Am I actually interested in finding out what is true, whatever the consequences?
What is consciousness? Is mental life just the product of the brain? Or is consciousness unique, fundamental, revealing a hidden reality? Understanding what consciousness is, why and how it evolved, is perhaps the greatest mystery.
If we were asked what lies at the root of our consciousness, what would we say? We might say that there is an undeniable sense of a “my” consciousness, separate from “your” consciousness. In other words, by focusing on all the various unique experiences that each of us have undergone creates the sense of having an individual consciousness that is separate from everyone else’s. Are we missing something here?
Is our consciousness actually separate, or is it a movement of experiencing ourselves as having a separate consciousness, even as it is happening in a shared way in all of us? This turns the whole sense of ourselves on its head, as the falseness of this “shared experience of separateness” is revealed.
At the same time, we can see the personal and global suffering and violence that this separative movement of consciousness is creating. And the very fact that together, we are unavoidably part of this river of consciousness means that when one suffers, fundamentally we all suffer. There is no real separation in this consciousness and suffering, no truly personal suffering. In fact, the sense of it being personal may be the nature of this suffering.
The sad irony is that all of this may be based on a deeply-held but mistaken assumption that the inward experience of being separate is how things actually are.
The content of my consciousness is my unhappiness, my misery, my struggle, my sorrow, the images which I have collected through life, the frustrations, the pleasures, the fears, the agony, the hatred – that is my consciousness. Can all that be completely emptied? Not only at the superficial level but right through? – the so-called unconscious. If it is not possible, then I must live a life of misery, I must live in endless, unending sorrow. There is neither hope, nor despair, I am in prison. So the mind must find out how to empty itself of all the content of itself, and yet live in this world, not become a moron, but have a brain that functions efficiently. Now how is this to be done? Can it ever be done? Or is there no escape for man?
Krishnamurti in discussion with Prof Needleman in Malibu, 1971
from Awakening of intelligence
Listen to the full discussion here:
Resistance and Change
Is awakening to the nature of our consciousness something purely intellectual or reasoned out? And can reasoning alter the movement of our consciousness? Krishnamurti pointed out that reasoning cannot bring about a fundamental change in thinking itself. He spoke of a different action, born of insight, revealing what is false.
So what does this actually mean? Is there any way out of the confusion and conflict that tends to be our lives? Is there anything we can “do” to change any of it? And is change not what we think it is?
Watch this 2-minute video on consciousness and its fragmentation.
Fear and Learning
There was a time when I felt my life was supposed to be “spiritual”, which meant that I needed to become more self-aware, etc. And yet, the more deeply I focused on this, the more I seemed to be in conflict with myself. There were all these thoughts and feelings that were so “unenlightened”, and I couldn’t bring this to an end. Like the Chinese finger puzzle, the more I struggled with myself, the more entangled I seemed to become. In this was both fear and resistance: the fear that I may not be what I thought I “should” and wanted to be, and tremendous resistance to this fear: it might be true!
The more resistance there was to this fear, the more intense the fear became. At a certain point, it could no longer be resisted. There was just the actuality of fear, like a tidal wave overtaking and flowing through me.
But this fear was not my idea of fear, which was just resistance to fear. It was something actual, non-verbal. There was no longer resistance to the feeling of fear, to not being what I thought I was. So whatever this word fear referred to, it fully expressed itself. This fear was myself, it was not separate from me.
What then remained? Just myself as I was; just my inner movement and ideas about myself as they were.
Can We Change?
So is it possible not to seek results (what “should be”), but instead discover our inward movement as it actually is? This is learning itself, which is not acquiring anything.
We assume we know ourselves, and therefore we tend to look through these ideas we have about ourselves, as if we already know. In so doing, we don’t look directly. But to see that we actually don’t know, we only assume we do, is to see ourselves as we are. What we thought we knew about ourselves was just an idea.
So what is moving within us right now may not be what we assume it to be, it may actually be unknown to us. And it may be more alive than anything we could ever conceive of.
In the end, it seems it is up to each of us to find out what is actually true, and to not depend on our ideas or the words of others. To start afresh, which means to realize that what we think we know may be what is hindering us.
Maybe it is worth starting with the above as a question: am I actually interested in finding out what is true, whatever the consequences?
By Daniel Kilpatrick
Associate Professor of Microbiology,
Physiological Systems & Neuroscience
University of Massachusetts