U. G. Krishnamurti (1918-2007) was an author and a spiritual teacher. I recently translated one his interviews titled “U. G. Krishnamurti: Mystique of enlightenment – Part-1” by Jeffrey Mishlove to Marathi (available here). What appealed to me most about this interview is the intensity with which UG asks the question, “Is there such a thing as enlightenment at all?” (6:04) The question and the intensity reverberate throughout the interview. In this article, I would like to explore why UG might be questioning enlightenment in the interview. I have put UG’s words in quotes along with timestamps in the interview.
We have tremendous faith in thought as an instrument: “It (thought) is a very powerful instrument. That instrument has helped us achieve whatever we have achieved so far.” (21:50) This is not difficult to see. The scientific and technological progress of the last few centuries is evident. We believe thought can help us solve problems related to machines, medicine, and mind. And we extend our faith in the instrument to achieve a state of mind called bliss or enlightenment. We also have tremendous faith in the teachers who claim to have achieved such a state. UG is asking – Could this faith be misplaced?
There is no such thing as understanding: UG says that our understanding is a result of the knowledge-experience vicious cycle. “We accept that knowledge is necessary for us to experience and the experience strengthens the knowledge.” (14:30) “So this vicious cycle goes on and on.” (14:20) Using the knowledge we feel we understand the world including the living organism. For example, we measure parameters like body temperature, blood pressure, EEG, MRI, etc. and claim that we understand the body. “So you are trying to use that knowledge and experience what you call a living being.” (11:52). While this understanding may help in certain diagnoses, it could never be complete. Even the experience of enlightenment is "a petty little thought induced experience" (18:50). "Without knowledge, you have no way of experiencing anything at all." (14:00) And hence UG is saying that “There is no such thing as (complete) understanding.” (22:44) And, "there is no such thing as enlightenment at all." (16:39). So, are we trapped in perpetual incomplete understanding? Isn’t there a way out?
There is no way out (14:52): “We are trapped and the very demand to get out of the trap is really the problem.” (16:13) Thought maybe useful in solving problems related to machines – clocks, cars, and computers. But thought is not helpful in solving the “lack of happiness” kind of problems. Hence, UG says, “I question the very demand to be enlightened.” (16:39) However, he hints at a possibility that the demand to be enlightened may drop off with the insight of this trap. “So when the understanding dawns on you that that (thought) is not the instrument which will help you understand and solve your problems and there is no other instrument, the demand to solve problems ceases instantly.” (22:27)
For me, “Thought is not the instrument and there is no other instrument,” was the key takeaway. It could be different for you. Hope you watch the interview.
image source: youtube.com