Self-knowledge is not cumulative

As has been discussed recently on another thread, there are two fundamental ways of seeing:

  • seeing outwardly through the eye, and
  • seeing inwardly through awareness.

Seeing inwardly through awareness is self-knowing.

What is self-knowledge and what did Krishnamurti mean by self-knowledge?

Seeing as this topic is so central to what we are doing on Kinfonet, as well as central to K’s teachings, I thought it would be worth reflecting on it here.

Although Krishnamurti emphasised self-knowledge throughout his life, he talked about it especially often during the 1950s, so I have picked out five extracts from the books As One Is, and Discover the Immeasurable (both of which are collections of talks from 1955/56) to help explore this topic.

In these extracts Krishnamurti talks about the importance of having self-knowledge of the conscious and the unconscious, the moment by moment nature of self-knowing, the desire to be, to become at the root of consciousness, the non-accumulative nature of self-knowing, the patience required to know oneself, and the importance of giving complete attention to one’s inward processes, so that the unconscious can reveal its contents to the conscious mind in daily life.

Until I know the whole content of the mind, the unconscious as well as the conscious, with all its intricate workings - until I am cognizant of all that, fully aware of it, I cannot possibly go beyond. Can I know myself in this way? Can I know myself as a whole - all the motives, the urges, the compulsions, the fears - and not just a few reactions and responses of the conscious mind?

(Talk 1, Hamburg, 1956)

Without self-knowledge, without knowing oneself as one is - not as one would like to be, which is merely an illusion, an idealistic escape - without knowing the ways of one’s thinking, all one’s motives, one’s thoughts, one’s innumerable responses, it is not possible to understand and go beyond this whole process of thinking…

Self-knowledge is not according to some psychologist, book, or philosopher, but it is to know oneself as one is from moment to moment…

To know oneself is to observe what one thinks, how one feels, not just superficially, but to be deeply aware of what is without condemnation, without judgment, without evaluation or comparison…

The mind is not merely the waking consciousness that is occupied with daily activities, but also the deep layers of the unconscious in which there is the whole residue of the past, of tradition, of racial instincts.

(Talk 1, Ojai, 1955)

There must be an awareness, a comprehension of the total process of consciousness…

So I must understand what is consciousness, not according to any philosophy, psychology, or description, but by directly experiencing the actual state of my consciousness, the whole content of it…

If you are a little aware of this whole process, you know that this adjustment to opinion, to values, this acceptance of authority, and so on, is motivated by self-perpetuation, self-protection. If you can go still below that you will find there is this vast undercurrent of racial, national and group instincts, all the accumulations of human struggle, knowledge, endeavour, the dogmas and traditions of the Hindu, the Buddhist, or the Christian the residue of so-called education through centuries, all of which has conditioned the mind to a certain inherited pattern. And if you can go deeper still, there is the primal desire to be, to succeed, to become, which expresses itself on the surface in various forms of social activity and creates deep-rooted anxieties, fears…

When you attend to something with your whole being, that is, when you give your mind completely to understand something, there is no conflict. Conflict arises only when you are partly interested and partly looking at something else… In attention there is no division, there is no distraction, therefore there is no effort, no conflict, and it is only through such attention that there can be self-knowledge, which is not accumulative…

Self-knowledge is not a thing to be accumulated, it is to be discovered from moment to moment; and to discover there cannot be accumulation, there cannot be a referent. If you accumulate self-knowledge, then all further understanding is dictated by that accumulation; therefore there is no understanding.

(Talk 4, Ojai, 1955)

Self-knowledge… is not cumulative… Any form of cumulative knowledge destroys further discovery…

If one is capable of studying, watching oneself, one begins to discover how cumulative memory is acting on everything one sees; one is forever evaluating, discarding or accepting, condemning or justifying, so one’s experience is always within the field of the known, of the conditioned…

To watch is to observe without choice, to see yourself as you are without any movement of desire to change…

(Talk 6, Ojai, 1955)

If you are really aware, if you give your whole attention to understanding yourself, then you will find an indestructible treasure. You don’t have to read a single book about philosophy, psychology, analysis, and all the rest of it, because you are the total content of all humanity…

To understand oneself requires… great patience. One must go slowly, millimeter by millimeter, never missing a step…

You must watch, and drop what you have watched, let it go and pick it up again, so that the mind does not become a mere accumulation of what it has learnt but is capable of watching each thing anew…

The superficial mind is not the whole mind: there is also the unconscious… Our hidden motives, our instinctual responses, our racial urges, our inherited contradictions, beliefs - they are all there in the unconscious…

Can the conscious mind be open during the day to all the unconscious intimations and promptings? … Can the superficial mind be so alert during the day that it is aware of the unconscious motives, the glimpses of the things that are hidden, without trying to suppress them, change them, do something about them? …

[Can you]… be open so that the unconscious gives its hints from moment to moment during the day, while you are on the bus or riding in a car, while you are sitting at table or talking to friends [?]

(Talk 7, Ojai, 1955)

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Many philosophers before Krishnamurti spoke of the importance of self-knowledge. They said if you know your-self you know God.
K not only says the same thing he also helps one to get there through self- awareness .
That is the beauty of his work.

I think this is an over-simplification 07007.

When the Indian Upanishads - for example - talk about Self-knowledge this is usually understood to refer to knowledge of Atman. This is opposed by the Buddhist view of self-knowledge which denies the Atman. So one has to be aware of the subtle differences between the different ways ancient (and modern) cultures have talked about self-knowledge.

Self-knowledge has been at the heart of human enquiry from the beginnings of human civilisation. In the Tao Te Ching (traditionally attributed to Lao Tzu) it says

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.

And in ancient Greece the phrase ‘Know Thyself’ (gnothi sauton) was written on the Temple of Apollo, and famously influenced Socrates.

What Krishnamurti meant by self-knowledge is the non-accumulative, moment by moment awareness of oneself: oneself being one’s consciousness, one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and perceptions. Not Atman or God.

If one approaches self-knowledge as a means to an end - with the end being peace or God - then this will interfere with self-knowing.

The idea that we must be aware of the whole process, or whole content of our conscious and unconscious experience - but also that this is not some knowledge that can be accumulated over time - might be worth looking at, could be considered contradictory, might be worth clarifying.

In what way do you see this as contradictory Douglas?

Isn’t Krishnamurti pointing to an awareness of the total process of the conscious and unconscious that takes place in the present moment?

The conscious and unconscious contents have been accumulated over time; but the awareness of those contents can only take place in the present moment - and such a present moment awareness cannot be accumulated (or else it would not actually be present moment awareness).

Each one of us is a kind of story. Starting very young it gets pieced together and it ends with death. We aren’t aware that this has happened and we meet the world without questioning its presence. K is saying that there is something “beyond” this picture that has been created of ourself. The picture is false and can be seen through and dissolved. But it has to be seen, ‘known’ in its entirety in the moment…not recorded and added to the story; just ‘understood’? Without any judgement.

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What do you feel is involved in knowing oneself Douglas? Maybe it would help us is we began at a basic level.

I am just trying to bring this out a little bit more for all of us as well as Douglas: What is involved in the process of seeing, knowing here?

In the course of my everyday life, am I aware of what is moving me, what is colouring my experience?

When I read the question James has asked, and I reply, do I know my motivations, am I aware of my attitude, why I have that attitude, etc?

Yes, this is what I understand by self-knowing. It is a process of moment by moment observing, ‘aware-ing’, feeling, sensing, with regards to the inner movement of our mind, our consciousness.

So awareness of the images and reactions one has in relationship, the motives and attitudes, the resistances and affirmations, the feelings and responses (both pleasant and unpleasant) as they occur, as they happen.

Even if my mind is preoccupied by something that took place yesterday, a reaction that I had which I didn’t finish with, that preoccupation is taking place in the present - and so my ‘knowing’ of this preoccupation, my awareness of it, can only take place now, as it is happening, unfolding, in the present.

But between yesterday and today new reactions have occurred, so if I try to hold onto what I learned about myself yesterday, I will miss what is taking place today - which is why this kind of learning, this kind of self-knowing, can only be non-accumulative.

It’s the same thing as beginner’s mind (shoshin) in Zen: one has to begin again every time as though for the first time. Even though what one is ‘aware-ing’, ‘knowing’ - i.e. the content - has been put together through time, through accumulation.

I think this may be a step too far, the “why”? Analysis takes time. Just to see our selves without judgement seems like a miracle!

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Another aspect of this that interests me is this business of being

open so that the unconscious gives its hints from moment to moment during the day, while you are on the bus or riding in a car, while you are sitting at table or talking to friends (Krishnamurti)

Krishnamurti presents it as though the superficial awareness we have in daily life can be porous to the activity of the unconscious so long as there is moment by moment awareness going on in the mind.

What do you guys think about this?

Yes, I think Dan has a point here. Self-knowing is not a matter of analysing what comes up, but just paying attention to it, being aware of it, non-evaluatively.

Yes, in the moment of seeing what comes up, it is seen for what it is. But quite often it is followed by reactions of justification, condemnation, denial or distortion, so I don’t think it’s accurate to describe this self-awareness as without judgement, because judgment often follows.

What matters is awareness of everything that comes up, including judgmental reactions. Then, it is seen how conflict and confusion is sustained and perpetuated.

Yes, this is all part of it: one’s judgements, one’s reactions, saying I like this, I don’t like that, this is wrong, etc. All this can be watched non-evaluatively.

Just as we can watch a bird or a flower for a few seconds without thought, without mental images, we can watch a reaction - such as a judgement, or a feeling of resistance or irritation - without thought or evaluation.

It - by which I mean the reaction, the judgement - just is. We can observe, be aware of what is without any further thought or evaluation, for a few seconds. Of course we can.

It’s tricky. Nothing is precluded. If there is evaluation, condemnation, judgement, that is just more ‘grist for the mill’? Conclusions about what is seen, known is just another thing to be seen. Seeing oneself from innocence, freedom, silence?

Call it “awareness” and leave it at that.

An extreme example occurs to me of the nazi machine gunner who murdered the men women and children standing in front of him begging for their lives, and then goes home to his wife and plays with his children….could he do what we are talking about here; see, know himself without any judgement , condemnation, etc? It puts freedom, silence, awareness in another dimension? One with no division? No judgement, condemnation etc…just a ‘caring’? The ‘miracle’ is touching that? (If that is what it is)

Yes. Whatever is taking place is what is. And we can be aware - non-evaluatively - of what is (at least for a few seconds).

Yes. I feel that if we start bringing in words like innocence, silence, etc, we are starting to move away from the quality of simple self-knowing. This is not to deny that there is a quality of innocence in observing oneself anew, but these words can seduce us away from what is.

This is the danger of using words like innocence, silence, etc - they tend to lead the mind into extremes of purity and impurity, extreme innocence and extreme guilt.

Self-knowing is not a matter of values, of deciding between innocence and guilt, virtue and non-virtue. It is simply the seeing, watching, ‘aware-ing’ of what is - one’s consciousness - as it acts, moves, in daily life.

For me words like Innocence, Freedom, Silence, Awareness, Attention in the way I understand them here, have no opposite. As I said, for me they are of a different ‘dimension’. Like Love. But I will not use them since they can be misunderstood to refer to action in the realm that has been called: the ‘darkness of division’.

I’m not trying to be a scold, or inhibit people from speaking freely. It’s just that for the present topic of non-accumulative self-knowledge we already have enough terms that people may already find problematic or challenging - so to add more words may confuse matters. I’m sure you have seen this happen on other threads?

Love, innocence, silence, and other words may be relevant at some point in the investigation, but for the time being they may carry the mind away from the topic. That’s all.

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Sounds like magical thinking because these words (like all words) have opposites.

For Krishnamurti’s brain (I’m speculating), what has no opposite has no word, but to convey his understanding to brains that know only opposites, he had to use words.