Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sartre , Existentialism and J. Krishnamurti

Jean Paul Sartre is the most influential 20 th century thinker and writer. Credited with having coined the word Existentialism he is the architect of his famous treatise , Being And Nothingness. Heidegger alongwith Husserl was the principal source of inspiration to him. Sartre read Heidegger as a prisoner of war during world war 2 and soon authored Being and Nothingness. In this paper I shall briefly talk about sartre's main concepts and then relate it withKrishnamurti`s philosophy.

Being and Nothingness:
Sartre's main ontological proposition was Existence precedes essence.

What is it to be human? Are we our qualities such as intelligence or hardworking or a writer? Is there an existence irrespective of our essence? Though sartre was cartesian he didnot strictly mean," I think therefore I am". While  thinking precedes action it is one of the proof of my existence as it emerges in a reflective state of consciousness. Human existence is charecterised by two types of reality. One is consciousness being aware of it being conscious and other is consciousness about something. The former ,sartre called pre reflective state or for- itself consciousness and the latter as reflective state or in-itself consciousness. In layman's language for-itself is the indescribable, nameless reality. Just awareness of Being ,sheer consciousness or existence as it is.The in-itself is borne out of our choices and action, our self identity and is independent of for- itself consciousness.Thus sartre created a duality in reality and concentrated on the study of in- itself reality. Since identity of self is something it brings in the possibility of destructing this something. That which is not something is no-thing and is negation of self. Consciousness for itself is that Being which is nothing because by definition consciousness cannot grasp itself. 
Implication of Sartre's Philosophy :


Since existence precedes essence, man is free to choose. If he doesnot choose thats a choice he makes.Rather he is condemned to be free. He therefore constantly chooses and is responsible for his action. There is no God or determinism which drives man's action. He is spontaneously propelled to act. He finds his meaning in his action though the outside world defies any meaning or is simply existing.

Angst and Despair:

Since existence is no-thing vs essence which is something, there is a feeling of absurdity. A meaninglessness which is overcome by intentional motivation to act. Despair is inevitable outcome of choice when the fulfillment is incomplete. Something similar to what Krishnamurti says "ME" is disorder. The content of mind creates "ME" which is actually a disorder.

To live authenthic life that is a life without conscious of any self image or other people's image about oneself is a life of spontaneity that springs from Being and nothingness. Anyone living an inauthenthic life lives in bad faith and violates existence.

The direct implication sartre's existentialism is humanism. To live freely without any inauthencity of society, past ,state, politics, divine intervention, beliefs etc. Similarly let other people live freely thereby creating a humanistic society. One is fully responsible for one's action. In his words:

We are a plan aware of itself. "Man is nothing else than his plan: he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life."

J.Krishnamurti`s core teachings :
:“The core of Krishnamurti’s teaching is contained in the statement he made in 1929 when he said, “Truth is a pathless land”. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection.

Man has built in himself images as a fence of security—religious, political, personal. These manifest as symbols, ideas, beliefs. The burden of these images dominates man’s thinking, his relationships, and his daily life. These images are the causes of our problems for they divide man from man. His perception of life is shaped by the concepts already established in his mind. The content of his consciousness is his entire existence. The individuality is the name, the form and superficial culture he acquires from tradition and environment. The uniqueness of man does not lie in the superficial but in complete freedom from the content of his consciousness, which is common to all humanity. So he is not an individual. Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not choice. It is man’s pretence that because he has choice he is free. Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence. In observation one begins to discover the lack of freedom. Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.

Thought is time. 
Thought is born of experience and knowledge, which are inseparable from time and the past. Time is the psychological enemy of man. Our action is based on knowledge and therefore time, so man is always a slave to the past. Thought is ever limited and so we live in constant conflict and struggle. There is no psychological evolution. When man becomes aware of the movement of his own thoughts, he will see the division between the thinker and thought, the observer and the observed, the experiencer and the experience. He will discover that this division is an illusion. Then only is there pure observation which is insight without any shadow of the past or of time. This timeless insight brings about a deep, radical mutation in the mind.
Total negation is the essence of the positive. When there is negation of all those things that thought has brought about psychologically, only then is there love, which is compassion and intelligence.” 


Thus both examine human beings and reveal the nothingness of primordial Being or consciousness.Both accept primacy of existence before essence. Both concur about to be human is to be free . However,there are subtle differences in the terminology used . 

You can say some similarity is  found in  sartre`s facticity which is more like conditioned existence of life. Living authenthic life is living without projecting images and in reality as it is. This finds echo in krishnamurti's choiceless awareness in which one doesnot ascribe any value to one's behaviour.

Both the school believe in freedom with responsibility and the choice one makes determines one's life.

Contrasts : 

Existentialists believe life is absurd and has no meaning whereas k says living itself is the meaning of life. They start at opposites poles  of life. Life according to existentialists is nasea and despair. K finds life as beautiful and joyful if lived with understanding. Existentialists donot believe in God whereas k says donot start with belief or disbelief. Find out and a mind which is not touched by thought is sacred. Then truth or god is revealed which cannot be described.

Both existentialist and k are committed to humanism and freedom. Existentialist are cartesian who believe that I think, therefore I am. K perhaps means that I am and therefore I think. But could be saying existence precedes essence.

Existentialists are concerned with material living as a choice. Whereas "K"is concerned with pursuit of truth and setting man unconditionally free. Unlike Sartre who feels man is chained in his choice.


Note some interpretations say that Satre's freedom is the inarticulable, nameless and is borne out of nothingness. Activity is the action in the physical world borne out of choice . They also say that sartre didnot mean descartes cogito but cogito of existence or awareness of consciousness as non thingness. Such being the case it echoes what "K" talks about truth. He says, truth is that which is cannot be touched by thought.
Both existentialist and k are committed to humanism and freedom. Existentialist are cartesian who believe that I think, therefore I am. K perhaps means that I am and therefore I think. He could be saying existence precedes essence.

My Perpective:

Acording to me Sartre is more interesting at a surface level  because he has expressed himself not only through his abstract philosophies but also through absurd plays like Nausea and No exit. Sartrean study of human beings through his primordial action is more interesting and humanlike but not truly emancipating.It exposes human being in relationship with others like a mirror reflection .Sartrean view that man is condemned to be free and is solely responsible for his actions is pertaining to the thinking man.It does add to the meaning of life but at subject level. Authencity of life and ethical value follow sartrean interpretation in which hope for life fulfillment overcomes despondency of despair. 

Whereas "K" goes to the roots of Being and unless we understand the roots we can never understand ourselves as man. We would then risk treating subjects as objects and pose wrong metaphysical question. The sartrean fallacy lies in studying the thinking man which is an effect. Our true motto is to study the primordial state.To study huamans before he became a subject of Being. (the bringing forth of possibilities from nothingness). Existence in world , essence of man and thinking man follow much later.  Truth is something that is not touched by thought. Do we realise that thinker and the thought is the same and in the process realise the primordial state of Being. 

Like Sartre's existentialism kirishnamurti philosophy is also about Being and nothingness. K’s nothingness, however, is no-thingness. Life is spontaneous existence like the blossoming of the flower. It is living in the present moment in the here and now of awareness. Krishnamurti's being is the unconditioned self. Whereas Sartre and other existentialists say nothing matters but life and yet there is no awareness of conditioning and rising above conditioning. Therefore it is more in the materialistic context and perhaps has got little to do with pursuit of truth itself. 

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