come upon love without seeking it is the only way to find it.” We do what we do for who and what we love because that is what love is and does, not out of a sense of obligation.
He’s an adherent to Let-Self-Change: He thinks it is both a sufficient and a necessary condition for making the world a better place that we each learn to live in the Now, at peace with the world, and model that behaviour for others, “a life which is not competitive, ambitious, envious.” A year ago I might have agreed with him, but now I’m not so sure — no matter how much we do to model good behaviour for others, I think we need to work on projects that will alleviate the damage done by others who aren’t so enlightened. He died 23 years ago, so perhaps if he were alive today his views on activism might be different.
I won’t pretend to be able to capture the whole book in a few paragraphs, but that’s what he’s driving at.
As I read, I began to discover that the fears in my own stories about myself (of letting people down, of not being able to cope if I tried to be an activist in a world of horrific suffering, of making the wrong decisions on my own future) all reduce to a fear of disappointing myself. It is my own high idealistic expectations I am afraid I cannot live up to. Krishnamurti argues that fears are rooted in our memories (what has happened before) or our imaginations (what might go wrong), and that these fears exist nowhere but inside of us; they are us. If we can realize this, look these fears right in the face, give them our full attention without judgement, we will realize that we can do nothing about them, and they will disappear. This makes sense, but I confess I’m stuck on this point — I need to meditate on it, I guess.
I also learned when I enumerated the sources of anger in my stories about others and the world (anger at cruelty, at indifference to suffering, at stupidity and ignorance, at aggression, at irrationality, at insensitivity, and at pathological manipulation), and in my stories about myself (at my procrastination) that anger and other violent emotions are a part of me, are me, and that it is pointless to blame others or myself for this anger, or to try to suppress it. Krishnamurti says that facing the fact of these emotions, like facing our fears, is the key to dispelling them. “To live completely in the moment is to live with what is, the actual, without any sense of condemnation or justification — then you understand it so totally that you are finished with it.” Clearly something else I need to meditate on.
He asks a couple of interesting questions later in the book that I’ll leave with you — he doesn’t answer them, and I don’t pretend to know the answers either:
Category: Self-Knowledge and Self-Change