“Great insight”William B wrote this review Wednesday, April 1, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“This book, alternately titled (in the United Kingdom) “This Matter of Culture,” had a seminal effect on me when I read it more than thirty years ago. I was in ideological flux at the time, considering myself a liberal Democrat but very unsatisfied with the label. I was also deeply interested in spirituality in general and Eastern religions in particular. At the same time, I was volunteering as a telephone crisis counselor, so I was interested in a deeper understanding of psychology. This book spoke to all of those interests simultaneously, and consequently had a profound and more or less lasting effect on my thinking. (Not to say that I think the same way I did after reading this book, but rather that the subsequent development of my thought could not be conceived of without reference to it.)
Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) is one of many intriguing figures who have fascinated me over the years. He had a long and active life with several stages each of which often ended with a radical break from the earlier stage. This book is a transcript of talks with subsequent question and answer sessions. These were given in the 1950s and 1960s, and they provide a snapshot of the last stage of his life. He was in the middle of it here, and probably at the height of his mental powers. He was trotting around the world, which he continued to do until shortly before his death. He gave lectures to both students and adults. (I heard him speak once in San Francisco in about 1985.) Fluent in English and French, he lectured at universities and public halls, but he also founded a couple of secondary schools that he left in the hands of others for day-to-day administration, only showing up once or twice a year to speak.
Krishnamurti’s style was Socratic. He would begin each talk by posing a question such as “What is love?” “What is mind?” “What is education?” “What is awareness?” or “What is fear?”-questions that interested him a great deal. Then he would dissect the question, exploring his own reactions and reflections. Ultimately, he would usually end by concluding that through self-examination we can achieve lives where we might experience fear but not have to be governed by it. Often this means not behaving the way the rest of a fear-ridden society expects us to behave. His conclusions could be startlingly iconoclastic, throwing over socially expected attitudes and, with them, conventional behaviors.
“K” as he was often called, was influenced early on by his Hindu upbringing near Madras, India, where his father worked for the Theosophical Society. In his teens and twenties, however, K was profoundly influenced by Theosophy, but you would hardly realize any of this from reading “Think On These Things”; he made a more or less clean break with Theosophy in his early thirties. Similarly, you also would not see much of a Hindu influence in his talks. The reader who expects an ethnic Hindu to preach a conventionally religious message is bound to be frustrated. If anything, K’s message becomes more susceptible to pigeonholing once one learns from sources outside of this book, that, as a young man in Paris, he audited classes on existentialism at the Sorbonne. In a way, K was more of a humanist than most humanists.
His train of thought is not always easy to follow, but when it is, one recognizes that K is closely connecting the steps in his own thought process as he explores an idea or feeling such as fear. In short, he does not appeal to God or faith, but rather appeals to the human capacity to deal with life’s tough issues by stepping back and thinking about feelings rather than merely reacting along lines dictated by instinct or culture (hence the alternative title of this book).
One of the most memorable passages in the book occurs during a Q and A after a lecture in which he has typically concluded that if we overcome our fears about what others expect of us and follow our deepest inclinations, we will find we can achieve more creativity, energy, and happiness. Someone in the audience asks, if everyone lives the way you suggest, won’t there be chaos? In reply, K begins by entreating the questioner to look at the world around us. Are there not wars, hatreds, poverty, hunger, and miseries of every kind? Is not the world already in chaos? By succumbing to fear and insecurity, haven’t we created this? How can we make the situation worse by engaging in a self-examination that ends in the elimination of fear and insecurity? (I believe that this reasoning contributed to my becoming a philosophical anarchist and ultimately led to my pre-existing libertarian tendencies becoming more conscious and active.)
Of course, there are many individuals who are so damaged genetically or socially, that if they followed their inner dictates they would become drunks or murderers, but this is often because such people are not being honest with themselves about the difference between their truest desires and their programmed impulses; they do not examine the sources of their desires and honestly face the consequences to which their impulsive desires will lead. Many people seem incapable—whether because of the dictates of genetics or culture—of the kind of genuine self-examination that K advocated as the necessary step toward true fulfillment. For most people, however, an ameliorative self-examination seems to be more often possible but less often practiced. (In a biography I later read, K noted that this was how it was for him, and if he was different from other human beings in a way that made the things that worked for him inapplicable to others, then his career had been a waste of time, but he trusted that all or at least most humans have the same mental potential.)
In the course of reading biographies of K, I later learned that he was a man who had failings and, yes, fears that had governed his behavior. While some might assume that a man’s faults negate his virtues, I would demure; how else could K speak with any authority about the corrupting power of insecurity if he had not experienced it himself? He also subtracted from his talks many aspects of his experience that would have been interesting but also would have only told his listeners about things that they could not readily experience for themselves. For example, in his later career, he avoided talking about his experiences with the Theosophical movement or its belief system to which he had once actively subscribed. Likewise, he spoke to Westerners neither about his renewed involvement in his native Indian society nor his interest in such things as spiritual healing. Because his approach was to ask people to concentrate and try to follow his train of thought to see if it made sense to them, there is hardly anyway of doing that with a topic like faith healing. K rejected the strategy of telling people what to think.
In his talks, he did field the almost inevitable questions about meditation. “What is meditation?” he would say, characteristically turning a question that was often laden with extraneous assumptions into a more basic one. K advocated a very stripped down, no-frills, deceptively simple meditation that consisted of attention to one’s own mental process. Don’t try to do anything, except watch your mind do what it does; and whatever it does, just keep coming back to watching the process. If you can, follow thought itself to its source. This raises some interesting questions: Where does thought (or where do thoughts) come from in our mental landscape? Can we experience them arising and can we experience the source itself? What happens to us if we can do this? What do we experience? Can this experience be sustained or is it over the instant we become aware of it? Does prolonged practice of this non-practice change our experience? Do the changes that occur in this meditative experience change our experience of life?
Think on these things.”
“Great book to get yourself starting to think about how perceptually biased we all are, Krishnamurti lays it on the line.”dbsovereign wrote this review Monday, September 22, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I already read this book . its great .”alireza v wrote this review Sunday, October 28, 2007. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No