One of the persistent and nagging concerns of the Krishnamurti schools seems to be that of 'locating the place of academics in the total vision of education' . Of course, it is a truism in these schools that 'knowledge [which is the content of academics] is limited, ' that 'knowledge always moves in the shadow of ignorance, ' and that 'the school is a place where one learns both the importance and the irrelevance of knowledge'. But to what extent are we grounded in the truth of these statements? Could a lack of clarity about the nature of the 'limitations of knowledge' be the cause for the hesitations that seem to dog our efforts? We need to urgently re-examine our notions of knowledge and truth. Perhaps the notions have become atrophied and one-sided. We seem to be in thrall to one type of truth alone - the scientific-technological one, based on quantitative and mathematical thinking - and have almost totally lost sight of other kinds of truth. Indeed, many would question whether there are any truths at all other than those based on mathematical and scientific thinking.
Truth. A portentous word. 'But why', we may be inclined to ask in certain moods, 'why should we seek to know the truth at all?' However the question answers itself, in the sense that the question itself is a demand to know the truth (about the need to know the truth). We cannot avoid seeking truth, for in doubting the need for search for the truth, we are already in search of it. Truth, like love
is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
The truths we are concerned about are obviously not trivial ones. Rather, they are larger truths that emerge when we contemplate the world - whether the world as contemplated by science and mathematics, or as contemplated by art in its various forms (painting, sculpture, music, literature), or as contemplated in its ethical aspects (there may be ethical truths that make for coherence and order in one's conduct). It has been said that religious truth is grasped only when there is a total response (and not one confined to logic, science, aesthetics, or even ethics) of the whole human being to the totality of the world.
It is obvious that the most complete truth would be one which illuminates the whole of our experience as living human beings. What we are looking for here is neither precision (as in logic and mathematics) nor power (as in science), but an existential realization of the specific nature of experience. The whole of modern thinking denies the possibility of such truth, yet it is precisely this denial which needs questioning. Perhaps it is capitulation to the abstract that is the primary distortion in our notion of truth.
Logical and Mathematical Truth
The truths of logic and mathematics and generally 'if-then' statements. Thus if a=b and b =c, then necessarily we have a = c. This assertion is not concerned with what a, b, c 'actually' are. Thus, if all rabbits have wings, and if Pulak is a rabbit, then Pulak also has wings. The fact that in the actual world rabbits do not have wings does not invalidate this reasoning. Of all forms of truth, logical and mathematical truths have the least to do with the world of actual experience; they only adumbrate the results of valid reasoning. Logic and mathematics are thus concerned only with internal consistency; that is, with the consistency between the propositionsthey assert. A chain of mathematical or logical reasoning cannot be true if two or more propositions in it contradict each other. Internal coherence is the criterion of truth here. Thus, in a sense, the field oflogic and mathematics is a 'closed'one.
Scientific truth clearly has more to do with actual experience than do logic or mathematics, but it does so on its own terms. To elaborate:
- Science reads experience in terms of concepts which are not given in nature but are human constructs. It poses questions and problems in terms of these constructs, and answers them in terms of the same constructs. To that extent the world of science too, like that of logic and mathematics, is a closed one.
- In science there is no riference to the presence cif the 'subjective'observer- of the human reality of consciousness with its content of body sense, kinaesthetic feeling, personal emotion, imagination, sense, the self-image, etc. This is a sine-qua-non in scientific method, in order that objectivity may be preserved without distortion by the subjective feelings and responses of the observer.
- This objectivity implies a complete openness on the part of the observer to the possibility that the conceptual theory used to exp!ain the facts may in fact be in error. This means that the scientist cannot afford to be attached to personal theories but must be prepared to abandon them if they do not fit the facts.
- Since the observer abstracts self and consciousness from the situation, there is a separation between the observed experience and the observer. The sting of the immediate and intimate contact between experience and experiencer is lost, with the conceptual theory acting as a 'filter' between them.
- In science, experience is analysed into distinct areas of investigation: physical, chemical, biological, biochemical, psychological, and so on. Thus there is an in-built break-up of experience.
Confronted by the wonders of the world, the scientific spirit is seized by a thirst for bringing coherence and order into their seemingly disparate but beautiful profusion. The fecundity of nature is a challenge to the explanatory hunger of science. A waterfall, an exploding star, a serrated leaf, the discovery of a hominid bone; the decay of a human corpsethese may evoke feelings of awe, wonder, aesthetic appreciation, moral horror or pity, but the scientist pushes such feelings to the remote penumbra of consciousness, remaining a 'detached objective observer' and analysing the phenomena in terms of the concepts of the relevant branch of science.
The methodology of science gives us the ability to predict the course of phenomena and delivers great power into our hands, but also at great cost - that of losing the immediacy and wholeness of the experience of life. But we are human beings fIrst, and logicians, mathematicians and scientists only afterwards; we live and move in an unanalysed flow of experience of which we are not detached observers, but in which we are completely immersed. Before conceptual analysis and deliberate detachment make their entry into consciousness, we are our experience. And since experience is contradictory, with pulls in multiple directions, we seek truth which will illuminate consciousness in its entire range of self-image, emotions, fears, desires, projections into the past and the future, etc; we seek truths which do not deprive our immediate experience of its sting, and also reveals to us the infinitely nuanced nature of every thought and feeling.
It may be objected here that the sciences of psychology and psychoanalysis do attempt to do precisely this - to give us an understanding of our mental and emotional life. But in spite of this claim, these sciences can never do this, as they undertake to explain the inner life in terms of a theoretical framework, whether behaviourist, Gestaltic, Freudian, neo-Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian, etc. However imaginative and powerful these conceptual theories may be, bringing them to bear on the living, breathing soul of the inner life is already the kiss of death, for the concept in essence is static; it seeks to arrest the swiftly flowing movement of experience in static frames.
However, our minds are not just analytical engines. Alongside the flow of content of consciousness, there is also the ability to be aware of the flow. Very simply and naturally we begin to be aware of the happenings in the inner landscape of consciousness: the sense of self-image or identity; like and dislike with regard to physical sensations; projection into the past through memory, or into the future through hope or fear; the desire for social approval; sensory drives; and so on. Once we are aware of the possibility of such awareness, we may cultivate it and thus enjoy a certain sense of liberation from the compulsions of appetitive drives, whether physical, psychological or mental (including the drive to accumulate more knowledge).
This enables us to look at the world of nature and people with fresh eyes (in Buddhist terms, 'to see things as they are') and to enjoy the life-enhancing qualities in them, thus enhancing our own life energies. For it seems that it is only to the extent that we are able to be aware of the negative drives and forces in our consciousness without condemning them, by looking at them 'with affection' as Krishnamurti says, that we can go beyond them. Hence Krishnamurti's challenge to us to find out whether we can be simply aware of the content of our consciousness without naming or categorizing, for these imply the desire to exercise control. In science we can afford to do this because it gives us power over natural phenomena, but in awareness we seek not power but illumination and clarity.
Here the academically trained intellect may raise the following questions. In describing the operation of awareness, have we not already used innumerable names and concepts? Indeed, can we take cognizance of any part of reality without recourse to naming and conceptualizing? Also, are not such concepts rather vague and imprecise as compared to the clear-cut and precise theoretical formulations of science? Is not the truth-value of such vague terms minimal, and is it not necessary to study the content of consciousness scientifically as the science of psychology does? A perfect formulation of these objections is contained in the following passage. 'The law of sufficient reason is really nothing more than the urge of our intellect to bring our perceptions under its own control [emphasis mine]... Our intellect is the faculty of. forming general conreptions. . .. Besides our intellect there is no other equally systematized faculty, at any rate for comprehending the external world. Thus if we are unable to conceive a thing we cannot imagine it as existing' (emphasis in original). (Quoted in An Essay on Man by Ernst Cassirer, quoting Helmholtz in 'Treatise on Physioloaical Optics'.)
Note here how the emphasis is on control and conceptualization. However we can take up the challenge by beginning at a very basic level: that of body awareness. It is clear that the body is at all times selfaware, non-verbally and directly (for it cannot 'think') - whether it is at ease or not, alert or dull, in good health or bad, energetic or lethargic, and so on. We can therefore treat body-awareness as the free end of the Ariadne's thread to lead us out of our self-created maze in consciousness.
In asserting this, what we are saying is that just as there is body-awareness, there is also sensory awareness, an awareness of feeling and emotion, and an awareness of the ego-sense, of the self-image. If we would only look, listen and be aware, the body, the senses, the feelings and the selfimage can be made to speak to us, and tell their own story. Then they could begin to reveal the incoherences that have developed in all areas of experience. Awareness of incoherence-whether in over-use of the body, or over-stimulation of the senses, or sentimentality in feeling (or its opposite - atrophy of feeling), or in an overstimulated ego-drive - helps us to drop them, or at least to lessen their power over us.
In doing this, as in the case of the quest for scientific truth, we practise openness. However, unlike in science where openness is practised only in respect of concepts, here we are open with our whole being; we pay attention, 'look and listen with our whole mind and heart' as Krishnamurti said. In many ways we do the opposite of what is done in science. We do not analyse experience unto discrete parts, nor do we separate the 'subjective observer' from what is observed. For this we need to keep in close contact with our experience. Generally we lose touch with the body, senses, feelings, and the ego-sense in two different ways: either by over-stimulating these aspects of the self and then being driven by them, or by ignoring their pervasive presence and allowing them to operate only at the subconscious level. Krishnamurti's challenge to his listeners was 'Sir, are you in touch with anything at all?' For, if we are not in touch, we are in danger of becoming 'second-hand people'. This is precisely the danger in the hypertrophy of the conceptual aspect of truth in the schools, to the neglect of its existential, 'awareness' aspect.
Krishriamurti has brought home to his listeners the many aspects of this illuminating quality of awareness, its operation at different levels of our life, and its life-enhancing qualities.
- Body awareness, which brings about a sensitivity to the 'feel' of the body and its state. This involvesnot using the body to serve the appetitive drives, but being sensitive to its real needs. This is the base on which all coherence of the whole person is built.
- Sensory awareness. This enables us to enjoy the sensory aspects of the world through the faculties of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell. This does not mean either over-stimulation of the senses, or ignoring the energies inherent in them, but a proper appreciation of them as carriers of beauty; it means enjoying whatT. S. Eliot called 'the intellectual pleasures of the senses'.
- Awareness of feelings. Since feelings and desires are the base on which our being rests, a lack of sensitivity to them means amputation of the personality at its base. Here we bear in mind Krishnamurti's statement 'Listen to desire as you would listen to the wind among the trees', neither getting entangled in them to the point of confusion, nor ignoring their vast strength. Such awareness of the senses and feelings is the source of aesthetic sensitivity and expression in music, painting, sculpture and literature. We do not have to be great artists or writers in order 'to be artistic' Appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of the world, whether in nature or in human beings or in 'ordinary life', is always an act of aesthetic creation, and such acts link us to nature and to human beings.
- Self-awareness. This is an omnibus term which can cover the entire gamut of the inner life. It refers to the ego-sense or self-image which seeks to protect itself from the primal fear of its own dissolution through a myriad devices - the pursuit of pleasure or power, through habits, (mental or physical), dwelling in the past through memory or in the future through hope, maintenance of a favourable image in public, and so on. When we are aware of the entire process of the projection of the selfimage, there is a realization that. this image itself is the primordial incoherence, and that we are free of it to the extent that we are aware of it. Such self-awareness also links us in empathy with others who are subject to the same compulsions. Thus we come to the matter of ethical truth which we referred to in the beginning. The source of ethics perhaps lies in awareness in all its dimensions, and not in theoretical formulations as expounded in academic philosophy - whether utilitarian, Kantian, situationist or deontological- which have as their premises theoretical axioms, and which collapse the moment these axioms are questioned.
So at the end of this rather long disquisition we see that there are truths about awareness to which we must turn, if we wish to restore the balance in education which currently is so heavily weighted on the side of the conceptual framework. If we do this, it may help to remove some of the gloom expressed in the following poem by Keats:
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine,
Unweave a rainbow.
(Note: In Keats' day the terms 'philosophy', 'natural philosophy' and 'science' were used interchangeably. )