A Review of an Extraordinary Book
School and the pursuit of knowledge teaches us only some things. For many, it teaches even less. Life is the real teacher. But we tend to wonder what the purpose of it all is at the end of the day. The minutiae of existence can be an overpowering force on the wandering mind.
If you had to turn to the late Krishaji, as Alan Watts called him, he would say:
“So, we are asking – What is the meaning and the significance of life? If there is any at all. If we say there is, you have already committed yourself to something. Therefore you cannot examine. You have already started with distortion. Also if you say there’s no meaning to life – that also is a distortion. So one must be completely free of both. Both the positive and the negative assertions… ”
Life Ahead, written by Jiddu Krishnamurti, first came upon my path many years ago. I read this treatise on everything that represents the narrow nature of the majority of Western Schooling. How it not only restricts potential in individuals, but in the bonds of all the humans involved with it – families and societies. But this is only one minuscule aspect of the realisation that one can subjectively take away from this immensely deep and important work.
And as with many good and meaningful works, it has recently found its way into my life again. Reading it for the umpteenth time, I feel the same sense of what can playfully be called envy. Envy for myself in another life, in another multiverse where I had actually been given this book to read at a schooling age.
I imagine myself learning all these things at the “Multiverse University”, under the following subjects:
“It is a revolution that must take place in the whole of the mind and not merely in thought..”
Did you know that the question mark is not just punctuation?
It is actually a symbol, and carries immense and ancient meaning. The symbol represents the sacred staff of an augur, who would act as the community soothsayer. They were synonymous with these walking staffs, as they were usually among the elders of the tribe.
What historians and symbolists have discovered is that these staffs themselves were symbolic, usually representing the shape of a wave, turned on it’s side. This is emblematic of the area between the spiritual and material worlds. Between the possibility that could exist in the hypothetical world, and the objectively real world in front of us right now.
The dot below the question mark is a representative bindhu – the single drop of water of the self. The seed of potential and a succinct paragon of uncertainty. It acts as a simple reminder that the bearer of the question is usually also the bearer of the answer itself.
Krishnamurti expounds on this ancient inherent intelligence from various intricate angles in this book.
“The hidden or unconscious mind is the repository of racial memories. Religion, superstition, symbol, peculiar traditions of a particular race, the influence of literature both sacred and profane, of aspirations, frustrations, mannerisms and varieties of food… All these are rooted in the unconscious… Our secret desires and fears are also hidden here. Our hopes and aspirations, and motivations… This part of the mind has the power to influence the future… The conscious mind is occupied with the immediate, the limited present. Whereas the unconscious is under the weight of centuries, and cannot be stemmed or turned aside by an immediate necessity…”
Science, Biology & Maths:
“Intelligence is the capacity to deal with life as a whole; and giving grades or marks to the student does not assure intelligence. On the contrary – it degrades human dignity.”
Krishnamurti was not a fan of measurements and grades. He believed this was one of the main reasons many students failed to gain any real longevity out of the teachings in the classroom. The other main reason was the role teachers and the curriculum-based knowledge were both taking on.
“Teaching is more than simply imparting knowledge or a framework of thought to be followed. It is a holistic understanding of the freedom required to develop the learning mind…”
For Krishaji, it was all about “attention”, but he gave his own definition of it:
“…attention is of primary importance, but it does not come through the effort of concentration. Attention is a state in which the mind is ever learning without a centre around which knowledge gathers as accumulated experience…”
Even science has shown us a facet of this truth – through the likes of quantum physics experiments such as the “Double slit” experiment, which has been performed in various ways since Thomas Young first shone the light that proved its quantum values over 200 years ago.
Particles – the very fabric of our existence – were beamed through two slits onto a wall beyond. At first, scientists were baffled, because light particles seemed to exist in two states at once – both in wave form as well as particle form. As they changed the focus of the experiment and gave their attention to and measured different areas of it, the results changed constantly and the particles “behaved” differently each time.
What quantum physicists Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer discovered in 1927 as part of their Wave-Duality Theory was that the mere act of observing or measuring the outcome of the particles physically changed their behaviour. This proves that our focus and attention is part of the foundational infrastructure of our physical world. It proves that there is a literal and coherent connection between the two.
However – in this physical world there is so much which we do not understand and then land up fearing. We fear these things and, therefore, we avoid them altogether.
But in this book Krishaji puts us at a very different starting point from which to traverse encumbrances and dimly-lit garden paths into circumstances obscured to our own wisdom.
“…The elimination of fear is the beginning of attention…”
Home Economics & Life Sciences:
Krishnamurti said that “…The school and home should be joint centres of education”.
It is very important for us, within our communities, to “awaken the full capacity of the superficial mind that lives in everyday activity”.
We can all agree growing up in life is not easy. School is hard for some, and a lot of us do not get everything we need to mentally understand our existence early on in life. Unless we are shown what wisdom looks like, by example.
Krishaji laments how, one by one, we are compressed into compact forms by our societal and administrative education, then aligned neatly and loaded into the magazine of the modern workplace and into our societal roles, and fired out into the world at random. How can we ever be expected to hit the mark this way? It is built into the machine of our society to be moulded into this path of prestige, family and career. The purpose is promised beyond all of this, without any recognition of the individual self and its needs for the true identification of its own purpose in life.
Krishnamurti calls out to teachers of classrooms and curriculums to question themselves in their role. “Why are you here?” he asks.
“…You should insist on the kind of education that encourages you to think freely without fear…”
Krishnamurti wants teachers to realise that: “There is no learning if thought originates from conclusions. To merely acquire knowledge is not to learn… Learning implies the love of understanding and the love of doing a thing for itself…”
What many classrooms and institutions do not seem to realise about true ambition, is that it is not a collaborative effort during the learning phase in the least, if it is truly based on the morality of being actionable. Ambition is an anti-social thing because of its “selfish” nature of subjective and personal development towards growth. And it is here where this very “selfish” facet of true ambition in individuals, who seem to swim against the main stream breeds fear in the ruling or teaching class.
But Krishaji warns that by not holistically understanding the true freedom that is required to develop the learning mind, teachers are only adapting minds into beings of controlled thought.
These beings are immensely adept at calculating like computers based on formulas of preconceived notions, but they have no clue how to create systems that comfortably foster and empower us as diverse and unique human individuals.
“The fullest development of every individual creates a society of equals…”
History has shown us that the pursuit of knowledge can be dangerous, and also mistakenly gathered in the same moral tent as the pursuit of wisdom. Because wisdom is about shedding the pursuit. But ambition can be a fickle human facet.
Alan Watts was interviewed about Krishnamurti many years ago. The philosopher formulated the term “an exercise in sincere hesitance” when referring to the act of acknowledging any kind of laud upon Krishaji, because he so loathed the idea of having any disciples.
However, Krishaji’s pursuit was planned long before his birth.
It was around the year 1908 on a beach in the bay of Bengal. Charles Webster-Leadbeater had recently moved to the Agyar region and had grown very fond of taking morning strolls on the picturesque beaches.
As a child, Krishaji had contracted malaria which had left him slightly less able to run and play like the rest of his brothers at that age. After his mother had passed away, he had gone to live with his father and three brothers just outside the society’s compound.
This fateful morning on that Bengal beach, Charles Webster-Leadbeater discovered Krishaji, and the rest is history.
Soon Krishnamurti was flown off to live a life in Edwardian England where the pursuit of knowledge first started to show its shallow moral truths to him and he started becoming indifferent to the educational system. He was applied to lofty education and ambitions by those around – surrounded by those who wanted to believe something of him.
He also witnessed all of the ways in which people amused themselves to forget their unhappiness. How the wealthy carried their importance. He looked deep at people, at their faces, at their intentions. He saw so many people hearing the echoes of, but completely ignoring the “common consciousness of man”.
Worst of all, he saw how people were going around helping others on purpose, for the utilization of moral societal power. This frustrated him, because he saw it as a “self-fulfilling prophecy of the ego”. This was when question marks started appearing all over in his mind, and he started formulating some of his most foundational ideas – most of which he would only get write about much later in his life.
After a long journey, Krishnamurti abdicated himself from his old life on August 3, 1929 and emancipated himself from the role of any sort of leader or guru.
By his death in 1986 in Ojai, California, Krishaji had, at 92 years of age, been one of the most influential figures in the West for introducing Eastern philosophical teachings on the nature of the mind. He continues to leave a legacy far beyond his own intentions, but with his own inherent spirit.
This book is a magnificent place to start, if you would like to delve deeper into the mind and teachings of the reluctant teacher himself.