A personal remembrance of J. Krishnamurti
It was a cool December evening in Madras. The year was 1974. My wife and I were visiting a friend in Egmore. Around 5 p.m., my friend said that he had to leave us to listen to a talk by Jiddu Krishnamurthy at Adyar. He asked, 'Why don't both of you come with me?'. I was reluctant. I had attempted to read some of Krishnamurthy's writings some ten years previously and had found him complex and difficult. I told my friend, 'You go ahead, we will meet you again tomorrow'. My friend's response was unexpected. He replied, 'Next to my father, Krishnamurthy is the man whom I love most.Why don't you come'. My friend was what one may call a 'good man' - kind, sincere and helpful and it was more because of the regard that we had for our friend than for Krishnamurthy, that my wife and I went to Adyar that evening. The Krishnmurthy Centre at Adyar is set in spacious surroundings. The talk was scheduled to commence at 5 p.m. in the open air under a large spreading tree. There were about 300-400 persons gathered to hear Krishnamurthy. Many were seated on the ground in front of the small raised dais reserved for the speaker. Behind those who were seated were a few rows of chairs. We sat on the chairs and awaited Krishnamurthy's arrival.
Sharp at 5 p.m., a small fair man with chiselled features, dressed in white, walked briskly to the raised platform, seated himself and began talking. There were no introductions. To this day, I have not forgotten Krishnamurthy's first few words, 'If you already know what I am going to say, you need not have come.' I was lounging in my chair. After all I had come because of my friend. But, at these words, I straightened myself and sat up. Krishnamurthy's talk that evening was on the conditioned mind. He spoke about meditation and the control of thought. Who is the controller and who is the controlled, he asked. There was much that I saw for the first time that evening - it was like coming back to the beginning and knowing it for the first time. After that occasion, I heard Krishnamurthy again, this time, in Colombo in 1978. He spoke of time. Thought is time he said. Time was something that had always intrigued me. As a child, at the Galle Face Green in Colombo, I would watch with concern as ships disappeared in the curved horizon of the Indian Ocean. I wondered whether the ships had fallen off the edge. As I grew older, I learnt that the earth was not flat, that it was a globe, that there was no 'edge' and that the ships were safe.
But then, as I travelled back home from the Galle Face Green at night, seated in the rear seat of my father's small car, with my parents in front, I would look up at the sky at the distant stars and wonder what was there beyond the stars - and beyond that - and beyond that... I thought that though I did not know then, I would when I 'grew up'. When I 'grew up' the answer continued to elude me. Later, I did learn something about Einstein's concept of curved space and the space time continuum. I recognised that Einstein's mathematical equations explained certain physical phenomena, but I still could not 'see' curved space - this seemed to contradict everything that I had taken for granted in the three dimensional world - a three dimensional world with time somehow 'flowing' through it.
Ofcourse, if space was 'curved', then it would have no beginning or end - and there would no 'edge' to fall off. Again, given a space time continuum, there would be no beginning and end to time as well. These I could conceptualise in my mind. Cause and effect would presumably merge in a space time continuum. As Yogaswamy, the sage from Jaffna would often say in Tamil:
" - everything was over long, long ago."
I felt somewhat like Woody Allen in the film Annie Hall. A mournful looking Woody Allen is taken to the doctor. The doctor inquires cheerfully, 'So what is the trouble, young man?'. Woody Allen looks even more mournful and says, 'The universe is expanding - and it will explode'. I do not recall the exact words of the Doctor's response but the message was clear - 'Stop wasting your time with stupid thoughts and get on with your life.'
And, here Krishnamurthy was quietly insisting that thought is time. I met Krishnamurthy with a few friends on the morning after his lecture in Colombo. We were all seated on the carpeted floor. I asked Krishnamurthy whether he would expand on that which he had said about time. He looked kindly at me, took my hands in his and started talking. It was almost like some one teaching a child to play table tennis by taking the child's hand together with the bat and showing him the feel of the stroke.
Perhaps Krishnamurthy did not want to be quite as brutal as the Zen master who when asked by his pupil 'what is enlightenment' replied 'cowdung'. It is said that the pupil eventually recognised that the words of any teacher, however wise, as to what was enlightenment, would be like the dung that the cow excreted after chewing the cud.
A few months later, I participated as a panelist in a discussion meeting with Krishnaji at Adyar. A Tibetan monk was another participant.I particularly remember the ending of the morning session. Krishnamurthy had talked about the computer, artificial intelligence and the brain for about 20 minutes and as he finished, the entire audience (of about 100) fell into a deep silence - and the silence was pregnant.
In the silence, I was reminded of Krishnamurthy's oft quoted statement:
"Reality is the interval between two thoughts". The modern rationalist discourse founded on Descartes' search for certainty and the Cartesian conclusion "I think, therefore I am", seemed somehow far removed from reality. Irreverently I thought of Peter Sellers in the film 'Party'. Sellers plays the role of an Indian and he is asked by someone: 'Who do you think you are?'. Sellers draws himself upto his full height, looks piercingly at the questioner and replies:'Sir, in India we do not think, we know who we are!'Today, the so called certainties of modernism are yielding to the more wholistic approach of the post modern world. Many have begun to grasp the force of reason in Aurobindo's remarks:
"The capital period of my intellectual development was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite was also true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.. And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone."
Krishnamurthy's teachings were summarised with his approval, on 21 October 1980, in this way:
"The core of Krishnamurti's teaching is contained in the statement he made in 1929 when he said: 'Truth is a pathless land'. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophic knowledge or psychological technique.He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection.
"Man has built in himself images as a fence of security, religious, political, personal. "These manifest as symbols, ideas, beliefs. The burden of these images dominates man's thinking, his relationships and his daily life. These images are the causes of our problems for they divide man from man. His perception of life is shaped by the concepts already established in his mind. The content of his consciousness is his entire existence. This content is common to all humanity. The individuality is the name, the form and superficial culture he acquires from tradition and environment. The uniqueness of man does not lie in the superficial but in complete freedom from the content of his consciousness,which is common to all mankind. So he is not an individual." "Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not a choice. It is man's pretence that because he has choice he is free. Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence. In observation one begins to discover the lack of freedom. Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.
"Thought is time. Thought is born of experience and knowledge which are inseparable from time and the past. Time is the psychological enemy of man. Our action is based on knowledge and therefore time, so man is always a slave to the past. Thought is ever-limited and so we live in constant conflict and struggle. There is no psychological evolution."
"When man becomes aware of the movement of his own thoughts he will see the division between the thinker and thought, the observer and the observed, the experiencer and the experience. He will discover that this division is an illusion. Then only is there pure observation which is insight without any shadow of the past or of time. This timeless insight brings about a deep radical mutation in the mind."
"Total negation is the essence of the positive. When there is negation of all those things that thought has brought about psychologically, only then is there love, which is compassion and intelligence."
The last time that I met with Krishnamurthy was in January 1984. I was in Madras and I went to hear him at Adyar. I was invited to join Krishnaji at lunch on the following day. It was a simple vegetarian meal and there were four or five of us at the table. I told Krishnaji that he had said something the previous evening and that I had not seen it quite in the same way before. He laughed. I continued: 'You said that the 'I' was always in the past'.
Krishnaji's eyes twinkled. He said: 'It clicked, did it?'
Krishnamurthy inquired about the July 1983 incidents in Sri Lanka and he was horrified to learn at first hand about some of the attacks and the resulting plight of the Tamil people. He had been thinking about visiting Sri Lanka at the end of the year but had decided against going. The conversation at the lunch table was easy and informal. Krishnaji spoke about his love for fast cars in the days of his youth. He related a joke about a Soviet astronaut. There was this Soviet astronaut, he said, who had gone to the moon and returned to Moscow. The astronaut was feted by the Soviet people and the final reception before his world tour was held in the Kremlin. The Kremlin reception rooms, with their high domes, huge chandeliers and plush red carpets were packed to capacity. The Soviet President, Brezhnev took the astronaut to a quiet corridor and asked: "Tell me, when you went up there, did you see God?". The astronaut, looked around cautiously and replied in a whisper "Yes, I did." Brezhnev said: "I thought as much, but make certain that you do not tell anybody else about this."
I smiled and Krishnamurthy went on. The astronaut left on his world tour and he was given grand receptions in Germany, in England and in the United States. The final reception of the world tour was in the Vatican in Rome.
The reception rooms in the Vatican with their high domes, huge chandeliers and plush red carpets were packed to capacity. The Pope invited the astronaut to a secluded corridor and asked: " Tell me, when you went up there, did you see God?"
The astronaut looked around cautiously, and remembering Brezhnev's command, replied: "No, I did not see God." The Pope said: "I thought as much, but please do not tell anybody else about this." All of us at the table joined with Krishnaji in the laughter. The conversation then turned to the possibility of Krishnamurthy addressing the United Nations.
Krishnaji looked at me and said: "Sir, if you were asked to address the United Nations, what would you say?". I was taken aback at the directness and suddenness of the query. I hesitated. I did not want to make a fool of myself - and appear presumptuous in his presence. I decided to take what appeared to me the cautious option. I replied: "Krishnaji, I do not think that I would have anything to say".
Krishnamurthy's response was quick: "Does that mean that you have nothing to say?" And as I was trying to recover from the force of the body blow, Krishnamurthy delivered the knockout. He said:"Does that mean that you do not care?".
It was a learning process. My 'modesty' was shown up to be pretentious. Many years later in 1987, after the Indo Sri Lanka Accord was signed, I was invited to speak in London on the Accord and its effect on the struggle for Tamil Eelam. I commenced my talk by relating this story about Krishnamurthy and went on to say:
"I must confess that it was with some hesitation that I accepted the invitation to speak this evening. But as I reflected on that meeting with Krishnaji in Adyar, I was persuaded to accept because I cannot deny that I do care about what is happening to us as a people and because it would be wrong for me to say that I have nothing to say about the Tamil struggle and the Indo Sri Lanka Accord."
To me, Jiddu Krishnamurthy will always be the essential gnana yogi, the man who denied that he was a messiah but who spoke and wrote for more than fifty years thereafter, to ever growing audiences and who insisted to the end:
"No man from outside can make you free... No one holds the Key to the Kingdom of Happiness. No one has the authority to hold that key. That key is your own self, and in the development and the purification and in the incorruptibility of that self alone is the Kingdom of Eternity...".