On Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti. Albert Witzel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
India is a land not short of its own eminent philosophers and spiritual and religious teachers. In fact, I will even go as far as to say that no other country can boast of producing as many influential spiritual and religious teachers as India has. India was home to the Buddha, Rishabhadeva, Parshvanatha, Mahavira, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Neem Karoli Baba, Narayana Guru, Swami Sivananda, and thousands of other philosophers, and spiritual and religious teachers.
However, the subject of this essay is none of the abovementioned illustrious names. This essay is dedicated to a man who is perhaps one of the most important and influential philosophers and spiritual teachers to come out of India in recent history. That man is none other than Jiddu Krishnamurti.
You may have probably heard of him as he is one of the more famous Indian philosophers internationally, having given regular talks in the west, and even settled in America for most part of his adult life.
In this essay, we will take a brief look at his interesting life and legacy.
So who was Jiddu Krishnamurti?
Jiddu Krishnamurti was an Indian philosopher, spiritual teacher, public speaker, and writer who was born on 11th May 1895 in the small town of Madanapalle, Madras Presidency (present-day State of Andra Pradesh in India). It must be noted that his exact birth date is still a matter of debate, and the birth date generally accepted (that is 11th May 1895) is based on Krishnamurti’s biographical works by Mary Lutyens, often considered his most reliable biographer.
Krishnamurti was born in a Telugu-speaking Brahmin family to Jiddu Narayanaiah and Sanjeevamma. He was one of six out of eleven children who survived childhood. His father was an official of the British colonial administration.
Krishnamurti was said to be a sickly and sensitive child, often described as vague and dreamy, as if lost in his own world. He had a tough time at school due to this natural disposition of his and was even thought to be intellectually disabled. Being a poor student at school, he was frequently beaten by his teachers and by his father,
It was during his troubled childhood that Krishnamurti developed a strong lifelong bond with nature.
In 1905, when Krishnamurti was 10 years old, his mother died. A year earlier, he had lost a sister too.
His father was a member of the Theosophical Society since 1889, and after retiring from his post at the British colonial administration, he was hired as a clerk at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar. Upon moving to Adyar, the family was given a small cottage to live in, located right outside the Society’s compound.
In April 1909, Charles Webster Leadbeater, a prominent member of the Society, saw Krishnamurti on the beach of the Adyar river and was taken by what he described as the most wonderful aura he had ever seen without a particle of selfishness in it. Krishnamurti was 13 years old at the time.
Leadbeater’s adjutant, Ernest Wood, who assisted Krishnamurti with his school work, thought him to be dim-witted. Nevertheless, Leadbeater, who claimed clairvoyance, was convinced that Krishnamurti would become a great orator and spiritual teacher. He said that Krishnamurti was likely to become the vehicle for the Lord Maitreya in Theosophical doctrine, who is an advanced spiritual entity periodically appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of mankind.
After he was discovered by Leadbeater, Leadbeater and a number of his trusted associates undertook the responsibility of protecting, raising, educating, and preparing him to become a vehicle of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti and his brother Nityananda were privately tutored by certain members of the Society.
Krishnamurti surrendered himself to the guidance of Leadbeater and Annie Beasant, whom he came to regard as his surrogate mother. Krishnamurti and Beasant developed a strong bond, and soon Besant became his legal guardian with the consent of his father. The sudden attention on Krishnamurti pushed his father into the background.
Krishnamurti described himself as being obedient, subservient, uncertain, and vague during these early years under the guidance of the Theosophical Society. He was ready to do whatever they wanted, but he did not seem to care about what was happening. He did what they asked him to do but nothing influenced him.
Even under the Theosophical Society’s guidance, Krishnamurti was a poor student. But he managed to learn how to write and speak in English very quickly. His brother Nitya was considered a better, more intelligent student of the two.
To put their plan into action, the Theosophical Society established the Order of the Star in the East in 1911, when Krishnamurti was 16 years old, in order to prepare the world for the coming of the World Teacher. And Krishnamurti, being the vehicle of the World Teacher, was appointed as the Head of the Order.
In 1912, when Krishnamurti was 17 years old, his father sued Besant to annul the legal guardianship agreement. A legal battle ensued in which Besant came out victorious, taking custody of Krishnamurti and Nitya.
After the break-up of their family and separation from their home, the two brothers became closer and depended on each other even more, since their father was now out of the picture.
The Theosophical Society exposed Krishnamurti and Nitya to the European high society as they studied and traveled abroad.
As he was being groomed to become the World Teacher, he was subjected to a rigorous and intense daily regimen, which included academic studies of various school subjects, religious, spiritual, and theosophical lessons, sports and exercise, meditation, yoga, and even some mystical lessons from Leadbeater himself. He was also instructed in the ways of British high society and culture.
However, he was not at all academically inclined and eventually gave up on his university education after multiple attempts at getting admission.
During this period, Leadbeater and Beasant tried to cultivate his public image, one that he would maintain more or less for the rest of his life. He was groomed to have a well-polished exterior, a cosmopolitan outlook, a sobriety of purpose, and an otherwordly, almost beatific detachment in his demeanor. This carefully cultivated image and his innate personal charisma and magnetism inspired veneration toward him.
But things were not always great and smooth sailing. As he grew up during his teenage years, he came to despise the rigid daily regimen he was made to adhere to and he soon grew frustrated with it. He became uncomfortable with the publicity and hype surrounding him and often expressed doubts and concerns regarding the future decided for him. All these troubles led to emotional instability and occasional rebellion on his end.
As Krishnamurti and Nitya toured Europe, where Krishnamurti gave lectures at meetings and took part in discussions, his first writings began getting published in booklets by the Theosophical Society in their various magazines.
After the First World War, Krishnamurti toured the world as the head of the Order, giving lectures and speaking at discussions. He was not a natural at public speaking and was initially accused of being repetitive, hesitant, and halting. However, as he proceeded to give more lectures and take part in more discussions, his confidence as a speaker grew, making him a gentle and eloquent yet commanding and authentic public speaker.
In 1922, Krishnamurti and Nitya traveled to California, where they stayed at a cottage in the Ojai Valley. Nitya was diagnosed with tuberculosis and it was suggested that the climate in Ojai would help him recuperate better. The brothers lived at the cottage on their own without any supervision from any member of the Theosophical Society for the first time. They fell in love with the Ojai Valley and with their newfound freedom.
During this period, they met a young American woman named Rosalind Williams, who would go on to play an important role in Krishnamurti’s life. Krishnamurti and Rosalind would go on to have an affair that would last for almost 25 years.
A trust, formed by supporters of the Theosophical Society, bought a cottage and some surrounding property for Krishnamurti and Nitya in Ojai, making it Krishnamurti’s official residence for the rest of his life.
It was in August 1922 in Ojai that Krishnamurti went through his first profound life-changing experience. The experience is considered to be a psychological transformation and spiritual awakening.
It is said that this experience took place in two phases. The first phase was a three-day spiritual experience that began with Krishnamurti experiencing a sharp pain at the nape of his neck, which worsened over the following two days, leading to more, delirious ramblings and loss of appetite. According to witnesses, he seemed to have drifted into unconsciousness.
But Krishnamurti would later reveal that during this episode he was completely aware of his surroundings and even had an experience of a mystical union. At the end of those three days, he felt a sense of immense peace.
Then began the second phase, referred to as the process by Krishnamurti and the witnesses. This second phase lasted through September and October 1922 and was an almost nightly occurrence. It is said to have included sensitivity, physical discomfort, occasional lapse into a childlike state, experiencing varying degrees of pain, and drifting in and out of consciousness.
Following this second phase, Krishnamurti experienced what he described as otherness, which is a world beyond all thought. This feeling and experience of otherness gave him a sense of being protected. As Krishnamurti would later describe, this strong feeling of otherness entailed a heightening of sensitivity to all things. He could often feel the power, force, and intensity of this otherness surrounding him.
Krishnamurti would experience such episodes frequently up until his death, although neither Krishnamurti nor Leadbeater was ever able to justify or explain the cause and meaning of these experiences.
However, one thing is certain, after this experience, Krishnamurti had a newfound sense of confidence and independence that would lead him to question the purpose of the Order and the truth behind the concept of World Teacher.
As the news of Krishnamurti’s so-called spiritual awakening spread, his status as the coming World Teacher reached an all-time high sometime around 1925. Among the supporters of the Theosophical Society, there were expectations of something important taking place and coming in the near future.
Within the Society itself, internal politics among prominent members was rampant, all of which alienated Krishnamurti and made him even more uncomfortable with his status as the next Messiah. To make matters worse, Nitya’s condition grew worse, ultimately leading to his unexpected death in November 1925 in Ojai, at the age of 27. He died from complications of tuberculosis and influenza.
Nitya’s death broke Krishnamurti completely, for Nitya had been the last surviving link to his family and childhood, his closest companion, and his best friend in whom he could confide. Nitya’s death left him utterly devastated and shook his beliefs in theosophical doctrine and the Theosophical Society in general, mainly because he had been assured by the Theosophical Society that Nitya would be fine.
Nitya’s death changed Krishnamurti as a person. His belief in the leaders of the Theosophical Society and its hierarchy underwent a total and complete revolution.
In spite of being devastated by his brother’s death, as per witnesses, merely 12 days after Nitya’s death Krishnamurti had made a complete recovery as if nothing had happened. He was said to have become quiet, radiant, and free of all sentiment and emotion, with nothing in his behavior betraying what he had been through.
Nitya’s death was perhaps the most important moment of Krishnamurti’s early adult life. Over the next few years, his philosophy, consciousness, and vision continued to develop independently of the Theosophical Society and its doctrine. And in his lectures and discussions, he began addressing new themes and concepts and his speech included less theosophical terminology.
By 1929, Krishnamurti had chosen a whole new path completely independent of the Order of the Star in the East and the Theosophical Society. Besant and Leadbeater failed to convince him to keep the Order going, and on 3rd August 1929, Krishnamurti dissolved the Order during the annual Star Camp at Ommen in the Netherlands, a decision he had been thinking of for two years.
In his dissolving speech, Krishnamurti declared that truth was a pathless land that could not be approached by any religion or organization. He proceeded to denounce all organized beliefs, the idea of gurus, and the teacher-follower relationship that gave rise to hierarchy and authority. He also claimed that he did not want any followers, for the moment one followed someone, one ceased to follow the truth.
Instead, he set himself one essential, primary goal, which was to set man completely and unconditionally free. And he vowed to work toward that aim with unwavering concentration.
The dissolution of the Order prompted many prominent and influential theosophists, including Leadbeater, to turn against Krishnamurti. Leadbeater later declared that the coming had gone wrong. Nevertheless, Krishnamurti did maintain a cordial relationship with some of the theosophists for the rest of his life.
As head of the now-dissolved Order, Krishnamurti returned all the money and properties that were donated to the Order. He also resigned from all the organizations and trusts that were affiliated with the Order.
Even though Krishnamurti had dissolved the Order and wanted nothing to do with it, he regarded his discovery by Leadbeater as a life-saving event, stating that if he had not been discovered, he would have died.
For a decade after the dissolution of the Order, Krishnamurti went on speaking tours across the world, lecturing in the U.S., India, Latin America, Europe, and Australia. He also established the Star Publishing Trust along with his close associate and friend Rajagopal, whom he knew from the Theosophical Society days. The base of operations for the trust was Ojai, where Krishnamurti, Rajagopal, and his wife Rosalind lived in the house known as Arya Vihara.
The Star Publishing Trust was run by Rajagopal, while Krishnamurti dedicated his time to speaking and meditation. Rajagopal and Rosalind had a very unhappy marriage, and after the birth of their daughter Radha in 1931, they grew physically estranged. Krishnamurti and Rosalind’s affair would begin in 1932.
In 1938, Krishnamurti met British writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, and the two became close friends. In fact, it was Huxley who encouraged Krishnamurti to write books.
Krishnamurti took a four-year break from public speaking during the Second World War, between 1940 and 1944.
In May 1944, he ended his hiatus from public speaking and gave a series of talks in Ojai. The talks and other materials were published by Krishnamurti Writings Inc., which was a successor organization to the Star Publishing Trust. This new entity was established for the sole purpose of spreading Krishnamurti’s teachings across the world.
Upon arriving in a newly-independent India in 1947 for a speaking tour, he was visited by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and several other prominent personalities.
As the years and decades went by, Krishnamurti continued with his rigorous schedule of public speaking and having discussions with prominent personalities in various fields. He slowly developed an almost cult-like following across the world, comprising admirers and followers who frequently attended his lectures.
Krishnamurti even became good friends with theoretical physicist David Bohm, and the two frequently held talks with each other and even took part in group discussions with members of different fields. These discussions were recorded and also published as books, and helped to introduce Krishnamurti’s philosophy to a wider audience.
Toward his later years, Krishnamurti held frequent discussions with eminent physicists and psychotherapists representing different theoretical orientations.
During the 1970s, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Krishnamurti on several occasions, and the two had serious conversations on a wide range of topics. It is even said that the lifting of certain emergency measures imposed by Indira during political turmoil in India was possibly due to the conversations with Krishnamurti.
Krishnamurti also held discussions and talks with several religious and spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama.
By the mid-1980s, Krishnamurti had lost considerable weight and began to have health issues. But in spite of his failing health, he continued to maintain a rigorous and intense touring schedule.
In October 1985, he visited India for the last time, holding a series of discussions and talks that would be some of his last ones. These talks included new concerns and doubts about the progress in science and technology and their effect on mankind, as well as the same fundamental questions he had been asking for years.
Although he wished to live longer, he told his close friends that he was not sure how long his body would last and that once he could no longer talk, he would have no further purpose.
On 4th January 1986, Krishnamurti gave his final talk in Madras, where he invited the audience to examine the effect of technology, the nature of creation, the nature of inquiry, and the nature of meditation and life.
Before his death, Krishnamurti made it very clear that he would have no successors and interpreters of his teachings. He even warned his associates not to present themselves as his successor or spokesman after his death. He did this in order to make sure that his teachings and legacy would not be handed down to special individuals instead of to the whole of mankind.
He wanted people to not just follow him but to actually live his teachings.
On 17th February 1986, Krishnamurti died of pancreatic cancer, aged 90, in Ojai. As per his wishes, no memorial service was held for him and his ashes were divided into three portions, for India, Ojai, and England.
Even though Krishnamurti is no more, his influence and teachings continue to spread across the world with the help of books that are still in print, videos, audio, and other mediums that disseminate his teachings. His talks and lectures can be found on almost all popular online platforms today.
During his lifetime, he established five schools in India, one in California, and one in England with the educational aims of a global outlook, concern for man and the environment, and a religious spirit with a scientific temper.
Krishnamurti’s teachings have gone on to influence and inspire several prominent and well-known personalities such as the Dalai Lama, Aldous Huxley, David Bohm, Alan Watts, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bruce lee, Jackson Pollock, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Miller, Kahlil Gibran, Eckhart Tolle, Sadhguru, and several others.