The boy was good at games, really quite good. He was also good at his studies; he was serious. So one day he came to his teacher and said, “Sir, could I have a talk with you?” The educator said, “Yes, we can have a talk; let us go out for a walk.”
So they had a dialogue. It was a conversation between the teacher and the taught, a conversation in which there was some respect on both sides, and as the educator was also serious, the conversation was pleasant, friendly, and they had forgotten that he was a teacher with a student; the rank was forgotten, the importance of one who knows, the authority, and the other who is curious.
“Sir, I wonder if you know what all this is about, why I am getting an education, what part will it play when I grow up, what role have I in this world, why do I have to study, why do I have to marry and what is my future? Of course, I realize I have to study and pass some sort of exams and I hope I will be able to pass them. I will probably live for some years, perhaps fifty, sixty, or more, and in all those years to come what will be my life and the life of those people around me? What am I going to be and what is the point of these long hours over books and hearing the teachers? There might be a devastating war; we might all be killed. If death is all that lies ahead, then what is the point of all this education? Please, I am asking these questions quite seriously because I have heard the other teachers and you too pointing out many of these things.”
“I would like to take one question at a time. You have asked many questions, you have put several problems before me, so first let us look at perhaps the most important question: What is the future of mankind and of yourself? As you know, your parents are fairly well-off and of course they want to help you in any way they can. Perhaps if you get married they might give you a house, buy a house with all the things necessary in it, and you might have a nice wife — might. So what is it you are going to be? The usual mediocre person? Get a job, settle down with all the problems around you and in you — is that your future? Of course a war may come, but it may not happen; let us hope it does not happen. Let us hope man may come to realize that wars of any kind will never solve any human problem. Men may improve, they may invent better airplanes, and so on, but wars have never solved human problems and they never will. So let us forget for the moment that all of us might be destroyed through the craziness of superpowers, through the craziness of terrorists, or some demagogue in some country wanting to destroy his invented enemies. Let us forget all that for the moment. Let us consider what is your future, knowing that you are part of the rest of the world. What is your future? As I asked, to be a mediocre person? Mediocrity means to go half way up the hill, half way in anything, never going to the very top of the mountain or demanding all your energy, your capacity, never demanding excellence.
“Of course you must realize also that there will be all the pressures from outside — pressures to do this, all the various narrow religious sectarian pressures and propaganda. Propaganda can never tell the truth; truth can never be propagated. So I hope you realize the pressure on you — pressure from your parents, from your society, from the tradition to be a scientist, to be a philosopher, to be a physicist, a man who undertakes research in any field; or to be a businessman. Realizing all this, which you must do at your age, what way will you go? We have been talking about all these things for many terms, and probably, if one may point out, you have applied your mind to all this. So as we have some time together to go around the hill and come back, I am asking you, not as a teacher but with affection as a friend genuinely concerned, what is your future? Even if you have already made up your mind to pass some exams and have a career, a good profession, you still have to ask, is that all? Even if you do have a good profession, perhaps a life that is fairly pleasant, you will have a lot of troubles, problems. If you have a family, what will be the future of your children? This is a question that you have to answer yourself and perhaps we can talk about it. You have to consider the future of your children, not just your own future, and you have to consider the future of humanity, forgetting that you are German, French, English, or Indian. Let us talk about it, but please realize I am not telling you what you should do. Only fools advise, so I am not entering into that category. I am just questioning in a friendly manner, which I hope you realize; I am not pushing you, directing you, persuading you. What is your future? Will you mature rapidly or slowly, gracefully, sensitively? Will you be mediocre, though you may be first class in your profession? You may excel, you may be very, very good at whatever you do, but I am talking of mediocrity of the mind, of the heart, mediocrity of your entire being.”
“Sir, I don’t really know how to answer these questions. I have not given too much thought to it, but when you ask this question, whether I am to become like the rest of the world, mediocre, I certainly don’t want to be that. I also realize the attraction of the world. I also see that part of me wants all that. I want to have some fun, some happy times, but the other side of me also sees the danger of all that, the difficulties, the urges, the temptations. So I really don’t know where I will end up. And also, as you pointed out on several occasions, I don’t know myself what I am. One thing is definite, I really don’t want to be a mediocre person with a small mind and heart, though with a brain that may be extraordinarily clever. I may study books and acquire a great deal of knowledge, but I may still be a very limited, narrow person. Mediocrity, sir, is a very good word which you have used and when I look at it I am getting frightened — not of the word but of the whole implications of what you have shown. I really don’t know, and perhaps in talking it over with you it may clear things up. I can’t so easily talk with my parents. They probably have had the same problems as I have; they may be more mature physically but they may be in the same position as I am. So if I may ask, sir, may I take another occasion, if you are willing, to talk with me? I really feel rather frightened, nervous, apprehensive of my capacity to meet all this, face it, go through it and not become a mediocre person.”
“I am glad you have come of your own accord, without being invited, and perhaps if you are prepared, we can continue with our conversation about mediocrity and the future of your life. One can be excellent in one’s career; we aren’t saying that there is mediocrity in all professions; a good carpenter may not be mediocre in his work but in his daily, inward life, his life with his family, he may be. We both understand the meaning of that word now and we should investigate together the depth of that word. We are talking about inward mediocrity, psychological conflicts, problems and travail. There can be great scientists who yet inwardly lead a mediocre life. So what is going to be your life? In some ways you are a clever student, but for what will you use your brain? We are not talking about your career, that will come later; what we should be concerned about is the way you are going to live. Of course, you are not going to be a criminal in the ordinary sense of that word. You are not, if you are wise, going to be a bully; they are too aggressive. You will probably get an excellent job, do excellent work in whatever you choose to do. So let us put that aside for a moment; but inside, what is your life? Inwardly, what is the future? Are you going to be like the rest of the world, always hunting pleasure, always troubled with a dozen psychological problems?”
“At present, sir, I have no problems, except the problems of passing examinations and the weariness of all that. Otherwise I seem to have no problems. There is a certain freedom. I feel happy, young.
When I see all these old people I ask myself, am I going to end up like that? They seem to have had good careers or to have done something they wanted to do but in spite of that they become dreary, dull, and they seem never to have excelled in the deeper qualities of the brain. I certainly don’t want to be like that. It is not vanity, but I want to have something different. It is not an ambition. I want to have a good career and all that business but I certainly in no way want to be like these old people who seem to have lost everything they like.”
“You may not want to be like them but life is a very demanding and cruel thing. It won’t let you alone. You will have great pressure from society whether you live here or in America or in any other part of the world. You will be constantly urged to become like the rest, to become something of a hypocrite, say things you don’t really mean, and if you do marry that may raise problems too. You must understand that life is a very complex affair — not just pursuing what you want to do and being pigheaded about it. These young people want to become something — lawyers, engineers, politicians, and so on; there is the urge, the drive of, ambition for power, money. That is what those old people whom you talk about have been through. They are worn out by constant conflict, by their desires. Look at it, look at the people around you. They are all in the same boat. Some leave the boat and wander endlessly and die. Some seek some peaceful corner of the earth and retire; some join a monastery, become monks of various kinds, taking desperate vows. The vast majority, millions and millions, lead a very small life, their horizon is very limited. They have their sorrows, their joys, and they seem never to escape from them or understand them and go beyond. So again we ask each other, what is our future, specifically, what is your future? Of course you are much too young to go into this question very deeply, for youth has nothing to do with the total comprehension of this question. You may be an agnostic; the young do not believe in anything, but as you grow older then you turn to some form of religious superstition, religious dogma, religious conviction. Religion is not an opiate, but man has made religion in his own image, blind comfort and, therefore, security. He has made religion into something totally unintelligent and impracticable, not something that you can live with. How old are you?”
“I’m going to be nineteen, sir. My grandmother has left me something when I am twenty-one and perhaps before I go to the university I can travel and look around. But I will always carry this question with me wherever I am, whatever my future. I may marry, probably I will, and have children, and so the great question arises — what is their future? I am somewhat aware of what the politicians are doing throughout the world. It is an ugly business as far as I am concerned, so I think I won’t be a politician. I’m pretty sure of that but I want a good job. I’d like to work with my hands and with my brain but the question will be how not to become a mediocre person like ninety-nine percent of the world. So, sir, what am I to do? Oh, yes, I am aware of churches and temples and all that; I am not attracted to them. I rather revolt against all that — the priests and the hierarchy of authority, but how am I going to prevent myself becoming an ordinary, average, mediocre person?”
“If I may suggest, never under any circumstances ask ‘how.’ When you use the word how you really want someone to tell you what to do, some guide, some system, somebody to lead you by the hand so that you lose your freedom, your capacity to observe, your own activities, your own thoughts, your own way of life. When you ask ‘how’ you really become a secondhand human being; you lose integrity and also the innate honesty to look at yourself, to be what you are and to go beyond and above what you are. Never, never ask the question ‘how.’ We are talking psychologically, of course. You have to ask ‘how’ when you want to put a motor together or build a computer. You have to learn something about it from somebody. But to be psychologically free and original can only come about when you are aware of your own inward activities, watch what you are thinking and never let one thought escape without observing the nature of it, the source of it. Observing, watching. One learns about oneself much more by watching than from books or from some psychologist or complicated, clever, erudite scholar or professor.
“It is going to be very difficult, my friend. It can tear you in many directions. There are a great many so-called temptations — biological, social — and you can be torn apart by the cruelty of society. Of course, you are going to have to stand alone but that can come about not through force, determination, or desire but when you begin to see the false things around you and in yourself: the emotions, the hopes. When you begin to see that which is false, then there is the beginning of awareness, of intelligence. You have to be a light to yourself and it is one of the most difficult things in life.”
“Sir, you have made it all seem so very difficult, so very complex, so very awesome, frightening.”
“I am just pointing all this out to you. It doesn’t mean that facts need frighten you. Facts are there to observe. If you observe them they never frighten you. Facts are not frightening. But if you want to avoid them, turn your back and run, then that is frightening. To stand, to see that what you have done may not have been totally correct, to live with the fact and not interpret the fact according to your pleasure or form of reaction, that is not frightening. Life isn’t very simple. One can live simply but life itself is vast, complex. It extends from horizon to horizon. You can live with few clothes or with one meal a day, but that is not simplicity. So be simple, don’t live in a complicated way, contradictory, and so on, just be simple inwardly. You played tennis this morning. I was watching and you seem to be quite good at it. Perhaps we will meet again. That is up to you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
May,30 1983 (Jiddu Krishnamurti )