While I don’t agree with everything he said, U.G. Krishnamurti got one thing right. “Enlightenment is a thought-induced experience.”
He correctly demonstrated how the very idea of “Enlightenment” is contingent is linked to accepting the claims of the “Great Sages” without question. This is very important to understand, as the mechanism of so-called enlightenment has only come down to us through the transmission of the traditions laid down by the sages and their proponents. In other words, “Enlightenment,” like the concept of “God” or the “Divine,” is something that one never experiences without first hearing all about it from somebody else. The narrative of “enlightenment” always involves a search for a guru who has experienced it and relates the alleged state to others. If one accepts the narrative of the Buddha, one has to imagine that nobody had ever experienced “enlightenment” before. Yet, the Buddha made it his mission, claimed to achieve it, and then told everyone else about it. But U.G. hits the nail on the head when he remarks in this interview that,
“…once one questions the whole idea of enlightenment, or as you put it, the concept of enlightenment, we are questioning the teachers who have talked about it – and we have invested tremendous faith in them, so the sentiment comes into the picture, and we accept it as the gospel truth.”
According to the stories related by the Buddhists, Buddha actually achieved “enlightenment.” How he managed to convince others that he spoke the truth would be no great feat considering the way most people are willing to believe in any story, the more grandiose the better. This is why religion and spirituality still reigns in a world where any evidence of the divine is completely lacking. When Nietzsche exclaimed in the 19th century that “God is dead,” it seems that he spoke only for himself and the minority of European intelligentsia who surmised the role of religion as a control dynamic of the masses.
Nietzsche must’ve hoped that his view would become dominant in an empirical world of logical positivism, but could not have foreseen that the masses would never be able to give up their sentiment attached to religion, for sentiment, through its power of emotionalism and feeling is believed to be a higher form of knowledge (a “peace that passes understanding”), that ultimately breaks down all common sense and the ability for discernment.
U.G.’s contention, which is correct in my opinion, is that enlightenment, the “soul,” or spirit, are all inventions and projections of consciousness which demands some assurance of survival. When the interviewer asks U.G. that he imagines that the body does not survive after death but he hopes that his “ability to experience” (sentience) will continue at some level after death. U.G. asks in return, “Can you experience your body while you are living now?”
Of course, Western philosophy has always taken an interest in the nature of consciousness. When the interviewer brings up the famous maxim of Descartes: “I think, therefore I am,” U.G. says that Descartes asked the wrong question and references an old Indian adage: “If you are not thinking, are you there?”
Clearly, U.G. considers that consciousness and its production of interpretation of experience, projections, thoughts, knowledge and emotions creates a vicious circle of impediments to any understanding of who we really are and what we are doing here. When the interviewer expresses (almost in exasperation), “It sounds like we’re trapped,” U.G. offers only that “there is no answer” to getting out of the trap. Enlightenment, or rather, the enlightenment claimed to be in the possession of so-called spiritual masters throughout human history has not elevated the whole of humanity one iota or solved a single problem confronting the human race. The enormous catalog of suffering, poverty, war and exploitation has grown larger with each passing century. U.G. correctly surmised what enlightenment actually is: an imaginary “solution” within the metaphysics of “hope.” This led U.G. to say that there was no “answer” and “no escape” from the condition of the world, and this was his big miss. He did not see or accept his responsibility to this world or how universal equality is the answer.
It’s a pity, because U.G. perhaps could have offered us even more than what he left behind.