Sorrow, passion and beauty
A wholly different way of living
9th Dialogue, San Diego, California
February 22, 1974
J. Krishnamurti was born in South India and educated in England. For the past 40 years he has been speaking in the United States, Europe, India, Australia and other parts of the world. From the outset of his life's work he repudiated all connections with organised religions and ideologies and said that his only concern was to set man absolutely unconditionally free. He is the author of many books, among them The Awakening of Intelligence, The Urgency of Change, Freedom From the Known, and The Flight of the Eagle.
This is one of a series of dialogues between Krishnamurti and Dr. Allan W. Anderson, who is professor of religious studies at San Diego State University where he teaches Indian and Chinese scriptures and the oracular tradition. Dr. Anderson, a published poet, received his degree from Columbia University and the Union Theological Seminary. He has been honoured with the distinguished teaching award from the California State University.
A: Mr Krishnamurti, in our last conversation together we had moved from speaking together concerning fear and the relation between that and the transformation of the individual person which is not dependent on knowledge or time, and from that we went to pleasure and just as we reached the end of that conversation the question of beauty arose. And if it's agreeable with you I should like very much for us to explore that together.
K: One often wonders why museums are so filled with pictures and statues. Is it because man has lost touch with nature and therefore has to go to museums to look at other people's paintings, famous paintings and some of them are really marvellously beautiful? Why do the museums exist at all? I'm just asking. I'm not saying they should or should not. And I've been to many museums all over the world, taken around by experts, and I've always felt as though I was being shown around and looking at things that were so, for me, artificial, other peoples' expression, what they considered beauty. And I wondered what is beauty? Because when you read a poem of Keats, or really a poem that a man writes with his heart and with very deep feeling, he wants to convey something to you of what he feels, what he considers to be the most exquisite essence of beauty.
And I have looked at a great many cathedrals, as you must have, over Europe and again this expression of their feelings, their devotion, their reverence, in masonry, in rocks, in buildings, in marvellous cathedrals. And looking at all this, I'm always surprised when people talk about beauty, or write about beauty, whether it is something created by man or something that you see in nature; or it has nothing to do with the stone or with the paint or with the word, but something deeply inward. And so often in discussing with so-called professionals, having a dialogue with them, it appears to me that it is always somewhere out there, the modern painting, modern music, the pop and so on, so on, it's always somehow so dreadfully artificial. I may be wrong.
But what is beauty? Must it be expressed? That's one question. Does it need the word, the stone, the colour, the paint? Or it is something that cannot possibly be expressed in words, in a building, in a statue? So if we could go into this question of what is beauty. I feel to really go into it very deeply one must know what is suffering. Or understand what is suffering, because without passion you can't have beauty - passion in the sense, not lust, not the passion that comes when there is immense suffering. And the remaining with that suffering, not escaping from it, brings this passion. Passion means the abandonment, the complete abandonment of the 'me', of the self, the ego. And therefore a great austerity, not the austerity of - the word means ash, severe, dry which the religious people have made it into - but rather the austerity of great beauty.
A: Yes, yes I'm following you, I really am.
K: A great sense of dignity, beauty, that is, essentially, austere. And to be austere, not verbally or ideologically, but being austere means total abandonment, letting go of the 'me'. And one cannot let that thing take place if one hasn't deeply understood what suffering is. Because passion comes from the word, 'sorrow'. I don't know if you have gone into it, looked into that word, the root meaning of that word 'passion' is sorrow, from suffering.
A: To feel.
K: To feel. You see, sir, people have escaped from suffering. I think it is very deeply related to beauty, not that you must suffer.
A: Not that you must suffer but - yes.
K: That is, no we must go a little more slowly. I am jumping too quickly. First of all, we assume we know what beauty is. We see a Picasso or a Rembrandt or a Michelangelo and we think how marvellous. We think we know. We have read it in books, the experts have written about it and so on. One reads it and say, yes. We absorb it through others. But if one was really enquiring into what is beauty there must be a great sense of humility. Now, I don't know what beauty is actually. I can imagine what beauty is. I've learned what beauty is. I have been taught in schools, in colleges, in reading books and going on tours, guided tours and all the rest, visiting thousands of museums, but actually to find out the depth of beauty, the depth of colour the depth of feeling, the mind must start with a great sense of humility. I don't know. You see, as one really wonders what meditation is. One thinks one knows. We will discuss meditation when we come to it. So one must start as feeling if one is enquiring into beauty with a great sense of humility, not knowing. That very 'not knowing' is beautiful.
A: Yes, Yes, I've been listening and I've been trying to open myself to this relation that you are making between beauty and passion.
K: You see, sir, let's start, right: man suffers, not only personally, but there is immense suffering of man. It is a thing that is pervading the universe. Man has suffered physically, psychologically, spiritually, in every way for centuries upon centuries. The mother cries because her son is killed, the wife cries because her husband is mutilated in a war, or accident - there is tremendous suffering in the world. And it is really a tremendous thing to be aware of this suffering.
K: I don't think people are aware, or even feel this immense sorrow that is in the world. They are so concerned with their own personal sorrow, they overlook the sorrow that a poor man in a little village in India, or in China or in the Eastern world, where they never possibly have a full meal, clean clothes, comfortable bed. And there is this sorrow of thousands of people being killed in war. Or in the totalitarian world, millions being executed for ideologies, tyranny, the terror of all that. So there is all this sorrow in the world. And there is also the personal sorrow. And without really understanding it very, very deeply and resolving it, passion won't come out of sorrow. And without passion, how can you see beauty? You can intellectually appreciate a painting, or a poem, or a statue, but you need this great sense of inward bursting of passion, explosion of passion. You know, that creates in itself the sensitivity that can see beauty. So it is I think rather important to understand sorrow. I think it is related, beauty, passion, sorrow.
A: I'm interested in the order of those words. Beauty, passion, sorrow. If one is in relation to the transformation we have been speaking about, to come to beauty I take it, it's a passage from sorrow to passion to beauty.
K: That's right, sir.
A: Yes. Please do go on. I understand.
K: You see, in the Christian world, if I am not mistaken, sorrow is delegated to a person, and through that person we somehow escape from sorrow, that is, we hope we escape from sorrow. And in the Eastern world sorrow is rationalised through the statement of karma. You know the word 'karma' means to do. And they believe in karma. That is, what you have done in the past life you pay for in the present or reward in the present, and so on, and so on. So that there are these two categories of escapes. And there are thousands of escapes - whiskey, drugs, sex, going off to attend a mass and so on, and so on. Man has never stayed with a thing. He has always either sought comfort in a belief, in an action, in identification with something greater than himself and so on, so on, but he has never said, 'Look, I must see what this is, I must penetrate it and not delegate it to somebody else. I must go into it, I must face it. I must look at it. I must know what it is.' So, when the mind doesn't escape from this sorrow, either personal or the sorrow of man, if you don't escape, if you don't rationalise, if you don't try to go beyond it, if you are not frightened of it, then you remain with it. Because any movement from 'what is', or any movement away from 'what is', is a dissipation of energy. It prevents you actually understanding 'what is'. The 'what is' is sorrow. And we have means and ways and cunning to escape. Now if there is no escape whatsoever then you remain with it. I do not know if you have ever done it. Because in everyone's life there is an incident that brings you tremendous sorrow, a happening. It might be an incident, a word, an accident, a shattering sense of absolute loneliness, and so on. These things happen and with that comes the sense of utter sorrow. Now when the mind can remain with that, not move away from it, out of that comes passion. Not the cultivated passion, not the artificial trying to be passionate, but the movement of passion is born out of this non-withdrawal from sorrow. It is the total completely remaining with that.
A: I am thinking that we also say when we speak of someone in sorrow that they are disconsolate.
K: Yes. Disconsolate.
A: Disconsolate and immediately we think that the antidote to that is to get rid of the 'dis', not to stay with the 'dis'. And in an earlier conversation we spoke about two things related to each other in terms of opposite sides of the same coin, and while you have been speaking I've been seeing the interrelation in a polar sense between action and passion. Passion being able to undergo, able to be changed. Whereas action is doing to effect change. And this would be the movement from sorrow to passion at the precise point, if I have understood you correctly, where I become able to undergo what is there.
K: So, if, when there is no escape, when there is no desire to seek comfort away from 'what is', then out of that absolute inescapable reality comes this flame of passion. And without that there is no beauty. You may write endless volumes about beauty, or be a marvellous painter, but without that inward quality of passion which is the outcome of great understanding of sorrow, I don't see how beauty can exist. Also one observes man has lost touch with nature.
A: Oh yes.
K: Completely, specially in big towns, and even in small villages, and hamlets man is always outwardly going, outward, pursued by his own thought, and so he has more or less lost touch with nature. Nature means nothing to him. It is very nice, very beautiful. Once I was standing with a few friends and my brother many years ago at the Grand Canyon, looking at the marvellous thing, incredible, the colours, the depth and the shadows; and a group of people came and one lady says, 'Yes isn't it marvellous', and the next says, 'Let's go and have tea'. And off they trotted. You follow? That is what is happening in the world. We have lost touch completely with nature. We don't know what it means. And also we kill. You follow me? We kill for food, we kill for amusement, we kill for sport. I won't go into all that. So there is this lack of intimate relationship with nature.
A: I remember a shock, a profound shock that I had in my college days, I was standing on the steps of the administration building and watching a very, very beautiful sunset and one of my college acquaintances asked me what I was doing, and I said, 'Well, I am not doing anything, I'm looking at the sunset'. And you know what he said to me? This so shocked me that it's one of those things that you never forget. He just said, 'Well there's nothing to prevent it, is there'.
A: Nothing to prevent it, is there? Yes, I know. I follow you.
K: So, sir, you see we are becoming more and more artificial, more and more superficial, more and more verbal, a linear direction, not vertical at all, but linear. And so naturally artificial things become more important - theatres, cinemas, you know the whole business of modern world. And very few have the sense of beauty in themselves, beauty in conduct. You understand, sir?
A: Oh yes.
K: Beauty in behaviour. Beauty in their usage of their language, the voice, the manner of walking, the sense of humility. With that humility everything becomes so gentle, quiet, full of beauty. We have none of that. And yet we go to museums, we are educated with museums, with pictures, and we have lost the delicacy, the sensitivity, of the mind, the heart, the body, and so when we have lost this sensitivity how can we know what beauty is? And when we haven't got sensitivity we go off to some place to learn to be sensitive. You know this.
A: Oh, I do.
K: Go to a college or some ashram or some rotten hole and there I am going to learn to be sensitive. Sensitive through touch, through you know. It becomes disgusting. So now how can we, as you are a professor and teacher, how can you, sir, educate, it becomes very, very important, the students to have this quality? Therefore one asks, what is it we are educating for? What are we being educated for? Everybody is being educated. Ninety per cent of the people probably in America, are being educated, know what to read and write and all the rest of it, what for?
A: And yet, it's a fact, at least in my experience of teaching class after class, year after year, that with all this proliferation of publishing and so-called educational techniques, students are without as much care to the written word and the spoken word as was the case that I can distinctly remember years ago. Now perhaps other teachers have had a different experience, but I have watched this in my classes, and the usual answer that I get when I speak to my colleagues about this is, well, the problem is in the high school. And then you talk to a poor high school teacher, he then puts it on the poor grade school. So we have poor grade school, poor high school, poor college, poor university because we are always picking up where we left off, which is a little lower next year that where it was before.
K: Sir, that's why when I have talked at various universities and so on, I've always felt what are we being educated for? To just become glorified clerks?
A: That's what it turns out to be.
K: Of course it is. Glorified business men and God knows what else. What for? I mean if I had a son that would be a tremendous problem for me. Fortunately, I haven't got a son, but it would be a burning question to me: what am I to do with the children that I have? To send to all these schools, where they are taught nothing but just how to read, and write a book, and how to memorise, and forget the whole field of life? They are taught about sex and reproduction and all that kind of stuff. But what? So I feel, sir, I mean to me this is a tremendously important question because I am concerned with seven schools in India and in England there is one, and we are going to form one here in California. It is a burning question: what is it that we are doing with our children? Making them into robots or into other clever, cunning clerks, great scientists who invent this or that and then be ordinary, cheap, little human beings, with shoddy minds. You follow, sir?
A: I am, I am.
K: So, when you talk about beauty, can we, can a human being tell another, educate another to grow in beauty, grow in goodness, to flower in great affection and care? Because if we don't do that we are destroying the earth, as it is happening now, polluting the air. We human beings are destroying everything we touch. So this becomes a very, very serious thing when we talk about beauty, when we talk about pleasure, fear, relationship, order and so on, all that, none of these things are being taught in any school.
A: No. I brought that up in my class yesterday and I asked them directly, that's very question. And they were very ready to agree that here we are, we are in an upper division course and we had never heard about this.
K: Tragic, you follow, sir.
A: And furthermore we don't know whether we are really hearing it for what it really is, because we haven't heard about it, we have got to go through that yet to find out whether we are really listening.
K: And whether the teacher or the man, who is a professor, is honest enough to say, 'I don't know. I am going to learn about all these things'. So sir, that is why western civilisation, I am not condemning it, just observing, western civilisation is mainly concerned with commercialism, consumerism, and a society that is immoral. And when we talk about the transformation of man, not in the field of knowledge or the field of time, but beyond that, who is interested in this? You follow, sir? Who really cares about it? Because the mother goes off to her job, earns a livelihood, the father goes off and the child is just an incident.
A: Now, as a matter of fact I know this will probably appear like an astonishingly extravagant statement for me to make, but I think it's getting to the place now where if anyone raises this question at the level that you have been raising it, as a young person who is growing up in his adolescent years, let's say, and he won't let it go, he hangs in there with it, as we say, the question is seriously raised whether he is normal.
K: Yes, quite, quite.
A: And it makes one think of Socrates, who was very clear that he knew only one thing, that he didn't know, and he didn't have to say that very often, but he said it even the few times enough to get him killed, but at least they took him seriously enough to kill him.
K: To kill him.
A: Today I think he would be put in some institution for study. The whole thing would have to be checked out.
K: That's what is happening in Russia. They send him off to an asylum...
A: That's right,
K: ...mental hospital and destroy him. Sir, here we neglect everything for some superficial gain, money. Money means power, position, authority, everything, money.
A: It goes back to this success thing that you mentioned before. Always later, always later. On a horizontal axis. Yes. I did want to share with you as you were speaking about nature, something that has a sort of wry humour about it in terms of the history of scholarship: I thought of those marvellous Vedic hymns to Dawn.
K: Oh yes.
A: The way Dawn comes, rosy fingered, and scholars have expressed surprise that the number of hymns to her are, by comparison, few compared with some other gods, but the attention is drawn in the study not to the quality of the hymn as revealing how it is that there is such consummately beautiful cadences associated with her, for which you would only need one, wouldn't you, you wouldn't need 25. The important thing is, isn't it remarkable that we have so few hymns and yet they are so wonderfully beautiful. What has the number to do with it at all, is the thing that I could never get answered for myself in terms of the environment in which I studied Sanskrit and the Veda. The important thing is to find out which god, in this case Indra, is in the Rig Veda, is mentioned most often. Now, of course, I'm not trying to suggest that quantity should be overlooked, by no means, but if the question had been approached the way you have been enquiring into it, deeper, deeper, deeper, then, I think, scholarship would have had a very, very different career. We should have been taught how to sit and let that hymn disclose itself, and stop measuring it.
K: Yes sir.
A: Yes, yes, please do go on.
K: That's what I am going to say. You see when discussing beauty and passion and sorrow we ought to go into the question also of what is action? Because it is related to all that.
A: Yes, of course.
K: What is action? Because life is action. Living is action. Speaking is action. Everything is action, sitting here is an action. Talking, a dialogue, discussing, going into things, is a series of actions, a movement in action. So what is action? Action, obviously means, acting now. Not having acted or will act. It is the active present of the word act, to act, which is acting all the time. It is movement in time and out of time. We will go into that a little bit later. Now what is action that does not bring sorrow? You follow? One has to put that question because every action, as we do now, is either regret, contradiction, a sense of meaningless movement, repression, conformity and so on. So that is action for most people, the routine, the repetition, the remembrances of things past and act according to that remembrance. So unless one understands very deeply what is action, one will not be able to understand what is sorrow. So action, sorrow, passion and beauty. They are all together, not divorced, not something separate with beauty at the end, action at the beginning. It isn't like that at all, it is all one thing. But to look at it, what is action? As far as one knows now, action is according to a formula, according to a concept or according to an ideology. The communist ideology, the capitalist ideology, or the socialist ideology, or the ideology of a Christian, Jesus Christ, or the Hindu with his ideology. So action is the approximation of an idea. I act according to my concept. That concept is traditional, or put together by me, or put together by an expert. Lenin, Marx have formulated, and they conform according to what they think Lenin, Marx formulated. And action is according to a pattern. You follow?
A: Yes I do. What's occurring to me is that under the tyranny of that, one is literally driven.
K: Absolutely. Driven, conditioned, brutalised. You don't care for anything, except for ideas, and carry out ideas. See what is happening in China, you follow, in Russia.
A: Oh yes, yes, I do.
K: And here too, the same thing in a modified form. So action as we know it now is conformity to a pattern, either in the future or in the past, an idea which I carry out. A resolution, or a decision which I fulfil in acting. The past is acting, so, it is not action. I don't know if I am?
A: Yes, yes, I'm aware of the fact that we suffer a radical conviction that if we don't generate a pattern there will be no order.
K: So you follow what is happening, sir? Order is in terms of a pattern.
A: Yes, preconceived, yes.
K: Therefore it is disorder, against which an intelligent man fights - fights in the sense revolts. So that's why it is very important if we are to understand what beauty is we must understand what action is. Can there be action without the idea? Idea means, you must know this from Greek, means to see. See what we have done, sir. The word is to see. That is seeing and the doing. Not the seeing, draw a conclusion from that and then act according to that conclusion. You see.
A: Oh yes, oh yes.
K: Perceiving, and from that perception draw a belief, an idea, a formula, and act according to that belief, idea, formula. So we are removed from perception. We are acting only according to a formula, therefore mechanical. You see, sir, how our minds have become mechanical.
A: Necessarily so.
K: Yes sir, obviously.
A: I just thought about Greek sculpture, and its different character from Roman sculpture, the finest of ancient Greece.
K: The Periclean age and so on.
A: Sculpture is extremely contemplative. It has sometimes been remarked that the Romans have a genius for portraiture in stone and, of course...
K: Law and order and all that.
A: Yes, and of course one would see their remarkable attention to personality. But what occurred to me while listening to this, something that had never occurred to me before, that the Greek statue with which one sometimes asks oneself, well the face doesn't disclose a personality. Perhaps the quiet eye recognised that you don't put onto the stone something that must come out of the act itself.
K: Quite, quite.
A: Because you're doing something that you must wait to come to pass. The Greeks were correct. It's an expression of that relation to form which is an interior form. Marvellous grasp of that. It's a grasp that allows for splendour to break out rather than the notion we must represent it. Yes, I am following you, aren't I?
K: You see sir, that's why one must ask this essential question: what is action? Is it a repetition? Is it imitation? Is it an adjustment between 'what is' and 'what should be' or 'what has been'? Or is it a conformity to a pattern? Or to a belief, or to a formula? If it is, then inevitably there must be conflict. Because idea, action, there is an interval, a lag of time between the two, and in that interval a great many things happen. A division in which other incidents take place and therefore there must be inevitably conflict. Therefore action is never complete, action is never total, it is never ending. Action means ending. You know, you used the word Vedanta the other day. It means the ending of knowledge, I was told. Not the continuation of knowledge, but the ending. So now, is there an action which is not tied to the past as time or to the future or to a formula, or to a belief or to an idea, but action? The seeing is the doing.
K: Now, the seeing is the doing becomes an extraordinary movement in freedom. The other is not freedom. And therefore, sir, the communists say there is no such thing as freedom. That's a bourgeois idea. Of course it is, a bourgeois idea, because they live in ideas, concepts, not in action. They live according to ideas and carry those ideas out in action, which is not action, the doing. I don't know if
A: Oh, yes, yes. I was just thinking.
K: This is what we do in the western world, the eastern world, all over the world, acting according to a formula, idea, belief, a concept, a conclusion, a decision; and never the seeing and the doing.
A: I was thinking about the cat, the marvellous animal the cat.
K: Oh, yes, the cat.
A: Its face is almost all eyes.
A: I don't mean that by measure with callipers, of course not. And we don't train cats like we try to train dogs. I think we have corrupted dogs. Cats won't be corrupted. They simply won't be corrupted. And it seems to me great irony that in the middle ages we should have burned cats along with witches.
K: The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats.
A: Yes. The great eye of the cat, I read sometime ago that the cat's skeletal structure is among mammals the most perfectly adapted to its function.
K: Quite, quite.
A: And I think one of the most profound occasions for gratitude in my life was the living with a cat, and she taught me how to make an end. But I went through a lot of interior agony before I came to understand what she was doing. It's as though one would say of her that she was performing a mission, you might say, without, of course, being a missionary in the ordinary sense of that word.
K: Sir, you see one begins to see what freedom is in action.
A: That's right.
K: And it is the seeing in the doing is prevented by the observer who is the past, the formula, the concept, the belief. That observer comes in between perception and the doing. That observer is the factor of division. The idea and the conclusion in action. So can we act only when there is perception? We do this, sir, when we are at the edge of a precipice; the seeing danger is instant action.
A: If I remember correctly the word 'alert' comes from the Italian which points to standing at the edge of a cliff.
K: Cliff, that's right.
A: That's pretty serious.
K: You see, but it's very interesting, we are conditioned to the danger of a cliff, of a snake or a dangerous animal and so on, we are conditioned. But we are conditioned also to this idea you must act according to an idea, otherwise there is no action.
A: Yes, we are conditioned to that.
K: To that.
A: Oh, yes, terribly so.
K: Terribly. So we have this condition to danger. And conditioned to the fact that you cannot act without a formula, without a concept, belief and so on. So these two are the factors of our conditioning. And now, someone comes along and says, look, that's not action. That is merely a repetition of what has been, modified, but it is not action. Action is when you see and do.
A: And the reaction to that is, oh, I see he has a new definition of action.
K: I'm not defining.
A: Yes, of course not.
K: And I've done this all my life. I see something and I do it.
K: Say, for instance, as you may know, I am not being personal or anything, there is a great big organisation, spiritual organisation, thousand of followers with a great deal of land, 5000 acres, castles and money and so on were formed around me as a boy. And in 1928 I said this is all wrong. I dissolved it, returned the property and so on. I saw how wrong it was. The seeing; not the conclusions, comparison, see how religions have done it. I saw and acted. And therefore there has never been a regret.
K: Never say, 'Oh, I have made a mistake because I shall have nobody to lean on'. You follow?
A: Yes, I do. Could we next time, in our next conversation relate beauty to seeing.
K: I was going there.
A: Oh, splendid. Yes, that's wonderful.