Question: Do you believe in reincarnation and karma?
Jiddu Krishnamurti: Now I suppose you will settle back in your seats and feel comfortable. What do you mean by "believe," and why do you want to believe? Is belief necessary to find out what is true? To find out what is true, you must approach life afresh, you must have the capacity to see things anew, but the mind that is cradled in belief is obviously incapable of discovering what is new.
So, before you can discover whether there is reincarnation or not, you must find out if your mind is free from belief. Most of us believe because it is convenient, because it is satisfying; in it there is a great deal of hope. It is like taking some drug or narcotic and feeling pacified. Such a belief is a projection of our own desire. So, to find out the truth of any matter, obviously there must be freedom from hypothesis, from belief, from any form of conclusion - whether of Buddha, Christ, yourself, or your grandmother.
You must approach it afresh, and only then are you capable of discovering what is true. Belief is an impediment to reality, and that is a very difficult pill to swallow for most of us. We are not seeking reality; we want gratification, and belief gives us gratification, it pacifies us. So, we are essentially seeking gratification, escaping from the problem, from pain and suffering. Therefore we are not really seeking the truth. To find the truth, there must be the direct experiencing of sorrow, pain, and pleasure, but not through a screen of belief.
So, similarly, let us find out what you mean by reincarnation - the truth of it, not what you like to believe, not what someone has told you, or what your teacher has said. Surely, it is the truth that liberates, not your own conclusion, your own opinion. Now, what do you mean by reincarnation? To reincarnate, to be reborn - what do you mean by that? What is it that actually comes into birth again? - not what you believe or do not believe.
Please put all that aside, it is only childish stuff. Let us find out what it is that comes back again or reincarnates. To find that out, you must first know what it is that you are. When you say, "I shall be reborn," you must know what the 'I' is. That is the question, is it not? I am not dodging it. Don't think this is a clever move of mine. You will see the problem clearly as we proceed, as we explore. You say, "I shall be reborn." What is the 'I' that is to be reborn? Is the 'I' a spiritual entity, is the 'I' something continuous, is the 'I' something independent of memory, experience, knowledge? Either the 'I' is a spiritual entity or it is merely a thought process.
Either it is something out of time which we call spiritual, not measurable in terms of time, or it is within the field of time, the field of memory, thought. It cannot be something else. Let us find out if it is beyond the measurement of time. I hope you are following all this. Let us find out if the 'I' is in essence something spiritual. Now, by "spiritual" we mean, do we not, something not capable of being conditioned, something that is not the projection of the human mind, something that is not within the field of thought, something that does not die. When we talk of a spiritual entity, we mean by that something which is not within the field of the mind, obviously.
Now, is the 'I' such a spiritual entity? If it is a spiritual entity, it must be beyond all time; therefore it cannot be reborn or continued. Thought cannot think about it because thought comes within the measure of time, thought is from yesterday, thought is a continuous movement, the response of the past; so thought is essentially a product of time. If thought can think about the 'I', then it is part of time; therefore that 'I' is not free of time, therefore it is not spiritual - which is obvious.
So, the 'I', the 'you' is only a process of thought; and you want to know whether that process of thought, continuing apart from the physical body, is born again, is reincarnated in a physical form. Now go a little further. That which continues - can it ever discover the real, which is beyond time and measurement? We are experimenting to discover truth, not exchanging opinions. That 'I', that entity which is a thought process - can it ever be new? If it cannot, then there must be an ending to thought. Is not anything that continues inherently destructive? That which has continuity can never renew itself. As long as thought continues through memory, through desire, through experience, it can never renew itself; therefore, that which is continued cannot know the real. You may be reborn a thousand times, but you can never know the real, for only that which dies, that which comes to an end, can renew itself.
The other part of the question is whether I believe in karma. What do you mean by the word karma? To do, to act, to be. Let us try to find out in spite of old women's tales.Karma implies, does it not, cause and effect - action based on cause, producing a certain effect; action born out of conditioning, producing further results. So karma implies cause and effect. And are cause and effect static, are cause and effect ever fixed? Does not effect become cause also? So there is no fixed cause or fixed effect.
Today is a result of yesterday, is it not? Today is the outcome of yesterday, chronologically as well as psychologically; and today is the cause of tomorrow. So cause is effect, and effect becomes cause - it is one continuous movement; there is no fixed cause or fixed effect. If there were a fixed cause and a fixed effect, there would be specialization, and is not specialization death? Any species that specializes obviously comes to an end. The greatness of man is that he cannot specialize. He may specialize technically, but in structure he cannot specialize. An acorn seed is specialized - it cannot be anything but what it is.
But the human being does not end completely. There is the possibility of constant renewal; he is not limited by specialization. As long as we regard the cause, the background, the conditioning, as unrelated to the effect, there must be conflict between thought and the background. So the problem is much more complex than whether to believe in reincarnation or not, because the question is how to act, not whether you believe in reincarnation or in karma. That is absolutely irrelevant. Your action is merely the outcome of certain causes, and that action modifies future action - therefore there is no escape from conditioning.
So, to put our problem differently, can action ever bring about freedom from this chain of cause-effect? I have done something in the past; I have had experience, which obviously conditions my response today, and today's response conditions tomorrow. That is the whole process of karma, cause and effect; and obviously, though it may temporarily give pleasure, such a process of cause and effect ultimately leads to pain. That is the real crux of the matter: Can thought be free? Thought, action, that is free does not produce pain, does not bring about conditioning. That is the vital point of this whole question.
So, can there be action unrelated to the past? Can there be action not based on idea? Idea is the continuation of yesterday in a modified form, and that continuation will condition tomorrow, which means action based on idea can never be free. As long as action is based on idea, it will inevitably produce further conflict. Can there be action unrelated to the past? Can there be action without the burden of experience, the knowledge of yesterday? As long as action is the outcome of the past, action can never be free, and only in freedom can you discover what is true. What happens is that as the mind is not free, it cannot act; it can only react, and reaction is the basis of our action. Our action is not action but merely the continuation of reaction because it is the outcome of memory, of experience, of yesterday's response.
So, the question is, Can the mind be free from its conditioning? Surely, that is implied in this question of karma and reincarnation. As long as there is continuity of thought, action must be limited; and such action creates opposition, conflict, and karma - the response of the past in conjunction with the present, creating a modified continuity. So, a mind which has continuity, which is based on continuity - can such a mind be free? If it cannot be free, is it possible for continuity to cease?
This is a most important question. To discover whether the mind can ever be free from the background implies a tremendous inquiry. Is not the mind based on the background? Is not thought founded upon the past? So, can thought ever free itself from the past? All that thought can do is to come to an end - but obviously not through compulsion, not through effort, not through any form of discipline, control, or subjugation. As an observer, see the truth of what it means for thought to come to an end. See the truth, the significance of it, and the false response is removed. That is what we are trying to do in answering this particular question.
When there is action not based on idea or on the past, then the mind is silent, absolutely silent. In that silence, action is free from idea. But you will want an answer to your question: whether I believe or not in reincarnation. Do you know, are you any wiser, if I say I believe in it or do not believe in it? I hope you are confused about it. To be satisfied by words of explanation indicates a petty mind, a stupid mind.
Examine the whole process of yourself. That examination can take place only in relationship, and to discover the truth in any relationship, there must be a state of constant watchfulness, constant, passive alertness. That will show you the truth, for which you need no confirmation from anybody. As long as thought continues, there can be no reality; as long as thought continues as the yesterday, there must be confusion and conflict. Only when the mind is still, passively watchful, is it possible for the real to be.
Source - Jiddu Krishnamurti talks at Ceylon, 1949-50