Jiddu Krishnamurti on the Significance of Doubt

"Why do we accept, why do we follow? We follow another's authority, another's experience and then doubt it; this search for authority and its sequel, disillusionment, is a painful process for most of us. We blame or criticize the once accepted authority, the leader, the teacher, but we do not examine our own craving for an authority who can direct our conduct. Once we understand this craving we shall comprehend the significance of doubt."

-- J. Krishnamurti, The Book of Life


  1. I'm not sure if Krishnamurti meant it this way, but it seems to me that what is described here is nothing less then the force of conceptual evolution. The thoughts and ways of the previous leader establish a platform from which the next recognizes imperfections and inefficiencies to be corrected. Yet that previous leader also changed what had been passed down from his former leader.

    1. In a nutshell, TWF, you've just outlined how progress is made in intellectual matters, such as science and technology. I suspect Krishnamurti would have no problem with that.

      Yet, Krishnamurti used to distinguish between how we approach such things as science and how we approach such things as -- for lack of a better word -- "spiritual" understanding. For Krishnamurti, any reliance on authority is incompatible with spiritual understanding, and it is a mistake to approach spiritual understanding as you would approach understanding something in the sciences, etc.

      Try thinking of spiritual understanding as a bit like getting a joke -- there is no progress: You either get it all at once, or you don't get it. There is quite a difference between laughing because you get the joke yourself, and pretending to laugh because some teacher, guru, or other authority has told you the joke is funny and that you should laugh at it.

      So, I think what Krishnamurti is saying here is that in spiritual matters, unlike in science, etc, there can be no reliance on authority.

      If you think about it, that is quite a radical departure from the teachings of most religions.

      At least that's my 2 cents. I could be wrong.

    2. I guess I should have done my homework a little bit to see where Krishnamurti was coming from! :-)

      I'm still a novice in the realm of spiritual teachings, but, from what I understand, your metaphor about getting a joke is spot on.

      As I look at the quote from the spiritual perspective, I am haunted by that last sentence as being key to understanding it, but slipping through my fingers.

      The significance of doubt...

      It may be even a step beyond non-reliance on authority, but a recognition that external inputs will only get you so far? That personal doubt, introspective inquisition, is what takes you to that next level? What helps you get the joke?

      Hmmm. Fun to ponder.

  2. Speaking for myself, I believe this self-examination yields the most insights, regardless of how much of a charlatan the former authority is/was. Moreover, it's absolutely crucial to putting the past behind us. Nice quote, Paul.

  3. Interesting.

    I think that we're especially vulnerable to 'authority' when we feel insecure. When I'm feeling strong, confident, on my roller blades skating down the avenue, meeting friends, maybe I'm in less need of a father figure, an authority to guide me. I think about the huge crowds worshiping Hitler in Nazi Germany at a time of such national self-doubt. And I think of friends that have followed a guru at times in their lives when they were lost and confused.

    I found the Krishnamurti idea you mentioned in the 1st comment so interesting - that with spirituality it's not about progress, but like a joke, you get it or not.

  4. Descartes took the significance of doubt to an extreme with his "Method of Doubt."

    "The first rule is to accept nothing as true which I do not clearly recognize to be so; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitation and prejudice in my judgements, and to accept in them nothing more than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly that I could have no occasion to doubt it." -Descartes, Meditations

  5. Brings to mind Thomas Kuhn's Structures of Scientific Revolutions, how knowledge does not develop in a linear fashion, but based on paradigm shift after paradigm shift dialectically.

  6. I read so much Krishnamurti, and saw his talks at Town Hall in NYC in 1972. He was a powerful, and gentle thinker who loved the essence of freedom. His ideas would free us of fear, which would free us of religion, bad government, bad relationships...What he says is clear and irrefutable, but few have ears for the truth.

    ...I know, because largely I pick and choose.

  7. Krishnamurti's insights were driven by these episodic but lifelong experiences which he called the "process" and "benedictions." I wish I also had the benefit of that catalyst to see more profoundly. I'm curious about the neurochemistry behind those experiences, ie what was causing those experiences. I also wonder if that state of mind could be accessed by the aid of psychedelics? I have glimpsed into this [I would call animist or spiritual] consciousness. I also suspect it is the Id consciousness, though that term has been somewhat abused by those who use it intellectually yet without insight. I think it is the animal consciousness we are born with but lose around the time of the "terrible twos," when conditioning begins to make an ego that buries the Id in the unconscious.


Comments Welcome -- but no flaming. If you wish, you can email me at paul_sunstone@q.com