How can the brain transform itself?
The world of peace
1st Public Talk, Brockwood Park
August 27, 1983
I suppose I must talk. I am glad we are having such good weather and I hope it'll continue the whole week. First of all, if one may remind you, this is not an entertainment, this is not an intellectual feast, or intellectual stimulation, or some kind of romantic, sentimental nonsense. We are going to deal with the very, very complex problem of living together in this world - this world that has gone almost mad; there is such chaos and misery, the threat of war. And religions have played very little part in all this, in our daily life. And I think we ought to go together - together, not that the speaker will talk about various things - but together we ought to go into these matters, not that you listen and the speaker talks, but together. And so if we are going to work together, think together, perceive together and act together, one must, it appears, listen very carefully, not only to what is being said, but also to listen to our own reactions to what is being said - our reactions of approval or disapproval, our sense of restrictions, our resistances, our fears, and all the complexity of our reactions to any form of stimulation. And so the act of listening is very important if we are going together to explore, to think together, into the whole problem of our present day existence.
We are very circumscribed, limited. Our brains have been so programmed and conditioned, so limited that most of us are unaware of this. We are conditioned linguistically, whether we are or not, that's a very serious subject into which we will go if we have time. We are conditioned, shaped, moulded by the environment, by tradition, by religion, by the solitude of our own illusions, our own imaginations, the solitude of our own aspirations, circumscribed, limited. So our brain - not that the speaker is an expert at it, but having listened to a great many people talk about the brain, specialists and others, one perceives that through this long process of evolution our brains are very, very limited. Apparently only a very small part of it acts or thinks or lives - the rest is in abeyance. That is what some of the specialists who have studied the quality of the brain and the workings of the brain have said.
And also we can see for ourselves, without relying on the experts, that our life is very small. We are so concerned with ourselves, with our success, with our miseries and all the turmoil of one's own limited life - the sorrow, the pain, the anxiety, the various forms of reactions which arise from our prejudices, our bias, our tendencies. All this does condition our brain, and so we never have the awareness of the whole of life, the whole of existence which is vast, immeasurable and tremendously potent.
And if we could together, this morning, go easily and happily, and enquire into the quality of our own life - if you are willing - into the nature of our behaviour, into the whole process of our thought, if we could enquire together into all this. And not only enquire, but through the very enquiry, apply. Enquiry by itself has very little meaning. Enquiring into ourselves, into our environment, into the state of the world - mere enquiry, either intellectual or the enquiry of curiosity, of information, and so on, has very little effect on our lives. But if we enquire into ourselves, into the way of our thinking, why we think this way - why human beings who have lived on this beautiful earth for so many millennia are still what they are - unhappy, violent, ready to kill each other for some idiotic reasons. If we could go together into all this - and in the process of going together on this path, on this road which has no end and no beginning, then perhaps our meeting here will be worthwhile. But to merely listen year after year, or read, and not apply, has very little meaning. It is a waste of time and energy.
So could we, this morning, be serious enough for at least an hour to look at this whole world in which we live, the world which we have created. This society is the result of our own complex life. You are conditioned by health, by environment, by our culture, by nationalism, and so on. Unless we break through all this conditioning, we will go on as we have been going on for thousands of years. And so violence will go on, corruption, each one seeking his own fulfilment and pursuing his own ambitions - isolated - and where there is isolation there must be conflict. And so could we this morning go into all this. One is asking this seriously because you have taken the trouble to come here. And it's no good merely talking about the ideas, the expressions, the reactions, but go into this with tremendous energy, vitality and see if it is possible to break down this conditioning so that the brain will have immense capacity.
It has the capacity now, extraordinary capacity in the technological world - the computers, the biological chemistry, genetic engineering and various forms of other activities from the outside to affect the brain. I don't know if you are aware of all this. Scientists of the various disciplines are trying desperately to bring about a change in man. And such change has been from the outside - I hope we understand each other. They are trying through genetic engineering, to change the very genes themselves so that the human being is something entirely different. And the computer is taking over perhaps a great deal of our activity - again from the outside. The Communists have tried that, tried to control, changed the environment, hoping man will change, through authority, through discipline, through complete obedience, and they have not succeeded. On the contrary, they are creating great misery in the world. So we are asking a most fundamental question, whether it is possible, not to be affected from the outside - I hope we understand when I use the word 'outside', whether the outside be god, music, art, or the external laws that are established by governments, and so on - all these outside agencies in various forms and disciplines are trying to force man to conform, to bring about a radical change in their behaviour so that man will live without wars, and so on.
And also, on the other side, they are preparing for wars. Every government throughout the world is armed, ready to kill and be killed. So this is going on all the time around us. I am sure most of us are aware of all this.
We are asking a totally different question. Religions have tried to change man, to tame him down - through fear, heaven and hell, and all the rest of it. And they have not succeeded either. These are all facts. It is not the speaker's imagination or bias. This is what is going on in the world around us, affecting through propaganda, through various forms of chemical engineering, and so on, to force man. And they have never succeeded, and they will never succeed because the psyche is far too strong, far too cunning, extraordinarily capable. So we are asking - you and the speaker are asking - I am not asking you, you are asking this question: since all outside influences, including the idea of god and ideologies, various forms of historical dialectical conclusions have not changed man, whether it is possible for human beings to change radically, fundamentally, without the external influence at all. You understand? Gurus throughout the world have not succeeded. They are all pretentious and seeking money. They can be put aside completely. They are not important. But what is important and essential to ask is: what will make each one of us, intellectuals, whether we are scientists, whether we are artists or various forms of activities, whether we are capable, fundamentally, deeply, to bring about a mutation in the very brain cells themselves? Have I made this question clear?
We were talking the other day in New York to some scientists. After a great deal of discussion - it lasted over two hours - I asked them what would bring about a mutation in the very brain cells themselves, not from the outside - genetic engineering, biochemistry - you follow? - all that. What will change the brain cells themselves which have been conditioned for thousands of years? I hope you are putting this question to yourselves. What would be your answer? If you are serious and earnest and passionate enough to put this question, what would be your answer? If you have thought a great deal about all this, either you would say, it is not possible, and so close the door for your further enquiry, or you would say, I really don't know, is it possible? We are in that position. We are not closing the door by saying, it is not possible - it's impossible. How can man, who has been so conditioned for thousands and thousands of years, through vast knowledge, experience - how can that brain transform itself? It's not possible! If you are serious and answer that way - 'It's not possible' - then you have closed completely the avenue of enquiry. But if you are enquiring into it - that is, whether the brain, which has such extraordinary capacity in one direction, and so utterly limited, circumscribed, conditioned, programmed, to be a Catholic, Protestant, to be British, French and English, you know, and all the rest of it - whether that brain can be totally free - not free to do what you like. We're all doing that anyhow - pursuing our own pleasures, our own solitary ambitions, our own salvation if you are at all religiously minded, our own isolated pleasures and illusions. That we do every day of our life. That's a common occurrence for all of humanity, pursuing their own isolated, solitary illusions, stimulations, aspirations and ideologies. And that is what they call freedom. Surely, that is not freedom. Freedom requires a great deal of discipline. Please understand what we mean by that word. We will go into it in a minute - freedom implies great humility, innate inward discipline and work. We'll go into those three.
Most of us are so arrogant because we rely so much on our knowledge. We are certain; our beliefs, our conclusions our desires are so strong that we have lost all sense of deep, natural humility, which again, it is a fact - how strong when a Frenchman says, 'I'm a Frenchman' or when you say, 'I'm British'. I don't know if you have noticed - God-given race - and everyone feels this in every country. The other day an Indian was talking to us. He said, 'We have the greatest culture in the world. We are the most highly civilised people.' I said, 'Yes, you are corrupt. You're superstitious. Your beliefs have no value at all. Your ideals, your religion are just a stack of words.' He said, 'No, but we are still the highest culture.' I said, 'All right.' No, no. Please don't laugh. This applies to you too.
So, when we identify ourselves with a country, with certain ideologies, with conclusions, concepts, then we are incapable of being humble. Because then only, when you are enquiring in humility, you learn, you find out. And humility is necessary. Then you see things as they are, around you and in yourself. And discipline is constant watching, watching your own reactions, continual observation, seeing what the source of your thought is, why you react in certain ways, what your biases are, your prejudices, your hurts, and so on. Constant watching brings its own natural discipline, order. That's what we mean by discipline. Not conformity, not following a certain pattern either established by society or by yourself, but the eternal watching of the world and of yourself. Then you see there is no difference between the world and yourself. That brings about naturally a sense of order. Therefore order is discipline, not the other way round. And work, not only physical work, which unfortunately most of us have to do - not if you are unemployed in this country - but also work in the sense, apply what you see to be true - apply it, not give an interval of time between perception and action. If one sees, as the speaker has seen many, many years ago, as a boy, that nationalism was a poison - I hope you don't mind my saying all this - that he was no longer a Hindu, he just walked, he was no longer a Hindu - finished with all their superstitions and you know all that rubbish that goes on with every nationality.
So, to live on this earth peacefully, in spite of the governments, requires a great deal of enquiry. To live peacefully demands great intelligence. Right sir? Can we go on like this? It is easy for the speaker to talk about all these things because that's his life. But merely listening to what is being said seems so futile. But the moment you apply: if you see something to be true - instant application, then that removes conflict altogether.
Conflict exists only when there is a gap, a division between what you see to be actual, to be true, and all the implications of fear of your action. So there is an interval, a gap, a hiatus which brings about conflict. I hope you understand all this. May I go on? Or am I going on for myself? Are we following each other a little bit? We are not doing any kind of propaganda. We are not trying to convince you of anything - on the contrary, one must have doubt, scepticism, question, not only what the speaker is saying but question your own life, question, doubt your own beliefs. If you begin to doubt, it gives certain clarity. It doesn't give you a feeling of great importance to yourself. Doubt is necessary in our exploration, in our enquiry into this whole problem of existence. And the question whether it is possible for human beings, who are perhaps somewhat neurotic, whether that neuroticism can be wiped away, become sane, rational - with such a brain, enquire.
We are enquiring whether the brain cells can, without any influence from outside - governmental, environmental, religious and all the rest of it - can bring about a mutation in the brain cells? Is this question clear? Are we putting this question to ourselves? This is a serious problem. This cannot be answered by yes or no, affirmative or negative. One must look at this whole question as a whole; not as British, French or some kind of religious, superstitious nonsense, or according to your own particular discipline or profession. You must look at the whole of life as one unitary movement. You understand all this? If we do, then we can begin to ask - is it possible? And if we do ask that question, what difference does it make if a few of us bring about, perhaps, a mutation? What effect has it on the world? You know, that's the usual question. Right? I may change and you may change. A few of us may bring about a mutation, but what effect has that on the mass of people, on the governments, will they stop wars, and so on?
I think that's a wrong question to put - what effect has it on others? That's a wrong question. Because then you are not doing the thing for itself, but how it will affect others? After all, beauty has no cause. Right? I won't go into it. To do something for itself - for the love of itself, then it has an extraordinary effect - may or may not have. For example, we have talked for the last sixty years, unfortunately or fortunately - need I answer the question any further? One might ask, 'How has it affected the world? You go to various parts of the world, has it changed anybody at all?' I think that is rather a foolish question. We might ask, 'Why does a flower bloom? Why is there a solitary star in the heavens in the evening?' The man who has freed himself from his conditioning never asks that question. For in it there is compassion; it is great intelligence.
So let us proceed. Can we proceed? You are not too tired?
First of all, do we realise that we are conditioned - aware without any choice, aware that my brain is conditioned? Or you accept what another says and therefore say, 'My brain is conditioned.' You see the difference? If I am aware that my brain is conditioned, that has a totally different quality. But if you tell me that I am conditioned and then I realise I am conditioned, then it becomes very, very superficial. I hope you are following all this. So are we aware that we are conditioned - as a British, by our experiences - we are not saying that it is right or wrong, we are going to find out - by our culture, by our tradition, by our environment, by all the religious propaganda for two thousand years as Christianity, or as Buddhism two thousand five hundred years ago, or Hinduism, perhaps longer? Are we aware? If you are aware, then you ask, why?
Why is the brain conditioned? What is the nature of this conditioning? Is it essentially experience and knowledge? Please go slowly with this. Experience conditions the brain. Right? Obviously. Do we meet each other there? And experience means knowledge - right? To learn to drive a car you need experience. You get into a car, drive it and gather through that experience knowledge, how to drive a car. Please listen carefully, if you will, kindly: is knowledge the basic factor of our conditioning? Knowledge being the repetition of certain tradition - right? - and so on. Knowledge is necessary. Otherwise you couldn't go home, you couldn't drive a car, you couldn't go back to your job, if you have a job. So knowledge in one area, physical knowledge, is necessary. But knowledge also conditions our brain, knowledge being tradition, the being programmed as we are, by newspapers, by magazines, by constant repetition that you are British, British, British. Or when you go to France, it's the same old thing, French, French. Again when you go to India, again, Indian - this constant repetition. So the brain becomes dull, repetitive, mechanical. And perhaps that's a safe way of living but it's got tremendous danger. This repetition of various cultures, countries, is an isolating process and therefore division, therefore war - that's only one of the reasons for war. So are we aware that our brain is being programmed?
Please don't look at others: (laughs) look at yourself. If one is aware that one is programmed, conditioned, then one asks, 'Is it knowledge?' And apparently it is knowledge. Then why do we live, psychologically, why is the structure of the psyche essentially based on knowledge? You understand? Have I made the question clear? The psyche, the 'me', the self, is essentially a movement in knowledge, a series of knowledge which is a series of memories. Right? So we are a series of memories - so we are memory. Would you acknowledge Do you see that fact? Not that we are divine and, you know, all that blah that is trotted out by religions. But the actual fact is that we are nothing but memories. Most unpleasant discovery, isn't it! (laughter) Or do you say, 'No, there is part of me which is not memory.' The moment when you say that, it's already memory. I don't know if you see that. When I say I am not wholly the result of memories, that very statement implies that there is part of me which is not. And that part of me when I look at it, is also memory. So memories are the past, projected perhaps in the future, but it is still memory. Those memories are modified by the present and continue into the future, but is still a series of memories.
Please don't let's become sentimental about all this because that's so meaningless or romantic. These are facts. What are you without memories, without all the remembrances of your achievement, of your wife, of your son, of your brother, family, memories of your travels, what you have done, what you have achieved? Right? They are all in the past. So memories are dead things. On those dead things we live. Right? Do see all this. Please we are not trying to persuade you to look at it, we are not trying to persuade you or convince you of anything. The speaker is not your guru. So don't follow anybody including the speaker. But look at these facts.
Then the question arises: is it possible to live psychologically without a single memory? You understand? Put this question, please, to yourself. My brother, son, wife, husband, is dead. I remember all the incidents, happiness, you know, all the rest of it, intimate relationships. It is a vast remnant of the past, memory. And I live on that. I have a picture, photographs, and there is this constant stimulation from the photograph. So the 'me', the self, the ego is a movement of identification with memory. Right? I am a Christian, I am a Hindu, a Buddhist, whatever you like to call it, an American, and so on. How tremendously attached we are to our identifications. That's our conditioning. And when you see that, not verbally, not as an idea, but actually see the fact, then there is action. Like when you have a violent toothache, there is action because it's there. But if you imagine you have a toothache, then that's quite a different process.
So do we see clearly, without being persuaded, without being pushed into a corner, do we see very clearly for ourselves what we are - which is our conditioning, which is our consciousness. And seeing that, what is one to do? Clear? Can we go on from there? We've got another ten minutes. Have we reached that point? Please, have we all of us, or at least some of us, reached that point when we realise completely that we are conditioned and that conditioning is a vast series of movements of memories. And memories are always the past, remembrance of things past which then are projected into the future, modified by the present, but still it is a movement of memories. Right? And these memories we call knowledge. Right?
Then how does one look at these memories? You understand my question? How does one observe these memories? We have thousands of memories. Right? From childhood we have gathered them - pleasant, unpleasant, memories that are of our aspirations, memories of achievements, memories of pain, fear, great sorrow. These are all memories.
And do you see these memories as different from the observer? You understand my question? We are observing. I am observing that I am a long series of memories. I've stated that - that I am memories; but there is in me the feeling that I'm not all that, there's something else that's observing. Right? Are you following? Are we together in this? So is the observer different from the observed? This is an old theme. Many of you probably have heard of it. 'Ah, you say, well, you're trotting that out.' (laughter) But when you realise this fact, something extraordinary happens - not something mysterious, not parapsychological, and so on, and so on - something which ends conflict which is far more important than anything else.
As long as there is division between the memories and the observer, this division creates conflict. Right? Division between the Arab and the Jews, between the British and the Falklands - may I mention the Falklands? (laughter) Right? Between the Hindu and the Islamic world. Wherever there is division there must be conflict. Right? No, no, pursue that please. Wherever there is isolated action, isolated solitary pleasure, solitary aspirations, that very solitude is an act of separation. Therefore, that very person who pursues his particular ambition, his particular fulfilment, his aspirations, and so on, must inevitably create conflict, not only for himself but for others.
So from this arises the question whether conflict of every kind, in our very being, can end. Because we live with conflict. You might say, 'Well, all nature is in conflict. A single tree in a forest is fighting to achieve light, is struggling, fighting, squeezing out others. And human beings, born from nature, are doing the same thing.' If you accept that, then you accept all the consequences of conflict - wars, confusion, brutality, ugliness, the nastiness of war. As long as you are British, French or an Indian you are inevitably going to create wars. Right? But you see this, and we don't do anything about it.
So, to end conflict, which means to live with that peace which requires tremendous intelligence, is to understand the nature of conflict. I must stop for now. We will continue tomorrow morning, may we? Sorry to stop at this point. Not that it is an enticement for you to come tomorrow. (laughter)
Q: Can you just say something about when a memory comes it seems to come from outside and then you react. Say, you are embarrassed, then you remember something – at least I do. Do you understand?
K: The gentleman asks - memory is outside, comes from outside. You react to that memory and you strengthen that memory or you put aside that memory. Right? Are you different from memory? You see, that's the whole point. We are the result of this movement from the outer to the inner. Right? From the inner to the outer. Right? Have you not noticed - like the sea going out and coming in. We have created this monstrous society, and that society controls us. Right? And we try to change that society, through law, through governments, through all kinds of strikes, and all the rest of it, and then react to that. So it's a constant movement from the outer to the inner, from the inner to the outer. Right? It is one movement. It's not separate movement - water is water. It goes out and comes in. It's salt water.
Now, the question arises from that, whether this movement can stop - action and reaction - you hit me and I hit you back. You hate me, I hate you back. I own this particular piece of land and you fight for it. And I defend and I attack. You follow? This has been going on for millions of years - the ebb and flow of reaction. If you will, kindly put the question whether this movement can end. If that wasp stings me, I react, naturally. But why should I react if you flatter me, or insult me?
So to ask this question, whether this movement of action and reaction can stop - to find an answer to that, one has to go a great deal into it.
Is that enough for this morning? May we get up?