Freedom from the Known

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Freedom from the Known

by Gordon Coates

August 2011


This "philosophical musing" takes the form of a brief historical note, by way of an introduction to an even briefer... I was almost going to say, book review. However, I think it would be more than a little presumptuous of me to "review" a book by one of the most famous philosophers of the last century, so this is simply a brief musing about a favourite book.


Krishnamurti, J: Freedom from the Known. Harper & Row, 1969. ISBN 0-06-064808-2

This book consists of sixteen talks by the 20th Century philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Many other collections of his talks have also been published, but this one is my favourite, and by a large margin, as it effectively concentrates the whole of his philosophy in a single book of just 124 pages.

Born in India in 1895, Jiddu Krishnamurti was educated largely by senior members of a rather oddball club called the Theosophical Society (TS), the members of which expected that he would become a great "World Teacher".

However, in 1929, at the age of 34, he dissolved "The Order of the Star in the East", which had been set up for him by the TS to facilitate his role as a "World Teacher". (Some TS members were utterly appalled by this development, while others saw it as entirely consistent with their original expectations.) In his Dissolution Speech[1], Krishnamurti said, among other things:

"Truth is a pathless land, and... cannot be organized... If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others... I do not want to belong to any organization of a spiritual kind... no organization can lead man to spirituality.... I do not want followers... I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies... for [freedom] alone will give him eternal happiness, will give him the unconditioned realization of the self... I do not care if you believe that I am the World–Teacher or not... I do not want you to agree with me, I do not want you to follow me, I want you to understand what I am saying... Organizations cannot make you free. No man from outside can make you free; nor can organized worship... My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free."

For more than fifty years after that, Krishnamurti proceeded to expound his own rather iconoclastic philosophy internationally, especially in England, Europe, North America and India, until shortly before his death in 1986. (Perhaps I should not say "his own" philosophy, as he usually referred to himself as "the speaker" when giving his talks, and occasionally alluded to an indefinable source of inspiration "within but beyond" his own mind, sometimes calling it "the Silence beyond silence".)

Collections of Krishnamurti's talks have been translated into almost every living language, and they remain popular with students of philosophy and comparative religion today.[2] Nevertheless, not every reader will find this, or any other, collection of his talks immediately accessible.

Freedom from the Known is, in a sense, "the best of books", in that every page points, in one way or another, to the possibility of a completely different way of living, leading to what Krishnamurti sometimes referred to as "a life without pleasure or pain, but of almost constant joy". This is foreshadowed toward the end of the first talk, as follows:

"Freedom is entirely different from revolt. There is no such thing as doing right or wrong when there is freedom. You are free and from that centre you act. And hence there is no fear, and a mind that has no fear is capable of great love. And when there is love it can do what it will.

What we are now going to do, therefore, is to learn about ourselves, not according to me or to some analyst or philosopher—because if we learn about ourselves according to someone else, we learn about them, not ourselves—we are going to learn what we actually are."

On the other hand, Freedom from the Known can, at least initially, seem to be "the worst of books", in that many readers find it both confusing and irritating. There are certainly many statements in it which offend my understanding of logic, and many others which seem to me to be internally inconsistent. There are also some words in it which, though used fairly consistently within the context of the book itself, do not seem to mean quite what a dictionary would suggest they ought to mean. Worse still, many of the talks seem, to me at least, to go round in circles, rather than moving in any direction at all. And yet, it is possibly my most-read book, and certainly one of my very favourite books of all time.

How can I reconcile these two aspects of my own subjective response to the transcripts of these sixteen talks? The nearest I can come to an explanation is to say that to read this book is to be "a miner for a heart of gold". The ore may at first seem to yield very little of the mineral in question. However, from time to time you will stumble upon a nugget, either mixed up with the often peripatetic background patter, or perhaps nestling quietly "between the lines". If even a little of what the author was trying to convey finds its way through the limitations of language in these ways, then I can almost guarantee that you will come back to the book again and again, as I do, and find one or more previously-missed philosophical gems every time.

But please, don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself! Freedom from the Known is available from many large bookstores. For example, at the time of writing, is offering it as a paperback for about $11, as a Kindle edition for about $9, or as an audio edition for about $5, any of which can be ordered HERE. Alternatively, also at the time of writing, various free digital versions, mostly in PDF or DOC format, are available HERE.



As always when I refer to a particular religion, philosophy or teacher in this series, I stress that neither this "musing" nor the "Philosophical Musings" series itself is aligned with any particular religion, philosophy or teacher. Indeed, I consider all "particular" religions and philosophies to be equally impossible attempts to put into words one single reality which simply has no verbal counterpart, and therefore cannot be adequately expressed in any words, no matter how inspired or beautiful those words may be - though some useful pointers may often be gleaned "between the lines".


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Footnotes: (Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)

[1] The full text of Krishnamurti's famous Dissolution Speech can be found at

[2] They were certainly popular with me, with the result that I once boarded for a week at one of the primary schools (Brockwood Park School) which he set up in an attempt to reduce the amount of conditioning to which children are subjected during their formative years. I had a number of discussions with Mr Krishnamurti during that week, and found him to be a kind, helpful and uncannily perceptive man at the age of 84 (two years before his death). One of those discussions led, in fact, to my first book, "Wanterfall", although the gestation period was almost thirty years.


Front cover of Freedom from the Known by Jiddu Krishnamurti


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