The universal book of humankind

Krishnamurti has said that each one of us carries within ourselves the whole history - the whole book - of mankind (of humankind); and that our consciousness, which we feel to be personal, is in fact the consciousness of the whole of humanity.

So, apparently, this means that the whole story of human history - at least in essence - is contained in each person. All the psychological residue of the wars, the poverty, the struggle of our ancestors to survive and thrive, their despairs and joys and suffering: all of that is somehow stored up in the brain or consciousness of each one of us.

So our suffering is not “our” suffering; our affection is not “our” personal affection. It belongs to, or is part of, the common consciousness - the common book - of humanity. And - according to K - our job is to read this book (in ourselves) from cover to cover.

What do others think or feel about this?

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I think it’s a useful metaphor for feeling connected with others.

As for it being true or false ‘objectively’ … well I’m not a neuroscientist, but I do believe (from experience) that the full spectrum of human consciousness/feeling is present in all humans. In some it’s more available, in others less.

What do you think?

On one level of course it is meant metaphorically. - A book is made of pulped wood, and contains literally printed words. The kind of book that K refers to is not a simple object in this literal sense.

But on another level, K really seems to mean quite literally that each one of us both contains the history of humankind - in essence as it were - and that the consciousness that we take to be our own private consciousness, is not in fact private at all, but rather is the common property of all human beings.

With respect to how this essence of the history exists in each one of us, I don’t know how a neuroscientist would explain it. Perhaps there is a kind of holographic image of the whole stream of human images, which exists in each person - just as in a hologram an essence of the whole image is represented in each fragment. This is one possibility at least.

The other possibility is that the common stream of images is actually what is primary; and the feeling that we have - each one of us - of our own private mixture (or idiosyncrasy) of images, is actually an illusion. I.e., that there is only the stream of human consciousness, and not a private person looking at it from a separate smaller stream.

In any case, the main thrust of K’s interest in this genuinely seems to be that the history of humankind is literally embedded in each one of us - in our brains as shared, collective memory - and that each one of us can access this common inheritance just by becoming sensitive to it and seeing (“reading”) its contents.

Hi James,
don’t stop reading James, the book is still under development, the page you read is already gone involved in what it is Now!

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Again, a view like this has imo one foot firmly in metaphor (assuming the other is in fact). Which doesn’t mean that I think it is a valueless view. I love the idea of being able to access the history of mankind by looking/feeling inward. And I think it’s possible, to a modest extent.

In Dune, the Bene Gesserit were able to access all the memories of their ancestors. Wunderbar!

Have you (or anyone else here) tried to look inwards and access mankind’s consciousness? Please share! I’ve experimented with it, the feelings/images/‘memories’ flow … but I know all too well the ability of the human mind to imagine things. Still, a very interesting exercise!

Specific, concrete memories may not be embedded - or at least, if a small sample of them are (as people who take various drugs feel they experience), this doesn’t seem to be the salient factor in the meaning of a common consciousness.

Rather, the significance of a common consciousness is that we are not dealing with a personal residue of personal experience when we look inwardly. Rather, we are dealing - in essence - with the whole stream of human striving, suffering, experience.

So when I look at, for example, “my” suffering, I am not only looking at some personal reaction from my own personal history, but rather I am basically looking at a common artefact of human history which each one of us shares in essence (if not in detail).

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Metaphorically, yes. (Perhaps your ‘in essence’ is my ‘metaphorical?’) Literally, factually, when we look inside we see both a particular individual consciousness and a universal consciousness. At least that’s what I (think I) see. You?

When I look at my suffering I see both a particular and a universal, with no clear boundary between them.

Yes - but as far as I understand what K was trying to point out, our particular experience of suffering is actually an abstraction of a general suffering. So it is the general suffering which is primary, and not the particular.

This is contrary to our usual or common view of experience (which tends to make the individual and particular suffering primary, and sees the general human suffering as a secondary abstraction).


Is it appropriate (for the thread and the forum) to ask: Did Krishnamurti get this right?

If not, let me know and I’ll put it on the back burner.

I’ve got an update on the practicalities of reading this book…

So to read this book, which is yourself, one must have the art of listening to what the book is saying. To do that means not to interpret what the book is saying, just to observe it as you would observe a cloud. You cannot do anything about the cloud, nor a palm leaf swaying in the wind, nor the beauty of a sunset. You cannot alter it, you cannot argue with it, you cannot change it. It is so. So one must have the art of listening to what the book is saying. The book is you, so you cannot tell the book what it should reveal. It will reveal everything. So that must be the first art, listening to the book. There is another art, the art of observation, seeing. When you read the book which is yourself, there is not you and the book. Please understand this. There is not the reader and the book separate from you. The book is you. So you are observing the book, not telling the book what it should say. That is, to read, to observe all the reactions that the book reveals, to see very clearly without any distortion the lines, the chapters, the verse, the poems, the beauty, the struggle, everything that it is telling you and revealing.

K in Columbo, 1980, Talk 2


As with almost everything Krishnamurti wrote/said, you can feel the passion in this quote. (Like we spoke about yesterday in the Zoom dialogue.) And since he’s talking about the Book of Self, rather than the Book of Other, it should be possible for most of us to tap into this passion.

(When I first saw “K in Columbo” I thought you were quoting Columbo! :wink: )

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The other day a friend and I were talking together, and we got to the point of a universal trauma, or a suffering for all humanity. It was asked, where did this come from? We saw, in our case, it was the idea of a heaven, or a garden of Eden, which we have lost or it has failed us. This is of course is a Christian belief, but would be generally present throughout the world, maybe in different words and concepts in different places. More importantly we saw that this is a totality of thought: Thought is the thinking, and the thinking is thought. That is, the idea, the concept, as it plays in the mind, is what we are suffering.