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The Meaning of Meditation: A Revolutionary New Approach

 In his conversations with David Bohm, recorded and edited as the book The Ending of Time, Krishnamurti says, “For the man who is becoming or being, meditation has no meaning whatsoever.” And, as most of us are in the category of becoming or being—becoming, that is, psychologically—we may safely assume it has no meaning for us. This countermands every accepted statement about the gradual, progressive nature of practice and presents us not with a gentle ascent to the truth, but a view from the brink of the existential abyss. There is no getting away from it: the Void is there.
This is true both metaphysically and psychologically. Psychologically because, as K says, we are nothing; metaphysically because, in a real sense, we live in a world with no given meaning, from which the traditional given meanings have fled. On what basis, then, can one meditate? This points up, incidentally, what is radically contemporary in Krishnamurti’s approach. The teachings are seamless and timeless—we know that—they also stem from the climate of the twentieth century, from the world of The Waste Land and Waiting for Godot. They inhabit the reality of the Absurd.
They also inhabit the Quantum World with its uncertainty, randomness and action-at-a-distance: there is no accepted A to B trajectory. This calls for, and invokes, a radically new approach, a challenge to which K magnificently rises. For the teachings embrace not only the modern world, with its scientific, social and cultural expressions, but the ancient world of the sacred-as-central, the religious spirit of a young mankind. No less than the sarsens that stand at Stonehenge, the teachings body forth with clarity and strength the vision of a transformed consciousness, a human race cleared of thought and time.
It is here that we must begin, I feel, for it is in this trap that most of us are caught. We live, or so we think, in and by time. Time is our constant point of reference: it is the date of our birth and the day of our death. We are never, for one instant, free of it—except perhaps in sleep, and then unconsciously. The clock starts ticking the moment we are born. Unless . . . it is a pretty big unless.
For, while for human beings trapped in thought-time as becoming, “meditation has no meaning whatsoever”, K also says, in a different context, that “without meditation life soon becomes a desert”. The desert is where we ar
e living now, with all its aridity and disenchantment. Such answers to our problems as we find are part of the desert and reinforce it. Only meditation, and dialogue-as-meditation, can begin to bring about the radical shift that transforms consciousness as a whole.
We need to take as our starting point the common consciousness of mankind. Our brain, it turns out, is not “our brain”; it is not our individual possession. It has been in existence for several million years, now expanded certainly, but basically the same stuff: primitive, barbarous, reactive, violent. Nor is there any hope of its changing unless we bring attention to it. What is attention, then, and why is it special? And, is it possible to have attention NOW?
Attention, if we have experimented at all, is what brings us from thought-time into the present. Thought-time, as we said, is what we live and breathe by; though it is certainly not the world of the child, it soon catches up with us, imposes itself on us, and from then we are part of its remorseless machinery. There is no escape within that field: the grooves of conditioning cut themselves ever deeper as we forge an ego to meet the world which is itself the outcome of the ego-process. An uneasy alliance then ensues between the world-as-I-see-it and the world-as-it-is, with, inherent in this hit-and-miss arrangement, the certainty of conflict, antagonism, war. While some societies are obviously better than others—more liberal, more tolerant, more democratic—the same process is going on inside us, and any settlement or agreement is prone to break down. It is the same with the family and with the so-called individual. Cracks appear everywhere and the cracks are in our consciousness.
It is this realisation that is key and, strangely, it occurs to very few people. We blame our neighbours, the government, our boss, the EU—anything but bring it into ourselves, anything but admit that we are responsible. “You are the world, and the world is you,” says K, but unless and until we see it for ourselves, there is little chance that we will shift our ground. And it is a shift in the ground—the ground of our consciousness—that alone can bring us the peace we crave.
Peace is not the cessation of war, which is little more than a breathing space, but a state of being that comes with attention. As such, it is not to be found in the thought process, but in the space between thoughts where nothing is occurring. Unobserved and most frequently ignored, this space may hold the clue, precisely because it is unoccupied. Thought-time, the brain, runs on wheels; there is apparently no end to its chattering: it is a solid mass of movement—or so it seems. Attention to the space, which is attention to no-thing, is important because it differs in kind from the mechanical activity of the brain.
Important because it is going nowhere, unlike thought which is always on the move. Important because it is in touch with nothing—not in touch with anything—and thought is arrested by this very fact. Experiment with it and you will see. Even for a second, the arrest is critical because it opens the door to “something else”. The thought-contamination may continue, but the action of awareness has begun; it may, and will, re-emerge.
It is not a matter of getting used to awareness: that is something one can never do. Rather it means that, faintly at first, awareness begins to make itself felt. The real point, for K, about meditation, is that it is not something “you” do. “The first step is the last step,” he says, which means that you—the person as you—don’t assert in any way that you are meditating. One begins with absence, not with presence, with the absence of the person as “you”. This immediately means that meditation is not, and cannot be, a practice since, as he put it to someone once, “the meditator is the meditation.” This, too, is a statement that needs unravelling.
It is, it seems, an existential statement. For, just as one might say, you are your life, or that there is no self other than the self of your actions—in other words, you are your actions—so it is with meditation. Whatever is happening is what is. This brings one’s focus into the present, into the stuff of daily life and the actuality of the moment. This moment can be dilated, dwelt on; it can be held up to observation, quietly. There is no need to bring in an object of meditation: the meditator him/herself is both the mirror and the face.
In this sense, also, one is always a beginner, whatever one’s history with meditation—not a beginner in the time sense, but a beginner in the sense that one starts each time afresh. This is also a feature of Krishnamurti’s meditation, one to which he frequently returns. The “seeing” of which he speaks is part of meditation and “not in space-time but immediate”—in other words, not mediated by thought. Thought, by its very nature, accumulates; seeing does not, it is active NOW. It is part of the movement of the moment, the apprehension of which K calls “learning”, an instantaneous, present-tense perception from which action naturally flows, something very different from learning as we know it.
Different because, at one stroke, we have removed the factor of time from the equation; different because, even if thought is still chattering, it is not the solid mass it once was, seemingly obscuring the whole field of vision. A new factor has entered the equation. It is not “new” as opposed to the “old”: it is new in the sense of never having been old; it is to this that it owes its freshness and immediacy. It is at the beginning because it is always beginning, that is, it is free of history. History not in the sense of the record of time past, but history as psychological accretion, everything thought has accumulated as knowledge and which it presents to itself and to the world as “me”. “The breaking down of the meditator is also meditation,” for “this total process of learning is explosion in meditation.” Obviously not for the faint-hearted!
One of the features of Krishnamurti’s meditation is the stress he lays on emptying the mind. “True mediation is this,” he says, “the emptying of consciousness.” And, perhaps at this point we should remind ourselves of what he means by consciousness. He is not using Freudian or Jungian terminology. No, consciousness is everything that thought has generated and that constitutes what we call the psyche. This includes the Freudian id, the hidden or so-called unconscious levels, as it does the collective unconscious of Jung. They are all, for him, basically the same stuff; indeed, the very inclusive term thought is used to mean not only conscious thought—stray thoughts, associative thinking, reflection—but the whole range of feeling and emotion. It even includes bodily sensations and reflexes, though he actually speaks very little about this and it was left to David Bohm to fill in the blanks, which he does with considerable skill and penetration in that excellent book Thought as a System. There the author makes very clear that thought is not merely what we think—much less what we think about thinking—but comprises the entire psycho-physical structure, including the nerves and reflexes and, in short, everything where brain and motor activity is involved. It is a blanket term, a form of shorthand, and it is amply summarised in the K-Bohm axiom: Thought is a material process. This is essentially a materialist perspective since it makes the point that nothing the body-brain produces has any significance beyond itself. There are no “hidden levers” or “ghosts-in-the-machine”—just action-reaction, stimulus-response. It is, of course, more complex than that since, as we have seen, the ego gets involved and can then begin to direct operations. But, isn’t the ego also the product of conditioning and, therefore, not out of the loop at all? It is all one process, however gnarled and knotted.
Some thought activity is to do with memorisation and is necessary for our survival; otherwise, we wouldn’t be here today. We need food, clothes and shelter; road-, rail- and waterways. But, beyond that, what do we actually need? Most of it far exceeds our real need and, retroactively, distorts and perverts it. We are living in an overfed, undernourished world.
This is down to what K calls “psychological knowledge”, the information we carry about ourselves which tells us who we are, but falsely. Identified as we are with our nation, our family, one other person or a group, we do not know what we are doing; we act blindly from the imprint that we have. It is only when the consequences of our actions become clear—for instance, in the wake of a war—that we take stock, momentarily. Then we fall back again. It is the perennial fate of human beings to be caught in the trap of their own making. This is the thought process as psychological knowledge, and it is this psychological thought process we need to empty from our minds.
The next question, of course, is, how does one do it? Here again, Krishnamurti’s response is unique: No how! According to him, as soon as one asks how, one is back in the realm of the mechanical: if I do this, then I’ll get that. Projection—reward, the march to the goal. Truth doesn’t work like that, he says. No, it is a “pathless land,” as he said not far from here, at Ommen, on 3 August 1929. There is no path to it, no hidden directive, no guide or guru, just oneself. If the meditator is the meditation, however, that’s all one needs: the book of oneself.
It is nonetheless for many, if not most, not an easy book to read. We are so inured to the notion of time, to life—our life—as a historical process, that we do not realise it is the process itself, and not merely the incidents occurring within it, that we need to question. After all, psychoanalysis is without doubt a time process. We unlock and dismantle a behavioural neurosis by going back in time and uncovering its source. And Freud, let’s not forget, never envisaged more than changing unbearable trauma into liveable unhappiness. Though what he discovered changed our thinking forever, he was not himself bent on revolution. I doubt he thought it possible.
J. Krishnamurti is entirely different. He is, first and foremost, a revolutionary, one for whom the terms of living, as well as its content, need to change. What we are doing is not good enough—far from it—and is leading the species, and the planet, to destruction. What we need is an insight into ourselves as both the agents and the victims of our own destructive nature; we need to put ourselves “in the middle”, in the middle of the chaos, mayhem and misery, and realise without blinking that this is what we are. As an idea, it is depressing; as an insight, it is not.
Ideas, after all, move through time and, like analysis, they have their own (limited) value. “Analysis, paralysis,” says K, by which he means not that analysis has no place, but that its value is constrained by its medium, time. As soon as we posit a method, we have time; and time cannot break the cycle of our sorrow. So long as we move in and through time, we shall not be able to break the mould. This is because, since thought is conditioned, it is not—indeed, it cannot be—the instrument of its own destruction. It needs a new factor, a different element, something not born of the body-brain syndrome. Call it the timeless, call it meditation; call it the operation of insight.
For Krishnamurti, meditation is insight: it is not a path or a way to insight. Herein lies the critical difference. This from Krishnamurti’s Notebook, 13 October 1961: “Thought cannot find what is and what is not beyond its own borders of time; thought is time-binding. Thought unravelling itself, untangling itself from the net of its own making, is not the total movement of meditation. Thought in conflict with itself is not meditation; the ending of thought and the beginning of the new is meditation.” In other words, a new factor must enter, and this factor is time-free insight. It must be instantaneous, not the consequence of anything. And this is the difficulty for most of us.
We are nevertheless enjoined to stand, or sit, alone, to take time out for ourselves and to observe our thoughts. We are told that, if we do, our thoughts will slow down and, in the space thus generated, a seeing can occur which is of the nature of intelligence. This liberates the mind from the shackles of thought-time; however momentarily, it does happen. It is not the end of the story, of course; in fact, quite literally, it is just the beginning.
Thought moves through time, it cannot rescue itself; and for it to try to do so is a barren pursuit. What it can do is become aware of itself, like looking at oneself in the mirror. Let us watch our thoughts as they leap around, without doing anything to shape or control them (any effort we make will still be thought’s patterning). Let us try, if we can, to keep a beginner’s mind, not thinking, “Well, now I know what it is,” but approaching the whole matter of the mind’s machinery as if one knew nothing at all about it. The fact that this happens to be true is itself a factor of liberation.
Truth exists, after all, in very small things, in the homely details of everyday life; in fact, that is its testing ground. We cannot flee the world, become monks or sannyasis; we must stick to the reality we’ve got. And, freeing the mind in and from such reality is the most difficult task we can set ourselves—I hardly need to remind you of it!
Now this: “Learning about the self is not accumulating knowledge about it . . . learning is from moment to moment.” Herein, perhaps, lies the clue we are looking for: learning not as a progression from ignorance to knowledge—necessarily a process in and of time—but learning as instantaneous perception, the unmediated seeing of what is. It sets in motion a “different use for the brain”, one we are not familiar with but which has its own dynamic, its own rhythm. It is a matter of attuning oneself to it, much as one would tune a musical instrument. Pushing the analogy further, one could say that it vibrates at a higher frequency than that of dull, plodding, mundane thought. It is not trying to work anything out nor be anything that it is not. It simply is—and that is enough.
It is this nudity of perception that is key; in this, quite literally, “less is more”. It is not that we are not “building”—we are—but we are not building brick by brick. This is not a building-block universe, which is the traditional materialist point of view, but one where the field—in this case, of vision—must be considered primary. Matter as thought-time moves within this space but it is not the dominant factor, much less the whole, of it. We are looking at emptiness itself, and to look at emptiness is to empty the mind. It is no longer the “I” trying to meditate, trying to empty the slop-bucket of thought; it is emptiness calling to itself, recalling the mind to its original state.
The word original suggests time, of course, but we are not using the word in that sense. It’s more like a lake from which many streams flow, collectively known as the “stream of consciousness”. When the flow of these streams is observed and arrested, there is a possibility of returning to the source; indeed, the streams lead back to it. In that reverse movement, which begins with an arrest, we become aware of our original state. It is not something hidden or obscure; in fact, it is quite natural. The lake, the source, is our place of focus and not its million derivatives. The focussing, moreover, is not something willed: it comes about naturally when we realise that all streams flow from the same source and that none is independent of the source.
Thought itself has volume as well as variety. Small wonder, then, that we cannot stop it! The attempt to create a leader to bring us out of chaos—the perpetual cry for a saviour, inner as well as outer—founders on the rock of the obdurate ego which says, “Follow me!” and intensifies the chaos. Throughout history this has been the case, which is why it is so important for us to see for ourselves not only what the structure of thought-time is, but that the ego, the self, the “me” is just one fragment within its operation. Leaders, saviours and gurus must go—including, most importantly, the guru in oneself. The constant assertion and reassertion of one’s experience—the memories, the knowledge, the never-ending narrative—is something that needs dismantling because it is inherently false. The unaware strengthening of the ego is one of the reasons we do not break free.
The ego, we have said, is a fragment of thought, but it does not present itself as such: it presents itself as the originator of thought, as the one who thinks or to whom thoughts occur. It is forever placing itself at the centre of our existence and the structure of language reinforces it. We say, “I think,” as if we made thoughts in a workshop; and Descartes even said, “I think, therefore I am.” This statement, the consequence of which has been to isolate the subjective consciousness from the objective world of reality, has had a devastating effect on the Western mind, elevating thinking above all our other faculties while, at the same time, alienating us from the natural world which we plunder at will. There is seemingly nothing we won’t make use of, including each other and ourselves. The fragment has become so strong, the “I”-as-fragment so taken for granted, that we go our heedless way of destruction until, briefly, we are stopped by some major catastrophe. And, when it is over, we carry on as before.
This is because we do not realise that the crisis is in our consciousness, and only by extension in the world at large. We are constantly trimming the branches of the tree while ignoring the root and its diseased state. Realising the root, and the need to dig it out, is actually the beginning of meditation, a meditation involving the whole of consciousness. It has little to do with what is now called mindfulness, or the gaining and sustaining of trance states. These, for the mature, are little more than toys: they may have some momentary, passing interest, but they do not get to the core of the problem. The core of the problem is the separative ego, the self, the “I”, functioning as a fragment among other fragments both within one’s own psyche and in the world at large. It is the same movement, internally and externally; it is the same tide, going out and coming in. The realisation of this is part of meditation.
Without perception there is no meditation, which is why there can be no step-by-step practice. Such practice is anchored in the thought process and, grossly or subtly, strengthens it. It contains an inherent contradiction, which is that by doing more practice I will get free of practice, free of the thought process that calls for practice. In fact, one needs to break with practice because the motor driving it is “same old, same old” and the whole point is to discover something new, to break through the veiling power of thought. This cannot happen gradually though it does require a gathering, an intensity, of energy; it requires study and application to go beyond the word. For words, after all, are in the world of thought and it is through this world, apparently so dense, that one needs to break to find the pristine ground. Only then is one beginning to get at the root.
Perception and seeing are more or less the same; they are qualities Krishnamurti associates with intelligence, the capacity to see directly into things without the interference of thought. Of course, thought itself can move intelligently, provided it is free of contradictions, of all the bag-and-baggage of psychological content. Most often, this happens when we are doing something practical, something where the ego is very little involved. Think also of the tremendous reach of mathematics, so related to music and similarly infinite. There, thought is momentarily released and can move in less contracted ways. It is only for the time being, of course, so long as the music or the mathematics lasts. We are looking at something much more radical.
In Western culture there is no tradition of, and therefore no ground for, considering the timeless. Even our notions of eternity are posited as an everlasting extension of time: to dwell with God in heaven or with Satan in hell is our reward or punishment, but in either case it goes on forever. This presupposes not only a God and a Satan, but also an entity, a “me”, that dwells with them. There may be union with God for a very high soul, but never the actual dissolution of identity. In India, the case is different: there, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, the dissolution of the separate “me”, the self, is seen as the gateway to the timeless, to a dimension without beginning and without end. This dimension is synonymous with bliss, with an awareness that takes one beyond space and time, which are themselves constructs of the mind. “Where the self ends, with all its secret and open intrigues, its compulsive urges and demands, its joys and sorrows, there begins a movement of life that is beyond time and its bondage.” This, in Krishnamurti’s words, is what it is.
So, in a sense, we are new to all this: we have no background or frame of reference, which may or may not be a good thing; at least, we are in a position to approach things freshly. And this, in itself, may give us the energy, so often dissipated in thought’s distractions, to bring the matter of the “me” into focus. And curiously, paradoxically, as I do bring the matter of the “me” into focus, I become more aware of the state of the world with all its confusion, misery and chaos. I am not an isolated entity: what I am is the outcome of common consciousness. What I do, the world does; who I am, others are. The differences between us are meagre, superficial; at depth we are alike, indeed we are one another.
Krishnamurti spent his whole life bringing us to a point where meditation could begin. His famous gateway statements—“you are the world”, “the observer is the observed”, etc.—are meant to bring us to that threshold. He does not offer to take one further because, from this point on, you are on your own. The exploration then becomes unique, unique and unrepeatable. It cannot be handed on from master to disciple, from teacher to learner, from guru to sishya: it is not a matter of transmission. “Truth is a pathless land.” Again! There is no path to it and no path in it; there is nothing to be found but the one who takes the journey. Nothing is extraneous.
With this in mind we are in a position to ask, why does Krishnamurti lay such emphasis on “laying the foundation” for meditation? Orderly living, rational thinking, etc. He obviously doesn’t want us to “go off” into some fantasy world of our own imagining. No, here-and-now means for him not only the clear perception of what is, but the discipline of a quiet mind, a mind that is learning constantly. He even suggested sitting quietly for ten minutes—not to have some colourful experience, but to strengthen the mind in its capacity for perception. For, without such perception, meditation is not. One could even call meditation perception-in-action: it is a single, unitary movement of the whole, different in quality and character from the partial, fragmentary dartings of thought. From first page to last it is “the book of oneself”.
How to read that book is now the real question—the how without a method, that is. What a fantastic and immeasurable prospect! The whole field of existence lies in me, from its animal beginnings to its highest, latest thoughts. And not removed, either, for they are me: the whole history of mankind dwells in me. We are part of a common heritage.
Paradoxically, however, this doesn’t mean that I can rely on the collective or deputise responsibility; on the contrary, the more I am aware of my place in the world—aware, in fact, that I am the world—the more singular my journey through it becomes. There are, and there can be, no substitutions. The further I travel on this journey of discovery, the more I discover the commonalty of consciousness and that herein lies my own uniqueness. This is not the vaunted uniqueness of the ego with its talents, capacities and self-expression, but something born in the fire of self-knowing, something that never existed before. It is this creative act we are called upon to engage in; it is this wide-ranging yet very precise examination of our own content, our psychological field. No one can do it for us; as we said, the more we realise our common identity, the more we are driven to discover for ourselves what makes this specific content tick.
And, the more we do it, the more fascinating it becomes. What I have plastered on myself as name and form turns out to be largely a verbal structure, given by “the background” and woefully predictable. What I am in reality I cannot say, for it is constantly changing from moment to moment and each merest flicker I must bring attention to. These are the immediate fruits of my endeavours: that I realise how subtle, swift and ever-changing are the contents of what I call my mind—like waves on a lake charged by sun and wind. They follow one another, restlessly; they have no stopping-place and no destination. For the most part, they serve no purpose at all.
And yet, “The totality of consciousness must empty itself of all its knowledge, action and virtue . . . It must remain empty though functioning in the everyday world of thought and action. Out of this emptiness, thought and action must come.” Strange, strange imperatives! (In this short quote, the word must occurs three times). We must do it, but can we? That is the question. We can, perhaps, if we see the necessity that nothing short of emptiness will do—not that this, either, will bring it about! We are left, as we were, facing the Void.
Neither hope nor despair is germane to this inquiry; nothing in the realm of the opposites is. Most of our reactions, born from the past, are irrelevant when it comes to action NOW. And yet, they are with us most of the time. They remind us of “the necessity”—remind us, that is, if we are at all aware not just of transforming my own consciousness, but that of humanity at large. In the long run, this amounts to the same thing as I cannot affect human consciousness at large except through my own specific quest. If all the waters are gathered in me, then, as we have seen, it is in and through my life that they must flow to others and the world at large.
There is, however, community; there is the possibility of dialogue. In such communication, or communion, it is possible to see in the mirror of relationship the workings of one’s own conditioned reactions. This, too, is meditation of a sort, the constant uncovering of “the false as the false, the true as the true, and the true in the false”. For, it is through negation that one comes to the positive.
The human being as he/she is, is an ape, said Nietzsche and Krishnamurti would probably have agreed. He/she is a “bridge” to something vastly greater—not the Hitlerian Übermensch, but certainly a different, a “new human being”. This is why K’s message is revolutionary: it envisions a condition far removed from what we are living at present, the access to which, however, is not in the future but through the NOW of our daily experience. Unlike the revolutionaries of the past, he promises nothing if we don’t change NOW. Time is not the medium of revolution, as history has demonstrated many times over. This revolution is in and of the mind, and it is when we face our emptiness, when the mind enters and becomes the emptiness, that the door to the eternal, to the timeless, stands open. There is no other point of entry, and it goes without saying that no external change will bring about a new society. Without a transformation at the core, a radical shift in our minds and way of living, we will not be able to hold at bay the powerful forces of habit and reaction.
We need to awaken intelligence, that intelligence which is “neither yours nor mine”, but which can, and does, flow through us freely when we are in communication with one another ”at the same time, at the same level, with the same intensity”. There arises then a spirit of communion which is greater than the sum of the parts, the participants. These then become not talking heads, but what passes between them, the “flow” of it, is far more important than any person individually. We have entered the stream of common consciousness.
So it is with meditation: the person, on whom so much attention is lavished, loosens their grip on the ordering of reality and becomes, if only for a moment, privy to a vastly wider, self-illumined field. That intelligence which, as K said, “wants to manifest” has made its presence felt among us. And so, may we continue to explore together . . .

Stephen Smith: September 2016