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The Observer is the Observed

Madras, India. Group Discussion 9th December, 1947

Not only at the present time, but always, the fundamental truth is that man divides himself by beliefs, by systems. As nationalism divides human beings, beliefs break up friendship and create animosity. At the present time, when the world is in such a frightful chaos when all the values have disintegrated, when the so-called democracies are also leading up to regimentation,surely those who have thought about the cause of the misery and the antagonism that exists, should attempt to bring about a new society and not merely the reconstruction of the old, because the old cannot be patched-up and even if it is patched-up it will remain still the old.

As wisdom comes only with the knowledge of our everyday activities and feelings, we shall today take up the study of "evil" as a means of revealing the process of our own thinking. 'Evil' is a predominant factor in our daily life. All ideas are interrelated, and by examining one profoundly and following it through, you will see how extraordinarily interrelated they are.

Various philosophers in Europe and in this country and various religions, have thought over this problem of evil. Great men have given their life over to its study. But, you readily throw off explanations without any thinking. Let us enquire into this like mature people and understand its implications and its significance, so that we may be able to alter the conduct of our daily life.

It is no use thinking about 'evil' according to what is written about it in books or translating it according to our experience. Our experience is itself "accumulated memory" which is always translating through the screen of personal advantages and gains. To understand a problem of enormous significance, like evil, your mind must be in a receptive mood. Just as the problem of labour cannot be understood if you approach it merely as a capitalist, or as a socialist, or a labourman, so also to understand the problem of evil, you must not approach it from any single point, such as a sense of guilt, personal experience, selfishness, etc.

You say that whatever hinders progress, is evil. What is progress, what is evolution? The cart-wheel has progressed to aeroplane; the germ has become the child. We have progressed from the age of the arrow to that of the atomic bomb. Now, we have more breaking up of people than ever, more armies, more national feeling, more fear and more starvation. People have become more greedy and more cunning in a cunning society and more competitive in a competitive society. In spite of the havoc and misery caused by the two world wars, many persons consider that war is inevitable and, in the nature of things, is a means to peace. Is all this progress?

We have to consider progress as a means of human happiness, i.e., as progress towards human love, consideration, generosity and charity. Have we evolved psychologically towards freedom and happiness? There is more and more deterioration all round - tyranny, dictatorship, diseases, starvation, hatred, wars and confusion.

You say that God has a plan and anything that interferes with that plan is evil. This is the old idea of a fight between God and the Devil.

Look about you, and see what is happening in nature. One bird destroys another bird, one animal leaps on another, the snake lives by its poison and the strong live on the weak. There is continual strife to live by any means. The snake is the most extraordinary animal developing its own poison for its self-protection. There is a kind of snake in Brazil which, to protect itself, becomes rigid like a bar of steel and cannot be bent. Perhaps a snake is not cruel or evil at all. We call a snake evil and kill it. Among us, the strong live on the weak, the clever live on the stupid. The capitalist is hoarding money and property at the expense of others. The books have said that they are evil, and yet we are doing that.

Inwardly, there is a battle between the opposites, between what I want and what I do not want. I am brutal and greedy and I do not want to be brutal and greedy.

We also want to survive physically as a person and also psychologically as the name, as an idea, etc.

Our everyday existence is confusion, ignorance, sorrow, pleasure, a constant battle, a constant strife. Has evil any relationship to this battle in us between the opposites or is it like Death, like God, like Truth, something apart from this everyday existence?

Is 'evil' an idea which is used by the society to control man so that he does not go beyond the limits? Organised religions have cultivated and controlled man by their laws through fear, through compulsion, through imitation, through fears of contradiction and has said 'You must be this'. When you go beyond those laws, they say it is evil. For instance, organised religion has never said that ambition is evil, but has always decried sex. Don't you see the implications?

Does evil mean to you a conquering of some temptation? Buddha is supposed to have fought with "Mara" and won. Jesus is supposed to have been tempted by the devil and conquered it. Perhaps, we are thinking altogether wrongly, when we have the idea that there are evil forces in the world, the dark forces in opposition to the white forces.

So, to understand this, you must begin with yourself. You do something wrong and you have pain. There is a physiological suffering and a psychological suffering; they are not quite clear-cut. What is the cause of this suffering? Is it easily dissolved?

We need food, clothing and shelter. If I am satisfied with a few clothes, food and shelter, I will never come into conflict with another; but, if I use food, clothing and shelter as a means of psychological exploitation, I will come into conflict.

Some of you advocated suffering as a means to acquire intelligence. Is one to cultivate intelligence through suffering? Is not suffering an indication of ignorance? I suffer when my son dies, because I do not understand the implications of death. Do I sit down and find out the cause of suffering, or do I run away to seek relief from pain with the aid of a priest? If I want to go into the whole significance of death I must have intelligence. You say ignorance is a means of enlightenment; that is, suffer more and more, and you will become more and more intelligent. Do you become intelligent in that manner? Surely you will get intelligence only through understanding suffering, and not through mere suffering. So, when you say suffering brings intelligence it is not a fact. Through ignorance there can be nothing but ignorance. Through wrong means you have only a wrong end.

As you have been constantly seeking escapes from suffering, you have become clever and intelligent in escapes; but you have not understood suffering. To understand suffering, you have to live with it. To find the cause of suffering, you must go into it and not reject suffering. Understanding will come only when you give your whole being to understand the problem. Is evil the denial of good? By denying evil, do you understand evil? To understand anything there must not be denial, nor condemnation, nor identification with it. Take, for example, God. I am not talking about what the books say or about the images in temples; that is not God. God is an unknown thing and therefore you must go to it with a free mind, without any conclusions or condemnations. So also, evil is not the denial of good. Beauty is not the denial of the ugly.

Is "evil" or "vice" or "the bad" the opposite of the good? Is good the opposite of evil?

Does not each opposite contain the germ of its own opposite? Is fear the opposite of bravery? If I am a coward I want to become brave. In doing so, instead of understanding fear, I have tried to become brave. Therefore, bravery has an element of fear in it.

You say that a man in war is doing his duty; but you forget that he is stuffed with propaganda of all kinds; he is told that his country will suffer, and he is stuffed with rum before he fights. Is this doing his duty? Even in the case of a mother loving her child, either she gives her life to it which is spontaneous, or it may be calculated, because, without the child, she is lost.

When I am stupid I want to become clever. Is not "becoming clever" a part of stupidity? There is conflict between what I am and the thing which I want to be. The thing which I want to be is part of my own projection of stupidity. If I understood stupidity, then the problem ceases. The very awareness of the fact that I am stupid is the beginning of intelligence, and not trying to become clever. If I think in these terms, there is no opposite at all; the opposite may be a fabrication of the mind.

Has not non-greed the element of greed? When I am greedy positively in going after property, etc., I want to become non-greedy; I am still greedy negatively in going after non-greed. I find greed does not pay and, perhaps if I become non-greedy, it will pay - which is still greed in an uncreative form. You will never understand anything by thinking in terms of its opposite. Similarly, if I am evil and I try to become good, the good has the seed of evil. Instead of pursuing and creating the opposite, if I say 'All right, I am greedy, it is a fact', then, something happens and I cease to be greedy. The moment I recognise it, it falls away.

The Observer is the Observed

Madras, India. Group Discussion 9th December, 1947

Jiddu Krishnamurti texts. The Observer Is the Observed. Contains reports of spontaneous discourses about life and reality, given at different times between 1945 and 1948.

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