Choiceless awareness

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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 the mid-20th century by Jiddu Krishnamurti, in whose philosophy it constitutes a central theme. Similar or related concepts had been developed previously in several religious or spiritual traditions. The term (or others like it) has also been used to describe traditional and contemporary meditation practices, both secular and religious. By the early 21st century, choiceless awareness as a concept or term had appeared in a variety of fields, including neuroscience, therapy, and sociology, as well as in art. However, Krishnamurti's approach to the subject was unique and differs from both prior and later notions.

Jiddu Krishnamurti[edit]

Choiceless awareness is a major topic in the exposition of Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986).[1] Beginning in the 1930s, he often commented on the subject, which became a recurring theme in his work.[2] He is considered to have been mainly responsible for the subsequent interest in both the term and the concept.[3]

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.[4]

He did not offer any method to achieve such awareness; [5] in his view application of technique 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. [6] 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.[7]

Krishnamurti stated that for true choicelessness to be realized, choice – implicit or explicit – has to simply, irrevocably, stop; however, this ceasing of choice is not the result of decision-making, but implies the ceasing of the functioning of the chooser or self as a psychological entity. He proposed that such a state might be approached through inquiry based on total attentiveness: identity is then dissolved in complete, all-encompassing attention.[8] Therefore, he asserted that choiceless awareness is a natural attribute of non-self-centered perception, which he called "observation without the observer".[9]

Accordingly, Krishnamurti advised against following any doctrine, discipline, teacher, guru, or authority, including himself.[10] He also advised against following one's own psychological knowledge and experience, which he considered integral parts of the observer.[11] He denied the usefulness of all meditation techniques and methods, but not of meditation itself, which he called "perhaps the greatest" art in life; [12] and stated that insight into choiceless awareness could be shared through open dialogue.[13]

Krishnamurti's ideas on choiceless awareness were discussed by among others, influential Hindu spiritual teacher Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950) [14] and, following wide publication of his books,[15] they attracted the attention of psychologists and psychoanalysts in the 1950s; [16] in subsequent decades Krishnamurti held a number of discussions on this and related subjects with practicing psychotherapists and with researchers in the field.[17] His views on the subject have been included in scholarly papers on existential therapy,[18] education theory,[19] and peace research,[20] but they have also been discussed in less formal or structured settings.[21]

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."[22][23]

Other representations[edit]

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.[24] Similar concepts and terms appeared or developed in various traditional and contemporary religious or spiritual doctrines and texts,[25] and also within secular disciplines such as psychotherapy,[26] rehabilitation medicine,[27] and counseling.[28] Choiceless awareness has been examined within the context of philosophy of perception and behavior,[29] while studies have cited its possible role in job performance.[30] Other studies have linked meditation based on the concept (among others), with neural activity consistent with increased attentiveness, considered a factor of well-being and happiness.[31]

One term that is often used as a near-synonym is mindfulness, which as a concept has similarities to or may include choiceless awareness.[32] Initially part of Buddhist meditation practice, it has been adapted and utilized for contemporary psychological treatment,[33] and has been applied as a component of integrative medicine programs.[34]

Kindred themes can be found in the doctrine and meditation practices (such as Vipassanā) associated with the Theravada school of Buddhism; [35] and also in 20th-century offshoots such as the Thai Forest Tradition and the Vipassana movement.[36] Within these and similar fields, for example the Shikantaza practice in Zen Buddhism,[37] choiceless (or effortless) awareness is considered to frequently be the result of a mature progression of practice.[38]

The concept has been included in the discourse of transpersonal philosopher Ken Wilber (b. 1949),[39] and also of independent Indian spiritual teacher Osho (Rajneesh) (1931–1990).[40] Tibetan Buddhism teacher Chögyam Trungpa (1939–1987), who engaged in dialogue with Krishnamurti,[41] used the term to describe the experience of shunyata (Śūnyatā) – in Sanskrit, "emptiness", or "ego-less perception".[42]

Among other fields, the term has appeared in dispute resolution theory and practice,[43] and has found application in artistic endeavors. In dramatic theory, theater criticism,[44] and acting,[45] it has been used to denote spontaneous creativity and related practices or attempts; it has additionally appeared in music works.[46] Author J. D. Salinger (1919–2010), who was interested in spirituality and alternative religions, was reputedly an adherent of Ramana Maharshi's ideas on choiceless awareness.[47]

Contrary to press reports published in mid-20th-century,[48] later interest in practices related to, or influenced by, choiceless awareness, has resulted in unambiguously favorable mentions in the popular press.[49] Additionally, mass market general interest titles covering the subject have been published.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Several biographies of Krishnamurti have been published, for example Vernon 2001. Most biographies concentrate on his life rather than on his ideas.
  2. ^ Patterson 2001; Vernon 2001, pp. 206, 207; J. Krishnamurti 1933, "Para 18". Retrieved 2019-05-14 – via J. Krishnamurti Online ["legacy" website].
  3. ^ Cortright 1997, p. 128; Soeng 2004, p. 76. Retrieved 2016-01-11 – via Google Books (limited preview, e-book edition).
  4. ^ J. Krishnamurti 2001, § "You can't be totally aware if you are choosing." pp. 16–17. Retrieved 2016-02-16 – via Google Books (limited preview); Jones 2015, pp. 661–662; Rodrigues 1996, p. 43. Compare inattentional blindness.
  5. ^ Rodrigues 1996, p. 49. "Krishnamurti ... rejects systematic paths to realization which contain stages of development."
  6. ^ Jones 2015, p. 670. "[Krishnamurti:] ... anything practiced mechanically ... leads to mechanical results"; J. Krishnamurti 1953, "Para 7, 13, 18". Retrieved 2019-05-14 – via J. Krishnamurti Online ["legacy" website].
  7. ^ Cortright 1997, p. 147; Jones 2015, p. 659; J. Krishnamurti 1978.
  8. ^ Rodrigues 1996, pp. 43–44, 49; Lewin 2014, pp. 357, 361–362; Jones 2015, pp. 657–659.
  9. ^ Rodrigues 1996, pp. 43–44, 49; J. Krishnamurti 1965, "Para 45". Retrieved 2019-05-14 – via J. Krishnamurti Online ["legacy" website].
  10. ^ Rodrigues 1996, p. 46; J. Krishnamurti 1975, p. 21. Retrieved 2019-04-24 – via J. Krishnamurti Online ["legacy" website] ("Para 36").
  11. ^ J. Krishnamurti 1975, p. 19. Retrieved 2019-05-14 – via J. Krishnamurti Online ["legacy" website] ("Para 31").
  12. ^ J. Krishnamurti 1975, p. 116. Retrieved 2019-05-14 – via J. Krishnamurti Online ["legacy" website] ("Para 312").
  13. ^ Krishna 2008, p. 970. "[C]hoiceless awareness ... can be shared with fellow-inquirers in what he [Krishnamurti] termed the art of dialogue."
  14. ^ Osborne 1996, p. 70. Retrieved 2016-01-06 – via Google Books (limited preview).
  15. ^ a b Lutyens 2003, pp. 81, 86–87. One such book (J. Krishnamurti 1954) includes a foreword by Aldous Huxley, who provided a comprehensive description of Krishnamurti's ideas – including choiceless awareness: Huxley 1954, pp. 17–18. Retrieved 2019-05-14 – via J. Krishnamurti Online ["legacy" website] ("Para 16").
  16. ^ Kelman 1956. Krishnamurti's ideas on choiceless awareness (as described in J. Krishnamurti 1954), are a main focus of this article; Maslow 1959, p. 54. "Krishnamurti has an excellent phrase to describe my data. He calls it 'choiceless awareness'."
  17. ^ Lutyens 2003, pp. 206, 217.
  18. ^ Feltham 2005, p. 316.
  19. ^ Lewin 2014, pp. 357, 361–362.
  20. ^ Fisk 1994, pp. 90, 93.
  21. ^ Randall 1985, p. 83. "What Krishnamurti pushes as 'choiceless awareness'. A helluva projection." From an essay on music; Grosjean 2000, p. 93. From a presentation at a poetry symposium, Krishnamurti's view and its relation to creativity.
  22. ^ J. Krishnamurti c. 2010, ¶ 3 [not numbered].
  23. ^ For more on Krishnamurti and choiceless awareness see Choiceless awareness, volume 5 in his Collected Works (1991, ISBN 978-0-8403-6238-4); "J. Krishnamurti on Choiceless Awareness, Creative Emptiness and Ultimate Freedom"  – via SAGE Journals (subscription required). Article by Dinesh Chandra Mathur in Diogenes, published January 1984; Amir Sabzevary's Choiceless awareness: psychological freedom in the philosophy of Krishnamurti (2010, ISBN 978-3-8383-0385-7); also, J. Krishnamurti Online (JKO). (Requires Adobe Flash Player). Official Jiddu Krishnamurti archival website contains large number of his works in text and other media.
  24. ^ Kabat-Zinn 2002, p. 71; Risom 2010, "§ Step 10: Choiceless Awareness" pp. 44–45. Retrieved 2016-01-05 – via Google Books (limited preview).
  25. ^ Ashtavakra 1993, "Chapter XV" verse 5. "You are choiceless, awareness itself and unchanging – so live happily"; Kabat-Zinn 2011, p. 289; choiceless awareness has also been related to aspects of Christian contemplative traditions (Söring 2003, pp. 159, 163; Bruder 1998, p. 107).
  26. ^ Germer et al. 2013, p. 16. Retrieved 2019-05-06 – via Google Books (limited preview, e-book edition).
  27. ^ Carlson & Speca 2011, "Chapter 10: Deepening and Expanding" pp. 137–141. Retrieved 2016-01-10 – via Google Books (limited preview, e-book edition).
  28. ^ Cohen-Posey 2010, § "Handout 2.8–Being Present: Choiceless Awareness" pp. 48–49. Retrieved 2016-01-10 – via Google Books (limited preview, e-book edition).
  29. ^ Drengson 2006, pp. 39, 44.
  30. ^ Frantz 1980, p. 521; Fritz 1976, p. 342. Both studies cite Abraham Maslow's ideas on choiceless awareness and on related subjects.
  31. ^ Brewer et al. 2011; Lutz et al. 2015.
  32. ^ Soeng 2004, pp. 5, 54–58, 78, 83, 94–95, 98, 103; Kabat-Zinn 2011.
  33. ^ Germer et al. 2013, p. 82. Retrieved 2014-01-14 – via Google Books (limited preview, e-book edition). "[I]t's important to remember that the purpose of mindfulness is to alleviate suffering, not choiceless awareness for its own sake."
  34. ^ UW Health 2019.
  35. ^ Kabat-Zinn 2011, pp. 289, 299.
  36. ^ Sharf 2013, Publisher summary [text]. "[T]he form of 'mindfulness meditation' ... that has become popular in the West is, at least in part, a relatively modern phenomenon; it can be traced to Burmese Buddhist reform movements that date to the first half of the twentieth century." In Sharf's opinion, "[t]raditional Buddhist practices are oriented more toward acquiring 'correct view' and proper ethical discernment, rather than 'no view' and a non-judgmental attitude. ... This doesn't mean that modern forms of 'bare awareness' practice are without historical precursors."
  37. ^ Soeng 2004, pp. 76, 127.
  38. ^ Osborne 1996, p. 70; Sharf 1995, pp. 230–231, 233, 242.
  39. ^ Wilber 1988, pp. 155, 158.
  40. ^ Osho (Rajneesh) 1978, p. 3
  41. ^ J. Krishnamurti 1996, "[Chapter:] What is Meditation?" pp. 236–242. Discussion at San Diego, 15 February 1972.
  42. ^ Trungpa 1994, "[Chapter] 3: Choiceless Awareness" pp. 87–99. Retrieved 2016-01-10 – via Google Books (limited preview, e-book edition).
  43. ^ Riskin 2006.
  44. ^ Lamont 1970.
  45. ^ Eastin 2010.
  46. ^ Marshall 1978, "[Track] A2: This Choiceless Awareness".
  47. ^ Keenan 2010. Salinger "would quote the yogi" on the concept.
  48. ^ The Times of India 1954. "Huxley is at some pains to explain this idea [choiceless awareness]." From a negative review of Krishnamurti's The First and Last Freedom (J. Krishnamurti 1954).[15]
  49. ^ Needham 1968. Quotes Maslow on choiceless awareness; Magida 1981, p. C45. "Uncovered through vipassana's 'choiceless awareness'"; Wardy 2005. "There exists a less cluttered mind, allowing for choiceless awareness, which eliminates judgment and opinion."
  50. ^ Alidina 2015, pp. 110, 303; also see "Track 14: Sitting meditation – choiceless awareness" in accompanying online audio content. Retrieved 2017-09-19.