What is it that most of us are seeking? What is it that each one of us wants? Especially in this restless world, where everybody is trying to find some kind of peace, some kind of happiness, a refuge, surely it is important to find out, isn’t it?, what it is that we are trying to seek, what it is that we are trying to discover. Probably most of us are seeking some kind of happiness, some kind of peace; in a world that is ridden with turmoil, wars, contention, strife, we want a refuge, where there can be some peace. I think that is what most of us want. And so we pursue, go from one leader to another, from one religious organization to another, from one teacher to another.
Now, is it that we are seeking happiness, or is it that we are seeking gratification of some kind, from which we hope to derive happiness? Surely, there is a difference between happiness and gratification. Can you seek happiness? Perhaps you can find gratification; but, surely, you cannot find happiness. Happiness is derivative, surely; it is a by-product of something else. So, before we give our minds and hearts to something which demands a great deal of earnestness, attention, thought, care, we must find out, – must we not? – what it is that we are seeking; whether it is happiness, or gratification. I am afraid most of us are seeking gratification. We want to be gratified, we want to find a sense of fullness at the end of our search.
After all, if one is seeking peace, one can find it very easily. One can devote oneself blindly to some kind of a cause, to an idea, and take shelter there. Surely, that does not solve the problem. Mere isolation in an enclosing idea is not a release from conflict. So, we must find, (…) what it is, inwardly, as well as outwardly, that each one of us wants. If we are clear on that matter, then we don’t have to go anywhere, to any teacher, to any church, to any organization. So, our difficulty is, (…) to be clear in ourselves regarding our intention. Can we be clear? And does that clarity come through searching through trying to find out what others say, from the highest teacher to the ordinary preacher in a church round the corner? Have you got to go to somebody to find out? And yet, that is what we are doing, is it not? We read innumerable books, we attend many meetings and discuss, we join various organizations – trying thereby to find a remedy to the conflict, to the miseries in our lives. Or, if we don’t do all that, we think we have found; that is, we say that a particular organization, a particular teacher, a particular book satisfies us; we have found everything we want in that; and we remain in that, crystallized and enclosed.
So, we have to come to the point when we ask ourselves, really earnestly and profoundly, if peace, happiness, reality, God, or what you will, can be given to us by someone else. Can this incessant search, this longing, give us that extraordinary sense of reality, that creative being, which comes when we really understand ourselves? Does self-knowledge come through search, through following someone else, through belonging to any particular organization, through reading books, and so on? After all, that is the main issue (…) that as long as I do not understand myself, I have no basis for thought, and all my search will be in vain. I can escape into illusions, I can run away from contention, strife, struggle; I can worship another; I can look for my salvation through somebody else. But as long as I am ignorant of myself, as long as I am unaware of the total process of myself, I have no basis for thought, for affection, for action.
But that is the last thing we want: to know ourselves. Surely, that is the only foundation on which we can build. But, before we can build, before we can transform, before we can condemn or destroy, we must know that which we are. So, to go out seeking, changing teachers, gurus, practising yoga, breathing, performing rituals, following Masters, and all the rest of it, is utterly useless, is it not? It has no meaning, even though the very people whom we follow may say: Study yourself.
Because, what we are, the world is. If we are petty, jealous, vain, greedy – that is what we create about us, that is the society in which we live.
So, it seems to me, that before we set out on a journey to find reality, to find God, before we can act, before we can have any relationship with another, which is society, surely it is essential that we begin to understand ourselves first. And I consider the earnest person to be one who is completely concerned with this, first, and not with how to arrive at a particular goal. Because, if you and I do not understand ourselves, how can we, in action, bring about a transformation in society, in relationship, in anything that we do? And it does not mean, obviously, that self-knowledge is opposed to, or isolated from, relationship. It does not mean, obviously, emphasis on the individual, the me, as opposed to the mass, as opposed to another.
I do not know if some of you have seriously undertaken to study yourselves, watching every word, and its responses; watching every movement of thought and feeling – just watching it, being conscious of your bodily responses, whether you act from your physical centres, or whether you act from an idea; how you respond to the world condition. I do not know if you have ever seriously gone into this question at all. Perhaps sporadically, as a last resort, when everything else has failed and you are bored, some of you have tried it.
Now, without knowing yourself, without knowing your own way of thinking, and why you think certain things, without knowing the background of your conditioning, and why you have certain beliefs about art and religion, about your country and your neighbor, and about yourself, how can you think truly about anything?
Without knowing your background, without knowing the substance of your thought and whence it comes – surely, your search is utterly futile, your action has no meaning, has it? Whether you are an American, or a Hindu, or what your religion is, has no meaning either.
So, before we can find out what the end purpose of life is, what it all means – wars, national antagonisms, conflicts, the whole mess – surely, we must begin with ourselves, must we not? It sounds so simple, but it is extremely difficult. Because, to follow oneself, to see how one’s thought operates, one has to be extraordinarily alert: so that, as one begins to be more and more alert to the intricacies of one’s own thinking and responses and feelings, one begins to have a greater awareness, not only of oneself, but of another with whom one is in relationship.
To know oneself, is to study oneself in action, which is relationship. But, the difficulty is that we are so impatient; we want to get on, we want to reach an end. And so we have neither the time nor the occasion, to give ourselves the opportunity, to study, to observe. Or, we have committed ourselves to various activities – to earning a livelihood, to rearing children – or have taken on certain responsibilities of various organizations; we have so committed ourselves in different ways, that we have hardly any time for self-reflection, to observe, to study.
So, really, the responsibility of the reaction depends on oneself, not on another. And the pursuit, as in America and all the world over, of gurus and their systems, reading the latest books on this and that, and so on, seems to me so utterly empty, so utterly futile; for you may wander all over the earth, but you have to come back to yourself. And, as most of us are totally unaware of ourselves, it is extremely difficult to begin to see clearly the process of our thinking and feeling and acting. (…)
The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end – you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river. And as one studies it, as one goes into it more and more, one finds peace.
Only when the mind is tranquil – through self-knowledge and not through imposed self-discipline – only then, in that tranquility, in that silence, can reality come into being. It is only then that there can be bliss, that there can be creative action.
And it seems to me that without this understanding, without this experience, merely to read books, to attend talks, to do propaganda, is so infantile – just an activity without much meaning. Whereas, if one is able to understand oneself, and thereby bring about that creative happiness, that experiencing of something that is not of the mind, then perhaps there can be a transformation in the immediate relationship about us, and so in the world in which we live.
– Jiddu Krishnamurti from Public Talk July 16, 1949