Choiceless Awareness is posited in philosophy, psychology, and spirituality to be the state of unpremeditated, complete awareness of the present without preference, effort, or compulsion. The term was popularized in mid-20th-century by Jiddu Krishnamurti, in whose philosophy it signifies a main theme. Similar or related concepts had been previously developed in several religious or spiritual traditions; the term or others like it has also been used to describe traditional and contemporary secular and religious meditation practices. However, Krishnamurti's approach to Choiceless Awareness was unique, and differs from both pre-existing and later-developed notions.
Choiceless Awareness is a major concept in the exposition of Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986). Beginning in the 1930s, he often commented on the subject, which became a recurring theme in his work. He is considered to have been mainly responsible for the subsequent interest in both the term and the concept.
Krishnamurti held that outside of strictly practical, technical matters, the presence and action of choice indicates confusion and subtle bias: an individual who perceives a given situation in an unbiased manner, without distortion, and therefore with complete awareness, will immediately, naturally, act according to this awareness – the action will be the manifestation and result of this awareness, rather than the result of choice. Such action (and quality of mind) is inherently without conflict.
He did not offer any method, gradual or sudden, to achieve such awareness; acceptance of any method is considered a choice, and its practice a series of further choices; such constant application of choice cannot possibly evolve into, or result in, true choicelessness – just as unceasing application of effort leads to illusory effortlessness, in reality the action of habit; additionally, in his opinion all methods introduce potential or actual conflict, generated by the practitioner's efforts to comply. According to this analysis, all practices towards achieving Choiceless Awareness have the opposite effect: they inhibit its action in the present by treating it as a future, premeditated result, and moreover one that is conditioned by the practitioner's implied or expressed expectations. For true choicelessness to be realized, choice – implicit or explicit – has to simply, irrevocably, stop; however the ceasing of choice is not the result of decision (another choice), but implies the ceasing of the functioning of the chooser or self as a psychological entity; therefore Krishnamurti asserted that Choiceless Awareness is a natural attribute of non-self-centered perception, which he called "observation without the observer".
Accordingly, Krishnamurti advised against following any doctrine, discipline, teacher, guru, or authority, including himself. He also advised against following one's own psychological knowledge and experience, which he considered integral parts of the "observer". He denied the usefulness of all meditation techniques or methods, but not of meditation itself, which he called "perhaps the greatest" art in life.
Krishnamurti's ideas on Choiceless Awareness were discussed by among others, influential Hindu spiritual teacher Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950) and they attracted the attention of psychologists and psychoanalysts in the 1950s; in the following decades Krishnamurti held a number of discussions on this and related subjects with practicing psychotherapists and with researchers in the field.
In late 1980, almost half a century after he started discussing it, Krishnamurti included the concept in The Core of Krishnamurti's Teaching, a pivotal statement of his philosophy: "Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity."
In contrast with Krishnamurti's approach, other articulations commonly include Choiceless Awareness (or related ideas and terms) as part, or as the hoped-for result, of specific methodologies and meditation techniques. Similar concepts and terms appeared or developed in various traditional and contemporary religious or spiritual doctrines and texts, and also within secular disciplines such as psychotherapy, rehabilitation medicine, and counseling.
One term that is often used as a near-synonym is "mindfulness", which as a concept has similarities to or may include Choiceless Awareness. Initially part of Buddhist meditation practice, it has been adapted and utilized for contemporary psychological treatment.
Kindred themes can be found in the doctrine and meditation practices (such as Vipassanā) associated with the Theravada school of Buddhism; and also in 20th-century offshoots like the Thai Forest Tradition and the Vipassana movement. Within these and similar fields – for example, the Shikantaza practice in Zen Buddhism, Choiceless (or Effortless) Awareness is considered to frequently be the result of a mature progression of practice.
The concept was included in the discourse of independent Hindu spiritual teacher Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) (1931–90) while Tibetan Buddhism teacher Chogyam Trungpa (1939–87), who engaged in dialogue with Krishnamurti, used the term to describe the experience of "shunyata" (Śūnyatā) – in Sanscrit, "emptiness", or "ego-less perception".
Among other fields, the term has appeared in dispute resolution theory and practice, and has found application in artistic endeavors. In dramatic theory, theater criticism, and acting, it has been used to denote spontaneous creativity and related practices or attempts; it has additionally appeared in music works.
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