What do we mean by conditioning?
Knowledge is conditioning
1st Dialogue, Brockwood Park
October 05, 1984
MZ: Sir would you like to go into the basic question of conditioning, its effect on our thinking and what we can do about it?
K: I wonder what we mean by conditioning. Is it the tradition, not only present day tradition, but centuries and centuries of tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation, and is this conditioning the whole background of civilisation, culture, the social impacts and the many, many experiences that one has? Does all this contribute to the conditioning of the brain? Not only all this but also the various impressions, the propaganda, the literature, the television, all this seems to add to the background, to the conditioning of every human being, whether he is very, very, very poor, uneducated, most primitive, and to the most highly educated, sophisticated human beings. This conditioning seems to be inevitable. It has been a factor that has endured probably for a million years, or fifty thousand years. If all that is the conditioning, or the background of every human being, and that obviously shapes our thinking, controls our reactions and responses, and our way of behaviour, conduct, and the way we eat and think and feel and react, and all that. That seems to be the normal conditioning of human beings.
And that has shaped our society in which we live. The society is what we have made of it, what each individual throughout the million or fifty thousand years have according to their desires, ambitions, conditioning to their personal tendencies, to their aggression and so on, all this has actually contributed to the society in which we live. So the society is not different from us. That is a fact we seem to forget when we talk about society. Society is something that gradually has come into being, to which we have given all our endeavour, all our struggles, all our imprints and tendencies. This is the society, and society is us. It is not two separate entities. I think this must be clearly understood. The Socialists, perhaps some of the Capitalists, and certainly the Communists, tried to change the social structure by laws, by various edicts and so on. It appears that they forget the human quality, the human conditioning and tried to shape the outward structure without taking into deep consideration the human character, the human behaviour, the human structure, the condition of his brain which has been programmed for thousands of years. And it seems to us the conditioning of the human being is to be examined much more thoroughly, gone into very, very deeply and find out whether the human condition can ever be radically changed, and so the social structure which is born of human conditioning can also be changed. That is the real problem, not only the freedom of human beings who have been programmed - we are using the word 'programmed' in the sense that a computer is being programmed by experts, by specialists and so on, so we human beings, whether we live in the most primitive, brutal state, or the highest educated, scientific community, we seem to neglect, or even forget that this psychological structure, the subjective entity, who has brought about this really rather insane world, whether that human condition can ever be radically changed. That is the chief concern in your question surely.
So we must go into that, not only superficially, the outward signs of it, but also the human brain, which has evolved through thousands upon thousands of years, that brain itself, through tradition, through religious propaganda, through the propaganda of politicians and the leaders, the leaders of religious hierarchy, the philosophers of India and Asia, all that has to be taken into account. Which basically means the brain of human beings has been shaped by experience, by knowledge, by propaganda and so on. If we are clear on that then we must inevitably ask, naturally, whether the brain can ever be cleansed - if we can use that word - of all the process of time?
MZ: Sir, am I correct in understanding that this conditioning of which you speak goes into the human consciousness before the birth of the human being? In other words he is born with a certain loading of conditioning, a certain content in his very brain that you would call conditioning. It is not only what happens to him in his actual life as he grows up?
K: Not only that. We have used the word consciousness, which is, if we can examine that for a while, that consciousness is all our reactions, responses, all our idiosyncrasies and tendencies, both biological as well as psychological, and all the beliefs, faith, the gods man has invented, the rituals, the daily routine of work with its boredom, with its mechanical responses; and also the fears, the anxieties, the pain, the depression, the elation, the intense sorrow, the loneliness, the uncertainty of the future, all that, and the fear of death and the continuity and all that is our consciousness. That consciousness, with its content, is the conditioning. And that conditioning is centuries old.
So the brain itself is the centre of all this. Though the speaker is not a specialist in the brain and all that, he wouldn't even claim that, it would be absurd, but he has watched very carefully, not only the way his own behaviour and other people's and so on, and has acutely observed, and one can see for oneself that the brain is the centre of all action, all thought, all our fears, all our tendencies, propaganda, the innumerable, subtle impressions, and all that. The brain is that. And can that brain, which has evolved through millennia upon millennia, can that brain ever be cleansed of all the time-binding quality? That is the real, the deep question.
Probably one never asked this question because the biologists and the others are really interested in research, in the quality of the brain, how the brain works, how the electrical responses and so on, but they never ask, not that they have not asked, some may have, but we human beings who are not professionals, who really live, ordinary, intelligent human beings, we never said, asked, or even enquired deeply, this brain which has evolved through long duration of time, whether that brain can ever be free of its content? And that is the question we are asking now. Can the brain itself, which has been programmed, conditioned, ever ask that question? Or one really watches, very diligently, acutely, how the brain works in our daily life, how it reacts, how quickly its responses are according to its background, according to its knowledge, according to its tradition. And in watching these quick responses one discovers how conditioned those responses are.
MZ: Sir, would you include instinct in this area?
K: Instinct is part of our...
MZ: Is that conditioning?
K: Instinct is part of our conditioning, is part of our brain which has been programmed. My instinct sees a dangerous animal and it says, run, or kill or do something about it. I hope you are not killing. To kill that beautiful animal like the tiger, or the cobra in the field. One has watched these animals fairly closely in the wild and the most extraordinary things they are, not to be killed but to establish a relationship with them so that there is no fear in looking at them. That is a different matter.
Instinct, that is really quick response, is coloured, naturally by our past knowledge. That knowledge may be very, very hidden, subtle but without that knowledge instinct is not possible surely? Like intuition is another word which is used very often, again intuition may be the background of our desire, of our longing, of our hidden, deep recesses of one's own brain, which has hidden fears, hidden longings, hidden loneliness and so on.
So really what we should concern ourselves, during this morning dialogue, is to see whether the brain, which has evolved endlessly through time, whether that time can ever free the brain? Or must the brain struggle endlessly in the field of knowledge, trying to ascend through knowledge to freedom? Of course it is so obvious knowledge can never bring freedom.
MZ: Could you say, sir, briefly at least, why this is so necessary? What is so terribly wrong with knowledge and conditioning? Why should the human being seek to change himself in that respect?
K: I don't know if we have time this morning to go into this question of knowledge. After all knowledge, to put it very briefly, knowledge is the result of experience, whether very limited experience, or experience from which you gather knowledge more and more and more, as in the scientific world. That knowledge is always limited. Anything more, or anything better is always limited because it is measurable, both psychologically as well as objectively. Anything that is measurable is limited. And knowledge must always be limited. I think this is so obvious. There can never be complete knowledge about anything. There may be complete knowledge about some dead thing, but a living thing, and it is living, moving, changing and you cannot have knowledge completely about a thing that is constantly changing, moving. Knowledge is limited.
MZ: But that knowledge and that conditioning...
K: Knowledge is conditioning.
MZ: Yes, but still they play a very vital part in the life of everybody.
K: Of course, of course. Technologically and so on it is a tremendously important thing. It is there you must have measurement, comparison, evolving certain facts and moving, constantly moving. You can see what is happening in the technological world, you invent something one day and a few months later somebody changes it and adds more and so on, it is constantly being added to, where there is invention and so on and so on. It's quite clear that. And perhaps that same movement is carried over to the psychological realm where we consider knowledge is necessary. That is, in the subjective world we consider knowledge is essential to know oneself. To know oneself is really a very limited comprehension, because knowledge is limited. But knowing is a movement, not to know. I don't know if there is a difference between knowing and something which we know.
MZ: Could you enlarge a little bit upon that please?
K: The something which you know is static, to which you can be adding. And what you add to what is already, it becomes static, mechanical. But the constant knowing that is learning, not accumulating knowledge, but constant learning, moving, enquiring, exploring, pushing, pushing, pushing. That is not based on knowledge, it is a movement. Like life is a movement, whether it is the movement in a tree, in a small blade of grass, or in the most amazing animals like the tiger, the lion, and the giraffe, or the small insect. And it is the same life as in us. Therefore one has to respect life, not kill life.
So we must come back to our beginning, which is, can the brain be ever free from all the programmes we have received? And the speaker, K, says it is possible. It is possible only through watching, not condemning or accepting, but just watching the whole movement of your thought, watching the very activity of thought, watching the origin, the beginning of thought. And so in this watching the brain then becomes much more sensitive, not only to its own responses but sensitive to nature, to everything around one, to the world that is becoming more and more dangerous, and to the world of one's own psyche, so that there is a constant objective and subjective relationship, an interchange, never coming to a final decision. That is, never taking a position from which you move. And this requires not only a great deal of leisure in the sense, not doing it as a hobby, but it is part of life. One must have leisure to look at life. One must have this time to see what is actually happening, not what you wish or desire to happen, but what is actually in our daily life going on. And that watchfulness makes the brain extraordinarily acute, sharp, clear. And this clarity is really, if we can go into this very, very deeply, is total freedom.