Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was an exceptional thinker and mystic. One of the puzzling features of his thought and discourse was his insistence on rejecting the role of traditional spiritual authority and his refusal to respond to his audience. Those who participated in his public speeches and dialogues asked Krishnamurti “What is the meaning of life?” they were often surprised when they asked questions like reject all implausible answers and leave the questions hanging and the audience empty-handed. For Krishnamurti, it was a way to awaken the intellect of his listeners, to challenge them.
We usually ask questions to seek and obtain information. Krishnamurti, on the other hand, used questions to free the minds of his listeners from the burden of conditioned knowledge. We know of other philosophical traditions that object to the traditional use of questions. Some 2,400 years ago, Socrates annoyed many a self-confident bystander by wandering around the Athenian agora, questioning their beliefs in a manner as disjointed as a house of cards. In the Japanese school of Rinzai Zen, masters present riddles (koan) to their students to confuse them and, in successful cases, bring them spiritual enlightenment.
One of the unique aspects of Krishnamurti’s method is his belief that questions, when used correctly, can lead to a renewal of cognition. In fact, in dialogues with the respected physicist David Bohm, Krishnamurti suggested that working with questions can result in changing brain cells. Given the scientifically proven reality of brain plasticity, this claim may not be so outrageous. My own academic study of Krishnamurti’s method has convinced me that it can lead us to what I call an “ever-young mind.”
Nowadays, there is increasing interest in methods of preventing mental degeneration. Research has shown that mental stimulation, improved diet, physical exercise, emotional balance and building your social network are some of the factors that keep your brain young. But Krishnamurti approached the challenge of the aging brain from a different angle. According to him, although aging is an inevitable biological process, the only reason our minds age is because they are busy collecting answers rather than asking questions. After accumulating so much knowledge, experience, and memory, our minds eventually become completely trapped, telling the same old stories over and over again, rejecting any additional information or understanding. Sooner or later it ceases to be in a state of perpetually renewed freshness and vitality.
Through my research, I have been able to isolate three simple approaches from the Krishnamurti method that, when applied, become powerful anti-aging techniques for the brain:
- Catching questions. Start by formulating your question. It can be a big question (‘What is true love?’) or a personal one (‘Should I stay in my relationship?’). Notice that your brain is rushing to find an answer to it. Instead, slow down the reactive mechanism of the mind and listen to the question fully and meditatively, as if your mind is a perfectly still pond and a question is dropped into that water like a pebble. This breaks the closed loop of your automatic thinking. With great hesitation and sensitivity, Krishnamurti suggests approaching the question itself and delving into it. As you listen, feel how you get to the heart of the question. Let the presence of the question open your mind to things you no longer know. You may even have a “glimpse” or sudden realization from your now silent mind, believing that the answer is in the question.
- Living with Questions. Krishnamurti believed that the young mind asks questions not as a limited activity but as a determined inner position. Make sure you live with a certain question that you don’t know the answer to but are dying to discover. You can decide at the beginning of each week which question interests you, change or rephrase your question when you feel the time is right, or even stay with your question for several months. You’ll learn that living with a question keeps your mind alert, alive, and dynamic.
- Denial. What matters is not the answer to your question, but how you answer the problem the question poses. Use the question to reflect your conditional answers. When you ask yourself a question, many answers, quotes, experiences and emotions come from the past. When you do, simply write down all of these “answers”. It empties your brain of all its contents. When your mind is empty as a result of denial, it undergoes renewal. It feels lighter, more accessible, it can listen and you can actually be in the here and now.
Shai Tubali (first name SHY, last name rhymes with anniversary) is an expert on the history of happiness. His numerous books have been published internationally in 11 languages and published by major publishers over the past two decades. His most notable writings have won awards in the United States and Israel. Several have become bestsellers, inspiring thousands on their inner journeys of mental, emotional and spiritual transformation. Tubali, a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds in the UK, explores 35 meditation techniques from around the world in his latest book, Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation, published in January 2023. With post-graduate experience in science fiction film and pop culture, Tubali shares common principles that can help modern people struggling with trauma, fear, uncertainty, depression, anxiety and screen addiction. Discover techniques and research to find peace and clarity at Shaitubali.com.
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