Jiddu Krishnamurti (May 11, 1895 – February 17, 1986) was an Indian writer and speaker on philosophical and spiritual subjects. His subject matter included: psychological revolution, the nature of the mind, meditation, human relationships, and bringing about positive change in society. He constantly stressed the need for a revolution in the psyche of every human being and emphasized that such revolution cannot be brought about by any external entity, be it religious, political, or social.
Krishnamurti was born into a Telugu Brahmin family in what was then colonial India. In early adolescence, he had a chance encounter with prominent occultist and high-ranking theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater in the grounds of the Theosophical Society headquarters at Adyar in Madras (now Chennai). He was subsequently raised under the tutelage of Annie Besant and Leadbeater, leaders of the Society at the time, who believed him to be a “vehicle” for an expected World Teacher. As a young man, he disavowed this idea and dissolved the worldwide organization (the Order of the Star) established to support it. He claimed allegiance to no nationality, caste, religion, or philosophy, and spent the rest of his life traveling the world, speaking to large and small groups and individuals. He authored many books, among them The First and Last Freedom, The Only Revolution, and Krishnamurti’s Notebook. Many of his talks and discussions have been published. His last public talk was in Madras, India, in January 1986, a month before his death at his home in Ojai, California.
His supporters, working through non-profit foundations in India, Great Britain and the United States, oversee several independent schools based on his views on education. They continue to transcribe and distribute his thousands of talks, group and individual discussions, and writings by use of a variety of media formats and languages.
Family background and childhood
Jiddu Krishnamurti was born on 11 May 1895 in the small town of Madanapalle in Madras Presidency (modern-day Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh). He came from a family of Telugu-speaking Brahmins. In accordance with common Hindu practice, as the eighth child who happened to be male, he was named after the Hindu deity Krishna. Krishnamurti’s father, Jiddu Narayaniah, was employed as an official of the then colonial British administration. Krishnamurti was fond of his mother Sanjeevamma, who died when he was ten. His parents had a total of eleven children, of whom six survived childhood. As was common among pious high-caste Hindus, the family was keenly observant of traditional customs and religious practices.
In 1903 the family settled in Cudappah, where Krishnamurti had contracted malaria during a previous stay. He would suffer recurrent bouts of the disease over many years. A sensitive and sickly child, “vague and dreamy,” he was often taken to be mentally retarded, and was beaten regularly at school by his teachers and at home by his father. In memoirs written when he was eighteen years old, Krishnamurti described psychic experiences, such as “seeing” his sister, who had died in 1904, and his mother, who had died in 1905. During his childhood he developed a bond with nature that was to stay with him for the rest of his life.
Krishnamurti’s father retired at the end of 1907, and, being of limited means, sought employment at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar. In addition to being an observant orthodox Brahmin, Narayaniah had been a Theosophist since 1882. He was eventually hired by the Society as a clerk, moving there with his family in January 1909.
In April 1909, Krishnamurti first met Charles Webster Leadbeater, who claimed clairvoyance. Leadbeater had noticed Krishnamurti, who frequented the same beach on the Adyar river, and was amazed by the “most wonderful aura he had ever seen, without a particle of selfishness in it.” This impression contrasted with Krishnamurti’s outward appearance, which, according to eyewitnesses, was common, unimpressive, and unkempt. He was also considered “particularly dim-witted”; he often had “a vacant expression” that gave him an almost moronic look. Leadbeater was convinced that the boy would become a spiritual teacher and a great orator; the likely “vehicle for the Lord Maitreya”—in Theosophical doctrine, an advanced spiritual entity periodically appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of humankind.
In her biography of Krishnamurti, Pupul Jayakar quotes him speaking of that period in his life some 75 years later: “The boy had always said, ‘I will do whatever you want’. There was an element of subservience, obedience. The boy was vague, uncertain, woolly; he didn’t seem to care what was happening. He was like a vessel, with a large hole in it, whatever was put in, went through, nothing remained.”
Following his “discovery,” Krishnamurti was nurtured by members of the Theosophical Society in Adyar. Leadbeater and a small number of trusted associates undertook the task of educating, protecting, and generally preparing Krishnamurti as the “vehicle” of the expected World Teacher. Krishnamurti (often later called Krishnaji) and his younger brother Nityananda (Nitya) were privately tutored at the Theosophical compound in Madras, and later exposed to a comparatively opulent life among a segment of European high society, as they continued their education abroad. Despite his history of problems with schoolwork and concerns about his capacities and physical condition, the fourteen-year-old Krishnamurti was able to speak and write competently in English within six months. Lutyens says that later in life Krishnamurti came to view his “discovery” as a life-saving event. Often, he was “asked in later life what he thought would have happened to him if he had not been ‘discovered’ by Leadbeater. He would unhesitatingly reply, ‘I would have died’.”
During this time, Krishnamurti had developed a strong bond with Annie Besant and came to view her as a surrogate mother. His father, who had initially assented to Besant’s legal guardianship of Krishnamurti, was pushed into the background by the swirl of attention around his son. In 1912 he sued Besant in order to annul the guardianship agreement. After a protracted legal battle, Besant took custody of Krishnamurti and Nitya. As a result of this separation from family and home, Krishnamurti and his brother (whose relationship had always been very close) became more dependent on each other, and in the following years often traveled together.
In 1911, the leadership of the Theosophical Society at Adyar established an organization called the Order of the Star in the East (OSE), to prepare the world for expected appearance of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti was named as its head, with senior Theosophists assigned various other positions. Membership was open to anybody who accepted the doctrine of the Coming of the World Teacher. Controversy erupted soon after, both within the Theosophical Society and without, in Hindu circles and the Indian press.
Mary Lutyens, a biographer and friend of Krishnamurti, says that there was a time when he believed that he was to become the World Teacher after correct spiritual and secular guidance and education. Another biographer describes the daily program imposed on him by Leadbeater and his associates, which included rigorous exercise and sports, tutoring in a variety of school subjects, Theosophical and religious lessons, yoga and meditation, as well as instruction in proper hygiene and in the ways of British society and culture. At the same time, Leadbeater assumed the role of guide in a parallel, mystical instruction of Krishnamurti; the existence and progress of this instruction was at the time known only to a select few.
While he showed a natural aptitude in sports, Krishnamurti always had problems with formal schooling and was not academically inclined. He eventually gave up university education after several attempts at admission. He did take to foreign languages, in time speaking several with some fluency.
His public image, cultivated by the Theosophists, “was to be characterized by a well-polished exterior, a sobriety of purpose, a cosmopolitan outlook and an otherworldly, almost beatific detachment in his demeanor.” Demonstrably, “all of these can be said to have characterized Krishnamurti’s public image to the end of his life.” It was apparently clear early on that he “possessed an innate personal magnetism, not of a warm physical variety, but nonetheless emotive in its austerity, and inclined to inspire veneration.” However, as he was growing up, Krishnamurti showed signs of adolescent rebellion and emotional instability, chafing at the regimen imposed on him, visibly uncomfortable with the publicity surrounding him, and occasionally expressing doubts about the future prescribed for him.
Krishnamurti and Nitya were taken to England in April 1911. During this trip Krishnamurti gave his first public speech, to members of the OSE in London. His first writings had also started to appear, published in booklets by the Theosophical Society and in Theosophical and OSE-affiliated magazines. Between 1911 and the start of World War I in 1914, the brothers visited several other European countries, always accompanied by Theosophist chaperones. Meanwhile Krishnamurti had for the first time acquired a measure of personal financial independence, thanks to a wealthy benefactress.
After the war, Krishnamurti (again accompanied by Nitya, by then the Organizing Secretary of the Order) embarked on a series of lectures, meetings and discussions around the world related to his duties as the Head of the OSE. He also continued writing. The content of his talks and writings, revolved around the work of the Order and of its members in preparation for the Coming. He was described, initially, as a halting, hesitant, and repetitive speaker, but his delivery and confidence improved, and he gradually took command of the meetings.
He also fell in love, in 1921, with Helen Knothe, a seventeen-year-old American whose family was associated with the Theosophists. The experience was tempered by the realization that his work and expected life-mission precluded what would otherwise be considered normal relationships and by the mid-1920s the two of them had drifted apart.
In 1922 Krishnamurti and Nitya travelled from Sydney to California. While in California, they stayed at a cottage in the Ojai Valley. It was thought that the area’s climate would be beneficial to Nitya, who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis; Nitya’s ailing health would become a concern for Krishnamurti. At Ojai they met Rosalind Williams, a young American who became close to them both, and who was later to have a significant role in Krishnamurti’s life. For the first time the brothers were without immediate supervision by their Theosophical Society minders. They found the Valley to be very agreeable, and eventually a trust formed, by supporters, purchased a cottage and surrounding property there for them. This became Krishnamurti’s official place of residence.
It was at Ojai in August and September 1922 that Krishnamurti went through an intense, “life-changing” experience. This has been variously characterized as a spiritual awakening, a psychological transformation, and a physical conditioning. The initial events happened in two distinct phases: first a three-day spiritual experience followed, two weeks later, by a longer-lasting condition that Krishnamurti and those around him would refer to as the process; this condition would recur, at frequent intervals and with varying intensity, until his death.
According to witnesses, it started on 17 August 1922, with Krishnamurti complaining of sharp pain at the nape of his neck. Over the next two days, the symptoms worsened, with increasing pain and sensitivity, a loss of appetite, and occasional delirious ramblings. He seemed to lapse into unconsciousness, but later recounted that he was very much aware of his surroundings, and that while in that state had an experience of mystical union. The following day the symptoms and the experience intensified, climaxing with a sense of “immense peace.” Following, and apparently related to, these events, the condition which came to be known as the process started to affect him, in September and October of that year, as a regular, almost nightly occurrence. Later, the process would resume intermittently with varying degrees of pain, physical discomfort and sensitivity, occasionally a lapse into a childlike state, and sometimes an apparent fading out of consciousness explained as either his body giving in to pain, or as him “going off.”
These experiences were accompanied, or followed, by what was interchangeably described as, “the benediction,” “the immensity,” “the sacredness,” “the vastness” and, most often, “the otherness” or “the other.” It was a state distinct from the process. According to Lutyens, it is evident from his notebook that this experience of otherness was “with him almost continuously” during his life and gave him “a sense of being protected.” Krishnamurti describes it in his notebook as typically following an acute experience of the process, for example, on awakening the next day:
… woke up early with that strong feeling of otherness, of another world that is beyond all thought… there is a heightening of sensitivity. Sensitivity, not only to beauty but also to all other things. The blade of grass was astonishingly green; that one blade of grass contained the whole spectrum of colour; it was intense, dazzling and such a small thing, so easy to destroy…
This experience of the otherness would be present with him during daily events:
It is strange how during one or two interviews that strength, that power filled the room. It seemed to be in one’s eyes and breath. It comes into being, suddenly and most unexpectedly, with a force and intensity that is quite overpowering and at other times it’s there, quietly and serenely. But it’s there, whether one wants it or not. There is no possibility of getting used to it for it has never been nor will it ever be…
Since the initial occurrences of 1922, several explanations have been proposed for this experience of Krishnamurti’s. Leadbeater and other Theosophists expected the “vehicle” to have certain paranormal experiences, but were nevertheless mystified by these developments. During Krishnamurti’s later years the nature and provenance of the continuing process often came up as a subject in private discussions between himself and associates; these discussions shed some light on the subject, but were ultimately inconclusive. Whatever the case, the process, and the inability of Leadbeater to explain it satisfactorily, if at all, had other consequences according to biographer Roland Vernon:
The process at Ojai, whatever its cause or validity, was a cataclysmic milestone for Krishna. Up until this time his spiritual progress, chequered though it might have been, had been planned with solemn deliberation by Theosophy’s grandees. … Something new had now occurred for which Krishna’s training had not entirely prepared him. … A burden was lifted from his conscience and he took his first step towards becoming an individual. … In terms of his future role as a teacher, the process was his bedrock. … It had come to him alone and had not been planted in him by his mentors … it provided Krishna with the soil in which his newfound spirit of confidence and independence could take root.
As news of these mystical experiences spread, rumors concerning the messianic status of Krishnamurti reached fever pitch as the 1925 Theosophical Society Convention was planned, on the 50th anniversary of its founding. There were expectations of significant happenings. Paralleling the increasing adulation was Krishnamurti’s growing discomfort with it. In related developments, prominent Theosophists and their factions within the Society were trying to position themselves favorably relative to the Coming, which was widely rumored to be approaching. “Extraordinary” pronouncements of spiritual advancement were made by various parties, disputed by others, and the internal Theosophical politics further alienated Krishnamurti.
Nitya’s persistent health problems had periodically resurfaced throughout this time. On 13 November 1925, at age 27, he died in Ojai from complications of influenza and tuberculosis. Despite Nitya’s poor health, his death was unexpected, and it fundamentally shook Krishnamurti’s belief in Theosophy and in the leaders of the Theosophical Society. He had received their assurances regarding Nitya’s health, and had come to believe that “Nitya was essential for [his] life-mission and therefore he would not be allowed to die,” a belief shared by Annie Besant and Krishnamurti’s circle. Jayakar wrote that “his belief in the Masters and the hierarchy had undergone a total revolution.” Moreover, Nitya had been the “last surviving link to his family and childhood. … The only person to whom he could talk openly, his best friend and companion.” According to eyewitness accounts, the news “broke him completely.” but twelve days after Nitya’s death he was “immensely quiet, radiant, and free of all sentiment and emotion”; “there was not a shadow … to show what he had been through.” The experience of his brother’s death seems to have shattered any remaining illusions, and a “new vision” was now “coming into being.”
Break with the past
Over the next few years, Krishnamurti’s new vision and consciousness continued to develop. New concepts appeared in his talks, discussions, and correspondence, together with an evolving vocabulary that was progressively free of Theosophical terminology. His new direction reached a climax in 1929, when he rebuffed attempts by Leadbeater and Besant to continue with the Order of the Star.
Krishnamurti dissolved the Order during the annual Star Camp at Ommen, the Netherlands, on 3 August 1929. He stated that he had made his decision after “careful consideration” during the previous two years, and that:
I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path. … This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.
Following the dissolution prominent Theosophists turned against Krishnamurti, including Leadbeater who is said to have stated, “the Coming had gone wrong.” Krishnamurti had denounced all organized belief, the notion of gurus, and the whole teacher-follower relationship, vowing instead to work in setting people “absolutely, unconditionally free.” There is no record of him explicitly denying he was the World Teacher; whenever he was asked to clarify his position, he either asserted that the matter was irrelevant, or gave answers that, as he stated, were “purposely vague.”
In reflection of the ongoing changes in his outlook, he had started doing so before the dissolution of the Order of the Star. The subtlety of the new distinctions on the World Teacher issue was lost on many of his admirers, who were already bewildered or distraught because of the changes in Krishnamurti’s outlook, vocabulary and pronouncements–among them Besant and Mary Lutyens’ mother Emily, who had a very close relationship with him. He soon disassociated himself from the Theosophical Society and its teachings and practices, yet he remained on cordial terms with some of its members and ex-members throughout his life.
Krishnamurti would often refer to the totality of his work as the teachings and not as my teachings. His concern was always about “the teachings”; the teacher had no importance, and all authority, especially psychological authority, was denounced:
All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive, evil thing. Leaders destroy the followers and followers destroy the leaders. You have to be your own teacher and your own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary.
Krishnamurti resigned from the various trusts and other organizations that were affiliated with the defunct Order of the Star, including the Theosophical Society. He returned the monies and properties donated to the Order, among them a castle in the Netherlands and 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land, to their donors. He spent the rest of his life holding dialogues and giving public talks around the world on the nature of belief, truth, sorrow, freedom, death, and the quest for a spiritually fulfilled life. He accepted neither followers nor worshippers, regarding the relationship between disciple and guru as encouraging dependency and exploitation. He accepted gifts and financial support freely offered to him by people inspired by his work, and continued with lecture tours and the publication of books and talk transcripts for more than half a century. He constantly urged people to think independently, and he invited them to explore and discuss specific topics together with him.
From 1930 through 1944, Krishnamurti engaged in speaking tours and in the issue of publications under the auspice of the “Star Publishing Trust” (SPT), which he had founded with Desikacharya Rajagopal, a close associate and friend from the Order of the Star. Ojai was the base of operations for the new enterprise, where Krishnamurti, Rajagopal, and Rosalind Williams (now the wife of Rajagopal), resided in the house known as Arya Vihara. The business and organizational aspects of the SPT were administered chiefly by D. Rajagopal, as Krishnamurti devoted his time to speaking and meditation. The Rajagopals’ marriage was not a happy one, and the two became physically estranged after the 1931 birth of their daughter, Radha. In the relative seclusion of Arya Vihara, Krishnamurti’s close friendship with Rosalind deepened into a love affair which was not made public until 1991.
During the 1930s, Krishnamurti spoke in Europe, Latin America, India, Australia and the United States. In 1938, he met Aldous Huxley. The two began a close friendship which endured for many years. They held common concerns about the imminent conflict in Europe which they viewed as the outcome of the pernicious influence of nationalism. Krishnamurti’s stance on World War II was often construed as pacifism and even subversion during a time of patriotic fervor in the United States and for a time he came under the surveillance of the FBI. He did not speak publicly for a period of about four years (between 1940 and 1944). During this time he lived and worked at Arya Vihara, which during the war operated as a largely self-sustaining farm, with its surplus goods donated for relief efforts in Europe. Of the years spent in Ojai during the war, he later said: “I think it was a period of no challenge, no demand, no outgoing. I think it was a kind of everything held in; and when I left Ojai it all burst.”
Krishnamurti broke the hiatus from public speaking in May 1944 with a series of talks in Ojai. These talks, and subsequent material, were published by “Krishnamurti Writings Inc” (KWINC), the successor organization to the “Star Publishing Trust.” This was to be the new central Krishnamurti-related entity worldwide, whose sole purpose was the dissemination of the teaching. He had remained in contact with associates from India, and in the autumn of 1947 embarked upon a speaking tour there, attracting a new following of young intellectuals. It was on this trip that he first encountered the Mehta sisters, Pupul and Nandini, who became lifelong associates and confidants. The sisters also attended to Krishnamurti throughout a 1948 recurrence of the “process” in Ootacamund.
When in India after World War II, many prominent personalities came to meet with Krishnamurti, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In his meetings with Nehru, Krishnamurti elaborated at length on the teachings, saying in one instance, “Understanding of the self only arises in relationship, in watching yourself in relationship to people, ideas, and things; to trees, the earth, and the world around you and within you. Relationship is the mirror in which the self is revealed. Without self-knowledge there is no basis for right thought and action.” Nehru asked, “How does one start?” to which Krishnamurti replied, “Begin where you are. Read every word, every phrase, every paragraph of the mind, as it operates through thought.”
Krishnamurti continued speaking in public lectures, group discussions and with concerned individuals around the world. In the early 1960s, he made the acquaintance of physicist David Bohm, whose philosophical and scientific concerns regarding the essence of the physical world, and the psychological and sociological state of mankind, found parallels in Krishnamurti’s philosophy. The two men soon became close friends and started a common inquiry, in the form of personal dialogues–and occasionally in group discussions with other participants–that continued, periodically, over nearly two decades. Several of these discussions were published in the form of books or as parts of books, and introduced a wider audience (among scientists) to Krishnamurti’s ideas. Although Krishnamurti’s philosophy delved into fields as diverse as religious studies, education, psychology, physics, and consciousness studies, he was not then, nor since, well known in academic circles. Nevertheless, Krishnamurti met and held discussions with, several prominent scientists, including physicists Fritjof Capra and George Sudarshan, biologist Rupert Sheldrake, psychiatrist David Shainbert, as well as psychotherapists representing various theoretical orientations. The long friendship between Bohm and Krishnamurti went through a rocky interval in later years, and although they overcame their differences and remained friends until Krishnamurti’s death, the relationship did not reattain its previous intensity.
Although Krishnamurti’s subject matter had evolved to encompass several new directions, the fundamental teachings remained unchanged. In late 1980, he took the opportunity to reaffirm the basic elements of his message, originally made in 1929, in a written statement that came to be known as the “Core of the Teaching”. An excerpt follows:
“Truth is a pathless land”. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, nor through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation, and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection. Man has built in himself images as a sense of security—religious, political, personal. These manifest as symbols, ideas, beliefs. The burden of these dominates man’s thinking, relationships and his daily life. These are the causes of our problems for they divide man from man in every relationship.
In the 1970s, Krishnamurti met several times with then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, with whom he had far ranging, and in some cases, very serious discussions. His true impact on Indian political life is unknown. However Jayakar considers his message in meetings with Indira Gandhi as a possible influence in the lifting of certain emergency measures Mrs. Gandhi had imposed during periods of political turmoil.
Meanwhile, Krishnamurti’s once close relationship with the Rajagopals had deteriorated to the point where he took D. Rajagopal to court to recover donated property and funds as well as publication rights for his works, manuscripts, and personal correspondence, that were in Rajagopal’s possession. The litigation and ensuing cross complaints, which formally began in 1971, continued for many years. A substantial portion of materials and property was returned to Krishnamurti during his lifetime; the parties to this case finally settled all other matters in 1986, shortly after his death.
In 1984 and 1985 he spoke to an invited audience at the United Nations in New York, under the auspices of the Pacem in Terris Society chapter at the UN. In November 1985 he visited India for the last time, holding a number of what came to be known as “farewell” talks and discussions between then and January 1986. These last talks included the fundamental questions he had been asking through the years, as well as newer concerns related to then recent advances in science and technology, and their effect on humankind. Krishnamurti had commented to friends that he did not wish to invite death, but was not sure how long his body would last (he had already lost considerable weight), and once he could no longer talk, he would have “no further purpose.” In his final talk, on January 4, 1986, in Madras, he again invited the audience to examine with him the nature of inquiry, the effect of technology, the nature of life and meditation, and the nature of creation.
Krishnamurti was also concerned about his legacy, about being unwittingly turned into some personage whose teachings had been handed down to special individuals, rather than the world at large. He did not want anybody to pose as an interpreter of the teaching. He warned his associates on several occasions that they were not to present themselves as spokesmen on his behalf, or as his successors after his death.
A few days before his death, in a final statement, he emphatically declared that “nobody”–among his associates, or the general public–had understood what had happened to him (as the conduit of the teaching), nor had they understood the teaching itself. He added that the “immense energy” operating in his lifetime would be gone with his death, again implying the impossibility of successors. However, he offered hope by stating that people could approach that energy and gain a measure of understanding “…if they live the teachings”. In prior discussions he had compared himself with Thomas Edison, implying that he did the hard work, and now all was needed by others was a flick of the switch. In another instance he talked of Columbus going through an arduous journey to discover the New World, whereas now, it could easily be reached by jet; the ultimate implication being that even if Krishnamurti was in some way “special,” in order to arrive at his level of understanding, others didn’t need to be.
Krishnamurti died of pancreatic cancer on February 17, 1986, at the age of 90. His remains were cremated and scattered by friends and former associates in the three countries where he had spent most of his life: India, England, and the United States of America.
Krishnamurti constantly emphasized the right place of thought in daily life. But he also pointed out the dangers of thought when it becomes knowledge that acts as a calcified projection of the past. According to Krishnamurti, such action distorts our perception and full understanding of the world we live in, and more specifically, the relationships that define it. He saw knowledge as a necessary, but mechanical, function of the mind. The capacity of mind to record can present barriers, however. For example, hurtful words spoken in a relationship may become memories that influence actions. Thus knowledge can present a division in a relationship and may be destructive.
He posed the following question: “Can the brain–with all its reactions and its immediate responses to every challenge and demand–can the brain be very still?” His answer:
1It is not a question of ending thought, but of whether the brain can be completely still? This stillness is not physical death. See what happens when the brain is completely still.”
The brain, trained as it is to record, provides safety and security, and “a sense of vitality.” The recording creates an image of oneself, of loved ones, firm, politicians, priests, and of the ideal. If these images are fixed, one “will always be getting hurt, always living in a pattern in which there is no freedom. “But if one is able to “listen to it completely without any reaction, then there is no centre which records.”
Fear and pleasure
Fear and pleasure were lifelong themes in his public talks. The following is an excerpt from his talk in San Diego in 1970:
Fear is always in relation to something; it does not exist by itself. There is fear of what happened yesterday in relation to the possibility of its repetition tomorrow; there is always a fixed point from which relationship takes place. How does fear come into this? I had pain yesterday; there is the memory of it and I do not want it again tomorrow. Thinking about the pain of yesterday, thinking which involves the memory of yesterday’s pain, projects the fear of having pain again tomorrow. So it is thought that brings about fear. Thought breeds fear; thought also cultivates pleasure. To understand fear you must also understand pleasure–they are interrelated; without understanding one you cannot understand the other. This means that one cannot say ‘I must only have pleasure and no fear’; fear is the other side of the coin which is called pleasure.
Thinking with the images of yesterday’s pleasure, thought imagines that you may not have that pleasure tomorrow; so thought engenders fear. Thought tries to sustain pleasure and thereby nourishes fear.
Thought has separated itself as the analyzer and the thing to be analyzed; they are both parts of thought playing tricks upon itself. In doing all this it is refusing to examine the unconscious fears; it brings in time as a means of escaping fear and yet at the same time sustains fear.
Krishnamurti used the term “meditation” to mean something entirely different from the practice of any system or method to control the mind, or to consciously achieve a specific goal or state. He dealt with the subject of meditation in numerous public talks and discussions:
A mind that is in meditation is concerned only with meditation, not with the meditator. The meditator is the observer, the senser, the thinker, the experiencer, and when there is the experiencer, the thinker, then he is concerned with reaching out, gaining, achieving, experiencing. And that thing which is timeless cannot be experienced. There is no experience at all. There is only that which is not nameable.
… There are various powers… You call them siddhis, don’t you? Do you know that all these things are like candles in the sun? When there is no sun there is darkness, and then the candle and the light of the candle become very important. But when there is the sun, the light, the beauty, the clarity, then all these powers, these siddhis–developing various centres, chakras, kundalini, you know all that business–are like candlelight; they have no value at all. And when you have that light, you don’t want anything else.
Krishnamurti saw meditation as a great art, “perhaps the greatest.” One must learn this art by practicing without technique—watching oneself: in daily activities (walking, eating), practices (speech, gossip), reactive emotions (hate, jealousy)—becoming aware of these things “without any choice.” Many forms of meditation have been invented to escape conflicts. These forms, according to Krishnamurti are “based on desire… the urge for achievement,” implying conflict, and a “struggle to arrive.” This striving, he saw as “within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom.” True meditation is “the ending of thought,” leading to “a different dimension… beyond time.” Thought and feeling “dissipate energy.” Their repetition is mechanical, and, while necessary, do not permit one to enter the “immensity of life.” Meditation is the “emptying of the mind of the known.” It is not thought, nor prayer, nor “the self-effacing hypnotism of words, images, hopes and vanities” all of which must “come to an end, easily, without effort and choice, in the flame of awareness.
Krishnamurti founded several schools around the world. When asked, he enumerated the following as his educational aims:
- Global outlook: A vision of the whole as distinct from the part; there should never be a sectarian outlook, but always a holistic outlook free from all prejudice.
- Concern for man and the environment: Humanity is part of nature, and if nature is not cared for, it will boomerang on man. Only the right education, and deep affection between people everywhere, will resolve many problems including the environmental challenges.
- Religious spirit, which includes the scientific temper: The religious mind is alone, not lonely. It is in communion with people and nature.
According to Krishnamurti, many problems in the world such as poverty, war, the nuclear threat, and other unfortunate circumstances, have their roots in our thinking. In his view, as we live and behave according to our thinking so wars and governments are a result of that thinking. We each have our own beliefs, conclusions and experiences, to which we cling, thereby isolating ourselves from others. Self-centered activity is expressed outwardly as nationalism and religious intolerance, creating a divided world, in which we are willing to kill for the sake of belief. Understanding our relationship with the world crisis is necessary to understand ourselves. He writes:
If you are not at all concerned with the world but only with your personal salvation, following certain beliefs and superstitions, following gurus, then I am afraid it will be impossible for you and the speaker to communicate with each other. We are not concerned at all with private personal salvation but we are concerned, earnestly, seriously, with what the human mind has become, what humanity is facing. We are concerned at looking at this world and what a human being living in this world has to do, what is his role?”
In Letters to Schools, first published in the early 1980s, Krishnamurti saw the crisis of that day as a crisis of the intellect. The emphasis on thought (ideas), allows one to justify evil–murder can be seen as “a means to achieve a noble result.” The other aspect of this crisis, is the importance placed on sensate values, such as property, caste or country.
Krishnamurti’s lasting influence is hard to gauge in an objective way; there is no organizational or other entity based on his philosophy, whose progress can be measured. Krishnamurti himself remarked in 1929, at the dissolution of the Order of the Star, that he was not interested in numbers, stating: “If there are only five people who will listen, who will live, who have their faces turned towards eternity, it will be sufficient.”
Interest in him and his work has persisted in the years since his death. Many books, as well as audio, video, and computer materials, remain in print and are carried by major online and traditional retailers. The four official Foundations continue with the maintenance of archives, dissemination of the teachings in an increasing number of languages, new conversions to digital and other media, development of websites, sponsoring of television programs, and with organizing meetings and dialogues of interested persons around the world. According to communications and press releases from the Foundations, their mailing lists, and individuals’ inquiries, continue to grow. The various schools and educational institutions also continue to grow, with new projects added alongside their declared goal of holistic education.
Krishnamurti has come to be seen as an exemplar of those spiritual teachers who disavow formal rituals and dogma. His conception of truth as a “pathless land,” with the possibility of immediate liberation, is mirrored in teachings as diverse as those of est, Bruce Lee, Barry Long, and the Dalai Lama.
Krishnamurti was acquainted with, and (by their admission) influenced the works of, the mythologist Joseph Campbell, artists Jackson Pollock and Beatrice Wood, educator Terrence Webster-Doyle and counter-culture author Alan Watts. Eckhart Tolle, author and speaker on spiritual subjects, and well-known self-help lecturer/author Deepak Chopra, both claimed Krishnamurti as one of their influences. Writer/philosopher Iris Murdoch also met with Krishnamurti.
In India, with its long tradition of wandering “holy” men, hermits, and independent religious teachers, Krishnamurti attracted the attention (and occasionally the unwanted admiration) of large numbers of people in public lectures and personal interviews. He was, and is presently, considered a “great teacher” by such diverse religious figures as the respected mystic Ramana Maharshi, the spiritual teacher Anandamayi Ma, as well as figures more well-known to the West such as Osho. Spiritual teacher Vimala Thakar also met with Krishnamurti in 1960. Although Krishnamurti had a special tenderness for the true sannyasi or Buddhist monk, his criticism of their rituals, disciplines, and practices was devastating.
As was also often the case elsewhere, Krishnamurti additionally attracted the interest of the mainstream religious establishment in India. He was friendly, and had a number of discussions with, well known Hindu and Buddhist scholars and leaders, including the Dalai Lama. Several of these discussions were later published as chapters in various Krishnamurti books.
Twentieth-century gnostic philosopher and occultist Samael Aun Weor praised Krishnamurti’s teachings, stating that his “inner spirit” was a “highly realized Buddha,” although he questioned his handling by the theosophists and its effect on his spiritual development.
Any discussion of influence, however expansive, deserves to be weighed against Krishnamurti’s own measure of success i.e., whether individuals really understand, and therefore “live and breathe”, the teaching. Regarding this measure of influence or success, the last, and only, definitive public statement belongs to Krishnamurti himself. In a dismal prognosis, delivered 10 days prior his death in 1986, his words were simple, and emphatic: “nobody” – among his associates or the world at large – had understood Krishnamurti, his life, or the teaching.