Living the Teaching in a Secular World – A Brief Summary of the 2013 Gathering

Around two hundred and fifty people attended the four-day Gathering at Rishi Valley that ended on the 24th of November. The Gathering theme, ‘Living the Teaching in a Secular World’, was intended to be a joint and open-ended exploration of the place of Krishnamurti’s teaching in the contemporary world.

In her introductory remarks, Radhika Herzberger examined the rationale for the gathering, explaining the title, what it means to live Krishnamurti’s teaching in a world that has been secularized, in other words, in a world that has lost its moorings in religion. A religious life today has no role in public affairs, which are governed by law, individual rights and economic growth. Given this state of affairs, pertinent questions are: how do you live a spiritual life in a world that has relegated religion to the private individual sphere? And, are Krishnamurti’s teaching relevant only in the private realm?

The following is a brief account of each day’s proceedings:

The Gathering opened with the screening of the first video-recorded talk by Krishnamurti, delivered in Madras on 31 December 1978. Apart from its relevance to the main theme, the video reveals facets of Krishnaji’s personality – his radiance, his compassion, and, above all, the grace and beauty of an 83- year-old sage distanced from the world he is in love with.

In order to comprehend the totality of life, Krishnamurti urges his audience to begin with the outer world, ‘You must begin with the outer and come inward ....’ By the outer he does not mean the natural world revealed to the refined senses but to a world defined by ideological conflicts. It is a world, for instance, in which, ‘Four hundred thousand million dollars are spent on armament each year,’ by nations divided by ideological fervour.

In Krishnamurti’s eyes, the inner and outer worlds are linked; they are like the waters of the sea – the tide going out and the tide coming in. Not that individuals are personally responsible for all that has gone wrong in the external world, only that insofar as each individual is driven by the impulses of ambition, anger, and competitiveness, he or she is complicit in its affairs. Because the inner and outer are conjoint human beings are responsible for the world in which they live ...

After urging his audience to note the conflicted divisions in the outer world, Krishnamurti moves into learning about inner life, more specifically to a way of learning which is not cumulative. This novel way is listening with passion, and with all your faculties in harmony – not the intellect operating on its own, the brain remembering past experience with a distracted attention and the mind devoid of affection; it is listening with detachment ‘ as you would to that bird’. Listening in this way is learning in freedom, and with freedom comes responsibility to change the world.

The audience is left with questions: What is listening in a world that is defined largely by secular principles? Is it merely a private affair?

The second day began with Dr P. Krishna sketching within a historical context the emergence of the secularized world. The conflict between religion and science surfaced in the 16th century. When Galileo, the 16th century astronomer, successfully challenged the doctrines of the church, among them the view that the sun circles the earth, he was able to establish a source of truth independent of church dogma. Dr Krishna’s historical account illustrated how observation and experiment establish independent criteria of truth, displacing the dogmas of religion. The triumph of science over religion, which followed after Galileo, made way for a secularized world, in which truth is not only not the monopoly of religion but the very idea of religious truth falls within the scrutiny of the rational intellect.

Dr Krishna then drew Krishnamurti into the historical framework he had sketch, concluding that, since Krishnamurti’s thought is not based on any belief or dogma but posits spirituality as a quest for truth, there is no contradiction between scientific enquiry and Krishnamurti’s spiritual search; each is an investigation of truth, albeit in different areas of human Endeavour.

The video (Madras, 27th December, 1980) viewed on the second day moved the theme of responsibility forward but in a surprising direction. The talk given at Madras on
27th of December 1980 focuses on India, and on the responsibility of his Indian audience to ‘salvage’ their country. Krishnamurti makes it abundantly clear that he is not speaking as a nationalist, but as a person who feels that it is the responsibility of his largely Indian audience to ask the question: ‘How can we, as human beings, living in this country, save this country, salvage it?’

The phrase ‘we, as human beings’ posits that the question has not to be asked from the view of the centred individual but from a much larger perspective: ‘We are operating from the centre of the self, the “me” first, and so each one is fighting the other, convincing the other of his own particular point of view’; however, he asserts, ‘there is no redemption for the individual.’ Krishnamurti’s manner of framing the question removes it not only from a nationalist’s position but also from the individualistic one.

India can be salvaged, he suggests, if there is a group of incorruptible people which stands like a rock while the waters of history swirl past. It is a striking metaphor often employed by Krishnamurti to signify both steadfastness and a transformation of the surrounding environment that the steadfastness creates. Whether each individual in the group has ceased to be self-centred is left open.

On the third day, Mr Rajan Chandy picked up the thread Dr Krishna had introduced. Mr Chandy framed his argument within the context of a secularized world, claiming that the freedom society had won from the power of the priesthood had robbed society of ‘virtue’. In a world where individuals are concerned chiefly about their own material well being, society had lost the virtues embedded in a religious view of the world. Traditional Indian thought, as he explained, defined the aims of human life as dharma (right conduct), artha (wealth), kama (pleasure), and moksha (liberation). When there was a conflict between kama or artha and dharma the claims of righteous conduct were meant to prevail. Modern societies, Mr Chandy maintained, have lost its moorings in dharma, as a result the pursuit of pleasure and the accumulation of wealth had become driving forces in human life. Violence, extinction of species and global warming were the direct consequence of these self-centred goals of a secularized society.
The video that day, recorded at Saanen on July 9, 1979, presses forward the idea of working together to change the world. Krishnamurti’s talk is philosophical, its tone direct and confidents as he begins with an ‘impossible’ question’:

There are two different kinds of thinking: one, thinking about something, about a problem, about a personal issue, or about the world, and so on. That is, thinking about something. And is there another kind of thinking which is not about something?

The question is possibly an invitation to perform a thought experiment. Krishnamurti goes on to assert that neither meeting as equals not thinking together is possible without uncovering ‘thinking which is not about something’. ‘It is important that we come together in our thinking so that there is no barrier between your thinking and my thinking, his or hers. Can we do this together?’ Working together and thinking together are in this way linked to the issue raised earlier, of a body of persons who stand together with integrity like a rock; and because they stand together and think together they are in a position to change the world.

The last video (a recording of a discussion between J Krishnamurti, Pupul Jayakar and a few others at Rishi Valley, 19th December, 1984) addresses the question Krishnamurti dwelt on in the 1978 video, viewed on the first day, wherein he advised his audience to begin ‘with the outer and come inward’. By the ‘outer’ here he meant the ideologically conflicted world. In this last video we hear Krishnamurti shift his perspective and address issues of where to begin from a different slant. The ‘outer’ in the former video begins with the observation of an ideologically conflicted world in the latter video to begin with the outer is to observe the world with all the senses in their fullness, cleansed of the man-made conflicted world. Compassion or the ability to ‘wipe the tears of another’, however, remains a mystery,

The Gathering closed with Mr Kandaswamy’s description of the difficulties ordinary human beings face in understanding Krishnamurti. He next sketched the culture of the village where he grew up and the three personalities who dominated the essentially pre-modern cultural landscape. The description highlighted the fact the pre-modern period in India was inhabited by individuals with virtuous as well as flawed personalities, but that something significant had been lost in the last half century. Quoting Ramalimgam (also known as Vallalar), the Tamil saint cum poet cum reformer, who said: ‘I have opened a shop offering rubies and emeralds but found no customers,’ he alluded to liberation or the last aim of life mentioned by Mr Rajan Chandy; the lines Mr Kandaswamy quoted implied that the search for liberation was what gave meaning to the whole of life.

The talks by Dr P. Krishna, Mr Rajan Chandy and Mr S. P. K. Kandaswamy addressed deeper facets of Krshnamurti’s teaching. An important challenge to his present and future audiences that the proceedings brought to the fore is whether the spiritual life, which has been relegated to a private world, can once again extend its reach in the world though a ‘right relationship with ideas, with property and with nature’. The challenge implicit in the descriptive title of ‘World Teacher’ bestowed on Krishnamurti by Dr Annie Besant is not any longer Krishnamurti’s to establish but the world’s to work through.

Radhika Herzberger
Proceedings of the 2013 Gathering at Rishi Valley are available www.rishivalley.org/features/talks


In this section we feature articles written by our teachers on various school-related issues.

Their scope will include:

  • Mainstream curricular material;
  • Enrichment material;
  • Material suitable for slow learners, or those with some learning disability; and
  • Krishnamurti’s views on education, and how they can find expression within a school context.

We briefly elaborate on these descriptions. Concerning the first item, the poor availability of well-written textbooks dealing with mainstream curricular material is well known, especially in certain subjects. We refer to books that are written in a lively and relevant manner, and which do not overwhelm the student with excessive detail and inappropriate exercises. Teachers therefore need to share good curricular resources in a wider forum.

Finding appropriate ways of teaching and nurturing students of exceptional ability, or students who are slow learners or have some kind of learning disability, continues to represent an area of great difficulty in the Indian context. School education today is largely addressed to the mythical “average” student. The needs of those who are gifted and who could do something much more than the regular syllabus are generally ignored, on the ground that they can “look after themselves.” Equally, teachers looking for material addressed to slow learners or first generation learners find that there is almost nothing suitable. It is clear that a great deal of work needs to be done in these two areas by the teacher community at large.

As regards Krishnamurti’s views on education, an important point to be emphasized is that though Krishnamurti spoke at length and over many decades to teachers, he never left any “blueprint” on how a school is to be run. Those familiar with his approach in religious and other matters will know that this was part of his teaching and therefore not an oversight.

This being so, issues of certain kinds are ever of relevance in a Krishnamurti school: issues concerning freedom, authority, relationship, and so on. This forum will feature reflections by our teachers on these and related matters. Generally, there will be three to four such articles here at any given time. Teachers are invited to use the material in any appropriate manner. Material may be downloaded freely, but should be acknowledged. We invite comments from readers. Authors may be contacted by e-mail at the IDs given alongside the articles.

For further information contact: shailesh@rishivalley.org