This quote by Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) has been making the rounds in my world.
“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party of partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”
One critic of this quote suggested that “violence” has been redefined out of existence. Another critic suggested that replacing existing identities with a larger, global identity is an act of violence.
Identity is tricky and sticky
In the New Message from God, certain practices are identified as debilitating. Judgment is one of them, saying “this is good” or “that is bad.” Assumption is another one, saying “this is the case” or “this is not the case.” Yet another one is defining, saying “this is a that.” Suppose I look at something and say “this is a that.” My mind responds with “Ah, then that is likely to do the things that a that does.” But what if it doesn’t? Will I keep investigating, or surrender to the mental sloth of defining? A special case of defining is identifying, saying “I am an Indian, or a Muslim, or a Christian, or a European.”
But this isn’t where the mischief lies. Identifying is saying “This is my group. These are my people. This is my tribe.” In any group, people make efforts to be the leader of that group. People make efforts to get the largest share of the group’s resources. To identify means I want my group to be the leader over the other groups. It means I want my group to get the largest share of the world’s resources. I believe this is what Krishnamurti is getting at when he speaks of separation leading to violence.
Identity is tricky and sticky. So to be human is to be in a predicament. To be human is to use one’s capability to identify. This is going to lead to violence sooner or later. Step 290 of the 365 steps of Steps to Knowledge says the following:
“In the world you are a student—always. Every day, every hour and every minute you are learning and attempting to assimilate your learning. You are either a student of Knowledge or a student of confusion. You are either a student of certainty or a student of ambivalence. You are either a student of wholeness and integrity or you are a student of conflict and war. You can only learn from being in the world, and you can only demonstrate the result of your learning.”
While it is true there are things I identify as, I make great efforts to consider them as interim, contingent identities. The identity I feed and ratify and choose again is that of a student of Knowledge. I desire for no nation or religion to succeed at the expense of any other nation or religion. I will no harm to any other nation or religion. And when I do, I don’t want to.
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