Why is experience limited?

We must be very clear how our brain operates… thought is the expression of memory… of the brain, which is experience, knowledge, memory, thought, action (Q&A 1, Chennai, 1981)

I want to raise a question about a part of K’s teaching (concerning the origins of thought) that I personally struggle to verbally grasp.

K says that all knowledge is based on experience, and that all experience is limited (which is the reason why knowledge is limited, which is in turn the reason why thought is limited).

So my question is: what is it about experience itself that makes it intrinsically limited?

Sometimes K said that the word “experience” means “to go all the way through to the end of something” - which means that most of us never truly experience anything at all. Yet K mostly talks about experience as being a universally limiting factor, which is different from the above sense.

So what is it that is limiting about experience?

When asked this people (who have read K) usually reply by saying that there is nothing in experience besides thought and knowledge.

But is this true?

That is to say, if by the word experience one merely means thought, comparison, memory and recognition, then why use the word experience as though it pointed to some distinct process?

As K never really spells out what is involved in experience, I am forced to ask: When K talks about experience, is he in fact talking about our ordinary sense-perceptions of the world?

And yet he has also elsewhere said that if the senses are left to themselves, without the interference of thought (that is, without concentrating on a particular sense at the expense of all the others), then perception can be whole, complete, unlimited. So this is not what K means by experience.

So is K really just saying that our current sense-experience of the world - which is dominated by thought - is the limiting factor?

That is to say, our sense-experience of the world is currently limited because we are habitually dominated by thought, and so we are never holistically aware with all our senses.

And it is this partial meeting of the world with our thought-dominated sense-perceptions which is what K means by experience.

Does this sound reasonable?

In an example K sometimes used to explain the causal chain leading from experience to knowledge to memory to thought (and action), he begins by saying something like:

‘yesterday I was involved in a car accident’. The accident actually happened - it is a fact that I had an experience of an accident. The accident has been recorded by my brain, and that recording becomes my knowledge (which in turn becomes memory, and then thought acting from that memory).

But what is going on in the initial experience of my having an accident?

The senses are obviously active - the seeing, hearing, sensing of what is taking place (the car suddenly coming to a stop, the sound of crashing, the pain of being bruised by the sudden jolt, etc).

But, as we already said, it is the way that our senses are limited by our habitual mode of perceiving (which is dominated by thought) which is the limiting factor - not sense-experience per se, right?

So it isn’t experience per se which is limited (which is otherwise just a sensory happening): it is the activity of thought, which introduces memory and knowledge, which is the limiting factor, is it not?

Thought begets thought, and turns in that circle.

So if there can be an experiencing without the interference of knowledge and thought, must such an experiencing be intrinsically limited?

Perhaps not.

And could this be what K means by perceiving with all one’s senses fully alert (perceiving without the perceiver created by thought)?

When there is observation of that kind one sees the whole picture, not just a fragment of that picture and when the mind sees the whole picture there is freedom. (Public Talk 2, Saanen, 1967)

Because it is always my experience (or Mr Smith’s experience - who died in 1953 :joy:)

My confusion (which I have tried to explore elsewhere on Kinfonet) is why a primate’s experience is any less limited than a modern human’s? Is it because the more you know, the less possibilities are open to us?

Your question seems to be about the different uses of the word experience. The illuminating one that “goes all the way through” - and the normal experience of relating to what my conditioned brain is projecting for me.

Therefore, if what @dev says is correct - namely that

experience is thought (which includes feeling) responding to sensory stimuli

then the limiting factor is principally thought.

And so the limiting (and limited) nature of thought (rather than sense-experience per se) is the thing to be primarily comprehended.

Yes - the “normal experience” being the activity of our senses plus whatever thought and memory (knowledge) is adding to (and thereby distorting) what is sense-perceived. Right?

Is a primate’s experience less limited than a modern human’s?

All higher mammals have well-developed senses, and in many cases these senses have been cultivated or sensitised to a much greater degree than our modern human senses. However, a limiting factor for all nonhuman animals (as well as most humans) is the preponderance of instinctive attention given over to survival.

Therefore, it seems to me, despite the fact that at least some of the senses belonging to animals have been heightened beyond the limitations experienced by most modern humans, the narrow (and limiting) focus dictated by the instinctive need to survive is also stronger in animals than in humans - because human beings can occasionally suspend this concern for physical survival and be disinterestedly interested in the world for its own sake.

1 Like

I’m sorry - I haven’t read your reply yet - but I feel that i have not been clear at all.

My real question is : Why is a modern human’s experience more limited than another primates experience?

We are essentially saying that although animals are limited by our sense organs and brain - humans are even more limited because we can think.

Waoh - although now I have read your reply, you seem to be saying we are less limited!

Potentially less limited. But this potential is of course undermined by the degree to which we humans (unlike animals) are dominated by thought.

We are essentially limited by the impression that one’s subjective experience is reality as it is.
Thought is not so much necessarily a limiting factor, rather thought has understandably limited itself into this corner because our experience is all that we experience.
The intellectual view that this is not so - thanks to science - has only managed to produce a very slight theoretical dent in our world view.

If we take the meditative state : the senses and brain working but leaving no impressions, not reacting, not naming for periods at a time - can we say this is less limited? If so, why?

In my understanding, this state is essentially the non-accumulation of Karma - Karma being the reinforcement of self. Self which is bound/limited by fear.

I don’t comprehend what you are saying here Douglas?

Is it possible to be practical and clear so that we don’t stray too far from the original question?

When you say that

you are implying that thought is not a limiting factor. Is this what you mean to say? If you are saying that, then maybe we should discuss that.

Your other point is that

I substituted the word “belief” for “impression” because the latter word sounds too vague for me to make sense of.

Isn’t this belief that our ordinary subjective experience is “reality as it is” not put there by thought?

In which case, it is thought that is the limiting factor, not ‘subjective’ experience per se.

I’m saying thought is not necessarily the limiting factor - meaning that there is not only one conclusion that must always be arrived at by thought.
Though I’m saying that it is normal that thought has arrived at this conclusion (my experience is the true representation/boundary of what is).

I suppose I’m saying as usual that freedom from the known does not depend on destruction/non-existence of the known

Yes, but why do you say this? What other limiting factor is there, apart from thought?

Because if we start with the notion that thought is bad - rather than it merely having come to a an incorrect conclusion - rather than it being misplaced as an ultimate authority - we might continue along this route towards the conclusion that thought must be eliminated.

Because I’m saying that it is our relationship to thought - our dependance on conclusion - that is the problem, not thought itself.

I hear what you are saying Douglas, but I did not say that thought is “bad”. No one is blaming thought for being a bad guy :slightly_smiling_face:.

Thought is limited. It is always an abstraction of some previous experience or event or perception: and so is never the whole, never complete, never original. Do you see this?

So thought is not bad. But thought is necessarily limited. It cannot be otherwise. There is no such thing as an unlimited abstraction.

1 Like

Yes - thought is limited, so are we limited by thought or our relation to it?

Also, what about the comparison between thought and the senses? Is that leading us astray?

We seem to be saying that what we see, hear or smell is somehow less limited than thought. How can this be so? Are we not also bound by what our animal brain projects?

Series I - Chapter 12 - ‘Experiencing’ | J. Krishnamurti

Experience is one thing, and experiencing is another. Experience is a barrier to the state of experiencing. However pleasant or ugly the experience, it prevents the flowering of experiencing. Experience is already in the net of time, it is already in the past, it has become a memory which comes to life only as a response to the present. Life is the present, it is not the experience. The weight and the strength of experience shadow the present, and so experiencing becomes the experience. The mind is the experience, the known, and it can never be in the state of experiencing; for what it experiences is the continuation of experience. The mind only knows continuity, and it can never receive the new as long as its continuity exists. What is continuous can never be in a state of experiencing. Experience is not the means to experiencing, which is a state without experience. Experience must cease for experiencing to be.

I don’t know if you will find the above excerpt revelatory as I do. The noun and the verb “experience” each have a different meaning, quality or character one from the other. In experiencing, there is ONLY experiencing. The experiencing “becomes” experience/memory/time/thought, a kind of blueprint or algorithm through which we meet the experiencing of life, instead of meeting life itself directly. The experience - the memory - of the accident is not what was experienced in that moment. The word is not the thing. Love or pain that is remembered is not the experiencing of actual love or pain.

We normally think of experience as a teaching factor. And in certain aspects of life, one learns necessary skills and technical know-how from experience. In those aspects of life, thought is also limited and that is appropriate and good. We understand that knowing how to fix a car, how to make a meal, how to build a bridge, and so on, are limited acts in limited fields. They’re part of life and we understand that we cannot solve war, fear, anxiety, brutality, selfishness, greed, corruption, the absence of compassion, and so on, by baking a cake, and so on. We cannot solve the chaos through experience.

As far as I’m concerned, it is evident that compassion, kindness, happiness, doing the right thing, and so on, cannot be taught or learned through experience/memory. So, by its very nature, experience is limited. Experience does not have the ability to teach us how to act, what to do in relationship, in the fundamentals of relationship. In relationship, experience is a distorting and corrupting factor. Experience is not just the barebones memory of an event. Experience includes attached emotions, interpretation of significance and conclusions, all of which limit our ability to act spontaneously, freely, rightly.

noun experience:
practical contact with and observation of facts or events.
“he had already learned his lesson by painful experience”

verb experience:
encounter or undergo (an event or occurrence).
“the company is experiencing difficulties”


I’ll reply to this tomorrow Douglas.

‘Experience’ , when it occupies the mind, meets the present. Experience is the past. Bringing experience to the present psychologically distorts the present. As was said, experience interferes with experiencing.


When thought or experience don’t interfere with the senses then there is freedom. That surely something that one has to see . Thought or experience distort the senses therefore distort direct perception or understanding.

1 Like

Why is experience limited?

Because it is not possible to have unlimited experience? Like you can’t have my expediences or I yours? So everyone’ s experience is limited to their own? Since they aren’t omnipresent?

Simple, isn’t it?

So to answer the question “Why is experience limited?” based on @Huguette’s quote :

Experience is limited (and limiting) because it is defined as memory.

Our memories being limiting because they are mistakenly taken to be accurate representations of reality - which, via lack of awareness & comparison, affects current world view, and thus forbids any possibility of experiencing clearly - we are constrained by time, delusion & comparison.

Because we are not aware of the whole relationship (just described above - the relationship between self and knowledge)?

1 Like