Is beauty, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder? Consider what transpires when we stand awe-struck before a piece of exquisite art, or when we admire the vibrant colors of an autumn landscape. At moments such as these, beauty does indeed appear to be an inherent quality of the things themselves, something that actually resides in the painting, tree or face. But considered later and more soberly, most would agree that this conclusion is not a very plausible one.
First of all, lots of objects, like mountains, forests and lakes wouldn't really be "beautiful", would they, if we weren't around to gain some enjoyment from observing them. Moreover, there is certainly no unanimous agreement as to what is beautiful and what is not. Given this, it is fair to say that beauty is subjective, in that it depends on the presence and the experience of the perceiver. Or, as the Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote: "Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them."
How is it that we are able to forge an attribute, such as beauty, and project it back onto the world, effectively changing - in this case "embellishing" - reality? In order to "perceive" beauty - in a tree, for example - a proxy, image or representation of the tree must first be created, one which can then be manipulated internally. In the process of shaping the image the quality of beauty is affixed to it, based on some personal standard that is distilled from our past experiences. And since beauty is held in high regard, this additional step also invests the image with "value".
It would be of concern to any thinking person to discover that his perception of reality is not a one-to-one affair, not perfectly true to the world "as it really is". The rational response to this realization is to look to the influence the perceiver has on the object of perception. In other words, to consider how idiosyncrasy might translate into outright bias.
Krishnamurti too examines this question "subjective" perception and the role that experience and memory play in apprehending reality. His investigations, however, bear a starkly different emphasis - one that follows directly on the heels of his resolute rejection of the most fundamental premise of analysis, namely that there is an inside and an outside, a subject and an object, an observer and an observed. What is more, he posits that as long as the observer and the observed are felt to be two separate entities, there can be no discernment of what is true and what is false.
How does Krishnamurti arrive at this most puzzling conception that the observer and the observed are, in fact, one and the same? In his inquiry into perception and conditioning, Krishnamurti also sets off from the fact that the brain creates images of its environment. The gallery of mental images is stored in the different layers of our consciousness, which is in turn comprised of them. As is commonly agreed, in order to experience we must "re-cognize". That is to say, the mind processes new data in the light of already existing images - whenever a new image is created, it is touched up, modified, stretched or skewed according to the status quo.
This influence of conditioning is certainly a force to be reckoned with, but according to Krishnamurti, the difficulty presented by memory/knowledge/recognition is overshadowed by the appearance of a strange, new creature that our consciousness spawns in order to have experience ? the central figure, aka the self.
Itself comprised of images, this "center" is not essentially different from other images, representations, thoughts, or abstractions. What does distinguish it, though, is that it figures most prominently in our consciousness, taking on the air of controller.
We are made up of many fragments, each contradicting the other, both linguistically, factually and theoretically, contradictory desires, contradictory pursuits, ambitions that deny affection, love and so on- one is aware of these fragments. And who is the observer who decides what he should do, what he should think, what he should become? Surely one of the fragments. He becomes the analyzer, he assumes the authority. One fragment, among the many other fragments, becomes the censorship, and he becomes the actor, the doer, compelling other fragments to conform and therefore brings about contradiction.
Brockwood Park, 1st Public Talk 5th September 1970
In almost arbitrary fashion, the "observer"-image effectively takes itself "out of the picture", assuming the position of a neutral perceiver. How is this accomplished? Through the introduction of psychological space, Krishnamurti advances, - space around the observer and the observed, conferring upon each a sense of quasi-physical integrity. The separation of these images in space ultimately results in the familiar sense of "me" and "not me".
For most of us there is this wide gap between the observer and the observed, the thinker and the thought, or the centre which experiences and the thing which is experienced. There are two, there is an interval, a gap, a time lag.
Paris, 5th Public Talk, 30th May 1965
The essence of what Krishnamurti is saying - and this is a very radical assertion - is that reality as we experience it is an abstraction, a world of imagery, a world of make-belief. Where we see multiple entities, he sees only one thing - a movement of thinking, a process of image-making. Furthermore, and contrary to our feeling that we are independent of the world about us, Krishnamurti holds that the very substance of the observer is both determined and sustained by what it considers to be external.
Take for example a nature lover: he banks on the beauty that he sees in a tree. Admiring its lovely proportions, the odor of its blossoms, the rough touch of its bark, the whisper of its leaves in the soft breeze. Resistant to the suggestion that this sensual delight is self-created, that the tree is, in the end, just a tree.
And if circumstances should cause some of us to question this subjective attribution of qualities, it would leave a gaping hole behind in the self-image. A part of us dies, leaving us temporarily in a state that we refer to as an identity-crisis. Of course images can be replaced, and in fact, they have to be. We could, to remain with our beauty example, put on the hat of a scientist, a botanist, for whom trees are not, first and foremost, sources of pleasure, but objects of study. This would fill the gap that the loss of beauty has opened up and reestablish our "wholeness". So, while our existence doesn't hinge on any particular image, it is the ongoing process of image-making that "places" the maker of the images.
So the mind can empty itself of images by not forming an image now. If I form an image now, then I relate it to the past images. So consciousness, the mind, can empty itself of all the images by not forming an image now. So there is space, not space round the centre. And if one delves, goes into it much further, then there is something sacred, obviously, not invented by thought, which has nothing to do with any religion.
The Awakening of Intelligence, On Inner Space, Conversation between Krishnamurti and Professor J. Needleman
In his teachings Krishnamurti implies that, in a non-mechanical mind, the innate intelligence of the organism is unimpeded and as such can make use of images as necessary, effectively turning thought on an off, for example, in response to danger or to remember the way home. Not so the observer. Because it depends on image-making for its existence, the observer does not have the luxury of allowing the process of image-making to stop. The fact that we are incapable of stopping thought voluntarily is strong circumstantial evidence that the observer and the observed are indeed a singular phenomenon. This mechanism of buoying the self through images turns consciousness into a perpetual motion machine, never-endingly fanning the illusion of a separate observer.
Coming at this from another angle, we could say that the self, owing to its nature as an image, is abstract, meaning dragged away from the "real", from the concrete, from life. As an abstraction it can only mingle with its own kind, that is, other images. In the face of an "imageless" reality, it would be expunged instantly. This is why there is rarely a gap in this tight interplay between the observer and the observed, and as such the illusion of separation has little chance of being exposed.
Without this interlude, which Krishnamurti refers to as a form of unadulterated "awareness', there can be no empirical evidence that the observer is indeed a construct of the mind. Krishnamurti's descriptions remain suspended in the realm of speculation, lacking the visceral directness of "experiencing". It seems that the current state of our consciousness is sustained by its sheer credibility. At the end of the day, the self maintains it reality and we can't quite wrap our head around the notion that the observer is indeed the observed.
Questioner: I feel that I am real.
Krishnamurti: You feel you are real? The gentleman says he feels he is real. I wonder what we mean by that. I am real. I am sitting here, I have got a body, I see things about me, my thoughts are real, the words I use are real, I like and I don't like - real. You have hurt me, you have flattered me, that is real. My gods, I realize, I have invented them. It is me out of fear that has produced these things. It is my pleasure that makes me attached to them, and therefore out of that pleasure I say, "I love you". In a certain way they are all real. Words are real. And if you are caught in words then they create the illusion. So there is a certain reality which is obvious, and the illusion begins when thought produces, out of fear and pleasure, the image of reality.
Saanen, 3rd Public Talk, July 20, 1972
As we have seen, whatever Krishnamurti means by this absence of the self/observer/center, one thing is certain: it cannot involve images. Images, however, have a far greater reach than might be apparent at first glance. Envisioning an unknown territory beyond the "world of me and not me", and presuming it to be a place unsullied by imagery, a place pure, free and sacred, and so on, is but the projection of another image. Yet, Krishnamurti urges us to us find out whether it is at all possible for the center to "be completely absorbed, dissolved or lie as a vague fragment in the distance". Sometimes the question is formulated differently: "Can I look without the observer, without the censor?"
Krishnamurti: That centre is the 'me' and the 'non-me', that centre is the observer, the thinker, the experiencer, and in that centre is also the observed. The centre says, "That is the barbed wire I have created round myself."
Needleman: So that centre is limited there too.
Krishnamurti: Yes. Therefore it separates itself from the barbed wire fence. So that becomes the observed. The centre is the observer. So there is space between the observer and the observed - right sir?
Needleman: Yes, I see that.
Krishnamurti: And that space it tries to bridge over. That is what we are doing.
Needleman: It tries to bridge it over, but it doesn't.
Krishnamurti: It says, "This must be changed, that must not be, this is narrow, that is wide, I must be better than that." That is the movement is between the space, between the observer and the observed.
Needleman: I follow that, yes.
Krishnamurti: And hence conflict between the observer and the observed. Because the observed is the barbed wire which must be jumped over, and so the battle begins. Now can the observer, who is the centre, who is the thinker, who is the knower, who is experience, who is knowledge, can that centre be still?
The Awakening of Intelligence, On Inner Space, Conversation between Krishnamurti and Professor J. Needleman
Despite this difficulty, Krishnamurti radically digresses from the traditional religious and philosophical approach of providing an anchor, or a handle, even just a tenuous one, that can be employed to free oneself from the tethered state of consciousness. This apparent noncompliance on Krishnamurti's part is usually met with little sympathy or understanding. For him, though, the refusal to offer further guidance is not a matter of choice, but a natural consequence of how things stand.
"Seeing without the observer", Krishnamurti says, is simply not within "our grasp", that is to say, it lies outside the field of experience. Experience is the totality of what we can possibly conceive, everything we think or feel - whether in the past, the present or the future. Given this, any conclusion we might arrive at as to the possibility or impossibility of emptying consciousness from images becomes a moot point. Our efforts at gaining definitive, experiential knowledge about the unity of the observer and the observed are wholly misguided, since what Krishnamurti points to cannot be apprehended and categorized in our habitual way of appropriating things. Any truth that thought - eternally represented by the observer - can lay claim to, becomes a "truth observed", that is a "personal" truth, an image, which is to say, no truth at all. The known, as Krishnamurti says, has no relationship with that which cannot be known. "Thought has no place when I say, 'I don't know'" Thought cannot enter the sanctuary of not-knowing and any place that thought can wedge itself into has to do with knowledge/experience.
Do you want a revolution that shatters all your concepts, your values, your morality, your respectability, your knowledge ? shatters so that you are reduced to absolute nothingness, so that you no longer have any character so that you no longer are the seeker, the man who judges, who is aggressive, or perhaps non- aggressive, so that you are completely empty of everything that is you?
Meeting Life, from Bulletin 32, 1977
Krishnamurti asserts there is no bridge between the world of imagery and that of truth. And the realization that our entire consciousness is comprised of abstractions is the very insight that frees the mind from the pulls and tugs of its (un)reality. This is what Krishnamurti refers to as the ending of desire, in which there is not a shred of suppression. Not being susceptible to anything proffered by consciousness, there is no urge to effect change. Then and only then does image-making come to a halt and actuality reveal itself.
What I am trying to point out is that any movement of a conditioned mind is a movement away from it, and therefore it cannot solve it. The mind has to live with it - you understand? The mind has no escape from it. The mind cannot say, "Well I will leave it alone, something will solve it." The mind has to be with it, look at it, you know, immovable. I wonder if you understand all this? And because we cannot do it we invent the 'me' different from the thing observed. If you see the truth of this, the logic, the truth, the reason of it, which is the whole of the mind is the content which is the conditioning. Any movement as the observer wanting to change the conditioning is still part of that conditioning. When you see the truth of that there is no movement away from that fact. There is no movement away, or to transform 'what is'. Then what takes place?
Saanen, 2nd Public Talk, July 17, 1973
Whenever Krishnamurti asks his audience what would happen if they looked at the tree without the observer, it usually leads to rather amusing exchanges, in which he usually - and not without some measure of exasperation - debunks the suggestion that we become "one with the tree". Just as the ending of psychological time does not mean that we won't grow old and die, the ending of images does not signify that there is no physical space between us and the tree. As we have seen "the observer is the observed" refers to the internal abstraction of space between one image and another and does not mean to suggest that there is no physical world outside of our bodies.
Can I look at a tree without the image of the tree? Which means, can I look without the observer, without the censor? Then what takes place? You are not the tree. That's a trick of the mind so say, I identify myself with the tree, with you, with god, with this, with that. When there is no movement of identification on the part of the observer, then what takes place? Who creates the space between the tree and you? There is actual space, you understand, there is a distance, it may be a foot, it may be ten feet - the physical distance. We are not talking about the physical distance, but the psychological distance between you and the tree, who has brought this about?
Brockwood Park, 2nd Public Dialogue, September 10, 1970
Returning to the question of beauty - to Krishnamurti beauty cannot be found anywhere "on earth or in any painting or in any poem"; beauty is neither external, nor is it subjective. Beauty is negation, it is what remains when the conflictual balancing act of the observer and the observed comes to an end. This sheds some light on how it is Krishnamurti is able to use the words beauty, love, freedom, death, meditation and intelligence in such an interchangeable fashion. For him, these words - or rather, the pivotal point at which their everyday meanings intersect - portray with equal intensity a profound sense of self-abandon, an utter absence of any craving for experience. and the poised tension of "not-knowing".
Where the self is, beauty is not. Is that beauty in the picture, painting, in a concert of Mozart or Beethoven, or in the poems of Keats, or is it possible to be totally free of oneself to look at the world? Then in that there is great beauty, where you are not absorbed by anything. Something doesn't take you over, or the very grandeur, the majesty of something drives away for a second the self. And when there is the absence of that self with all its problems, there is then great beauty, not in something, or externally or subjectively, but the very complex problems of one's life, which is the problem of the self, the selfishness, the agony and so on, to be free of all that, totally, completely, then there is great beauty - beauty to be found nowhere else on earth or in any painting or in any poem.
Brockwood Park, 4th Public Talk, September 6, 1981