Non-thinking along with Krishnamurti

by Rene Wadlow

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) is best known for his talks which he gave in a number of countries, the U.S.A. England, Holland, India, and Switzerland.  The books by Krishnamurti such as "Freedom from the Known" "The First and Last Freedom" "The Awakening of Intelligence" are edited by others from the talks that he gave.  The talks rarely focused on only one theme but rather had many threads to which he would often return.  The talks often ended with a number of questions asked by those attending.  The talks in Switzerland which I attended were in the small village of Saanen in the Swiss Alps.  Saanen is very near Gstaad, a well-known ski resort.  Thus in summer when Krishnamurti gave his talks, there were a good number of empty rooms that could be rented by people who wanted to stay for more than one day.

Krishnamurti would speak outside in the shade of trees under a sort of tent, but people seated outside the tent could hear what he was saying as he was speaking with a microphone. Nearby, there was a small brook so there was the sound of running water in the background and often birds singing - a setting of restful calm.  Krishnamurti sat on a small hardbacked chair in the middle of the tent.  There was no ceremony or ritual when he came or left.  There were usually 200 or 300 people at each talk which lasted an hour and a half or two hours depending on the questions asked.  Afterwards, many of those present would talk informally in small groups among themselves.  Some people had been going to Krishnamurti talks for many years and were often linked to education or social work.

Krishnamurti had been trained within the Theosophical Society in India.  His father had worked as a secretary in the Theosophical Society estate, a large property on the edge of Madras in the south of India. Annie Besant, then President of the Society and Charles Webster Leadbeater, a leading member living on the estate took a particular interest in Krishnamurti and in his training.  Leadbeater later created the Liberal Catholic Church, an institution with much ritual and ceremony.

By 1930, Krishnamurti sensed that organizations, ceremony and ritual did not lead to enlightenment.  He left the Theosophical Society and desolved the Order of the Star in the East of which he was the President.  From then on, he spoke out against organizations which limited thinking saying "Organizations are travelling along the old path covered over with a new coating but always the same road, leading nowhere."  He would ask his listeners to inquire together to free their minds of all symbols, images, words and remembrances.  When thoughts - with all their images, words and perceptions had entirely ceased, then there is order, beauty, and no "self" who has been thinking.

Krishnamurti would not quote from other thinkers of philosophical schools having said when he dissolved the Order of the Star " You cannot approach truth by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect, by any political organization.  There is no path to truth.  The following of any path leads to what thought has already formulated and, however pleasent or satisfying, it is not the truth."

Thus Krishnamurti never quoted from the Ch'an school of Chinese Buddhism-Taoism although it is very close to what he was presenting.  The Ch'an school holds that the Buddha, in addition to his public talks recorded in the Buddist scriptures, gave an esoteric teaching transmitted orally.  This approach went from India to China where it was taken up by both Buddhists and Taoists and was known as the Path of Sudden Attainment. (1) The emphasis is on nonthinking - an awareness without words.  In this state, there is no "me" who thinks - no permanent self.

For Krishnamurti, when thought with its words, images, perceptions has entirely ceased, there is awareness.  Awareness opens the door to "what is" and its order, beauty and intensity.  Krishnamurti could have called this state "thoughtless awareness" but the term "thoughtless" has taken on a negative coloration.

Therefore, he used the term "choiceless awareness", choice being the name one gives to things.

It is not clear to me how many of those who listened to Krishnamurti in the Alps reached this non-thinking state. No doubt many went on thinking but with a fresher mind.                                                                                

1) See Fung Yu-Lan. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy  (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950)