By J. Krishnamurti
Fifth Talk in Poona, 1958
I should think one of our great problems must be to know what is freedom, and the need to understand this problem must be fairly immense and continuous since there is so much propaganda from so many specialists, so many and various forms of outward and inward compulsion, and all the chaotic, contradictory persuasions, influences, and impressions. I am sure we must have asked ourselves the question: What is freedom? As you and I know, everywhere in the world authoritarianism is spreading, not only at the political, social, and economic levels, but also at the so-called spiritual level. Everywhere there is a compelling environmental influence; newspapers tell us what to think, and there are so many five, ten, or fifteen-year plans. Then there are these specialists at the economic, scientific, and bureaucratic levels; there are all the traditions of everyday activity, what we must do and what we must not do; then there is the whole influence of the so-called sacred books; and there is the cinema, the radio, the newspaper – everything in the world is trying to tell us what to do, what to think, and what we must not think. I do not know if you have noticed how increasingly difficult it has become to think for oneself. We have become such experts in quoting what other people say or have said, and in the midst of this authoritarian welter, where is the freedom? And what do we mean by freedom? Is there such a thing? I am using that word freedom in its most simple sense in which is included liberation, the mind that is liberated, free. I want, if I may, to go into that this evening.
First, I think we must realize that our minds are really not free. Everything we see, every thought we have, shapes our mind; whatever you think now, whatever you have thought in the past and whatever you are going to think in the future – it all shapes the mind. You think what you have been told, either by the religious person or the politician, by the teacher in your school, or by books and newspapers. Everything about you influences what you think. What you eat, what you look at, what you listen to, your wife, your husband, your child, your neighbor – everything is shaping the mind. I think that is fairly obvious. Even when you think that there is a God or that there is no God, that also is the influence of tradition. So our mind is the field in which there are many contradictory influences which are in battle, one against the other.
Do please listen to all this because, as I have been saying, unless we directly experience for ourselves, your coming to a talk of this kind has no value at all. Please believe me that unless you experience what is being said, not merely follow the description but be aware, be cognizant, know the ways of your own thinking and thereby experience, these talks will have no meaning whatsoever. After all, I am only describing what is actually taking place in one’s life, in one’s environment, so that we can be aware of it and see if we can break through it, and what the implications of breaking through are. Because obviously we are now slaves, either the Hindu slave, the Catholic slave, the Russian slave, or slaves of one kind or another. We are all slaves to certain forms of thought, and in the midst of all this, we ask if we can be free and talk about the anatomy of freedom and authority, and so on. I think it must be fairly obvious to most of us that what we think is conditioned. Whatever your thought – however noble and wide, or however limited and petty – it is conditioned, and if you further that thought there can be nofreedom of thought. Thought itself is conditioned because thought is the reaction of memory, and memory is the residue of all your experiences, which in turn are the result of your conditioning. So if one realizes that all thinking, at whatever level, is conditioned, then we will see that thinking is not the means of breaking through this limitation – which does not mean that we must go into some blank or speculative silence. Actually the fact is, is it not, that every thought, every feeling, every action is conformative, conditioned, influenced. For instance, a saint comes along and by his rhetoric, gestures, looks, by quoting this and that to you, influences you. And we want to be influenced and are afraid to move away from every form of influence and see if we can go deeply and discover if there is a state of being which is not the result of influence.
Why are we influenced? In politics, as you know, it is the job of the politician to influence us; and every book, every teacher, every guru – the more powerful, the more eloquent, the better we like it – imposes his thought, his way of life, his manner of conduct upon us. So life is a battle of ideas, a battle of influences, and your mind is the field of the battle. The politician wants your mind; the guru wants your mind; the saint says, ”Do this and not that,” and he also wants your mind; and every tradition, every form of habit or custom, influences, shapes, guides, controls your mind. I think that is fairly obvious. It would be absurd to deny it. The fact is so.
You know, sirs, if I may deviate a little, I think it is essential to appreciate beauty. The beauty of the sky, the beauty of the sun upon the hill, the beauty of a smile, a face, a gesture, the beauty of the moonlight on the water, of the fading clouds, the song of the bird – it is essential to look at it, to feel it, to be with it, and I think this is the very first requirement for a man who would seek truth. Most of us are so unconcerned with this extraordinary universe about us; we never even see the waving of the leaf in the wind; we never watch a blade of grass, touch it with our hand and know the quality of its being. This is not just being poetic, so please do not go off into a speculative, emotional state. I say it is essential to have that deep feeling for life and not be caught in intellectual ramifications, discussions, passing examinations, quoting and brushing something new aside by saying it has already been said. Intellect is not the way. Intellect will not solve our problems; the intellect will not give us that nourishment which is imperishable. The intellect can reason, discuss, analyze, come to a conclusion from inferences, and so on, but intellect is limited, for intellect is the result of our conditioning. But sensitivity is not. Sensitivity has no conditioning; it takes you right out of the field of fears and anxieties. The mind that is not sensitive to everything about it – to the mountain, the telegraph pole, the lamp, the voice, the smile, everything – is incapable of finding what is true.
But we spend our days and years in cultivating the intellect, in arguing, discussing, fighting, struggling to be something, and so on. And yet this extraordinarily wonderful world, this earth that is so rich – not the Bombay earth, the Punjab earth, the Russian earth, or the American earth – this earth is ours, yours and mine, and that is not sentimental nonsense; it is a fact. But unfortunately we have divided it up through our pettiness, through our provincialism. And we know why we have done it – for our security, for better jobs, and more jobs. That is the political game that is being played throughout the world, and so we forget to be human beings, to live happily on this earth which is ours and to make something of it. And it is because we do not have that feeling for beauty which is not sentimental, which is not corrupting, which is not sexual, but a sense of caring; it is because we have lost that feeling – or perhaps we have never had it – that we are fighting, battling with each other over words and have no immediate understanding of anything. Look what you are doing in India – breaking up the land into sections, fighting and butchering – and this is happening the world over, and for what? To have better jobs, more jobs, more power? And so in this battle we lose that quality of mind which can see things freely, happily, and without envy. We do not know how to see somebody happy, driving a luxurious car, and to look at him and be happy with him; nor do we know how to sympathize with the very, very poor. We are envious of the man with the car, and we avoid the man who has nothing. So there is no love, and without that quality of love which is really the very essence of beauty, do what you will – go on all the pilgrimages in the world, go to every temple, cultivate all the virtues you can think of – you will get nowhere at all. Please believe me, you will not have it, that sense of beauty and love, even if you sit cross-legged for meditation, holding your breath for the next ten thousand years. You laugh, but you do not see the tragedy of it. We are not in that sensitive state of mind which receives, which sees immediately something which is true. You know a sensitive mind is a defenseless mind, it is a vulnerable mind, and the mind must be vulnerable for truth to enter – the truth that you have no sympathy, the truth that you are envious.
So it is essential to have this sense of beauty, for the feeling of beauty is the feeling of love. As I said, this is a slight digression, but I think it has significance in relation to what we are talking about. We are saying that a mind that is influenced, shaped, authority-bound, obviously can never be free, and whatever it thinks, however lofty its ideals, however subtle and deep, it is still conditioned. I think it is very important to understand that the mind, through time, through experience, through the many thousands of yesterdays, is shaped, conditioned, and that thought is not the way out. Which does not mean that you must be thoughtless; on the contrary, when you are capable of understanding very profoundly, very deeply, extensively, widely, subtly, then only will you fully recognize how petty thinking is, how small thought is. Then there is a breaking down of the wall of that conditioning.
So can we not see that fact – that all thought is conditioned? Whether it is the thought of the communist, capitalist, Hindu, Buddhist, or the person who is speaking, thinking is conditioned. And obviously the mind is the result of time, the result of the reactions of a thousand years and of yesterday, of a second ago, and ten years ago; the mind is the result of the period in which you have learned and suffered and of all the influences of the past and present. Now such a mind, obviously, cannot be free, and yet that is what we are seeking, is it not? You know even in Russia, in all the totalitarian countries where everything is controlled, there is this search for freedom. That search is there in the beginning for all of us when we are young, for then we are revolutionary, we are discontented, we want to know, we are curious, we are struggling; but soon that discontent is canalized into various channels, and there it dies slowly. So there is always within us the demand, the urge, to be free, and we never understand it, we never go into it, we have never searched out that deep instinctual demand. Being discontented when young, being dissatisfied with things as they are, with the stupidities of traditional values, we gradually, as we grow older, fall into the old patterns which society has established, and we get lost. It is very difficult to keep the pure discontent, the discontent which says, ”This is not enough; there must be something else.” We all know that feeling, the feeling of otherness which we soon translate as God or nirvana, and we read a book about it and get lost. But this feeling of otherness, the search, the inquiry for it, that, I think, is the beginning of the real urge to be free from all these political, religious, and traditional influences, and to break through this wall. Let us inquire into it.
Surely there are several kinds of freedom. There is political freedom; there is the freedom which knowledge gives when you know how to do things, the know-how; the freedom of a wealthy man who can go round the world; the freedom of capacity, to be able to write, to express oneself, to think clearly. Then there is the freedom from something: freedom from oppression,freedom from envy, freedom from tradition, from ambition, and so on. And then there is the freedom which is gained, we hope, at the end – at the end of the discipline, at the end of acquiring virtue, at the end of effort – the ultimate freedom we hope to get through doing certain things. So, the freedom that capacity gives, the freedom from something and the freedom we are supposed to gain at the end of a virtuous life – those are types of freedom we all know. Now are not those various freedoms merely reactions? When you say, ”I want to be free from anger,” that is merely a reaction; it is not freedom from anger. And thefreedom which you think that you will get at the end of a virtuous life by struggle, by discipline – that is also a reaction to what has been. Please, sirs, follow this carefully because I am going to say something somewhat difficult in the sense that you are not accustomed to it. There is a sense of freedom which is not from anything, which has no cause, but which is a state of being free. You see, the freedom that we know is always brought about by will, is it not? I will be free, I will learn a technique, I will become a specialist, I will study, and that will give me freedom. So we use will as a means of achieving freedom, do we not? I do not want to be poor and therefore I exercise my capacity, my will, everything to get rich. Or, I am vain and I exercise will not to be vain. So we think we shall get freedom through the exercise of will. But will does not bring freedom, on the contrary, as I will show you.
What is will? I will be, I must be, I must not be, I am going to struggle to become something, I am going to learn – all these are forms of exercising will. Now what is this will and how is it formed? Obviously, through desire. Our many desires, with their frustrations, compulsions, and fulfillments form, as it were, the threads of a cord, a rope. That is will, is it not? Your many contradictory desires together become a very strong and powerful rope with which you try to climb to success, to freedom. Now will desire give freedom, or is the very desire for freedom the denial of it? Please watch yourselves, sirs, watch your own desires, your own ambition, your own will. And if one has no will and is merely being driven, that also is a part of will – being driven is also part of that will, the will to resist and go with it – all that is part of will. Through that weight of desire, through that rope, we hope to climb to God, to bliss, or whatever it is.
So I am asking you whether your will is a liberating factor. Is freedom come by through will? Or, is freedom something entirely different, which has nothing to do with reaction, which cannot be achieved through capacity, through thought, experience, discipline, or constant conformity? That is what all the books say, do they not? Conform to the pattern and you will be free in the end; do all these things, obey, and ultimately there will be freedom. To me all that is sheer nonsense because freedom is at the beginning, not at the end, as I will show you.
To see something true is possible, is it not? You can see that the sky is blue – thousands of people have said so – but you can see that it is so for yourself. You can see for yourself, if you are at all sensitive, the movement of a leaf. From the very beginning there is the capacity to perceive that which is true instinctively, not through any form of compulsion, adjustment, conformity. Now, sirs, I will show you another truth.
I say that a leader, a follower, a virtuous man does not know love. I say that to you. You who are leaders, you who are followers, who are struggling to be virtuous – I say you do not know love. Do not argue with me for a moment; do not say, ”Prove it to me.” I will reason with you, show you, but first, please listen to what I have to say without being defensive, aggressive, approving, or denying. I say that a leader, a follower, or a man who is trying to be virtuous – such an individual does not know what love is. If you really listen to that statement not with an aggressive or submissive mind, then you will see the actual truth of it. If you do not see the truth of it, it is because you do not want to, or you are so supremely contented with your leadership, your following, or your so-called virtues that you deny everything else. But if you are at all sensitive, inquiring, open, as when looking out of a window, then you must see the truth of it, you are bound to. Now I will give you the reasons because you are all fairly reasonable, intellectual people, and you can be convinced. But you will never actually know the truth through intellect or reason. You will be convinced through reason, but being convinced is not the perception of what is true. There is a vast difference between the two. A man who is convinced of something is incapable of seeing what is true. A man who is convinced can be unconvinced and convinced again in a different way. But a man who sees that which is true is not ”convinced”; he sees that it just is true.
Now as I said, a leader who says, ”I know the way, I know all about life, I have experienced the ultimate reality, I have the goods,” obviously is very concerned about himself and his visions and about transmitting his visions to the poor listener; a leader wants to lead people to something which he thinks is right. So the leader, whether it is the political, the social, the religious leader, or whether it is your wife or husband – such a one has no love. He may talk about love, he may offer to show you the way of love, he may do all the things that love is supposed to do, but the actual feeling of love is not there because he is a leader. If there is love you cease to be a leader, for love exercises no authority. And the same applies to the follower. The moment you follow, you are accepting authority, are you not? – the authority which gives you security, a safe corner in heaven, or a safe corner in this world. When you follow, seeking security for yourself, your family, your race, your nation, that following indicates that you want to be safe, and a man who seeks safety knows no quality of love. And so also with the virtuous man. The man who cultivates humility surely is not virtuous. Humility is not a thing to be cultivated.
So, I am trying to show you that a mind that is sensitive, inquiring, a mind that is really listening can perceive the truth of something immediately. But truth cannot be ”applied.” If you see the truth, it operates without your conscious effort, of its own accord.
So, discontent is the beginning of freedom, and so long as you are trying to manipulate discontent, to accept authority in order that this discontent shall disappear, enter into safe channels, then you are already losing that pristine sense of real feeling. Most of us are discontented, are we not, either with our jobs, our relationships, or whatever we are doing. You want something to happen, to change, to move, to break through. You do not know what it is. There is a constant searching, inquiring, especially when one is young, open, sensitive. Later on, as you become old, you settle down in your habits, your job, because your family is safe, your wife will not run away. So this extraordinary flame disappears and you become respectable, petty, and thoughtless.
So, as I have been pointing out, freedom from something is not freedom. You are trying to be free from anger; I do not say you must not be free from anger, but I say that that is not freedom. I may be rid of greed, pettiness, envy, or a dozen other things, and yet not be free. Freedom is a quality of the mind. That quality does not come about through very careful, respectable searchings and inquiries, through very careful analysis, or putting ideas together. That is why it is important to see the truth that the freedom we are constantly demanding is always from something, such as freedom from sorrow. Not that there is nofreedom from sorrow, but the demand to be free from it is merely a reaction and therefore does not free you from sorrow. Am I making myself clear? I am in sorrow for various reasons, and I say I must be free. The urge to be free of sorrow is born out of pain. I suffer because of my husband or my son or something else; I do not like that state I am in and I want to get away from it. That desire for freedom is a reaction; it is not freedom. It is just another desirable state I want in opposition to what is. The man who can travel around the world because he has plenty of money is not necessarily free, nor is the man who is clever or efficient, for his wanting to be free is again merely a reaction. So can I not see that freedom, liberation, cannot be learned or acquired or sought after through any reaction? Therefore I must understand the reaction, and I must also understand thatfreedom does not come through any effort of will. Will and freedom are contradictory, as thought and freedom are contradictory. Thought cannot produce freedom because thought is conditioned. Economically you can, perhaps, arrange the world so that man can be more comfortable, have more food, clothing, and shelter; and you may think that is freedom. Those are necessary and essential things, but that is not the totality of freedom. Freedom is a state and quality of mind. And it is that quality we are inquiring into. Without that quality, do what you will, cultivate all the virtues in the world, you will not have thatfreedom.
So how is that sense of otherness, that quality of mind to come about? You cannot cultivate it because the moment you use your brain, you are using thought, which is limited. Whether it is the thought of the Buddha or anyone else, all thought is limited. So our inquiry must be negative; we must come to that freedom obliquely, not directly. Do you understand, sirs? Am I giving some indication, or none at all? That freedom is not to be sought after aggressively, is not to be cultivated by denials, disciplines, by checking yourself, torturing yourself, by doing various exercises, and all the rest of it. It must come without your knowing, like virtue. Cultivated virtue is not virtue; the virtue which is true virtue is not self-conscious. Surely a man who has cultivated humility, who because of his conceit, vanity, arrogance has made himself humble – such a man has no true sense of humility. Humility is a state in which the mind is not conscious of its own quality, as a flower which has fragrance is not conscious of its own perfume. So this freedom cannot be got through any form of discipline, nor can a mind which is undisciplined understand it. You use discipline to produce a result, but freedom is not a result. If it is a result, it is no longer free because it has been produced.
So, how is the mind, which is full of multitudinous influences, compulsions, various forms of contradictory desires, the product of time, how is that mind to have the quality of freedom? You understand, sirs? We know that all the things that I have been talking about are not freedom. They are all manufactured by the mind under various stresses, compulsions, and influences. So, if I can approach it negatively, in the very awareness that all this is not freedom, then the mind is already disciplined – but not disciplined to achieve a result. Let us go into that briefly.
The mind says, ”I must discipline myself in order to achieve a result.” That is fairly obvious. But such discipline does not bringfreedom. It brings a result because you have a motive, a cause which produces the result, but that result is never freedom, it is only a reaction. That is fairly clear. Now, if I begin to understand the operations of that kind of discipline, then in the very process of understanding, inquiring, going into it, my mind is truly disciplined. I do not know if you can see what I mean, quickly. The exercise of will to produce a result is called discipline; whereas, the understanding of the whole significance of will, of discipline, and of what we call result demands a mind that is extraordinarily clear and ”disciplined,” not by the will, but through negative understanding.
So, negatively, I have understood the whole problem of what is not freedom. I have examined it, I have searched my heart and my mind, the recesses of my being, to understand what freedom means, and I see that none of these things we have described is freedom because they are all based on desire, compulsion, will, on what I will get at the end, and they are all reactions. I see factually that they are not freedom. Therefore, because I have understood those things, my mind is open to find out or receive that which is free. So, my mind has a quality which is not that of a disciplined mind seeking a result, not that of the undisciplined mind which wanders about, but it has understood, negatively, both what is and ‘what should be’, and so can perceive, can understand that freedom which is not from something, that freedom which is not a result. Sirs, this requires a great deal of inquiry. If you just repeat that there is a freedom which is not the freedom from something, it has no meaning. So please do not say it. Or if you say, ”I want to get that other freedom, ” you are also on the wrong track, for you cannot. The universe cannot enter into the petty mind; the immeasurable cannot come to a mind that knows measurement. So our whole inquiry is how to break through the measurement – which does not mean I must go off to an ashram, become neurotic, devotional, and all that nonsense.
And here, if I may say so, what is important is the teaching and not the teacher. The person who speaks here at the moment is not important; throw him overboard. What is important is what is being said. So the mind only knows the measurable, the compass of itself, the frontiers, ambitions, hopes, desperation, misery, sorrows, and joys. Such a mind cannot invite freedom. All that it can do is to be aware of itself and not condemn what it sees; not condemn the ugly or cling to the beautiful, but see what is. The mere perception of what is is the beginning of the breaking down of the measurement of the mind, of its frontiers, its patterns – just to see things as they are. Then you will find that the mind can come to that freedom involuntarily, without knowing. This transformation in the mind itself is the true revolution. All other revolutions are reactions, even though they use the word freedom and promise Utopia, the heavens, everything. There is only true revolution in the quality of the mind.
September 21, 1958
You may also like: