Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Krishnamurti on War

A question was put to Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian-born educator (1895-1986) about what individuals could do about war and crisis in the world. While many individuals are to be admired and emulated, I’m not one to hagiographise gurus — I believe in the wisdom within each individual rather than any external authority or dogma purporting to impose order and confer control, but I was interested in the answer from an agential point of view especially. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether its simplified New Age gobbledegook or whether there is some insight. The passages are excerpted from “Think on These Things”(1964, 1970 reprint), p. 32, available online here.

War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday life, is it not?

War is merely an outward expression of our inward state, an enlargement of our daily action. It is more spectacular, more bloody, more destructive, but it is the collective result of our individual activities. Therefore, you and I are responsible for war and what can we do to stop it? Obviously the ever-impending war cannot be stopped by you and me, because it is already in movement; it is already taking place, though at present chiefly on the psychological level. As it is already in movement, it cannot be stopped- the issues are too many, too great, and are already committed. But you and I, seeing that the house is on fire, can understand the causes of that fire, can go away from it and build in a new place with different materials that are not combustible, that will not produce other wars. That is all that we can do. You and I can see what creates wars, and if we are interested in stopping wars, then we can begin to transform ourselves, who are the causes of war.

To bring about peace in the world, to stop all wars, there must be a revolution in the individual, in you and me. Economic revolution without this inward revolution is meaningless, for hunger is the result of the maladjustment of economic conditions produced by our psychological states – greed, envy, ill-will and possessiveness. To put an end to sorrow, to hunger, to war, there must be a psychological revolution and few of us are willing to face that. We will discuss peace, plan legislation, create new leagues, the United Nations and so on and on; but we will not win peace because we will not give up our position, our authority, our money, our properties, our stupid lives. To rely on others is utterly futile; others cannot bring us peace. No leader is going to give us peace, no government, no army, no country. What will bring peace is inward transformation which will lead to outward action. Inward transformation is not isolation, is not a withdrawal from outward action. On the contrary, there can be right action only when there is right thinking and there is no right thinking when there is no self-knowledge. Without knowing yourself, there is no peace.

To put an end to outward war, you must begin to put an end to war in yourself. Some of you will nod your heads and say, ” I agree”, and go outside and do exactly the same as you have been doing for the last ten or twenty years. Your agreement is merely verbal and has no significance, for the world miseries and wars are not going to be stopped by your casual assent. They will be stopped only when you realize the danger, when you realize your responsibility, when you do not leave it to somebody else. If you realize the suffering, if you see the urgency of immediate action and do not postpone, then you will transform yourself; peace will come only when you yourself are peaceful, when you yourself are at peace with your neighbour.

1948, second public talk, Bangalore, India; Collected Works of J. Krishnamurti, Vol V, CD-Rom code BA48T2

Krishnamurti continued:

An American lady came to see me a couple of years ago, during the war. She said she had lost her son in Italy and that she had another son aged sixteen whom she wanted to save; so we talked the thing over. I suggested to her that to save her son she had to cease to be an American; she had to cease to be greedy, cease piling up wealth, seeking power, domination, and be morally simple – not merely simple in clothes, in outward things, but simple in her thoughts and feelings, in her relationships. She said,” That is too much. You are asking far too much. I cannot do it, because circumstances are too powerful for me to alter.” Therefore she was responsible for the destruction of her son.

Circumstances can be controlled by us, because we have created the circumstances. Society is the product of relationship, society changes; merely to rely on legislation, on compulsion, for the transformation of outward society, while remaining inwardly corrupt, while continuing inwardly to seek power, position, domination, is to destroy the outward, however carefully and scientifically built. That which is inward is always overcoming the outward.

What causes war – religious, political or economic? Obviously belief, either in nationalism, in an ideology, or in a particular dogma. If we had no belief but goodwill, love and consideration between us, then there would be no wars. But we are fed on beliefs, ideas and dogmas and therefore we breed discontent. The present crisis is of an exceptional nature and we as human beings must either pursue the path of constant conflict and continuous wars, which are the result of our everyday action, or else see the causes of war and turn our back upon them.

Obviously what causes war is the desire for power, position, prestige, money; also the disease called nationalism, the worship of a flag; and the disease of organized religion, the worship of a dogma. All these are the causes of war; if you as an individual belong to any of the organized religions, if you are greedy for power, if you are envious, you are bound to produce a society which will result in destruction. So again it depends upon you and not on the leaders – not on so-called statesmen and all the rest of them. It depends upon you and me but we do not seem to realize that. If once we really felt the responsibility of our own actions, how quickly we could bring to an end all these wars, this appalling misery! But you see, we are indifferent. We have three meals a day, we have our jobs, we have our bank account, big or little, and we say, “For God’s sake, don’t disturb us, leave us alone”.

The higher up we are, the more we want security, permanency, tranquility, the more we want to be left alone, to maintain things fixed as they are; but they cannot be maintained as they are, because there is nothing to maintain. Everything is disintegrating. We do not want to face these things, we do not want to face the fact that you and I are responsible for wars. You and I may talk about peace, have conferences, sit round a table and discuss, but inwardly, psychologically, we want power, position, we are bound by beliefs, by dogmas, for which we are willing to die and destroy each other. Do you think such men, you and I, can have peace in the world? To have peace, we must be peaceful; to live peacefully means not to create antagonism. Peace is not an ideal. To me, an ideal is merely an escape, an avoidance of what is, a contradiction of what is. An ideal prevents direct action upon what is – which we will go into presently, in another talk. [not on this website] But to have peace, we will have to love, we will have to begin, not to live an ideal life, but to see things as they are and act upon them, transform them. As long as each one of us is seeking psychological security, the physiological security we need – food, clothing and shelter – is destroyed. We are seeking psychological security, which does not exist; and we seek it, if we can, through power, through position, through titles, names – all of which is destroying physical security. This is an obvious fact, if you look at it.


Questioner: Why do men fight?

Krisnamurti: why do young boys fight? You sometimes fight with your brother, or other boys here, don’t you? Why? You fight over a toy. Perhaps another boy has taken your ball, or your book and therefore you fight. Grown-up people fight for exactly the same reason, only their toys are position, wealth and power. If you want power and I also want power, we fight, and that is why nations go to war. It is as simple as that, only philosophers, politicians, and the so-called religious people complicate it. You know, it is a great art to have an abundance of knowledge and experience-to know the richness of life, the beauty of existence, the struggles, the miseries, the laughter, the tears- and yet keep your mind very simple; and you can have a simple mind only when you know how to love.

“Think on These Things”(1964, 1970 reprint), p. 32

3 comments on “Krishnamurti on War

  1. kilroy
    19 December, 2006

    This is excellent. Thank you for this.

    “Because things are the way they are, things cannot stay the way they are.”
    Bertolt Brecht

  2. Curtis
    20 December, 2006

    What a terrific insight into the responsibility of the individual. A friend and I were having a discussion the other night–purely theoretical, but quite heated by the end–about the best way to combat the unjust and the oppressive. He was of the opinion that one must always work to affect change from within an existing structure, while I was of the opinion that the cathartic effect of activism and protest, at least in the first world, are, while conducive to the formation of communities and to the dissemination of ideas, also dangerously seductive and insidiously self-defeating—leading me to the conclusion that, as Krisnamurti has so eloquently put it:

    But you and I, seeing that the house is on fire, can understand the causes of that fire, can go away from it and build in a new place with different materials that are not combustible, that will not produce other wars. That is all that we can do.

    I suspect that neither of us was exclusively correct, but I was angry that my friend seemed to think I was an escapist in my viewpoint, and he was angry that I could only view his standpoint as that of an irresponsible evangelist. The truth is, we’re both pretty irresponsible as it stands. :-) Anyway, thank you very much for this post!

  3. peoplesgeography
    21 December, 2006

    Thanks Curt, and it is a perennial challenge we have in the first world, to challenge the very basis of our privilege even as we enjoy its fruits, potentially undercutting the basis for building alternatives (but, if harnessed, perhaps also helping to lubricate those alternatives with some foresight). You put it so well:

    …the cathartic effect of activism and protest, at least in the first world, are, while conducive to the formation of communities and to the dissemination of ideas, also dangerously seductive and insidiously self-defeating

    More and more people are building those houses, local lifeboats with local electricity grids and energy and so forth. I’ve quoted this Gandhi insight elsewhere too, I’m sure, but it bears repeating; he said something like, it is possible that that you may do but little, but it is important that you do that little.

    Jumping scale and our local environs and connecting with other people and communities globally also seems to be a crucial part of the effective advocacy and activism equation, however. As its said (and I hope this metaphor appeals to you as a musician), music is the space between the notes.

    I think it is these relationships with others, these networks, that will sustain, inspire and nourish us in the challenging times ahead, captured so well in the creative contradiction Kilroy aptly cites from Brecht.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"