Some books leave me cold -- turned off, bored, irritated. Other books get me hot -- excited, enthused, pleasured. Then there's books I find lukewarm, like Jiddu Krishnamurti's "Freedom from the Known."
I thought I'd like it more than I did, knowing that J. Krishnamurti was a spiritual iconoclast who decried all forms of organized religiosity. The Amazon reviews of this short 124 page book were almost all positive.
One reader's endorsement got me to click the "buy" button.
I've read (and re-read) about 15 of K's books. This is the single best, most concise, most thorough of the them all, in my humble opinion. I bought 20 copies of it and gave them all to friends, family, co-workers, and some of my students (I teach at a college). I probably will buy 20 more (at least) of this book to give to others.
But maybe I should have paid more Amazon review attention to this J. Krishnamurti skeptic.
After finishing "Freedom from the Known," I agree with this guy that Krishnamurti sounds like one of those anti-gurus who, notwithstanding a lot of don't believe what I say talk, sure ends up sounding like he's promoting his vision of Ultimate Truth.
Still, I resonated with Krishnamurti's bashing of dogma, gurus, and holy books. That's what left me with a mildly positive reaction to him.
For centuries we have been spoon-fed by our teachers, by our authorities, by our books, by our saints. We say, 'Tell me all about it -- what lies beyond the hills and the mountains and the earth?' and we are satisfied with their descriptions, which means that we live on words and our life is shallow and empty.
We are second-hand people...We are the result of all kinds of influences and there is nothing new in us, nothing that we have discovered for ourselves; nothing original, pristine, clear.
OK, that makes sense. I'm all for spiritual independence. Heck, since I started this here Church of the Churchless in 2004 that's been my blog's tagline.
It bothered me, though, that Krishnamurti doesn't simply say, "This is what I've experienced; take that for what it's worth, which may be nothing." Now, fans of his teachings would probably argue that this is what he says.
In a sense, that's true.
So if we completely reject, not intellectually but actually, all so-called spiritual authority, all ceremonies, rituals and dogmas, it means that we stand alone and are already in conflict with society; we cease to be respectable human beings. A respectable human being cannot possibly come near to that infinite, immeasurable reality.
This is what bothered me about "Freedom from the Known." Krishnamurti believes that it's possible to experience things as they are, not as how they seem.
When he speaks of "that infinite, immeasurable reality," it's clear that this is the reality J. Krishnamurti has experienced, and he seeks to tell us -- as best he can -- how what can't be described can be brought within the awareness of other people.
Thus Krishnamurti strikes me as a sort of Zen master. If he didn't have anything at all to teach, why would he write so many books? And why would there be a repository of his writings online?
Zen masters are authorities. Like J. Krishnamurti, they just claim not to be. But their actions belie their words. There's nothing wrong with this. We all are hypocrites to some extent, because it isn't possible for us to be completely consistent.
Meaning, we humans are divided beings.
Our conscious awareness is just the tip of a vast unconscious iceberg where most of the brain's neurological goings-on takes place. Modern neuroscience knows this. And to his credit, sometimes J. Krishnamurti sounds like he does too.
Now, when I build an image about you or about anything, I am able to watch that image, so there is the image and the observer of the image. I see someone, say, with a red shirt on and my immediate reaction is that I like it or I don't like it.
The like or dislike is the result of my culture, my training, my associations, my inclinations, my acquired and inherited characteristics. It is from that centre that I observe and make my judgement, and thus the observer is separate from the thing he observes.
I would have liked "Freedom from the Known" more if Krishnamurti had left it at that. Each of us views reality through our own personal lens. All we can do is be as aware as possible of how we're looking upon things, accepting that other people will see things in their own fashion.
Indeed, in one passage he says exactly that:
Meditation is to be aware of every thought and every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong but just to watch it and move with it.
But in the next sentences Krishnamurti veers into his own form of absolutism.
In that watching you will begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence. Silence put together by thought is stagnation, is dead, but the silence that comes when thought has understood its own beginning, the nature of itself, understood how all thought is never free but always old -- this silence is meditation in which the meditator is entirely absent, for the mind has emptied itself of the past.
Well, that'd be a good trick if anyone could do it. And stay out of a mental hospital. Krishnamurti is fooling himself, and us, when he says that the mind can empty itself of the past.
It simply isn't possible to erase the "hard drive" of the brain without either being dead, or in a comatose vegetative state. Those like Krishnamurti who claim to be able to enter into a state of pure awareness where things are seen exactly as they are (whatever this means; a bee, bat, or dog each sees things very differently) -- they're deluding themselves.
Have you ever experimented with looking at an objective thing like a tree without any of the associations, any of the knowledge you have acquired about it, without any prejudice, any judgement, any words forming a screen between you and the tree and preventing you from seeing it as it actually is?
No, Jiddu, I haven't.
And while you may have experimented with this while you were alive, you never were able to see anything "as it actually is." Because there's no such thing as "actually is."
Human consciousness is a filter of reality.
This is a undisputed neuroscientific fact, well known even in the 20th century, Krishnamurti's time. So I give him credit for being deeply skeptical of religion. I just wish he had been more skeptical of his own ability to see reality as it supposedly "actually is."