J. Krishnamoorthy : Yoga of Choiceless Awareness – M.S. Srinivasan

imagesThe third great innovator in Yoga is J. Krishnamoorthy affectionately called as JK. But to bring J. Krishanamoorthy’s teachings as a path of Yoga may raise a volley of protest and objections from his followers and admires. For did not J. Krishnamoorthy say “Truth is a pathless land.” How can this unorthodox and iconoclast sage who refused to call himself a spiritual teacher and who denied almost every concept and practice of the traditional spirituality be included among Yogis who have accepted the idea of many paths to the divine reality and admitted the validity of all the traditional spiritual ideas? But we are probably getting trapped by words, the “letter that killeth” and missed the spirit of this modern seer’s teaching. What J.K denied was probably the limitations of some of the traditional ideas, ideals and practices – and also the distortions which have crept into these ancient teachings and not the essential insights of ancient seers. In fact many of the inner experiences and insights of J.K. for example on the Reality beyond space and time or life as a movement of energy, are the same or similar to that of ancient seers and Yogis.

The Creative Destruction

Another important factor to be noted in JK’s teachings is that it serves two crucial spiritual needs of the future. First is the need for what is called in modern economic and management thinking as “Creative Destruction”, to destroy old forms in order to clear the way for new forms; second to replace the outdated systems of practice with new forms which are in harmony with the changing inner and outer conditions and needs of humanity. As JK pointed out in one of his early talks:

“—there must be new architects, new builders, to create a new society. The structure must be built on a new foundation, on newly discovered facts and values — and it is you and I, who have to be architects. You and I have to rediscover the values and build on a more fundamental and lasting foundations; because if we look to the professional architects, the political and religious builders we shall be precisely in the same position as before.”

To rediscover these new values of the future, we have to start from scratch, wiping the mind clean of all attachment to the values and forms of the past, however sacred and “eternal” they may be. If we are able to enquire with such a clean slate in the mind, we are on the right track towards the discovery of new values. And in the process of enquiry we may probably rediscover some of the ancient spiritual values in their essential truth and pristine purity – divested of all the dilutions, distortions and encrustations they have suffered in the course of time – and also the insight to reapply them to the changed conditions of the present and future. But for this discovery of new values or rediscovery of the old vales, we have to begin our enquiry afresh without assuming or accepting anything on faith. We feel that J.K.’ teachings has to be viewed in this broader perspective.

The Way of Insight

 Can J.K.’s teaching be called a path of Yoga? The answer depends on the way we define the word “path” and “Yoga”. If we conceive the path as a systematic mapped-out movement towards a pre-determine goal, J.K. definitely denied all such paths. J.K. was probably referring to such paths when he declared in those famous oft-quoted words “Truth is a pathless land”. But if we define the path as a distinct approach and an inner discipline which leads to a direct supra-intellectual insight into the truth of life and Yoga as the inner discipline which leads to such an insight, then we feel that there is such a distinct approach and discipline in J.K.’s teachings. This approach and discipline is based on a deep insight into the dynamic nature of the truth of life which J.K. describes

“—truth must ever be new, living; but the word ‘new’ and ‘living’ are used only to convey a state that is not static. not dead, not a fixed point within the mind of man. Truth must be discovered new from moment to moment, it is not an experience that can be repeated; it has no continuity, it is a timeless state. The division between the many and the one must cease for the truth to be. it is not a state to be achieved, not a point towards which the mind can evolve, grow.”

 What is this approach and discipline? The approach is not devotion or faith as in the traditional Yoga of devotion; nor is it selfless action as in the Yoga of works; here the approach is enquiry which is the approach of the traditional path of knowledge. But in J.K.’s “path” (?)  the object of enquiry is not the nature of the Reality or the eternal Self as in the traditional path of knowledge or the nature of “I” as in Ramana Maharshi ‘s path of self-enquiry; here the object of enquiry is the truth or the facts of life, ordinary, day to day life made of pleasure and pain, fear and sorrow, love and hate, anger and jealously and others. J.K.’s standpoint seems to be “begin your enquiry from the actual facts of life which you feel concretely and not from ideal spiritual abstractions like Atman, Brahman, or God which are for you just concepts but not a reality”. According to J.K., direct insight into the total structure of the conditioning, limitations, and ignorance under which our human life functions has a liberative effect; it liberates us from the conditioning. So in J.K.’s teachings, the obstacles to enlightenment like greed or hatred should not be suppressed or rejected with a moral will; they have to be understood with a direct and holistic insight into their root cause and total structure. This does not mean indulgence or acceptance: As JK points out in one of his dialogues:

 “I am greedy and I struggle, fight, make tremendous effort not to be greedy. I have already an idea, a picture, an image of what it means not to be greedy. So I am conforming to an idea which I think is non-greed — whereas I look at my greed, if I understand why I am greedy, the nature of my greed, the structure of greed, then, when I begin to understand all that, I am free of greed. Therefore freedom from greed is something entirely different from trying to become non-greedy. Do you see the difference? Freedom from greed is something which is entirely different from saying ‘I must be a great man so I must be non-greedy.’ Have you understood?” 

But the understanding which liberates is not an intellectual or metaphysical understanding or even a psychological understanding which comes from a psycho-analytical process of modern psychology. It is a seeing understanding by which you see and know the truth of greed, fear desire or ego or whatever it may be, as concretely and with as much urgency as you know and see the danger of a poisonous cobra right in front of you or the edge of a precipice, Here the question “how” or “how to get rid of greed” becomes irrelevant or even ridiculous. For when you are in the presence of a poisonous cobra, or at the edge of a precipice, you do not ask “how to run away from the cobra” or “how not to fall into the abyss”; you instinctively run away from the cobra or turn back from the precipice.

To Be Aware Without Choice

But still it may not be possible to entirely skirt the question “how”? How to arrive at this urgency and concreteness in our understanding? J.K. doesn’t skirt this question. His answer is “Choiceless Awareness” which is the core of J.K.’s Yoga, if we may use the word. Choiceless Awareness means to be aware of all our inner and outer activities without justification condemnation, identification, control or suppression, without any preference or choice and without the gloss of any ideology or ideals. In other words, “to look” simply at the facts of our inner and outer life, as it is. As J. Krishnamoorthy explains the process of choiceless awareness:

Take things easily, but inwardly with fullness and alterness. Don’t let a moment slip by without being fully aware of what is happening inwardly and about you. Often this is what is to be sensitive, not to one or two things, but to everything — as you watch you will perceive that the mind is always judging – this is good that is bad, this is black, that is white – judging people, comparing, weighing, calculating. The mind is everlastingly restless. Can the mind watch, observe, without judging, calculating, perceive without naming. Just see if the mind can do it. Play with this. Don’t force it. Let it watch itself.”

But we must note here that the choiceless awareness of J. Krishnamoorthy is not the same as the witness-consciousness of the traditional vedantic Yoga. In the traditional Yoga of knowledge, the seeker tries to become a witness of all the activities of his inner being through a process of willed detachment saying, “I am not the body, vital breath, or the mind and its thoughts and feeling. I am the pure, aloof and immobile witness-consciousness of the Spirit”. But in the path of choiceless awareness the seeker makes no willed attempt to detach himself from the contents of his mind. He just keeps an alert and attentive awareness on all that is or and all that is happening within him and the world around him. Here comes another important difference between choiceless awareness and the vedantic witness. The mind or consciousness in vedantic witness is exclusively turned inward but the choiceless awareness has to be extended to the world around. “To be aware” says J. Krishnamoorthy “is to be sensitive, to know, to observe what is happening inside psychologically and also what is happening outside environmentally, economically, socially and so on.

The ideal of vedantic witness is a clear division or detachment between the observing witness and the observed contents. But the ideal of choiceless awareness is to realize “observer is the observed”. As the seeker progresses in the path of choiceless awareness, the inner space between the observer and the observed, which separates them, disappears, and the observer becomes one with the observed, and knows the observed by a sort of conscious communion or identity. In fact, this happens many times or almost constantly in our ordinary consciousness, but in a state of unconscious identity. For example when we are suddenly seized by violent anger, for a moment our self-consciousness is lost in the wave of anger or in other we become anger. But it is unconscious identity, because we lose our consciousness in the wave of anger. In fact most of the time in our so-called “waking” hours, we lose our awareness in the stream of our thoughts and feeling and become the stream or run along unconsciously with our thoughts and feelings, becoming the thought or feeling.

In choiceless awareness something similar happens but in full consciousness.  There is an identification with the inner movements, like anger, but not an unconscious identification in which we lose our consciousness in the movement; it is a fully conscious identification, with the consciousness of our whole being becoming aware of the inner vibration of anger by becoming one with it, without any mental coating created by judgment and naming, in a state of heightened and enlarged awareness. It is something like the ocean or the consciousness of the Ocean becoming aware of a fish moving within it as a form and moment of itself, with all the depth and vastness of its oceaning consciousness. The consciousness of the ocean is aware of even the slightest movement of the fish and also the origin and source of the fish, from where it has come and how it got here in a single act of knowledge. In the same way, choiceless awareness, when it is perfect – which means it is the awareness of the whole mind, conscious and subconscious, and not a small fragment of the mind becoming aware of another fragment – reveals the entire structure of our conditioned consciousness, its source, and the process and its consequences in a single indivisible glance.

In this state of awareness, since the consciousness and energy of our whole being is present, it gives a total holistic understanding of whatever we are aware, with all the emotional and vital energy to act upon our understanding. In fact there is no division here between perception and action; perception instantly releases the energy and the act follows. Such a state of awareness instantly dissolves our conditioning and its consequences in its root. When a negative movement like anger, jealously, greed or lust raises in this awareness, the root cause, source and process and the harmful consequences of the negative movement are understood instantly and concretely with an intense emotional urgency, like for example the presence of a poisonous cobra. And this perception instantly dynamises the whole being harmoniously, with all its cognitive, emotional and vital energy, into an action which dissolves the negative movement in its roots. So we are permanently cured of the negative movement.

 Concentration and Attention

The other important aspect of yoga on which J.K. throws a new perspective is Concentration. The traditional Yogis extolled and glorified concentration as indispensable for spiritual progress. In this traditional view, concentration means the ability to focus all the energies and attention of our consciousness on a particular point. But J.K. brings a critical look to this ancient technique of Yoga. Concentration, by its exclusive focus may enhance the power of the mind but blunts its sensitivity. A concentrated mind becomes oblivious and insensitive to the surrounding environment. But according to J.K. higher awakening requires a heightened and extensive sensitivity to all that is within and without us. So what has to be developed is not concentration but “attention” which means choiceless awareness. Right meditation means not concentration but attention. In “attention” you do not focus your awareness on anything in particular or make any attempt to shut out the rest of the world from your consciousness.  You just keep a vigilant attentive awareness on all that exists or happens within you in your inner being and also in the external environment. Only such a vigilant and unfocussed attention can enhance the sensitivity of the mind.

 The Mirror of Relationship

The third significant aspect of J.K.’s Yoga is the emphasis on relationship. Life is a web of relations. It is by observing ourselves in our daily relationship with Nature, people, ideas, and events, we grow in our self-knowledge and inner awakening. This web of relationship is also the anvil in which the quality of our inner awakening can be tested and enhanced. Our inner response to Nature, people, events and idea gives a clear indication of the true and present condition of our being, of what we are. And a choiceless awareness of this inner response without justification, condemnation, judgment, naming or trying to change or control it is the key to inner transformation.


 The contribution of modern Yogis to the science of Yoga comes in two line or categories: preservative and innovative. The fundamental principles and aims of ancient Yoga are preserved through a fresh rediscovery and restated in scientific, rational and psychological terms suited to the modern mind. But also new and innovative extensions are made to the philosophy and practice of Yoga, like for example discovery of the evolutionary significance of Yoga, broadening of the aim from a narrow and lonely spiritual freedom from life to a more comprehensive spiritual fulfillment or transformation of the whole of human life through Yoga. And also, entirely new horizons of Yoga which are not been conceived in ancient Yoga, are discovered, like for example the Mother’s Yoga of the cells. In the methods of practice, there is a critical reappraisal and a reshaping of the old forms. Some of the complexities of the old traditional forms of Yoga are discarded and made simpler, which means not easier, but a more direct expression of the principle of things, like for example the simpler methods of Ramana Maharshi or J. Krishnamoorthy compared to the more complex methods of the ancient and traditional Yoga of knowledge.


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