Jiddu Krishnamurti and Theosophy

Katinka Hesselink 2006

For a long time I've shared the position of Radha Burnier and many prominent theosophists here in The Netherlands that Krishnamurti's teachings deepen theosophy and help compensate for some of the short-comings of the theosophical doctrines and practices of the 1920's and 1930's. 

The time has come, though, for me to state the following: 

I still do appreciate Krishnamurti's teachings as valid on the path for many, but aspects of it just don't work for many people on other stages of the path. For instance the implication that one should only follow those doctrines that one can personally vouch for, and only practice what one knows works is simply dangerous. Human beings aside from being individuals, are also group beings. This is a practical fact that has to be taken into account on the spiritual path. Most of us need a direction in basic ethics in order not to slide off into simple selfishness. We also need groups to help us stay focussed on aspects of the path we might, on our own, ignore.

Theosophy - as a whole - is a system, like Buddhism, that includes direction for those who need direction and includes higher ethics and doctrines and meditational exercise for the more advanced. It is a full-fledged system that works best in a lodge-setting, complemented by national meetings and such where a larger group of people meets and therefore a greater variety of input on the path is available. Theosophy as Blavatsky taught it is hard for many, but doesn't include the types of risks that Krishnamurti's teachings do include.

I have met quite a few deluded youngsters (usually men) that have used Krishnamurti's teachings to totally loose their way mentally and emotionally. They loose touch with their humanity and lack the safety valve of (I have to repeat it) basic ethics. Theosophists gone wrong don't have that excuse: the common fault is arrogance and lack of selfknowledge. These mistakes, though fatal for spiritual development in the short run, are usually combined with virtues of industriousness and study. Both can help for spiritual development in the long run (measured in lifetimes). Loosing your way in the Krishnamurti direction can mean not developing any useful skills or virtues, hopelessly searching for 'insight' in the now. 

Krishnamurti was right in some ways: ultimately, after lifetimes of training, we need to find out the truth for ourselves. At some point the hand of the guru or the teacher has to be let go and each one of us has to stand on our own two feet. For Westerners this approach is especially tempting as we are innately convinced that we can be self-sufficient. On the other hand - even our scientists learn from each other. Most human endeavours are built on the backs of other human beings. Though the ultimate insight and enlightenment are (obviously) the fruit of our own exertion and hard work, the basics are more easily learned when inspired by others, whether these come in the form of books or meditation-teachers or lectures or discussiongroups. 

Blavatsky rightly warned against 'salaried priests'. We do have to, each of us, judge with our hearts and minds what is true or false. Krishnamurti stressed the same thing. Where they differ is in the respect for spiritual tradition. Blavatsky had the aim of getting rid of superstition and at the same time keep that which is genuinely helpful on the spiritual path. She also actively sought to find the truth in myth. On the one hand the difference between these two positions seems small: both stress self-reliance. On the other hand, they are diametrically different: Blavatsky has a respect for traditions and wants to keep what is right, Jiddu Krishnamurti wants to start over completely. 

Theosophy, like Buddhism, doesn't make any doctrines mandatory. Nor is any practice mandatory. The basis of theosophy is brotherhood without distinction of creed, sex (etc) (see: the three objects of the Theosophical Society ) Ultimately one finds out for oneself what is true and what works. But before you do, there is basic guidance that helps one to avoid the kinds of mistakes that can ruin lives. In Buddhism this comes in the form of many lists of virtues, for instance pancasila. In Theosophy brotherhood is interpreted in ways that also provide the basis for a life as a decent human being. 

More on Jiddu Krishnamurti from a theosophical perspective