Krishnamurti and the “mutation” in the brain
Why we don’t always question this circular prison or panopticon of the “I” is a deep question. Apparently, we feel stronger and more secure in the image of ourselves as inviolable, or immune to the “difference” that makes our position merely provisional, contingent, and relative. Apparently, we have a penchant for absolutes and totalities. Apparently, we know that we if do not police our boundaries, we will become what we are not. And that is death.
The “I” encounters “not I” if it scratches beneath the socially acceptable surface of normative experience. Only a crazy person would want to test that surface – maybe someone who believes in compassion, selflessness, and the possibility of world that is not yoked to narrow, petty self-interest. In dialogue with neuroscientists, the Dalai Lama, for instance, has noted that one of the purposes of mind training is to actually experiences the ‘death process’ (the dissolution of gross sensory consciousness into subtle consciousness).
We know we don’t need this “I” (with all of its split second protoplasmic reflexes, its tendencies to feel hurt and inferior, or inflated and superior) to function well in the world. How nice life would be if we did not have to boil with anger or wallow in depression. We know the “I,” with its projections and distortions, does not actually help us to be sharp and in control. We even know, I think, that this rigid “I” is closing us off to ordinary happiness, let alone ordinary bliss. However, the “I” is not going to subside if we don’t pay attention, because in a sense that’s what the “I” is: inattention.
The twentieth century Indian philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, seemed to see the whole process of the self very clearly. He said that thought is time, habit, accumulation, which for millennia (both at the individual and collective level) has sought psychological security in its images, ideas, and identifications. In all the fields of thought, including religion (the apprehension of the sacred) thought worships its own image. As Krishnamurti put it, god did not create man in his image, man has created god in his own image. Thought, or knowledge, however, must cease for relationship to be. Thought is always limited, conflicted, dissatisfactory. Its search for permanent pleasure and security always fails, precisely because its identifications produce divisions, and divisions involve violence, which never brings security.
When Krishnamurti said, “Thought prevents relationship,” he was pointing to the irony of the situation. Relationship is security, or the cessation of the center (as will, time, the image, or the “I”) that produces insecurity in the first place. For Krishnamurti, the conditioned mind, the experience “I,” is a psychological accumulation, a stream of sorrow or “psychological time” that has, over thousands of years, shaped the human brain. In fact, he called for a “mutation” in the brain, which would only be possible by becoming highly alert to this aberrant thought-process. Seeing, his said, is action – by which he meant that the state of attention that can actually catch this process in the act is intelligence, and that intelligence acts upon (perhaps rewires) the brain.
However, as he repeated to countless audiences, we are afraid. Thought (which is fragmentary, insecure, and violent) is afraid to die. The whole movement of thought is capable of producing remarkable philosophical systems, but it does not want to see its own fragmentary activity. It would much rather pontificate than cease to produce division. Knowledge is seductive, because knowledge is the “I.”
Art can be more of the same nonsense, a procession of images and identifications that only strengthens the sense of a knowledgable, sophisticated, and ever-improving self. But art’s radical potential is to act upon the sanitizing line that produces centered, alienated, self-interested perception in the first place.
Importantly, if we need disciplines like poetry and music to enhance our attention to uncodified reality, it is because, as socially constituted persons, we inhabit a curbed, normative aesthetic experience. To relax that dividing line is to allow the cold human atom to flow in the unfabricated and unconstructed flow of interrelations.