Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Why Do Social Work?

--by J. Krishnamurti (Jan 23, 2012)

Q:  "I want to do social work, but I don't know how to start."
Krishnamurti: I think it is very important to find out not how to start, but why you want to do social work at all. Why do you want to do social work? Is it because you see misery in the world-starvation, disease, exploitation, the brutal indifference of great wealth side by side with appalling poverty, the enmity between man and man? Is that the reason? Do you want to do social work because in your heart there is love and therefore you are not concerned with your own fulfillment? Or is social work a means of escape from yourself?
Do you understand? You see, for example, all the ugliness involved in orthodox marriage, so you say, "I shall never get married," and you throw yourself into social work instead; or perhaps your parents have urged you into it, or you have an ideal. If it is a means of escape, or if you are merely pursuing an ideal established by society, by a leader or a priest, or by yourself, then any social work you may do will only create further misery. But if you have love in your heart, if you are seeking truth and are therefore a truly religious person, if you are no longer ambitious, no longer pursuing success, and your virtue is not leading to respectability-then your very life will help to bring about a total transformation of society. 
I think it is very important to understand this. When we are young, as most of you are, we want to do something, and social work is in the air; books tell about it, the newspapers do propaganda for it, there are schools to train social workers, and so on. But you see, without self-knowledge, without understanding yourself and your relationships, any social work you do will turn to ashes in your mouth. 
It is the happy man, not the idealist or the miserable escapee, who is revolutionary; and the happy man is not he who has many possessions.  The happy man is the truly religious man, and his very living is social work. But if you become merely one of the innumerable social workers, your heart will be empty. You may give away your money, or persuade other people to contribute theirs, and you may bring about marvellous reforms; but as long as your heart is empty and your mind full of theories, your life will be dull, weary, without joy. So, first understand yourself, and out of that self-knowledge will come action of the right kind.
--J. Krishnamurti

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Previous Reflections:

On Jan 22, 2012 Prasad wrote:

A friend of mine lamented: "why do I do what I do? why do I want to help others? people say that I genuinely want to help but do I really? I thought about it a lot because the instinct to help comes very quickly and naturally. But when I reflect, that desire doesn't last when people are not around. On reflection, I realized that I like to help because I want their approval. I also realized that it does not matter who they are, I want their approval. Then it came to me that even they know that I want their approval and they take advantage me and use me as well.  Having this self awareness does not help by itself. Because knowing does not give deeper understanding. Until I understand myself and appreciate the games my ego plays, action of right kind does not emerge from just awareness..."

Now I keep keep asking myself -- it it not just my friend that has approval need, I fall into the same trap except that I did not have that awareness till he mentioned. Unfortunately, right action does not emerge out of other people's insights! i I have to wait for my own awareness to emerge!


On Jan 22, 2012 David Doane wrote:

As I read the piece, I thought of the statement by Rabindranath Tagoare that "I slept and dreamed that life is joy; I awoke and saw that life is service; I took action and saw that service is joy."  I also thought of Alan Watt's statement that virtue is its own reward.  I believe it is important in social work and otherwise to be aware of my motives, be careful about ulterior motives or hidden agendas, and be sure that my action is with compassion and for my growth and that of the other person.

On Jan 23, 2012 Rajesh wrote:
 Krishnamurti beautifully explores this question. I think it’s important to understand that there is no such thing as “I will understand and then do good in the world”. But it is also true that one can do great harm in this world if one does not go into the inner dimension. It does seem that social work or doing good at any given moment is entirely dependent on one’s seriousness. There is a certain intensity of enquiry that is continually going deeper and informing ones actions in daily life. One’s life itself is an expression – either doing good (aka social work) or doing harm.

On Jan 24, 2012 Swara wrote:
 The seed questions for reflection are my questions. In fact a lot of external actions for me are restricted because of lack of clarity inside. If I sit is silence I get overwhelmed by the fact that I am sitting in silence. If I think and do something good, I count on my credits. So I try and not acknowledge it, but that is also not facing it. How can it happen effortlessly and be a way of life (very simple, which is not a big deal, but a very normal way of life which in itself takes us forward in the journey and the knowledge of it doesn't overwhelm). 

On Jan 24, 2012 anneleise wrote:
This resonated with me. I work in sustainable community development which I became drawn to after a wide range of experience in different areas including media and teaching. In my first project manager role I burnt out. During the long healing time recovering I realised so many people in NFPs and that do "idealistic" work in a way that is self-abusive and unsustainable.
How can we encourage or "be the change" when we don't treat ourselves as precious? So I somewhere came to this realisation that who we are colours the work we do. This has been an evolving 13 year work in progress so far, and I've not long come out of 18mths of virtual retreat, living in extreme rural isolation, to try and do my inner work and clean out all that does not align with my deepest values.  I find all these processes are ongoing works, and understanding deepens with each revisit. Perhaps that is where the action cultivates self knowledge. My personal take The full heart giving to the world overflows, the empty heart sucks back fills with the misery of others.

On Jan 24, 2012 Rambo wrote:
I agree with Krishnamurti that without knowing (at a very deep level) why you're doing what you're doing, you will either become ever more frustrated at a lack of results in terms of your desire to change society or not really produce as big an impact as you would otherwise.

In a sense he's reflecting on the idea that if we were all more aware of our inner egotistical desires and fears we would automatically be more open to change, open to alternative viewpoints and therefore more tolerant and loving human beings. We would be "socially working" automatically. As Lao Tzu says "When the Tao is lost, there is goodness, When goodness is lost, there is morality".

Yet one who isn't naturally self-aware or introspective and has no intention of cultivating such qualities would still benefit, I think, from being exposed to social work and the very idea of approaching the external world with a more caring attitude, however little one feels such an attitude within oneself. Because you must plant a seed in order to grow a plant.

On Jan 24, 2012 Shivani wrote:
 Beautiful article ! Brings up 2 very  important questions which we often forget to reflect on deeply when we embark on any mission::
1) What is my motivation for doing this activity ?
Is the desire to serve driven by external factors to somehow in some capacity please the world or escape my troubles OR is it driven by a deeper understanding that service allows me to lay less importance on my 'individual perceived  self' (my body, my intellect etc..) and more on the 'collective macro self'  (making up the society). It thereby, cultivates in me dispassion, ability to discriminate between right/wrong-real/ephemeral, firms up my conviction in the real/right, quietens and internalizes the mind, aligns perception and action, enhances ability to endure without lamenting.
2) What will be my ongoing relationship with the activity?

Will it be transaction based? ("what do I give and what do I get?" kind..) or will it be of complete surrender? ( "I give all of me at that moment and the very act of giving is the reward in itself").  

When the answer is latter to both the questions, it moves us internally in un-quantifiable yet  very enriching ways..

Thank you for sharing this article !!

On Jan 24, 2012 Nina wrote:
I totally dislike the tone of this piece. Who is he to say that the person with the question was doing it with the "wrong" intention, without self-knowledge? And why would social work become empty from having schools who teach it? I praise this development, the institutionalization symbolizes the appreciation (although it's still under-appreciated in my opinion) of social work and professionalizes it. Is there really social work that creates misery? I don't believe so! Where did he get this idea? I have never seen any one doing a social job just because others told him/her so or to escape... There are easier ways to escape. That I haven't seen it doesn't mean it doesn't happen at all, but must be very rare, so why to focus on this?? What kind of answer is that to the question? He could have left out the negativity of this speech and simply say the he/she should first inquire what his/her intentions are and that self-knowledge will contribute to her social work. Also, I don't like it at all that you should be "religious" what ever broad interpretation he may have for it. As an atheist I'm also a good social worker...has nothing to do with religion!

On Jan 24, 2012 Susan wrote:
 This entry sounds bitter and preachy,not insightful and enlightened as I usually expect from this site.

On Jan 24, 2012 neebha H wrote:
 being aware of your thoughts and feelings when u start a project called social work,is very important..if love and compassion brims out of our hearts for the deprived,lets not hesitate,take a small step..
social work can be started just by changing our thgts and feelings in immediate surroundings...and if we are honest to these small steps cosmos gives us more oppurtunities...

On Jan 25, 2012 Thierry wrote:
I am not an expert on J.Krishnamurti but I wish to draw the attention to the fact that this great teacher gives unexpected meaning to words which have become somewhat too familiar with us. Thus some foreseeable reactions on this forum.  
For instance, the author would rather use the term 'self- knowing' to indicate that learning about oneself is not an accumulative process. The term Self Knowledge implies one has accumulated knowledge about oneself and tends to act from that  psychologically acquired knowledge, from something past. To be self-knowing is an ongoing process where one is learning about oneself, in the present, through the mirror of  relationships. The stress is on instant attention, perceptiveness. Contrary to analysis it does not involve psychological remembrance, time. Action, then, is not being dictated by memory alone. To be self-knowing is to be passively aware of the interference of the past so that one's response to the situation at hand can be new, fresh and truly adequate.
In a similar way,J.K.often gives a fresh connotation to some rather 'worn  out' good old words. When using the expression 'religious mind' he refers to a mind intimately and limitlessly connected with all life, knowing no division of any sort. Quite the opposite of what we associate with the word 'religious'. When using the word 'compassion' the stress is on passion while the meaning is: passion for all. 'Right action' is one of those expressions whose meaning one may have to re-discover. 

On Jan 25, 2012 David wrote:
 We don't actually have to perfect ourselves in order to become good social workers.  Self-knowledge can develop side by side with right action.  Krishnamurti's perspective is curiously polarized and black or white.  It's quite possible to have good enough self knowledge to educate ourselves and then to engage in social work, and the skillful practice we can achieve can help our clients or enhance the communities within which we work.

On Jan 26, 2012 Thierry wrote:
J.K. himself would certainly agree with David that perfection is not needed to start with. His insistence is on clarity. Adolescence, if I remember mine, can be a time of utter confusion when one tends to identify with whatever will gain others' approval. It is good service to the young to help them understand this strong underlying desire which may condition and thwart their orientation.

On Jan 26, 2012 Kinjal wrote:
 Great post, very thought provoking... however, sometimes I feel that, maybe the very process of starting social work w/o knowing why or have reasons like society or escaping from yourself, etc... (the act of planting the seed of social work) might act as a catalyst in igniting that very question... why am I doing social work? because like JK said, w/o clarity it will not make you happy.... you will continue to remain unhappy and we all know, no one wants to be unhappy... so eventually even the escapee will be forced to think and ask himself some questions and look inward for the answers... thanks for sharing.

On Jan 26, 2012 Dinesh Mehta wrote:
"Audio clip from this week's circle of sharing ..."

On Jan 29, 2012 Noreen Edwards wrote:
 As a social worker I wish I had read this prior to becoming a social worker. The work is hard but can be rewarding once in a while.

On Jan 31, 2012 Ashok Kumar wrote:
In nutshell one must be fully aware about what he/she is doing or pursuing, without any superficial claims or simply being a human being without any pride & prejudice.  

On Feb 11, 2012 joy wrote:
 another strong influence all my life
many blessings.

On Jul 12, 2012 Pius Thekemury wrote:
 Yes, I agree. We must not rush to social work because I feel compelled to do it. That is the outflow of unfreedom. When I am aware and full of love, there is an outflow of love in the form of identification. I identify myself with you, your need, your hunger, homelessness, pain, loneliness. They become mine. It is a joyful passover from self to you and we become on. It is a flowering of awareness. 

On Nov 28, 2012 Kushal Ashok wrote:
Quite informative and intriguing article. I still need to be sure as of now.

On May 25, 2018 Daneil wrote:

In todays time no body think of social work but you thought it thats very great i appreciate your thoughts.
you should connect to a NGO for social work or try to search you will find  away.

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