Conflict in Relationship: Krishnamurti’s View
This is a presentation given by David Moody at the KFA Explorations Conference 2018. You can watch the full talk above. Here are some very interesting excerpts from the presentation:
A Map of the Territory
I have to begin by saying that I approach this role, this responsibility, with a bit of trepidation for several reasons.
One of them is that here we are in the Krishnamurti Library, with the bookstore and the audio and video tapes and this mountain of original material, and in the midst of all this, I’m going to tell you what Krishnamurti has to say. It’s as if we were on the banks of a large lake and someone was thirsty, and I offered them a cup of water from the lake. It’s not clear what I could possibly have to offer that you could not get yourself from the lake.
Another reason for my sense of hesitation is that Krishnamurti felt very strongly—in fact, he was adamant—that he did not want anyone during or after his lifetime to serve as any sort of interpreter of the teachings. He said many times that he didn’t want any interpretation; he wanted the teachings to speak for themselves, and he felt they did speak for themselves. Part of his concern was that he didn’t want anyone to assume a position of authority with respect to the teachings, in the sense that someone would come along and say, “I’m going to tell you what the teachings really mean.” So I want to emphasize that I’m not doing that. My role here is just as a fellow explorer, sharing with you some of what I have discovered in my life and in my study of the teachings.
There’s a third reason why I hesitate to assume this role, and it is that Krishnamurti was pretty adamant that he didn’t want his teachings to be understood just on a conceptual or analytical basis. We have to acknowledge that what I’m going to share with you is really a form of knowledge. We have to recognize that what I have to contribute is a kind of conceptual analysis and we have to take it for what it is.
With all these reasons to be hesitant, you might wonder why I agreed to assume this responsibility. The way I look at it is: if you wanted to understand the nation of France, for instance, you would have to go to France and see it for yourself. But, you might also find it of some benefit to have a map of the territory. It might also be useful to talk with someone who had visited France and spent some time there, just to get their impressions. And so it is in that spirit that I’m going to try to convey a kind of map of Krishnamurti’s teachings. While doing that, I’ll also try to share some of my personal encounters and understanding of the teachings that I’ve studied for many years.
What Are the Sources of Conflict in Human Relationship?
It would be good to begin by pointing out that Krishnamurti said, “All of life is relationship. To be is to be related.” That’s an interesting and unusual thing to say, because most of us have the assumption, implicitly, that we exist as individuals, as a personality, independently of whatever our relationships are. We exist, and because we exist, we can then enter into a relationship, or love—or what have you.
All of life is relationship. To be is to be related – otherwise you have no existence.
According to Krishnamurti, that’s really not the case; that’s a kind of illusion. He says that our whole being only exists in terms of the relationship itself, and if you remove all relationships, there’s no “you” left. The idea that there’s a you independent of what you’re related to is an illusion. According to him, relationship is the mirror through which you can understand yourself, because his philosophy is oriented around self-understanding and self-knowledge.
The point of that is that we might assume that there’s half a dozen or more different modes or avenues towards self-understanding. But Krishnamurti seems to be saying that there’s really only one way to understand yourself, and that is through the mirror of a relationship, because you don’t exist apart from relationship: to be is to be related. So that raises the question: What is there to be related with?
Relationship with People, Things, and Ideas
According to Krishnamurti, relationship is with people, with things, and with ideas. He said this quite a few times, and when he made this little list, it always strikes me as a bit strange that he neglected to include relationship with nature. It seems odd because nature is very, very important to Krishnamurti personally, and nature has its important place in the teachings. But for whatever reason, he didn’t usually include nature in this list. We’re going to come to relationship with nature later.
Right now, we want to focus mainly on human relationship and the problem of conflict in relationship. But we don’t want to overlook entirely relationships with things and with ideas, not only because they’re important in and of themselves, but also because they interact and blend with one another. So before we go on to human relationship, let’s talk about our relationships with things and ideas.
With respect to things, most of our concern has to do with what we can possess, with either what we do possess or what we would like to possess, which for many of us is more or less unlimited. And so, possession, which in and of itself is both a practical and a legal matter, gets mixed up with the psychological: it gets mixed up with our desire to possess and our sense of greed, which means wanting to possess more than we need, and our psychological sense of attachment to the things that we possess, which means that things have greater meaning to us than their actual, practical value.
Once the principle is established that we can possess things, that also bleeds over into our possession of people and ideas, because we admire someone who we think possesses a great deal of knowledge, and because we feel proud if we ourselves acquire some new information or new ideas.
Similarly, if a person becomes important to us, then we want to possess that person, and that can begin and most often manifest in wanting to possess that person psychologically. The more extreme form of that is actual physical possession of a person, which is slavery—one of the most destructive and immoral forms of behavior. Today, it’s commonly understood that slavery is a deeply immoral thing, but it still exists widely in some parts of the world.
Somewhat similarly, the way we treat animals is based on treating them as things. The way we raise and slaughter pigs, cows, and chickens and so on is tremendously immoral and exploitative. You might say that we need the animals for food, but that’s a debatable proposition. In any case, the way we treat animals, raise them, and slaughter them is based upon treating animals as things, as property, to do with as we like. And that’s one of the reasons, I believe, why all Krishnamurti schools are vegetarian.
When Krishnamurti refers to relationship with ideas, I believe he meant to encompass everything in consciousness which is abstract or conceptual. It includes all of our knowledge and memory. In essence, what Krishnamurti means by ideas is thought and everything to do with thought.
When we get to the subject of thought, we come very close to the core of Krishnamurti’s philosophy. He’s often regarded as a spiritual teacher and a religious philosopher. I don’t want to deny that or argue against this, but the actual, vast majority of the substance of the teachings has to do with a very factual description of everyday human consciousness and very little to do with what we commonly think of or associate with religion, such as faith, belief in a God, belief in some kind of afterlife, or holy scriptures.
In a sense, we could say that the vast majority of Krishnamurti’s teachings are what we could call secular descriptions of everyday consciousness. And in the landscape of human consciousness, according to Krishnamurti, nothing looms larger or more significantly than thought.
What is Thought?
Krishnamurti has made quite a few statements about thought, and I’d like to share them here:
- Thought is mechanical.
- Thought is a material process.
- Thought is limited.
- Thought is fragmentary.
- Thought is knowledge.
- Thought is time.
- Thought is the past.
- The word (thought) is not the thing.
- The thinker is the thought.
- Thought is the response of memory.
- Thought is movement.
- Thought is deviation.
- In the space that thought creates around itself, there is no love.
- Thought is a system.
Krishnamurti never presented these observations in this manner. He would just come across any given one of these in the course of a much larger exposition, and he would take one and elaborate at length upon its meaning. But it’s interesting to draw them together here and show them as a collection to give a distilled sense of the rather remarkable variety of unusual things that Krishnamurti had to say about thought.
You Are the World
The first thing that I want to raise with respect to Krishnamurti’s view of human relationship is a statement that he had made very often, one of the quintessential core statements in all of the teachings: “You are the world.”
This statement has a great deal of depth, and I’d like to read a passage from one of the talks where Krishnamurti expresses this in his own words. This is from the first public talk that he gave in Madras in December of 1976:
When one goes around the world—America, Europe, and different parts of Europe—and come to this country (India), one finds that human beings, whether black, brown, or yellow, or purple, whatever color you like, are almost the same: They suffer. They are confused. They are uncertain. They are seeking jobs, some kind of security, both physically as well as psychologically. So, wherever you go, human beings are almost the same. They may have cultural, superficial differences, but inwardly, psychologically, they are essentially the same. So, you are the world, and the world is you.
Attachment, Comparison, and Identification
Against this background, let’s examine three issues that arise in human relationship and see how Krishnamurti examines each one of them. These are the issues of attachment, comparison, and identification. If we explore these issues separately and in combination, we can get a sense of how Krishnamurti sees the issue of conflict in relationship.
There’s a principle in Krishnamurti’s teachings that should be highlighted as a theme that runs through all three of these issues. If you examine the totality of the teachings, you’ll find that there are very, very few things that Krishnamurti is so emphatic about that he would refer to as a law, like one of the laws of Newton or the law of gravity. There is one principle that he does repeatedly call a law:
Where there is division, there must be conflict.
Again, this principle is so basic that I don’t want to describe it in my own words but read to you how Krishnamurti described this principle. This excerpt is from Saanen 1985:
Have you ever noticed that we build a fence around ourselves? A fence of self-protection. A fence to ward off any hurts. A barrier between you and the other, between you and the family and so on.
There’s a barrier between you and the speaker, naturally. You don’t know the speaker, and the speaker doesn’t know you. Therefore, you are rather politely listening, curious as to what the devil he is talking about, and hoping you will get something out of it after sitting an hour or so in this hot tent. Expecting something, curious, choosing what suits you, what doesn’t suit you, listening partially—not entirely, because one doesn’t want to expose oneself to oneself. So naturally, one creates either a very, very thin barrier, hardly any. Or, a definite wall.
Why do we do that? Is that not self-interest? And this self-interest must inevitably bring about fragmentation, to break up. Nationally, you can see the barrier: on one side, England; the other side, all of Europe and beyond it. There is this constant division, and where there is division, there must be conflict—that is inevitable.
Whether you have a very deep, intimate relationship with your wife or husband, or girl or boy, and so on, where there is division, there must be fragmentation; there must be conflict. That is a law. Right? Whether you like it or not, that is a law. But when one sees that, then the very seeing is the way of breaking down the barrier.
So how does this principle operate in connection with the issues of attachment, comparison, and identification?
If I’m attached to someone, it means, in very simple terms, that I want to keep that person; I want to keep a relationship with that person. It becomes very important to keep that person in my life. Therefore, I feel threatened, fearful, jealous, and a sense of loss if that person leaves me or develops a relationship with someone else.
Now the attachment does not feel to me like division. It feels to me like, I want the sense of oneness, I want the sense of wholeness. But the person I’m attached to probably doesn’t experience it that way. That person probably feels or may feel a little bit controlled, possessed, and maybe subtly or maybe very obviously manipulated. So in the very process of seeking oneness and togetherness with that person, I’m actually creating a division in my relationship, and that division leads to conflict because I’ll be hurt and angry and jealous. I’ll create the very conditions that will produce the opposite effect of what I want to achieve with my attachment.
Let’s look at what happens with another common phenomenon: the process of comparison. Comparison is something that goes on all the time. We compare one person with another, or we compare ourselves with someone we admire. And we do this so frequently and reflexively that we think of it as a normal thing to do. We even think that it’s a worthwhile and admirable thing to do.
Krishnamurti says, “The process of comparison is counterproductive and destructive and even cruel. In order to compare, you have to form an image of yourself and an image of that other person. And these images are always partial and fragmentary, and they can never capture the whole living human being.” Also, when you compare, you’re trying to achieve some standard, some value or ideal quality or characteristic.
Society regards this as a good and worthwhile process. We admire the person who we think is idealistic—that’s considered a virtue. But Krishnamurti maintains that ideals are actually very destructive things, because they create conflict with what you actually are. That conflict is a waste of energy, and it prevents you from coming into contact with whatever it is that you actually are. And so the gap between what you are and what the ideal is, is a division. And where there is division, there must be conflict.
We can see a similar process of image-making and division when it comes to the psychological process of identification. It is again something that is very common and very familiar, and it’s something that almost everyone engages in. Identification occurs whenever I identify myself with some religious affiliation or national group, or with my nationality, my ethnic group, my family, my neighborhood. Any of these forms of identification occur when I say I’m a member of that group. But what that requires is that I form an image of myself and I say that this image belongs to that group. I identify with it. The problem is that, in the process, I’m separating myself from everybody who’s not in the group. So there’s a form of division there which divides me from the rest of humanity.
In modern society, this kind of identification is not only taken for granted but considered very admirable. We admire and think it’s kind of virtuous if someone is very strongly identified with their nationality, with their family. We think, “Wow, what a good person to feel that way.” But we don’t recognize the destructive element of it unless we see it from some far distant place. For example, if we see that behavior of identification in our enemy in a war, then we can see how destructive it is. But when it occurs in our own backyard, it seems normal or even admirable.
Do We Relate to One Another?
If we put attachment and comparison and identification together and try to distill the essential features of Krishnamurti’s view of the sources of conflict in relationship, it appears that what he is saying is that, most of us, most of the time, are not really engaged in full actual relationships with people. Instead, we form an image of someone almost as soon as we meet them or very soon thereafter. That image becomes part of the basis for the relationship. Therefore, we don’t entirely see the actual person; we see them through the filter of the image that we formed, which is based upon the past or some memory or knowledge.
I should point out that, when Krishnamurti talks about an image, he doesn’t just mean a visual image. The way he uses the word ‘image,’ we could just as well say that we form a concept of that person. And any concept that we have about anything—the concept of marriage, or the concept of the Queen of England—is a complex mixture of ideas and memories and associations. It may include a visual image but it’s not limited to that.
All of that is mixed up in Krishnamurti’s use of the word ‘image,’ and you could say that we form a concept of almost everyone we meet. Then, we see the person and interact with them through the filter of that concept, which is based on the past. According to Krishnamurti, this operation of the mind leads inevitably to conflict because the image that we form is fragmentary. It itself is a fragment: it comes from the past, and there’s a division between that image and the actual person that we’re related to. And Krishnamurti’s Law says, where there is division, there must be conflict. It’s inevitable.
So, that’s the basic setup, as I understand it, of Krishnamurti’s views of the issues or problems that arise in human relationship.
David Edmund Moody
These are excerpts taken from the 1-hour presentation given by David Moody at the Explorations Conference 2018. He expands much more on his presentation. Please watch the video for a more comprehensive view of this topic. You can find his latest book “An Uncommon Collaboration: J. Krishnamurti & D. Bohm” here.