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On the use of the word "unconscious" in its non-technical sense

In Wednesday’s group meeting there was a strong reaction (by one or two participants) to the use of the word “unconscious”, used in a non-technical sense. The word was used in the context of asking about whether we can be aware, as participants during dialogue, of the full nature of our reactions as they happen.

It was asserted (by one or two participants) that even this non-technical use of the word was dangerous, and had nothing at all to do with Krishnamurti’s teaching. And, furthermore, that its employment - together with the inquiry into our reactivity that the word was used to indicate - was nothing more than “navel gazing”.

However, while Krishnamurti is well-known for objecting to the the psychoanalytic convention of reifying this split between the conscious and unconscious (along Freudian or Jungian lines), Krishnamurti himself often used the word “unconscious” in its non-technical sense, to indicate aspects of consciousness of which we are not presently aware, but of which the mind can be aware. An example of this usage is provided below (from the 2nd public talk in Paris 1969).

During an inquiry into fear (or what some people might characterise as “navel-gazing”!), K points out to his audience:

“there is not only the conscious fears - fears of what you know consciously - but there are also the deep, hidden fears in the psyche, in the deeper layers of the mind. One may deal with the conscious fears… but the deep, hidden fears are much more difficult. Now, how is one to bring all the unconscious deep hidden fears to the surface and expose them? Can the conscious mind do that? Can the conscious mind, with its active thought, uncover the unconscious, the hidden? - We are using the word ‘unconscious’ non-technically: non-Freudian, -Jungian, and all the rest of it. Just the word ‘unconscious’: which is not being conscious or aware or know the hidden layers, that’s all. Can the conscious mind open the deep, secret, hidden layers in which there are many other fears?.. We’re looking at it, we are observing it, we are learning, we are seeing what actually is taking place… Can the conscious mind uncover the whole content of the unconscious? - I don’t think it can… So I’m asking myself: ‘Is there another way, instead of the analytical process… of exposing the whole content of consciousness, both the surface as well as the hidden?’… is there another approach to this problem of uncovering the whole content, which is the past, the racial inheritance, the family, the culture, the weight of religious tradition, etc …?”

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K: Can the conscious mind uncover the whole content of the unconscious? - I don’t think it can

Is it that in normal functioning, there is no perceptible difference between what we think of as awareness and the conscious mind? Strong interest in our surroundings alone seems to catalyze stand-alone intrinsic awareness. For example, when we perceive a danger or come across something totally new or exciting that we want to learn about. Once the learning ceases and naming/classification occurs, it appears control is yielded back to the conscious mind and the heightened awareness abates.

You would think that if we suspected that we are routinely hiding things from ourselves – stashing aspects of reality into the unconscious, emperor’s new clothes and so on - that that would produce sufficient urgency for awareness to kick in. The fact that it doesn’t suggests that we have no such suspicion, that we are altogether oblivious to the mechanics of conditioning. I guess that is why it is called the unconscious.


‘Navel-gazing’ is the term I used. (You can say it James - I don’t mind owning it.) And - I am happy to stand alone on all this.
I questioned whether sitting around in an echo-chamber, relating personal experiences, is enquiry at all - or is it analysis? Is it ‘entertainment for the self’?
Any dissent or questioning in the Wednesday group, and the demand is made of the moderator to put a stop to it immediately, as it is defined as ‘conflict’.
Enquiry is defined as ‘conflict’.
I asked: If there is awareness, is there unconscious at all? This would be an interesting matter to go deeply into, but that does not seem to be a possibility for the Wednesday group, as the only approved-of activity (so far) is to share personal experiences.
Also in question is the matter of ‘levels’.
When the ending of self was raised (by me), the reaction was: ‘Oh we are not at that level yet.’
The teaching of Krishnamurti is an holistic teaching. Who has invented ‘levels’ for an holistic teaching? Just asking.
Unfortunately, in the Wednesday group, there is no technical ground being laid down for genuine enquiry. So far.
Anyway - see you all next Wednesday.


Sometimes it’s good to keep things very simple… and maybe then a little less likely to be misunderstood.
There are things we are not aware of , there are things we may be very well or clearly aware of and many that we have some partial awareness of .
Although by no means a ‘technical expression’ I think that the term ‘navel gazing’ may also be interpreted in different ways… in a quite different way of course… ! To the ‘average ‘person it’s used in a derogatory sense about anyone who thinks much about anything other than the most obvious outer world of relationships. To others it may be much ‘milder’ just that one may be going too far in a analytical way.
Anyway… whatever was taking place on Wednesday there was plenty of opportunity, if one was able, to observe own own reactions and perhaps have some insight into the nature of them.
Overall one could see that we are all or mostly ‘coming from a different place’ … so although we use the same and similar words/ vocabulary/ language… the minds using them are from a different place… almost like a group from different planets… who have just got the basics of the words… but struggle to see the meanings and intentions behind them.
Saturday is another day… perhaps…?

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In my opinion the word conflict can reflect the reality if we were in the inward state in which we are sure that our opinions and insights are right and we are trying to help others in the dialogue to open their minds to our truth. The state of enquiry is a state in which we are open to investigate. I am questioning the state in which I was participating on the Wednesday night dialogue

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Thank you Dev.

  1. Yes, as you say, despite our normal conflation of conscious action and awareness, K seems to equate the conscious mind (and analysis) with superficial, thought-laden or habitual modes of response; and distinguishes it completely from observation, (choiceless) awareness and attention, which are more fresh, more vital, non-cognitive modes of response. The former is unable to penetrate our conditioning very deeply, while the latter apparently gives conditioning the space it needs to reveal itself. What the catalyst might be for such intense (choiceless) awareness - in the absence of extreme danger or excitement - is unclear, but inward sensitivity to our reactions does create a certain amount of intensity, as is becoming clear in the dialogue meetings :slight_smile:

  2. Yes - what K apparently means by the ‘unconscious’ is just this past conditioning of which we are routinely unaware, but which nevertheless continues to exist, projecting/revealing itself in our daily reactions and judgments. K’s focus (as I understand it) is therefore to teach the urgency of an awareness of this “background” conditioning, so that it no longer blindly project itself (as attachment, prejudice, identification, etc). And this requires from us - as you say - a certain “suspicion” or questioning of our habitual reactions/judgments, so that there is freedom to observe these heretofore “hidden” contents as they arise.


Yes, I agree with you that it’s important to keep things as simple as is possible in our group meetings. In the meeting I actually did hesitate before using the word “unconscious”, because I know that for some people it is associated with psychoanalytic analysis (which K rejected). As you suggest, I could, and perhaps should, have limited myself to the word “awareness” - unaware, partially aware, completely aware, as you suggest.

However, my question actually arose out of the previous week’s discussion we had about “inattention” (if you remember), in which we had said that inattention is any form of narrow, specific or partial awareness. Because (this week) Jackie had suggested we look at our reactions in the group, I wanted to bring the question of “inattention” into relationship with this new focus on our reactions. I attempted to do this by proposing we find out whether it is possible to become aware of the “whole” of our reactive responses: both the obvious but superficial cognitive area of our awareness, but also the subtler, usually unaware - or only partially aware - areas of our conditioning. That is what I was getting at.

But the word “unconscious” unfortunately sidetracked us for the whole dialogue! As you say, “although we use the same and similar words/ vocabulary/ language… the minds using them are from a different place… almost like a group from different planets…”. For myself, this requires that we be a little bit flexible and nuanced when using words together, until we get a sense of a shared meaning behind the word (after which the word becomes secondary and irrelevant). But yes, Saturday (and Wednesday) is another day :slight_smile:


Patricia, my own sense is that the issue we encountered in the meeting on Wednesday mostly stemmed from the fact that we had a different way of understanding or interpeting certain words. As Clive writes above: “although we use the same and similar words/ vocabulary/ language… the minds using them are from a different place… almost like a group from different planets…” This is a challenge of course, for any attempts at communication; but it is not insuperable.

For example, as Clive has suggested, maybe if we had kept to the word “awareness” (as in unaware, partially aware, completely aware, etc) there probably wouldn’t have been so much controversy. Perhaps a better word (instead of “unconscious”) for you would be past conditioning. That is, we can be more or less aware of past conditioning, but we ought not assume that we are completely aware of all our conditioning (if we are not so aware) - right? I don’t think there is anything controversial in this.

The danger for me is, if we become too inflexible in our use of words, then we may no longer feel obliged (or responsible) to find out the meaning another person may intend behind the word - which might actually turn out to be common to them both. This is why hesitancy (which is not the same thing as “navel gazing”, surely) is so crucial.

But yes, let’s see how we get on next Wednesday - with a new day comes fresh awareness!

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Yes, I understand. I feel that the real value to be had from the dialogues is to be sensitive enough to be aware as much as we are able of our own reactions… hopefully to see the whole nature of them. Doing this while at the same time caring attentively to ‘where others are ,and also communicating ‘ is not easy as we see by how dialogue can turn out.
It’s well worth sticking with it I feel.
Thank you for your contribution .


I do also feel that more than only very occasional and brief on topic personal stories in dialogue are a distraction and also often a source of conflict.
I do feel the same I think as the facilitator, that the dialogue time is best served if we can observe our own reactions … seeing them with enough clarity to understand the whole movement of them.
I can’t say I was happy when the conscious/ unconscious was brought into it… as simple language generally communicates more directly.
Navel gazing , although not complicated or technical as ‘language’ , it’s usage can just as easily lead one astray as the more technical. It is generally used in a derogative way… whatever it’s describing … and it can mean different things to different people. To some the whole of Krishnamurti’s work or life may be talked of as ‘navel gazing’!
But really neither conscious/ unconscious nor navel gazing comments need to be thought about too much ! Perhaps we can see how easy it is for conflict to arise however… and understand something of the nature of it.

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Dear James and Clive -
It is a great challenge for us to communicate with clarity. It requires objectivity - for example: if the discussion is about awareness and unconsciousness (or whatever you want to call it) it is ONLY about awareness and unconsciousness, and not all the subjectivity we human beings bring to it.
K always went back to the etymological meaning of words. He laid down a means of communication for very serious issues, and I suggest that if we dismiss his words as ‘K-speak’ (as someone did accuse me of K-speak last Wednesday), it is to our own communication detriment.
It is far more important to clarify, and to understand deeply, what each of us is saying objectively - not emotionally/subjectively (both illusions).
Anything can be discussed - without conflict - if it is approached objectively.

But, also, when conflict arises - as it does in any dialogue group - is it possible to see into the heart of the conflict at the very moment it arises, to see one’s place in the whole scenario? Then objectivity and subjectivity are both irrelevant because this direct perception has obliterated any distance involved between the observer and the observed. At this moment of direct observation, we are not concerned with our approach to conflict as though it is something separate from what we are; the approach only becomes important once there is an interval of time between the conflict and the observer of the conflict. But at the moment of conflict the whole nature of self is revealed; all its conscious and unconscious content is thereby exposed in our relationship.


You don’t “stand alone on all this”.

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Hello Paul - Interesting points.
Is conflict between two people, or does it exist only in the self?
If one person understands the movement of self, and is in conversation with another who does not, and who thus feels conflict, that conflict exists only in the one who has not understood the movement of self - it does not exist not between them.
Because the one who has understood the movement of self will NOT reinforce conflict, either in the other person, or in oneself.

Where there is a self centre there must inevitably be conflict; and this centre gets exposed in relationship. The self is essentially a divided entity, living in the twin worlds of past and future. So I don’t think we can talk about understanding the movement of self without being clear that this understanding has nothing to do with the past. It is not something embedded as knowledge. Such knowledge about the self merely reinforces the self centre. We can see the self only when it is in operation; and it is this attention to the movement of the self that puts an end to it.

So can we see this movement together as it enters our relationship? When we form any image about each other, that’s the start of it. The fact that I am a man and you are a woman, for example, is not an image; or that we have certain ages, heights, colours, accents and so on - none of that is a psychological image. But any image I have about myself as a psychological being must inevitably give rise to images about other people, including yourself, that have a psychological basis. And to spot these images as they arise on meeting and interacting with other people is to learn about myself in relationship, in society.

Where there are images, there will be conflict. What we have tended to do through all sorts of religious tricks and psychological games is to seek a perfect self-image, a perfect world view, something that guarantees us a life free from further conflict. From this comes the super-imposed image of living free from self images, free from the self, free from our conditioning. We have never tried just living with what we are and looking at it directly; instead, it is always with a view to changing what we are. If I am angry, violent, that is me as I am; the energy of this violence is therefore much more important than any escape from it.


Dear Paul -
When K said: “I know every trick of the monkey”, he was using the monkey as a metaphor for the self. Cannot be anything else, can it?

In “The Brain Seminar” (Brockwood Park 1984, Meeting 3) the monkey is also used as a metaphor for self.
Arguing the case on behalf of the self, a group of eminent scientists claim that if only the monkey had a bigger field to play in, he would be a happy contented little monkey, and there would be no problems.

K’s reply: “But it is still the monkey.”

Paul - the movement of self has everything to do with the past - it is a movement! It is the past, the present and the future. We are born from it, into it, and will die still stuck in it, unless we understand totally its movement.

Oh - tricky, tricky monkey!

All I am saying is that this total understanding of the movement of the self is about seeing something now, not merely repeating what we have already discovered. We can’t use the past to investigate the present. Does this make a little more sense? This total understanding is outside of time; therefore it cannot be captured, stored away and used again.

Can I see the monkey, which is me, while the monkey is in the midst of its play, either in this dialogue, at home, at work or in the next dialogue when we are all together as a larger group? That’s the point. Then something happens to the monkey.

Really Paul? Then how do you explain K’s major question in ‘The Ending of Time’ discussions (which Bohm, unfortunately, was unable or unwilling to explore deeply with him): Did mankind take a wrong turn?

This is the whole point Paul. Without total understanding of the disorder of humanity - past, present, and marching off happily into the future - nothing will happen to the monkey. Apart from the monkey contentedly playing in a bigger space (ie: ZOOM and AI etc) and convincing himself that this is ‘change’ - that something has ‘happened’ to him. Just more tricks of the monkey!

There is nothing wrong with that question. It is a perfectly valid question.

It is Paul. And one that is no longer explored as far as I know.