A trailblazing physicist named David Bohm and an Indian spiritual philosopher named Jiddu Krishnamurti sat down for a series of mind-bending, soul-stretching discussions about some of the most persistent human concerns, including time, transcendence, compassion, death, the nature of reality, and the meaning of existence, between April and September of 1980, as Sagan’s Cosmos was making its debut and precisely 50 years after Einstein’s famous dialogue with the Indian philosopher Tagore
They were both the ideal complements and an unusual pair: Bohm worked closely with Einstein at Princeton after earning his Ph.D. in physics there under Robert Oppenheimer. He spent the majority of his career grappling with the nature of reality, and his unconventional theories significantly changed quantum theory. The Theosophical Society declared Krishnamurti to be the “World Teacher” at the age of thirteen. He firmly renounced the position at the age of thirty-four and went on to become one of the most important Eastern thinkers of the twentieth century, practicing and teaching meditation as a way of life from a profoundly philosophical and psychologically astute perspective dedicated to advancing our understanding of the nature of the mind.
Bohm was sixty-three years old and Krishnamurti was 85 when they first met. One of the most profoundly insightful and enlightening collections of human thinking ever generated is their talks, which were finally published as The Ending of Time: Where Philosophy and Physics Meet (public library).
They explore the interaction between freedom and the ego, a keystone of Eastern philosophy, in one of the more intriguing parts of their discussion. They reflect on the idea of an intellect that is beyond cognition, echoing Simone Weil on the purest form of thought:
JK: Thought is the movement between the particular and the general, and thought is also born out of the image of what has been accumulated. All that is one’s inward state. That is deeply embedded in me. I recognize it is somewhat necessary physically. But how do I set about realizing that psychologically it is not? How do I, who have had the habit of accumulating for millennia, general and particular, not only recognize the habit, but when I do recognize the habit, how does that movement come to an end? That is the real question.
Where does intelligence play a part in all this?
DB: There has to be intelligence to see this.
JK: Is it intelligence? Is it so-called ordinary intelligence or some other intelligence, something entirely different?
Bohm offers the great word “skill in thought” when Krishnamurti notes that this intelligence is much distinct from what we recognize as conventional intelligence. Yet there is a significant component of it that is beyond comprehension:
JK: Is that intelligence related to love?
DB: I’d say they go together.
JK: I’m asking further if this intelligence is associated with or related to or part of love. One cannot accumulate love.
DB: No, people might try. People do try to guarantee love.
JK: It sounds silly! That is all romantic nonsense, cinema stuff. You cannot accumulate love. You cannot associate it with hate. That love is something entirely different. And has that love intelligence? Which then operates? Which then breaks down the wall?
The barrier that our awareness has built between what we believe to be true and the greater Truth of reality is referred to as the wall. It represents the limits of the human intellect. Krishnamurti explains why tearing down that wall requires love, not just thought:
JK: I don’t know what that love is. I know all the physical bit. I realize pleasure, desire, accumulation, remembrance, images, are not love. I realized all that long ago. But I’ve come to the point where this wall is so enormous that I can’t even jump over it. So I’m now fishing around to see if there is a different movement which is not a man-made movement. And that movement may be love. I’m sorry to use that word because it has been so spoilt and misused, but we’ll use it for the time being.
So is that love, with its intelligence, the factor that will break down or dissolve or break up this wall? Not “I love you” or “you love me.” It’s not personal or particular. It’s not general or particular. It is something beyond. I think when one loves with that intelligence, it covers the whole; it’s not the particular or general. It is that. It is light; it’s not particular light.
DB: The wall itself is the product of the process which is illusion.
JK: Exactly. I’m realizing that the wall is this movement. So when this movement ends, that quality of intelligence, love and so on, is there. That’s the whole point.
Perception is part of love, isn’t it? So the very perception, without any motive, without any direction, of the wall — which has been brought into being by this movement of accumulation — is intelligence and love.
In their twelfth session, they return to the topic from a new perspective and investigate the mental habits that prevent us from seeing through the wall and dismantling it:
JK: What makes the mind always follow a certain pattern? Always seeking? If it lets go of one pattern, it picks up another; it keeps on functioning all the time like that. One can give explanations why it does so — for protection, for safety, from slackness, indifference, a certain amount of callousness, a total disregard of one’s own flowering, etc.
It is really very important to find out why our minds are always operating in a certain direction.
We have said that one comes, after going through travail, investigation, and insight, to a blank wall. And that blank wall can only wither away or be broken down, when there is love and intelligence. But before we go into that, I would like to ask why human beings, however intelligent, however learned, however philosophical and religious, always fall into this groove.
DB: Well, I think the groove is inherent in the nature of the accumulated knowledge.
It seems to me that the groove, or the accumulated knowledge, has a significance far beyond what its significance is. If we say that we have knowledge of some object, like the microphone, that has some limited significance. But knowledge about the nation to which you belong seems to have immense significance… Because this knowledge seems to have a tremendous value beyond all other values, it makes the mind stick to that. It seems the most important thing in the world.
Knowledge stupefies the brain.
JK: Stupefies, all right. But the brain doesn’t seem to extricate itself.
DB: It is already so stupefied that it can’t see what it is doing.
JK: So what shall it do? I have been watching for many years people attempting to become free from certain things. This is the root of it. You understand? This psychological accumulation which becomes psychological knowledge. And so it divides, and all kinds of things happen around it and within it. And yet the mind refuses to let go.
Thoreau discussed this exact propensity in his idea of “useful ignorance” more than a century before. However, Bohm contends that this crippling accumulation of information is unavoidable since it is integral to our survival strategies:
DB: The knowledge deceives the mind, so that the person is not normally aware that it is destructive. Once this process gets started, the mind is not in a state where it is able to look at it because it is avoiding the question. There is a tremendous defensive mechanism to escape from looking at the whole issue… Because it seems that something extremely precious might be at stake… Once importance has been given to knowledge, there is a mechanical process that resists intelligence.
Our persistent self-delusion is at the heart of everything.
DB: This knowledge creates the “me,” and the “me” is experienced as an entity which seems not to be knowledge but some real being.
JK: Are you saying that this “being” is different from knowledge?
DB: It appears to be; it feigns a difference.
JK: But is it?
DB: It isn’t, but the illusion has great power.
The question is how do we get through that to break down the groove, because it creates the imitation, or a pretension, of a state of being?