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The Urgency of Change

Questioner: Can one really be free of tradition? Can one be free of anything at all? Or is it a matter of sidestepping it and not being concerned with any of it? You talk a great deal about the past and its conditioning – but can I be really free of this whole background of my life? Or can I merely modify the background according to the various outward demands and challenges, adjust myself to it rather than become free of it? It seems to me that this is one of the most important things, and I’d like to understand it because I always feel that I am carrying a burden, the weight of the past. I would like to put it down and walk away from it, never come back to it. Is that possible?

Krishnamurti: Doesn’t tradition mean carrying the past over to the present? The past is not only one’s particular set of inheritances but also the weight of all the collective thought of a particular group of people who have lived in a particular culture and tradition. One carries the accumulated knowledge and experience of the race and the family. All this is the past – the carrying over from the known to the present – which shapes the future. Is not the teaching of all history a form of tradition? You are asking if one can be free of all this. First of all, why does one want to be free? Why does one want to put down this burden? Why?

Questioner: I think it’s fairly simple. I don’t want to be the past – I want to be myself; I want to be cleansed of this whole tradition so that I can be a new human being. I think in most of us there is this feeling of wanting to be born anew.

Krishnamurti: You cannot possibly be the new just by wishing for it. Or by struggling to be new. You have not only to understand the past but also you have to find out who you are. Are you not the past? Are you not the continuation of what has been, modified by the present?

Questioner: My actions and my thoughts are, but my existence isn’t.

Krishnamurti: Can you separate the two, action and thought, from existence? Are not thought, action, existence, living and relationship all one? This fragmentation into “me” and “not-me” is part of this tradition.

Questioner: Do you mean that when I am not thinking, when the past is not operating, I am obliterated, that I have ceased to exist?

Krishnamurti: Don’t let us ask too many questions, but consider what we began with. Can one be free of the past – not only the recent but the immemorial, the collective, the racial, the human, the animal? You are all that, you are not separate from that. And you are asking whether you can put all that aside and be born anew. The “you” is that, and when you wish to be reborn as a new entity, the new entity you imagine is a projection of the old, covered over with the word “new”. But underneath, you are the past. So the question is, can the past be put aside or does a modified form of tradition continue for ever, changing, accumulating, discarding, but always the past in different combinations? The past is the cause and the present is the effect, and today, which is the effect of yesterday, becomes the cause of tomorrow. This chain is the way of thought, for thought is the past. You are asking whether one can stop this movement of yesterday into today. Can one look at the past to examine it, or is that not possible at all? To look at it the observer must be outside it – and he isn’t. So here arises another issue. If the observer himself is the past then how can the past be isolated for observation?

Questioner: I can look at something objectively....

Krishnamurti: But you, who are the observer, are the past trying to look at itself. You can objectify yourself only as an image which you have put together through the years in every form of relationship, and so the “you” which you objectify is memory and imagination, the past. You are trying to look at yourself as though you were a different entity from the one who is looking, but you are the past, with its old judgements, evaluations and so on. The action of the past is looking at the memory of the past. Therefore there is never relief from the past. The continuous examination of the past by the past perpetuates the past; this is the very action of the past, and this is the very essence of tradition.

Questioner: Then what action is possible? If I am the past – and I can see that I am – then whatever I do to chisel away the past is adding to it. So I am left helpless! What can I do? I can’t pray because the invention of a god is again the action of the past. I can’t look to another, for the other is also the creation of my despair. I can’t run away from it all because at the end of it I am still there with my past. I can’t identify myself with some image which is not of the past because that image is my own projection too. Seeing all this, I am really left helpless, and in despair.

Krishnamurti: Why do you call it helplessness and despair? Aren’t you translating what you see as the past into an emotional anxiety because you cannot achieve a certain result? in so doing you are again making the past act. Now, can you look at all this movement of the past, with all its traditions, without wanting to be free of it, change it, modify it or run away from it – simply observe it without any reaction?

Questioner: But as we have been saying all through this conversation, how can I observe the past if I am the past? I can’t look at it at all!

Krishnamurti: Can you look at yourself, who are the past, without any movement of thought, which is the past? If you can look without thinking, evaluating, liking, disliking, judging, then there is a looking with eyes that are not touched by the past. It is to look in silence, without the noise of thought. In this silence there is neither the observer nor the thing which he is looking at as the past.

Questioner: Are you saying that when you look without evaluation or judgement the past has disappeared? But it hasn’t – there are still the thousands of thoughts and actions and all the pettiness which were rampant only a moment ago. I look at them and they are still there. How can you say that the past has disappeared? It may momentarily have stopped acting....

Krishnamurti: When the mind is silent that silence is a new dimension, and when there is any rampant pettiness it is instantly dissolved, because the mind has now a different quality of energy which is not the energy engendered by the past. This is what matters: to have that energy that dispels the carrying over of the past. The carrying over of the past is a different kind of energy. The silence wipes the other out, the greater absorbs the lesser and remains untouched. It is like the sea, receiving the dirty river and remaining pure. This is what matters. It is only this energy that can wipe away the past. Either there is silence or the noise of the past. In this silence the noise ceases and the new is this silence. It is not that you are made new. This silence is infinite and the past is limited. The conditioning of the past breaks down in the fullness of silence.