Krishnamurti as I Knew Him

S. Balasundaram

Reproduced from "The Theosophist" December 1996 issue. (Talk at Adyar Convention 1995. Krishnamurti Birth Centenary Year)

It was a very, very great privilege to have been associated with so great a personage as J. Krishnamurti. If you asked me, what has happened after thirty years or more in contact with him, I can only relate a little story in Paul Carus's The Gospel of Buddha. A rich brahmin, unaware of life's impermanence, had built himself a large house. The Buddha sent Ananda to this old man to find out why he has done this and teach him the four noble truths. Instead of listening to Buddha's teachings the brahmin just went on about the purpose of each of the many rooms in his house. As soon as Ananda left, the old man fell ill and died. And Buddha said that the brahmin was like a spoon that tastes not the flavor of the soup.

Neither I nor any of my relatives were Theosophists. But my late wife Vina Visalakshi used to live in Madras and had many friends in the TS. She knew Krishnaji, so I also came to know him. Though the title of the talk is 'Krishnamurti as I knew him', how can I say I knew him? One does not know even one's friend or wife. However, I will share with you some reminiscences of that great man.

I was a research scholar in the Indian Institute of Science and by nature a sceptic. I never sought out or met anyone. But somehow I met Krishnaji in 1947 with my wife. From the first day onwards he said to me a number of times, 'Balasundaram, I am your firend.' In work, in all kinds of situations, he was a friend, which came through in his presence and tremendous affection. When he came to India after the war, he was very affectionate and wanted to meet young people and get to know them. There used to be a pandal (awning) outside the house in Stirling Road, Madras, where he stayed and he used to sit there most of the time. One day I saw a gentleman in dhoti and kurta, with a purple cap and a bundle of detective stories under his arm, walking into his room. I looked and thought. 'This cannot be a holy man.' After some time this man came out and went away. As my curiosity got the better of me. I went quickly inside and saw the bundle next to Krishnaji. I asked: 'Sir, do you read these things?' He said: 'Yes, I do. But I am a slow reader.' Then I asked: 'Who was it who brought these books to you?' He said: 'Don't you know him? That was Jinarajadasa, the President of the Theosophical Society.' This was in 1947.

In 1948, I was in Bangalore at the Institute of Science. Krishnaji did not go back that summer to Europe or America, but stayed in Ooty and came from there to Bangalore. We were looking after him, being with him most of the time. Then we asked Mr Maurice Frydman, who had known Krishnaji from his Ommen days, to stay with him in Vikram Sarabhai's house. I used to see Krishnaji every day. After the second or third day he said to me, 'Mr Balasundaram, I cannot walk with these chappals (sandals). Can you get me some Pathan chappals (the strapped ones like Roman sandals)?' So I got a Chinese cobbler to make them. The next morning, I walked to his place before breakfast and found him sitting in a corner, polishing the new sandals. I stood behind him in awe and said, 'Sir, I can do this for you, please.' He turned around, still polishing the sandals and said: 'You know who taught me to polish shoes? The shoeblack of King Edward the Seventh.' It was actually so; he was not telling me a story. This indicates the care and the regal way the TS had looked after him and brought him up. He never talked about the past, but suddenly something would flash up from the past in his consciousness.

One day, Maurice Frydman and his friend Wanda Dynowska, who used to call herself Uma Devi and stayed here in the TS at Sevashrama, came to see him. She translated many theosophical works and also Krishnamurti's books and sent them through underground channels to Poland in the days when Communism was supreme. It was a tremendous work. Uma Devi's brother was killed during the War and in 1948 news was still trickling in and she had just heard that somebody else had died, which made her very unhappy. So Frydman, who always used to make things a little philosophical, said: 'What should one's attitude be to the dead?' Krishnaji answered: 'The Bible has it, Sir: Let the dead bury the dead.' That was all; nothing else.

Some days before Krishnamurti left after a stay of six weeks, Frydman said: 'This chap Balasundaram should be put to work. He is very capable, but I cannot get him to work. Krishnaji, you are the only person who can persuade him. So, you should tell him to work with me, and we will start.' I knew Frydman had his own way of doing things. In 1950, for one year he was the Secretary of the Krishnamurti Foundation and also of its Rajghat Center. He turned it upside down. So, when Frydman said that I should work with him, I replied: 'I will never work with Maurice Frydman. He says one thing and does another. He is most unreliable.' Krishnaji just looked at me and responded: 'How can you say such a thing? He may have changed even at the last minute. What you say may be true, but he may have changed.' You see, this was so obvious. The teacher was thus teaching. His teaching flashed through even small things. In this case the lesson was that I should live without an image. It was a shocking lesson. Krishnaji remarked: 'I am just poking you to live, to become alive.'

My wife was a musician and, as many people knew, she was going deaf in one ear. Towards the end of his stay, Krishnaji said: 'I am going away in a week. If you want me to help your wife I will see what I can do for her.' I did not know what he meant. Then he added: 'Amma (he always called Annie Besant amma or mother) always got up at four o'clock in the morning, made herself a strong brew of coffee, and then started her work. Often she had a nagging headache. So one day she said: 'Son, put your hand on my head; that might help.' I just put my hand on her head like this and her headache subsided. Then I realized that there was something in my hands. It sometimes works and sometimes does not. If you wish I will try it on Visalakshi.' He did, and it did not work.

Suddenly I decided to retire from the Indian Institute of Science and go to America to make some money and then completely retire. But one day I received a telegram from Rishi Valley, 'Krishnaji wants to see you urgently.' I drove down in my old car thinking I would be back for work the next morning or evening, but I stayed for three days. Krishnamurti said: 'Are you going to America for research?' When I told him I would return in about three years, he said: 'Why don't you retire now and help these people?' That is how I went to Rishi Valley, and without having taught in any school or college became the principal of the School. Things always happened around him and there were always changes. The three-day session I had with Krishnaji jolted me completely out of the image I had of a religious man. Krishnaji lived in the world and took part in its life as you would have read in his Commentaries, but he was not of the world. He was totally out of it.

Krishnaji could not bear the sun, for he had had sunstroke. He never went out for a walk before almost sundown. So I used to do a lot of driving with him during which we had a great many conversations. Sometimes they were trivial. At other times he was tremendously interested, for instance, in ancient history, in the sky, in astronomy, in the stars, and all kinds of things, and he would talk and say, 'Look at the Southern Cross'. Sometimes there would be more people in the car, sometimes only the two of us. Dick Balfour Clarke would sometimes come cycling down from the TS to see him off.

Krishnaji was very well-informed, but he read very little and also slowly. I have never seen him read any religious books. Becoming very serious once when Life magazine produced a statistical table after the 1968 Olympics showing India at the bottom of the scale, he said: 'Has it occurred to you why this country has not produced one outstandingly creative individual in so many years in science, art, music, and so forth, and this for a country which has all these beautiful sculptures and temples? Why did it not produce a single truly creative individual lately who is internationally known?' He went on badgering me. He used to address me as 'Old boy', or 'Balasundaram', or 'Sir', it meant you were in for the cudgel. He continued 'Have you not thought about it? How can you educate people if you are not aware of this?' Then I threw the question back: 'What would you say?' He replied that it was an old trick to throw the question back, but added: 'I'll tell you, watch. Whenever there has been a great efflorescence of art, music, poetry, and so forth, it appears after a great religious period. What do we see after the Buddha appeared? The Ajanta and Ellora caves! If anyone creates nowadays something like that he would be acclaimed worldwide. Anonymous people did that!' He went on viewing the whole world and then said: 'True religious feeling is the mother of all creativity. This country has let it go.' He was very serious about it.

He was affectionate, but could also be explosive at times. It was so when he said: 'You have to do something.' I replied: 'What can one man do?' Then he turned round and said: 'Do not ever say that again: What can one man do? Napoleon was one man. Hitler was one man, the Buddha was one man. So for good or evil things have been changed by one person. You have to go to the root. If you do not discover the root, you can do only something on the periphery. This goes for education and for everything.'

Krishnaji had a great presence. I do not remember ever sitting with legs crossed in his presence. It is not that one was not consciously respectful; I just could not do it. It is like Rom Landau says in his book God is My Adventure, when he went to see Krishnaji in 1934. At that time he used to smoke regularly, but he wrote: 'I forgot to pick up a cigarette in those fifteen days, because I forgot that I was a smoker.' Krishnaji had a tremendous presence that affected some people that way. Other people were not affected in the same way, one cannot say why. Often I have seen villagers and people who did not know him at all stand back and bow to greet him when he walked by.

Scriptures say that one of the major causes of man's illusion is dehãtma-bhãva, believing that you are the body. But in Krishnamurti this was never there. He used to treat his body as a separate entity which he had to look after, clothe, bathe, feed with the right kind of food and so forth. Krishnaji used to treat it as though it was a precious instrument to look after.

There is much talk about what Krishnaji meant by freedom. He meant not doing whatever one likes to do or indulging oneself: but freedom from likes and dislikes. Once he told his nephew Narayan, 'If I had not subjected this body to such an amount of travel, it would have lasted four hundred years.' I asked: 'Did he say four hundred or a hundred?' Narayan repeated, 'four hundred'. Dr Parchure said to Krishnaji one day, 'Your liver is not at all right. Take bitter gourd juice every morning at breakfast.' And he did it without wincing -- no likes or dislikes. He lived only for delivering his message.

When he was over eighty a friend of mine in Orissa said: 'There are so many places in India where he has not been, can you not persuade him to come here?' Krishnaji said: 'How can I travel for two days to go to some place? And after that travel, what am I supposed to do?' As I could be a little free with him, having known him long. I said: 'You could give darsan there.' He rejoined: 'Talking is my métier, and I will talk and talk until I drop down dead. Full stop!' And he did just that. He went through with his mission until physically he could not do it any more. That was the extraordinary zeal with which he lived.

When he came to Rishi Valley, or elsewhere, he would say, 'I want to put hot coals underneath those people.' Although he had tremendous love, he would badger people in order to awaken them. Robert Linsson, in his book Living Zen, compares some of Krishnaji's teachings with those of Zen; he did not always treat people with kid gloves. I said to him once, 'Sir, you want constant revolution, like Mao in China. You are all the time changing things.' He answered: 'I want to create a crisis for you and for people. It is all in the program, but you will not have it, neither will they.' So his 'program' was not only his teaching, but his approach which could be like a tornado at times. 'I come like a storm,' he said, 'and when I go people are relieved.'

When I was still young as a Principal of Rishi Valley School, one day Krishnaji arrived. After about two days he started to question me: 'Balasundaram, have you produced one boy who is different, who is in an other-worldly direction? And is there one teacher who is?' He was very insistent. At first I ofered some explanation that things were better, but nothing like that would do for him. He was at me during breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the evening of the third day we went for a walk. After about one kilometer he asked. 'Where is the new moon?' He seldom talked much or discussed serious matters during walks. We looked around, then suddenly he laughed and said, 'Balasundaram, this is like my walk with George Arundale. He was my teacher, and at one time in Wimbledon we were not on speaking terms. This was around the years 1919 or 1918. We used to walk four miles a day without a word being spoken. It was just like this walk, because we have not spoken a word either.' I did not think it was very funny and remained a little glum. Then he took both my hands and shook them while he questioned: 'Old boy, are you hurt by what I have been saying these three days?' I said: 'Maybe a little, Sir.' He dug his hand into my chest and said: 'Old boy, remember, if you are hurt, something is wrong with you!' He repeated that sentence three times.

Krishnaji was such a great teacher, he taught not only through his talks, but through his discussions, and various other means. It was not only his words that affected people, but that something else which came through which entered one's blood like a vaccine. He had this extraordinary something which is not so apparent when studying his books. Why I did not change while I kept on listening to him, I cannot say. It is a mystery. He himself said towards the end of his life: 'I have spoken for so many years and people are not transformed. There are only a couple of people who are a little different.' His only concern over the last forty years of his life was that people should change fundamentally.

We used to have performances, ballets and all that kind of thing in Rishi Valley, and many villagers would come. Every evening I used to take him out to the huge banyan tree in the campus. One evening, just after the meal he stood up and holding on to the table said: 'Balasundaram, they have started making tapes. Is it all going to stay in books and on tapes? Only that?' What could I answer? I was stunned. Then Krishnaji went to wash, and when he came back I took him in total silence to the banyan tree.

After he passed away in 1990 they sent me to the International Trustees Conference in Brockwood which he had initiated in 1973. They put into our hands eleven series of 'Discussions' held in 1977, and we were told that these were given to us to read and meditate on. Their gist was: 'This man will be gone in ten years' time. What will you offer somebody who comes and asks about these teachings and about the man? Will you show him a videotape, or hand him a book? What will you Trustees show? Unless you yourself change, your witness unto truth is all in vain, as the Bible has it.'

In 1995 I went to America for the birth centenary, and met many people, among them Professor Anderson. He was Professor Emeritus of Religion. Santiago University. He said he saw Krishnamurti only once during his dialogues in 1974. Then he remarked: 'The person is no more, but his spirit abides.' Many had been really touched in some way by his message, including a man who had been a prisoner in jail. Maybe people were not transformed as Krishnaji expected, but a great many were touched and affected by his teachings, which was noticeable in the conduct of their personal affairs and professional dealings.

S. Balasundaram

Dr. Balasundaram is a former Secretary of the Krishnamurti Foundation India