Conflict, then, can exist only between environment—environment being economic and social conditions, political domination, neighbours —between that environment, and the result of environment, which is the ‘I’. Conflict can exist only so long as there is reaction to that environment which produces the ‘I’, the self. The majority of people are unconscious of this conflict—the conflict between one’s self, which is but the result of the environment, and the environment itself; very few are conscious of this continuous battle. Second Talk in The Oak Grove, Ojai, 17 June 1934 If you are aware you will realize that your mind is constantly engaged in the activities of the ego and its identification; if you pursue this activity further, you will find the deep-seated self-interest. Reflection on the Self, First Talk in The Oak Grove, 7 April 1946

‘Conflict’ is the buzz word. Recently, a long retired but still immensely respected cricketer was being asked for his views on the question of ‘conflict of interest’, an issue that has been plaguing Indian cricket authorities for some time now. He himself perhaps had two roles to play, namely those of an advisor and a commentator. He was unable to see why there should be a conflict of interest at all and asserted that there wasn’t. I bring this up because the two words ‘conflict’ and ‘interest’ are suggestive in a Krishnamurtian context. As Krishnamurti put it, “where there is division there must be conflict” and “where there is self-interest there must be corruption” (By corruption he meant much more than merely passing money under the table). However, in today’s world, there could be not one but a double interest, and yet one can carry on breezily saying that there is interest but no conflict, as there is no division! Apparently, as long as the money from both sources goes to the same person, there is no division, hence no conflict of interest—QED. If you did not notice, integrity just went out of the back door.

The sport-related issue mentioned above would be helpful in moving from the outer, the world out there, to the inner, our psychological world where all our hypocrisy, insecurity, anxiety, greed and ambition reside. What we see ‘out there’ is of course the spill over from this inner world. In the world we have made there is grievous economic inequality, appalling corruption, unprecedented levels of private and public violence and so on. In order to address these issues, governments put up structures of all kinds and imagine that much amelioration is taking place. However, this is the old story of the thief dressing himself as a policeman and searching for the thief, only that all of us are in this together. There is no ‘they’.

In our personal lives, especially among adults, there is tremendous loss of energy due to deep-rooted selfishness and self-interest leading to conflict. We can observe in ourselves an endemic inability to work with one another and great difficulty in listening to each other. Terrible wars have taken place before and man’s inhumanity to man is not a recent phenomenon, but I wonder if the world has ever witnessed such levels of religious bigotry, xenophobic paranoia and edgy, neurotic intolerance that haunt us today.

For all this what answers do governments have? They have conflict resolution and disaster management programmes for its officials that at best help them deal with conflicts and disasters after they have happened. Even for facing natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, these preparations have been found wanting. What of human-inspired conflicts? Where shall we begin to address them? In the epigraph with which this piece begins, Krishnamurti pithily defines conflict as a reaction to the environment, that is, everything other than the ‘me’, which is itself the result of the environment. Our present predicament is the price we pay for our apparently inherent inability to see the truth of what Krishnamurti says.

We refuse to see the breakdown in personal relationships, or are unable to see that we ourselves contribute to it. The young increasingly find comfort in electronic friendships and self-absorption has taken bizarre routes to achieve pleasure. We confuse being ‘touchy’ with being ‘sensitive’, the latter term giving us a cosy feeling that we are alive to other people’s feelings and to the ‘non-human environment’. So, how shall we sing our lament? As the poet WH Auden wrote in his poem, ‘It’s No Use Raising A Shout’ in 1929, in the aftermath of World War I when the western world was engulfed in a ‘tidal wave of cynicism’:

Put the car away;
when life fails
What’s the good of going to Wales?
Here am I, here are you:
But what does it mean?
What are we going to do?

Krishnamurti pointed out that the only way is to take the ‘arduous’ path of self-knowledge, which requires great honesty and integrity. To begin with, we would need to look closely at our dearly held ideas and prejudices and own up to them. Why is this so difficult?

Have you ever tried, or lived a life without self-interest? If you have, then you will have quite a different activity in life. Because we haven’t done it, we say it is impossible. If you have to climb a mountain, and you have to climb that mountain, you don’t begin by saying it is impossible. You go up it, with your capacity, with your energy and drive. And if you want to find out whether it is possible to live in this world without conflict, you have to do it, find out. That is, can you live without self-interest? Third Public Talk at Madras, 5 January 1985