SUMMER 1999/2000 VOLUME FIVE NUMBER TWO
NOUMENON - A NEWSLETTER FOR THE NONDUAL PERSPECTIVE
KRISHNAMURTI: TRANSLATION VERSUS TRANSFORMATION
This short article was prompted by the words of Rajnish Roy in relation to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of The Link:
Another issue that has distressed many is why, despite having devoted many years with sincerity and seriousness to the teachings, one has not changed fundamentally. (10)
Roy takes David Bohm to task for suggesting that the teachings ‘do not go far enough to change one fundamentally’, suggesting that in Bohm’s case this was the result of the dominance of a ‘formidable intellect’.
But this still begs the question why the teachings cannot penetrate intellects ‘formidable’ or otherwise? And perhaps, seeing the question in this light, we are not allowed to be so easily dismissive of Bohm.
It is my experience that Krishnamurti’s teachings contain within them both the ability to lead the mind to the edge of what is beyond itself through the sheer power of its mirror-like logic, and also to condition the mind subtly with this very logic. Now the latter statement can be very disturbing for the serious student of the teachings and is often resisted, because built into one’s intellectual understanding of the teachings is the perception that we are conditioned beings. Now while we can see the truth of this statement through logical inquiry, we also assume that our seeing of this truth somehow liberates us from such a condition, because the words are so compelling and perhaps bring about a previously uncontemplated insight – leading us to think that ‘I am no longer conditioned because I have understood how conditioning works’. But however compelling the insight, it is still, finally, within the realm of the intellect, and that is why we do not change fundamentally. There is intellectual understanding but not integral understanding.
In Ken Wilber’s words what we have done is given the self ‘a new way to think or feel about reality’ (Wilber, 1999, 27). The self has been translated not transformed. However, because the teachings themselves are concerned with transformation where ‘the very process of translation itself is challenged, witnessed, undermined, and eventually dismantled’ (Ibid., 28), we tend to ignore the fact that what we generally tend to do is translate the teachings of transformation as to make ourselves believe that we are actually involved in transformation. And the lack of authentic transformations among students of the teachings points to this.
I find that there is also a subtle psychology at work. Because of Krishnamurti’s particular stance on spiritual practices, and because we see the truth of it intellectually, we then tend to stand superior to those who are engaged in such practices, not seeing that our own engagement is a kind of spiritual practice – reading the books (scripture), watching videos or listening to audio cassettes (ritual), engaging in trying to be choicelessly aware (meditation practice). But we tend not to see this in the context of translative spirituality because we believe that understanding teachings that talk against translative spiritual practices somehow takes us out of such practices. But the fact is, we are still seeking (perhaps disguised by the term ‘inquiry’) transformation, and while that is still there we are still in the position where
the self learns to translate its world and its being in the terms of this new belief or new language or new paradigm, and this new and enchanting translation acts, at least temporarily, to alleviate or diminish the terror inherent in the heart of the separate self. (Wilber, 1999, 28)
In Krishnamurti’s words, we have mistakenly taken the word for the thing itself.
Roy says that many people who have been affected by Krishnamurti’s teachings ‘have found some real improvement in their lives’ (Roy, 1999, 10). But many translative practices can claim the same, and indeed there are now a few students (Andrew Cohen is a notable example) of the late H.W.L. Poonja – who was a teacher of transformative spirituality – who claim a permanent shift in identity, thus making a claim for authentic transformation.
So where is all this leading to? Perhaps the following excerpt from A.H. Almaas’ book The Elixir of Enlightenment offers a succinct way of looking at the issues raised:
Krishnamurti says his teaching is simple and direct. He has said that a person can listen to him and understand him, and be transformed right there, before leaving the lecture hall. This is all very true, but it is simple and direct only to Krishnamurti’s own perception. The state he is describing is experienced as simple. It is simple, and ordinary, and very near to the individual. It is, in fact, the very nature of awareness: simple, empty, clear.
But his teaching does not take into account the state of consciousness of most of his listeners. Their minds are preoccupied with other things, are full of all kinds of concerns and conflicts that they are not about to give up. These concerns and conflicts make up not only their lives but their very identities. They cannot therefore just be simply aware.
Krishnamurti is in fact asking his listeners nothing less than to give up their ego and their sense of self identity. But there is a lot involved in this sense of self and much of it is unconscious, not available to awareness. It is the sense of self that still governs the mind, the movement of thoughts, the focus of attention. (16-17)
So Krishnamurti is asking for transformation and not translation. But in most cases – if we are absolutely honest with ourselves – there has simply been translation. And to continue to make excuses for oneself is still part of the translative business – ‘I must just be more aware’; ‘I must just read another book with greater attention’; ‘The teachings are not at fault, I am’, etc. But this is not very helpful, and is, I suggest, self-deceiving. This is still part of the old religious paradigm of ‘I am a sinner, but through God’s grace I will become better’. What Almaas is pointing to is the need to inquire into why ‘the sense of self … still governs the mind’, even when, through the teachings, we have understood the self to be the movement of thought.
Wilber’s perception in the following quotation in effect sums up Almaas’ pedagogical response to his own observations, which have taken the form of teaching authentic transformation through translative practices:
Even though you and I might deeply believe that the most important function we can perform is to offer authentic transformative spirituality, the fact is, much of what we have to do, in our capacity to bring decent spirituality into the world, is actually to offer more benign and helpful modes of translation. In other words, even if we ourselves are practising, or offering, authentic transformative spirituality, nonetheless much of what we must first do is provide most people with a more adequate way to translate their condition. (1999, 31)
Viewed in this light, we are then faced with the question: Do Krishnamurti’s teachings allow for translation? Of course, the answer is no. But considering how many have been influenced by them and yet have remained untransformed, do we postulate then, like Bohm, that the teachings ‘do not go far enough to change one fundamentally’?
My own feeling is that Krishnamurti’s teachings are part of an evolutionary thrust; Life itself is looking at ways to bring about authentic transformation (and we have to say Life rather than Krishnamurti, because the essence of his message is that there is no separate self), and the teachings are part of this experiment which is always on-going. (We must also not ignore the fact that the teaching themselves show an evolution of methodology.) By its very austerity and impact – yet lack, ultimately, of real results – the teachings, indirectly, force us to re-evaluate our relationship to them, to see whether we are in fact involved in translation and not transformation. But we need to honour this rather than making it into a problem; because invariably we give the teachings such sacrosanct status, that we place all blame on ourselves, rather than inquiring with other tools (such as Almaas’ psychological approach) as to why the situation exists in the first place. (I am aware that this can be difficult for most students of the teachings, because reflexively we try to use the teachings – that is, our concepts – to transcend the situation, not seeing that it is this very action that keeps us stuck.) Perhaps we need to look at Life’s other offerings that can end the translative phase so that we are truly engaged in authentic transformation. For the vast majority, it would appear that to make the passage to integral understanding, we need to find more appropriate ways to make the transition.
Of course, for the Krishnamurti purist, the above suggestion is absolutely blasphemous. But to have such a feeling could be a clue to the awakening of true transformation if we allow ourselves to see that we could only react in such a way if we have a concept of the teachings – if we see that reaction is part of the translative phase.
If we were truly transformed, as Krishnamurti wanted, then these words are just words and no more – there would be no reaction, no inquiry, just what is.
1. Wilber, K. 1999. One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber.Boston: Shambhala.
2. Almaas, A.H. 1984. The Elixir of Enlightenment. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
3. Roy, R. 1999. To See the Fact. The Link, 16 (Spring/Summer), 9 – 10.
This article first appeared in The Link, No. 17, Autumn/Winter 1999.
Readers who want to obtain their free copy of The Link, which addresses the teachings of J. Krishnamurti in all its facets, should write to: KLI P.O. Box 267 Winchester S0239XX England.