What does Krishnamurti invite us to do?

One can’t listen to Krishnamurti without looking at the role that thought plays in one’s life

Krishnamurti is like someone revealing an endless vista of human consciousness, as though some kind of natural unfolding of awareness, of infinite learning, is what it means to be truly alive. But instead of being lured away from reality, from what is, by an enticing mirage of that, he invites me to see and understand where I am here and now. And that will mean not covering up, not copping out from what is experienced in everyday, ordinary life (not perhaps so easy, if as psychiatrist Anthony Clare once said, most of us are in denial of our inner world).

Usually, after some dispute or when lonely or worried, for example, we seek escapes — the company of others, one’s mobile, TV, the Web, or looking for a new partner. Instead Krishnamurti suggests staying with such states, holding them, dwelling in them, observing them in the way already mentioned, without condemning or justifying. So one now has a different option with such ‘negative’ states: to explore them and see what that does.

In a way this is like an all-embracing version of what psychologists recommend us to do with grief. We need to make room for disturbed energy to well up and dissolve, and for what caused it to reveal its roots and story. Without this venting, the disturbed energy will remain intact and repressed, able to flare up again in the future. And what gives extra interest and vitality to such self-monitoring is the sense of exploring human consciousness, rather than something that is exclusively personal.

One can’t listen to Krishnamurti without looking at the role that thought plays in one’s life. What is misapplied, useless thought? And what is its rightful role? Also, a frequent proposal of his is to ask oneself, very seriously, a fundamental question and not answer it, but ‘plant it like a seed in the mind.’

This is how some of the great scientific discoveries have been made, so why not do this to one’s own psyche? Perhaps the most crucial questions are: Am I aware of my self-image and the life-determining effects it has? Are self-images and the images made of others inevitably stunting, blinkered perceptions? Why have them at all, if one sees that they are? And what is intelligence? Is it, for example, understanding what love is? And does putting and exploring such questions in my life wake me up?

It is possible to see what Krishnamurti is asking us to do as very simple: to make wider and deeper use of natural faculties of the mind. But he sees this not merely as a matter of useful enhancement, but as an urgent and deep need, something that life demands. Neglect of these faculties causes us confusion, distress and conflict. And before they can flourish one needs to be aware of and understand the reasons for this neglect. Does this all sound heavy going? Well, unravelling knots in one’s psyche through observation does, at least sometimes, have something of the fun of solving an equation or a tough riddle. Another question for checking whether something helpful happens is: are at least some of my problems no longer problems?

But is this kind of inquiry only for a dedicated few? Here is Krishnamurti’s answer: ‘…let us not make this into an elitist understanding. Any person who pays attention, who wants to hear, who is passionate, not just casual about it, and who really says, "I must find the source of life" will listen. He will listen—not to me — he will just listen. It’s in the air.’

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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The allegations of abuse in sport are serious – but we must guard against hysteria

This week in the media, from Castro and the student rebels, hysteria over football coaches, and Ed Balls’s ballroom exit.

From the left’s point of view, the best that can be said of Fidel Castro, who has died at 90, is that – to echo Franklin D Roosevelt on the Nicaraguan dictator Anatasio Somoza – he may have been a son of a bitch but he was our son of a bitch. Denying Castro’s dreadful record on human rights is pointless. According to the highest estimates – which include those who perished while trying to flee the regime – the death toll during Castro’s 49 years in charge was roughly 70,000. His immediate predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, whom Castro overthrew, murdered, again according to the highest estimates, 20,000 but he ruled for a mere seven years. For both men, you can find considerably lower figures, sometimes in the hundreds. It depends on the politics of the estimator, which shows the absurdity of such reckoning.

 

Murder is murder

What is certain is that Batista ran a corrupt regime with close links to the American Mafia and presided over outrageous inequalities. Even President Kennedy, who ­approved a failed military invasion of Cuba in 1960, said that, on Batista’s record, “I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries”. Castro, on the other hand, created a far more equal society where illiteracy was almost wiped out, and free health care brought life expectancy up to levels comparable to those in the US and western Europe. You could say that the numbers saved from early deaths by Cuban medicine under Castro easily exceeded the numbers that faced firing squads.

But nothing excuses torture, murder and political imprisonment. There isn’t a celestial balance sheet that weighs atrocities against either the freedoms from ignorance and disease that the left favours or the freedoms to make money and hold private property that the right prefers. We should argue, as people always will, about which freedoms matter most. We should be united in condemning large-scale state brutality whatever its source.

 

Spirit of ʼ68

Though his regime became an ally (or, more precisely, a client) of the Soviet Union, Castro wasn’t a communist and he didn’t lead a communist uprising. This point is crucial to understanding his attraction to the mostly middle-class student rebels in Europe and America who became known as the ’68ers.

To them, communist rulers in eastern European were as uninspiring as the cautious centrists who hogged power in Western democracies. They were all grey men in suits. Castro had led a guerrilla army and wore battle fatigues. As the French writer Régis Debray explained in Revolution in the Revolution? – a book revered among the students – Castro’s band of revolutionaries didn’t start with a political programme; they developed one during “the struggle”. Their ideology grew organically in the mountains of Cuba’s Sierra Maestra.

This do-it-yourself approach seemed liberating to idealistic young people who didn’t want to bother with the tedious mechanics of bourgeois democracy or the dreary texts of Marxism-Leninism. They had permission for “direct action” whenever they felt like it without needing to ­formulate aims and objectives. They couldn’t, unfortunately, see their way to forming a guerrilla army in the Scottish Highlands or the Brecon Beacons but they could occupy a university refectory or two in Colchester or Coventry.

 

Caution over coaches

Commenting on Radio 5 Live on the case of Barry Bennell, the Crewe Alexandra coach convicted in 1998 of sexual offences against boys aged nine to 15 (the case came to fresh attention because several former professional football players went public about the abuse), an academic said that 5 per cent of boys reported being sexually abused in sport. “That’s one boy on every football pitch, every cricket pitch, every rugby pitch in the country,” he added.

This is precisely the kind of statement that turns perfectly reasonable concerns about inadequate vigilance into public hysteria. The figure comes from an online survey carried out in 2011 by the University of Edinburgh for the NSPCC. The sample of 6,000 was self-selected from emails to 250,000 students aged 18 to 22, who were asked about their experiences of physical, emotional and sexual harm in sport while aged 16 or under. “We do not make claims for the representativeness of our sample,” the researchers state.

Even if 5 per cent is accurate, the suggestion that abusers stalk every playing field in the land is preposterous. After the Jimmy Savile revelations, just about every DJ from the 1960s and 1970s fell under suspicion – along with other prominent figures, including ex-PMs – and some were wrongly arrested. Let’s hope something similar doesn’t happen to football coaches.

 

Shut up, Tony

Brexit “can be stopped”, Tony Blair told this magazine last week. No doubt it can, but I do wish Blair and other prominent Remain supporters would shut up about it. The Brexiteers have spent 20 years presenting themselves as victims of an elite conspiracy to silence them. Committed to this image, they cannot now behave with the grace usually expected of winners. Rather, they must behave as though convinced that the prize will shortly be snatched from them, and treat any statement from Remainers, no matter how innocuous, with suspicion and resentment. Given enough rope, they will, one can reasonably hope, eventually hang themselves.

 

Strictly Balls

Perhaps, however, Nigel Farage et al are justified in their paranoia. As I observed here last week, the viewers of Strictly Come Dancing, in the spirit of voters who backed Brexit and Donald Trump, struck more blows against elite experts by keeping Ed Balls in the competition even after judges gave him abysmal ratings. Now it is all over. The BBC contrived a “dance-off” in which only the judges’ votes counted. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage