1934, 1935, What Is Right Action?
7th Public Talk 24th June, 1934
Let us for a moment, imaginatively at least, look over the world from a point of view which will reveal the inner workings and the outer workings of man, his creations and his battles; and if you can do that imaginatively for a moment, what do you see spread before you? You see man imprisoned by innumerable walls, walls of religion, of social, political and national limitations, walls created by his own ambitions, aspirations, fears, hopes, security, prejudices, hate and love. Within these barriers and prisons he is held, limited by the coloured maps of national boundaries, racial antagonisms, class struggles and cultural group distinctions. You see man throughout the world imprisoned, enclosed by the limitations, the walls of his own creation. Through these walls and through these enclosures he is trying to express what he feels and what he thinks, and within these he functions with joy and with sorrow.
So you see man throughout the world as a prisoner, imprisoned within the walls of his own creation, within the walls of his own making; and through these enclosures, through these walls of environment, through the limitation of his ideas, ambitions and aspirations - through these he is trying to function, sometimes successfully, and sometimes with hideous struggle. And the man who succeeds in making himself comfortable in the prison we call successful, whereas the man who succumbs in the prison we call a failure. But both success and failure are within the walls of the prison.
Now when you look at the world in that way you see man in that limitation, in that enclosure. And what is that man, what is that individuality? What is his environment, and what are his actions? That is what I want to talk about this morning.
First of all, what is individuality? When you say, "I am an individual", what do you mean by it? I think you mean by that - without giving subtle philosophical or metaphysical explanations - you mean by individuality, the consciousness of separation, and the expression of that separate consciousness which you call self-expression. That is, individuality is that full recognition, full consciousness of separate thought, separate emotion, limited and held in the bondage of environment; and the expression of that limited thought and of that limited feeling, which are the same essentially, he calls his self-expression. This self-expression of the individual, which is but the consciousness of separation. is either forced and compelled by circumstances to take some particular channel of action; or, in spite of circumstances, expresses intelligence, which is creative living. That is, as an individual he has become conscious of his separative action, is compelled, forced, circumscribed, urged to function along some particular channel which he does not choose at all. Most people are forced into work, activities, vocations for which they are not at all suited. They spend the rest of their existence in battling against these circumstances and so waste all their energies in struggle, pain, suffering, and occasionally in pleasure. Or a man pierces through the limitations of environment because he understands its full significance, and lives intelligently, creatively, whether in the world of art, music, science, or of professions, without the sense of separation through expression.
This expression of creative intelligence is very rare, and though it has the appearance of individuality or separativeness, to me it is not individuality but intelligence. Where there is true intelligence functioning, there is not the consciousness of individuality; but where there is frustration, effort and struggle against circumstances, there is the consciousness of individuality which is not intelligence.
The man who is functioning intelligently and who is therefore free of circumstances we call creative, divine. To a man who is in prison, the liberated man, the intelligent man is as a god. So we need not discuss that man who is free, because we are not concerned with him; the majority of people are not concerned with him, and I am not going to deal with that freedom because liberation, divinity, can be understood, realized, only when you have left the prison. You cannot understand divinity in prison. So it is utterly futile, merely metaphysical or philosophical, to discuss what is liberation, what is divinity, what is God; because what you can now discern as God must be limited, since your mind is circumscribed, held in bondage; therefore I will not describe that.
As long as this spontaneous, intelligent expression which we call life, which is that exquisite reality, is thwarted, there is merely the accentuation of the consciousness of the individual. The more you battle against environment without understanding, the more you struggle against circumstances, the more you become conscious, in that effort, of your limitation.
Please, do not suppose the opposite of that limited consciousness to be complete annihilation, or mechanical functioning, or group activity. I am showing you the cause of individuality, how individuality arises; but with the dissipation, the disappearance of that limited consciousness, it does not follow that you become mechanical, or that there will be a collective functioning through the focus of a single dominating individual. Because intelligence is free of the particular which is the individual, as well as of the collective (for after all, the collective is but the multiplicity of individuals), and there is the disappearance of this limited consciousness which we call individuality, it does not follow that you become mechanical, collective; but rather that there is intelligence, and that intelligence is co-operative, not destructive, not individualistic or collective.
Every man then is thwarted, and conscious of his own separateness he functions and acts in and through environment, battling against it and making colossal efforts to adjust, modify and alter circumstances. Isn't this what you are all doing? You are thwarted in your love, in your vocation, in your actions; and in the struggle against your limitations you become acute in your consciousness, and you begin to modify and alter circumstances, environment. Then what happens? You merely increase the walls of resistance, for modification or alteration is but the result of the lack of understanding; when you understand you don't seek to modify, to alter, to reform.
So in modification, adjustment, alteration, in your efforts to break through the limitations, the walls, there is what you call activity. For the vast majority of people action is nothing but the modification of environment, and this action leads to the enlarging of the walls of prison, or the limitation of environment. If you don't understand something and merely try to modify it, your action must increase the barriers, must build up new sets of barriers; your efforts merely enlarge the prison. And these barriers, these walls man calls environment; and the functioning within them he calls action.
I wonder if I have explained this. Without understanding the significance of environment, man struggles to alter, modify that environment, and thereby but heightens the walls of his prison, though he thinks he has removed them. These walls are environment, ever changing, and action to him is but the modification of this environment.
So there is never a release, never a completeness, a richness in this action; there is but increasing fear, and never fulfillment. The multiplication of problems is the whole process of the existence of the individual, of yourself. You think you have solved one problem, and in its place there grows another, and so you continue to the very end of life, and when there is no problem at all, then you call that death. When there is no possibility of a further problem, naturally that to you is annihilation and death.
And again is not your affection, love, born of fear and hedged about by jealousy, suspicion, and oppressed by possessiveness and sorrow? For this love is born out of the desire to possess, born of insufficiency, born of incompleteness. And thought is merely the reaction to limitation, to environment. Isn't it? When you say, "I think", "I feel", you are reacting to environment and not trying to pierce through that environment. But intelligence is the process of piercing through environment, not the reaction to environment. That is, when you say, "I think", you mean you have certain sets of ideas, beliefs, dogmas and creeds. And as an animal that is tethered to a post wanders within the length of its rope, so you wander within the limitation of these beliefs, dogmas and creeds. Surely that is not thinking. That is merely having reactions to bondage, to beliefs, dogmas and creeds; these reactions produce an effort, a conflict, and that conflict you call thinking, but it is merely like walking round and round within the walls of a prison. Your action is but reaction to this prison, producing further fear, further limitation; isn't that so?
When we talk about action what do we mean? Movement within the limitation of environment, that movement confined to a fixed idea, a fixed prejudice, a fixed belief, dogma or creed; such movement within that limitation you call action. So the more you act, the less intelligent and free you become, because you have always this fixed point of safety, of security, this dogma or creed; and as you begin to act from that, naturally you are only creating further limitations, further walls of restriction. Then your action is not creative, your action is not born of intelligence, which is completeness itself. Therefore there is no joy, no ecstasy, no fullness of life, no love.
So, not having that creative intelligence which is the compre- hension of environment, man begins to play within the walls of his prison, he begins to embellish and decorate the prison and he makes himself comfortable within its walls; and he thinks and hopes to bring beauty into that ugly prison. Therefore he begins to reform, he searches out societies which talk about brotherhood, but which are also within the prison; he tries to become free while remaining possessive. So this beautifying, reforming, playing, seeking comfort within the walls of that prison, he calls living, functioning, acting. And as there is no intelligence, no creative ecstasy of living, he must ever be crushed down by the false structure which he has raised. Thus he begins to resign himself to the prison because he sees he cannot alter, he cannot break down these limitations; because he has not the desire or the intensity of suffering which demands the breaking down of that prison, he resigns himself to it and takes flight into romanticism or escapes through the glorification of his own self. Now this glorification of his own self he calls religion, spiritualism, occultism, either scientific or spurious.
Isn't that what each one does? Please, is this not applicable to you? Don't say this applies to the individual whom we are observing from the top of the world. This individual is yourself, your neighbour, every one of you. So as I talk of these things, don't look at your neighbour or think of some distant friend, which is but an immediate escape. Rather, as I am talking, let the mirror of intelligence be created in front of you, so that you can see the picture of yourself, without a twist, without bias, and with clarity. Out of that clarity will be born action, not lethargic thought or the mere modification of environment.
Again, if you are not imaginative or romantic, if you do not seek what is called God or religion, you create about you a whirlpool of bustle, you become inventors of schemes, you begin to reform your environment, to alter your prison walls, and you increase further the activities in that prison.
You begin, if you are not imaginative or romantic or mystic, to create greater and greater activity within that prison, calling yourselves reformers, and so create greater and greater limitation, restriction and chaos in the prison. Hence you have unnatural divisions called religions and nationalities, caused or created by exploiters and perpetuated for their own profession and benefit.
Now what is religion? What is the function of religion as it is? Don't imagine some marvellous, true and perfect religion; we are discussing what exists, not what should exist. What is this religion to which man has become a slave, to which he has succumbed unintelligently, hopelessly, to be slaughtered on the altar by the exploiter? How has it been created? It is the individual who has created it through the desire for his own security, which naturally creates fear. When you begin the search for your own security through what you call spirituality, which is spurious, you must have fear. When mind seeks security, what does it expect? To be assured of a condition in which it can be at ease, a point of certainty from which it can think and act, and to live perpetually in that condition. But a mind that seeks certainty is never assured. It is the mind that does not seek certainty that can become assured. It is the mind which has no fear, which sees the futility of an aim, of a culmination, of an achievement, that lives intelligently, therefore with surety, and so is immortal.
Thus the search for security must create fear, and from fear is born the desire for creeds and beliefs in order to ward off that fear. With your beliefs, your creeds, dogmas and authorities, you push fear into the background. To ward off fear you seek guides, masters, systems, because you hope that by following them, by obeying them, by imitating them you will have peace, you will have comfort. They are the tricksters who become priests, exploiters, preachers, mediators, swamis and yogis.
Don't nod your head in approval, because you are all in this chaos. You are all caught up in it. You can only nod your head in approval when you are free of it. In listening to me and nodding your head you show mere intellectual approval of an idea which I am expressing. And what value has that?
Where there is the craving for security there must be fear, so mind and heart seek out spiritual trainers to learn from them ways of escape. As in a circus the animals are trained to function for the amusement of spectators, so the individual through fear seeks out these spiritual trainers whom he calls priests and swamis, who are the defenders of spurious spirituality and the inanities of religion. Naturally the function of spiritual trainers is to create amusements for you, and so they invent ceremonies, disciplines and worship; all these pretend to be beautiful in expression, but degenerate into superstition. This is but knavery under the cloak of service.
Discipline is merely a form of adjustment to an environment of a different kind, and yet the battle continues constantly within you even though through discipline you are stifling that creative intelligence. And worship, which in reality is most lovely, which is affection, love itself, becomes objectified, exploited, worthless, without any significance or value.
Naturally out of all this fear is born the search for security, the search for God or truth. Can you ever find God? Can you ever find truth? But truth exists; God is. You cannot find truth, you cannot find God, because your search is but an escape from fear, your search is but a desire for a culmination. Therefore when you seek out God, you are merely seeking a comfortable resting place. Surely that is not God, that is not truth; that is merely a place, an abode of stagnation from which all intelligence is banished, in which all creative life is extinct. To me the very search for God or truth is the very denial of it. The mind that is not seeking a culmination, a goal, an end, shall discover truth. Then divinity is not an externalized, unfulfilled desire, but that intelligence which is itself God, which is beauty, truth, completeness.
As I said, we have created unnatural divisions which we cal] religions and social organizations for human life. After all, these social organizations are essentially based on our needs, our needs of shelter, food and sex. The whole structure of our civilization is based on that. But this structure has become so monstrous, and we have glorified our needs so fearfully that our needs for shelter, food and sex, which are simple, natural and clean, have become complicated and made hideous, cruel, appalling, by this colossal and ever-crumbling structure which we call society, and which man has created.
After all, to discover our needs in their simplicity, in their naturalness, in their cleanliness, in their spontaneity, demands tremendous intelligence. The man who has discovered his needs is no longer caught by environment.
But because there is so much exploitation, so much unintelligence, so much ruthlessness in glorifying these needs, this structure which we call nationalism, economic independence, political and social organizations, class divisions, prestige of peoples and their racial cultures - this structure exists for the exploitation of man by man and leads him to conflict, disharmony, war and destruction. After all, this is the purpose of all class distinctions, this is the function of all nationalities, sovereign governments, racial prejudices, this utter spoilation and exploitation of man by man, leading to war. Now this is how things are, this whole structure, the creation of our human mind which we have individually built up. These monstrous, cruel, appalling social and religious distinctions, dividing, separating, disuniting human beings, have created havoc in the world. You as individuals have created them; they haven't come into being naturally, mysteriously, spontaneously. Some miraculous god has not created them. It is the individual who has created them, and you alone as individuals can destroy them. If we wait for some other monstrous system to come into being to create a new condition for you to live in, then you will become only a slave again to that new condition. In that there can be no intelligence, no spontaneous, creative living.
As an individual you must begin to perceive the true significance of environment, whether it is of the past or of the present, that is, perceive the true significance of continually changing circumstances; and in the perception of that which is true in environment, there must be great conflict. But you do not desire conflict, you want reforms, you want someone to reform the environment. As most people are in conflict and try to escape from that conflict by seeking a solution, which can be but a modification of environment, as most people are caught up in conflict, I say: Become intensely conscious of that conflict, don't try to escape it, don't try to seek out solutions for it. Then in that acuteness of suffering you will discern the true significance of environment. In that clarity of thought there is no deception, no security, no withholding, and no limitation.
This is intelligence, and this intelligence is pure action. When action is born of that intelligence, when action is itself intelligence, then you do not seek that intelligence or buy it through action. There is then completeness, sufficiency, richness, the realization of that eternity which is God. And that completeness, that intelligence prevents forever the creation of barriers and prisons.
1934, 1935, What Is Right Action?
7th Public Talk 24th June, 1934
Jiddu Krishnamurti. What Is Right Action? The collected works of J.Krishnamurti, 1934..1935.