Question: You say that reality or understanding exists in the interval between two thoughts. Will you please explain.
Jiddu Krishnamurti : This is really a different way of asking the question, “What is meditation?” As I answer this question, please experiment with it, discover how your own mind works, which is after all a process of meditation. I am thinking aloud with you, not superficially – I have not studied. I am just thinking aloud with you about the question, so that we can all journey together and find the truth of this question.
The questioner asks about the interval between two thoughts, in which there can be understanding. Before we can inquire into that, we must find out what we mean by thought. What do you mean by thinking? Is this getting a little too serious? You must have patience to listen to it. When you think something – thought being an idea – what do you mean by that? Is not thought a response to influence, the outcome of social, environmental influence? Is not thought the summation of all experience reacting? Say, for example, you have a problem, and you are trying to think about it, to analyze it, to study it. How do you do that? Are you not looking at the present problem with the experience of yesterday – yesterday being the past – with past knowledge, past history, past experience? So, that is the past, which is memory, responding to the present; and this response of memory to the present you call thinking.
Thought is merely the response of the past in conjunction with the present, is it not, and for most of us thought is a continuous process. Even when we are asleep, there is constant activity in the form of dreams; there is never a moment when the mind is really still. We project a picture and live either in the past or the future, like many old and some young people do, or like the political leaders who are always promising a marvelous utopia. (Laughter) And we accept it because we all want the future, so we sacrifice the present for the future, but we cannot know what is going to happen tomorrow or in fifty years’ time.
So, thought is the response of the past in conjunction with the present; that is, thought is experience responding to challenge, which is reaction. There is no thought if there is no reaction. Response is the past background – you respond as a Buddhist, a Christian, according to the left or to the right. That is the background, and that is the constant response to challenge – and that response of the past to the present is called thinking. There is never a moment when thought is not.
Have you not noticed that your mind is incessantly occupied with something or other – personal, religious, or political worries? It is constantly occupied; and what happens to your mind, what happens to any machinery that is in constant use? It wears away. The very nature of the mind is to be occupied with something, to be in constant agitation, and we try to control it, to dominate it, to suppress it; and if we can succeed, we think we have become great saints and religious people, and then we stop thinking.
Now, you will see that in the process of thinking there is always an interval, a gap, between two thoughts. As you are listening to me, what exactly is happening in your mind? You are listening, perhaps experiencing what we are talking about, waiting for information, the experience of the next moment. You are watchful, so there is passive watching, alert awareness. There is no response; there is a state of passiveness in which the mind is strongly aware, yet there is no thought – that is, you are really experiencing what I am talking about. Such passive watchfulness is the interval between two thoughts.
Suppose you have a new problem – and problems are always new – how do you approach it? It is a new problem, not an old one. You may recognize it as old, but as long as it is a problem, it is always new. It is like one of those modern pictures to which you are entirely unaccustomed. What happens if you want to understand it? If you approach it with your classical training, your response to that challenge, which is that picture, is rejection; so if you want to understand the picture, your classical training will have to be put aside – just as, if you want to understand what I am talking about, you have to forget you are a Buddhist, a Christian, or whatnot.
You must look at the picture free of your classical training, with passive awareness and watchfulness of mind, and then the picture begins to unfold itself and tell its story. That is possible only when the mind is in a state of watchfulness, without trying to condemn or justify the picture; it comes only when thought is not, when the mind is still. You can experiment with that and see how extraordinarily true is a still mind. Only then is it possible to understand. But the constant activity of the mind prevents the understanding of the problem.
To put it around the other way, what do you do when you have a problem, an acute problem? You think about it, don’t you? What do you mean by “think about it”? You mean working for an answer, searching for an answer, according to your previous conclusions. That is, you try to shape the problem to fit certain conclusions which you have, and if you can make it fit, you think you have solved it. But problems are not solved by being put into the pigeonholes of the mind.
You think about the problem with the memory of past conclusions and try to find out what Christ, Buddha, X, Y, or Z has said, and then apply those conclusions to the problem. Thereby you do not solve the problem but cover it up with the residue of previous problems. When you have a really big and difficult problem, that process will not work. You say you have tried everything and you cannot solve it. That means you are not waiting for the problem to tell its story. But when the mind is relaxed, no longer making an effort, when it is quiet for just a few seconds, then the problem reveals itself and it is solved. That happens when the mind is still, in the interval between two thoughts, between two responses.
In that state of mind understanding comes, but it requires extraordinary watchfulness of every movement of thought. When the mind is aware of its own activity, its own process, then there is quietness. After all, self-knowledge is the beginning of meditation, and if you do not know the whole, total process of yourself, you cannot know the importance of meditation. Merely sitting in front of a picture or repeating phrases is not meditation. Meditation is a part of relationship; it is seeing the process of thought in the mirror of relationship. Meditation is not subjugation but understanding the whole process of thinking. Then thought comes to an end, and only in that ending is there the beginning of understanding.
Source: Jiddu Krishnamurti Third Talk in Colombo 1949/50