What is Krishnamurti saying?

David Skitt introduces the first of his four columns on the subject of Krishnamurti and his teaching

If all of Krishnamurti’s talks and discussions were published they would require 400 average-sized books [some 70 volumes have been published]. This does not make his oeuvre easy to summarise, since it can be said to embody his view that human consciousness, when working well, is constantly unfolding, in a process of endless learning, never arriving at an end result, at any set of final conclusions. But to say what he thought of faith is a useful way into his account of consciousness. He sees both faith and belief as holding something to be true which is unsupported by fact, as lulling the mind into a false sense of security. We cling to such states from fear and from failure to understand and deal with what he called what is, to facts such as conflict and violence, whether personal or international. And once we have differing faiths and beliefs they themselves are an inevitable source of conflict.

Conflict and violence Krishnamurti sees as issues of basic concern to any serious human being. But in his view history shows there has been a repeated failure of education, science, politics and organised religion to end them. What is needed in our time therefore is to own up to that failure, to make a clean sweep of all these past, defective endeavours, and to adopt an entirely new approach. It is quite hard to imagine taking a more radical position than this. Put aside everything you have ever learned from others, ever read, and start your own inquiry into what life is about, what really matters. Stand on your own feet. Stop being a second-hand human being.

He proposes that this means looking at what is actually happening in life and in our consciousness—‘what is, not what should be’—without condemning or justifying, without resisting or wanting to change it, holding it instead ‘like a precious jewel.’ In so doing, he says, we are looking at human consciousness not just our own. This non-judgemental watching, free from all past-based thought and projection, is for him ‘pure observation’. If accompanied by a passion to find out, there will then be fresh understanding, he says, a ‘going beyond’ one’s previous state of consciousness.

A constant source of human confusion in Krishnamurti’s view is our rooted tendency to make images of ourselves, others, and of life and death that are put together by thought based on memory, on past experience or hearsay. Instead of looking afresh at what is new in the now, being open to the unknown and unpredictable, we ‘translate the present into the past.’ He sees such images are inevitably conflictual because they are time-bound and therefore partial and inadequate. Yet we frequently act as though we are programmed by them.

Krishnamurti maintains that we fail to make the most of our mind and of our life while subject to latent or manifest anger and fear. Also, our sense of self is usually experienced as inherently apart from another’s, whereas all human beings share far more psychologically than separates them. Not to see that is a huge error of perception, because our sense of shared humanity is lost. This feeling of psychological apartness breeds a fear of isolation that leads, among other things, to a spurious sense of safety in numbers, which is then, unfortunately and divisively, carried to excess in nationalism, political ideology, and religious faith. These provide a false cohesion held together by fear that there are those ‘outside’ who threaten us and are in some way not as fully human as we are.

Seeing the problems in our personal life and in the world with a mind free from the dictates of the past, from faith, belief, stereotyping, and fantasy, is to see that what goes wrong in the world outside reflects what goes wrong in one’s own mind. When there is insight into that, Krishnamurti says, there is a wholly different way of living, in which an awakened awareness of what causes human suffering also brings with it greater sensitivity to the beauty and immensity of life.

He cautions his audience, ‘You don’t have to believe all this—I am not an authority. But take a little time to look at this. Test it out.’

David Skitt was educated at Cambridge. From 1955 to 1985 he worked as a translation revisereditor for the OECD and the European Space Agency in Paris. He is a trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation at Brockwood Park, Hampshire.
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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.