The Observer and Krishnamurti’s Teaching
The Observer and Krishnamurti’s Teaching
When I was 17 I had a shattering, life-altering insight into the illusion of the separate observer. A few years later, I came upon the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, for whom the nonexistent division between “the observer and the observed” was a central tenet.
For many years I felt that “the teachings” were complete. Nothing in Western or Eastern philosophy seemed to come close to their clarity and depth. Encounters with ‘Krishnamurti people’ in recent years have made me question the application of “the teachings” with his followers, and even to question their applicability in general.
Regarding the cornerstone of Krishnamurti’s teachings, my own understanding of the core principle, which arose from the questioning, introspection, and insight in my teens and beyond, is as follows.
When we look into ourselves (admittedly an uncommon activity, especially in America), there is a division between ‘my thoughts and feelings,’ and ‘me.’ For some unfathomable reason, I noticed this separation as a young man, and it philosophically intrigued me. I began asking, ‘what is this observer that stands apart, observing emotions and thoughts in oneself as if they’re separate?’
Over a few months, I kept asking the question when the conundrum of ‘me and my thoughts’ came up again. Then one day, while watching a robin in my parents’ backyard, there was an explosion of insight. At a non-verbal level I saw that the ‘observer’ is an illusion that the mind continually fabricates. There is no separation—the observer and the observed are one and the same!
At that moment the veil was lifted, and one truly saw a bird for the first time, without the screen of words and images, knowledge and association. There was only the actuality of the robin, with its vibrant color, form, and being. There was also an inchoate insight into the very roots of human division and alienation.
Because it was so different from anything I had ever read or been taught, I thought I needed validation of the experience and insight. I found Krishnamurti’s teachings, but now I feel a subtle dependency set in reading “the teachings.” (I’ve come to feel the very phrase “the teachings” encourages such dependency, since it breeds a subtle psychological and spiritual authority, something that Krishnamurti decried.)
After years of inquiry, the original insight grew, and took philosophical shape and form. My basic premise is that the evolution of ‘higher thought,’ which is based on the adaptation in Homo sapiens to consciously make physical separations and recombinations of our environments, carries with it the ineluctable tendency to psychologically divide.
Alienation, war, and fragmentation of the earth have their roots in psychological division, which is a mistaken carryover of the physical ability to separate (which literally means ‘to remove and make ready for use’).
The antidote to psychological division is taking the time and gathering the energy to passively observe the movement of thought as a whole within oneself.
It’s like holding a mirror up to a mirror. At first it seems like an ‘infinite regress,’ but then the observer spontaneously dissolves. What remains is simply the brain observing the contents of the mind (which include emotions), without the illusory entity standing apart judging and evaluating.
Keep observing, and the past unfolds like a scroll rolling out before one’s eyes. First, bits of the movie seen last night might replay on the screen of the mind. Then some old, unresolved emotion may arise. One does nothing, simply watches, and in the watching without the watcher, the past tells its story, and yields to the present.
Internally we have reactions, and we have reactions to our reactions--otherwise known as judgments. (Of course, there’s a third level of reaction, in which one acts out of one’s stuff, but that’s another issue.) The point here is that if one effortlessly negates the secondary level of reaction and observes without the separate observer, then silence, peace, and renewal ensue.
This is what meditation means to me, not all the mumbo-jumbo of watching one’s breath, repeating some mantra, or any of the other absurd ‘forms of meditation’ that people make money selling.
This is also how I understand Krishnamurti’s basic teaching, without the admonition “don’t interpret the teachings,” which only makes interpretation all the more firm and fixed.
There’s a fine line between interpretation and understanding, and each of us has to walk that tightrope for ourselves. The truth is within us, not in any text or teaching.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.