Remembering Allan W. Anderson

by Matthew Greenblatt

July 18, 1922 – March 11, 2013

allan-anderon-picAllan W. Anderson was a distinguished Professor of Philosophy at San Diego State University from 1962 until his retirement in 1985. During that time, Prof. Anderson taught and mentored students by actively engaging them in a quest for truth that ultimately pointed back within themselves. One of the books that Dr. Anderson often used as a classroom text was I Am That, the well-known book of dialogues of Nisargadatta Maharaj that was compiled and edited by Maurice Frydman.

One of Prof. Anderson’s students commented, “I would say Dr. Anderson was unique, he was one of a kind. He had a huge, huge following of students—always an overflow in each class, including some of the other professors on campus. What attracted all of us to him, I think, was his authenticity as a person and the authenticity of his teaching. He spoke to the essence of religion. He would always speak from the heart, and he would raise a question then ponder it from different angles.”

Allan Anderson is also well known for the deeply penetrating series of video interviews he did with the respected philosopher J. Krishnamurti. In 1974, Krishnamurti asked Dr. Anderson to participate in 18 one hour conversations, which is considered to be a definitive compilation that reflects Krishnamurti’s teachings on a variety of subjects.

Those who knew Allan realized that he was a poet at heart. For a period of years, upon waking in the morning, one or more quatrains would spontaneously arise within him. Here is one of them that he graciously wrote and presented to us:


Silent as a petal’s power
Silken as the rain
Love unbinds the ancient knot
Time interlaced in vain
—Allan W. Anderson

Allan was also a dear friend and mentor. He was deeply interested, from the beginning, in the work of Inner Directions and often shared valuable advice and counsel. We were both night owls and often found ourselves talking late into the night. Sometimes, we’d wind up going for Thai food, which was his favorite. Our talks would always be profound yet entertaining—primarily due to Allan, of course. He was a remarkable storyteller and would engage those around him with spiritual stories that were relevant to what was being discussed at the moment. He not only had a brilliant mind but he was deeply rooted in the Heart, which he sometimes referred to as “Spirit.” He often reminded me of a biblical Taoist—if such a character existed it would be Allan.

We were fortunate that he participated in both the Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta DVDs that were produced by Inner Directions. Allan’s presence and grace touched so many lives, and it continues to live on in his writings and especially in his extraordinary poems.
—Matthew Greenblatt

The Very Essence of Freedom
This selection is from a series of dialogues between Krishnamurti and Dr. Allan W. Anderson. Dr. Anderson, a published poet, received his degree from Columbia University and the Union Theological Seminary. He was honored with the distinguished teaching award from the California State University.

Allan W. Anderson: Mr. Krishnamurti, in our previous conversation I was extremely delighted, for myself at least, that we had made the distinction in terms of relation between knowledge and self-transformation, between on the one hand, the relationship that I sustain with the world, as the world is me, and I am the world, and on the other hand this dysfunctional condition which indicates in your phrase, that a person is involved in thinking, that the description is the described. It would appear then that something must be done to bring about a change in the individual, and going back to our use of the word individual, we could say, and you used the word earlier, that we are dealing with an observer. So if the individual is not to make the mistake of taking the description for the described, then he must as an observer relate to the observed in a particular way that is totally different from the way he has been in his confusion. I thought that perhaps in this particular conversation, if we pursued that it would be a link directly with what we had said prior.

J. Krishnamurti: What we previously, wasn’t it surely that there must be a quality of freedom from the known; otherwise the known is merely the repetition of the past, the tradition, the image, and so on. The past, sir, is the observer. The past is the accumulated knowledge as the “me” and the “we”, “they” and “us”. The observer is put together by thought as the past. Thought is the past. Thought is never free. Thought is never new, because thought is the response of the past, as knowledge, as experience, as memory.

A: Yes I follow that.

K: And the observer, when he observes, is observing with the memories, experiences, knowledge, hurts, despairs, hope—all that, with all that background he looks at the observed. So the observer then becomes separate from the observed. Is the observer different from the observed? That leads to all kinds of other things. So when we are talking of freedom from the known we are talking about the freedom from the observer.

A: The observer, yes.

K: And the observer is tradition, the past, the conditioned mind that looks at things, looks at itself, looks at the world, looks at me and so on. So the observer is always dividing. The observer is the past and therefore it cannot observe wholly.

A: If the person uses the first person pronoun, “I”, while he is taking the description for the described, this is the observer he refers to when he says, “I”.

K: “I” is the past.

A: I see

K: ‘I’ is the whole structure of what has been, the remembrances, the memories, the hurts, the various demands, all that is put together in the word, “the I”, who is the observer, and therefore division: the observer and the observed. The observer who thinks he is a Christian and observes a non-Christian or a Communist, this division, this attitude of mind which observes with conditioned responses, with memories and so on. So that is the known.

A: I see.

K: I mean I think that is logically so.

A: Oh, no, it follows precisely from what you have said.

K: So, we are asking, can the mind or the whole structure, can the mind be free from the known? Otherwise the repetitious action, repetitious attitudes, repetitious ideologies, will go on, modified, changed, but it will be the same direction.

A: Do go ahead, I was going to say something but I think I’ll let it wait until you have finished what you have said.

K: So, what is this freedom from the known? I think that is very important to understand because, any creative action—I am using the word creative in its original sense, not in the sense creative writing, creative . . .

A: I know

K: . . . bakery, creative essay, creative pictures. I am not talking in that sense. In the deeper sense of that word, creation means something totally new being born. It is not creative, it is merely repetitive, modified, changed, the past. So unless there is a freedom from the known there is no creative action at all. Which is freedom implies not the negation of the known but the understanding of the known and that understanding brings about an intelligence which is the very essence of freedom.

Adapted from the DVD Collection: A Wholly Different Way of Living. J. Krishnamurti’s second conversation (conversation 1102) with Allan W. Anderson, Ph.D. Recorded in San Diego, California on February 18, 1974.