Life Ahead: On Learning and the Search for Meaning

Life Ahead: On Learning and the Search for Meaning

by Jiddu Krishnamurti

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Life Ahead presents lessons that move far beyond the traditional forms of education taught in most schools and colleges. Drawn from transcripts of talks given to Indian students, the book covers a wide range of universal topics. In short, accessible chapters, Krishnamurti explores the danger of competition, the value of solitude, the need to understand both the conscious and the unconscious mind, and the critical difference between concentration and attention, and between knowledge and learning. Krishnamurti exposes the roots of fear and eradicates deeply entrenched habits of tradition, limitation, and prejudice. The life he holds forth requires a complete change of thought, even a revolution, one that begins “not with theory and ideation,” he writes, “but with a radical transformation in the mind itself.” He explains how such transformation occurs only through an education that concentrates on the total development of the human being, an education carefully described in this simple yet powerful book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781577315179
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 08/29/2005
Edition description: Third Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 783,328
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Life Ahead

On Learning and the Search for Meaning

By J. Krishnamurti

New World Library

Copyright © 1963 Krishnamurti Foundation of America
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57731-517-9


What Is the Function of Education?

Have you ever thought why you are being educated, why you are learning history, mathematics, geography, or what else? Have you ever thought why you go to schools and colleges? Is it not very important to find out why you are being crammed with information, with knowledge? What is all this so-called education? Your parents send you here, perhaps because they themselves have passed certain examinations and taken various degrees. Have you ever asked yourselves why you are here, and have the teachers asked you why you are here? Do the teachers know why they are here? Should you not try to find out what all this struggle is about — this struggle to study, to pass examinations, to live in a certain place away from home and not be frightened, to play games well and so on? Should your teachers not help you to inquire into all this and not merely prepare you to pass examinations?

Boys pass examinations because they know they will have to get a job, they will have to earn a livelihood. Why do girls pass examinations? To be educated in order to get better husbands? Don't laugh; just think about this. Do your parents send you away to school because you are a nuisance at home? By passing examinations are you going to understand the whole significance of life? Some people are very clever at passing examinations, but this does not necessarily mean that they are intelligent. Others who do not know how to pass examinations may be far more intelligent; they may be more capable with their hands and may think things out more deeply than the person who merely crams in order to pass examinations.

Many boys study merely to get a job, and that is their whole aim in life. But after getting a job, what happens? They get married, they have children — and for the rest of their life they are caught in the machine, are they not? They become clerks or lawyers or policemen; they have an everlasting struggle with their wives, with their children; their life is a constant battle till they die.

And what happens to you girls? You get married — that is your aim, as it is also the concern of your parents to get you married — and then you have children. If you have a little money you are concerned about your saris, and how you look; you are worried about your quarrels with your husband and about what people will say.

Do you see all this? Are you not aware of it in your family, in your neighborhood? Have you noticed how it goes on all the time? Must you not find out what is the meaning of education, why you want to be educated, why your parents want you to be educated, why they make elaborate speeches about what education is supposed to be doing in the world? You may be able to read Bernard Shaw's plays, you may be able to quote Shakespeare or Voltaire or some new philosopher; but if you in yourself are not intelligent, if you are not creative, what is the point of this education?

So, is it not important for the teachers as well as for the students to find out how to be intelligent? Education does not consist in merely being able to read and pass examinations; any clever person can do that. Education consists in cultivating intelligence, does it not? By intelligence I do not mean cunning, or trying to be clever in order to outdo somebody else. Intelligence, surely, is something quite different. There is intelligence when you are not afraid. And when are you afraid? Fear comes when you think of what people may say about you, or what your parents may say; you are afraid of being criticized, of being punished, of failing to pass an examination. When your teacher scolds you, or when you are not popular in your class, in your school, in your surroundings, fear gradually creeps in.

Fear is obviously one of the barriers to intelligence, is it not? And surely it is the very essence of education to help the student — you and me — to be aware of and to understand the causes of fear, so that from childhood onwards he can live free of fear.

Are you aware that you are afraid? You do have fear, do you not? Or are you free of fear? Are you not afraid of your parents, of your teachers, of what people might think? Suppose you did something of which your parents and society disapprove. Would you not be afraid? Suppose you wanted to marry a person not of your own caste or class; would you not be afraid of what people might say? If your future husband did not make the right amount of money, or if he did not have position or prestige, would you not feel ashamed? Would you not be afraid that your friends might not think well of you? And are you not afraid of disease, of death?

Most of us are afraid. Do not say no so quickly. We may not have thought about it; but if we do think about it we will notice that almost everybody in the world, grown-ups as well as children, has some kind of fear gnawing at the heart. And is it not the function of education to help each individual to be free of fear, so that he can be intelligent? That is what we aim at in a school — which means that the teachers themselves must really be free of fear. What is the good of teachers talking about fearlessness if they are themselves afraid of what their neighbors may say, afraid of their wives or their husbands?

If one has fear there can be no initiative in the creative sense of the word. To have initiative in this sense is to do something original — to do it spontaneously, naturally, without being guided, forced, controlled. It is to do something which you love to do. You may often have seen a stone lying in the middle of the road, and a car go bumping over it. Have you ever removed that stone? Or have you ever, when out walking, observed the poor people, the peasants, the villagers, and done something kind — done it spontaneously, naturally, out of your own heart, without waiting to be told what to do?

You see, if you have fear, then all this is shut out of your life; you become insensitive and do not observe what is going on around you. If you have fear, you are bound by tradition, you follow some leader or guru. When you are bound by tradition, when you are afraid of your husband or your wife, you lose your dignity as an individual human being.

So, is it not the function of education to free you from fear, and not merely prepare you to pass certain examinations, however necessary this may be? Essentially, deeply, that should be the vital aim of education and of every teacher: to help you from childhood to be completely free of fear so that when you go out into the world you are an intelligent human being, full of real initiative. Initiative is destroyed when you are merely copying, when you are bound by tradition, following a political leader or a religious swami. To follow anybody is surely detrimental to intelligence. The very process of following creates a sense of fear; and fear shuts out the understanding of life with all its extraordinary complications, with its struggles, its sorrows, its poverty, its riches and beauty — the beauty of the birds, and of the sunset on the water. When you are frightened, you are insensitive to all this.

May I suggest that you ask your teachers to explain to you what we have been talking about? Will you do that? Find out for yourself if the teachers have understood these things — it will help them to help you to be more intelligent, not to be frightened. In matters of this kind we need teachers who are very intelligent — intelligent in the right sense, not just in the sense of having passed the MA or BA examinations. If you are interested, see if you can arrange to have a period during the day in which to discuss and talk about all this with your teachers. Because you are going to grow up, you are going to have husbands, wives, children, and you will have to know what life is all about — life with its struggle to earn a living, with its miseries, with its extraordinary beauty. All this you will have to know and understand; and the school is the place to learn about these things. If the teachers teach you merely mathematics and geography, history and science, that is obviously not enough. The important thing for you is to be alert, to question, to find out, so that your own initiative may be awakened.


Fear Prevents Initiative

We have been considering the problem of fear. We saw that most of us are afraid, and that fear prevents initiative because it makes us cling to people and to things as a creeper clings to a tree. We cling to our parents, our husbands, our sons, our daughters, our wives, and to our possessions. That is the outward form of fear. Being inwardly afraid, we dread to stand alone. We may have a great many saris, jewels, or other property; but inwardly, psychologically, we are very poor. The poorer we are inwardly, the more we try to enrich ourselves outwardly by clinging to people, to position, to property.

When we are afraid, we cling not only to outward things, but also to inward things such as tradition. To most old people, and to people who are inwardly insufficient and empty, tradition matters a great deal. Have you noticed this amongst your friends, parents, and teachers? Have you noticed it in yourself? The moment there is fear, inward fear, you try to cover it up with respectability, by following a tradition; and so you lose initiative. Because you have no initiative and are just following, tradition becomes very important — the tradition of what people say, the tradition that has been handed down from the past, the tradition that has no vitality, no zest in life because it is a mere repetition without any meaning.

When one is afraid, there is always a tendency to imitate. Have you noticed that? People who are afraid imitate others; they cling to tradition, to their parents, to their wives, to their brothers, to their husbands. And imitation destroys initiative. You know, when you draw or paint a tree, you do not imitate the tree, you do not copy it exactly as it is, which would be mere photography. To be free to paint a tree, or a flower, or a sunset, you have to feel what it conveys to you, the significance, the meaning of it. This is very important — to try to convey the significance of what you see and not merely copy it, for then you begin to awaken the creative process. And for this there must be a free mind, a mind that is not burdened with tradition, with imitation. But look at your own lives and the lives about you, how traditional, how imitative they are!

You are obliged in some matters to be imitative; as in the clothes you put on, in the books you read, in the language you speak. These are all forms of imitation. But it is necessary to go beyond this level and feel free to think things out for yourself so that you do not thoughtlessly accept what somebody else says, it does not matter who it is — a teacher in the school, a parent, or one of the great religious teachers. To think out things for yourself, and not follow, is very important; because following indicates fear, does it not? The moment somebody offers you something you want — paradise, heaven, or a better job — there is fear of not getting it; therefore you begin to accept, to follow. So long as you want something, there is bound to be fear; and fear cripples the mind so that you cannot be free.

Do you know what a free mind is? Have you ever observed your own mind? It is not free, is it? You are always watching to see what your friends say about you. Your mind is like a house enclosed by a fence or by barbed wire. In that state no new thing can take place. A new thing can happen only when there is no fear. And it is extremely difficult for the mind to be free of fear, because that implies being really free of the desire to imitate, to follow, free of the desire to amass wealth or to conform to a tradition — which does not mean that you do something outrageous.

Freedom of mind comes into being when there is no fear, when the mind has no desire to show off and is not intriguing for position or prestige. Then it has no sense of imitation. And it is important to have such a mind — a mind really free of tradition, which is the habit- forming mechanism of the mind.

Is this all too difficult? I don't think it is as difficult as your geography or mathematics. It is much easier, only you have never thought about it. You spend perhaps ten or fifteen years of your life in school acquiring information, yet you never take time — not a week, not even a day — to think fully, completely about any of these things. That is why it all seems so difficult; but it is not really difficult at all. On the contrary, if you give time to it you can see for yourself how your mind works, how it operates, responds. And it is very important to begin to understand your own mind while you are young, otherwise you will grow up following some tradition which has very little meaning; you will imitate, which is to keep on cultivating fear, and so you will never be free.

Have you noticed here in India how tradition-bound you are? You must marry in a certain way, your parents choose the husband or the wife. You must perform certain rituals; they may have no meaning, but you must perform them. You have leaders whom you must follow. Everything about you, if you have observed it, reflects a way of life in which authority is very well established. There is the authority of the guru, the authority of the political group, the authority of parents and of public opinion. The older the civilization, the greater the weight of tradition with its series of imitations; and being burdened with this weight, your mind is never free. You may talk about political or any other kind of freedom, but you as an individual are never really free to find out for yourself; you are always following — following an ideal, following some guru or teacher, or some absurd superstition.

So, your whole life is hedged in, limited, confined to certain ideas; and deep down within yourself there is fear. How can you think freely if there is fear? That is why it is so important to be conscious of all these things. If you see a snake and know it is venomous you move away, you don't go near it. But you do not know that you are caught in a series of imitations which prevent initiative; you are caught in them unconsciously. But if you begin to be conscious of them, and of how they hold you; if you are aware of the fact that you want to imitate because you are afraid of what people may say, afraid of your parents or your teachers, then you can look at these imitations in which you are caught, you can examine them, you can study them as you study mathematics or any other subject.

Are you conscious, for example, why you treat women differently from men? Why do you treat women contemptuously? At least men often do. Why do you go to a temple, why do you perform rituals, why do you follow a guru?

You see, first you have to be aware of all these things, and then you can go into them, you can question, study them; but if you blindly accept everything because for the last thirty centuries it has been so, then it has no meaning, has it? Surely, what we need in the world is not more imitators, not more leaders and more followers. What we need now are individuals like you and me who are beginning to examine all these problems, not superficially or casually, but more and more deeply so that the mind is free to be creative, free to think, free to love.

Education is a way of discovering our true relationship to things, to other human beings, and to nature. But the mind creates ideas, and these ideas become so strong, so dominant, that they prevent us from looking beyond. As long as there is fear, there is the following of tradition; as long as there is fear, there is imitation. A mind that merely imitates is mechanical, is it not? It is like a machine in its functioning; it is not creative, it does not think out problems. It may bring about certain actions, produce certain results, but it is not creative.

Now, what we all should do — you and I as well as the teachers, the managers, and the authorities — is to go into all these problems together, so that when you leave here you will be mature individuals, capable of thinking things out for yourselves, and will not be dependent on some traditional stupidity. Then you will have the dignity of a human being who is really free. That is the whole intent of education — not merely to prepare you to pass certain examinations and then be shunted for the rest of your life into something which you do not love to do, like becoming a lawyer, or a clerk, or a housewife, or a breeding machine. You should insist on having the kind of education that encourages you to think freely without fear, that helps you to inquire, to understand; you should demand it of your teachers. Otherwise life is a waste, is it not? You are "educated," you pass the BA or the MA examinations, you get a job which you dislike but because you have to earn money; you are married and have children — and there you are stuck for the rest of your life. You are miserable, unhappy, quarrelsome; you have nothing to look forward to except more babies, more hunger, more misery. Do you call this the purpose of education? Surely, education should help you to be so keenly intelligent that you do what you love to do, and not get stuck in something stupid which makes you miserable for the rest of your life.


Excerpted from Life Ahead by J. Krishnamurti. Copyright © 1963 Krishnamurti Foundation of America. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. What Is the Function of Education?,
2. Fear Prevents Initiative,
3. Authority Destroys Intelligence,
4. Understanding Freedom and Discipline,
5. Learning How to Think,
6. Is There Such a Thing as Security?,
7. Why Are You Ambitious?,
8. What Is Love?,
9. The Importance of Understanding Your Mind,
10. On How to Listen,
11. Knowledge Is Not Everything,
12. The Quality of Real Affection,
13. Understanding Is Not Memorizing,
14. What Is Envy?,
15. It Is Understanding That Is Creative, Not Memory,
16. Understanding the Significance of Words,
17. Can the Mind Ever Find Peace?,
18. What Is Life All About?,
19. Living Intelligently,
20. Being Educated Rightly,
21. Religion Really Is a Process of Education,
22. To Discover the Truth of Things,
23. Leaving School,
Index to Questions,
About the Author,

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