It would seem that interpretation continues to be a significant issue in the context of the teachings. It is not clear what is to be understood by this term, with people taking it to mean very different and sometimes contradictory things. This indicates that the word interpretation itself is being interpreted in confusing ways and is therefore in need of clarification.
According to the dictionary, to interpret means to explain the meaning of or ascribe a particular significance to something, to translate what is said in one language into another, and to perform something such as a play or a piece of music.
Is our conscious apprehension of meaning only interpretation?
This definition indicates the broad spectrum of application and utility of interpretation. It is hard to imagine any form of communication that does not partake of it. Explanation and translation are being done daily in all manner of fields where such aid to communication is needed. The ascription of meaning to things is a common and necessary function of our daily lives and, if we are actors or musicians, we naturally play our roles or musical compositions in characteristic style. Ultimately this would suggest that the whole field of knowledge comes under the general scope of interpretation, as it involves the translation of facts into given conceptual and linguistic frameworks. This would then extend to all thought-feeling that is the outcome or response of such knowledge. In a broad sense, it would imply that any form of representation, such as words, images, symbols and all manner of signifiers, constitutes interpretation. One is then made to wonder whether there might be anything other than interpretation as far as our conscious apprehension of meaning is concerned, even though meaning as such may go beyond such apprehension.
It is generally taken that the teachings are not to be interpreted. This assumption appears to be drawn from K?s own statements concerning this matter. To quote one of his official declarations:
Krishnamurti Foundation Trust Bulletin 7, Summer 1970, pp. 2?3
© 1970 by Krishnamurti Foundation Trust Ltd.
It seems to me that in this context the word interpreter means someone who, like an actor playing a role, would set himself up as a representative or successor of K or as an authority on his teachings. As the teachings concern the observation of one?s own activities directly for oneself, they obviate the need for such intermediaries who, as such, are bound to distort the teachings and employ them for their own benefit. This meaning may be intended as a way to prevent the formation of the kind of spiritual organization that the theosophists had attempted to create in the nineteen twenties around his person and work.
K spent a lifetime explaining his teachings and engaging in endless discussions with all sorts of people from all walks of life in an attempt to clarify and get his meaning across. People like us who have been interested in the teachings have also engaged in similar discussions in an attempt to understand what they mean both in verbal terms and in the actuality of our lives. Have we, therefore, been engaging in interpretation? K didn?t seem to consider that such an activity constituted interpretation. To quote K in Mary Lutyen?s book The Open Door, pg. 16: ?Discuss, criticise, go into it. Read K?s books and intellectually tear it to pieces. Or intellectually go with it. Discuss. That?s not interpretation.? But if discussion, criticism and intellectual dissection is not interpretation, then what is it?
In the ordinary sense, to interpret means to put someone else?s meaning in one?s own words. Using different words to convey the same meaning is a form of translation and this by itself may suggest that one is passing off one?s own opinions as someone else?s truth. In view of this danger, some might think that the best way to avoid it is to stick as close as possible to the letter of the teachings. But to do so without having an actual insight into what the words are pointing to would constitute a form of mimetic interpretation worthy of a parrot. It would seem, therefore, that it is not a matter of either sticking to K?s words or using one?s own but of grasping the meaning or actuality of what is being said. That perception will then dictate the words.
So what should we do in view of all this? One extreme position would be to refrain from making any comments whatsoever on K or the teachings because we are bound to misrepresent them with our personal bias and partial understanding. On the other hand, to parrot them might be even worse. Thus we would be led to stop talking and thinking about these matters, as both activities would imply distortion. Any words, whether voiced or silent, would be a deviation from the truth the teachings represent. The irony of such an approach is that it would also apply to the teachings, which are a representation: they are a description and the description is not the described; they are words and the word is not the thing. So while K maintained that the truth is in the teachings, this radical separation between the signifier and the signified would imply that the truth is not in them.
For one thing, I find it natural to discuss the issues that K raises. They are, after all, universal and fundamental human issues and as such they are our issues, not his. So why wouldn?t we discuss them? Isn?t the problem, rather, that they are not discussed enough? And if discussion is not interpretation, then what?s the hang-up? Of course one may misunderstand and misrepresent. One may understand some things quite well and others not at all. One may grasp the meaning of K?s words yet fail to see the actuality behind them. But one can also be aware of the difference between the two and keep them quite distinct. And if this is done sensitively and honestly, then such interpretation, unlike taking K?s words as Gospel truth and preaching them, poses no obvious danger. This is an essential part of maintaining the spirit of inquiry versus adopting a more dogmatic approach. It is part of the sensitivity needed in the unfolding dialogue with the teachings in our lives.
Ultimately, however, we may be talking about the role of thinking in this inquiry and whether it is a factor of fragmentation or wholeness in life. We are quite familiar by now with what K has said about it, mainly that thought is the response of memory and that its operation involves the translation of the new into the old. (It occurs to me in this connection that thought might be a factor of senility.) As such, thought could be considered to be the human interpretation engine par excellence. The time gap involved in it would of necessity constitute a division and a distortion of what is. Thus thought would be by definition a factor of fragmentation and a tool to be avoided when it comes to the inquiry into truth. But, once again, we must distinguish here between what we take wholesale from K as a conclusive statement of fact and what we actually see to be such. In other words, what K said may be absolutely true but it may not be true for us. It may also be true in some contexts and not in others. So we must ask ourselves whether we are speaking from conclusions or from perception, whether we are coming from an attitude of authority or keeping to the spirit of inquiry. For example, thinking may be capable of far greater subtlety when operating in a self-aware mode. It may be able to move non-mechanically when springing from direct perception rather than from the past. The word may come from silence. So uncovering the nature and dimensions of thought is itself a creative process.
It might be interesting to consider here a question regarding the teachings as the expression of truth. There is a sense that the teachings stand alone in terms of their accurate mirroring of the human condition and its radical transformation. Implied in this is the sense that paying attention to them exclusively is the best guarantee that their truth will awaken in us; that any deviation would be an impediment to their liberating action. K conveyed something of the transforming power of his words if listened to and seen through to the end. And this is a point to consider, whether the teachings by their very nature constitute such a window of insight as would transform the consciousness of mankind if given our undivided attention. But then it may not be the teachings that do the transforming but their combination with the undivided attention needed to see their truth or falsehood. Would such a total engagement preclude thought, reflection, discussion and all the rest of it or does it include them all as both the content and the instrument of inquiry? Thinking may be a necessary factor at some stage in the inquiry and at some other point it may prove detrimental. But that is an ongoing process of learning and conclusions one way or the other won?t throw light on the matter. Or so it seems.
I feel that while the issue of interpretation points to the subtleties involved in perception and inquiry, it can also give rise to a good deal of fearful paralysis. I am concerned to remove this crippling effect, because this inquiry is about freedom, not about putting ourselves into new straitjackets. So let?s take that freedom, experiment, discuss and find out for ourselves.