Krishnamurti's Inner Life

Printed in the Fall 2015 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: MoodyEdmund. "Krishnamurti’s Inner Life" Quest 103.4 (Fall 2015): pg. 143-147.

A glimpse into the great teacher’s awakening.

By David Edmund Moody

Theosophical Society - David Edmund Moody is the author of The Unconditioned Mind: J. Krishnamurti and the Oak Grove School (Quest, 2011). This article is adapted from Moody’s book An Uncommon Collaboration: David Bohm and J. KrishnamurtiJ. Krishnamurti’s stated philosophy from the public platform is assiduously secular. He scrupulously avoids any suggestion that he has personal access to or special knowledge of another dimension, spiritual, supernatural or otherwise. On the contrary, his public philosophy, expressed on countless occasions, on several continents, over the course of decades, is limited almost entirely to the delineation of the dynamic nature and structure of ordinary consciousness as it is experienced by virtually everyone. His stated concern is to serve as a mirror to the mind of the individual listener in order that each one might become “a light to oneself,” and in so doing bring about psychological freedom, the ending of conflict, and an end to sorrow. His references to God and religion are almost uniformly disparaging. God is merely a concept, he maintains, a comfortable invention, and organized religion a trap in which most of mankind is imprisoned. To be sure, he does suggest that an orderly mind, a mind that is attentive, might come upon something that is sacred, something that is not merely the product of thought. References to the sacred, however, are few and far between and are always accompanied by the admonition that no form of seeking or desire can possibly bring one into contact with it.

Against this philosophy, there exists another current in Krishnamurti’s life and work. As he often pointed out, he himself was not what mattered to his audience; he was not their guru, he said over and over again; he was not speaking as the voice of authority — psychological, spiritual, or otherwise. In keeping with that attitude, he kept his inner life private and not a matter for public display. To do so was wholly consistent with his insistence on his own insignificance.

Nevertheless, Krishnamurti did enjoy an extraordinary inner life, one that he allowed to become a matter of record only as he approached his eightieth year. By that time, his stated philosophy had fully matured and taken on a life of its own, with little possibility of any distortion or distraction from the revelation of his personal experiences. This inner life was described in an authorized biography, as well as in three volumes of a kind of diary he kept for occasional periods beginning in 1961. Although these experiences did not represent the content of his message to the world, they are not entirely separable from it. In any case, no description of his outlook on life is complete without including them.

Krishnamurti and his brother Nitya came to Ojai, California, in 1922, when he was twenty-seven and Nitya was twenty-four. They had been invited there by A.P. Warrington, then head of the American Section of the Theosophical Society, who traveled with them to a property owned by a local Theosophist, Mary Gray, where the brothers could stay for an indefinite period of time. Shortly after arriving there, Nitya described the Ojai Valley in the following terms:

In a long and narrow valley of apricot orchards and orange groves is our house, and the hot sun shines down day after day to remind us of Adyar, but of an evening the cool air comes down from the range of hills on either side. Far beyond the lower end of the valley runs the long, perfect road from Seattle in Washington down to San Diego in Southern California, some two thousand miles, with a ceaseless flow of turbulent traffic, yet our valley lies happily, unknown and forgotten, for a road wanders in but knows no way out. The American Indians called our valley the Ojai or the nest, and for centuries they must have sought it as a refuge.

After they had settled in Ojai for a few weeks, Krishna began to meditate for half an hour each morning and again in the evening, with the general intention of resolving the sense of discontent he felt with the entire course of his life and the path that others had charted for him. As he wrote in a letter to a friend:

Since August third, I meditated regularly for about thirty minutes every morning. I could, to my astonishment, concentrate with considerable ease, and within a few days I began to see clearly where I had failed and where I was failing. Immediately I set about, consciously, to annihilate the wrong accumulations of the past years.

Two weeks after he commenced to meditate in this manner, Krishna began to complain of a pain in the nape of his neck, and Nitya observed a knot or swelling there about the size of a marble. This initial symptom developed in the next day or two into something systemic, involving intense pain in the head, neck, and spine, accompanied by episodes of shivering, alternating with a burning sensation. Krishna complained bitterly of the dirt of his surroundings, even though his bed had fresh linens and his room was immaculate. At times he was not his normal self, and he reverted to a distinctly childlike persona. He was able to sleep the night through, but the symptoms resumed the next morning and continued for three days.

Present to observe these events were Nitya, Warrington, and Rosalind Williams, a nineteen-year-old American woman whose mother was friends with Mary Gray. Rosalind had struck up a friendship with the two brothers and made herself useful in the care of the ailing Nitya. She was the only person whose presence Krishna could tolerate when his symptoms became intense. When the pain was acute, he would sometimes cling to her and cry out for his mother, who had died when he was ten.

On the evening of the third day, a marked change came over Krishna as his symptoms subsided and he recovered a more normal demeanor. He had been moaning and writhing in pain in his cottage as twilight fell, while Nitya, Warrington, and Rosalind sat on the porch outside. Nitya recorded the events that followed in a long and detailed narrative. He wrote, “Our lives are profoundly affected by what happened . . . our compass has found its lodestar.”

Toward the end of the third day, after the others had finished their evening meal, “suddenly the whole house seemed full of a terrific force,” Nitya wrote, “and Krishna was as if possessed.”

He would have none of us near him and began to complain bitterly of the dirt, the dirt of the bed, the intolerable dirt of the house, the dirt of everyone around, and in a voice full of pain said that he longed to go to the woods . . . Suddenly he announced his intention of going for a walk alone, but from this we managed to dissuade him, for we did not think that he was in any fit condition for nocturnal ambulations.

Warrington noted that he knew Krishna’s bed was perfectly clean, because he had personally changed the linen that morning. Nitya continued:

Then as he expressed a desire for solitude, we left him and gathered outside on the verandah, where in a few minutes he joined us, carrying a cushion in his hand and sitting as far away as possible from us. Enough strength and consciousness were vouchsafed him to come outside but once there again he vanished from us, and his body, murmuring incoherencies, was left sitting there on the porch . . .

The sun had set an hour ago and we sat facing the far-off hills, purple against the pale sky in the darkening twilight. 

A young pepper tree stood at the entrance to the cottage, “with delicate leaves of a tender green, now heavy with scented blossoms.” Warrington suggested to Krishna that he might like to go and sit under the tree, and after a moment’s hesitation, he did so. Presently, those on the veranda heard a sigh of relief, and Krishna called out to ask why they had not sent him there much earlier. Then he began to chant an ancient song, one familiar to the brothers from their childhood. A few moments later, according to Nitya, something occurred outside the parameters of ordinary reality. He claimed there was an unusual light in the sky, and he had an overwhelming sense of the arrival of some transcendent personality or intelligence. “The place seemed to be filled with a Great Presence,” he wrote, and “in the distance we heard divine music softly played.“

After this evening, the strange process ended. Krishna recorded his own impressions of what had transpired over the course of the preceding days:

There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; the very stone which he was breaking up was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the tree beside the man was myself. I almost could feel and think like the roadmender, and I could feel the wind passing through the tree . . . I was in everything, or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm, and all breathing things.

Krishna invoked images of nature to convey what occurred under the pepper tree. His experience there is not easy to correlate with the days of pain and semiconsciousness that led up to it:

There was such profound calmness both in the air and within myself, the calmness of the bottom of a deep unfathomable lake. Like the lake, I felt my physical body, with its mind and emotions, could be ruffled on the surface but nothing, nay nothing, could disturb the calmness of my soul . . .

I have drunk at the clear and pure waters at the source of the fountain of life and my thirst was appeased. Never more could I be thirsty, never more could I be in utter darkness. I have seen the Light. I have touched compassion which heals all sorrow and suffering; it is not for myself, but for the world.

As dramatic as these events may have been, they turned out to be merely a prelude to a much longer series of related experiences. The pain in Krishnamurti’s head and neck resumed in subsequent months, although now the episodes were confined to one or two hours in the evening. In his letters to Annie Besant, Nitya described these events as Krishna’s “process,” and that name has been employed for this purpose ever since. The process continued to recur at regular intervals, sometimes daily, throughout the remainder of his life. He never sought treatment for it, although he once consulted a Theosophical doctor who observed the process for a week and agreed it was not a condition requiring medical intervention.

The meaning and significance of the process and of the experience under the pepper tree remain somewhat obscure to the present day. What is clear is that Krishnamurti avoided any mention of these personal experiences in his public talks. He sent accounts of these events to a few close associates, but he insisted that they not be shared with others. He evidently regarded it as a private matter, unrelated to the truth or validity of his teachings, but a potential source of distraction or confusion for his audience. Only toward the end of his life did he allow these experiences to become known.

An even more insightful avenue into Krishnamurti’s inner life is contained in a diary he composed over a period of seven months beginning in April 1961. Krishnamurti’s Notebook was published in 1975, almost simultaneously with Years of Awakening. Although it did not receive as much attention as the biography, it is in many respects a more extraordinary document. It consists of approximately two hundred entries, each one a page or two in length. These entries have several recurrent and interrelated themes. In order of the sheer number of words devoted to each theme, they are as follows: descriptions of scenes observed in nature; comments on the psychological characteristics of humanity; the quality of a mind in meditation; the intermittent presence of an unusual force or energy that envelops him with a sense of the sacred; and the ongoing, occasional pressure and pain in the head and neck, sometimes intense, that he still refers to as “the process.”

Taken together, these themes represent a kind of panorama of the landscape of Krishnamurti’s daily consciousness. If we consider them not in terms of the number of words devoted to each theme, but rather in terms of their apparent significance to him, their order might be construed as follows: the presence of the sense of something sacred; the beauty of nature; the mind of man, coupled with the transformative quality of meditation; and the process. After about the first thirty entries, he discontinues any further mention of the process, as if its description requires no further elaboration, although presumably it continued on almost a daily basis. In some respects, it appears as though the entire diary exists mainly for the purpose of bringing the sacred quality to light. The other themes are important in their own right, but similar material is described elsewhere in Krishnamurti’s work. Here the other themes seem to serve as a kind of context for the introduction of the sacred element.

Among the salient characteristics of the sacred quality is its essential unknowability. Krishnamurti uses a variety of terms to refer to it, none of them entirely equal to the task. He most commonly refers to it simply as “the other” or “that otherness.” Additional appellations he employs include “the benediction” and “the immensity.” He ascribes to this quality a sense of overwhelming power, something impenetrable, vast, innocent, and untouchable. The manner in which the sacred element is woven into the diary can perhaps be gleaned from two of the briefer excerpts.

On September 27, 1961, Krishnamurti was in Rome, and he wrote as follows:

Walking along the pavement overlooking the biggest basilica and down the famous steps to a fountain and many picked flowers of so many colors, crossing the crowded square, we went along a narrow one-way street, quiet, with not too many cars; there in that dimly lit street, with few unfashionable shops, suddenly and most unexpectedly, that otherness came with such intense tenderness and beauty that one’s body and brain became motionless.

For some days now, it had not made its immense presence felt; it was there vaguely, in the distance, a whisper, but there the immense was manifesting itself, sharply and with waiting patience. Thought and speech were gone and there was a peculiar joy and clarity. It followed down the long, narrow street till the roar of traffic and the overcrowded pavement swallowed us all. It was a benediction that was beyond all image and thoughts.

The following month, Krishnamurti was in Bombay. On October 24, he wrote:

The dark leaves were shining and the moon had climbed quite high; she was on the westerly course and flooding the room. Dawn was many hours away and there was not a sound; even the village dogs, with their shrill yapping, were quiet. Waking, it was there, with clarity and precision; the otherness was there and waking up was necessary, not sleep; it was deliberate, to be aware of what was happening, to be aware with full consciousness of what was taking place. Asleep, it might have been a dream, a hint of the unconscious, a trick of the brain, but fully awake, this strange and unknowable otherness was a palpable reality, a fact and not an illusion, a dream. It had a quality, if such a word can be applied to it, of weightlessness and impenetrable strength.

Again these words have certain significance, definite and communicable, but these words lose all their meaning when the otherness has to be conveyed in words; words are symbols but no symbol can ever convey the reality. It was there with such incorruptible strength that nothing could destroy it for it was unapproachable. You can approach something with which you are familiar; you must have the same language to commune, some kind of thought process, verbal or non-verbal; above all there must be mutual recognition. There was none. On your side you may say it is this or that, this or that quality, but at the moment of the happening there was no verbalization for the brain was utterly still, without any movement of thought. 

Even for someone schooled in the intricacies of Krishnamurti’s philosophy, it is hard to know what to make of the “otherness.” He hardly seems to know what to make of it himself. However, he is adamant that what he is witness to is not a matter of imagination or invention; the “other” is far beyond any possible creation of thought or ideation. It is not something that can be brought about by any act of intention, desire, or will; it comes and goes of its own accord; indeed an attitude of indifference to whether or not it occurs is essential for it to take place. And yet it represents a kind of balm, a healing, transformative energy, without which life seems somewhat barren, empty, and meaningless.

Krishnamurti’s Notebook is confined to a period of seven months, and he offers no explanation for why he started it or stopped. In a brief foreword, his friend Mary Lutyens claims that he did not know himself what moved him to compose it. It is the only record we have, however, of his experience of the “otherness.” In subsequent years, he composed two additional diaries of a similar nature, but without any references to the sacred quality or energy. It seems reasonable to assume that the “otherness” continued to come and go, but there is no way to know for certain, or even whether it matters.

Krishnamurti’s Journal is a shorter work than the Notebook, commencing for some six weeks in 1973 and resuming for the month of April 1975. Like the Notebook, the Journal is occupied largely with vivid descriptions of scenes from nature, coupled with observations about ordinary consciousness and meditation. No reference is made to his process, or to the “otherness” or benediction. The psychological observations closely parallel his statements from the public platform, although in a somewhat condensed and, if possible, a more immediate form. In reading the Journal, one has the impression that he is being a little more direct than in his public talks, stating facts bluntly, without any compromise. The descriptions of nature and of a mind in meditation serve to soften and offer some relief from the realities of ordinary consciousness.

Krishnamurti to Himself was the last of the three diaries. It consists of just twenty-seven entries, composed in 1983 and 1984. These entries are a little longer, on average about four pages each, perhaps in part because they were dictated into a recorder rather than written out in longhand. In this final journal, Krishnamurti introduces an imaginary interlocutor, a visitor who comes to inquire about certain points raised in the teachings. He finds this format conducive to elucidating various issues, and it resembles the pattern of individuals who came to seek his counsel throughout his life.

The three diaries taken together represent a remarkably comprehensive exposition of the inner quality of Krishnamurti’s daily life and consciousness. The journals span a period of two and a half decades and reflect a consistency of style, theme, and content. The depictions of nature are stunning in their fine detail, suggestive nuance, and variety. The observations about consciousness and about meditation are at one with the teachings as they were articulated to the public. Only the references to the process and the “otherness,” confined to the Notebook, suggest a kind of experience and a depth of awareness not evident elsewhere in his work.

David Edmund Moody, Ph.D., is the author of The Unconditioned Mind: J. Krishnamurti and the Oak Grove School (Quest, 2011). This article is adapted from Moody’s book An Uncommon Collaboration: David Bohm and J. Krishnamurti, forthcoming from Fohat Productions in 2016.

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