Understanding, not controlling, desire
A wholly different way of living
7th Dialogue, San Diego, California
February 21, 1974
Anderson: Mr Krishnamurti, last time we were speaking you made the remark that fear and pleasure are opposite sides of the same coin. And, as I remember, when we concluded our last conversation we were still talking about fear. And I was thinking perhaps we could move from fear into the discussion of pleasure. But perhaps there is something more about fear that we need still to look into, to explore.
Krishnamurti: Sir, I think for most of us, fear has created such misery, so many activities are born of fear, ideologies and gods, that we never seem to be free completely from fear. That's what we were saying.
A: That's what we were saying.
K: And so freedom from, and freedom, are two different things. Aren't they?
K: Freedom from fear, and the feeling of being completely free.
A: Would you say that the notion even of freedom for is also a suggestion of conflict?
A: Yes, yes, do go ahead.
K: Yes. Freedom for, and freedom from, has this contradiction in itself and therefore conflict and therefore a battle, violence, struggle. When one understands that rather deeply then one can see the meaning of what it means to be free. Not from or for, but intrinsically, deeply, by itself. Probably it's a non-verbal, non-ideational happening. A feeling that all the burden has fallen away from you. Not that you are struggling to throw them away. The burdens don't exist. Conflicts don't exist. As we were saying the other day, relationship then is in total freedom.
A: Your word intrinsic interested me. Sometimes I think in our tongue we will use the adverbial preposition 'in'. Would it be possible to say freedom in, or would you not even want to have 'in'.
K: Not 'in', no.
A: You don't want 'in'.
K: For, in, from.
A: They are all out. I see, yes, yes, go on. Please do.
K: So these two principles, pleasure and fear seem to be deeply rooted in us - these two principles of pleasure and fear. I don't think we can understand pleasure without understanding fear.
A: I see. I see.
K: You can't separate them, really. But for investigating one has to separate.
A: Yes, were it not for fear do you think we should ever have thought of pleasure?
K: We would never have thought of pleasure.
A: We would never have got the notion.
A: I understand. I understand.
K: It's like punishment and reward. If there was no punishment at all nobody would talk about reward.
A: Yes, yes I see.
K: And when we are talking about pleasure I think we think we ought to be clear that we are not condemning pleasure. We are not trying to become puritanical or permissive. We are trying to investigate or examine, explore the whole structure and nature of pleasure, as we did fear.
A: As we did fear.
K: And to do that properly and deeply the attitude of condemnation or acceptance of pleasure must be set aside. You see it, naturally. I mean if I want to investigate something I must be free from my inclinations, prejudices.
A: The 'looking forward to' is, I see, beginning to emerge from what you are saying.
A: We say we look forward to pleasure, we even ask a person - don't we? - what is your pleasure. We get nervous in thinking perhaps we won't meet it. Now I take it that what your saying suggests the anticipation of gratification here. Would that be right?
K: That's right. Gratification, satisfaction and sense of fulfilment. We will go into all that when we talk about pleasure. But we must be clear from the beginning, I think, that we are not condemning it. The priests throughout the world have condemned it.
A: Yes, the notion of freedom is associated with many religious approaches to this. One is free from desire.
K: Yes. So, one has to bear in mind that we are not justifying it, or sustaining it or condemning it but observing it. To really go into the question of pleasure I think one has to look into desire, first. The more commercial and the usage of things, the more desire grows. You can see it's commercialism, and consumerism. Through propaganda desire is, you know, sustained, is pushed forward, is - what is the word I am looking for - is nourished, expanded.
K: Nurtured. Inflamed, that's the word, inflamed.
A: Inflamed, yes.
K: And you see this happening right through the world, now. In India, for example - not that I know India much better than I do America because I've not lived there very long, I go there every year - this desire and this instant fulfilment is beginning to take place. Before in the Brahmanical orthodox sense, there was a certain restraint, a certain traditional discipline which says, 'Don't be concerned with the world and things. They are not important'. What is important is the discovery of truth, of Brahman, reality and so on. But now, all that's gone, now desire is being inflamed, 'Buy more'. 'Don't be satisfied with two trousers but have a dozen trousers'. This feeling of excitement in possession is stimulated through commercialism, consumerism, and propaganda.
A: There's a lot of terror, isn't there, associated with commercialism on the part of those who are purveyors in this, because the pleasure fades off and this requires a stronger stimulus next time.
K: That's what the couturiers are doing, every year there is a new fashion, or every six months, or every month, I don't know what it is. Look, there is this stimulation of desire. It is really quite frightening in a sense, how people are using, are stimulating desire to acquire money, possession, the whole circle of a life that is utterly sophisticated, a life in which there is instant fulfilment of one's desire, and the feeling if you don't fulfil, if you don't act, there is frustration. So all that's involved in it.
A: Would you say, then that the approach to this on the part of what you have described, is on the basis of frustration. Frustration itself is regarded as the proper incentive.
A: Yes, I see. Yes. And since frustration itself is a nullity we are trying to suggest that nullity is in itself interested in being filled. Whereas it couldn't be by its nature.
K: Like children - don't frustrate them. Let them do what they like.
A: Yes. Yes, that reminds me of something years ago in graduate school. I was brought up as a child in England, and in a rather strict way compared with the permissiveness of today. And one of my graduate colleagues told me that he had been brought up by his parents in a totally permissive way. This was at Columbia University. And he looked at me, and he said, 'I think you were better off, because a least you had some intelligible reference against which to find out who you are, even if what you found out wasn't right, there was something to find out. Whereas I had to do it entirely on my own and I still haven't done it.' And he talked about himself as being constantly in the world trying to hide the fact that he was a nervous wreck. We had a long conversation over dinner.
K: Sir, I think that before we enter into the complicated field of pleasure, we ought to go into this question of desire.
A: Yes, yes. I'd like to do that.
K: Desire seems to be a very active and demanding instinct, demanding activity that is going on in us all the time. Sir, what is desire?
A: I wonder if I could ask you to relate it to appetite as over against what one would call hunger that is natural. Sometimes I have found a confusion that seems to be a confusion to me, and that's why I am asking you. Someone will get the idea in class, talking about the question of appetite and desire, that if we look to nature, the lion desires to kill the antelope to satisfy his appetite. Whereas it has seemed to me the correct reply to that is, no that's not the case. The lion wants to incorporate the antelope into his own substance. He's not chasing his appetite.
K: I think they are both related, appetite and desire.
K: Appetite, physical appetite and there is psychological appetite.
A: Yes, yes.
K: Which is much more complex. Sexual appetite, and the intellectual appetite, a sense of curiosity.
A: Even more furious.
K: More furious, that's right. So I think both desire and appetite are stimulated by commercialism, by consumerism which is the present civilisation actively operating in the world at the present time - both in Russia, everywhere, this consumerism has to be fulfilled.
A: Right. We talk about planned obsolescence.
K: Planned obsolescence. Quite.
A: You have that in mind, yes I see.
K: So, what is appetite and what is desire? I have an appetite because I am hungry. It's a natural appetite. I see a car and I have read a great deal about it and I would like to possess it, drive it, feel the power of it, going fast, the excitement of all that. That is another form of appetite.
K: Appetite, intellectual appetite of discussing with a clever intelligent, observing man or woman, to discuss, to stimulate each other in discussion.
K: And comparing each other's knowledge, a kind of subtle fight.
A: Making points.
K: That's right. And that is very stimulating.
A: Oh yes, yes it is.
K: And there is the appetite, sexual appetite, the sexual appetite of constantly thinking about it, chewing the cud. All that, both psychological, and physical appetites, normal, abnormal. The feeling of fulfilment and frustration. All that's involved in appetite. And I'm not sure whether religions, organised religions and beliefs, whether they will not stimulate the peculiar appetite for rituals.
A: I have the notion they do. It seems to me that despite pious protestations that will be made against that, there is a theatrical display that occurs in this.
K: Go to a Roman Catholic Mass, and you see the beauty of it, the beauty of colour, the beauty of the setting, the whole structure is marvellously theatrical and beautiful.
A: And for the moment it appears that we have heaven on earth.
K: Tremendously stimulating.
A: But then we have to go out again.
K: Of course. And it's all stimulated through tradition, through usage of words, chants, certain association of words, symbols, images, flowers, incense, all that is very, very stimulating.
K: And if one is used to that one misses it.
A: Oh yes. I was thinking as you were saying about, at least to my ear how extraordinarily beautiful a language is Sanskrit, and the chanting of the Gita, and the swaying back and forth and then one sits down to study what the words say, and one says to himself, now look, what on earth is going on when we are doing this as over against what the word itself could disclose. But the seduction that is available, of course its self-seduction, one can't blame the language for being beautiful, it's a self... And all this is encouraged. And the notion I take it that you are suggesting that we look at here, is that there's a tremendously invested interest in keeping this up.
K: Of course. Commercially it is. And if it is not sustained by the priests then the whole thing will collapse. So is this a battle to hold the human being in his appetites - which is really very frightening when you look at it. Frightening in the sense, rather disgusting in one way, exploiting people and intrinsically destructive to the human mind.
A: Yes. Yes. I've had this problem in teaching, in my classes, in terms of my own discussion in class. Sometimes, it has seemed that maybe the first stanza of a poem that I will have known by heart would be appropriate. And so I'll begin to recite it and when I get to the end of it the expectation has arisen, the ears are there, the bodies are leaning forward and I have to stop, you see, and I have to say, well you see we can't go on, because you are not listening to what I am saying, you are listening to how it is being said. And if I read it terribly you would no more listen to what it is. Your disgust would dominate just as the pleasure is dominating now. And the students have got after me for not reciting more poetry. You see that you would be upset with that - is a perfect sign that you haven't started to do your work in class yet. And then we are up against the problem that they think I am being ascetical, and denying the goodies. That's part of what you mean.
K: Yes, of course.
A: Good, good. I'm glad you cleared that for me. Yes.
K: And there is this desire, appetite, we have a little bit gone into it, what is desire? Because I see something and immediately I must have it, a gown, a coat, a tie, the feeling of possession, the urge to acquire, the urge to experience, the urge of an act that will give me tremendous satisfaction. The satisfaction might be the acquisition, acquiring a tie, or a coat, or sleep with a woman, or - acquiring. Now behind that, isn't there, sir, this desire. I might desire a house and another might desire a car, another might desire to have intellectual knowledge. Another might desire god, or enlightenment. They are all the same. The objects vary, but the desire is the same. One I call the noble; the other I call the ignoble, worldly, stupid. But the desire behind it. So what is desire? How does it come about that this very strong desire is born, is cultured? You follow? What is desire? How does it take place in each one of us?
A: If I've understood you, you've made a distinction between on the one hand appetite associated with natural hunger, that sort of desire, and now we are talking about desire which sometimes gets the name artificial. I don't know whether you would want to call it that, but sometimes...
K: Desire. I might desire, but the objects vary, sir, don't they?
A: Yes, the objects vary.
K: The objects of desire vary according to each individual, each tendency and idiosyncrasy or conditioning and so on. Desire for that and that, and that. But I want to find out, what is desire? How does it come about? I think it's fairly clear, that. You see sir...
A: You mean a sense of absence?
K: No, no. I am asking what is desire? How does it come?
A: One would have to ask himself.
K: Yes, I'm asking, I'm asking you, how does it come about that there is this strong desire for, or against - desire itself. I think it's clear: perception, visual perception, then there is sensation, then there is contact, and desire comes out of it. That's the process isn't it?
A: Oh, yes, I'm quite clear now what you are saying. I've been listening very hard.
K: Perception, contact, sensation, desire.
A: And then if the desire is frustrated, anger.
K: All the rest of it, violence.
A: The whole thing goes down the line.
K: All the rest of it follows.
A: Follows, yes.
K: So desire. So the religious people, monks, throughout the world said, be without desire. Control desire. Suppress desire. Or if you cannot, transfer it to something that's worthwhile - God, or enlightenment or truth or this or that.
A: But then that's just another form of desire, not to desire.
K: Of course.
A: So we never get out of that.
K: Yes, but you see they said, 'Control'.
A: Power is brought into play.
K: Control desire. Because you need energy to serve God and if you are caught in desire you are caught in a tribulation, in trouble, which will dissipate your energy. Therefore hold it, control it, suppress it. You have seen this sir, I have seen it so often in Rome, the priests are walking along with the Bible and they daren't look at anything else, they keep on reading it because they are attracted, it doesn't matter, to a woman, or a nice house or a nice cloak, so keep looking at it, never expose yourself to tribulation, to temptation. So hold it because you need your energy to serve God. So desire comes about through perceptions, visual perception, contact, sensation, desire. That's the process of it.
A: Yes. And then there's the whole backlog of memory of that in the past to reinforce it.
K: Of course, yes.
A: Yes. I was taken with what you just said. Here's this book, that's already outside me, it's really no more than what they put on horses when they are in a race.
K: The Bible becomes blinkers!
A: Yes, the blinking Bible. Yes, I follow that. But the thing that caught me was, never, never quietly looking at it.
K: That's it, sir.
A: The desire itself.
K: I walked once behind a group of monks, in India. And they were very serious monks. The elderly monk, with his disciples around him, they were walking up a hill and I followed them. They never once looked at the beauty of the sky, the blue, the extraordinary blue of the sky and the mountains, and the blue light of the grass and the trees and the birds and the water - never once looked around. They were concerned and they had bent their head down and they were repeating something, which I happen to know in Sanskrit, and going along totally unaware of nature, totally unaware of the passers-by. Because their whole life has been spent in controlling desire and concentrating on what they thought is the way to reality. So desire there acted as a repressive limiting process.
A: Of course, of course.
K: Because they are frightened. If I look there might be a woman, I might be tempted - and cut it. So we see what desire is and we see what appetite is; they are similar.
A: Yes. Would you say appetite was a specific focus of desire?
K: Yes, put it that way if you want. Yes.
A: All right
K: But they both go together.
A: Oh yes, yes
K: They are two different words for the same thing. Now the problem arises: need there be a control of desire at all? You follow, sir?
A: Yes, I'm asking myself, because in our conversations I've learned that every time you ask a question, if I take that question and construe it in terms of a syllogistical relation to things that have been stated as premises before, I am certainly not going to come to the answer, that is not the right answer as over against the wrong answer, I'm not going to come to the one answer that is needful. So that every time you've asked me this morning, I have asked myself inside. Yes, please go ahead.
K: Sir, you see, discipline is a form of suppression and control of desire - religious, sectarian, non-sectarian, it's all based on that, control. Control your appetite. Control your desires. Control your thought. And this control gradually squeezes out the flow of free energy.
A: Oh, yes. And yet, amazingly the Upanishads in particular have been interpreted in terms of tapas, as encouraging this control.
K: I know, I know. In India it is something fantastic, the monks who have come to see me, they are called sannyasis, they have come to see me. They are incredible. I mean, if I can tell you a monk who came to see me some years ago, quite a young man, he left his house and home at the age of 15 to find God. And he had renounced everything. Put on the robe. And as he began to grow older at 18, 19, 20 sexual appetite was something burning. He explained to me how it became intense. He had taken a vow of celibacy, as sannyasis do, monks do. And he said, day after day in my dreams, in my walk, in my going to a house and begging, this thing was becoming so like a fire. You know what he did to control it?
A: No, no what did he do?
K: He had it operated.
A: Oh for heaven's sake. Is that a fact?
K: Sir, his urge for God was so - you follow, sir? The idea, the idea, not the reality.
A: Not the reality.
K: So he came to see me, he had heard several talks which I had given in that place. He came to see me in tears. He said, what have I done? You follow, sir?
A: Oh, I'm sure. Yes.
K: What have I done to myself? I cannot repair it. I cannot grow a new organ. It is finished. That is the extreme. But all control is in that direction. I don't know if I am
A: Yes, his is terribly dramatic. The one who is sometimes called the first Christian theologian, Origen, castrated himself out of, as I understand it, a misunderstanding of the words of Jesus, 'If your hand offends you cut it off'.
K: Sir, authority to me is criminal in this direction. It doesn't matter who says it.
A: And like the monk that you just described, Origen came later to repent of this in terms of seeing that it had nothing to do anything. A terrible thing. Was this monk, if I may ask, also saying to you in his tears, that he was absolutely no better off in any way shape or form?
K: No, on the contrary, sir, he said, 'I've committed a sin. I've committed an evil act.'
A: Yes, yes, of course.
K: He realised what he had done. That through that way there is nothing.
K: I've met so many, not such extreme forms of control and denial, but others. They have tortured themselves for an idea. You follow, sir? For a symbol, for a concept. And we have sat with them and discussed with them, and they begin to see what they have done to themselves. I met a man who is high up in bureaucracy and one morning he woke up and he said, 'I'm passing judgement in court over others, punishment, and I seem to say to them I know truth, you don't, you are punished'. So one morning he woke up and he said, 'This is all wrong. I must find out what truth is', so he resigned, left and went away for 25 years to find out what truth is. Sir, these people are dreadfully serious, you understand.
A: Oh yes.
K: They are not like cheap repeaters of some mantra, and such rubbish. So somebody brought him to the talks I was giving. He came to see me the next day. He said, 'You are perfectly right. I have been meditating on truth for 25 years. And it has been self hypnosis, as you pointed out. I've been caught in my own verbal, intellectual formula, structure. And I haven't been able to get out of it.' You understand, sir?
A: 25 years. That's a very moving story.
K: And to admit that he was wrong needs courage, needs perception.
K: Not courage, perception. So, now seeing all this, sir, the permissiveness on one side, the reaction to Victorian way of life, the reaction to the world with all its absurdities, trivialities and banality, all that absurdity and the reaction to that is to renounce it. To say, 'Well I won't touch it'. But desire is burning all the same, all the glands are working. You can't cut away your glands! So therefore they say, control, therefore they say, don't be attracted to a woman, don't look at the sky, because the sky is so marvellously beautiful and beauty then may become the beauty of a woman, the beauty of a house, the beauty of a chair in which you can sit comfortably. So don't look. Control it. You follow, sir?
A: I do.
K: The permissiveness, the reaction to restraint, control the pursuit of an idea as God, and for that control desire. And I met a man again he left his house at the age of 20. He was really quite an extraordinary chap. He was 75 when he came to see me. He had left home at the age of 20, renounced everything, all that, and went from teacher to teacher to teacher. He went to, I won't mention names because that wouldn't be right, and he came to me, talked to me. He said, 'I went to all these people asking if they could help me find God. I've spent from the age of 20 till I'm 75, wandering all over India. I'm a very serious man and not one of them has told me the truth. I've been to the most famous, to the most socially active, the people who talk endlessly about God. After all these years I returned to my house and found nothing. And you come along', he said, 'you come along you never talk about God. You never talk about the path to God. You talk about perception. The seeing 'what is' and going beyond it. The beyond is the real, not the 'what is'. Now show me.' You understand? He was 75.
A: Yes, 55 years on the road.
K: They don't do that in Europe, on the road. He was literally on the road.
A: Yes. I'm sure he was. Because you said he was in India.
K: Begging from village to village to village. When he told me I was so moved, tears almost - to spend a whole lifetime, as they do in business world...
K: ...50 years to go day after day to the office and die at the end of it. It is the same thing.
A: The same thing.
K: Fulfilling of desire, money, money, money, more things, things, things; and the other, none of that but another substitute for that.
A: Yes, just another form.
K: So looking at all this sir, I know it is dreadful what human beings have done to themselves and to others, seeing all that one inevitably asks the question, how to live with desire? You can't help it, desire is there. The moment I see something - a beautiful flower, the admiration, the love of it, the smell of it, the beauty of the petal, the quality of the flower and so on, the enjoyment - one asks, is it possible to live without any control whatsoever?
A: The very question is terrifying in the context of these disorders that you are speaking about. I am taking the part now of the perspective that one is in, when out of frustration he comes to you, let us say, like the man did after 55 years on the road, the minute he walks in the door, he has come to get something he doesn't already have.
A: And as soon as you make that statement, if the answer that is coming up he starts 'if-ing' right now, if the answer is going to be something that completely negates this whole investment of 55 years on the road, it seems that most persons are going to freeze right there.
K: And it is a cruel thing too, sir. He has spent 55 years at it, and suddenly realises what he has done. The cruelty of deception. You follow?
A: Oh, yes.
K: Self deception, deception of tradition, you follow, of all the teachers who have said, control, control, control. And he comes and you say to him, what place has control?
A: I think I am beginning to get a very keen sense of why you say go into it. Because there is a place there like dropping a stitch we might say. He doesn't get past that initial shock, then he is not going to go into it.
K: So we talked, I spent hours, we discussed, we went into it. Gradually he saw. He said, 'Quite right'. So, sir, unless we understand the nature and the structure of appetite and desire, which are more or less the same, we cannot understand very deeply pleasure.
A: Yes, yes. I see why you have been good enough to lay this foundation before we get to the opposite side of the coin.
K: Because pleasure and fear are the two principles that are active in most human beings, in all human beings. And it is reward and punishment. Don't bring up a child through punishment but reward him. You know the psychologists are advocating some of this.
A: Oh yes. They are encouraged by the experiments on Pavlov's dogs.
K: Dogs, or peoples or ducks, geese. Do this and don't do that. So unless we understand fear, understand in the sense, investigate, see the truth of it and if the mind is capable of going beyond it, to be totally free of fear, as we discussed it the other day; and also to understand the nature of pleasure. Because pleasure is an extraordinary thing, and to see a beautiful thing to enjoy it - what is wrong with it?
K: See what is involved in it.
A: Right. The mind plays a trick there. I say to myself, I can't find anything wrong with it, therefore nothing is wrong with it. I don't really believe that necessarily. And I was thinking a little while ago when you were speaking about the attempts through power to negate desire, through power.
K: Because search for power, negating desire is search for power.
A: Would you be saying that one searches for power in order to secure a pleasure that has not yet been realised?
K: Yes, yes.
A: I understood you well then?
A: I see. It's a terrible thing.
K: But is a reality.
A: Oh, it's going on.
K: It's going on.
A: Oh, yes. But we are taught that from children.
K: That's just it, sir. So, pick up any magazine, the advertisements, the half-naked ladies, women and so on, and so on. So pleasure is a very active principle in man as fear.
A: Oh yes.
K: And again society, which is immoral, has said, control. One side, the religious side says, control and commercialism says, don't control, enjoy, buy, sell. You follow? And the human mind, says this is all right. My own instinct is to have pleasure I'll go after it. But Saturday, or Sunday or Monday or whatever the day it is I'll give it to God. You follow, sir?
K: And this game goes on, forever it has been going on. So what is pleasure? You follow sir? Why should pleasure be controlled; why should - I'm not saying it's right or wrong, please let's be very clear from the beginning that we are not condemning pleasure. We are not saying you must give reign to it, let it run. Or that it must be suppressed, or justified. We are trying to understand why pleasure has become of such extraordinary importance in life. Pleasure of enlightenment. You follow, sir? Pleasure of sex. Pleasure of possession. Pleasure of knowledge. Pleasure of power.
A: Heaven which is regarded as the ultimate pleasure...
K: The ultimate, of course.
A: ...is usually spoken of theologically as the future state.
A: This is to me very interesting in terms of what you have been saying and even at the level of gospel songs we hear, 'When the Roll is called up Yonder I'll be there'. When it's called up yonder, which means at the end of the line. And then there's the terror that I won't be good enough when...
K: When that...
A: Yes, so I'm tightening up my belt to pay my heavenly insurance policy on Saturday and Sunday, the two days of the weekend that you mentioned. What if you got caught from Monday through Friday. Yes.
K: So pleasure, enjoyment and joy. Follow, sir? There are three things involved.
A: Three things.
K: Enjoyment and joy.
K: Happiness. You see joy is happiness, ecstasy, the delight, the sense of tremendous enjoyment. And what is the relationship of pleasure to enjoyment and to joy and happiness?
A: Yes, we have been moving a long way from fear.
K: Fear, that's right.
A: Yes, but I don't mean moving away...
K: No, no.
A: ...by turning our back on it.
K: No, we have gone into it, we see the movement from that to this, it's not away from it. Pleasure. There is a delight in seeing something very beautiful. Delight. If you are at all sensitive, if you are at all observant, if there is a feeling of relationship to nature, which very few people unfortunately have, they stimulate it, but the actual relationship to nature, that is when you see something really marvellously beautiful, like a mountain with all its shadows, valleys and the line and, you know it's something - a tremendous delight. Now see what happens: at that moment there is nothing but that. That is, beauty of the mountain, lake or the single tree on a hill, that beauty has knocked everything out of me.
A: Oh yes.
K: And at that moment there is no division between me and that. There is sense of great purity and enjoyment.
K: See what takes place.
A: I see we've reached a point where we are going to take a new step, I feel it coming on. It's amazing how this thing has moved so inevitably but not unjoyfully. Not unjoyfully. In our next conversation I would just love to pursue this.