Monday, 20 June 2016

A Question on Krishnamurti

I received this question about J Krishnamurti whom I regard as one of the pre-eminent spiritual figures of the last century even if I don't agree with him on everything. His philosophy seemingly had no room for God but I would argue that he had a specific role to play which consisted of purifying the spiritual field of much past error and false ways of thinking about both God and spirituality. Moreover, his idea of the sacred can be construed as a way of describing the essence of God that is free of any ideological trappings or religious sentiment.

Q. Could you comment on the following quote by Krishnamurti? ‘”When you call yourself an Indian or a Christian or a Muslim or a European you are being violent because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. A man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any religion, any political party or any country.”

It did make me consider that perhaps we should attempt to transcend labels completely in the way that he is advocating here. After all Jesus was not a Christian and I am finding that there are fewer labels that are any more divisive than the label 'Christian.' I often wonder if it has ever been that any two human beings on the planet have ever totally agreed on a shared definition of what that means?! Inevitably, there must be some very subjective elements to the definition of anything and leap of faith to cover the distance between the islands of two conscious human souls attempting to share a perception of a thing.

A. What Krishnamurti is saying here is that if you identify yourself too much with a particular background you are creating division between yourself and the rest of humanity, and division leads to conflict. However I think he is mistaking patriotism for nationalism. Also, context is important. He grew up at a time when there was great division in India between Hindu and Muslim, often ending in violence as at the partition after independence between India and Pakistan. This was also when the English tended to look down on other nationalities, and most people thought themselves superior to other groups. It's not like that now so his point is less true even if it is the case that, from the highest standpoint, oneness is the underlying reality.

His basic point is that you should identify yourself with the inner spiritual reality not any external thing, and that I think is true. This can be taken too far and become unbalanced but it is surely the case that to define oneself is to limit oneself. But still, that doesn't mean that all externals are equally true and equally false. Some are truer than others. And we do, after all, all have an outer form as well as an inner being. The former must be in the right place and not usurp the place of the latter, but that doesn't mean it should be denied or rejected.

Q.  Surely Krishnamurti is either right or wrong. If he's right then the correct view is to transcend a self-label of Christianity and focus on the cohesive value of focusing on values and behaviours but not labels. But if he is wrong we need to self-label as Christian and encourage others to do so also even though this will inevitably seriously ruffle the worlds feathers! A self-label of Christian is almost universally despised, feared or rejected in anger by modern people. Krishnamurti’s quote on the other hand is something I have showed to people and they have immediately seen a truth in it. Religion being necessarily perceived as divisive and like something that is very dangerous and to be handled with extreme care or ideally not at all. And to be fair to secular people the reality of human history has given us ample reason to now view religious ideologies with a great deal of suspicion. People are too frightened to see that the divisive aspect of religion is only one side of it and there is great truth there as well.

A. Actually it is possible for Krishnamurti to be both right and wrong and I think he is. It depends on how you look at things. Firstly, everybody who believes anything self-identifies as something. It's impossible not to. You could say that Krishnamurti was a Krishnamurti-ite, and, as a matter of fact, his followers do often rather act like that. His view reflects his rootless background. He was born a Hindu but taken up by the Theosophists as a youth and then raised in their system which he reacted to by rejecting wholesale. Theosophy had certainly taken on a lot of nonsense at the time he rejected it even if its fundamentals remain interesting. He then travelled all over the world but had no fixed home so you can see that his philosophy is partly reflected in his life. This doesn't make it wrong, and you could say the life was the result of the philosophy, but you could also see an influence the other way. Anyway, it can  sometimes be a little one-sided I think. A necessary corrective to the other point of view that says you have to be a Hindu, Christian or whatever but it is assuming that the Hindu, Christian or whatever is attached to his beliefs and cannot see that they are only tools enabling you to get a grasp on reality. That is very definitely the case for many people but it need not be the case. For instance, I do not identify as a Christian in the conventional sense but I think the teachings of Christ are the highest teachings and contain more of truth than any other. I try to follow them. But I cannot identify with the external body of Christianity as it is today. Maybe I could have done so in the Middle Ages but not now.

It's a question of changing perspective and each side needs the other to be whole. Each is incomplete without the other. We need each approach as a corrective to the extreme of the other which is why I say it is possible for K to be both right and wrong. It all depends on how you hold your view. If you are a Christian which is more important, your Christianity as a religion or your church or your love of God? Do you see the difference? It's a matter of inner and outer. Are you attached to the outer as a form or do you see it as an opening to the inner which is always the main thing.  That said, some outer approaches certainly do better reflect the reality of the inner, and are more able to guide one and attune one to it.  A rose is a truer reflection of beauty than a dandelion even though both are beautiful flowers.

So I would say Krishnamurti is right but can be taken to extremes and then he becomes wrong. Always spirituality is concerned with inner attitude  and the state of the heart rather than mental conceptualising. A doctrinaire Christian who nevertheless genuinely loves God is much closer to him than a philosopher who sees that identifying with a system keeps you bound but has no real love or humility in his heart.

I see Krishnamurti as someone who performed a valuable service in the 20th century when we had gone too far to one side of the matter. But now when we have lost nearly all sense of religion there is a risk of going too far to the other side so he is not so useful in this sense even if ultimately he is right. The Masters I spoke to were not, as far as I could see, Christians or Buddhists but then they knew truth directly. They did not need any help to see it. On this Earth the vast majority of us do need help and if it is not one thing it will be another. A universalist form of Christianity seems pretty good to me. I mean by this an approach that sees the uniqueness of Christ but can also accept that other religions are valid approaches to God too if their inner essence is adhered to rather than their outer form.

Religion is only divisive if people make it so. At the same time, Christ did say he came to sort out the sheep from the goats and you have to divide, or be able to discriminate, between truth and falsehood. Not everything is equally true or equally good, and sometimes you have to call a spade a spade and condemn what is wrong or misguided or downright bad. One of the great recent successes of the devil is to persuade people that judgment is wrong in the name of a spurious unity or fairness. Spirituality requires the most rigid discrimination if it is to accord to what is real.


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Sorry to pick up on just a tiny, off the cuff aspect (not knowing much about K beyond brief summaries, and so-far not having felt inclined to dicover more)

"From the highest standpoint, oneness is the underlying reality"

This is something I don't myself regard as true: I think the underlying reality is many, not one - and that the purpose of creation is to built relationships of love between the many. Thus reality is intrinsically dynamic, goal directed.

William Wildblood said...

Not one in essence but many in expression or unity in multiplicity, both together which gives it its dynamic quality?

William Wildblood said...

I meant to add as prefigured in the Trinity of three persons in one God

William Wildblood said...

Another thought. Underlying oneness just means everything derives from God and has its being given to it by God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Being a pluralist I wouldn't subscribe to your three added comments! It really is a different metaphysics.

William Wildblood said...

That's ok! I read the posts on your link above and found them very interesting, and would go along with a lot of what you say there, but in balance my views would be similar to those expressed by Kristor in his comments. I wonder if this is because you see (I think) all life as fundamentally material but I see existence in becoming as the interaction between spirit and matter (both coming from God) with the former as pure essence and the latter as the substance in which it is expressed and through which it takes form. Much more could be said, of course, but this is putting things (as I see them) simply .

Bruce Charlton said...

@William "you see (I think) all life as fundamentally material"

I think I can now be clearer about this than I was a couple of years ago, as a result of having been carefully reading Rudolf Steiner's early philosophical works, and also Owen Barfield.

I would say that all of life/ reality is one - rather than that it is material; because 'material' now has the meaning 'that which can be perceived by the senses (or scientific instruments)'.

So the 'spiritual' is necessarily immaterial - we would agree, I think - but I would regard the spirit as nonetheless being of the same nature as matter (this assumption is what Stiener calls 'monism' in The Philosophy of Freedom - although other people use monism to mean something different and Steiner dropped this early usage in later works).

Whereas I think you would perhaps adhere to the formulation that the immateriality of the spirit is of a qualitatively different nature than matter.

In a sense I would regard spirit as being matter that merely *happens to be* undetectable by the senses (etc) - but is not of a different kind.

Obviously this distinction is a matter of a deep metaphysical assumption and mostly has very little everyday relevance (and certainly Christians could and have believed either), but I feel that maintaining this ultimate unity of material and immaterial makes more sense of quite a few things, than does having matter and spirit as separate realities and then having to bridge the gap.

William Wildblood said...

Actually I think I agree with you about most of this. A lot of it is perhaps a matter (no pun intended) of words and the way we express ourselves. I certainly don't see spirit and matter as separate realities but as separate forms or expressions of the same reality. I wonder if we are saying more or less the same thing but in different ways? I do think that there is a duality in creation, a necessary one, of God and Nature (as in cosmic Subject and cosmic Object) but even these two are ultimately part of one reality.

It's obviously not easy or else human beings would have sorted this out long ago!

William Wildblood said...

I feel I should add for anyone interested that the one reality I refer to above is also God who is spirit. As I understand things the matter aspect derives from him expressing himself as the Creator. So spirit is always primary with matter its counterpart and means of expression in the manifested world. George Macdonald's quote sums it up for me “I repent me of the ignorance wherein I ever said that God made man out of nothing: there is no nothing out of which to make anything; God is all in all, and he made us out of himself. ”

Julian said...

First I want to say I have just recently arrived to your blog and enjoy your perceptive and insightful writing. I am from India although living in the US. I study philosophy among other things in general, but have really liked some insights from Krishnamurti but have never seen a Christian commentary on his writings. He has some great wisdom about how to live life and I recently found his repository online ( which was a delight. I feel he has many insights, truths, and questions about life that can be beneficial to all as long as they good discernment. I enjoy studying different religions as well for the insights they offer and have recently found Islam to be a great source of guidance for building character.

I think modern society has been indoctrinated into being against organized religion and I agree with you that his promotion of this cause is not what we need in this age. People have this false idea that if you follow a particular religion that means you have blind faith and can't think or are close-minded. I think as long as you think critically and are logically consistent, you should go wherever the pursuit of truth takes you. If you believe you have good reasons to think that a particular organized religion is true, and you have adequately considered all opposing views and alternate theories, there is nothing intellectually dishonest about submitting to the authority of the teachings of the religion.

I for one, honestly believe the Catholic Church is true and was established by Jesus Christ himself through the apostles in order that all humanity would have acccess to the truth, be able to receive God's graces, provide worship how God intended it to be, and know how to live according to the rules God established. An honest and dispassionate study of history can clearly show that the Church has more than sufficient reasons to claim to be God's authority on Earth. I also think that a wise God would create a visible and organized religion with authority to interpret his teachings so humans would be able to find truth easily. Of course, Christianity has been damaged severely by fracturing from the beginning due to human inclination to fall into false teachings due to selfish desires and a dislike of authority. Now Christianity has lost its credibility to truth and its confusing for people to discern what denomination to choose from. It creates an environment of relativism, indifference, and apathy.

This does not mean that wisdom cannot be acquired from other sources or that institutional Christianity and intellect are more important than genuinely loving God. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that all religions have truths and wisdom can be acquired from anywhere, although what is contradictory to Church teaching cannot be accepted. Truth cannot contradict itself. A Christian cannot be a monotheist and a polytheist at the same time or believe in reincarnation and one life on earth at the same time. The Church believes that other religions can be true and can be beneficial to people as long as they are sincerely seeking God and wanting to do his will to the best they know how. God does not condemn non-Christians to Hell but rather judges them on how they lived their lives according to what they honestly believed. If they honestly believed that the Catholic Church is false after giving it sufficient examination then they are not liable. If they never heard of it or were convinced of their own faith they are not liable.

Julian said...

Part Two, sorry for the lengthy post!

Real love and humility in the heart is recognized as much more important than being well-versed in theology and philosophy. A life of love for God and others is very important but this should not in anyway have to contradict the intellectual life. One should strive to love God with heart, mind, and soul. Seeking knowledge about God is important for many reasons, but also because the more you know the more you can love. The more stronger your faith is the more solid evidence your mind can wrap around. The intellect should increase your faith and love for God. The intellectual life in all spheres is highly commended by the Church but it should not be put above seeking holiness, loving God, and trying to live acccording to his ways.

But I do think that truth is the most important criteria in choosing a religion. I am not saying that one has to be Catholic but I think one should honestly explore all religions and worldviews with the aim of finding the true one not the one that your family follows or that suits your personality or lifestyle. If truth is not involved then one can follow any religion or worldview which can teach harmful things. Think about the human sacrifices of the Aztec religion. Faith and Reason need to be used together. Religious faith should not contradict reason but some teachings of religion are a mystery to us and remain above reason. Truth is necessarily divisive but that does not mean that you don't love others or treat them well.

"I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so."
St. Augustine, 397 A.D.

"We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church which is Catholic, and which is called Catholic not only by her members but even by all her enemies. For when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, willy-nilly they call her nothing else but Catholic. For they would not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard."
The True Religion, St. Augustine, 397 A.D.

“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” -Blaise Pascal

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your comment Julian. I found it very interesting and think we are in broad agreement.