Krishnamurti-Love and Freedom: Approaching a Mystery

Krishnamurti-Love and Freedom: Approaching a Mystery

by Peter Michel
Bluestar Communications, Woodside, CA. 1995; 205 pages.

This year is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jiddu Krishnamurti (May 12, 1895; d. February 17, 1986). The appearance of Peter Michel' s book is therefore timely, doubtless one of many publications we can anticipate in this centennial year.

Michel's work is an excellent introduction to Krishnamurti's life, teachings, and Theosophical connections. Distinctive in several ways, it is likely to stand apart from the crowd of other commemorative studies and appreciations. Although adopting a "friendly" approach, the author looks at certain apparent contradictions and ironic contrasts in Krishnamurti's teachings, there cognition of which is part of the meaning of the " Mystery" in the book's subtitle.

Michel emphasizes the coherence of Krishnamurti's work, from At the Feet of the Master to the last works, such as the Journal (1982) and the Last Talks at Saanen 1985, and also the connection of Krishnamurti's thought with the Theosophical context in which he was fostered and against which he rebelled. For example, Michel points to the following passage from At the Feet of the Master,Krishnamurti's first and most Theosophical book:

There are in the world many untrue thoughts, many foolish superstitions, and no one who is enslaved by them can make progress. Therefore you must not hold a thought just because many other people hold it nor because it has been believed for centuries, nor because it is written in some book which men think sacred; you must think of the matter for yourself, and judge for yourself whether it is reasonable. Remember that though a thousand men agree upon a subject, if they know nothing about that subject their opinion is of no value. He who would walk upon the Path must learn to think for himself, for superstition is one of the greatest evils in the world, one of the fetters from which you must utterly free yourself. [61]

The rejection of authority in that passage and its emphasis on self- reliance and independence might as well have been written at the end of Krishnamurti's life as in his early years.

Krishnamurti's distinctive aversion to systems and organizations is one of the apparent contradictions in his life and teachings. After he dissolved the Order of the Star in the East in 1929, his rejection of systematic teachings and organizations promoting them became a major theme. His later creation of the Krishnamurti Foundation to perpetuate his own teachings is seen as something quite different. That organization is merely to assure that "the Teaching" remains available, and the organization is expressly forbidden to interpret it. To an outsider, however, such an organization may appear to be designed to preserve the orthodoxy of Krishnamurti's views and to inhibit their normal evolutionary development and adaptation to changing times and thus to foster a view of them as absolute, infallible or inerrant Truth.

In giving his talks, Krishnamurti often would say, "Let us look into this together," or the like. However, as Michel observes, real dialogue is conspicuously lacking; such apparent invitations were rhetorical introductions to a monologue. Krishnamurti also typically spoke on high levels of abstraction about "love," "fear," and so on. In that way, his discourse is strikingly different from that of the Great Teachers of the past like Christ and the Buddha.

Christ spoke in parables, little stories about ordinary, everyday people and events: about a traveler who was attacked by thieves, about servants who managed their boss’s property well or ill, about guests at a wedding feast, about a father's love for a wayward son, and so on. Similarly when poor Kisa Gotami asked the Budd ha to restore her dead child to life, he did not give her a talk about life and death and suffering and acceptance. He told her he would do what she asked if she could bring him mustard seed from a house where no one had ever died. The Great Teachers of the past have spoken in concrete, immediate terms on the level of the people. Krishnamurti spoke in the rhetoric of abstraction. As Emily Lutyens wrote to Krishnamurti:

You seem surprised that people do not understand you but I should be far more surprised if they did!! After all, you are upsetting everything in which they have ever believed –knocking out their foundations and putting in its place a nebulous abstraction. [127-28, quoted from Krishnamurti- His Life and Death. [85]

Krishnamurti could be clear and practical. That side of him is well shown in an observation reported by Susunaga Weeraperuma: "Always be skeptical of persons who claim to have clairvoyance. It is not that clairvoyance does not exist. It certainly exists. But doesn't it feed your vanity to believe that you have gifts lacking in others?" (162, quoted from Krishnamurti As I Knew Him, 153).

Krishnamurti could also inspire and motivate others to a loyalty to himself and a conviction of his spiritual status. There is abundant evidence of that, including Michel's own obvious high regard for Krishnamurti. But such inspiration seems to have come generally not from Krishnamurti's writings or talks-" the Teaching"-but rather chiefly from personal contact with him. It is another irony that, despite Krishnamurti's efforts to direct attention away from himself and toward "the Teaching," it was his personal charisma that affected the lives of others. People were drawn to him, but not transformed by "the Teaching."

Whether Krishnamurti is right or wrong about the possibility of radical transformation, neither he nor "the Teaching" gives much help in achieving it. He says that the first step is "to understand profoundly the significance of our existence" (54), but that is also the goal. Krishnamurti offers no way for achieving such understanding, and he dismisses traditional methods of approaching it. The fact that Krishnamurti says the ultimate goal is the first step is, in one sense, a profound truth. Blavatsky often talked that way too, but she also provided practical suggestions about what to do. Paradox without praxis makes a thin soup.

Although Krishnamurti himself tried to separate his person from "the Teaching,” ultimately they are inseparable. The content of Krishnamurti's teaching is not his; it is part of the timeless Wisdom Tradition. But the form in which it is set forth, its rhetoric and its focus, are distinctively Krishnamurti's. As Michel says, "Mystical experiences determined Krishnamurti's entire life and cannot be separated from his teachings. It is a radical and distorting contraction to reduce Krishnamurti's being to the factual message of his talks" (163). For that reason, anyone interested in Krishnamurti's teachings must sooner or later attend to his life.

Krishnamurti's life falls into discrete periods. Born in 1895 in southern India, like his namesake Krishna, he was an eighth child. Discovered by clairvoyant observation of his aura by C. W. Leadbeater in 1909, when he was fourteen, Krishnamurti was tagged as the "vehicle" of the World Teacher. That is, a great spiritual individual who had earlier manifested as the Christ and other spiritual teachers was supposed to "overshadow" Krishnamurti by using his body to communicate with humanity.

There was no thought among Theosophists of Krishnamurti himself being the World Teacher; he was merely to be the channel through which the World Teacher would speak. And that was the way things seemed to be developing for the next sixteen or so years. For example, in 1925 in a talk at Adyar to the Order of the Star in the East, which had been established to prepare for the manifestation of the World Teacher, Krishnamurti's voice seemed to change at one point and he began to speak in the first person as the World Teacher instead of in the third person about him. It appeared to some observers that the World Teacher had "taken over" for a brief period.

The year 1925 was however, a crucial one in Krishnamurti's life, marking the end of his first and explicitly Theosophical phase. Michel suggests that two events of that year were especially important for the change which was to come. First was the "nonsense of Huizen." A group of prominent Theosophists at a Theosophical retreat in the Dutch town of Huizen seem to have participated in a collective hysteria in which they imagined that various of their members were being rapidly initiated into advanced levels of spiritual accomplishment. The aging Annie Besant was present at the time but was perhaps already falling into a condition of incompetence that prevented her from putting a stop to the foolishness. C. W. Leadbeater, who was in Australia, did his best to undo the harm after the fact , but was hampered from direct action by his respect for Besant. Krishnamurti, despite his later view that instantaneous enlightenment is possible, did not regard the participants in that event as enlightened beings but found some of them manipulative. He was much upset at the proceedings, Michel believes, because certain matters he regarded as sacred were made to appear ridiculous.

The second crucial event of 1925 was the death of Krishnamurti's brother, Nitya, who had suffered for some while from tuberculosis. Krishnamurti understood from a dream that he had the promise of the Masters that Nitya would get well, but while on a sea journey to Adyar, he received news of his brother's death. The combination of his dislike of certain prominent Theosophists who behaved foolishly and his loss of confidence in the Masters to make all things right led to a crisis, a turning point in Krishnamurti's life.

Thereafter Krishnamurti moved out of a conventional Theosophical worldview and talked about a mystical and less structured sense of oneness with all life and the rejection of all authority and tradition. In 1929 he disbanded the Order of the Star in the East, which had been created for him but was imbued with traditional Theosophical attitudes and beliefs. Eventually Krishnamurti claimed that he him self had achieved oneness with the Ground of Being. As he wrote in a 1932 letter to Emily Lutyens: "I have revolutionized myself!! I can't tell you, mum, what a glorious thing it is to have realized the highest and the most sublime thing" (51, quoted from Krishnamurti-the Years of Fulfillment, 23). From that point on, Krishnamurti presented himself not as the vehicle or mouthpiece of the World Teacher, but as one who had independently achieved the Mystical Union and who could therefore speak of the Real in his own voice and by his own right.

Krishnamurti appears to have been not one, but several persons. There is the young Krishnamurti, nurtured and conditioned by his Theosophical mentors. There is the rebellious and publicly austere Krishnamurti, overthrowing his Theosophical traces and rejecting all authority, teaching ends without means. There is the esoteric Krishnamurti, healing the sick with his hands, describing nature spirits that frolic in the waves, and exorcising the dark powers that sometimes intruded into his life. There is the charismatic Krishnamurti who appeared to many to be just what he claimed: one who had realized his unity with the source of life and who was therefore free from limitations but boundlessly loving and considerate of others.

But there is also the manipulative, dishonest, self-centered Krishnamurti of Radha Rajagopal Sloss's Lives in the Shadows, a Krishnamurti who had a decades-long affair with the wife of his business manager, was involved with the abortions of her pregnancies by him, and eventually fell out with the other man in the ménage a trois. The last Krishnamurti is one that sympathetic biographers tend to ignore or dismiss, but he will not go away. No Krishnamurti biographer has yet adequately come to terms with Sloss's book.

The existence of so many Krishnamurtis raises the question of who the real Krishnamurti was. Per haps Theosophical psychology is as good a vantage point as any for viewing the mystery of "the often extreme bifurcation in Krishna's private behavior and his public message" (Sloss, 102). Each of us is a transcendent individuality that expresses itself in a series of reincarnated personalities.

The personality of Krishnamurti was molded by the conditions around it and behind it. It was as fluctuating and conditioned as any other personality and less morally responsible than many. Behind the personality, however, was an individuality (called Alcyone in early Theosophical literature), which C. W. Leadbeater recognized. It was the source of the charisma to which so many responded. The various Krishnamurtis are mixtures in varying proportions of aspects of the flawed personality and the inspiring individuality.

The value of Krishnamurti's life and teaching cannot yet be assessed with confidence, partly because his influence reaches into distant and sometimes unexpected corners of modern life. Radha Burnier, the inter national president of the Theosophical Society, has suggested one value Krishnamurti has had for the Society, which identified him, nurtured him, formed him, and from which he parted with bad grace. She writes:

HPB warned that most organizations like ours do not survive for more than one hundred years. Generally they become encrusted with dogma and degenerate into some kind of sectarianism. The members tend to rest upon the oars of their past achievements, giving little attention 10 discovery and action in the present. If the Theosophical Society has escaped such a fate, it is in large measure due to Krishnaji's questioning and criticism. This may not have pleased all members of the Theosophical Society, but nonetheless it helped to restore vitality to the pursuit of the fundamental aims of the society. [189, quoted from The American Theosophist, fall 1987, 345]

It is certainly true that Theosophists have had a love/dread relationship with Krishnamurti from the beginning and many still do, just as it is true that Krishnamurti's life and teachings were intimately bound up with the existence and teachings of the Theosophical Society. His presence and his words have been an energizing force for many Theosophists, and his influence on the organizational and intellectual history of the Society is a story not yet completed. Whether that influence could lead to a different sort of dogma and sectarianism is a possibility not to be discounted. There is a tendency to idealize Krishnamurti, to find in him a de facto World Teacher, and to repress his shadow side.

Krishnamurti is indeed a mystery, some aspects of which are likely to remain forever unapproached.

Autumn 1995