Consciousness is the totality of life

This may only interest a few people, but I thought it worth sharing as it opened my eyes to a slightly different perspective on what Krishnamurti means by consciousness.

There is an interesting moment during a conversation with Pupul Jayakar (in Brockwood Park, 1978), when Krishnamurti suggests that consciousness is in fact the consciousness of the whole of life - including the life of animals, trees, insects, etc.

Krishnamurti says that animals, insects, birds and trees have their own feelings as we have feelings, and these feelings are part of a global consciousness of life. However, this consciousness is still limited - limited by suffering, conflict, etc - but it is global in the sense of including all living things, all sentient life.

A little later in the conversation K distinguishes this global but limited consciousness from a cosmic order or universal mind (though he and Pupul Jayakar do not explore this aspect further here, as they do in some other dialogues).

I have clipped the relevant audio excerpt below, and am including the transcript excerpt which continues the discussion a little further.

K: Now, when someone like me uses the word ‘consciousness’—perhaps wrongly—it means the totality of life. You see, for me, ‘consciousness’ means not only my life, your life, and X’s life, but the life of the animal and that of the tree; it encompasses the whole; it encompasses the totality of all that.

PJ: Sir, today you are using the word very differently.

K: Yes, I know; I’m sorry I’m moving away from what I said.

PJ: Yes. In this last sentence you’ve said that consciousness is the totality of life.

K: It is the totality of life.

PJ: So it includes the insect, the bird, the leaf…?

K: They have their own feelings and I have my own—you follow? You see, Pupul, I think that consciousness is global but limited.

PJ: Global but limited?

K: Yes. I am just feeling around. What do you say? Nobody jumps on me here. I say that consciousness is… I won’t go into this for a moment.

PJ: What you have said just now is very, very new and I’d like to pursue it. You have always said that consciousness is its content.

K: Yes.

PJ: The content is the past as experience. Now you are saying that consciousness is total, that it is the totality of life.

K: Yes… Mankind goes through all kinds of travail, all kinds of trouble. Every human being goes through the most terrible times.

PJ: Yes.

K: Now, doesn’t everything else go through it also? Insects, birds, every animal and tree—all nature goes through various kinds of turmoil. I am using the word ‘turmoil’ in the sense of disturbance…

But I wouldn’t say that it is cosmic. You see, one has to be very careful with one’s words. ‘Cosmos’ means total order; it is opposed to chaos, which is disorder. And our minds are in disorder. Our consciousness is in disorder. Right?

For me, this way of talking about consciousness is very suggestive.

To me it can be taken as indicating a global field of subjective experiencing - shared by all living things - in which the common contents of fear, pleasure, joy and suffering, conflict, etc, appear, whether we are people, animals, or even insects and trees!

This global field of shared subjectivity is limited - in part at least by these contents.

Obviously in human consciousness - which is what Krishnamurti almost always limits himself to exploring - this field is limited especially by thought, and the thought-created contents of fear, pleasure, suffering and conflict. But it is interesting that he seems to open up the breadth of this consciousness here to the consciousness of animals and even plants.

Elsewhere, as we know, K suggests that consciousness can be transformed through insight, whereby the contents of consciousness are emptied (through insight), and what remains (or comes into being, manifests) is universal or cosmic mind.

It is a very expansive perspective for sure.

Does it suggest that an animal’s brain can undergo transformation?

How could one ever know?

Ha! I don’t think so.

From my studies I know that in East Asia in particular various Buddhists explored this whole issue (from the point of view of their respective Buddhist schools and philosophies).

Some of them said that the very cycles of nature - for example the growth from a seed, the budding, flowering and death of a flower :tulip: - expressed the unconscious or instinctive enlightenment of living things. This was one view.

Another view was that every human and every sentient thing has within themselves the seed of potential awakening, but that only human beings can actually be enlightened.

While another view was that everything, even insentient (non-sentient) nature - rocks, trees, rivers - is already an expression of an awakened universal mind, and that a human being who becomes a Buddha merely makes this background awakening explicit, or becomes conscious of it themselves.

What Krishnamurti seems to be saying is a bit more down to earth - though still startling - than this: all living things (including trees and plants) have some kind of consciousness, some kind of pleasure and pain, and that this consciousness is somehow shared by all living creatures, including us human beings. So our consciousness includes the consciousness of all living things (if we have the sensitivity to become aware of this).

When Krishnamurti talks about freedom, liberation, insight, it is always in the context of a human being. But I don’t rule out the possibility that nature itself can be perceived to be the expression or manifestation of a sacred, awakened energy. K sometimes talked about trees, plants, and even rocks and rivers, as though they had a kind of life energy, as though they expressed some hidden life vitality.

But this is speculation on my part. I can follow K when he says that animals are conscious and experience pleasure and pain, and even that trees have a kind of consciousness. But I only have an intuition of this consciousness being shared by all living things, as well as by human beings. I do not have a perception of this.

Obviously it depends on what we are calling transformation here, but if we are talking about the mutation of consciousness that K talked about, then I think it is highly unlikely that nonhuman animals and plants are capable of this. The element of instinctual conditioning is very powerful in nature, and is a likely barrier to the kind of transformation that K talked about (not that it is a commonplace fact in human beings).

This being said, anyone who has lived or worked with animals can tell you that there are comparatively wise animals, and animals that are less fortunate in this regard. Some animals really do achieve a kind of sage like quality in the context of their environment. They reach a pinnacle of what nature may (or may not) have intended with their existence, and in this sense we can say they express the same dignity that we attribute to people we feel are truly excellent.

Animals and plants also have their own order, their own social structures, their own equivalent (of human) civilisations. There is intelligence and heart, feeling, in living things - which is as dignified in its own way as human intelligence and feeling.

But does the awakening of the kind of intelligence that K talked about take place in animals? Does it take place even in human beings? - I think it is unlikely to take place in animals for the reasons I have given above, but this does not mean that human beings are any the better for this. Transformation seems to be a rarity period. I feel that all nature expresses aspects of intelligence, flashes of intelligence, but probably only human brains can truly be transformed.

A different way of putting this might be to say that all living beings share a fundamental awareness.

That is, Krishnamurti is proposing here that our consciousness is not solely individual but is interconnected with the consciousness of all living creatures. So our consciousness is not isolated but part of a broader, shared existence - much broader than we realise!

What do people think or feel about this? Or is it too speculative to make sense of?

I feel there is something in it, but it is difficult to get hold of or express. The feeling that we are part of the consciousness of all life.