Krishnamurti’s Notebook and the Meaning of Enlightenment

It is often asked what the word ‘enlightenment’ means in Buddhism. Not many people would be qualified to give a secure answer, and much nonsense can be the result when anyone else attempts a reply. In the literature there is much talk of it and ten thousand clues as to what it is, but this is not something that be described so no decent answer can be expected.

But there are lots of helpful writings. I’m in the middle of reading Krishnamurti’s Notebook, the published version of a notebook Krishnamurti kept for seven months in 1961. He discusses and describes his states of mind over this period and in doing so gives us an unusually detailed insight into a process and state of mind that is normally invisible in the third-person. Exactly how far he is along the path at this stage only an enlightened person could judge, but clearly he is not aware of the world in an entirely mundane way.

As a metaphysician, or, at least, someone overly obsessed by it, I find it fascinating that his style means that often his psychological and meta-psychological comments shed light directly on formal logical and metaphysical issues. The relationship between psychology and metaphysics is immediate unless we refuse to allow it, and ‘original mind’ would be the solution for important problems in both disciplines. We see this from the previous post, where we find the Buddha talking about psychology yet solving a metaphysical problem in the process. (Link).  Kant famously does the same when he reduces psychology to the study of a phenomenon that would be ‘not an instance of a category’, or beyond the categories of thought. The solution for a number of philosophical problems can be found in this notebook if we do the translation between the different ways of looking at things.

July 25th

Woke up this morning, rather early, with a sense of mind that had penetrated into unknown depths. It was as though the mind itself was going into itself, deeply and widely and the journey seemed to have been without movement. And there was this experience of immensity in abundance, and a richness that was incorruptible.

It’s strange that though every experience, state, is utterly different, it is still the same movement; though it seems to change, it is still changeless.

Here we arrive at the argument between Parmenides and Heraclitus over whether change is real or whether all that is truly real is that which never changes. Zeno’s paradoxes may have been designed to show, on behalf of his master Parmenides, that our usual view of change and motion cannot be correct. As history shows, to reify change in metaphysics is to turn the subject into a snake-pit of impossible problems. Underneath change there must changelessness. As well as Appearance there must be Reality.

July 26th

How easy it is to deceive oneself, to project desirable states which are actually experienced, especially when they are pleasure. There’s no illusion, no deception, when there’s no desire, conscious or unconscious, for any experience of any kind, when one is wholly indifferent to the coming and going of all experience, when one’s not asking for anything.

This addresses the problem of how to reduce the duality of experience-experiencer to a unified phenomenon or nondual ground-state. The Holy Grail is said to have the power to dissolve all distinctions. It would be the end of (the experience of) the experience-experiencer distinction. If we think of Nibbana as an experience then we have adopted a form of dualism and reified a distinction that would be conceptual according to my interpretation of Nagarjuna and the Buddha. The Christian doctrine of Divine Simplicity would state, it seems to me, that God’s experience, if we can make sense of this idea, would be identical with what He is.

Aug 11th

Sitting in the car, beside a boisterous maintain stream and in the middle of green, rich meadows and a darkening sky, that incorruptible innocence was there, whose austerity was beauty. The brain was utterly quiet and it was touched by it.

The brain is nourished by reaction and experience; it lives on experience. But experience is always limiting and conditioning; memory is the machinery of action. Without experience, knowledge and memory, action is not possible but [that] such action is fragmentary, limited. Reason, organized thought, is always incomplete; idea, response of thought, is barren and belief is the refuge of thought. All experience only strengthens thought negatively or positively.

Experience is conditioned by experience, the past. Freedom is the emptying of the mind of experience. When the brain ceases to nourish itself through experience, memory and thought, when it dies to experiencing, then its activity is not self-centered. It then has its nourishment from elsewhere. It is this nourishment that makes the mind religious.

Perhaps this represents an explanation for a common effect of recreational drugs that damage or suppress normal brain functioning. My first contact with them, in 1969, was finding a newly acidified friend standing on the lawn at a party staring fixedly at a single blade of grass in his hand and muttering ‘wow, wow’. I thought he was nuts. William Blake would have understood.

Perhaps these entries shed some light on the question of whether enlightenment or Nibbana is an experience. They would have immediate implications for the relationship between Mind, Brain and Pristine Awareness. They imply that when David Chalmers concludes that scientific consciousness studies is missing an ingredient, without which the ‘hard’ problem cannot be solved or explained, he would be exactly correct. It would be missing the phenomenon that can be almost rigorously described as Everything.  This phenomenon can only be studied in metaphysics and mysticism, theory and experiment.

Aug 14th

One is aware of the increase of sensitivity of the brain; colour, shape, line, the total form of things have become more intense and extraordinarily alive. Shadows seem to have a life of their own, of greater depth and purity. It was a beautiful quiet evening; there was a breeze amongst the leaves and the aspen leaves were trembling and dancing. A tall straight stem of a plant, with a crown of white flowers, touched by faint pink, stood as a watcher by the mountain stream. The stream was golden in the setting sun and the woods were deep in silence; even the passing cars didn’t see to disturb them. The snow-covered mountains were deep in dark, heavy clouds and the meadows knew innocence.

The whole mind was far beyond all experience. And the meditator was silent.

Extracts from Krishnamurti’s Notebook, Harper Collins, (1976)

Endnote: I am always fearful that writing in this way will create the wrong impression.  My proposal is always the same. Logic and reason, rational analysis, is capable of disentangling the World Knot.  Enlightenment may bring with it little or no understanding of discursive metaphysics, and may not even bring literacy and numeracy. Nor is an understanding of discursive philosophy anything like enlightenment. An understanding of E=MC2 is not an understanding of mass and energy.  The point of the post is to suggest that we would not have to be skilled practitioners in order to calculate the implications of Krishnamurti’s words for metaphysics. We would just have to spend some time studying metaphysics.

I think this time must always be worth it. Not every meditative practitioner will immediately discover evidence that they are not wasting their time, and it may take a commitment of some  years to get beyond the superficial benefits of practice.  Motivation is an issue.  If we can work out that the Buddha’s teachings would be a solution for metaphysics, once they are backwards-engineered into a formal metaphysical theory, then this cannot be a bad thing.


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9 Responses to Krishnamurti’s Notebook and the Meaning of Enlightenment

  1. johsh says:

    enlightenment/nirvana is more about wisdom, transforming one’s self, and that of “becoming”, – not about some kind of definable state or experience (mystic or not).

    Buddha had it right, its not even about mere wisdom, its all about suffering (of all forms and shapes), and negating it until “you alone are left” (non-duality, nirvana) – which is how true wisdom is gained.

    Inertia of one’s behavior, character, personality, conceptualizing mind, – all these continue to weave a reality for one’s self. This is karma. Transcending karma requires one to fully let-go, only then can full-freedom dawn, and nirvana flower.

    With out self-transformation (ego=fear=0, self=no-self), there is no nirvana.

    Concepts are a hindrance. All those quotes from JK suggests correctly about experience being unreal, but yet try to conceptualize it (that rabbit hole can go deep).

    The problem with all non-Buddhist enlightenment schools, is that they believe a human can magically achieve some kind of enlightenment , if they follow their prescription (or understand them, read, or “analyze”). This is no different than beliefs in superstitions and magic.

    Looking at JK’s life after 1962, or his speeches as seen in some youtube videos from ~1980s, about 20yrs after that “notebook” (1962) came out, I cant help but still perceive conceptualization, weaving a reality. His concern about his legacy, or him going to courts.

    Knowledge is not enlightenment, it has to be transformed into wisdom(enlightenment), which then leads to nirvana. Until one reaches nirvana, there is no guarantee maya/karma will stop weaving different self-realities.

    • PeterJ says:

      The diary makes no claim to enlightenment. It does reveal an interesting process and state of mind. I’ll take some convincing that you know enough to judge Krishnamurti’s level of realisation. On the whole I think you do him an injustice. This is a diary, not a lecture. .

      I will, however, change the text slightly so as to avoid suggesting that he was speaking from an enlightened state, which I didn’t mean to do since he makes no such claim and the entries suggest there is still work to be done. The point is that he is clearly speaking of relevant issues.

      • johsh says:

        agree its not entirely justified to criticize JK based on some diary notes; May be i need to read the full book to get the context.

        My earlier comments were about too much focus on intellectualization i felt in JK’s notes. I believe enlightenment is a deeply personal, self-trans-formative thing. Not a wonder, or observation, or some kind of mind-feeling.

        It is similar to how a corrupt human transforms into a good man, it is his new being. If someone asks, What is it like being PeterJ or johsh ? Or what did you feel before you became PeterJ. You could answer that by discussing your progression from childhood to now, but thats not really an answer. You just are., its not some mind-feeling, or progression, or experience. It is your self., your existence.

  2. PeterJ says:

    Johsh – I appreciate your point about intellection but it is unnecessary here. I already agree completely. But God gave us a brain, and we may as well use it. Also, it is no use referring to experience when one is trying to make a logical argument amenable to sceptics who think the whole thing is nonsense.

    We cannot know Paris without going there but this does not mean that maps are useless. Some of the Zen patriarchs were excellent philosophers. There need be no conflict between logic and experience. Horses for courses.

    The blog is about metaphysics and logic and how both of these endorse the teachings of the Buddha. Intellectualization is the whole point of it. It would entirely defeat the object to be making a case based on experience, since this is unavailable to a sceptic.

    So, point taken, but for more focus on experience this is not the blog.


    • johsh says:

      The problem is, intellection is a trap on the path to enlightenment, a BIG trap. It cannot be taken lightly, or ignored, people get lost (maya) in it for decades or a life time before they come out of it unscathed.

      And often, intellection is pointing at the wrong (misleading, rather) thing – so its actually a wrong map. It can be a hindrance to progression, if not dealt carefully. ok will stop, dont want to beat a dead horse 🙂

      • PeterJ says:

        I feel you are being one-sided in exactly the way that the Buddha advises us to avoid and that can be counter-productive. Are you suggesting we should not learn to read? Of course not. We have a brain so let’s use it. No need to let it get in the way of progress. You know that thinking can be an obstacle, and this is because you did some thinking. It is all about balance.


      • johsh says:

        if we take our previous example of the process of corrupt man becoming good, to transform into good, he doesn’t need to learn to read (may help, but not necessary), or to use his brain to do mind gymnastics.

        He certainly needs to use the brain, but not like what you suggest. All he needs is to be centered on what it means to be good, and act every second like it, until it becomes his second nature, eventually himself.

        He certainly needs to understand(use brain) what it means to be good, why he needs to be good, how to be good, etc.etc, —- just WONDERING (mind acrobatics) does no good.

        Buddha’s meaning of middle-way is about being centered in emotions, unwavering, not-identifying. He is not suggesting we use our mind/brain to wonder about some supposed enlightenment (what ever that is). BTW, There is no such thing as enlightenment or nirvana, if you ask buddha…only “end-of-suffering” (of all forms and shapes).

        he asks we be centered in our actions(karma), daily/every-moment, transforming ourselves, eventually transcending our ego/fear/self.

        All of JK’s quotes are mind acrobatics. And that “world” he is talking about, can be weaved as wonderful or as ultimate, as one’s imagination allows.

        What JK speaks of, even after 20years of his progression (1980s speeches), is totally different mind world, than what Buddha means by enlightenment/nirvana.

  3. PeterJ says:

    Okay. I think you have misread the Buddha’s words on analysis and thinking, which for a Buddhist are a part of practice, but no matter. If you look I said that we see a process in JK’s diary, not an example of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

    Had I not spent a lot of time thinking I would not know anything about any of these topics, and would never have discovered Buddhism and the wisdom traditions, and would have thought it was nonsense had I done so. So I have the advantage of evidence.

    As I say, I think you are adopting an extreme view that is unnecessary. But we can agree to differ.

    • johsh says:

      All I am saying is, its just a tool, a means, not the end or end’s essence. Speaking of tools, depending on one’s personality, prayer, bhakti/devotion, love, etc., are more effective than what JK speaks of.

      I am certainly not saying thinking, or logic, or analysis, are ineffective. They are to be used as tools to cross-over. Nagarjuna’s use is a excellent example. I prefer these over bhakti myself.

      Since all of these just involve one’s self, all of these are available (understandable) to illiterate as well (if explained in common vocabulary)

      Buddha’s times were lot simpler. We now have 2500 years of human advancement that our minds need to cross-over satisfactorily, particularly the last 200-300yrs, and last 100 yrs even more. Things like space, physics, etc, dont make it any easier on our minds. In the end, its amazing how the truth stays the same.

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