The Life of Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti (Telugu:జిడ్డు కృష్ణమూర్తి) or J. Krishnamurti (May 11, 1895–February 17, 1986), was born in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, India and discovered, in 1909, as a teenager by C.W. Leadbeater on the private beach at the Theosophical headquarters at Adyar in Chennai, India. He was subsequently raised under the tutelage of Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater within the world-wide organization of the Theosophical Society, who believed him to be a vehicle for a prophesied World Teacher. As a young man, he disavowed this destiny and also dissolved the Order established to support it, and eventually spent the rest of his life travelling the world as an individual speaker and educator on the workings of the human mind. At age 90 he addressed the United Nations on the subject of peace and awareness, and was awarded the 1984 UN Peace Medal. He gave his last talk in India a month before his death, in 1986, in Ojai, California.

His supporters, working through charitable trusts, founded several independent schools across the world—in India, England and the United States—and transcribed many of his thousands of talks, publishing them as educational philosophical books.

His official biographer, Mary Lutyens wrote a book about Krishnamurti's early life in India, England, and finally in Ojai, California, entitled Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening. She was a close associate of his from the Order of the Star, and knew him from the early days until the end of his life. This book contains many insights into this period of his life, about which he rarely spoke. Lutyens wrote three additional volumes of biography: The Years of Fulfillment (1983), The Open Door (1988), and Krishnamurti and the Rajagopals (1996). Additionally, she published and abridgement of the first three volumes, The Life and Death of Krishnamurti (1991). Other published biographies of Krishnamurti include: Krishnamurti, A Biography (1986), by associate Pupul Jayakar and Star In the East: Krishnamurti, The Invention of a Messiah (2002), by Roland Vernon.


Jiddu Krishnamurti came from a family of Telugu-speaking Brahmins. His father, Jiddu Narianiah, graduated from Madras University and then became an official in the Revenue Department of the British administration, rising by the end of his career to the position of rent collector and District Magistrate. His parents were second cousins, having a total of eleven children, only six of whom survived childhood. They were strict vegetarians, even shunning eggs, and throwing away any food that the "shadow of an Englishman crossed". (Lutyens, Awakening, p 1)

He was born in a small town about 150 miles (250 km) north of Madras, India. His birthdate has been also stated as May 12, however Mary Lutyens, points out, that the Brahmin day is calculated from dawn and he was born at 12:30 AM, so therefore on May 11. It's only the Western world who would state this was May 12. "As an eighth child, who happened to be a boy, he was, in accordance with Hindu orthodoxy, called after Sri Krishna who had himself been an eighth child."


In 1903, the family moved to Cudappah and Krishna contracted malaria, a disease with which he would suffer recurrent bouts over many years. In 1904, his eldest sister died, aged twenty. In his memoirs, he describes his mother as "to a certain extent psychic" and how she would frequently see and converse with her dead daughter. Krishna also states that he saw his dead sister on some occasions. In Dec 1905, his mother, Jiddu Sanjeevamma, died at Cudappah, when Krishnamurti was ten years old. Krishna says: "I may mention that I saw her [my mother] after she died" (Lutyens, p 5)

"Narianiah, though an orthodox Brahmin, had been a member of the Theosophical Society since 1881 (Theosophy embraces all religions)." (Lutyens, p 7). This was while Helena Blavatsky was still its alive and living in India. Narianiah had retired at the end of 1907 and wrote to Annie Besant to recommend himself as a caretaker for the 260-acre Theosophical estate at Adyar. He had four boys and Annie thought they would be a disturbing influence and so turned him down. He continued his requests and finally was accepted as an assistant to the Recording Secretary of the Esoteric Section. His family which included, himself, his four sons, and a nephew moved there on Jan 23, 1909. It was a few months after this last move that Krishna was discovered by C.W. Leadbeater, who believed him to be the awaited vessel.

Leadbeater's Influence

This discovery created a bit of a problem, as there was already a conflicting claim made for Hubert van Hook (b 1896), son of Dr Weller van Hook, a surgeon in Chicago, and the General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in the United States. Hubert was also chosen by Leadbeater and after she left her husband, his mother brought him to India for special training. After Krishna was found, Hubert was soon dropped. (Lutyens, p 12)

Leadbeater had a history of being in the company of young boys, and gossip about that was vehemently denied by Annie Besant. The gossip erupted into a scandal in 1906 and led to Leadbeater's resignation from the Theosophical Society, however at the end of 1908 he was re-instated on a vote. (Lutyens, p 15)

Hubert and Mrs Van Hook, his mother, also arrived at Adyar and stayed there for some time.

Separation from father

Krishna, or Krishnaji, as he was often known, and his younger brother Nitya were educated at the Theosophical compound and later taken to England to finish their education. His father at first grateful of the oportunities they got this way but also pushed into the background by the swirl of interest around Krishna, ended up in a lawsuit against the Society to try to protect his parental interests. As a result of this separation from his family and home, Krishnamurti and his brother Nitya became extremely close and in the following years they often travelled together.

A philosophical awakening

Lutyens states that there came a time when Krishnamurti fully believed that he was to become the World Teacher. The death of his brother Nitya on November 11, 1925 at age 27 from tuberculosis, however, shook his fundamental belief in the masters, the leaders of the Theosophical Society and the whole idea of the world teacher (Lord Maitreya) project. He had prayed for his brother's life to be spared and it was not. The experience of his brother's death shattered his remaining illusions. [more on the World Teacher Project]

From The Song of Life (1931):

    My brother died; We were as two stars in a naked sky. He was like me, Burnt by the warm sun...

    He died; I wept in loneliness. Where'er I went, I heard his voice and his happy laughter. I looked for his face in every passer by and asked each if he had not met with my brother; But none could give me comfort. I worshipped, I prayed, But the gods were silent. I could weep no more; I could dream no more. I sought him in all things, in every clime. I heard the whispering of many trees Calling me to his abode. And then, in my search, I beheld Thee, O Lord of my heart; In Thee alone I saw the face of my brother. In Thee alone, O my eternal Love, Do I behold the faces Of all the living and all the dead.

[Krishnamurti's early teachings]

From 1925 onward things were to never be the same again.

    ...An old dream is dead and a new one is being born, as a flower that pushes through the solid earth. A new vision is coming into being and a greater consciousness is being unfolded. ...A new strength, born of suffering, is pulsating in the veins and a new sympathy and understanding is being born of past suffering---a greater desire to see others suffer less, and, if they must suffer, to see that they bear it nobly and come out of it without too many scars. I have wept, but I do not want others to weep; but if they do, I know what it means. (from The Herald of the Star, January 1926)

In 1925, he was expected by Theosophists to enter Sydney, Australia walking on water, but this did not eventuate and he visited Australia the following year by ship.

This new vision and consciousness reached a climax in 1929, when Krishnamurti rebuffed attempts by Leadbeater and Besant to continue with The Order of the Star, the section of the Theosophical Society devoted to the coming of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti subsequently disbanded the Order, whose head he was. On the opening day of the annual Star Camp at Ommen, Holland, August 2, 1929, in front of several thousand members, he gave a speech disbanding the Order, saying:

    You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, "What did that man pick up?" "He picked up a piece of the truth," said the devil. "That is a very bad business for you, then," said his friend. "Oh, not at all," the devil replied, "I am going to help him organize it."

    I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.

After disbanding the Order and drifting away from the Theosophical Society and its belief system, he spent the rest of his life holding dialogues and giving public talks on his observations on the nature of truth, sorrow and freedom. Krishnamurti did not accept followers, because he saw the relationship between a guru and a disciple as essentially exploitative. He asked people to explore together with him and "walk as two friends". He accepted gifts and support given to him (his main residence being on donated land in Ojai, California) and continued with lecture tours and the publication of books for more than half a century.

Later years and "farewell talks

In his later years, J. Krishnamurti spoke at the United Nations in New York, on the 11th April 1985, where he was awarded the United Nations 1984 Peace medal.

In November of 1985, he revisted the places he had grown up in India, holding a last set of farewell talks between then and January 1986. These last talks were on fundamental principles of belief and lessons. Krishnamurti commented that he did not wish to invite Death, but was not sure how long his body would last, he had already lost some 6 kg (13 lb) and once he could no longer talk or teach, he would have no further purpose. He said a formal farewell to all four points of the compass, the so-called 'elephant's turn', on the Adayar shore where he had long ago come to the attention of others. His final talk, on January 4, 1986, invited his co-participants to examine with him the nature of inquiry, the nature of life, and the nature of creation. It ended:

    "So we are inquiring what makes a bird. What is creation behind all this? Are you waiting for me to describe it, to go into it? ... Why? Why do you ask [what creation is]? Because I asked? No description can ever describe the origin. The origin is nameless; the origin is absolutely quiet, it's not whirring about making noise. Creation is something that is most holy, that's the most sacred thing in life, and if you have made a mess of your life, change it. Change it today, not tomorrow. If you are uncertain, find out why and be certain. If your thinking is not straight, think straight, logically. Unless all that is prepared, all that is settled, you can't enter into this world, into the world of creation."

    "It ends." (these two words are hardly audible, breathed rather than spoken)

    "This is the last talk. Do you want to sit together quietly for a while? All right, sirs, let us sit quietly for a while."
    (quotes in this section from "The Future Is Now: Last Talks in India")

J. Krishnamurti passed away two and a half months later at the age of 90 from pancreatic cancer. His remains were cremated and scattered by friends and former associates in the three countries where he had spent most of his life, India, England and United States of America.


Throughout his long life, Krishnamurti exerted a great influence at the confluence of educated philosophical and spiritual thought. Because of his ideas and his era, Krishnamurti has come to be seen as an exemplar for modern spiritual teachers - particularly those who disavow formal rituals and dogma. His conception of truth as a pathless land, with the possibility of immediate self-realization, is mirrored in New Age teachings as diverse as those of est, Bruce Lee, and even the Dalai Lama.

Krishnamurti was close friends with Aldous Huxley. Huxley wrote the foreword to The First and Last Freedom. Krishnamurti was also friends with, and influenced the works of, the mythologist Joseph Campbell and the artist Beatrice Wood.

Criticism of Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti has been criticized, sometimes as to whether he practiced what he preached. A number of people who knew him through the years pointed out that Krishnamurti’s life expresses something of the Indian Brahmin lifestyle, for he was supported, even pampered, through the years by devoted followers and servants. The questions then arise as to whether his attitudes were conditioned by indulgence and privilege.

In her 1991 book, Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti, Radha Rajagopal Sloss, the daughter of Krishnamurti's associates, Rosalind and Desikacharya Rajagopal, wrote of Krishnamurti's relationship with her parents including the secret affair between Krishnamurti and Rosalind which lasted for many years. The public revelation was received with surprise and consternation by many individuals in the Krishnamurti community, and was also dealt with in a rebuttal volume of biography by Mary Lutyens (Krishnamurti and the Rajagopals, 1996).

Sloss's allegations were centered around the notion that the secret liasion indicated that Krishnamurti had lead a deceptive double life in that he was believed to be celibate by his public following. A later biographical volume by Roland Vernon (Star in the East: Krishnamurti, the Invention of a Messiah), questions the ultimate impact of the revelations when compared to Krishnamurti's body of work as a whole.

Krishnamurti's once close relationship to the Rajagopals deteriorated to the point that Krishnamurti in his later years, took Rajagopal (head of Krishnamurti Writings, Inc.) to court in order to recover certain rights, manuscripts and personal corespondence being witheld by Rajagopal. The resulting litigation and cross complaints continued for many years, and were not resolved until after the death of Krishnamurti in 1986. Krishnamurti's biographer Mary Lutyens placed the preponderance of responsibility for the acrimony of the lawsuits and resulting damage to Krishnamurti's reputation on the personal animosity of the Rajagopals resulting from their loss of influence in Krishnamurti's life.

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