Question: Are not religious symbols the expression of a reality too deep to be false? The simple name of God moves us as nothing else. Why should we shun it?
Krishnamurti: Why do we need symbols? Symbols exist, obviously, as a means of communicating with others; through language, a painting, a poem, you communicate something which you feel or which you think. But why need we crowd our lives with religious symbols - either the cross, the crescent, or the Hindu symbols? Why do we need them? Are not symbols a hindrance? Why can't we experience what is, directly, immediately and swiftly? Why do we seek the medium of symbols? Are they not distractions? An image, a painting, a thing made by the hand, of wood or stone, though it is a symbol, is it not a hindrance? You will say, I need an image as a symbol of reality. Now, what happens when you have symbols? The Hindus have their symbols, the Christians theirs, and the Muslims theirs - the temple, the church, the mosque, with the result that the symbols have become much more important than the search for reality. And surely, reality is not in the symbol. The word is not the thing; God is not the word. But the word, the symbol, has become important. Why? Because we are really not seeking reality: we merely decorate the symbol. We are not seeking; what is beyond and above the symbol, with the result that the symbol has become extraordinarily important, vital in our lives - and we are willing to kill each other for it. Also, the word `God' gives us a certain stimulation, and we think that that stimulation, that sensation, has some relation to the real. But has sensation, which is a thought process, any relationship to reality? Thought is the outcome of memory, the response to a condition; and has such a thought process any connection with reality, which is not a thought process? Therefore, has a symbol, which is the creation of the mind, any relationship to reality? And is not a symbol an easy escape, a fanciful distraction from the real? After all, if you are really seeking truth, why do you want the symbol?
It is the man who is satisfied with an image that clings to the symbol; but if he wants to find what is real, obviously he must leave the symbol. We crowd our lives, our minds, with symbols, because we have not the other. If we love, surely, we do not want the symbol of love, or the example of love - we just love. But the man who holds an example, a symbol, a picture, an ideal in his mind, is obviously not in a state of love. Therefore, symbols, examples, are hindrances, and these hindrances become so important, that we are killing others and maiming our minds and hearts because of them.
Sir, why not appreciate things directly? One loves a person, or a tree, not because of what it represents, not because it is the manifestation of reality, of life, or of anything else - that is merely an easy explanation. One just loves. Surely, when one is able to love life itself, not because it is the manifestation of reality, then in that very love of life one will find what is real. But if you treat life as a manifestation of something else, then you abominate life; then you want to run away from life, or you make life a hideous business, which necessitates your escape from the actual. Besides, a mind that is caught in symbols is not a simple mind. And you must have a very simple, clear mind, an unpolluted, uncorrupted mind, to find the real. A mind that is caught in words, in phrases, in mantrams, in patterns of action, can never understand that which is real. It must strip itself of everything to be free, and only then, surely, can the real come into being.
Public Talk, March 7th, 1948