The Mill and the Mill-Pond

A Twenty-year Conversation with J. Krishnamurti

Ravi Ravindra

It was the fall of 1965 in New Delhi. My wife had asked me to deliver something to Mrs. Kitty Shivarao who had been very kind to her when she, four years earlier, had come to India as a volunteer from Canada. I went on my bicycle and came to a sudden stop in front of a very tall man sitting completely alone on a wicker chair on the porch of the Shivarao house. I wondered if Mrs. Shivarao was in, and the man, who was extremely self-contained, said he would go in and look. Without any hurry, but without delay, he got up and went in, and returned to say that she was not in at that time, but I could wait until she came back. I do not recall why I could not wait; perhaps I had the usual haste of the young, especially of those recently returned from a long stay in the West. I handed over to him what I had to deliver to the lady of the house, and rode away on my bicycle. But I kept looking back at this unusual man with an extraordinary presence sitting on the porch, until I fell off my bicycle, having crashed into a woman carrying a large bundle on her head.

Several months later, at Rajghat in Varanasi, where an interview with Krishnamurti had been arranged for me, I was in a great turmoil; I became more and more agitated as four 'o clock, the appointed time of the meeting, approached. I was not sure what I needed to ask him. I knew I needed a different kind of knowledge and education than I had obtained in the many schools and universities I had attended. I had become sadder and sadder the closer I had gotten to finishing my Ph.D.: the more I was certified as an educated man by the world, the clearer I was about my ignorance of myself. What little I had gathered about Krishnamurti, mostly from my wife who had taught for a year in one of his schools in India before we had met, and the little that I had read by him, had convinced me that he offered the sort of influence I needed. Here, at last, I was going to meet the great man himself. What was I going to say to him? What did I need to know? What should I ask him? Besides, how could he, or anybody else, say something that would really become a part of myself? After all, I had read what the Buddha had said, and I still behaved the way I did before. And what was I going to tell him about myself? What did I know of any value? What did I have of any value? What was my value? Why waste his time?

All these questions whirled around in my head, making me more and more restless as the time for my meeting with Krishnamurti approached. Then, suddenly, a great calm possessed me. I knew with certainty that I did not know, that nobody else could really tell me something deeply true unless I saw it myself directly, and that there was no escape from an encounter with myself, an encounter without fear and without self-importance. I had no idea what had brought about these realizations and the resulting calm; maybe it was the magic of this extraordinary man working even before I had met him. I walked over to his room with assurance, and precisely at the appointed hour he opened his door. I was surprised to discover that the man in front of me was the same man I had met on the porch in New Delhi. I had difficulty accepting his actual physical size; my first impression of him had no doubt been of his real spiritual height.

He asked me to sit down on the same divan on which he was sitting. Then, after a brief silence, he asked, "What can I do for you?" "Nothing," I said with clarity. "I have really nothing to ask you. I have come just to look at you." He smiled; and we sat in silence for a long time, just looking at each other. Then, no doubt having noticed my attention wandering, he asked what I did and what interested me. I told him, and I also told him about my dissatisfaction with what I had learned. My clarity was dwindling and I was returning to my habitual and more discursive mode of thought. I asked him, "Is there life after death?" He said: "Why worry about death when you don't know anything about life?"

When it was time for me to leave, he took me to the window of his room perched over the river Ganga, overlooking the path which the Buddha had taken on his way to Sarnath after his enlightenment. That was the only time I understood why pilgrims over the centuries have regarded this river as sacred. There were dark, thick clouds over the majestic river, and a white bird was flying in and out of the clouds, sometimes disappearing completely and at other times showing clearly its innocent vulnerability. He put his hand on my shoulder and we stood there watching for a little while; then he said, pointing to the bird in the clouds over the river, "Life is like that: sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't." As I was leaving, he said simply, "We shall meet again."

Many years ago I had written an article called "Letter to J. Krishnamurti" on the invitation of the editors of A Journal of Our Time . Rather than getting into an argument with him in the article, for I rarely had any doubt that he was right, I had attempted to say where my own difficulties lay in trying to follow what he had been saying for so many years. This small article had ended with the following: "I am troubled because I do not know how to reconcile the call I hear from your distant shore with the realities where I am. It is clear that a bridge cannot be built from here to There. But can it be built from There to here?" A couple of years after the article had been published, there was an occasion for me to spend some time with Krishnamurti, at Ojai in California, the place where he felt most at home. We had a long and intense conversation in the evening, and we were going to meet again at breakfast the next morning. I had asked that he read my little article and respond when we met in the morning. I was eager to know what he would say. He said he liked the last sentence, and added: "A bridge can be built from There to here." He would not say much more about it, except to imply that that is what he had been talking about all these years.

Since I have been interested for a long time in the quality of attention and seeing which can bring about an action in oneself so that a radical change can take place naturally, from the inside, I asked Krishnamurti about it. For him thought leads to fragmentation, and subsequently to fear and sorrow, as for the Buddha tanha (selfish craving) leads to dukkha (sorrow) or for the Vedantist avidya (ignorance) leads to maya (illusion). In all of these teachings, what is required for sorrow, fear and illusion to be dissolved in the clear light of intelligence and truth is total attention. I asked him about the nature of this attention, and said, "What I find in myself is the fluctuation of attention." He said with emphasis, "What fluctuates is not attention. Only inattention fluctuates."

On another occasion he said to me, "I am still very shy, but I used to be much worse. I would stand behind the platform from where I was supposed to speak to an audience, and shake. One day I saw the total absurdity of it, and the shaking left me. I was free of it for ever."

In a conversation in Madras he said that the intelligence beyond thought is just there, like the air, and does not need to be created by discipline or effort. "All one needs to do is to open the window." I suggested that most windows are painted shut and need a lot of scraping before they can be opened, and asked, "How does one scrape?" "Sir," he said sadly, "You don't see that the house is on fire."

In his concern with the dangers of hierarchy, Krishnamurti frequently placed a great deal of emphasis on being democratic. He would often talk in a small group as if everyone were actually at the same level as himself and had an equal right to express his opinion. Soon, of course, he would get bored or impatient with a mere exchange of opinions, and speak with the force of clear seeing, commanding attention from everyone around him. On one of these occasions in India, he had given a long rope to many people's opinions about the nature of the religious mind. I had just flown in from North America, and was not eager to spend the morning philosophizing or listening to various opinions. He was the one I wanted to hear; for I had understood some time ago that Krishnamurti had a completely unusual mind and that he saw many things with an extraordinary clarity not vouchsafed to many. On this occasion, anxious to hear him speak, I blurted out, "But, Krishna Ji, what do you have to say about it? After all, you are the cat with the meat." I realized immediately that I had not chosen a very felicitous American expression for the assembled company of vegetarians. After a brief pause, he smiled, relieving the tension created by my remark, and protested that he was not special. "Do you think K is a freak?" he said, referring to himself in the third person, using only the initial of his name, assuming it to be obvious that he wasn't. I was never convinced; nor was anyone else around him, as far as I could see.

So often, I had been completely frustrated by going around the same point with Krishnamurti; for example, his insistence that there can be a radical transformation instantaneously, without any discipline or path or guidance, and by my inability to even understand what he was saying, let alone do it. On one occasion, in a semi-public seminar, I said in despair, "There's no sense in carrying on. We keep going around the same mulberry bush. It's totally frustrating." "Sir, then why do you keep coming?" I knew that my coming had nothing to do with any reasons; so I said what was true, "Because I love you." One did not decide to love Krishnamurti any more than a flower decides to give fragrance, to use one of his favourite analogies.

Once when I was in London I learned that Krishnamurti was at Brockwood, not very far away. Naturally, I wanted to see him. Not succeeding in making a telephone connection with anybody there, I gave up after many attempts. Since on many occasions he had said, "You may come any time," I decided to drive over with a friend, and take my chances. I wonder if the gods know how heavily guarded have to be the gates of paradise! One could say that there were lots of guardians at his gates; and we had some difficulty, quite understandable to be sure, in getting close to the inner sanctum. One burly woman, in some sort of command at the place, was especially offended at our audacity in thinking that we could see Krishnamurti himself without a prior appointment. She was a proper lion! I thought she actually had a point, although I wondered how Krishnamurti would have responded to her description of him when she growled at us, "Anybody can walk in off the street and want to see the high and the mighty!"

I knew we were not supposed to be there, and I had not really expected to see Krishnamurti; but I was like an iron filing naturally drawn by this magnet. I had not analyzed the situation and decided on a course of action; it just had not occurred to me that I could be within driving distance and not go to meet him. While leaving, for some reason I reached into my pocket and found a visiting card which I gave to the lion to deliver to Mary Zimbalist who for the last many years had selflessly devoted herself to taking care of Krishnamurti, often travelling with him. She took the card from me with much hesitation, and I was not sure she was going to deliver it; but we tarried a little anyway. Soon I saw Mary hurrying towards us, with a big smile. She greeted me and my friend most affectionately, explaining that things had been very hectic all morning: the BBC was filming a programme on Krishnamurti and a senior man from the Times of London was doing an interview. In any case, of course we must stay for lunch, and Krishna Ji will be along any minute now. Soon he appeared and welcomed us very warmly. At lunch, he looked fatigued and did not eat much. We spoke about this and that; and I wondered to myself how can this man at such an advanced age travel so much. What does he hope to accomplish? Can it be accomplished by talking to large numbers of people? Isn't some sort of preparation required to make use of what he is saying? He said, "You should have been here in the morning; we had a wonderful discussion, a lot came out." I asked, "Can any real transformation take place just with discussion?" "No, sir," he said.

Krishnamurti's destiny was obviously to be a teacher, even though he tried strenuously to avoid being so labeled. He especially eschewed the devotional sort of adulation he received everywhere, particularly in India. After a public lecture in Madras we went for a walk together. I wondered why he was trying to sneak out of the compound by a side door like a thief rather than walk out the main gate. "No, sir, they'll start touching my feet and all. Oh, God, no!" He had a special feeling for solitude. Even when walking with others he often preferred silence. We walked for a while in complete silence along the beach in Adyar. Suddenly he seemed to remember that I was in town with my children who went swimming there. "Mefiez vous; faites attention!" He knew I dabbled a bit in French; he particularly liked that, and would occasionally say a few sentences to me in that language. He was warning me to make sure that my children realized that there was a strong undertow at that place and that they took proper precautions. I thanked him and wondered if he swam there himself. "I know this place well. You know this is where K was discovered by them!" he said conspiratorially.

I was supposed to meet him one evening in Ojai. When I arrived I found him working in the orange orchard pruning some trees. We stayed there a little while. He told me casually, "The speaker used to have healing powers, clairvoyance and all that. They have told me this; I don't know." He showed me the tree under which the "process" took place. He spoke very tenderly of his younger brother with whom he had lived in the cottage nearby. We stood there for a few minutes. He seemed to be actually seeing his brother there, and I think (I am not completely sure of this) he said that was the place where his brother had died. After a little while, I asked him, "What exactly is the 'process'?" I knew immediately that I had chosen a wrong moment to ask this. He looked at me sadly and said, "This is what everyone wants to know. Then they will start imitating it and faking it. No, it cannot be said."

I had often been struck by a similarity between the all-or-nothing absolutist stance of Krishnamurti and that of many Old Testament prophets. I was also sure that essentially, more than anything else, he was a lover at heart: a lover of nature, of presence, of truth, and of silence. I was delighted and not at all surprised when he told me, in response to a question of mine, that his favourite book in the Bible was The Song of Songs. I told him that the great Rabbi Aqiba had declared that book to be the holiest of the holies, and that he had said that all the ages were not worth the day when this book was given to Israel. Krishnamurti was only mildly interested in Rabbi Aqiba's comment about it, but was delighted when I recalled a line: "I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh..."

I had been asked by the editors of an encyclopedia to write an article on Krishnamurti. I prepared the outline and made extensive notes, and had a special interview with him to make sure that what I had written accurately reflected his thought. I asked him whether 'intelligence beyond thought' was the central thing that he spoke about. He agreed, but without much feeling. Suddenly, he was animated: "Take the risk, sir. Say what you wish. If you speak from the heart, I'll agree. Take the risk."

Once I was visiting Ojai, having promised Mary Zimbalist before coming there that I would not engage Krishna Ji in serious talk since he was taking a few days rest after a strenuous lecture series. In any case, I did not have anything specific to ask him ; I simply wanted to be in his presence. I was in the kitchen talking to the cook when Krishnamurti entered by the side door on his way to lunch. He saw me and extended his hand with a broad smile. I took his hand, and then hugged him. When he inquired after my wife and children, I gave him another hug from them. He was a little surprised, perhaps not being used to receiving physical affection. There were about a dozen people at lunch, talking about this and that. As lunch was ending, I said something about the subtle alchemical changes left in the body by an insight. Unexpectedly, he reached across the table, held my hand and said, "Sir, shall we go into it seriously?" "Some other time, Krishna Ji. Now it is time for you to have a rest," I said. He looked quite annoyed, as if we had no sense of the right priority of things. He insisted that we talk seriously there and then, and asked for a tape recorder to be brought to record it. I looked at Mary to convey, "Look, it's not my fault. He is the one getting himself into it." She tried to suggest that we could talk later in the afternoon, but he would not hear any of it.

So we had a serious conversation for a long time. At one point I said, "A new insight belongs to a new body, it seems to me. What do you think of that, Krishna Ji?" "You know, sir, it occurs to me that K does not think at all. That's strange. He just looks."

Once when I told him that he was a real scientist, a scientist of the interior, he seemed to like that. After a long silence, he said, "I have been going around the world talking for more than sixty years. Nobody understands what I am trying to say; especially the scientists. They are too clever for their own good." "You know, Krishna Ji, if they understood what you are saying, they wouldn't let you into the country. You are completely subversive." He laughed, "That's right, sir, don't tell them."

The last time I was in Ojai, it was as a guest of the Krotona Institute, where I had been invited to give a few lectures. Naturally, I went to see Krishnamurti as often as I could. He seemed to take a particularly mischievous delight in the fact that the Theosophists were paying for me to come and see him. "Keep it up, sir. Don't tell them. Sneak out and come here as often as you can."

Since I had been so fascinated by the special nature and quality of Krishnamurti's mind, I often returned to that subject with him and he would frequently speak about the religious mind and its innocence, freshness and vulnerability. I was more interested in the particularities of his mind. The more he tried to convince me to the contrary, the more I seemed to feel that Krishnamurti was in fact a freak. "What is the nature of your own mind, Krishna Ji? What do you see when you look at that tree?" "My mind is like a mill-pond. Any disturbance that is created in it soon dies, leaving it unruffled as before," he said calmly. Then, as if reading what I was about to ask, he added with the most playful smile, "And your mind is like a mill!"

The last time I met him was in May, 1985, in Ojai, just before his ninetieth birthday. We had a long talk about death. During the conversation I had raised the same question which I had asked twenty years earlier. At the end he said, "The real question is 'Can I die while I am living? Can I die to all my collections --material, psychological, religious?' If you can die to all that, then you'll find out what is there after death. Either there is nothing; absolutely nothing. Or there is something. But you cannot find out until you actually die while living. Don't accept it. No believing is necessary. Doubt it; question it."

When I was leaving he came to the door and held it open. He looked a little frail, and I did not want him to stand there waiting while I put on my socks and shoes, which I had taken off at the entrance. My heart had been filled by what he had said, and I was taking my leave slowly. When I said again that he should go in and not wait there, he said, "The noble never close the door."