The Urgency Of Change: On Suicide

by J.Krishnamurti
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Questioner: I would like to talk about suicide – not because of any crisis in my own life, nor because I have any reason for suicide, but because the subject is bound to come up when one sees the tragedy of old age – the tragedy of physical disintegration, the breaking up of the body, and the loss of real life in people when this happens. Is there any reason to prolong life when one reaches that state, to go on with the remnants of it? Would it not perhaps be an act of intelligence to recognize when the usefulness of life is over?

Krishnamurti: If it was intelligence that prompted you to end life that very intelligence would have forbidden your body to deteriorate prematurely.

Questioner: But is there not a moment when even the intelligence of the mind cannot prevent this deterioration? Eventually the body wears out – how does one recognize that time when it comes?

Krishnamurti: We ought to go into this rather deeply. There are several things involved in it, aren’t there? The deterioration of the body, of the organism, the senility of the mind, and the utter incapacity that breeds resistance. We abuse the body endlessly through custom, taste and negligence. Taste dictates – and the pleasure of it controls and shapes the activity of the organism. When this takes place, the natural intelligence of the body is destroyed. In magazines one sees an extraordinary variety of food, beautifully colored, appealing to your pleasures of taste, not to what is beneficial for the body. So from youth onwards you gradually deaden and destroy the instrument which should be highly sensitive, active, functioning like a perfect machine. That is part of it, and then there is the mind which for twenty, thirty or eighty years has lived in constant battle and resistance. It knows only contradiction and conflict – emotional or intellectual. Every form of conflict is not only a distortion but brings with it destruction. These then are some of the basic inner and outer factors of deterioration – the perpetually self-centered activity with its isolating processes.

Naturally there is the physical wearing out of the body as well as the unnatural wearing out. The body loses its capacities and memories, and senility gradually takes over. You ask, should not such a person commit suicide, take a pill that will put him out? Who is asking the question – the senile, or those who are watching the senility with sorrow, with despair and fear of their own deterioration?

Questioner: Well, obviously the question from my point of view is motivated by distress at seeing senility in other people, for it has not presumably set in in myself yet. But isn’t there also some action of intelligence which sees ahead into a possible breakdown of the body and asks the question whether it is not simply a waste to go on once the organism is no longer capable of intelligent life?

Krishnamurti: Will the doctors allow euthanasia, will the doctors or the government permit the patient to commit suicide?

Questioner: That surely is a legal, sociological or in some people’s minds, a moral question, but that isn’t what we are discussing here, is it? Aren’t we asking whether the individual has the right to end his own life, not whether society will permit it?

Krishnamurti: You are asking whether one has the right to take one’s own life – not only when one is senile or has become aware of the approach of senility, but whether it is morally right to commit suicide at any time?

Questioner: I hesitate to bring morality into it because that is a conditioned thing. I was attempting to ask the question on a straight issue of intelligence. Fortunately at the moment the issue does not confront me personally so I am able to look at it, I think, fairly dispassionately; but as an exercise in human intelligence, what is the answer?

Krishnamurti: You are saying, can an intelligent man commit suicide? Is that it?

Questioner: Or, can suicide be the action of an intelligent man, given certain circumstances?

Krishnamurti: It is the same thing. Suicide comes, after all, either from complete despair, brought about through deep frustration, or from insoluble fear, or from the awareness of the meaninglessness of a certain way of living.

Questioner: May I interrupt to say that this is generally so, but I am trying to ask the question outside any motivation. When one arrives at the point of despair then there is a tremendous motive involved and it is hard to separate the emotion from the intelligence; I am trying to stay within the realm of pure intelligence, without emotion.

Krishnamurti: You are saying, does intelligence allow any form of suicide? Obviously not.

Questioner: Why not?

Krishnamurti: Really one has to understand this word intelligence. Is it intelligence to allow the body to deteriorate through custom, through indulgence, through the cultivation of taste, pleasure and so on? Is that intelligence, is that the action of intelligence?

Questioner: No; but if one has arrived at a point in life where there may have been a certain amount of unintelligent use of the body which has not yet had any effect on it, one can’t go back and re-live one’s life.

Krishnamurti: Therefore, become aware of the destructive nature of the way we live and put an end to it immediately, not at some future date. The act of immediacy in front of danger is an act of sanity, of intelligence; and the postponement as well as the pursuit of pleasure indicate lack of intelligence.

Questioner: I see that.

Krishnamurti: But don’t you also see something quite factual and true, that this isolating process of thought with its self-centered activity is a form of suicide? Isolation is suicide, whether it is the isolation of a nation or of a religious organization, of a family or of a community. You are already caught in that trap which will ultimately lead to suicide.

Questioner: Do you mean the individual or the group?

Krishnamurti: The individual as well as the group. You are already caught in the pattern.

Questioner: Which will ultimately lead to suicide? But everybody doesn’t commit suicide!

Krishnamurti: Quite right, but the element of the desire to escape is already there – to escape from facing facts, from facing “what is”, and this escape is a form of suicide.

Questioner: This, I think, is the crux of what I am trying to ask, because it would seem from what you have just said that suicide is an escape. Obviously it is, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, but can there not also be – and this is my question – can there not also be a suicide that is not an escape, that is not an avoidance of what you call the “what is”, but is on the contrary a response of intelligence to “what is”? One can say that many kinds of neurosis are forms of suicide; what I am trying to ask is whether suicide can ever be other than a neurotic response? Cannot it also be the response of facing a fact, of human intelligence acting on an untenable human condition?

Krishnamurti: When you use the words “intelligence” and “untenable condition” it is a contradiction. The two are in contradiction.

Questioner: You have said that if one is facing a precipice, or a deadly snake about to strike, intelligence dictates a certain action, which is an action of avoidance.

Krishnamurti: Is it an action of avoidance or an act of intelligence?

Questioner: Can they not be the same sometimes? If a car comes at me on the highway and I avoid it….

Krishnamurti: That is an act of intelligence.

Questioner: But it is also an act of avoiding the car.

Krishnamurti: But that is the act of intelligence.

Questioner: Exactly. Therefore, is there not a corollary in living when the thing confronting you is insoluble and deadly?

Krishnamurti: Then you leave it, as you leave the precipice: step away from it.

Questioner: In that case the stepping away implies suicide.

Krishnamurti: No, the suicide is an act of unintelligence.

Questioner: Why?

Krishnamurti: I am showing it to you.

Questioner: Are you saying that an act of suicide is categorically, inevitably, a neurotic response to life?

Krishnamurti: Obviously. It is an act of unintelligence; it is an act which obviously means you have come to a point where you are so completely isolated that you don’t see any way out.

Questioner: But I am trying for the purpose of this discussion to assume that there is no way out of the predicament, that one is not acting out of the motive of avoidance of suffering, that it is not stepping aside from reality.

Krishnamurti: Is there in life an occurrence, a relationship, an incident from which you cannot step aside?

Questioner: Of course, there are many.

Krishnamurti: Many? But why do you insist that suicide is the only way out?

Questioner: If one has a deadly disease there is no escaping it.

Krishnamurti: Be careful now, be careful of what we are saying. If I have cancer, and it is going to finish me, and the doctor says, “Well, my friend, you have got to live with it”, what am I to do – commit suicide?

Questioner: Possibly.

Krishnamurti: We are discussing this theoretically. If I personally had terminal cancer, then I would decide, I would consider what to do. It wouldn’t be a theoretical question. I would then find out what was the most intelligent thing to do.

Questioner: Are you saying that I may not ask this question theoretically, but only if I am actually in that position?

Krishnamurti: That is right. Then you will act according to your conditioning, according to your intelligence, according to your way of life. If your way of life has been avoidance and escape, a neurotic business, then obviously you take a neurotic attitude and action. But if you have led a life of real intelligence, in the total meaning of that word, then that intelligence will operate when there is terminal cancer. Then I may put up with it; then I may say that I will live the few more months or years left to me.

Questioner: Or you may not say that.

Krishnamurti: Or I may not say that; but don’t let us say that suicide is inevitable.

Questioner: I never said that; I asked if under certain stringent circumstances, such as terminal cancer, suicide could possibly be an intelligent response to the situation.

Krishnamurti: You see, there is something extraordinary in this; life has brought you great happiness, life has brought you extraordinary beauty, life has brought you great benefits, and you went with it all. Equally, when you were unhappy you went with it, which is part of intelligence: now you come to terminal cancer and you say, “I cannot bear it any longer, I must put an end to life.” Why don’t you move with it, live with it, find out about it as you go along?

Questioner: In other words, there is no reply to this question until you are in the situation.

Krishnamurti: Obviously. But you see that is why it is very important, I feel, that we should face the fact, face “what is”, from moment to moment, not theorize about it. If someone is ill, desperately ill with cancer, or has become completely senile – what is the most intelligent thing to do, not for a mere observer like me, but for the doctor, the wife or the daughter?

Questioner: One cannot really answer that, because it is a problem for another human being.

Krishnamurti: That’s just it, that is just what I am saying.

Questioner: And one hasn’t the right, it would seem to me, to decide about the life or death of another human being.

Krishnamurti: But we do. All the tyrannies do. And tradition does; tradition says you must live this way, you mustn’t live that way.

Questioner: And it is also becoming a tradition to keep people alive beyond the point where nature would have given in. Through medical skill people are kept alive – well, it’s hard to define what is a natural condition – but it seems most unnatural to survive for as long as many people do today. But that is a different question.

Krishnamurti: Yes, an entirely different question. The real question is, will intelligence allow suicide – even though doctors have said one has an incurable disease? One cannot possibly tell another what to do in this matter. It is for the human being who has the incurable disease to act according to his intelligence. If he is at all intelligent – which means that he has lived a life in which there has been love, care, sensitivity and gentleness – then such a person, at the moment when it arises, will act according to the intelligence which has operated in the past.

Questioner: Then this whole conversation is in a way meaningless because that is what would have happened anyway – because people would inevitably act according to what has happened in the past. They will either blow their brains out or sit and suffer until they die, or something in between.

Krishnamurti: No, it hasn’t been meaningless. Listen to this; we have discovered several things – primarily that to live with intelligence is the most important thing. To live a way of life which is supremely intelligent demands an extraordinary alertness of mind and body, and we’ve destroyed the alertness of the body by unnatural ways of living. We are also destroying the mind, the brain, through conflict, through constant repression, constant explosion and violence. So if one lives a way of life that is a negation of all this, then that life, that intelligence, when confronted with incurable disease will act in the moment rightly.

Questioner: I see that I have asked you a question about suicide and have been given an answer on how to live rightly.

Krishnamurti: It is the only way. A man jumping over the bridge doesn’t ask, “Shall I commit suicide?” He is doing it; it is finished. Whereas we, sitting in a safe house or in a laboratory, asking whether a man should or should not commit suicide, has no meaning.

Questioner: So it is a question one cannot ask.

Krishnamurti: No, it must be asked – whether one should or should not commit suicide. It must be asked, but find out what is behind the question, what is prompting the questioner, what is making him want to commit suicide. We know a man who has never committed suicide, although he is always threatening to do so, because he is completely lazy. He doesn’t want to do a thing, he wants everybody to support him; such a man has already committed suicide. The man who is obstinate, suspicious, greedy for power and position, has also inwardly committed suicide. He lives behind a wall of images. So any man who lives with an image of himself, of his environment, his ecology, his political power or religion, is already finished.

Questioner: It would seem to me that what you are saying is that any life that is not lived directly….

Krishnamurti: Directly and intelligently.

Questioner: Outside the shadows of images, of conditioning, of thinking…. Unless one lives that way, one’s life is a kind of low-key existence.

Krishnamurti: Of course it is. Look at most people; they are living behind a wall – the wall of their knowledge, their desires, their ambitious drives. They are already in a state of neurosis and that neurosis gives them a certain security, which is the security of suicide.

Questioner: The security of suicide!

Krishnamurti: Like a singer, for example; to him the voice is the greatest security, and when that fails he is ready to commit suicide. What is really exciting and true is to find out for oneself a way of life that is highly sensitive and supremely intelligent; and this is not possible if there is fear, anxiety, greed, envy, the building of images or the living in religious isolation. That isolation is what all religions have supplied: the believer is definitely on the threshold of suicide. Because he has put all his faith in a belief, when that belief is questioned he is afraid and is ready to take on another belief, another image, commit another religious suicide. So, can a man live without any image, without any pattern, without any time-sense? I don’t mean living in such a way as not to care what happens tomorrow or what happened yesterday, That is not living. There are those who say, “Take the present and make the best of it; that is also an act of despair. Really one should not ask whether or not it is right to commit suicide; one should ask what brings about the state of mind that has no hope – though hope is the wrong word because hope implies a future; one should ask rather, how does a life come about that is without time? To live without time is really to have this sense of great love, because love is not of time, love is not something that was or will be; to explore this and live with it is the real question. Whether to commit suicide or not is the question of a man who is already partially dead. Hope is the most dreadful thing. Wasn’t it Dante who said, “Leave hope behind when you enter the Inferno”? To him, paradise was hope, that’s horrible.

Questioner: Yes, hope is its own inferno.