... I want to talk about something which concerns the whole world, about which the whole world is disturbed. It is the question of the religious spirit and the scientific mind. There are these two attitudes in the world. These are the only two states of mind that are of value: the true religious spirit and the true scientific mind. Every other activity is destructive, leading to a great deal of misery, confusion and sorrow.*

In May 1959 the British writer, scientist and civil servant, C. P. Snow delivered the Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge which he titled ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’. The theme of his lecture was the dangerously wide gap that had opened up between ‘scientists’ and the ‘literary intellectuals’ (whom he also referred to as the ‘traditional culture’). He spoke of the ‘gulf of mutual in-comprehension’, ‘hostility’, ‘dislike, but most of all ‘lack of understanding’ that existed and he blamed the literary élite for it. Several decades earlier, in the late nineteenth century, a similar debate had taken place between Matthew Arnold, the poet and critic, and Thomas Henry Huxley, scientist and humanist.

The tendency for humans to polarize and dichotomize made the debates heated. F. R. Leavis, the distinguished critic, in a lecture a few months after Snow’s, disparaged Snow as someone who ‘doesn’t know what he means, and doesn’t know he doesn’t know’. Today Snow’s phrase, ‘two cultures’ has come to represent the divide that exists in the world, but when Snow used it, it was the reiteration of a debate that had been going on in academia for many years between science and the humanities.

The debates referred to recall the parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant, used both by Jainism and Buddhism. In the parable, each blind man touches a part of what is in front of him—which happens to be an elephant—and describes the elephant in terms of his own experience. Though not explicitly stated in the parable, they are either unable or unwilling to move and feel another side of the elephant, and so they debate hotly about its true nature. The Buddha’s words sum up the situation aptly:

Some recluses and brahmanas, so called,
Are deeply attached to their own views;
People who only see one side of things
Engage in quarrels and disputes.

Krishnamurti too points to the essentially fragmenting nature of thinking. He shows that thought operates in terms of the many, and not just two. But unlike the academics who do see the other side but who almost always end up taking one side over the other, Krishnamurti shows the inherent flaw of seeing ‘sides’.

Culture according to Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti has said that culture, “is the only thing that matters in life.” (3 January 1965, Madras) His usage of the word ‘culture’ adheres to its etymological origins. Culture (like the words ‘cult’ and ‘cultivate’), he points out, comes ‘from the root word colere’. Colere means ‘to till’ but also ‘to protect’ and, ‘to give attention (to a plant for example) in order to promote growth’, and also ‘inhabit’. Culture, for Krishnamurti, is thus not only great architecture, great literature, and great music. “A man who has great knowledge, a lot of money, a title, and who surrounds himself with beautiful things”, he says “is nothing more than a man who is conforming to the pattern of society. And a man who conforms to society is a stupid man; he is not a cultured man at all.”(22 January 1965, Rishi Valley)

Speaking about the schools he founded, Krishnamurti says, the children will “of course … learn subjects, but that will not be the primary thing. The primary thing [will be] to cultivate their minds. This will be the position of the children as they grow up—from the age of seven till they leave the school.” (2 December 1979, Rishi Valley) For him, culture “implies developing, understanding, the mind and the heart and the senses. And to cultivate one’s mind and one’s body requires extraordinary study, attention.” (22 January 1965, Rishi Valley)

The connection of culture (colere) with the word ‘inhabit’ and, by extension, ‘habitation’, seems to point to Krishnamurti’s usage of the word ‘culture’ as meaning “everything which is contained in the brain cells.” (24 June, Brockwood Park,1983) Culture is human habitation. The expression of one people’s habitation may differ from another people’s habitation (and it is because of this that we speak of a ‘culture of the east and a culture of the west’, a ‘culture of the sciences and the culture of the humanities’). Krishnamurti, however, indicates that human habitation is like bedrock. It is the same everywhere, for the things that fill the brain, the mind, and the heart are the same in all human beings. The mind-consciousness is a shared mind-consciousness.

Hence, for Krishnamurti, there are really no ‘two’ cultures, but only ‘one’ culture—a human culture, the culture of mankind. Unfortunately, as he points out, religions, societies and even educators ‘have emphasized separateness’ and called it ‘individualism’. In a letter to the schools (dated 15 November 1978) he says that “a human being psychologically is the whole of mankind. He not only represents it but he is the whole of the human species …”.The tragedy, he said, is that none of us is truly an individual (in its root meaning of ‘indivisible’, ‘whole’). None of us sees our ‘oneness’, that ‘we are the world’, and ‘a part of nature’.

Right education and a ‘new’ culture

Krishnamurti sees right education as a solution to many problems that face the world. But unlike ‘specialists’, he does not see education in terms of just imparting knowledge—science-technology or humanities-arts. Education is also not just a means for socio-economic change. It is not to produce a technological man. Education must be holistic, and nondivisive, for all the problems in the world stem from man’s faulty relationship or rather non-relationship to other human beings and to nature.

He said (about three years before the historic Apollo 11 manned expedition to the moon in July 1969), “Man has been educated”, and “he will probably go to the moon. He has lived under the sea for many days. He has invented the most extraordinary things: electronic brains that function much more rapidly than human brains. He has been able to cure diseases, help people to live more …healthily, in better houses, enjoy themselves much more, travel the world in a few hours … he has built extraordinary dams to hold water to irrigate the land, to bring about great prosperity for man”, and “he has produced marvellous paintings, sculptures, buildings.”But in spite of all these achievements, “apparently man has not been able to solve the question of … how to live peacefully, happily with each other ... enjoying the beauty of the earth, the skies.” (19 January 1966, Rishi Valley)

For Krishnamurti education is the means of bringing about a ‘new’ culture, a culture that is the natural flowering of a true religious mind, a silent mind, a free mind, a mind that has great space and great love which is necessary for living and functioning in the world. It is only when there is this culture, he says, is it possible to “function logically, sanely, healthily in the world”. It is only then that“knowledge operates without being an end in itself ” and without “bringing about more chaos.” (1 August 1971, Saanen)

Krishnamurti, like many philosophers, reminds us that,‘the word is never the thing’, he has to use language. He often uses the vianegativa, a way of describing something by saying what it is not. In this instance, in using the word ‘new’ he does not do so in terms of something that is just added on, as a third and a forth and so on. He uses this, perhaps, exclusively to point to an ‘only’ way, a ‘choiceless’ way. The ‘new’ culture is not just a synthesis or amalgamation, but a totally new development. Cultures that are compounds, layered, he said, in Rishi Valley on 11 November 1954, are, “not natural or native” and “poison … the whole structure”. So we need a “culture which is totally new—something human”.

Silence and space are necessary for this new culture. And silence and space, for him, are somewhat synonymous. On 3 January 1965 in Madras, Krishnamurti said that culture,“is a response out of silence. And when you are completely attentive there is space”. But it is important to see that, “space and silence exist only when there is love”. Silence, he pointed out, is not the pause between two noises, between two thoughts, just as peace is not the gap between two wars. A new culture, a culture of love and relationship, a culture of understanding and of peace, Krishnamurti says, is not possible if we live in silences that are the product of thought, and spaces that are shoddy, narrow and the result of isolation, of withdrawal. To build “thick walls around us” and then to want to change ourselves and, so, the world, is impossible. “It is like looking over the wall into another person’s garden.” (1 August 1971, Saanen)

The religious spirit and the scientific mind

Krishnamurti’s perception is that all knowledge—whether scientific and technological or of the belle letters as Matthew Arnold called the humanitiesarts— is the same; it belongs to the realm of the known. Even all the religions of the world belong to the realm of the known. But in this knowledge-of-the-known realm, he differentiates between that knowledge-mind which is ‘scientific’ (in the sense of ‘seeing things as they are’) and that knowledge-mind which is non-scientific. And, then, there is, Krishnamurti points out, the other realm, which is the truly religious sphere.

Krishnamurti unfolds these two realms, when he speaks of two types of spirits, two types of minds that exist in the world and says that they are the only spirits-minds that matter. He says that the religious spirit contains the scientific spirit. Both move from ‘fact to fact’. But the scientific mind does not necessarily have the long vision, and is limited as it is not one of love. The religious mind holds within it the scientific temper. The religious spirit is never utilitarian and cannot be traded in the market place.

For Krishnamurti, a cultured human being is one who has a mind with both spirits. He points out that emphasizing one or the other only leads to insensitivity, and that would destroy intelligence (for “the essence of intelligence is sensitivity”). If both the spirits (scientific and religious) marched hand in hand, then we would live intelligently, with love, cultivating the whole field. Though he does not explicitly speak of how we can get the two spirits to flow together, he does speak of “attention from moment to moment”. That is the key: to look and to listen to everything and everyone, to look and to listen with love. To look and to listen with love means to be free of the self. And to be free is to end the centre. But “to be free of the self is one of the most difficult things, because it hides under different rocks, under different trees, different activities.” (24 June 1983, Brockwood Park) The self, he writes in a letter to the schools (dated 15 June 1979) “is like a shadow. It is never captured. It is always there, and it slips through your fingers, through your mind … you corner it here, it turns up there.”

Krishnamurti saw and described the prevalence of these two cultures— the scientific and the religious—and he went beyond. It is “the seeing of what-is and going beyond it [that] is intelligence. Intelligence is a total movement, like love. It is not fragmented, and that which is whole has a peculiar way of working in darkness with its own light. It is not dependent because it is a light to itself which nothing can destroy... unless you have this religious ardour the mountain appears insurmountable. If you have it, the mountain doesn’t exist.” (9 September 1970)

*From: Krishnamurti on Education, Part 1: Talks to Students ‘On the Religious Mind and the Scientific Mind’, Madras: Krishnamurti Foundation India, 1995, pp. 24–7