The Individual and Society – J. Krishnamurti

We were walking along a crowded street. The sidewalks were heavy with people, and the smell of exhaust from the cars and buses filled our nostrils. The shops displayed many costly and shoddy things. The sky was pale silver, and it was pleasant in the park as we came out of the noisy thoroughfare. We went deeper into the park and sat down. He was saying that the State, with its militarization and legislation, was absorbing the individual almost everywhere, and that worship of the State was now taking the place of the worship of God.

In most countries the State was penetrating into the very intimate lives of its people; they were being told what to read and what to think. The State was spying upon its citizens, keeping a divine eye on them, taking over the function of the Church. It was the new religion. Man used to be a slave to the Church, but was now a slave of the State. Before it was the Church, and now it was the State that controlled his education; and neither was concerned with the liberation of man.

What is the relationship of the individual to society? Obviously, society exists for the individual, and not the other way round. Society exists for the fruition of man; it exists to give freedom to the individual so that he may have the opportunity to awaken the highest intelligence. This intelligence is not the mere cultivation of a technique or of knowledge; it is to be in touch with that creative reality which is not of the superficial mind. Intelligence is not a cumulative result, but freedom from progressive achievement and success. Intelligence is never static; it cannot be copied and standardized, and hence cannot be taught. Intelligence is to be discovered in freedom.

The collective will and its action, which is society, does not offer this freedom to the individual; for society, not being organic, is ever static. Society is made up, put together for the convenience of man; it has no independent mechanism of its own. Men may capture society, guide it, shape it, tyrannize over it, depending upon their psychological states; but society is not the master of man. It may influence him, but man always breaks it down. There is conflict between man and society because man is in conflict within himself; and the conflict is between that which is static and that which is living. Society is the outward expression of man. The conflict between himself and society is the conflict within himself. This conflict, within and without, will ever exist until the highest intelligence is awakened.

We are social entities as well as individuals; we are citizens as well as men, separate becomers in sorrow and pleasure. If there is to be peace, we have to understand the right relationship between the man and the citizen. Of course, the State would prefer us to be entirely citizens; but that is the stupidity of government. We ourselves would like to hand over the man to the citizen; for to be a citizen is easier than to be a man. To be a good citizen is to function efficiently within the pattern of a given society. Efficiency and conformity are demanded of the citizen, as they toughen him, make him ruthless; and then he is capable of sacrificing the man to the citizen.

A good citizen is not necessarily a good man; but a good man is bound to be a right citizen, not of any particular society or country. Because he is primarily a good man, his actions will not be antisocial, he will not be against another man. He will live in co-operation with other good men; he will not seek authority, for he has no authority; he will be capable of efficiency without its ruthlessness. The citizen attempts to sacrifice the man; but the man who is searching out the highest intelligence will naturally shun the stupidities of the citizen. So the State will be against the good man, the man of intelligence; but such a man is free from all governments and countries.

The intelligent man will bring about a good society; but a good citizen will not give birth to a society in which man can be of the highest intelligence. The conflict between the citizen and the man is inevitable if the citizen predominates; and any society which deliberately disregards the man is doomed. There is reconciliation between the citizen and the man only when the psychological process of man is understood. The State, the present society, is not concerned with the inner man, but only with the outer man, the citizen. It may deny the inner man, but he always overcomes the outer, destroying the plans cunningly devised for the citizen.

The State sacrifices the present for the future, ever safeguarding itself for the future; it regards the future as all-important, and not the present. But to the intelligent man, the present is of the highest importance, the now and not the tomorrow. What is can be understood only with the fading of tomorrow. The understanding of what is brings about transformation in the immediate present. It is this transformation that is of supreme importance, and not how to reconcile the citizen with the man. When this transformation takes place, the conflict between the man and the citizen ceases.

-J. Krishnamurti

From Commentaries on Living, V.1, Chapter 20