The Struggle Between Emptiness and Psychological Becoming

We are always becoming or trying to become – more rich, more powerful, more secure, more spiritual or more happy? No matter what is our pursuit – mundane or exalted, there is always a thrust to become something more than what we are presently. The society supports and lauds this movement. The thirst and drive for achievement is scripted in our very schools. The schools pass out grades and certificates, brands failures and exalts achievements. Should this be the way humans should live? Does it ever occur to us to question this vast, ancient movement of man? Krishnamurti asks,

“Why is it that we crave to be recognized, to be made much of, to be encouraged? Why is it that we are such snobs? Why is it that we cling to our exclusiveness of name, position, acquisition? Is anonymity degrading, and to be unknown despicable? Why do we pursue the famous, the popular? Why is it that we are not content to be ourselves? Are we frightened and ashamed of what we are, that name, position and acquisition become so all-important? It is curious how strong is the desire to be recognized, to be applauded. In the excitement of a battle, one does incredible things for which one is honoured; one becomes a hero for killing a fellow man. Through privilege, cleverness, or capacity and efficiency, one arrives somewhere near the top – though the top is never the top, for there is always more and more in the intoxication of success. The country or the business is yourself; on you depend the issues, you are the power. Organized religion offers position, prestige and honour; there too you are somebody, apart and important. Or again you become the disciple of a teacher, of a guru or Master, or you co-operate with them in their work. You are still important, you represent them, you share their responsibility, you have and others receive. Though in their name, you are still the means. You may put on a loincloth or the monk’s robe, but it is you who are making the gesture, it is you who are renouncing.”

Is all our striving, material or spiritual, hiding something? Are we running away all the time from something that always seems to catch up or threatens to catch up? Is all the great outward show of our lives a cover, an escape from something extremely fundamental, an unease that is unnameable? Even renouncing the world and donning the loin cloth seems to be an escape from this. Are we aware of an aching emptiness, a meaninglessness of all our activities? We may escape from this sense through all the pleasures, melodramas and entertainment we invent in our lives. Nonetheless, this sense of emptiness devours it all. Krishnamurti :

“The greater the outward show, the greater the inward poverty; but freedom from this poverty is not the loincloth. The cause of this inward emptiness is the desire to become; and, do what you will, this emptiness can never be filled. You may escape from it in a crude way, or with refinement; but it is as near to you as your shadow. You may not want to look into this emptiness, but nevertheless it is there. The adornments and the renunciations that the self assumes can never cover this inward poverty. By its activities, inner and outer, the self tries to find enrichment, calling it experience or giving it a different name according to its convenience and gratification. The self can never be anonymous; it may take on a new robe, assume a different name, but identity is its very substance. This identifying process prevents the awareness of its own nature. The cumulative process of identification builds up the self, positively or negatively; and its activity is always self-enclosing, however wide the enclosure. Every effort of the self to be or not to be is a movement away from what it is. Apart from its name, attributes, idiosyncrasies, possessions, what is the self? Is there the “I,” the self, when its qualities are taken away? It is this fear of being nothing that drives the self into activity; but it is nothing, it is an emptiness.

The most subtle form of escaping from this sense of emptiness is following a spiritual path. Sometimes this path is even named “emptiness”, again, converting a negative movement to a positive one – an experience to be obtained, a concept to be realized. As Krishnamurti remarks, every movement to “be” is an escape from “what is”, but the movement of “not being” is equally a movement of self. It is an extremely paradoxical and subtle situation.

So, this begs the question, what is the way of living that is not an escape from the fact of emptiness. Such a mind and living can come about only when one has seen through all the activities of the self which create and perpetuate an identity. Having seen that, one has to even give up the desire to “experience” emptiness. Such a mind is living in a state of total negation because it has seen that any movement away from “what is” is a movement of the self in time. Only when the mind has become very still through understanding the error of all forms of positive movement in time, does it come to a silence which observes “what is”, without the desire to change it, without  the desire to become anything. It loses all maps, all progress, all future and all psychological efforts in time. And then perhaps, a radical transformation can take place. As Krishnamurti puts is beautifully,

If we are able to face that emptiness, to be with that aching loneliness, then fear altogether disappears and a fundamental transformation takes place. For this to happen, there must be the experiencing of that nothingness – which is prevented if there is an experiencer. If there is a desire for the experiencing of that emptiness in order to overcome it, to go above and beyond it, then there is no experiencing; for the self, as an identity, continues. If the experiencer has an experience, there is no longer the state of experiencing. It is the experiencing of what is without naming it that brings about freedom from what is.

* All quotes of Krishnamurti are from Commentaries of Living, Chapter 22

* Picture from


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