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Krishnamurti and the Scientific Temper

by Prof.P.Krishna,Rector,Rajghat Education Centre, Krishnamurti


Foundation India, Varanasi.

Krishnamurti's approach to religious questions has many parallels with


the scientific approach to truth. Both posit reality as the unknown and
rely strongly on observation and inquiry as the means of discovery.
Both deny the acceptance of authority or belief and recommend
experimentation and investigation. Krishnamurti says that the answer
does not lie outside the question, it is to be found in investigating
and unfolding the problem itself. The scientist would agree because he
is also trying to discover the order that manifests in Nature, not
create it. Technology and the applications of science, however useful
they may be, are not the real purpose of the scientific quest. Its real
purpose is to discover the laws of Nature and unravel the great mystery
of the origin and operation of this universe in which we live.
Similarly the institutionalised religions have been historical by-
products of the religious quest, not its aim. The true aim of the
religious quest is to come upon a certain order in one's consciousness
through a direct perception of the truth, which Krishnamurti calls an
insight. There is thus only one truly religious mind - the mind that
has come upon harmony, love and compassion. There is no such thing as
the Buddhist mind, the Hindu mind, the Christian mind or the Islamic
mind. To divide the religious mind in this manner is as absurd as
talking about Indian science as separate from American science or
African science. There is no such thing - there is only one science.
Both scientific and religious truths are universal and cannot be
different for different people.

The scientist looks at the external world of phenomena and asks


questions like : why is the sky blue ? why does the wind blow ? why
does the seed grow into a tree ? why do eclipses occur ? why are there
so many different species of life ? He tries to discover the causes for
whatever he observes happening in this world of ours. His experience is
that nothing happens without a cause and the same cause produces the
same effect. When there are multiple causes operating simultaneously it
is a complex system and he finds it difficult to predict the resultant
behaviour. Thus the behaviour of the weather may be unpredictable
because there are too many variables affecting the system but it does
not contradict the fundamental laws of cause and effect. Simple systems
are those where only a few causes operate and scientists are very
successful in predicting the behaviour of such systems for instance the
behaviour of projectiles or space craft operating under a single
gravitation field or a beam of white light passing through a prism.

Similarly, there is a cause for all disorder in our consciousness like


violence, anger, jealousy or fear. So long as the cause exists the
effect must occur. Usually there are multiple causes and the response
from our consciousness is a complicated process difficult to understand
or see clearly. The disorder can end only when the causes are seen
clearly and eliminated. This requires more than knowledge, it requires
a deep insight into the functioning of our consciousness. That insight
can only come through passive awareness, observation and
experimentation. These are also the cornerstones of any scientific
investigation. The scientist conducts experiments in the laboratory and
uses microscopes and other instruments to help his senses in observing
reality. He lays great importance on the accuracy of his observations
and ensures that the lenses of his microscopes are clean and free from
aberrations so that he sees reality exactly as it is. In
Krishnamurti's approach to self-knowledge the entire world is the
laboratory, all relationships are experiments in which we can clearly
observe ourselves as we are, provided the mind does not distort the
observation by projecting its own desires, opinions and cultural
conditioning. The mind is the instrument of observation and needs to be
free of its conditioning if it is to observe what is without
distortion. Learning takes place through the passive awareness of what
is.

Non-acceptance of authority is another important ingredient of the


scientific temper. A statement is not regarded as true just because a
great scientist has stated it; it needs to be investigated, tested and
rediscovered several times by different investigators. This is a
recognition of the fact that even the greatest of minds can be mistaken
in some area. Science does not recognise hierarchy in the pursuit of
what is true. A young student can disprove what a great senior
scientist may have formulated. No truth is held to be so sacrosanct as
to be beyond question or doubt. Krishnamurti advocates a similar
approach to religious and psychological questions when he denies the
role of the guru and advocates doubt and inquiry as essential elements
of a religious mind. Indeed he is ever willing to investigate a
question afresh without allowing the conclusions of the past to colour
the inquiry. To him a religious mind is one that lives with questions
and not with conclusions, so that it is continually observing and
learning. Feynman, a great scientist of this century, advocates
essentially the same approach when he states in his essay on the value
of science, "Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying
degrees of certainty -- some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none
absolutely certain".

Krishnamurti's approach to religious questions is thus very close to a


scientific approach. The difficulty of course lies in the fact that the
kind of objective experimentation which can be done to settle
scientific questions or disputes is not possible in the field of self-
knowledge. When one is studying a mass falling under the earth's
gravity, the observer is separate from the observed and it is
relatively easy to be objective in one's measurements and observations.
But when one is observing oneself, the observer is not separate from
the observed and there is a strong interaction between the two which
makes the observation highly subjective. This does not mean, however,
that the observation is not valid but that it is more difficult and
should be doubted all the more. Consider a man trying to observe how he
falls asleep. As he goes to sleep his powers of observation fade and
it is well nigh impossible for him to discover how exactly he falls
asleep !

Another important difference between the religious inquiry advocated by


Krishnamurti and scientific inquiry is in the role of knowledge. A
scientist is able to study and learn about the work of previous
scientists and then build on top of it through his own experiments and
analysis. Thus scientific progress and scientific knowledge are
cumulative processes. It is not so with the religious inquiry. The
knowledge of all that the Buddha had said does not bring our
consciousness closer to that of the Buddha. It only adds to our memory
unless we can, through our own investigations, rediscover the truth of
which the Buddha spoke. Knowledge, in this field, has only the value of
creating a question in our mind. It cannot provide the answer. We have
to rediscover the truth of it for ourselves. Thus Krishnamurti states
that the answer is not separate from the question; it is to be found in
the exploration of the question itself. The idea of a truth is not the
truth itself, and intellectual understanding is not the realisation of
that truth. The truth becomes real to the consciousness only when it is
perceived directly and not through a process of ideation. This direct
perception of the truth is what he calls an insight. In a sense, the
scientist also recognises the difference between ideas and
understanding things through direct perception. This is why a science
student is asked to do years of laboratory work to verify and
rediscover what he is taught in the class.

This means that if we plot knowledge (or memory) along the horizontaly-
axis, time along the horizontally axis and wisdom along the vertical z-
axis, all our knowledge and intellectual processes move our
consciousness only within a horizontal plane. The consciousness moves
in the vertical direction only when it has a direct perception of the
truth of something. That insight is like a quantum process - it occurs
in time but not gradually and not because of time. It occurs in a flash
and moves the consciousness to a higher level of clarity. Perhaps this
is what Krishnamurti means when he says that there is no psychological
evolution, that wisdom does not increase gradually like knowledge or
experience. If it did , all old people would be wise since they are
more experienced ! But that is not true. One cannot come upon wisdom
the way one climbs up a hill, moving slowly along a spiral path.

Scientific progress also involves a deep insight whenever something


totally new is discovered. But after the initial discovery has been
made, the truth of it can be communicated to others through a logical
intellectual process. A student of the theory of relativity does not
necessarily have the insight into the nature of space, time, mass and
energy which Einstein had; but he is able to use the equations and they
work. This is not possible with religious truths. If a man has realised
for himself that he is one with Nature, his words do not create that
realisation in others who hear him. There is no formula, no fixed path
to come upon that realisation. It is somewhat like trying to explain
what colour is, to a man who has been blind since birth. One can only
eliminate his blindness so he can see for himself.

Science deals with the measurable and thought can measure, record and
communicate its findings; but religion deals with the immeasurable and
thought cannot capture the immeasurable; it can only be sensed when
thought is silent. So while the scientific temper is important also for
the religious quest, one must be aware of its limitations in this
field. Thought and reason are like the pole of a pole-vaulter. Man can
use the pole to lift himself but he must know when to discard the pole,
otherwise he cannot get to the other side.

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