Think On These Things
Is your life one big struggle to succeed? Are you afraid of being ordinary? If these questions just about sum you up, take a brief holiday from your striving and read Think On These Things. Probably Krishnamurti's most practical work, it arose out of question and answer sessions with Indian school students, but has touched hearts and minds universally.
He teaches these students that the real purpose of education is not to prepare us for getting a job, but to 'help us understand the whole process of life'. Education is about how to love, how to live simply, how to free one's mind from prejudice, superstition and fear. Without this knowledge we will walk through life in an almost mechanical way instead of the truly creative person we could be. "If the mind does not penetrate beyond its own barriers", Krishnamurti states, "there is misery."
Through its inescapable logic, Think On These Things shatters our belief in the salvation of celebrity, money and success, demonstrating that desire for these things leads only to sorrow. Everyone now wants to be 'someone', but Krishnamurti shows how this urge paradoxically churns out mediocre people.
Ambition and success
Krishnamurti expounds at length on the subject of worldly success. Our culture glorifies ambition and achievement, and consequently we feel we must ever be striving for some goal. But he suggests that the desire to become something always ends in disappointment or emptiness. It is not an intelligent way to live because it means you are always unhappy with the present, captured by envy and endless unsatisfied desires. Krishnamurti's statement, "We all want to be famous people - and the moment we want to be something, we are no longer free", is the opposite of what you will see in a motivational book, but Krishnamurti's comment rings true.
Ambition requires us to live constantly in the future, a future that, if it does arrive, may still leave us empty. But a vocation means we can enjoy our work detached from the anxiety of achieving certain results. Nothing lasts forever, anyway, so the world is much better served by people who work without the ugliness of desire for gain. At present we have a culture built on competition, but doing work that is unique to you makes competing meaningless. Competition is only necessary when we are all aiming for a single prize, but each person must realize that the treasure is not 'out there' but to be found within our own abilities and interests. This is intelligence.
The myth of security
We want to make life permanent, but in doing so we go against nature, and there lies our pain. Only the mind which is always moving, without resting places and fixed ideas, can be in tune with life and therefore joyful. Human beings, Krishamurti says, ".dig a little pool for themselves away from the swift current of life, and in that little pool they stagnate, die; and this stagnation, this decay we call existence."
Harsh words, but could it be true that the life we make for ourselves, a little pool of family, work, fears, ambition, religion and so on, is an attempt to avoid experiencing larger reality? The more we believe that this place beside the river of life is secure, the less we are aware of the real nature of life - constant change. We cling to the known, Krishnamurti says, but in this clinging we become a person of fear. All this does not mean we have to give up the external circumstances of our life, but simply to appreciate that we have created merely a representation of life that suits us. The object of living is to find truth, and if we are not actively engaged in trying to get closer to the heart of things, then we are quickly dying.
The mind can never solve problems when it is occupied with them. "It is only the unoccupied mind that can be fresh to understand a problem", states Krishnamurti. If you can create a space between your thoughts, you will regain a freshness and creativity that the normal mind, weighed down with one thought and worry after another, can ever experience.
If the mind that has got us into the current mess is employed to solve it, the solution will not be very good. But in closing off that mind, elegant solutions will appear. We think of the mind as being everything, but it is not. Enrich your life by tapping into the vast intelligence of the universe that exists beyond your brain. Paradoxically, by stopping the incessant chatter of the mind, we also gain self-knowledge. Thus not 'thinking' is the highest form of intelligence, if it is done with purpose.
The creative person
Most of us live as mere technicians, Krishnamurti notes. We study mechanically and pass exams, get jobs - we learn the techniques to succeed in this society. But if we don't pay attention to the real stuff, beauty, love, peace - then we will live in what seems like a hard, fragmented world. So we have the choice of being either a technician, or a creator; to be less or more human. The author says: "You can be creative only when there is abandonment - which means, really, when there is no sense of compulsion, no fear of not being, of not gaining, of not arriving."
There is a kind of technical confidence which a person acquires who has learnt how society works and has 'done well'. This leads to arrogance. But there is another type of confidence that comes from thinking outside the system. This confidence is more innocent. If you don't have it, Krishnamurti says, "you are going to be absorbed by the collective and lost in mediocrity". So try at all costs to remain yourself, and you will know true creativity that is not shaped by what is what is socially accepted or fashionable. A technician can produce 'outcomes', but a creator, by the very nature of their being and their focus on what is important, improves the world around them.
Happiness and love
At root, unhappiness comes from a lack of love, or the distance between ourselves and others. This distance is created by our judgments and criticisms. It is difficult to really love if you are thinking about yourself and of your goals; to others, this seems shallow. But the striver will say, love is fine, but it is a nice dream - meantime I must get on in the world. Krishnamurti counters that "Love is the most practical thing in the world." The ambitious seek power, and in their quest are blind to the fact that love is the greatest power known to man. Great love is great intelligence, because it recognizes that ultimately love is the only thing that matters.
Years before it became fashionable to exhort people to do what they love doing, instead of doing a job for security's sake, Krishnamurti was saying it. He also understood our celebrity culture in which everyone wants to be someone else, to be famous, and the resulting misery it causes.
Think On These Things is hardly about spirituality as we conventionally understand it, but an opening up of the mind. It is about being intelligent, though not in the ways we normally think of intelligence. Everyone assumes that they are free-thinking, spirited individuals, when often nothing could be further from the truth.
This book gets you to ask yourself: am I just a technician of life, or a real creator?
Source: Tom Butler-Bowdon 50 Spiritual Classics: 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment and Purpose (London & Boston: Nicholas Brealey)
"Rain on dry land is an extraordinary thing, is it not? It washes the leaves clean, the earth is refreshed. And I think we all ought to wash our minds completely clean, as the trees are washed by the rain, because they are so heavily laden with the dust of many centuries, the dust of what we call knowledge, experience. If you and I would cleanse the mind every day, free it of yesterday's reminiscences, each one of us would then have a fresh mind, a mind capable of dealing with the many problems of existence."
Born in Madras (Chennai) in 1895, the son of Brahmin parents, Krishnamurti's father worked at the Theosophical Society's base in Adyar. At 15 he was noticed by Theosophist leader Annie Besant and her associate CW Leadbeater for apparently having a remarkable 'aura'. They formally adopted him and he was taken to England to be educated. Held up to be a 'World Teacher', in 1911 the Order of the Star in the East was formed around him.In 1929, Krishnamurti announced that he was no Messiah, or even a guru, and parted company with his protectors and the Theosophy movement. He began a life of traveling and speaking, and became known for a philosophy of the independent mind and wariness of set beliefs. The author died in 1985, and the Krishnamurti Foundation continues to make his writings available.
© COPYRIGHT TOM BUTLER-BOWDON, 2022
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