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Jiddu Krishnamurti’s philosophy cannot be separated from religious intuition. Like Theosophy, it emphasizes intuition and revelation and derives from the Hinduism of India, in which the human and the divine are realized as one through reincarnation, transmigration, and karma: Each person struggles to achieve wisdom and self-liberation in Nirvana. Krishnamurti retains the substance of both Theosophy and Hinduism, but he rejects the forms and names, even as he rejects any organized religion or body of beliefs.
The book is a collection of Krishnamurti’s discussions with students, teachers, and parents in India. There are twenty-seven chapters, each of which opens with Krishnamurti’s exposition of a main theme, followed by his answers to questions posed by his listeners.
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The first is a discussion of education as preparation to understand life as a whole experience. Even ambition can interfere with freedom, because it limits energies and interferes with unbiased attention to reality. People so inhibited must revolt against everything, including society, religion, and tradition. Chapter 2 examines the problem of freedom as caused by wishing to become something. It can be solved only when education begins at childhood to cultivate the self free of goals set by others. Freedom is restricted by all institutions, including education, because it is limited by claims of absolute belief and needs to pursue knowledge.
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Next, freedom requires love. There can be no dependence of any kind, including dependence on family or nation. Love can itself be misleading and a dependence, so long as it causes a wish for something in return. Listening carefully is the theme of the fourth session. If happiness is to be possible, a person must learn to listen well. The mind is like a river. One must watch it flow past in its restlessness. It is important to distinguish the discontent of this restlessness from the discontent of struggles to succeed at becoming something in the world. Discontent can be creative or destructive. The creative kind emanates from the mind which observes itself as it is, rather than observing the world as a goal for measuring success.
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It is extraordinarily difficult to grasp the whole of life, which is the subject of the sixth discourse. The mind has to get outside the limits placed on its energies by a selfish society and history. Individuals prepared by education as a training for a job will never conceive the wholeness of their lives; a single spoke in a wheel cannot conceive of the rim and the hub that lie beyond it. The person who wants to revolutionize the world must first get rid of the wish to revolutionize, because that is to set a goal and is a symptom of ego. Failure to do so leads to opposition and destructive competition. Conflict always issues from such desires and pursuits. Competition breeds chaos and violence. To prevent that from occurring, ambition must be dissolved by love. The eighth chapter examines orderly thinking, which seems necessary for learning. However, the very effort to be orderly is pernicious and undermines genuine learning, because it eliminates so much of reality, setting limits on the mind. When loving minds are open to all experience, the world is created anew as a whole, self-affirming process.
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The crucial importance of an open mind is the subject of the next talk. Most people consider thinking to be a matter of calling upon memory, but that is wrong. Real thinking is a matter of current attention to what actually exists. Memory is a weight that interferes with real thinking. Clear attention requires removal of prejudices of all kinds, since they screen and filter experience in such a way as to reduce reality. The truly open mind will be simple and austere in its repose. Simplicity is an attribute of inward beauty because it indicates the abandonment of acquisitiveness and selfishness. It comes to the mind through love for all things of the world.
Tradition presses for conformity; truth cries out for revolt. In the eleventh chapter, revolution is emphasized as most fit for a free and open mind. Not only must the mind revolt against the patterns within society, but it must also revolt against all of society itself. The mind is like a prisoner who can revolt to demand improved conditions within the prison and still be a prisoner, or revolt to escape from the prison itself. It is only outside the walls of society’s prison that genuine freedom can be found. This freedom comes to innocence. Thus, the next section probes the actual achievements promoted by Krishnamurti. The innocence here is a quality of openness and tolerance, rather than a matter of obedience to morals or laws.
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Free of the walls and open to God as Truth, the mind affirms equality. This occurs because no one is superior to any other when everyone drops ambition for success. Schools ought to create an atmosphere in which this happens, where each person feels confident in his or her own innocence of purpose. The thirteenth chapter indicates the paradoxical truth that equality is possible only when all are free, and freedom exists only when all are equal. Individuals enjoy freedom and equality when they break free of traditions imposed on them by conventional education. The fourteenth chapter examines a matter often associated with successful learning: self-discipline. This subjection to rigor of thought is rejected as a dulling process in which the sharp mind is ground down to accept conformity. If integration occurs, no discipline is needed, because integration is the totality of being in all its dimensions.
Any form of inducement discourages freedom and equality. Even the inducement to reward will be detrimental. The fifteenth talk explores the nature of cooperation and sharing as products of freedom and equality. An agreement on a common goal is an inducement, and so it also subverts genuine freedom. If the goal or the plan is more important than the process of cooperation, there is no freedom; when the goal dissolves or the idea evaporates, so will the freedom and the cooperation. The joy of doing something together is the only reliable measure, and it can occur only when there is no hope of reward or fear of punishment for failure. The next discussion turns around the idea of renewal. It begins with a question about the signs of deterioration in all things of the world, including the body but also the mind; minds deteriorate because they have been made heavy and dull by the weight of history and tradition.
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Chapter 17 employs a favorite image to make its point: Life in its flow and process is like the movement of a river, wide and deep. To this may be compared a pool that is stagnant and heavy with scum. This contrast is used to compare the lives of individuals, most of whom stagnate in their pools of habit and decay. To escape, they must break through barricades and free their life force to flow into and with the great river. The barricades are such things as family, ambition, gods, and fear of death. The next discussion describes a free mind as an attentive one. The practice of attention is not easy, because it requires notice of the gaps in, as well as the facts of, existence. One must observe absence as well as presence, nothing as well as something. Distinction is required between an act of attention that narrows and one that widens the mind.
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Barricades to mental freedom examined in chapter 19 are knowledge and tradition. There is a kind of knowledge that is more hindering than helpful to understanding: the knowledge taught as beliefs and ideals that divide rather than unite people. Such knowledge is destructive because it prevents the discovery of truth and God, who is all of being and reality. To overcome this kind of knowledge requires an attention that is sensitive to everything, including even unconscious processes of the mind itself. Drawing on previous discussions of inward beauty, the next chapter examines what it means to be religious. Krishnamurti’s answer is that a religious person is one who is sensitive to reality. This reality, in all its details, is a totality that includes forms of ugliness as well as beauty. The mind that loves is the mind sensitive to all reality.
Because opening the mind is learning, there is a question about the purpose of this learning. The simple answer is that understanding truth and God is the purpose of learning. Concentration without tension and attention without elimination are attributes of the learning that is open to the truth of what is, rather than what might be or should be. Chapter 21 compares love, like life, to the flow of a river, and so again the point is made that a free mind is a loving mind and a flowing process. Love unites the perceiver with the perceived, the thinker with the thought, and in that unity is creative stillness.
The discussion in chapter 23 deals with a particularly difficult notion: that people need to be alone even though they are constantly seeking diversions that take them away from themselves. Because people are empty and dull, they cannot endure being alone with themselves. They need to fill this emptiness of boredom. The attentive mind, loving as it does, will not be aware of boredom because it is that to which it attends: It is the same as the object of its observation. The subject is the object, and so there can be no feeling of loneliness or boredom. A discussion of the energy of life follows. In this, Krishnamurti cautions against using discipline to learn, because it can destroy the energy required for genuine learning. Teachers and education can destroy learning when they compel the young to curtail their energies in efforts of memory and habits of belief handed down by tradition and history. When love is missing from learning, lost in gadgets and deadened by memory, that learning languishes and dies.
The mind energized by love to identify with the object of its learning is one capable of living effortlessly. Krishnamurti describes a scene in which a boat glides along a river with the work done by the wind. This is a picture of the kind of mind that can be attained and that can revolutionize reality. It must come as a consequence of simple attention to the mind itself. When that happens, the mind ceases to struggle, and, without surprise, the subject of the mind is lost in the object of the mind. With all his talk of mind, Krishnamurti stresses, ironically, in chapter 26, that the mind is not everything. The discussion turns around the problems that technology poses for genuine learning, because technology is a production of abstract reasoning, or mind as separate from heart. Krishnamurti says that this is a matter of filling the heart with things of the mind, and it must be reversed for world revolution to occur.
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The final chapter is a conclusive discussion that learning is seeking God because God is truth. Education should prepare students for this learning, not dissipate their energies and distract them with pressures to conform to political and religious ideals, to train for jobs, and to bend to the dehumanizing and divisive pressures of societies and nations. The revolution for which Krishnamurti calls is like the ever-widening circle of energy caused by a pebble thrown in the lake of life.
Think on These Things is a collection of discussions that Krishnamurti repeated many times in many places to many different audiences. It looks back on decades of his thinking and anticipates still more years of similar thoughts. It nevertheless had a unique impact on people living in the time of its original publication in 1964, the height of the Cold War and fear of nuclear holocaust. The yearning of people for peace and quiet was nourished by Krishnamurti’s wisdom, and the perplexity of new discoveries in quantum physics was relieved by reflective observations that the behavior of atomic particles could be reconciled with the behavior of human observers.
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Blau, Evelyne. Krishnamurti: 100 Years. New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 1995. A stirring assortment of recollections, writings, and photos published as a tribute to denote the centennial of Krishnamurti’s birth.
Chandmal, Asit. One Thousand Suns: Krishnamurti at Eighty-five and the Last Walk. New York: Aperture, 1995. A becoming tribute to Krishnamurti’s life and work.
Huxley, Aldous. Foreword to The First and Last Freedom. New York: Harper, 1954. The main theme of Jiddu Krishnamurti is that hope lives in individuals, not in societies. Huxley met and often spoke with Krishnamurti, near whom he lived in California. Both men were critical of organized religion, national politics, and technology for suppressing and discouraging free thought and full human development.
Jayakar, Pupul. Krishnamurti: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1986. An appreciation of the man and his ideas, this biography lacks a larger vision of the evolving context for Krishnamurti’s development in a rapidly changing world. The significance of Krishnamurti to Indian and Eastern cultures, however, is evident.
Krishnamurti, J. Limits of Thought: Discussions Between J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm. New York: Routledge, 1998. In this book Bohm and Krishnamurti survey human nature and an individual’s relationship to society, yielding insights on cosmic order, death, and human thought.
Lutyens, Mary. Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfillment. London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. The second volume in Lutyens’s biography, this provides a detailed account of Krishnamurti’s activities during the period of his greatest influence. Although there are other volumes, this one is the most focused on the years Krishnamurti’s basic ideas and teachings were formulated.