KRISHNAMURTI and GANDHI
by Prof. P. Krishna
Rector, Rajghat Education Centre, Krishnamurti Foundation India, Varanasi 221001, India
( Talk delivered at the Gandhian Institute of Studies in Varanasi on 8.1.1996. )
Krishnamurti and Gandhi were two eminent outstanding personalities of this century, both born in India, educated in the west, whose teachings and philosophies have had a global impact and become the subject of much investigation all over the world. Both persons were crusaders in the quest for truth. Outwardly, in their life, they may appear to be very different but we have to go beyond the outer appearances to understand deeply the significance of each one of them. I do not intend to compare Krishnamurti with Gandhi or try to evaluate who was greater or superior. It would be impertinent to assume that we have the capacity to judge or measure either of them. Moreover, such an endeavour is trivial because it does not lead to any deeper understanding in ourselves to try and compare two great men and try to place them in an hierarchy. To me, it seems more worthwhile to dwell on what we can learn from their teachings and their lives. The objectives which Krishnaji and Gandhiji had set before themselves in their lives were similar and yet significantly different. Both were dissenters from the social norm that was prevalent around them and both were concerned with a deep inner transformation in man. To come upon a religious mind was their mission. Krishnamurti having explored into this question very deeply in his youth, set himself the mission of setting man free - free from his shackles, his particular conditioning, his illusions - which was in a sense similar to the objective which the Buddha had set before himself. Having realized the truth, he wanted to help fellow human beings to come upon it and see it for themselves. Gandhiji also was interested in this religious quest, but he had also set before himself very definite social objectives. He wanted to work for the political independence of India, for the eradication of poverty and superstition, for social reform in the status of women and of harijans, for the eradication of casteism and so on.
Krishnamurti did not take up any such local issues, in any particular country of the world. His concern remained global. It is not that he was not interested in social reforms but he said that real change in society can only come about through a change in the consciousness of the individual. It is not merely a question of adopting a particular religion, a particular philosophy or choosing to follow someone in one's life. Nor does it come through following certain commandments or taking a vow and struggling to keep that vow - to him all this was not reform at all. He often said, " You are the world and the world is you", which means it is only in reforming ourselves that the world reforms in actuality. This connection between the individual and society, he explained in great detail. It was his view that so long as human beings are aggressive, violent, hateful, egoistic, no social reform, no regulation, no government, no political system can create a society, which is peaceful, harmonious or non-violent. Society is composed of individuals, and if we have a society comprising of millions of individuals each one of whom is self-centred, ambitious, greedy, violent, you may organise it on Gandhian lines, or on communist principles or in capitalist manner, the violence that is there within the individual is going to find expression in society. You man contain it in certain directions, it will express itself in other directions. So we see that in communist society there is tremendous violence and in capitalist, so-called free, society also there is tremendous violence, though it may be of a different kind. He did not think that mere control could result in any fundamental change. He demanded a total inner revolution in the psyche of man and that was the objective he set before himself. The consciousness of man must fundamentally change from within and unless that takes place, we are merely playing with outer symptoms and making patch-work changes in the name of social reform. The very manner in which that social reform is performed itself contains elements of division, aggression, ambition, which has its own consequences. So, though it may appear that the social reform has produced some order in society, that is an illusion, because that order will inevitably break and you will require a new reform to overcome the new disorder and this is an endless process. There have been great reformers, there have been revolutions and yet man has again established a new tyranny and then had to revolt against the new tyranny. Temporarily it may appear that one has broken the old tyranny but so long as the human beings are tyrannical they will establish a new tyranny and therefore he felt that any fundamental reform in society can only come through an inner change, it cannot come merely through an outer change that one tries to bring about in society.
He objected to people calling themselves Gandhians or Krishnamurti-ites or even Christians, Buddhists and so on. He said "What does it mean ?" What does it really mean when I say, I am a Christian or I am a Gandhian ? We must examine that question deeply, because we often accept a very superficial definition of words which is prevalent in society. What exactly does it mean to be a Gandhian ? Does it mean wearing Khadi ? Does it mean believing in non-violence as a political means ? Does it mean coming upon a deep understanding within oneself of the love and compassion which Gandhi had ? Does the proclamation of an intention make me Gandhian ? What does it really mean to be a Gandhian ? Can one really practice non-violence or decide to practice non-violence so long as one is violent within, inwardly ? To Krishnamurti violence went far beyond its external manifestation, he did not accept the definition of non-violence as not hitting anybody else physically. To him anger, aggression, greed, possessiveness were all forms of violence and he said so long as these are there within, what does our decision to be non-violent mean ? One of his famous statements is that virtue cannot be practiced. It is a state of mind, either one has come upon that state of mind or one has not come upon it. If the mind is self-centred, aggressive, then non-violence is merely a decision and decisions are unimportant things, they are hypocritical things in the field of consciousness. Because if you do not feel love for your neighbour, what does it mean to decide to love him ? Does it mean that when he comes you will be warm to him, you will smile at him and you will express that you love him ? Inwardly you do not really love him, you dislike him, you are irritated with him, you are envious of him, but outwardly you show love, because you have decided to love him and this creates hypocrisy. One is projecting oneself outwardly, differently from what one is inwardly and hypocrisy is certainly not a virtue. Similarly, one can decide to become a vegetarian, not to hit anybody, to help old people across the road, to care for someone who is hurt, one can do these actions because one has decided to do them and yet inwardly one may be very violent and cruel. The violence will express itself in other ways. One may be dominating over other human beings, in the management, in the office. One may hurt psychologically, though one does not hurt physically and one may be sadistic, one may enjoy another person's discomfiture. We see this process going on in the name of non-violence in our society today, when people gherao an individual, do not permit him to go to the toilet, do not permit him to eat his food and consider that they are non-violent merely because they are not attacking him ! So, this kind of triviality enters when one decides to practice a virtue and defines the virtue in terms of a few actions which have been specified and then performed. Those actions in themselves do not constitute the virtue.
To be religious is not merely a question of going to the temple, performing some ritual, lighting a lamp or bathing in the Ganga. These things are easy to do, anybody can do them and after doing it, one can feel that one is religious without being religious. Krishnamurti pointed out this danger of conveniently feeling that one is virtuous without actually coming upon virtue. You cannot come upon virtue except through self-knowledge, through a deep understanding of the working of your own consciousness, of your own mind, which is the quest for truth. To him religion was such a quest for truth. It was so for Gandhiji too, because he called his life itself an experiment with truth. So, in a deep sense, both Krishnamurti and Gandhi regarded religion as the quest for truth. A truly religious mind is a mind that is in quest of truth. The differences that one sees between them are more in the mission which they took up as the objectives of their life and work. In my view people often misunderstand and consider that there is some dichotomy or fundamental difference between Gandhi's approach and Krishnamurti's approach. To me, they appear to be complementary. The difference is in the outer manifestation but at the deeper levels the need for an inner transformation, the need to come upon a religious mind, not to posit the religious mind as a Hindu mind or Christian mind or a Buddhist mind, to come upon virtue through self-knowledge -- all this was deeply the mission of both Gandhi and Krishnamurti. I do not think Gandhiji's reforms and his public life could have been what they were if he did not have this inner strength. That is, if Gandhiji did not really love the British, if he was not really non-violent from within, if he had not freed his consciousness of hatred of any human being irrespective of his attributes, if he had not freed himself of fear, I do not think merely the outer manifestations of his actions would have succeeded. In other words, it is not merely a question of the social reform which one undertakes, but the inner motives which propel that social reform are fundamentally important. If it comes about as a natural manifestation of an inner state, it is a totally different thing from a calculated plan thought out by a clever and cunning mind.
In the West I have often been asked the question whether Gandhiji's strategy of non-violence was not part of tactics, because the British were infinitely more powerful and violence could not have, by any means, succeeded against a powerful adversary like the British empire. So did he choose non-violence because violence could not have succeeded ? They do not know whether Gandhi took this decision out of seeing the situation and then deciding what will succeed or it was a religious decision for him, irrespective of whether it succeeds or not. For a religious mind, if that is intrinsically the right thing to do, then that is the only way to go, there is no choice and it does not matter if it succeeds or not. The end does not justify the means.
So did it come out of an inner strength within him because of the religious mind and heart which he had or did it come as a strategy to be followed ? Many of our politicians today, including our student leaders and so on, adopt it as a tactics and it does not serve the same purpose. Christ said, in the Sermon on the Mount that if somebody hits you on one cheek show him the other also. Is it just the action that matters ? If you just show the other cheek also, but are inwardly feeling hateful and angry it will have no effect. What brings about the transformation in the other human being is not the act of showing the other cheek also, but the inner love and compassion from which this must follow as a spontaneous consequence. Then you do not retaliate, do not meet violence with violence nor hatred with hatred. We have another instance of this when the Buddha meets the murderer Angulimal. It is the inner state of the Buddha that is important. It was not a fearful Buddha using non-violence as a tactics in order to overcome Angulimal. It is not the tactics which works, it is the religious quality which acts. So, was Gandhi's non-violence an outcome of his inner religious perception or was it merely a policy ? When we call ourselves Gandhians are we wanting to come upon that inner consciousness or are we accepting only the tactics ? If we are accepting the tactics, it is superficial, it is only the outer manifestation. If it is born out of an inner perception then you are sharing in the consciousness of Gandhi.
In the same way one can ask who is a true Christian ? What does it mean to be a true Christian ? After all Christ came upon love and compassion and he spoke out of that truth, that inner state, and he wanted to express that. But the followers did not come upon his love and compassion, they merely picked up the outer details and converted them into rituals. Then came the differences in opinion about how these should be performed, how which commandment should be followed and to what extent. So they divided themselves as Catholics and Protestants, both of whom claim to be Christians and yet for the last 50 years they have been fighting and killing each other in Ireland ! Can a man who is killing other human beings in the name of religion be a Christian ? Therefore, being religious has nothing to do with these outer manifestations and so long as we give to the outer forms a tremendous importance, we do not come upon a religious mind. The strength of both Gandhi and Krishnamurti, lay not so much in the course of action which they adopted but in the consciousness from which they acted.
I once came in close contact with some people who claimed to be Gandhians. They stood for certain ideals which they thought were Gandhiji's ideals. They wore khadi and lived simply and all that. They wanted to do social reform of villages which Gandhiji had also done. But they came into conflict with other people working with them and they were extremely contemptuous of those people. They came to discuss their problems with me as they were idealistic, sincere persons. I asked them what they had picked to emulate in Gandhi -- the khadi, the Charkha, the ideals of social reform ? What about the fact that Gandhiji worked with Nehru and Patel, who were extremely different from him and yet there was a tremendous bond of affection and co-operation between them ? I asked them, "Have you learned to work like that with your colleagues ?" Is not that a requirement to be a Gandhian or are only the outer things and the intellectual pursuits required to be a Gandhian ? So we must ask ourselves what definition we give to being a Gandhian ? When you deeply inquire into that you will find that to be a true Gandhian is the same as being a true Christian, is the same as being a true Buddhist, is the same as being a true Hindu, is the same as coming upon a religious mind. These divisions which we see and which we have created by calling ourselves Krishnamurti-ites, Gandhians, Hindus and Muslims are all an outcome of a superficial understanding of religion. The problem is not whether one is a Gandhian or a Krishnamurti-ite or whether one is a Christian or a Muslim, --the real problem is superficiality. Both Gandhi and Krishnamurti fought against superficiality and fought against accepting tradition blindly.
I am reminded of the instance when Gandhiji not only stood up against the British but he stood up against the Congress Government also when he felt that what they were doing was wrong. It was when India was divided into India and Pakistan and a certain amount of money was to be paid to Pakistan but the Indian Government was putting conditions on giving that money saying it will be given only if you they first do this and do that. He felt the Government of India was trying to politically arm-twist, which was an irreligious thing to do, so he opposed it. He said political freedom was not the main aim of the Congress, it was only a first step towards the liberation of our villages from poverty, superstition and ignorance. He wanted India to be the first country in the world to have no army. He wanted the Congress people all to go and work in the villages and leave the Government to the administrators but very few were willing. What happened to all the followers who were with him in the Congress ? They had not come upon the consciousness which Gandhi had come upon, they were only following his edicts and following the outer edicts is a trivial thing, it does not work as we have already seen. The spirit in the Congress degenerated as soon as Gandhi was gone. The process had begun even in his own lifetime and he was miserable in the last six months of his life. I believe he is on record, having said that these last six months of his life were the worst period of his life, because all his hopes had been shattered.
So, to really follow somebody is not so easy as to just pick up the outer actions. Indeed we cannot truly live like someone else because we do not have that consciousness ; and this is what Krishnamurti pointed out. He said do not follow anybody, be yourself, watch yourself, understand yourself, and in understanding yourself you will change inwardly and that would be a natural change. But when you try to live like another human being you cannot, because you do not have that consciousness. I cannot live like Gandhi, because I do not have Gandhi's understanding within me and when I try to live like Gandhi I cease to be even Krishna, I become a pseudo which is worse than being oneself. Because when you are yourself, there is a possibility that you will understand what you are, which is the actuality and thereby come upon the truth. When you come upon the truth deeply, for yourself, there is an inner transformation and you are naturally wiser, not merely imitating somebody. Imitation is a lie and therefore Krishnamurti did not believe in following anybody and he refused to accept disciples for himself. He said I cannot give you the truth, so what does it mean to be a disciple ? You must discover and find out for yourselves like I have found out for myself and each person has to be a light unto himself which is what the Buddha had said too.
>From my readings of Gandhi, which are very limited, I feel that Gandhiji understood the truth of this. The same message is there in the Gita. It says that the rightness or wrongness of an action is not dependent on the result, it is dependent on the motives with which that action is performed. Gita also asks us to find out if we can work like an ambitious man without being ambitious. In it, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna, that the enlightened man will outwardly appear to live and work exactly like an ordinary human being but it is not the same thing because he does not do it for the same reason. Inwardly they are different. So the true transformation lies within the consciousness of man and Krishnamurti considered that only when that inner transformation takes place there is a natural reform in society. When the change is born out of a motivated action, an ambitious action, a calculated action, then there is no true transformation in society.
Someone asked Krishnamurti at the end of one of his talks, "I want to do social work. How should I start ?", and he answered saying * * ____________________________________________________________ ** from "This Matter of Culture" by J. Krishnamurti chapter 27, p ** 212-213, Gollancz,London 1974.
"I think it is very important to find out not how to start, but why you want to do social work at all. Why do you want to do social work ? Is it because you see misery in the world--starvation, disease, exploitation, the brutal indifference of great wealth side by side with appalling poverty, the enmity between man and man ? Is that the reason ?Do you want to do social work because in your heart there is love and therefore you are not concerned with your own fulfillment ? Or is social work a means of escape from yourself ? Do you understand ? You see, for example, all the ugliness involved in orthodox marriage, so you say, "I shall never get married," and you throw yourself into social work instead; or perhaps your parents have urged you into it, or you have an ideal. If it is a means of escape, or if you are merely pursuing an ideal established by society , by a leader or a priest, or by yourself, then any social work you may do will only create further misery. But if you have love in your heart, if you are seeking truth and are therefore a truly religious person, if you are no longer ambitious, no longer pursuing success, and your virtue is not leading to respectability--then your very life will help to bring about a total transformation of society.
I think it is very important to understand this. When we are young, as most of you are, we want to do something, and social work is in the air; books tell about it, the newspapers do propaganda for it, there are schools to train social workers, and so on. But you see, without self-knowledge, without understanding yourself and your relationships, any social work you do will turn to ashes in your mouth.
It is the happy man, not the idealist or the miserable escapee, who is revolutionary; and the happy man is not he who has many possessions. The happy man is the truly religious man, and his very living is social work. But if you become merely one of the innumerable social workers, your heart will be empty. You may give away your money, or persuade other people to contribute theirs, and you may bring about marvellous reforms; but as long as your heart is empty and your mind full of theories, your life will be dull, weary, without joy. So, first understand yourself, and out of that self-knowledge will come action of the right kind".
So it is wrong to think that Krishnamurti was against social reform. What he was pointing out was that the reform itself must be done with a heart of love. You may engage yourself in social reform, but if you do it ambitiously, if you do it egoistically, if you do it in order to become the top social worker and get the Nobel Prize, then in that very reform the seeds of corruption are there and therefore that reform will turn into ashes in your mouth. We have indeed seen again and again that you cannot just reform outwardly. True reformation comes from within. Even Gandhiji's attempt to create a certain political group met with frustration because the followers had not been reformed from within. They were merely accepting him as their leader. He was feeling these things from within--he was fearless and used his own intelligence. He was willing to face the wrath of the Hindu society when he gave an injection to the calf of a cow to enable it to die without much suffering. He was living the truth with understanding, not seeking popularity. But if we do social reform in order to become successful then there is no difference between us and the businessman. The businessman is also craving for success and the so-called religious man and the social worker are also craving for success, only they have adopted different means. If the social reform is merely a means to an end, then it has very little significance because in that ambitious process itself there are the seeds of division. You will find that within the movement of reform itself division will come and aggression will be there and people will start fighting with each other. Temporarily, under the influence of a great man like Gandhi, those divisions may subside but that is really not an ending of division and therefore there is really no reform in that. That reform will vanish as soon as that great mind or great influence is not there. Therefore, virtue cannot be acquired through influence. Each one of us has to come upon virtue for oneself. Then, that state of understanding, your own understanding, will tell you what is right action for you.
After all who guided Gandhi to do what he wanted to do ? He did not have a guide in front of him. Who guided the Buddha ? Who guided Christ ? But we all want to be led, to be guided in our life by another and it is important to see that that makes us in to second hand human beings. If we come upon a deep understanding for ourselves and out of that understanding there is a manifestation in the form of action, only then it is first hand, it is genuine. If really one feels that love and out of that love one wants to do social reform, then the motives are right and when the motives are right only then the action is right.
So to me there does not appear to be any contradiction between what Gandhiji was trying to do, and what Krishnamurti was trying to do. I think there is great truth in what Krishnamurti is pointing out but that is not a call for inaction. It is only demanding that that action must come from a heart full of love and compassion and not an ambitious, petty, self-centered heart and mind. That is what he is demanding and I do not think Gandhiji would have disagreed with this because for him also the action came from a heart which was filled with love, compassion and brotherhood. He really felt intense affection for the British people, he felt the British are our friends, that they are like any other human beings, but he said their government should not be here because that is unjust, it is unfair. He was protesting against the injustice and not against the Englishman per se. It is a unique case in the history of the world where a foreign rule has been overthrown without much hatred or bloodshed and you can see certain consequences of that. The relationship between India and Britain continues to be friendly. India has continued to be part of the Commonwealth as a consequence of that policy and that policy came out of a deep inner religious understanding of one man. That deep religious understanding of one man is more important than a million followers blindly following. So long as we do not come upon that inner quality which Gandhiji came upon and we try to do only the outer actions which he advocated it will never work. The reasons why Gandhiji's non-cooperation movement, civil- disobedience movement, his economic policies had effect is not because they were cleverly thought out plans but because they emanated from a religious mind and that religious mind is what Krishnamurti is asking us to come upon.