What do we mean by insight?

Insight is a key word for those of us interested in Krishnamurti, but it has a great many different meanings for different people, as well as having other meanings in science, in psychology, in child development, etc. So what do we each of us mean by insight?

As I understand it, an insight is a quick perception of the whole of something. To see instantly a situation in its totality: seeing connections between things that were previously regarded as separate and distinct. To perceive the whole situation at one glance.

An example often given is of a scientist who has worked intensely on a mathematical or scientific problem, who then takes a break from the problem - by going for a walk, having a bath, etc - who then suddenly, as though from nowhere, perceives the whole problem and its solution in a single glance. This is sometimes referred to as a eureka moment (heureka means “I have found it”).

Insight is sometimes thought of as a kind of intuitive perception of intelligence, which forms nonverbally in the recesses of one’s mind when all conscious preoccupation with the problem is in abeyance.

Krishnamurti talks about insight as having nothing to do with memory, as coming in a flash, as well as distinguishing between partial insights and total insight. He also talks about the danger of self-deception when it comes to insight.

By sharing a few extracts where Krishnamurti touches on these matters I hope to shed some light on what he called insight, which those who are interested can discuss below.

Insight is like a flash of light. You see with absolute clarity, all the complications, the consequences, the intricacies… This is pure, clear insight - perception without any shadow of doubt…

When there is clear insight into violence, for instance, that very insight banishes all violence. That insight is outside the brain, if one can so put it. It is not of time… that insight and its action changes the very brain cells. That insight is complete

Where there is an ending to thought and to time there is total insight. Only then can there be the flowering of the brain.

Only then can you have a complete relationship with the mind.

(Krishnamurti to Himself: His Last Journal)

K: The mind has always been seeking security and when that security is threatened it tries to find security in insight, in direct perception.

Q: In the illusion of insight.

K: Yes, but it makes the insight into security… That is, one day one sees very clearly, one has direct perception, then that fades away and there is confusion. Then again there is a perception and an action, followed by confusion and so on. Is that so? Or is there no further confusion after these deep insights?

Q: Are we saying this perception is whole?

K: Yes, if the perception is complete, whole, then there is no confusion at any time. Or, one may deceive oneself that it is whole and act upon it, which brings confusion…

Now would you say, when there is complete perception - not an illusory perception - there is no further confusion?

Q: It seems reasonable to say that.

K: That means from day to day there is no confusion at all.

Q: Then why did you feel it necessary to look into it?

K: Because I may deceive myself. Therefore it is dangerous ground and I must be alert, I must watch it.

Q: Are we seeing this as an insight now? - that when there is an insight of that kind there is no further confusion? But we may deceive ourselves nevertheless.

K: Yes. Therefore we must be watchful…

You have a deep insight, complete, whole. Someone comes along and says: ‘Look, you are deceiving yourself’. Do you instantly say, ‘No, I am not deceiving myself because my perception was complete’? Or do you listen and look at it all afresh? It doesn’t mean that you are denying the complete perception, you are again watching if it is real or illusory…

One suffers and you see what it does. In observing it, investigating it, opening it up, in the very unrolling of it you have a certain insight. That is all we are saying. That insight may be partial. Therefore one has to be aware that it is partial. Its action is partial and it may appear complete, so watch it.

(Small Group Dialogue Ojai, 24th March, 1977)

K: We said insight is immediate perception, it has nothing whatever to do with thought - right? - with time. That is clear… that may happen to one, occasionally, and thought takes it over as an experience, remembers it, and goes after it, says, ‘I must have more of insight.’ Then it’s no longer insight. Right? …

We have discussed this, that as long as there is self-centred activity going on, you may have occasional insight into something but that will not bring about a radical illumination of the centre. That’s all…

Why does the centre take over insight. Why, go into it, sir. Why.

Q: It’s automatic, the whole essence of my action is the centre.

K: Yes, and so that it is like a tremendous wave, swallowing a little action which you call insight, for the moment…

Professor Wilkins: I’m a bit confused about this insight… If one considers the example of an insight in the case of scientific work, then that insight is followed by thoughts, and one has some consciousness, well, one is conscious of the fact that one was thinking one way before the insight and another way after.

K: That’s it. What has happened then?

W: You might say you’re in a different state of being.

K: Which is what? Your whole way of thinking has been transformed, with regard to that particular thing.

W: Yes.

K: Right?

W: Yes.

K: Now we want to know if there is such an action as insight which will totally eliminate the self-centred activity, so that my brain, my thinking is entirely different.

W: Fundamental psychological insight.

K: Yes. So that even my brain cells are changed…

Is there an insight into the whole psychological movement of the centre, not just parts of it, into the totality of the centre, an insight into it? And therefore, as he pointed out, scientifically you see something and your whole mind has changed… The question is: is there an insight into the whole psychological self-centred activity that will put an end to them?

Q: If there is this insight, it cannot come from the self-centredness.

K: No, it cannot.

Q: Where does it come from?

K: I’ll show you… When there is the realisation the activity has always been from the centre, and the centre cannot possibly reach the other goal, the other side, other dimension, whatever you like to call it, across the river…

So I have come to that point when I realise completely, when the mind realises completely there is nothing you can do… All movement of thought has come to an end…

Have I reached that point when I can do nothing? That means psychologically, nothing. You understand what that means? Not a thing. That means, no activity of thought. If I’ve come to that point, actually, I’ve got it, it’s finished!

(Seminar 6, Brockwood Park, 1979)

K: I am jealous. Is there an insight which will cover the whole field of jealousy and so end it? …

DB: Right.

K: Is that a fact? Fact, in the sense that X, Y, and Z will never be jealous again. Never!

DB: We have to discuss that, because it is not clear how you could guarantee that.

K: Oh, yes, I will guarantee it!

(Dialogue 3, The Ending of Time)

K: What will make man, a human being, change, deeply, fundamentally, radically? …

Total insight, not partial insight. The artist, the musician, they all have partial insights and therefore they are still time-bound.

Is it possible to have a total insight, which is the ending of the “me,” because the “me” is time? Me, my ego, my resistance, my hurts, all that. Can that “me” end? It is only when that ends that there is total insight.

(Dialogue 4, The Ending of Time)

K: What I am trying to say is that insight is never partial; I am talking of total, not partial, insight.

Q: Krishnaji, could you explain that a little? What do you mean by “not partial” insight?

K: An artist can have a partial insight. A scientist can have a partial insight. But we are talking about total insight.

Q: You see the artist is also a human being, so…

JK: But his capture of insight is partial.

Q: It is directed to some form of art. So you mean that it illuminates a limited area or subject. Is that what you mean by partial insight?

K: Yes.

Q: Then what would be total insight? What would it encompass?

K: The total human activity

This flash of insight enlightens the whole field, which means that ignorance and darkness have been dispelled… When insight takes place, there is the dispelling of that darkness. That is all we are saying. Insight dispels that darkness…

DB: So we say that this darkness is really something which is built into the content of thought.

JK: The content is darkness.

DB: That’s right. Then that light has dispelled that ignorance.

JK: That’s right. Dispelled the content.

DB: But still we have to be very careful, since we still have content in the usually accepted sense of the word; we know all kinds of things.

JK: Of course.

DB: So we can’t say that the light has dispelled all the content.

JK: It has dispelled the centre of darkness.

DB: Yes, the source, the creator of darkness.

JK: Which is the self, right? It has dispelled the centre of darkness, which is the self.

(Dialogue 6, The Ending of Time)

That insight means the wiping away of all the content of consciousness. Right? Not bit by bit by bit, the totality of it.

(Dialogue 11, The Ending of Time)

[Insight] is instantaneous perception without the perceiver. From this insight, action takes place. From this insight the explanation of any problem is accurate, final and true. There are no regrets, no reactions. It is absolute. There can be no insight without the quality of love. Insight is not an intellectual affair to be argued about. This love is the highest form of sensitivity when all the senses are flowering together. Without this sensitivity… insight is obviously quite impossible.

Insight is holistic. Holistic implies the whole, the whole of the mind… Insight is intelligence with its beauty and love; they are really inseparable; they are actually one. This is the whole, which is the most sacred.

(The Whole Movement of Life is Learning, Chapter 16)


I bothers me to read K guarantee anything.

When one listens to the actual audio of the conversation it is clear that Krishnamurti is being part tongue-in-cheek and part serious here. Of course one cannot guarantee anything in this area of psychological transformation!

Nevertheless Krishnamurti is suggesting or stating that the transformation he is talking about is fundamental. It is complete. One cannot go back.

There are people who seem to want to water this down to make transformation more accessible. But, in this respect at least, Krishnamurti’s view is that transformation - if it occurs at all - is a complete break from the past. This is what he is (perhaps not very helpfully!) guaranteeing.

Insight is looking or seeing with the minds eye, it’s not personal to anyone, uninvited communion from a sense of not knowing and enquiry. Love answers the question.

Partial Insight is seeing the entire movement of that which is occurring in my consciousness.
I observe an emotion, for instance, how it begins, how it grows, and how it disappears.
I see the entire “short existence” of that emotion in my consciousness.
I remain intimate with that emotion, as it is in me, I am that emotion in that moment, how and why would I deny its existence ?
Why would I deny my own life I that moment ? In that seeing, the old sense of me is present, but feeble, its story about that emotion feels superficial, uninteresting and incomplete.
That Emotion may return in the body, as the body lives in time, but the emotion is felt differently, and it is more integrated in a sense…

I can comment a bit on what I think K is referring when he talks about total insight.
K seems to say that in total insight the center of the emotion is seen, the activity of me is seen directly.
Such direct seeing is possible when the emotion I am aware of, is not felt as personal, but as part of humanity.
In the light of total seeing the me dies, hence the me can’t return (death is irreversible, guaranteed, as K says)

Yes. We might say that a partial psychological insight is an insight into a significant though limited aspect of one’s mind, one’s consciousness, which transforms or dissolves (through flowering) that limited aspect in a moment of perception.

But the root of one’s mind, one’s consciousness, has not been transformed. So total insight is the transformation at the root - which is the self, the ‘I’, the ‘me’. Without total insight the self, the source of consciousness, lives on, continues, despite the modifications in content that partial insight provides.


Yes, insight is insight, even if it is only ‘partial’ insight (in Krishnamurti’s sense). All (psychological) insights involve perceiving a (psychological) situation in its wholeness. The issue is that partial insights only perceive a part of the mind, of consciousness. Sometimes, apparently, we can mistake such insights for total transformation, believing ourselves to be transformed. This happens quite frequently in so-called ‘spiritual’ circles. We can identify ourselves with our insights and gain notoriety, importance, as well as a certain expanded freedom through them. Or we seek to perpetuate our insights - through memory - when they are gone, instead of dying to them, letting them go, so that we can perceive anew. Partial insights are valid, necessary, and can clear up certain contents in consciousness. But if we identify with them, or try to hold onto them, or mistake them for total insight, we get sidetracked from reality.

The question of total insight - which is the total transformation of the mind, of consciousness at its root, its source (which is the self) - remains.

Two factors seem to me to be relevant in relation to insight:

  1. We have to see for ourselves that our brain, meaning our thinking, our knowledge, our whole consciousness, is fundamentally limited and cannot possibly go beyond. In seeing and remaining with this fact we realise that we cannot move, because any movement will only be from this limited brain, and so will still be limited. So there is no movement at all.

  2. We must be capable of quick perception. Which means our senses - seeing, hearing, sensing, etc - must be awake, alert, healthy, sensitive. Without the sensitivity of feeling and sensory perceiving, we will not see into anything.

Of course, we cannot manufacture insight, or guarantee insight through a system or method. But these two factors seem to be important.


I assume you are using the word ‘consciousness’ in Krishnamurti’s sense? Or do you mean it in some other sense?

Consciousness, according to Krishnamurti, is made up of its contents - fear, pleasure, confusion, hurt, etc - which are put together by thought. Thought is limited, and cannot go beyond itself. The contents of consciousness are limited and fragmentary, and so consciousness is limited and fragmentary.

According to Krishnamurti the contents of consciousness must be emptied totally. Only then can there be a completely different kind of consciousness, that is not limited or put together by thought.

I’m not sure what the question is? The thread topic is insight. Is there a “you” that is “conscious” when the insight Krishnamurti is talking about occurs? And if the contents of consciousness have been emptied through insight, is there some “thing” of which one is conscious? Or is there nothing, no-thing-ness?

This is largely theoretical for me. But Krishnamurti has said that when the contents of consciousness have been emptied through insight, then there is a state of complete nothingness, emptiness. No self, no thing (put together by thought). So no ‘consciousness’ in that sense. What this state of mind is, is beyond the capacity of thought to ‘know’, to be ‘conscious’ of.

Ok, but you were asking what the nature of consciousness is after total insight has occurred, and yet you seemed to be unaware of what Krishnamurti meant by the word ‘consciousness’. So I was just sharing this with you, together with what Krishnamurti has said occurs when consciousness has been completely emptied through insight (because you may not have read about it).

This allows you to see if your question is still worthwhile, or if it can be asked differently, or if it is only theoretical itself.

So was your question about consciousness (maybe not), or is it the implicit question - based on the insight you had - about what place knowledge (books, etc) has in relation to psychological truth?

What is your question Pilgrim? Can you ask it more simply?

When you talk about “holes in the theory” it is not clear what theory you are talking about.

Maybe you didn’t have any questions after all, but simply wanted to share your insight? That’s okay. It is a good insight anyway:

This is why the topic question is ‘What do we mean by insight?’, or ‘What is insight?’, because people usually mean some kind of partial insight, of which there can of course be conscious awareness.

But total insight - as I understand it from what Krishnamurti has said - is beyond conscious awareness; it is incompatible with the presence of the self, of the one who is conscious. This is the main difference as I see it.

Why is there always a “key” and something to be unlocked?

As I understand it, the mind is too limited to have anything to do with going beyond the mind, much less having a key to unlock itself. Sounds enchanting, though…

Inquiry, if we can put to one side whether or not a person’s insight is complete or partial for one moment, and just listen to the insight they feel they have had, I think this would be worthwhile.

After all, an insight, if it is genuine, is a human being’s capture of a complex issue, which can also help me to look at the same issue afresh, if I can listen to what they have to say.

As I understand it Pilgrim said that he was getting out of the car when suddenly it became clear to him that the key to understanding, to perception, is not in books, not in more and more knowledge, but it is in the mind itself.

So reading the book of one’s mind and heart is all one needs to do. One can throw away one’s books.

Right? Don’t you feel there is a lot of truth in that? Pilgrim isn’t, to my knowledge, suggesting he has been totally transformed and is now a Buddha. He is just saying, I had this compelling insight that what we are really seeking and wanting in life cannot be found externally in other people’s words, in other people’s philosophy or thoughts. It can only be found within oneself, by observing closely one’s own mind, and finding insight through one’s own observation and attention.

This is how I understand what he was saying.

That’s a generous reading of what was said, and it may be what Pilgrim was trying to get across. I reacted to the old key and lock analogy that so many use on this forum, as if our condition is a puzzle that requires certain critical (magical?) tools to solve.

I haven’t had the insight that I don’t need any outside help (e.g., K’s teaching) to understand myself because all I need to do is attend to my confusion and conflict since that’s the problem - not the understanding K’s teaching. I’ll learn more about confusion and conflict by attending to it as it occurs than I will by puzzling over K’s teaching.

I didn’t say “the mind” is limited - I said thought is limited.

James says that it is consciousness that is limited. I wonder which it is. Maybe it is both?

James uses “consciousness” the way K used the word (the content of psychological thought) - not the way the word is commonly used.

Okay, I did say “mind”, but I did so because it was the word you were using.

I stopped using “mind” when I realized how K was using it. He said the mind is beyond the brain, and I never used it that way, so I decided not to use it at all…except when someone else is using it the way you were using it.