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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How the Conservatives lost the argument over austerity

After repeatedly missing their deficit targets, the Tories can no longer present spending cuts as essential.

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity,” declared David Cameron at the Conservatives' 2009 spring conference. Fear of spending cuts helped deny his party a majority a year later, but by 2015 the Tories claimed vindication. By framing austerity as unavoidable, they had trapped Labour in a political no man's land. Though voters did not relish cuts, polling consistently showed that they regarded them as necessary.

But only two years later, it is the Conservatives who appear trapped. An austerity-weary electorate has deprived them of their majority and the argument for fiscal restraint is growing weaker by the day. If cuts are the supposed rule, then the £1bn gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party is the most glaring exception. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to justify this largesse as "investment" into "the infrastructure of Northern Ireland" from "which everybody will benefit" – a classic Keynesian argument. But this did not, he hastened to add, mean the end of austerity: "Austerity is never over until we clear the deficit."

Britain's deficit (which peaked at £153bn in 2009-10) was the original and pre-eminent justification for cuts. Unless borrowing was largely eliminated by 2015, George Osborne warned, Britain's public finances would become unsustainable. But as time has passed, this argument has become progressively weaker. The UK has cumulatively borrowed £200bn more than promised by Osborne, yet apocalypse has been averted. With its low borrowing costs, an independent currency and a lender of last resort (the Bank of England), the UK is able to tolerate consistent deficits (borrowing stood at £46.6bn in 2016-17).

In defiance of all this, Osborne vowed to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 (a goal achieved by the UK in just 12 years since 1948). The Tories made the target in the knowledge that promised tax cuts and spending increases would make it almost impossible to attain – but it was a political weapon with which to wound Labour.

Brexit, however, forced the Conservatives to disarm. Mindful of the economic instability to come, Philip Hammond postponed the surplus target to 2025 (15 years after Osborne's original goal). Britain's past and future borrowing levels mean the deficit has lost its political potency.

In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that voters are increasingly inclined to look for full-scale alternatives. Labour has remade itself as an unambiguously anti-austerity party and Britain's public realm is frayed from seven years of cuts: overburdened schools and hospitals, dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, uncollected bins.

Through a shift in rhetoric, Theresa May acknowledged voters' weariness with austerity but her policies did not match. Though the pace of cuts was slowed, signature measures such as the public sector pay cap and the freeze in working-age benefits endured. May's cold insistence to an underpaid nurse that there was no "magic money tree" exemplified the Tories' predicament.

In his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond conceded that voters were impatient "after seven years of hard slog” but vowed to "make anew the case" for austerity. But other Tories believe they need to stop fighting a losing battle. The Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. If the Tories are to retain power, yet another metamorphosis may be needed: from austerity to stimulus.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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