J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was a teacher unique among the profusion of teachers, gurus, seers, yogis, saviors, and spiritual men and women of history. He was neither of the East nor the West; he wanted no followers or adherents; his teachings had no philosophy; and he left a carefully recorded legacy of 20 million words on tape and in books that guarantee the accuracy and authenticity of his vision for centuries to come. He wrote and spoke in English and his books have sold in the millions in more than thirty languages. Except for mainland China, his teachings in print and video form have reached countless people in Siberia, all of Europe, Asia, the Americas and South Africa. While his public speaking life spanned almost seventy years he never sought publicity, yet it has been said that he spoke directly to more people than anyone in history, and it was only in the last twenty-five years of his life that public announcements of his talks and dialogues were made. Almost silently the awareness of Krishnamurti’s teachings spread around the world among people who were dissatisfied with the empty hope of organized religion, the insufficiency of so-called sacred books, and the razzle-dazzle of pulpit preachers and fundamentalism.
The very fact that he made no spiritual promises, including hope for enlightenment, but in simple language reasonably described the psychological conditioning of every man, woman, and child on earth without being psychiatric and therapeutic, caused people to pause and reflect. Those who pursued his writings and talks heard an ageless voice that mirrored serious peoples’ longing for honesty and integrity in matters of the mind and spirit.
When I first met J. Krishnamurti in 1965, just one month after graduating from college, I was immediately struck with his utter sobriety. My first critical response was that he was paradoxical: pliable but uncompromising; yielding and resolute at the same time; deeply affectionate but unsentimental; and simultaneously shy and passionate. His ability to reflect on the human condition in himself and for others was impressive to a young Californian who was serious when he needed to be. What appealed to me instantly was the practical intelligence of his message. There was no fuss around him and he had no staff. There was no panoply of devotees trying to please him and create a following around his teaching.
What I came to see in time was that there really were no paradoxes in his public and private life—none in his outward lifestyle and his inner realization. Publicly and privately I saw the dimensions of Krishnamurti’s seriousness, including humor, his insightful mind, and his affectionate indifference. I came to know a man who was without fear, political mindedness, or duplicity. His life has been chronicled with astonishing detail, but no biography or memoir has even adequately captured the spirit of his being.
At that first meeting in his home, in a matter of hours I began to listen without the interpretation of my brain. In a holistic perception I learned about myself in a new and different sense, seeing my conditioned responses as they came up, but non-intellectually. That first meeting and impact would have been enough for a lifetime for a young man but I had the good fortune to continue to be around him and continue to learn. What he said in his talks and writings was what he said privately; that he was not my guru and that he was no one’s teacher. “Let the listening be your guru.” “Do not follow anyone!” The perception of the truth of these statements was profound and changed me fundamentally.
Krishnamurti sent me to India in 1965. There, over an eight-year period, I saw first-hand the 10,000-year-old religious traditions that draw countless Westerners and grip millions of orthodox believers. What I also touched was the religious mind that transcends the 10,000 years of tradition and is without manifestations, personalities, and organizations. One meets that mind not in temples, mosques, and churches but in the silent interactions with villagers on dirt roads, with pundits chanting ancient Vedic verses, and with elderly people sitting in the warm winter sun talking about life. This profound religious mind exists paradoxically in a highly materialistic, violent, and sectarian culture yet is more powerful, pervasive, and untouched than that culture. Krishnamurti described it poignantly in his Journal: “The villager stopped in front of you, looked at those startling colors and at you. You looked at each other and without a word he trudged on. In that communication there was affection, tenderness and respect, not the silly respect but that of religious men. At that moment all time and thought had come to an end. You and he were utterly religious, uncorrupted by belief, image, by word or poverty. You often passed each other on that road among the stony hills and each time, as you looked at one another, there was the joy of total insight.”
I came to see that Krishnamurti was an authentic guru in the original, pure sense of that word, which means grave and heavy (as well as dispeller of darkness). He was a teacher for the world, and I can say with impunity, a World Teacher with a significance that has yet to be fully understood. He traveled the world and taught but had no students and no followers with whom he identified.
I have worked in two Krishnamurti Foundations since 1965, and have seen firsthand the absoluteness of his resolve that the teachings and the work around the teachings not become cultish or a religion. He said at one point, “The Foundations will not give rise to any sectarian spirit in their activities. The Foundations will not create any kind or place of worship around the teachings or the person.” This meant in his daily life he was particularly alert to the follower mentality, to the mind that worshipped and did not question. Where he found it around him he would work on that person. If they responded then they stayed in the work. If they did not, then sooner or later they left because there was no reciprocal leader or guru response from Krishnamurti. There was no darshan, there was no divine favor offered. It was hard work being near such self-reflective, non-romantic simplicity. On several occasions he said, “Make sure you are not being hypnotized (by me).”
This resolve, and his humor, are illustrated by an incident from 1929 when Krishnamurti spoke at a camp in Holland. On the second day of the camp, Saturday August 3rd, he gave his now famous “Truth is a Pathless Land” talk before three thousand people. The talk ended with, “I am concerned only with making men free, absolutely, unconditionally free.” But what is not mentioned in books is that as this was a big outdoor camp for thousands of people there were several talks before and after that historical speech. In fact, the day before that talk he prepared the eager listeners with a short tale illustrative of the seriousness of his humor. Krishnamurti often began an evening gathering with a camp fire and the chanting of Vedic slokas. But in the evening of August 2nd he first said, “Once upon a time there was a Brahman in India who performed rites everyday in front of his pupils, and every day as he was performing them a cat came and rubbed itself against him, and Brahmans are not supposed to touch cats because they are impure animals, especially when you are going to perform a ceremony. So every day he used to put the cat in a room and lock the room. When he died, his pupils everyday before they performed the ceremony sought out a cat and locked it in the room, and then performed their rites. So this camp fire and the chant have become a superstition. I have been told wherever I have been that in order to speak in the evening I must have a camp fire and I must necessarily chant at it. So I can foresee what is going to happen later on. I have not chanted this for some time and if I do not quite repeat it properly, please excuse it. I chant it because it has a lovely sound, a lovely meaning, and not because of some mysterious effect.”
He urged people who understood something of what he was talking about, who had insight into themselves and the teachings, to talk to other people. He said on a few occasions, “Shout it from the roof-top.” Yet he saw the danger of proselytizing, missionary work, witnessing, and the passionate Krishnamurti fundamentalists who were coming up around the world. There was nothing that could be done about people he did not know, but within the Foundations he spoke of the future and said, “The Foundations have no authority in the matter of the teachings. The truth lies in the teachings themselves. The Foundations will see to it that these teachings are kept whole, are not distorted, and are not made corrupt. The Foundations have no authority to send out propagandists or interpreters of the teachings. As it has been necessary, I have often pointed out that I have no representative who will carry on with these teachings in my name now or at any time in the future.” There were to be no priests, organization or instrument between the listener and the teachings themselves. When asked why this was so important, he pointed to the fact that all organized religions historically have created violence and division and that his work was to “set man absolutely, unconditionally free” and not to found organizations or to perpetuate myths about himself. The authenticity of one’s perception and insight, and ultimately the quality of one’s life was what mattered—not membership in a group, or what beliefs and ideas one had. His was an austere and simple approach to the ancient striving of humanity for truth, intelligence, love, and peace.
While it has been said there was an apparent paradox (contradiction) between Krishnamurti’s outward lifestyle and his inner realization, I never saw it—but I did imagine it. I expected him to behave in certain ways given my ideas about him. The more I came to recognize that my ideas of him were affecting what I perceived was the phenomenon of J. Krishnamurti, the more I saw there was no discrepancy between the man and the message. The paradox was in my thinking, not in the teachings. Seemingly contradictory statements in his books and talks in context stood alone and true. “Think about this, apply yourself” is not contradictory to “Thought is the root of sorrow . . .” when each statement is viewed in context.
One day, in the garden where he worked wearing soft gloves, blue jeans, a straw hat, and Reeboks, he said, “We have just laid some traps for gophers.” He said that one had to make a decision either to have pests and bugs or to cultivate flowers and vegetables. He would never kill an animal for food or eat something killed by another, yet he did not call himself a vegetarian. He said, “I just don’t eat meat, but no ism, of any kind.” There is no paradox here.
One day, in the Oak Grove School, when we were having trouble with some students, Krishnamurti said, “They are so disrespectful. Why don’t they call you sir?” This precipitated a two year discussion with Krishnamurti, staff, parents, and others on respect, student-teacher relationships, and the decline of American culture. He recognized the need for temporal authority but it was religious and psychological authority that were anathema. There is no paradox here.
One day, on a walk, Krishnamurti said to me, “I can break a habit in three days. It takes me that long to see it totally, to cut it out completely.” In the face of his caution that time is the enemy of insight and change, I was perplexed. Why three days? He went on to say that he had to watch the habit every time it came up; and to see it completely, to observe it in every setting and relationship, it might take some time. It was my limited, literal mind that made a paradox where in fact none existed.
Krishnamurti had a great sense of place and he was sensitive to landscape and natural beauty. These elements figure profoundly in his books and talks. He commented on trees, the play of light on leaves, and the colors of flowers all the while pointing to the dangers of labeling, naming things. “What happens when we give a name to a flower, to anything? By giving a name to something, we have merely put it into a category, and we think we have understood it; we don’t look at it more closely. But, if we do not give it a name, we are forced to look at it. That is, we approach the flower, or whatever it is, with a newness, with a new quality of examination; we look at it as though we had never looked at it before.”
I have tried to illustrate my point that there was seriousness in his humor and no real paradox in Krishnamurti the man or the teachings. But these short examples are perhaps simplistic. Now, it could be said that if Krishnamurti was a philosopher, paradox is not inappropriate. With his simple use of words and the scientific disclaimers that he was actually talking about the unnameable, something needs to be said about Krishnamurti’s use of language. Prof. David Bohm wrote about this and, as he and Krishnamurti were friends and close in their mutual exploration of the limits of the mind and thought to capture the sacred, I would like to use Bohm’s words to point to a different kind of paradox.
“Words and their meanings are never more than abstractions, which cannot substitute for that to which they refer . . . Moreover, words cannot abstract all that is to be known about any given thing. Indeed, they do not even abstract all that is essential to the function of that thing . . . So, it is necessary to recognize that all language has an essentially negative and partial relationship to that to which it refers. As Korzybski has put this relationship very succinctly in the assertion: ‘Whatever we say it is, it isn’t.’ This statement is not a metaphysical assertion about the basic nature of what is. Rather, it is a very deep challenge to the entire structure of our communications, both external and internal (which later are called ‘thought’). To understand this challenge, let us begin with the fact. ‘We are always talking about ‘it.’ (‘It’ refers to anything whatsoever). When we read Korzybski’s statement, our first response is to see that we have already begun to say something about ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ may happen to be). And then, noticing that ‘it’ is not what we say, and that what we say is at most incomplete abstraction even from what is to be known, we assume that ‘it’ must be something else, as well as something more. But ‘something else’ and ‘something more’ are also what we say ‘it’ is. As we do this for a while, we begin to be struck by the absurdity of the whole procedure. For whatever we say it is, it isn’t. What is the appropriate response to such a situation? Evidently, one has to stop saying anything at all, not merely outwardly, but also, inwardly. It is suggested here that if all the ‘chatter’ of thought can really stop, then something new can happen. But even to say this much may be going too far. For if this means that ‘it’ will be something new, ‘then the novelty that we say ‘it’ is will be what ‘it’ is not. The paradox with which the reader has to be left is ‘what is it when there is no saying at all, neither outwardly nor inwardly?'”
Krishnamurti has avoided the paradox by not describing “it.” The silence which he suggests as the entree to that world of the unnameable is at the heart of his teachings. And he left it to the reader to discover that pathless land where there was no saying at all, neither outwardly nor inwardly.
I would urge readers to investigate the works of Krishnamurti for themselves. The teachings have intrinsic weight and authority—they are not derivative. History will probably show that the timelessness of Krishnamurti’s insight and the emphasis on living a life without psychological and religious authority give the teacher and his teachings a commensurate stellar place in the course of understanding consciousness and questioning traditional human evolution.
R.E. Mark Lee is currently a Director of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America in Ojai, California. He was the Founding Director of the Oak Grove School and a teacher and Principal of the Rishi Valley Junior School in India for eight years.