ME: There are some divisions that appear to be more real than national boundaries – the Asiatic world, with its religious traditions, and the industrialized world, with its materialistic traditions emphasizing technology. However, in the long run, the differences may not be so great. The industrial world is poisoning the entire planet with chemical pollution, and in the Third World more and more land is being destroyed by deforestation and overpopulation caused mainly by poverty. I don’t think that people are particularly happy or fulfilled in either culture. In the East people think that if they had our riches and security they’d be happy beyond measure; in the West we feel that we have lost something that they still have in the East. If we had a simpler life, closer to nature, we suppose, we would be at peace. (The rich have always romanticized poverty.) Can we examine this difference between the Asiatic world and the industrialized world in the light of what you have just said?
DB: First of all, this division arises out of the way people historically have thought differently in the Asiatic and the Western worlds. In the Western world thought has turned toward science and technology. Some historians, such as Joseph Needham, have asked why the Chinese didn’t develop technology though they had a higher civilization than Europe had in the Middle Ages. He gave several explanations – we don’t need to go into them in detail here. But for various reasons Western thought has turned toward technology and industrial development, perhaps partly because of its early emphasis on the concept of measure, which goes back to ancient Greece and even before. By contrast, partly because of the kind of philosophy that prevailed in the East, which put the immeasurable into first place, Eastern thought has been more static in its treatment of the domain of the measurable, and so people there have been more satisfied to stay with things as they are. But ultimately this difference is due to thought. It seems very unlikely that it is due to race; in many ways, the Japanese are doing better at certain key aspects of our Western thought than we are.
So there isn’t any intrinsic distinction between Eastern and Western humanity that I can see operating. Differences exist because thought develops like a stream that happens to go one way here and another way there. Once it develops it produces real physical results that people are looking at, but they don’t see where these results are coming from – that’s one of the basic features of fragmentation. When they have produced these divisions they see that real things have happened, so they’ll start with these real things as if they just suddenly got there by themselves, or evolved in nature by themselves. That’s the second mistake that thought makes.
It produces a result, and then it says, “I didn’t do it; it’s there by itself, and I must correct it”. But if thought is constantly making this result and then saying, “I’ve got to stop it”, this is absurd. Because thought is caught up in this absurdity, it is producing all sorts of negative consequences, then treating them as independent and saying, “I must stop them.” It is as if man with his right hand were doing things he didn’t want to do, and with the left hand he tried to hold back his right hand. All he has to do is to stop the whole process, and then he doesn’t have that problem.
ME: What is it that would look at thought?
DB: This is a very subtle question. Let me begin by pointing out that the most fundamental characteristic of the word thought is that it is in the past tense. It is what has been thought, though it’s still not gone. One of the common beliefs is that thought, when you’ve finished with it, has gone. But we’ve said that it is actually there, as if it were on the computer disk. The computer disk not only repeats all sorts of facts, but, even more important, it actually operates the computer in a certain way. That way has to be changed from time to time because things change. Or as Krishnamurti put it, thought and knowledge are limited. They cannot cover everything, if only because they are based on things that have happened in the past, whereas everything changes. However, one of the most common assumptions of thought is that thought is not limited.