The Observer is the Observed
Madras, India. Public Talk 21st December, 1947
There are so many problems, and especially at this time when there is so much confusion, when each one, each society, each group of people or nation, is seeking security at the expense of others, it seems to me very important to find out how to think rightly as a problem arises, how to confront the problem rightly; what is important is not what we should think about the problem, nor what our attitude should be towards the problem, but how to think about it. We are accustomed to being told what to think, in what manner to approach a problem but we do not know what thinking is. So, it seems to me very important to find out what is right thinking because the various problems that arise, the problems which confront us constantly, demand right thinking.
There is a right solution for each problem but it requires right thinking and not the mere desire to solve the problem. The point is not what to think, but how to think rightly. I would like to discuss this with you if I may, this evening, for there can be right action only if there is right thinking. If we do not know how to think we do not know how to act.
So, what is thinking? I wonder if you have ever asked yourself that question. What is thinking? As I have often said, you don't have to wait for an answer from me but let us think over the problem together because I do not consider this to be a lecture or a talk or a discourse in which you are merely listeners; you are participants in this discussion; let us therefore think together about each problem. So, don't merely wait to hear an answer from me.
What is thinking, what is the process of thinking? As we know it, it is a response to memory, is it not? You have certain memories and they leave certain marks and to this residue you respond. Memory thus is accumulation of the residue of experience. So, thinking, which is the response to memory, is always conditioned and as we know, that is the actual fact, our daily existence. That is, you have an experience and you translate that experience according to previous memories and so the experience, which has been translated, is gathered as memory and according to that memory you respond and this is called thinking. Surely such thinking only strengthens conditioning, which only produces more conflict, more pain and more sorrow.
That is, memory is constantly responding to the residue of experience which we call memory. It is responding to a challenge and this challenge and response to memory we call thinking, because life is a series of challenges and responses and the response is always conditioned by memory and that response to memory we call thinking. But the challenge is always new, it is never the old and our thinking is always old because it is the response of the past. So, believing is not thinking, believing is only conditioned thinking and conditioned experience - I am using the ordinary word conditioning and not the technical one. If you believe in something, you experience it and your experience is conditioned because it is based on a belief which is also conditioned. So belief is not thinking at all, it is only a response to a memory. So, that is what we are doing in our daily life if we examine ourselves. You have the experience which leaves a residue which is memory and according to that memory you think, and that response which we call thinking is always conditioned because belief is always conditioned memory.
So, our thinking, which is the response to a challenge which is ever new, is always conditioned and therefore produces further conflict, further suffering and further pain. This is a fact, this is our daily existence. When we say we are thinking, that is what we mean. But, is that thinking? What then is thinking? When we use the word thinking in our daily life it is thinking based on memory, thinking which is a response and a reaction to memory and that response to memory comes from a challenge. You see a picture, you criticize it according to the background you have. You listen to music and you interpret it according to the traditions and according to the frame of reference you have. If you have had western training in music you will not respond to Indian music.
So, this is what we call thinking, a series of responses to memory and therefore thinking is always conditioned and that is a fact. Now, I ask myself, and I hope you are doing it too, is that thinking? These responses to memory, is that thinking? So, thinking, as we know it, is it really thinking or merely responding to memory and therefore not thinking? What then is thinking? Don't tell me it is response to memory, but what is thinking? Have you ever thought about it? Have you ever sat down and said to yourself what is thinking, what do you mean by thinking? You say ordinarily it is a response to memory. But is that thinking? Surely that is not thinking. So what is thinking?
Now, as it is a new problem, when you are asked a question what is thinking what do you do? It is a new question, a new problem presented to you and how do you respond to it? When you are asked what is thinking, what is your response? You have never thought about it. So, what happens? You are silent, aren't you? Please follow this very carefully. There is a new problem presented to you: what is thinking; and as you have never thought about it and since it is new there is naturally a hesitancy, a sense of quietness and a stillness of observation. Is there not? You are watching, you are not translating, you are very alert and your mind is extremely concentrated if the question is vital and interesting, which it is. If you observe yourself when this question is asked you, you will see that your mind is not asleep, but very alert and very conscious, yet passive. It is waiting to find an answer. Now, that alert yet passive state is surely thinking because that is not conditioned thinking. There is passive, alert awareness, isn't there? Because your mind is very quiet and because it is confronted with a new problem, it is not asleep, but very alert and aware yet passive; it is not active because it does not know the answer, it is not even seeking an answer because it does not know. So that state of awareness, passive awareness is really thinking, is it not? It is the highest form of thinking because there is no positive comprehension, there is no conditioned response, it is a state of negation. Would it not be possible to meet every problem in this way, anew, because then the problem gives its significance; then you meet a problem, as sorrow, for instance and it will give its significance and therefore the problem ceases. But when you try to solve the problem by what you call thinking which is only response to memory, then because memory is conditioned, you further complicate the problem.
You can experiment with this for yourself very simply and you will see how remarkably it works. For instance, you are in front of a modern painting. Your instinctive response is that you don't understand it and you push it aside, or else you ask who painted it, and if it is some big name you say it is very good; or again according to your training, you translate the picture. You respond according to your background or your conditioning. But suppose you put aside, if you can, the training, the classical training you have had and remain very quiet, very passive but alert in front of the picture. Does not the picture then tell you, give you its significance? So, passive awareness is surely the highest form of thinking because you are so receptive, so alert that the picture conveys its meaning to you. So, similarly if we could meet each problem with this alert, passive awareness which you experience now, when I ask you what is thinking, you are puzzled, you are bewildered and if you can go beyond that bewilderment, that puzzle, you say, `I do not know.' That unknowingness is not a sleepy condition; on the contrary it is a very alert passive state of the mind in which there is deep silence waiting for the right significance.
But, what we call thinking is generally understood as a response of memory and when you meet a problem with the response of memory the problem is not understood and therefore there's still more confusion. But, if you are able to meet each problem, with this passive awareness, which is choiceless, then the problem yields its significance and therefore the problem is transcended.
Question: I dream a great deal. Have dreams any significance?
Krishnamurti: This is really an extremely important and very difficult problem because many things are implied. First of all, are we awake or partly awake, or are we asleep most of the time? When are you awake? When there is a tremendous crisis, when there is interest, when there is a problem. But when there is a problem our desire is to escape from it through different ways and thereby we put ourselves to sleep. When there is a crisis what do you do? You try to solve the crisis according to the framework of references, according to religious literature or according to a guru and that again puts you to sleep. So when there is a challenge of life, if it is pleasurable you pursue it, which is also a way of putting oneself to sleep, because the more pleasure you have the more dull you become. When the challenge of life is painful what happens? You avoid it, which again dulls the mind; you avoid it through various channels. So, constantly, when there is a challenge which demands earnest attention, clear perception, a challenge which may entail pain or pleasure, either we refuse it or identify ourselves with it to such an extent that we put ourselves to sleep. That is the ordinary process and it is only at very, very rare moments that we are awake. It is in those moments that there is no dream. In those moments when you are fully awake there is neither experience nor accumulation of experience. You are just awake and therefore the dreamer is not dreaming.
Now, what is the significance of dreams? Surely, it is this, is it not? The conscious mind, during the day, is actively engaged in either earning money, doing routine work, learning, or is occupied with some technical job. So, the conscious mind during the day, is actively busy with superficial things such as going to the temple, going to the office, having a quarrel with the wife or husband, thinking, reading, avoiding, enjoying; it is constantly active. When the mind goes to sleep what happens? The superficial mind is fairly quiet. But consciousness is not just the superficial layer. Consciousness has many, many layers, you don't have to be told what they are: hidden motives, pursuits, anxieties, fears, frustrations and so on. And these layers of consciousness can and do project themselves into the conscious mind and when it wakes up it says: `I have had a dream.' In others words, the conscious mind is so occupied with daily activities, daily anxieties, daily fears that it is incapable of receiving intimations and hints during the day. Each of the many layers has its own consciousness and when the superficial mind becomes quiet the layers project themselves on the superficial mind and then you dream.
There are of course superficial dreams and dreams which have real significance. The superficial dreams are the dreams created by the bodily response; indigestion, overeating etc. So, we need not consider those. Other dreams are the intimations of the deeper layers of consciousness. Now, when you dream, what happens? It often happens that as you dream interpretation is taking place. I do not know if you have noticed it. That is, dreams are really, are they not, symbols, images, pictures which the conscious mind translates and says `I have dreamt this or that.' Sym- bols and hidden motives which when projected into the conscious are translated into symbols which convey a significance to you when you wake up. And when you dream, when you say on waking `I have had a dream,' immediately you want to interpret it. If you are at all aware you want to know what it means. Now there is the luxury of going to a psychoanalyst, the dream expert and he will translate your dream for you after a very difficult process taking many months and costing a great deal of money. But most of us have not the money, fortunately, and we are not near any psychoanalyst. Psychoanalysts are the new priests in the modern world. They have also their own jargon and they exploit you and you exploit them.
But, surely there is a different way of understanding. When you yourself interpret the dream, who is the interpreter? You have had a dream during the night, it has some significance, it is not just a superficial dream, it is a dream which has some worth, some meaning. Now, you want to understand it, which means you want to translate it, you want to go into it. Now, how do you understand a dream? You try to pursue it and find out its significance and what happens? You try to interpret it. You are interpreting it and therefore you, being the conditioned, active superficial mind, are not able to pursue it, understand it. You can only translate it, interpret it according to your like and dislike. But the dream gives you very little of its significance, its meaning. If you pursue your dream you will see what I mean, because you, the interpreter, are very anxious to find out what it means; therefore you are agitated; therefore you cannot understand it. But if the interpreter is fully alert yet passive, then the dream reveals its significance. That is the only way of dealing with dreams. The conscious mind wants to understand the significance of the dream which is the intimation of the many layers of consciousness; so if the dreamer is passively alert, quiet, then the dream begins to yield its significance. But if you pursue it and say, `I must understand it', the conscious mind becomes agitated and translates the dream according to its conditioning. Therefore it can never understand it. So, how the dreamer, the interpreter, regards the dream is of the highest importance.
Then there is another problem. The other problem is, as the interpreter, the dreamer is constantly unaware, how can it be possible to free thought from all dreams, so that there will be no interpreter. That is, why should the mind, the conscious mind, always be dreaming? Why should you have to go through these dreams and all the bother of interpretation, and the anxiety on the part of the interpreter? Is there any way of not dreaming at all? Because the moment the interpreter, the dreamer, intervenes in the understanding of the significance of the dream, he is bound to misinterpret it. He can only translate according to his own conditioning which is always pleasurable and therefore he avoids anything that is painful. Is there not a way of transcending all dreams, because dreams, as I said, are intimations given by the many, many layers of consciousness to the superficial layer, of what they want, what they desire, what their intentions are.
So, the problem is then, how to transcend, how to understand fully, deeply, all the intimations of the various layers of consciousness so that you don't have to wait for the night to have a dream and then translate it and all the rest of it. Is it possible to understand the whole content of consciousness, to free it so that it need not project itself upon the superficial mind when asleep? Is it possible to empty the whole of consciousness so that the conscious mind understands fully? The superficial then is the profound. There are many layers of consciousness and when one of these layers projects upon the conscious, superficial layer, its intimations, which the conscious mind calls dreams, then the conscious mind tries to interpret them and suffers all the anxiety of interpretation. I do not know if you have gone through that.
Now, my question is: is it possible for the conscious mind to be so alert, so passively aware during the day that all the intimations are translated as they arise? In other words, can you be so consciously, so choicelessly aware - the moment you choose, you become the interpreter - can you be so passively aware that all the layers of consciousness are giving you their intimations all the time, so that all of consciousness is one whole without layers? This is possible only when the conscious mind is not battling with problems, when the conscious mind is not made still, but is still. If you will experiment you will see how extraordinarily interesting this is. When the conscious mind is quiet it may be doing superficial things but its quietness is not disturbed by the superficial activities. Then you will see that the more you are aware, the more you are passively observant, negatively watchful, choicelessly alert, the more the contents of the unconscious, of the many layers, comes to the surface. You don't have to interpret them because the moment they arise they are being understood. If you experiment, you will feel an extraordinary freedom because your whole being, your consciousness, which now is broken up, becomes integrated. There is no longer any struggle in your consciousness, it is therefore love, it is completely whole, unbroken. Surely, that is freedom, and all those deep hidden layers of consciousness are out, open, free and therefore there is no necessity for dreams.
When therefore there are no dreams, consciousness can penetrate deeper and deeper into itself, for dreams are an indication of disturbance. But when there is no disturbance and the body is very quiet during sleep, when the mind is still, when the conscious mind is comparatively still, you will find upon waking, you had not dreamt, but that a renewal has taken place, a renewal which is constantly going on because there is always an ending.
The farmer, the toiler, tills the field in the spring time. Then he sows, then he harvests and allows the field to lie fallow during the winter months. That fallowness of the soil is regeneration because it is exposed to the sun, the snow, the storm. It renews itself. So, similarly when the conscious mind has struggled, sown, harvested, it must lie fallow. Such fallowness is its own creativeness. It renews itself and this can be done every day, not only at the end of the season.
Now, when you have a problem you struggle with it and you don't end it, you carry it over to the next day. But if you end it then, that is, if you live the four seasons in one day, then when you wake up you find there has been a renewal, a freshness, a newness which you have never felt before. It is not the renewal of desire, the renewal of your problems, of property, marriage and all that kind of thing, but the renewal to face things anew. So, dreams have an extraordinary significance. But their significance is not understood if there is the interpreter and as there is the interpreter he is always translating the dream according to his conditioning. So, is it possible to remove the interpreter? It is possible only when the conscious mind is active, yet passive, when it is passively aware. Then, in that new awareness, in that passive, choiceless state, the whole content of the many layers of consciousness is understood, because that consciousness is no longer broken up but is whole and integrated; it is free; and it can renew itself constantly and face anew everything that confronts it.
Question: We see the significance of what you say, but there are many important problems which demand immediate attention, such as the struggle between capital and labour.
Krishnamurti: We all know that there are immediate problems which need immediate solutions and answers. That is obvious, especially in a society which is chaotic, confused, which is the result of industrialization and so on. Those problems demand immediate attention; capital, labour, transportation and all the rest of it. Now what is it that we are saying that is so impracticable, that cannot deal with the immediate problems? That is the implication in this question. That is, the questioner says `yes', I agree with what you say but how am I to solve the `immediate problems'. The implication is that he has not found in what we have been saying any application to the immediate problems. He does not know how to deal with the problems which demand immediate attention.
Now, either we deal with the problems from the point of view of reform or from the point of view of right thinking. If I am dealing with problems merely from the point of view of reforming, those reforms need further reforming, but if I am dealing with problems from the point of view of right thinking, then I shall be able to deal with them directly. So, we are not concerned with reforms, are we? It is very important to decide this for yourself because you want reform, there is an urgency to remedy the lack of food, to abolish child-marriage, to permit widow remarriage; you know all the immediate problems. Are you dealing with them with the mentality of the reformer, whose attitude is entirely different from that of the man who wants to deal with the entire problem of human existence? To be concerned merely with reform, is one way of dealing with problems. Then you are not concerned with the purpose of man, you are merely concerned with the immediate problem of man, and that is all you care about. That is the attitude of the politician. So, such an attitude only leads to confusion, more confusion, more struggle, more misery which is evident in society at the present time. Or, are you looking at problems like starvation, nationalism, economic frontiers, and at our daily existence which creates innumerable problems, from the point of view of a man who is seeking for the whole meaning of existence? These two points of view are diametrically opposed.
So, from which point of view did you put this question? Please don't answer, there are too many people. If you are dealing from the point of view of the reformer then there is no answer because you have to reform, you have to compromise with the left and with the right, and with corruption, which means that you are also partly corrupted and so on and so on. It is like a man who says: If I do not have an army my country will be overrun by the enemy; but I also believe in pacifism, I believe in brotherhood. He is really a reformer. He has compromised because he says, if I don't have an army somebody will come and conquer me'. So, he creates an army, he participates in war because the very existence of an army is an indication of preparation for war and all the problems connected with the results of war and so on.
Now, similarly when you deal with the problem of labour and capital what is involved in it? The capitalist is a thoroughgoing exploiter. He will pay the least to get the most, which we all know, but if the labourer can get to the top, he will do exactly the same, for everything is controlled by the State and you are directed to work whether you like it or not. So, the struggle between capital and labour is a problem of power. The capitalist seeks his own security, his own safety, you know the whole business of his exploitation, and the labourer has to organize to protect himself from the ruthlessness of the man above. Therefore there are strikes, unions and so on.
So, are you approaching life from the point of view of the reformer, that is doing patch work, or are you approaching it from a revolutionary point of view, which means that you have an idea you want to carry through? Then you are not concerned with human struggle, human existence, but only with the system and therefore you believe the system will benefit man. So, you are more interested in the system than in man. Or, are you approaching the whole problem of human existence, and not merely the struggle between capital and labour, which is the struggle between man and man, between wife and husband, between neighbour and neighbour, between group and group, between one organization and another organization? Are you approaching the problem in order to understand the true meaning of conflict, pain and suffering in man? If your approach is comprehensive, integrated, whole, then you will have an answer which is real. But if you are merely approaching the problem from the point of view of a theoretical revolutionary with a system and according to a pattern, then surely you will not solve the human ailment, nor will the reformer, the socially active person who wants to alter things to fit them into his pattern, into his framework. His reforms will have to be reformed because the reformer is not tackling the fundamental issues of the mind.
The immediate can only be understood, if we understand the timeless. The man who is concerned with the immediate can never understand the profound, for man is not merely the immediate. If he is seeking an answer to his problems in terms of time - the question implies that the problem must be settled the day after tomorrow - then such a man is not concerned with the real issues and problems, the psychological issues and problems of man; he will say: I am not concerned with your psychological problems. All I want is to feed the millions and therefore I am going to pursue ruthlessly the feeding of the millions even if I should fail to feed any. Surely there is a different approach to this problem, - the problem of necessities which are food, clothing and shelter and other psychological factors, - one which does not relate it to any particular group or system. Taking man as a whole is what very few people want to do, because they are all concerned with the immediate: immediate desires, immediate fulfillments, immediate passions. So, most of us are really concerned with the immediate. Most of us are politicians and not real seekers wishing to find out the truth of existence. Most of us want to compromise, most of us want easy settlements. But those people are not going to be the saviours of man. The man who will save humanity is he who profoundly understands himself in relation to society, in relation to his wife, to the nation, to the group and who by transforming himself in relationship brings a new understanding which helps to clarify the significance of society and its struggles.
Question: Are we not shaped by circumstances? Are we not really the creatures of our senses?
Krishnamurti: Again this is an enormous problem because the implications are enormous in a question of this kind. One implication is that matter is in movement within itself and therefore control of circumstances is essential, is all important. The other conception is that idea moves upon matter and therefore shapes matter. It is the religious conception. The materialistic conception is that matter is in movement within itself and produces the idea and therefore one must control circumstances, therefore the individual is not important. Whereas according to the other, the religious conception, idea shapes matter, that is God, or what you will, controls and shapes matter and therefore there is absolute value, absolute virtue, and it is the reality. The materialist, the socialist, the extreme leftist say that there is no such thing as absolute value; man is merely the product of environment and he changes his values according to environment and therefore environment controls and shapes him according to a system. These theorists force him, put him into a straight jacket of thought so that he would function effectively as a citizen in a mechanized society and so the individual is not at all important because he is merely matter to be shaped.
Don't take sides. I am not taking sides. To the rightist the individual is important only so long as there is no crisis. When there is a war, the individual is no longer important. He is brought into the war and shot. So, both the left and the right meet in moments of crisis, and the individual is sacrificed. This is what is happening in the world today. Though we believe in absolute value and that man, the individual is the sacred expression of that value, he is nevertheless sacrificed, he is regimented, he is directed in moments of crisis as a war or other national disaster. To the leftist, man is not important, the individual is not important, he may eventually become an important entity, but in the meantime he must be controlled, shaped. Now, the leftist starts with his theory, his system; and the rightist denies all that the leftist says, and believes that God has created him. He has his bible and the leftist has his bible. So, both are approaching the problem with a conditioned mind, conditioned by Marx or by the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, or what you will.
If I want to find out where the truth is, how do I start? It is a fact that I am the result of my environment as you also are, obviously. You are the creature of your senses because after all you are a Hindu or a Christian or a Mussalman, you are the result of your environment. You have been told to believe in God and you be- lieve in God. You go to the temple or not according to your conditioning. Whether left or right you are conditioned, which implies environment has shaped your mind. So you are partly, not wholly, a result of your environment; and in order to find out what is true you must go deeper and deeper into the whole problem of the senses and not categorically stop at a certain point.
So, you have to experiment with yourself to find out how far your thinking, your feeling is merely sensory, your values sensate, and not accept, as the rightists do, that God is absolute, and then try to find the absolute. If you do merely accept, you are exactly like the leftist who denies, because you are then merely experiencing, living, according to your conditioning. You will not find the truth, because you have arbitrarily decided in advance that there is or there is not. Whereas if you want to find the truth you must obviously begin with the senses because that is all you know. You can speculate on all the rest but in understanding the sensate values you can go deeper and deeper into the whole problem of consciousness. You don't take anything for granted, nor accept anything in order to believe. You begin experimenting and then you will find for yourself whether you are merely the result of the environmental influences or if you are the idea moving upon matter. You will find that it is neither, but that it is something else. When you put it as matter moving upon idea or idea moving upon matter, then they are put as opposites, as antithetical. As I said before, if you approach a problem from the point of view of the opposite, then the opposite contains its own opposite. After all when the left and the right are treated as opposites the left is the continuation of the right; it is the denial of the right only at certain points but it is nevertheless the continuation of the right.
So, in order to understand this problem you cannot approach it either from the left or from the right; acceptance of the left or of the right is a denial of truth. Food, clothing and shelter are sensate values; and your thinking is obviously sensate and so are your feelings. From there you can proceed and then going deeper into the psychological process you will find there comes a silence, there comes an absolute, not a relative tranquillity. It is not sensory, not sensate, it is not self-induced. In that silence you will find truth when the mind is really still, - not only when the superficial layer of consciousness, but the whole consciousness is still, when it is not inquiring, when it is not seeking, - when it is not urged by desires. Then in that real tranquillity, which is not induced, which is not invited, you will find the Truth, but when you accept either the left or the right surely you cannot find the Truth of anything. Acceptance is the very denial of Truth.
The Observer is the Observed
Madras, India. Public Talk 21st December, 1947
Jiddu Krishnamurti texts. The Observer Is the Observed. Contains reports of spontaneous discourses about life and reality, given at different times between 1945 and 1948.