J. Krishnamurti in Dialogue with Staff and Students: Brockwood Park, 16 October 1983
In this edited extract we find Krishnamurti opening up one of his favourite topics: authority. At the same time, the topic itself is linked to another: the awakening of intelligence. As we follow the progress of the dialogue, we come to appreciate not only the incisiveness of Krishnamurti's perception —the freshness of his insight is actually quite stunning—but how seemingly disparate topics such as these can be distinctly articulated, and then 'enfolded', in one another. This opens the door to ... Now read on.
K : What shall we talk about?
Questioner: I think during the last talks we have talked about the question of intelligence, and how to bring intelligence to our life so that somehow intelligence operates in our life. And I wonder if we could pursue that.
K: Right. Any other questions?
Q: How do you know when you are becoming intelligent?
K: How do you know what intelligence is?
Q: No, in yourself, when you start to become more intelligent.
Q: How can you tell you are becoming intelligent?
K: We will find out presently. We were driving the other day, nearly two weeks ago, along the Pacific coast of California. It was a lovely morning. It had rained, and generally in California it doesn't rain that part of the year, and it was a really lovely morning. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. And the Pacific was blue, light blue, so calm, like a great lake. It was not the same dark blue of the Mediterranean but it was a light blue, and the sun was just touching it, making a great light on the sea. And in front of our car there was another car, and on the bumper there was a sticker; the sticker said, 'Question Authority'. So we are going to question authority this morning. And in questioning authority, in the understanding of the very complex problem of authority, we'll begin to see for ourselves 'what is intelligence': why we follow, why we accept, why we obey; and whether authority and the acceptance of authority leads to intelligence. We are going to talk it over together.
The 'speaker' fields questions from the audience, but obviously he himself has a topic in mind. The two lines of inquiry are, however, not construed as being in opposition to one another; rather, they acquire a common focus so that questioning authority becomes part and parcel of the awakening of intelligence.
K: Do you question authority? You know what that word means?...There are various kinds of authority: the authority of the government, however rotten, the authority of totalitarian regimes, the authority of the policeman, the authority of a lawyer, the authority of a judge, the authority of the pope, the authority of a priest. All those are outside, outside the skin. But inwardly, inside the skin, there is the authority of one's own experience, one's own convictions. Are you following all this? Authority of one's own opinions, authority of one's own convictions. I am convinced I am a great man—that becomes the authority. I am convinced I am a good poet…So experience and knowledge become one of the sources of authority. Are you following? Because we are examining a very complex problem, the problem of authority. The authority of the parents, the authority of tradition, the authority of the majority of the voters. Right? The authority of the specialist, the authority of the scientist… the authority of the Bible and the Koran and the Indian so-called sacred books … Now, when you question authority, what are you questioning? The authority of rules, the authority of educators who tell you, inform you? Now, please discuss this with me because, in inquiring very carefully step by step and going deeper and deeper into this question, you will yourself begin to awaken your own intelligence: how to look at things intelligently, without authority.
Here Krishnamurti makes the link more explicit and expands on the complex nature of authority. Also, by implication, he states that the various forms of authority we have absorbed are themselves a block to the operation of that intelligence which can function only once the former have been seen for what they are. The distinction is made between thinking and seeing.
K: We are going to question, not say it is right or wrong, but inquire, question, doubt, ask. Now let's begin. The authority of the policeman. Do you question that?
Q: Isn't it necessary?
K: But question it first. Don't accept, don't say it is necessary. You see, you have already accepted authority!
Q: Yes, but there's not very much we can do about it.
K: No, you can't do anything about it.
Q: We don't want that kind of authority. You can't …
K: You don't want that kind of authority? Suppose I have been driving in France on the right-hand side of the road, and I come here; I am used to driving a car on the right-hand side of the road in France, in Austria and so on; I come here and I keep to that side. There will be accidents. Right? The policeman says, 'Hey, go over to the left.' But if I insist on keeping to the right he will give me a ticket. So I accept the authority of a policeman who tells me, 'You are driving in the wrong lane, kindly go to the left' because that is the custom, that is the law in this country.
Q: That's quite sensible.
K: That's quite sensible—it is!
Starting very simply, Krishnamurti is swift to point out that a blanket 'antiauthority' attitude ignores the fact that certain laws and customs are necessary for the smooth running of society: they have no psychological value-content. It is also implied that such an attitude actually prevents one from understanding authority as it is based on reaction and, therefore, is not free.
K: Now, the authority of governments. This is much more complex. The government says you must become a soldier. In Europe you have to become a soldier for two years— fortunately, not for women. In Switzerland, in France, in all the European countries you have to be a soldier for two years. Do you accept that authority?
Q: If you don't, is there anything …?
K: No, just think it out, look at it carefully. They say, 'We have to protect our country.' In case of war we are prepared to fight the enemy. So, find out. The government says—all governments, the most inefficient government also says—'You must fight for your country.' There is a tremendous authority. What's your response to that?
Q: If I was in that situation and I was, say, a Swiss citizen and I was asked to join the army, I wouldn't do it.
K: Then you would go to prison.
Q: No, I'd go to another country.
K: [Laughing] They won't let you.
Q: Well, there are ways.
K: Oh, yes. But you can never go back to your country again. I know several people who have done this. But they can never go back to their own country. Is that the answer? Question, question what you are saying.
Q: Perhaps to some degree it is.
K: I said question, sir; question what you will do when the governments says you must join the army. That is supreme authority. Do you question that?...
Q: Yes, but what can you do about it?
K: We are going to find out. But, first, question. Is that what you will do when the government asks you to become a soldier? This is a very complex problem, this, I don't know if you can go into it. They say, 'We must protect our country.' Right? So you have to question: what is our country?
Interesting to note here is how quickly the mind moves into the 'what-todo' mode, without first understanding the basis of its action. The sub-text is that we are already primed to act in certain ways which stem from our conditioning and that, unless the sub-text is read and understood, we will merely add to the existing confusion. At the same time, we will fail to connect with the deeper issues underlying the problem.
Q: It's all that we know around us, our language ...
K: Which means what?
Q: That which we are familiar with.
Q: The country that you were born in is supposed to be your country.
K: Where you were born.
Q: Yes, that's supposed to be your country.
K: That is supposed to be your country. Why do I say, it's my country?
Q: Because you've lived there and ...
K: Yes, you say it's your country. And I say it's my country. Why do we say this? Why do grown-up people say this, and the young people say it, and it has been the tradition of thousands of years: it's my country, I am going to protect it; it's your country, you are going to protect it. Let's kill each other!
Q: Because they want to possess it, and if that possession is threatened by another country who feel possessive to their country, then you obviously are going to try to fight to possess your country.
K: I know. So you are willing to kill for your…
K: You are not following step by step into this. What is my country? Why has the world, the earth, been divided into my country, your country—why?
Q: It's always like that: my book, not your book.
K: Go on, question all this, sir. Why? Why have human beings for thousands of years said, this is my country and that's your country?
Q: Is it not a natural response to want to possess something?
K: Yes, that's a natural response. Where does it begin, when does it begin? Careful! Question, question! Don't accept anything and say, 'It's natural' and stick to it. Question why it is natural.
Q: I don't think a baby ...
K: That's it, begin with the baby [Laughter]; begin with the small baby. You give him a toy and he holds it. Right? And the other baby says … and he pulls it away. Haven't you seen this? So, there it begins—mine and yours—and we build this up.
Q: It makes you feel safe, you feel threatened when other people want it, so you're going to...
K: That's right. So I am saying we build this up gradually as we grow older: this is mine and that is yours. And I am going to hold to mine and you hold to yours. So, what does it all mean? I say it is my country and you say it's your country. Question why people say that.
Q: Well, perhaps through repetition and through education, you see, one has ...
K: Of course, through education, through history, through propaganda—everything —you come to the point where you are so conditioned you say, 'It's my country and your country.'
By tracing it back to infancy, Krishnamurti makes it plain how much, psychologically, is rooted in the brain and its earliest, primitive mechanisms. We do not see through, but build on, these until they acquire immense significance; they are then glorified as nationalism and patriotism. One could also add that these primitive mechanisms have their roots in the 'animal brain' since animals also have territories and fight over them.
Q: Is it not a matter of security?
K: Security. Now, do you understand what the questioner said? It is a matter of security. I feel secure with my family—my father, my brother, my sister, my aunts; I feel they will protect me, they are part of me—the family. Then, increase it; move it still further: I identify myself first with the family, then with the community, with the society, then the nation: 'I am British.' That means I feel secure. Right? We agree to that? I feel secure when I say I am British, and the Frenchman says, 'I am French.' He is completely secure: the language, the customs, the tradition, the intellectual approach and so on. French and English, and the German says the same. That is, they all want security—all of them. Agree? You are questioning—they all want security.
Q: And they are willing to kill for that.
K: That's it. So each person says, this is my security and that's your security. So we are going to fight. Which means what?
Q: But then your life is threatened, so …
K: Yes. So there is no security. Right? Look at it carefully first.
Q: Then your security has been completely … psychological security.
K: That's it. That's it.
Q: Having nothing to do with actually what's happening.
K: That's right. So, now, haven't you learnt something? Haven't you become intelligent? You see something, that is, I seek security in my nation and you seek security in your nation, and we are going to fight each other to be secure. And the governments exploit us, people exploit us for that reason. So, there is no security as long as there are nationalities.
Q: What can we do about it?
K: Darling, wait.
Q: But we insist that there is security in the nation.
K: No, first see that by questioning we have come to this point: when I try to seek security in the family, in the community and in the nation, and you also seek it in your own way, in the nation, and we quarrel and fight and kill each other, security is denied to both of us. So, in nationalities there is no security.
Q: But, how do we actually see it?—that there is no security in …
K: It is obvious.
Q: Nothing can be done if everybody thinks like that.
K: The vast majority, 99.9%, say, 'Yes, we must kill each other to be secure.'
Q: But that's just …
Q: Could I just say something? You know, if it's so obvious, why don't we actually change? I've talked to students and staff after these talks and they are just as confused as ever. If it really is obvious that there is no security in my belief, my country and so on …
K: Wait a minute. My country—it's an illusion, isn't it?
Q: You mean, it's not real.
K: No. It doesn't exist. I want security and you want security. I say security lies in my nation and you say security lies in your nation, and we are killing each other. The United Nations is like that. So, there is no security in nationalities.
Q: We see that but it doesn't change; it is the same after the talk— it's my country. I see it is not a security but it is still here.
Q: He says it doesn't change after you know it's your …
K: You change—don't bother about the rest—you become intelligent. We are talking about intelligence. When you see for yourself there is no security in nationalities, that very perception is intelligence.
Q: But he is saying that he has only partially seen it, so when he goes out he is still going on with it.
K: Then you haven't seen it. Be as simple as that. If you don't see it, don't say it's partial. It's like a lot of blind people examining an elephant.
Q: Why do we all say we do see it?
K: Then don't be a nationalist. That's intelligence. Right?
Krishnamurti not only catches 'the ball thrown at him'—the question of security—he traces it through to the very end. We all seek, and need, security but, by investing our security in an illusion, such as nationhood, we vastly increase the chances of war and, even at the 'local' level of family and society, we sow the seeds of isolation that grow into conflict. Is not the nation the ego, the self, writ large? Thus seeking of security creates insecurity. This paradoxical state of our existence is replicated in daily newspapers and on television screens throughout the world. The fact that we see it 'only partially' is at the same time our blindness and our challenge. 'You change,' says Krishnamurti. This is not a group activity, but the task of each person to see it for himself. In that lie the seeds of intelligence.