Practical Krishnamurti?

One of the complaints that people often make about Krishnamurti’s teachings is that they are too abstract, too intellectual, too impractical.

Added to this is also the fact that some people have made Krishnamurti’s teachings into an ideology, a conceptual grid to impose on anything that other people think or say or do.

So is there a way of understanding what K has said without falling into either one of these traps?

For example, is there an essence to K’s teaching that shortcuts the need for endless analyses of thought, time, self, consciousness, the observer, measurement, etc?

What do others think are the most practical elements of K’s teachings? (I am not asking for - or imputing - a method or a system for what he has taught).

The following extracts* from K reflect what I consider to be his most practical insights, which can be roughly distilled into two elements: no authority and seeing.

In this connection, K often used an analogy of getting lost in a wood, and asked his audience what would be the most intelligent thing to do in that situation. The answer is to stop (which I take here to be synonymous with his rejection of authority) and look (to observe, to see, both outwardly and inwardly).

The whole context for this stopping and looking - as always for Krishnamurti - is our actual relationships with people, ideas, and things (which includes ourselves obviously).

Not what ‘should be’, but ‘what is’…

No authority

If one is lost in a wood, what is the first thing one does? One stops, doesn’t one? One stops and looks round… So the first thing, if I may suggest it, is that you completely stop inwardly.

Forget all you know about yourself; forget all you have ever thought about yourself; we are going to start as if we knew nothing.

There is no guide, no teacher, no authority. There is only you - your relationship with others and with the world - there is nothing else.

When you… set up in yourself the authority of another… there is conflict between you and that authority. You feel you must do such and such a thing because you have been told to do it and yet you are incapable of doing it. You have your own particular inclinations, tendencies and pressures which conflict with [what the other has said]… So you will lead a double life… In trying to conform to the ideology, you suppress yourself - whereas what is actually true is not the ideology but what you are.

All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive, evil thing.

What we are now going to do, therefore, is to learn about ourselves, not according to me or to some analyst or philosopher - because if we learn about ourselves according to someone else, we learn about them, not ourselves - we are going to learn what we actually are.

Now where do we begin to understand ourselves? Here am I, and how am I to study myself, observe myself, see what is actually taking place inside myself? I can observe myself only in relationship because all life is relationship… I exist only in relationship to people, things and ideas, and in studying my relationship to outward things and people, as well as to inward things, I begin to understand myself. Every other form of understanding is merely an abstraction and I cannot study myself in abstraction; I am not an abstract entity; therefore I have to study myself in actuality - as I am, not as I wish to be.

To understand anything you must live with it, you must observe it.

If you start by saying, `I know myself’, you have already stopped learning about yourself; or if you say, ‘There is nothing much to learn about myself because I am just a bundle of memories, ideas, experiences and traditions’, then you have also stopped learning about yourself. The moment you have achieved anything you cease to have that quality of innocence and humility; the moment you have a conclusion or start examining from knowledge, you are finished, for then you are translating every living thing in terms of the old. Whereas if you have no foothold, if there is no certainty, no achievement, there is freedom to look.


If you want to understand the beauty of a bird, a fly, or a leaf, or a person with all his complexities, you have to give your whole attention which is awareness. And you can give your whole attention only when you care.

So to understand this living we have to look at it: to come intimately into contact with it, not have the space and time interval between yourself and it… Life is that movement which is active, the doing, the thinking, the feeling, the fears, the guilt, the despair—that is life. And one has to be intimately in contact with it.

Let us begin as though we know nothing about it at all and start from scratch.

We see with our eyes, we perceive with our senses the things about us - the colour of the flower, the humming bird over the flower, the light of this Californian sun, the thousand sounds of different qualities and subtleties, the depth and the height, the shadow of the tree and the tree itself. We feel in the same way our own bodies, which are the instruments of these different kinds of superficial, sensory perceptions… There is no preference, no comparison, no like and dislike, only the thing before us without any psychological involvement.

Is all this superficial sensory perception or awareness quite clear? It can be expanded to the stars, to the depth of the seas, and to the ultimate frontiers of scientific observation, using all the instruments of modern technology… the rose and all the universe and the people in it, your own wife if you have one, the stars, the seas, the mountains, the microbes, the atoms, the neutrons, this room, the door…

Now, the next step; what you think about these things, or what you feel about them, is your psychological response to them. And this we call thought or emotion…

Now can there be an awareness, an observation of the tree, without any judgement, and can there be an observation of the response, the reactions, without any judgement?

Have you ever held fear? Hold it. Not move away from it.

As you want to remain with pleasure, so remain with sorrow, don’t ever move from sorrow.

To be able to look at [all] this seems to me all that is needed, because if we know how to look, then the whole thing becomes very clear, and to look needs no philosophy, no teacher. Nobody need tell you how to look. You just look.

What do others feel are the most practical insights to glean from K’s teachings?

*Sources include Freedom From The Known, The Awakening Of Intelligence, and The Second Krishnamurti Reader.


This exactly is all that is required. It’s all about observing/being aware of ourselves as we live our life. Once we learn that art of observation nothing else(discussions, teachings etc) matters as our understanding will guide us through the numerous dangers, pitfalls Seemingly insurmountable cliffs that invariably come across.

And it is so disarmingly simple yet involves so much hardwork , so much observation of ourselves moment to moment. And if that awareness is lost, as it will due to habit, conditioning etc, pick it up again, be aware etc. That’s all that is required.


True, kind of seeing K is talking about requires a lot of sensitivity.

Yes. Sensitivity of the body (of the senses), as well as sensitivity of feeling and emotion (which means care in the seeing, care in the observing). Seeing is not merely a mental activity, it involves the mind, the heart, and the body).

It’s interesting to me how the topic of “practical Krishnamurti” doesn’t seem to resonate with many people. Is it that people do not see the relevance of the topic because they feel that K’s teachings are evidently practical? Or is it that people have simply internalised to themselves that K’s teachings are evidently impractical? It is impossible to know which view is uppermost among people who read K.

Anyway, for me it is still an interesting question: what aspects of K’s teachings are evidently practical?

According to the etymological dictionary, the word “practical” derives from the Greek praktikos - meaning “fit for action, fit for business; business-like; active, effective, vigorous;” - which itself derives from the word praktos, meaning “done; to be done.”

So what is practical (I take it) has to do with effective action, effective “doing.” If something is impractical then it doesn’t lead to effective “doing” (it only leads to ineffective “doing”!).

Drax has pointed out that K’s most effective statements have to do with awareness and observation (or seeing).

But are there other statements or insights we can take from K that might be equally capable of leading to effective “doing”?

For myself, one such statement from K is that

there is only ‘what is’, and so there is no opposite to ‘what is.’

This is quite a revelatory statement to listen to if one spends a moment reflecting on its meaning.

It means that there is no need to reach outside of ourselves or ahead of ourselves for some ‘higher’, more noble state of mind than the one we are presently in. There is no need to adjust ourselves to an idealised self-image of a person or a state of mind we believe we have to imitate.

So we are free to be whatever we are right this second, this very moment. We are free from external or internal psychological authority. We are what we are, and there is no need to apologise for that, be ashamed of that, run away from it, cover it up with pleasantries or false embellishments. Any judgement we might make of our present state of mind is already an evasion of it, a moving away from it.

So all we have to do (I say “all” of course, but it is a big “all”) is to live with ourselves as we are, with what we are now, in this moment. That’s all we ever have to do. There is only ‘what is.’

Not knowing is practical? Because if I know what I am, I am obviously deluded?

Not being, helps me see that I am not? In order to look at fear, I must first be unafraid? Then what will I see?

Am I too confused to be saved by simple, practical grandfatherly advice?

If you recall in the OP I mentioned the analogy K sometimes made about being lost in a forest, and I quoted a short extract related to this. The full quote is as follows:

We are confused about our many problems and lost in that confusion. Now if one is lost in a wood, what is the first thing one does? One stops, doesn’t one? One stops and looks round. But the more we are confused and lost in life the more we chase around, searching, asking, demanding, begging. So the first thing, if I may suggest it, is that you completely stop inwardly.

I think this stopping and looking is the crucial thing.

Stopping mean just that - to pause in one’s activities, one’s investigations, one’s questionings, one’s reactions, one’s daily living. Just to pause, just to stop.

There is no authority to say “stop!”, and no reason why one ought to pause now and not tomorrow or the day after. So this stopping is an entirely voluntary action, and involves no expectations, no guarantees, no reward, no punishment. Just to stop for the hell of it.

And then, at the moment of stopping to look around, to look (which is not a separate action from the stopping).

One cannot look so long as one has strong beliefs and expectations weighing one down - the shoulds and shouldn’ts of authority and the ideal. But if one is weighed down by belief, expectation, authority etc, then just to look at this fact is enough, right?

So if one is confused, the most practical step to take is simply to stop and look. There is nothing ‘wrong’ about what one discovers in that looking - it might simply be more confusion, more mental busy-ness, more restlessness. That’s ok. It is what it is - it is ‘what is’ at that moment, right?

And there is no “because” in this - as in,

or because

And no “must”, as in

And also no “what then”, as in

So no “because”, no “must”, and no “what then”. Right?

Just stopping and looking for the sheer hell of it (or because one is openly and honestly, transparently confused).

No expectations, no demands, no clever mental tricks: just whatever is happening this second.

And no judgements about what one discovers.

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To follow up on this, I think you are correct Drax.

What K called choiceless awareness is perhaps his most practical teaching (although there seems to be some dissension on this point among the good folk of Kinfonet - apparently some people find the notion of choiceless awareness completely baffling).

It’s interesting to me that in the academic literature around the study of ‘modern mindfulness’ there are a lot of echoes of what K said about choiceless awareness. For example, the following quote is an academic summary of the essence of ‘modern mindfulness’:

A kind of non-elaborative, non-judgemental, present-centred awareness in which each thought, feeling or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.

K’s choiceless awareness also shares a basic similarly with what in Dzogchen and Mahamudra is called “open monitoring” or “open presence”, which has been described as the non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise in the field of the mind, without identifying oneself with anything that arises.

This is not the time or place to get into a discussion about the controversial topic of ‘mindfulness’, but it is just worth noting that K’s choiceless awareness was one significant influence on what is called ‘modern mindfulness’ (as opposed to traditional or Theravada vipassana mindfulness).

So, in that sense, choiceless awareness already has a practical value to many people who have never even heard of Krishnamurti (although, of course, Krishnamurti is not the only person to have talked about non-judgemental awareness).

Attention, awareness, observation have long been propounded in Indian religious systems and in Sanskrit referred to as Dhyana. Chan and zen seem to be Chinese and Japanese pronunciations respectively of Dhyana.(from what I can gather).

Yes for some strange reason this choice less awareness which is at Beck and call for all(at least for brief intervals initially) has been shrouded in mystery and enigma due to excessive play of thought.
I think at some point one has to start observing more and think less which is when one begins to dive head long into the reality of us instead of treading gingerly along the periphery for ever.

Studying K teaching is like reading theory of say learning to ride a bicycle, which is good upto a certain point. But if one has go next level, actually get on a bicycle and learn to ride.


What stymies me about Krishnamurti’s ‘choiceless awareness’ is that he extended choicelessness to the entire process, beginning to end (if one could even say it has a beginning and end). Any intention to be choicelessly aware prevents choiceless awareness from being. So not only is there no method, there can be no motive. Choiceless awareness, the real deal, must somehow just happen. And any attempt to ‘figure out’ why or how it happens is just another intention/motive. If taken to heart, literally instead of loosely, it’s a Catch-22.

Honestly I have no idea how those who take Krishnamurti at his word (the entire process of choiceless awareness must be choiceless, from the ground up) end up being choicelessly aware. Perhaps they don’t?

I wonder if you are not over-thinking this Rick?

K often posed this simply in terms of an open question: Can one be choicelessly aware? (to which there is no right or wrong answer).

For example,

One is aware of the trees under which we are sitting, aware of the branches, the colour of the branches and their thickness, of the leaves, the shadows, aware of all the nature, the beauty of it. Then you are also aware of sitting on the ground, the colour of the carpet, the microphone. And can you be aware of all this, the microphone, the carpet, the earth, the colour of the leaves, and so on, the blue shirt, be aware of all that without any choice? To look at it without any choice, judgment, just to look… (Total Freedom)

So, in this example, K clearly takes for granted that there is an ordinary awareness going on in his audience - of sitting under the trees in the Oak Grove (the talk took place in Ojai), of the sunshine and shade, of the branches overhead, etc. You know, just simple, ordinary awareness (no different from the awareness you have in sitting at your desk reading this reply on your computer screen, with the light streaming in through the window).

The next step is then simply an open invitation to explore this awareness further.

He is saying - to paraphrase it (and here I will mention a couple of the things he usually makes explicit when talking about choiceless awareness, which have also been quoted in the OP) - “In this awareness that you currently have of x, y, z, can you find out if there are judgements taking place, of like and dislike, such as ‘I like that blue shirt’, or ‘I don’t like that carpet’? And can you be aware of those judgements of like and dislike? Then, can you be aware of the blue shirt or the carpet without introducing those judgements, but just observing the blueness of the shirt, the pattern of the carpet, without personal choice in the matter? And if you cannot, then can you simply be aware of these likes and dislikes, without saying that one shouldn’t like and dislike things?” etc.

So there is no catch-22. It is just an ongoing experiment in observation, in what is actually, presently, going on in our awareness.

And if we can’t get beyond mental judgements (of like and dislike, etc), then can we be aware of that without judgement? Can we be aware of what our mental activity makes us feel like at the level of our emotions or sensations in the body?

There are no ‘wrong answers’ to these questions, because whatever is going on for us is whatever is going on for us; just as whatever we are actually aware of is whatever we are actually aware of. Right?

So I don’t understand why people over-complicate these things (if you are over-complicating things).

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Yes. Awareness and attention have been at the roots of Indian religious philosophy from the earliest of times. And in the West as contemplation (in Neoplatonism and Christianity), and as empirical observation (in science).

Right. To ride a bicycle requires no authority. Likewise with being aware, with looking.

To be aware of whatever happens to arise in consciousness – the scent of a flower and the thoughts and feelings that follow it – without choice or judgement is a realistic interpretation of what choiceless awareness means. No Catch-22 there.

But that’s pretty much just mindfulness. What differentiates Krishnamurti’s spin on choiceless awareness is the ubiquity of the choiceless part, which from what I gather applies to all aspects of the awareness. Any sliver of intentionality or motive invalidates choicelessness. And there’s the Catch-22!

Now I might have gotten it wrong, Krishnamurti might not have said the choicelessness must be all-encompassing. But if it’s correct, if true choiceless awareness (a la Krishnamurti) abideth zero intentionality, then it’s a mystery to me why, how, and if it would ever happen.

From Wikipedia:

Krishnamurti stated that for true choicelessness to be realized, choice – implicit or explicit – has to simply, irrevocably, stop; however, this ceasing of choice is not the result of decision-making, but implies the ceasing of the functioning of the chooser or self as a psychological entity.


Rick, I’m not sure that your reply here is a reply to my reply, because I feel I already went into this matter there. I feel you are merely repeating what I take to be an over-complicated, reified interpretation of what K has said on the matter, rather than looking at it afresh, without preconceptions.

As was said previously, K usually begins by meeting the ordinary person where they are; i.e. with choices, with motives, with preferences, liking and disliking, etc. You know, like most people at any given moment. Such persons are not zombies, right? Is this clear? They are not completely oblivious of the world around them. This absence of complete oblivion implies some kind of awareness.

So, for instance, the person sitting under the trees in the Oak Grove is aware that there are trees with branches full of leaves, as well as sunshine and shade, as well as a person sitting on a carpeted platform with a microphone in front of his face. This ordinary awareness requires no effort or motive etc, because it is just going on in people whether they like it or not (unless they are actual zombies!).

But in this ordinary awareness there is a tremendous amount of judgement taking place, liking and disliking, expectation and frustration, etc, which all implies motive, intentionality, wilfulness, choice. Right? Need we go over this again, or is it clear enough?

The question for us (which K merely voices on our behalf) is whether that is all there is to awareness? It is a question, rather than a theoretical or ideological abstraction that we need to argue about.

Maybe all that one feels able to be aware of is the aforesaid background of trees, sunshine, shade, the platform and microphone, etc, alongside a vivid and noisy foreground of motives, intentions, reactions, images, judgements, likes and dislikes, etc. Right? Is this clear?

So maybe that is all that one feels able to be aware of. - And that’s good enough. If that is ‘what is’, then that is good enough. There is no choice in the matter, because that is what is in fact taking place (if it is taking place). Right?

If that is what is taking place, then - whether I aspire to a nobler state of mind or not - that is what is taking place. The implicit question being asked here (whether one verbalises it or not) is: can I be aware of my reactions (with their motives, etc) without choice?

I would call this choiceless awareness.

Of course, awareness doesn’t stop there. One can still ask the further question: can I be aware of the trees, the sunshine, the platform, the microphone, the blue shirt, etc without like and dislike, without motive, without expectation?

Your notion of an awareness in which there is “zero intentionality,” no motive of any kind, may be your own answer to this question. Or it may not be. As we said before, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Either one can be so aware, or one cannot. In either case, whatever is going on in one’s mind is what is going on. Right? Clear? One has no choice in the matter.

So I would call this choiceless awareness.

The wiki entry on choiceless awareness hardly constitutes academic research on the subject. The extract you have shared attempts to summarise K’s teaching on the matter according to the one person who bothered to make the effort of showing up on wikipedia. But - to me at least (as someone who is both interested in K and in choiceless awareness) - the summary reads like an intellectualisation of choiceless awareness, rather than the simpler, more direct description that K usually gives of the matter. So I will take K’s description - and my understanding of it - over wiki’s if that’s alright.

Maybe, though it really depends what you mean by that word. There are many different kinds of mindfulness, both traditional, Theravada based forms of mindfulness (vipassana), Burmese mindfulness (bare attention), Zen forms of mindfulness (shikantaza), therapeutic based mindfulness (MBCT), as well as the very loose definition of modern mindfulness. K’s choiceless awareness shares elements of some of these, but in my estimation it fits better with certain versions of modern mindfulness, as summarised in the extract I shared with Drax on the subject:

A kind of non-elaborative, non-judgemental, present-centred awareness in which each thought, feeling or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.

I would call this choiceless awareness.

But, as Drax points out, it is not something to be argued about at the level of theory; it is something to be done, to be experimented with, to be explored. It sounds like you want a perfect intellectual solution to the paradox of having no motive when one finds oneself having motives. But the beauty of choiceless awareness is that it doesn’t matter if one has motives or not, because whatever is the case, is the case (one has no choice in the matter).

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The ‘difficulty’ in following each thought persists until there is the realization that thoughts arising are not the product of a ‘thinker’ ,me.

When (if) that is clear, then the thoughts can be ‘watched’, ‘listened to’ in same way one might watch a bird. We watch it to see what it does next. We have no control over it…in the same way we can watch the thoughts come and go because we do not control them.

Red alert! Red alert! Cul de sac ahoy!

We are repeating what we’ve said, our views are unyielding. And you’re probably as surprised that I don’t see things your way as I am that you don’t see things my way.

How about we give it a rest and get back to it at some point, if we’re both into it?

If it’s “diarmingly simple”, my “hard work” makes it typically complicated and a waste of energy.

Awhile back I posed this very question to the forum because it happened to me several years ago. I had taken a marked trail into a forest and after a couple of miles, I decided to turn back. But somehow along the way I got diverted to another marked trail which ended in a pile of markers on the ground. I should have stopped at that point and turned back, but I \proceeded on until I realized I was lost.

It was a stunning realization. I hadn’t a clue as to which direction to move in because the canopy was too thick and the sky too cloudy to locate the sun, and the trees had trunks with no branches until about fifteen or twenty feet up, so I couldn’t climb one and get some idea of where I was. I felt helpless because I had little or no knowledge of what to do. I sat down and did nothing until the thought of the search party that would ensue if I didn’t emerge from the forest soon, moved me to get up and walk in a widening spiral until I found the pile of markers. It may not have been the right thing to do, but the thought of doing nothing was untenable. Maybe I was just lucky.

Anyway, when I posed this question that you have posed, James, all that came back was someone saying he would use his phone to call for help.

I think ‘passive awareness’ would cause less confusion than ‘choiceless awareness’ to put across our view.

If there is an observation where nothing is being done but just the observation of what is (externally and internally) that is passive awareness.

Where something is being done to remain aware (like intent, force effort etc) it is an act of will and it distorts what is. Then there is no passive awareness.

People say intent is required to observe. But is that really the case? When we observe something do we intend to watch(say a mountain) or do we just watch it. If for every watching we intend and then watch, life becomes unlivable. Does it happen that way?