The early Jiddu Krishnamurti – his teachings

Katinka Hesselink, 2002

The booklet At the Feet of the Master (1919) by Alcyone (a penname of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s) is still widely read and appreciated in theosophical circles, although Krishnamurti's teachings in later years show a very different focus from the content of this early work. At the Feet of the Master contains a clear aim, and clear practical suggestions on how to behave and deal with thoughts and actions in daily life. Four qualities are mentioned for instance that are considered necessary on the path: discrimination, desirelessness, good conduct and love. This is the kind of advice many people crave for, in their personal lives. At later stages of his life, Krishnamurti started to avoid to give this kind of advice. Here and there he does give some, mostly to individuals, but one really has to search for it long and hard, because the essence of his teachings was that one should find out for oneself how things work.

Someone already familiar with his later speeches and books might actually experience a certain feeling of glee when taking a look at Krishnamurti's writings in the early days, for he does all the things we tend to do ourselves. In Towards Discipleship (1), a book which is the verbal (thought not checked) account of his conversations with a small group of students, he tells them: "There are always two sides: there is yourself and there is the Master. The Master must grow much bigger than yourself, so that the self is absorbed in the Master." (p. 43) A more familiar theme: "You must have the lamp and the match to light it. And you must have the desire to keep the light all the time brilliant." (p. 70) He tells them to strive for an ideal fully, not just partially, as for instance on page 99: "We have all decided in the very depths of our being that we must do only one thing in the world, that is, to become perfect disciples, the most wonderful beings in the world, to represent the Master. It is the daily repetition of that desire, that determination, that gets us anywhere, when it is combined with our continual effort." And, surprisingly, he says: "I feel, I am sure, that we have been to the Master often, all of us, in a way, and that He has given us His blessing." He is not satisfied however with the progress people are making. This is a theme that might be at the root of his later refusal to talk about these things. It reappears regularly during the rest of his life, but in these early days it is expressed more desperately somehow, more personally perhaps. One day he says for instance: "If they [the masters] cannot provide us with the inspiration, what is the use of trying to realize the Masters? Why is there not in each one of us a stronger desire to change more rapidly?" (p. 25)

From 1926 onwards, Krishnamurti starts expressing points of view in his published lectures, which sound more familiar and which correspond more closely to his later teachings. The wording is still theosophical-like, but the content is already very much in the vain of "I don't want to influence you". In the speech "The Pool of Wisdom" (1926 (2)) he says for instance: "I want from the very outset to say that I speak in all humility, though I may perhaps use strong phrases, that I do not want you to obey blindly or listen without thought, that I speak in the sincerity which I feel and that you must listen likewise if you would properly understand.[…] I would ask you to look at it, not emotionally, not sentimentally, not mesmerised by words, but with your minds, not to be carried away by mass hypnotism, not to act as one of a crowd, but to use your minds individually and think the problem out for yourselves. Where there are large crowds gathered, we find people all thinking alike; when their feelings are stirred, they are apt to be forced along a particular line laid down by the speaker who is for the moment on the platform. You will be doing a great injustice, a great injustice, to yourselves if you do that."

With hindsight, the moment when The Lord was said to have spoken through him at the end of 1925 seems to have been the turning point. This is the kind of mystical dimension to his life that later followers have tried to downplay, but Krishnamurti himself was convinced something special happened then. The "Process" had been going on for some years already. He had had his first initiation years before. But from that moment onwards, Krishnamurti threw away all crutches and started to urge people to find out for themselves. Actually, this is a continuation of one of the elements he already stressed in Towards Discipleship: the belief that we should be a lamp unto ourselves. This element grew so important to the world teacher eventually that ultimately all other aspects that had seemed important to him before were eclipsed.

I suppose this is the road each of us must travel: whether slow or fast (and Krishnamurti always urged fast), crutches must be abandoned, and insight must be found independently. We must be lamps unto ourselves. No compromise. Although we will have to accept that most of us will compromise in actual fact.


(1) Towards Discipleship, J. Krishnamurti, A series of informal addresses to aspirants for Discipleship, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, India, 1925.
(2) J. Krishnamurti, Pool of Wisdom, etc. 1928, p. 7.