The city of Rome seems ever so far away, but not the meeting with Pope Francis. I feel it as though it happened just this morning. We completed the seven-basilica tour including a stroll along the Appian Way in our last days in Rome, but today I am moving beyond that pilgrimage.
Writers love to work in coffee houses. James Joyce hung his hat at Café San Marco in Trieste. Hemingway held court at a number of places in Paris. Fernando Pessoa the famous Portuguese poet frequented The Brasileria in Lisbon while Keats, Ibsen and Hans Christian Andersen patronized the Antico Grafico the place I visited last October. JK Rowling did her initial work on Harry Potter at the Café Majestic in Porto, Portugal. Annie Dillard calls herself a social recluse. That must be true of most writers, but the need to work alone exists side-by-side with the human need for interaction. A coffee house can both provide both.
When I am in SoCal, Portola Coffee Lab in the OC Mix the place I have mentioned so often, provides both for me, long hours writing, computer jamming, interspersed with jawing among others of the same ilk.
Currently, a reoccurring topic in those conversations is the current political campaign. Some of us are at the point where we can hardly stomach the drama. From the outset of the campaign, trying to get an understanding of what is happening, I found myself looking to the mythic dimensions; I wondered what archetypes the players represented. Who were they and what was their message? The answer was surely much deeper than what the media is providing.
David, a new and young friend I have gotten to know at Portola, has amazed me with his ability to stand outside of personal bias, objectively observe comings and goings, while trying to see the of all the forces at work in a given situation.
Recently, he sent me an excerpt from the writings of Krishnamurti. As I read through the excerpt written more than sixty-five years ago, I felt its message speaking to me as a way to deal with the current dilemma. I will continue to observe the political play, I will continue to cast votes according to my personal bias, but internally, I will rest in passionately doing nothing.
Eighth Talk in New Delhi, March 1960
This is the last talk, and I would like this evening, if I may, to think aloud with you about virtue, sensitivity, and what we call love and beauty. I do not know if we have ever asked ourselves, at any time, why it is that we lose our sensitivity, not to any particular thing, but this extraordinary sensitivity to everything – to the open skies, to the rain on the road, to the vast, moving clouds, to the moonlight on the waters, to the smile on a face, to the weary bullock drawing a cart. Why is it that we lose this quality of nearness to things? Why is it that, as we grow up, we lose all sense of innocence, which is the very essence of sensitivity? Why do we lose the appreciation of what is beautiful, the sense of astonishment, of amazement, of wonder at the whole process of living?
I think it would be good if we could approach this problem very attentively and hesitantly, so as to find out for ourselves why our minds become dull. Fundamentally, it seems to me, one cause of this dullness of the mind is its cultivation of virtue – please listen, I am going to explain. And dullness also comes about when the mind has committed itself to a course of action, when one belongs to a particular group and must act within the framework of that commitment. The mind is likewise made dull by the desire to possess power, to dominate. I think these are three of the principal causes of the mind’s dullness.
Surely, what is essential is a very sensitive, alert mind – a mind that, being intense, creates its own efficiency – and that sensitivity, that intensity is denied to a mind that is merely cultivating virtue. There is a virtue that is not the product of the mind. What we generally call virtues – the moral sanctions, the professional ethics, the codes of righteous behavior, and so on – are all creations of a particular society, are they not? Whereas, virtue in the true sense is not a product of the mind, and it is not recognizable as virtue by society.
I think one has to see very clearly that when a mode of conduct becomes respectable and is therefore recognizable as being virtuous, it is no longer virtuous. A virtue like being nonviolent, being kindly, being humble, and so on, when recognized as virtue by society, or by oneself, ceases to be a virtue and becomes mere respectability. When the mind struggles to acquire a particular quality, be it humility, sympathy, nonviolence, or what you will, it is surely not virtue; it is merely a form of resistance in which the mind is approximating itself to a pattern.
Please do feel your way into what is being said – but not in order to accept or deny because a mind that merely accepts or denies is really an unreasoning mind; it is not a thoughtful, intelligent mind because it has already taken a stand from which it judges, and it is therefore incapable of exploration, inquiry.
We are inquiring into the nature of virtue. The mind must obviously be virtuous because only a virtuous mind is orderly, sensitive, capable of acting out of its own clarity. But the mind that is induced, influenced, disciplined to be virtuous is not a virtuous mind because it knows only resistance, a constant adjustment to the demands of respectability. Any effort to be virtuous, to be moral, any endeavor to be something other than what one is naturally creates a resistance to what one is, and this resistance prevents the understanding of what one is; yet such effort, which is really an avoidance, an escape from what one is, is generally regarded as virtue.
Take a very simple thing. In this country there is a great deal of talk about nonviolence. Ail the political and so-called religious leaders talk about nonviolence, but the fact is that man is violent. You are violent, and your violence is expressed, not only through everyday ambition, but through this tremendous effort you make to control, to discipline yourself, to force yourself to conform to a particular pattern. There are various kinds of violence, are there not? There is violence as cruelty to others, and the very essence of self-fulfillment is also violence. The cultivation of non-violence is a form of violence. This is a fact, and yet you cultivate nonviolence as though it were a tremendous virtue. The acceptance of nonviolence as an ideal is a process by which you become respectable through being recognized by society as a virtuous person. To be respectable, you must have the earmarks of nonviolence; you must show that you are nonviolent, your virtue must be recognizable by the people around you, by society.
So, recognition plays an immense part in what we call virtue. But virtue which is cultivated by the mind, which is recognized and accepted by society and has therefore become respectable, is not virtue at all. I think this is very important to understand because it is one of the major factors which is making the mind dull. What matters, surely, is to see the fact that one is violent, to go into it, understand it, and not resist it – which does not mean that you must become violent and hit somebody! The important thing is to understand deeply the feeling of violence, which expresses itself in so many ways. If you begin to understand that every form of so-called virtue which is brought into being through effort, through resistance, through suppression, is destructive to sensitivity, then you will see that there is a virtue which is entirely different because it is not the product of a cunning mind.
I wonder if you have ever felt a sense of humility? Most of us, I am sure, have felt respect, and where there is respect, there is also disrespect. You are respectful to your boss, to the great of the land, to the people who have power, position, authority. You show respect in order to get something in return; you give a garland in order to receive a blessing. You bow very low to the man above you and push aside others who don’t matter to you – they are the servants, the underlings, the underdogs. Now, there is a quality which has no element either of respect or disrespect, and that is the sense of humility. The mind in a state of humility is neither respectful nor disrespectful. But the mind that wants something in return is full of respect and disrespect. Having disrespect, it cultivates respect, which is a resistance to disrespect, so disrespect goes on festering like a wound in the mind, and respect also. But the mind that has a sense of humility is in an entirely different state.
Now if we, as we are listening this evening, can be sensitive to and directly experience that state of humility, we will have touched something which cannot be recognized. Do you understand? You cannot say, ”Well, my mind is humble, and I know what it means.” The moment the recognizing process takes place, there is no longer a state of humility. Please understand this. Love is not recognizable. When we say that we love someone, we are using a word to communicate a feeling, but the moment we have recognized and expressed that feeling, the quality of it has already changed. What we can do, surely, is to see for ourselves that as long as the mind is in a state of respect and disrespect, it has not the quality of humility.
As I was saying, the quality of humility is not recognizable. Anything that is recognized by the mind as humility is not humility. So one has to be aware of the manner of one’s speech, the manner of one’s being; one has to discover what is behind the words, the gestures, the actions. Through negation one comes to the positive, which is humility. Though humility is not recognizable, not describable, as respect and disrespect are, it has a positive quality which can be felt when the other state is not. A mind that is conscious of itself as being virtuous is really an immoral mind, and however much it may cultivate virtue, morality, it is still immoral. Now, just leave it at that.
Let us go on to the next thing, which is: Why do most of us have an urge, a compulsion to commit ourselves to something? We belong to a party, to a group, to a sect; we commit ourselves to a framework of ideas, to a set of beliefs, to a system of philosophy; we regard ourselves as communists, socialists, imperialists, capitalists, as followers of a particular guru, and all the rest of it. Why? Please, I am going to answer the question, but if you who belong to something find out, as I am talking, why you belong, then my explanation will have a meaning, a significance.
Now, the politicians all over the world talk about peace, and we all want peace. A mind in conflict, like war, is obviously destructive, and we realize that there must be peace. So what do we do? We immediately begin to join organizations, we commit ourselves to the communists or to some other group which says it is going to bring about world peace. And what happens? You are committed to one group, and I to another, so inevitably we are in conflict with each other. If I am in the capitalists’ camp, I say the communists’ talk about world peace is double-talk, and vice versa. So, the moment we belong to a group which promises peace, we are already in conflict with another group which promises peace in a different way, and the result is that we all talk about peace while perpetuating conflict.
Surely, we have to begin by understanding why we commit ourselves, why we belong to something or other. Why do you call yourself an Indian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Christian, or a communist? Obviously, for a very simple reason. You desire to be identified with a group, to belong to something because it gives you a sense of security. You say, ”Action is necessary; therefore, we must join together.” And the moment you join together and form a group, you are battling with another group which wants to act in the same way. In other words, the action which comes from commitment to a party, to a political or religious group, to a particular society, guru, culture, or way of life invariably leads to conflict – which is fairly obvious in the world at the present time.
Now, I think there is a totally different kind of action when the mind does not belong to anything, is not committed to any group. But first let us investigate why we have this compulsion to belong.
It is not only the little man who has this compulsion, but also the great intellectual, the saint – they all want to belong to something. Why? Observe yourself and you will see that if you do not belong to something, you feel insecure. Insecurity means fear, insecurity means economic loss, and belonging to something gives to the self a feeling of expansion. Being a communist, or a Catholic, or belonging to any other big, widespread organization – with all the implications involved in it – gives you an immense feeling of security. It also gives you a sense of importance, and from this sense of importance there springs action which invariably produces conflict with others.
Do please look at the phenomenon that is going on in the world. First we create this ugly thing called nationalism, thereby dividing ourselves into conflicting groups; and then, still holding on to our nationalism, we say there must be internationalism, brotherhood, and all that nonsense. What will bring peace to the world is really comprehensive action, that is, action outside the patterns which divide people and create conflict. When you and I do not belong to a thing, when we are not Indians, Americans, Christians, Buddhists, when we have put aside all these political and religious divisions which are destroying people – it is only then that we can meet as human beings, with dignity, and set about solving our many problems. The communists are not going to solve our problems; nobody can solve them except you and me – when we have not committed ourselves to any group, to any pattern of action. Then there is an action which is much more dynamic, much more creative, much more vital. Most of us have committed ourselves, we belong to something, and that is one of the major reasons for our minds being so stupidly dull – a fact which we do not see, though it is right under our noses.
Sirs, do think it out, don’t just agree with me. Your agreement or disagreement has very little significance. What has significance is to purge your thought, your whole system, of the urge to belong to something. You cannot be free of that urge unless you are aware of it in yourself, unless you examine it, go into it, understand it. If you do not condemn or justify it, if you do not say it is natural, that everybody wants to belong to something, and so on, but understand it, really grasp the truth of it, then you will find that you are entirely free of it instantaneously. That is one of the strange things about truth. The perception of what is true in a problem frees the mind from the problem. You don’t have to do a thing.
In the same way, one has to see the fact that to belong to any group, to be committed to any religious or philosophical system, to any pattern of action is destructive because it divides men and makes the mind dull. When you are committed, when you belong to something, you cease to think beyond the prescribed pattern because the moment you do, you become critical, and then you are thrown out, you are made insecure. Belonging to a group may make for very effective, efficient action, but that action is destructive. You resist seeing this fact because you do not know an action which is not the outcome of commitments, of belonging to something. But it is only when you don’t belong to anything, to any organization, to any group, that there is a possibility of discovering, through that sense of negation, a positive action which is total. Do please understand this.
So one sees that virtue, as we know and cultivate it, is one of the factors that makes the mind dull, mechanical. Another factor that makes the mind dull is the feeling of belonging to something. And there is a third factor which makes the mind dull – the desire for power.
I do not know if you have ever noticed in yourself this desire for power. You want to be prominent, famous; you want your opinion to be known, whether it is to a small circle of people or on a worldwide scale. There is in each one of us this intense urge to be somebody, to be recognized by society as a successful person. If you watch your own mind, you will see how, in a small way or in a big way, you crave recognition.
Please, sirs, this is very important to understand because, as you will see, a mind that is established in power is an evil mind. All power is evil, whether it be political power or so-called religious power. The moment you have achieved power, position, success, your mind has already lost its suppleness, its alertness, its quickness, its extraordinary quality of natural growth, of gentleness.
You know, it is a most difficult thing to be anonymous. Many of us have a craving for anonymity, reach a point when we want to be anonymous, because there is beauty in complete anonymity, and invariably one feels extraordinarily free. So what do we do? We put on a loincloth or enter a monastery or take another name, but inwardly we are still full of ambition, only of a different kind. We now want to be known as a spiritual man, so we have only discarded one cloth and taken another, gotten rid of one name and assumed another. Outwardly we are putting on a show of anonymity, but inwardly we are burning with vanity and pursuing power. Our ”humility” consists in putting on a loincloth, or a robe, or taking only one meal a day, all of which is recognizable by society as being respectable.
I know you all smile and agree, but you are all after exactly the same thing. (Laughter) Don’t laugh it away, sirs. You all want power, you all want position, prestige, though there may be one or two exceptions. And the mind that is seeking power, thinking it will do good, is a very destructive mind because it is concerned with itself. Sirs, truth cannot be found unless the mind is totally anonymous. I wonder if you have noticed that love is anonymous! I may love my wife, my children, but the quality of that love is anonymous. Like the sunset, love is neither yours nor mine.
So there is evil, corruption, when the mind is immersed in power, and the desire for power is one of the most difficult things to wipe out. It is not easy to be nobody, to be inwardly anonymous. You may say, ”In sitting on the platform and talking, are you not expressing yourself?” Outwardly one may be talking, but inwardly one can be totally anonymous. And when there is this sense of complete anonymity, then you will find that there comes a comprehensive action which has nothing to do with the past, or with the thirst for power that creates such animosity and evil in the world. All power is evil, whether it be the power of nations, the power of leaders, the power of a wife over her husband, or of the husband over his wife and children. If you observe yourself when you are not posing, you will see, in the secret recesses of your own mind, that you too want power to dominate, to be known, to have your name appear in the newspapers; and when a mind is seeking power, it is a destructive mind, it can never bring about peace in the world.
So, these are factors that make the mind dull: the virtue which is cultivated by the mind and recognized by society as being virtuous, the thought and the action of a mind which is committed to a particular pattern of ideas, and the search for power, position, prestige. All these imply a self-centered activity, a self-importance, a self-expansion, do they not? It is this process that makes the mind dull, and a dull mind loses all its sensitivity.
Now, I do not know if you have ever considered what is beauty. I am not suddenly talking about something entirely different because it is related to all that has been said this evening. I wonder if you have ever stopped of an evening to look at the sky? On your way here, did you notice the stormy clouds, their shape, their darkness, their depth, the extraordinary sense of power behind them? If you saw all that beauty, did you have a reaction to it, or was there only a sense of total perception in which there was no reaction?
Please, I am afraid this is going to be rather difficult, in the verbal sense, but if you have ever felt the quality of beauty, you will be instantaneously aware of the significance of what is being said. Most of us are insensitive to the sky, to the road, to the passerby, to death. But I am talking of a mind which is sensitive; I am inquiring into the nature of a mind that perceives beauty. Surely, when you perceive something totally, there is no reaction. You may express it in words, saying, ”What a lovely sunset it is,” but the moment of total perception is a moment when your whole being is in a state of non-identification through memory.
Sirs, I am not talking apart from you; I am thinking aloud with you, and to go beyond, you must move with me, playing with the words. A mind that is not sensitive to beauty is a very sordid mind. It may build great dams; it may help to carry out any number of five-year plans. It may do this and that, but a mind that is insensitive to beauty is essentially a stupid mind, and it cannot create anything except that which is mechanical.
We are talking of beauty. Where there is a complete experiencing of something, there is no reaction of memory, and hence no furthering of memory through reaction. Such a mind is in a state of beauty, and beauty is related to love. Sirs, love is a passion.
Now, one has to be clear in the use of words. Most of us dread that word passion because we live in a society which considers passion to be ugly, not respectable. But lust is different from passion. Love invariably goes with passion, not with lust. You have destroyed passion, carefully rooted it out because you have said that passion is an ugly thing, and you are not passionate human beings. You may be lustful, and probably you are – sexually lustful and lustful after power, position – but you are not passionate human beings. And you cannot be passionate if there is no self-abandonment.
Do you understand? There must be that inward sense of austerity which in its very nature is simplicity. But you cannot cultivate austerity. If you do, it becomes a virtue which is recognizable and therefore respectable – a horrible thing. You know, sirs, without passion, there is no passionate action. Mostly, action that we have at present is not passionate; it is a calculated, cunning action. Intensity, or passion, is the outcome of self-abnegation – not the abnegation which is a denial of this and that, but the total self-abnegation which brings about a state of austerity. In this state of austerity, the mind is simple, and such a mind is a passionate mind. Only the passionate mind knows love, and only the mind that knows love can perceive what beauty is – not the artist who paints a picture and is full of his own egocentricity. Love is passionate; therefore, love is beauty. Without beauty there is no love, and without love there is no beauty. Only the mind that perceives the everlasting to everlasting – it is only such a mind that can act without creating misery.
Do please listen with your heart to what is being said, and do not regard it as a talk being given on a topic. It is your own mind of which you have to be aware. It is your own action that matters, not the action of the political or religious leaders. It is what you are, what your mind is, that counts. The mind that has not committed itself, that does not belong to anything, the mind that is not strengthening its own egocentricity through the cultivation of virtue, the mind that is no longer seeking power – it is only such a mind that knows love and therefore beauty. Such a mind, surely, is totality; it has no beginning and no end, and its action is a blessing, not a curse. Only such a mind can receive the real, that which is immeasurable.