speaking in India
Krishnamurti: The Man of the Future
Seeing an Enlightened One
Today Michael posted something by Krishnamurti, and I wanted to say "Michael, I love it when you post something by Krishnamurti!" So I sat down to say that and instead the following essay just poured out almost effortlessly. It is a little tribute to what Krishnamurti has meant to me. I hope someone will enjoy it.
For a long time Krishnamurti has been for me like an antidote to the insanity of the world, and reading his words carefully often brings about a change in consciousness, and opening up to a stillness that was always there, but covered over by all the frenzied activities of the mind. Vimala Thakar once told me that she believed it would be at least 50 years before Krishnamurti begins to be widely understood. She said "I believe he is the man of the future." She had had extensive contact with "Krishnaji" (as he is sometimes called), and I believe Krishnaji has said she was the only one who had truly and totally "gotten" what he was driving at: the radical tranformation of heart and mind.
Krishnamurti's writings can be difficult for many people to grasp. One problem is that our minds are always in such a fantastic rush, always hurrying on to the next thing, and to read K.'s writings and talks one really needs to take some time and allow the mind to slow down a bit. You can't "skim" Krishnamurti. He is absolutely dead serious and deals with the most fundamental issues of our lives, so one needs oneself to have that seriousness, and to go slow, paragraph by paragraph, really working hard to grasp what he is saying. Before picking up something of K.'s to read it helps to just sit quietly for a few minutes and let the usual rush of thoughts slow down. Moving carefully and slowly with what he is saying is really a kind of exercise in meditation itself.
I first read Krishnamurti just after I had gotten out of college and had returned to my parent's home. I had absolutely no idea what to do with my life and had fallen gradually into a severe depression with much anxiety and uncertainty. I had registered in the local state university master's program and was taking classes in English, but I knew that that's not what I really wanted to do. It was a terrible funk.
Searching for some kind of inspiration and some kind of guidance about the meaning of life I scoured the local town library and brought home, among others, my first book by Krishnamurti, one of the " Commentaries on Life " series. In the library his name had struck some kind of soft bell in my mind, long before I knew anything at all about India or Hinduism or what the word "Krishna" was. Somehow I thought I had heard of him before somewhere. This was in late 1967.
Sitting in the family den in the depth of autumn I turned to this book with curiosity and hope. Since childhood I had always been interested in philosophical things, always wondering what all this was, and what did it mean, what are we, and what is the point of being alive?
The book had a simple format. First Krishnaji describes where he was at the time, he describes the nature around him, and then he describes a particular person who has come to see him that day. For the rest of the chapter he recounts the dialog he had with that person, the questions they brought to him and the responses that he gave. It is an absolutely beautiful series of three books. Reading chapter after chapter I realized that this is a person to whom all these different people are coming, day after day, from all walks of life, most of them troubled in one way or another, seeking understanding and relief from their suffering. And he speaks to them words of wisdom.
To be perfectly honest I think most of what I read simply passed way over my head. I think I was too depressed and filled with anxiety at that time to give the whole of my mind to it, and I was still very young, in my early twenties, and feeling pressured to go do something with my life. I think it may be true that philosophical issues ripen as one ages and that one's interest in such things naturally increases as one begins to realize that one's life will eventually end.
I struggled with the book and intuitively felt that something important was there, but I just could not get it. I was not quite ready yet for Krishnamurti. The pressing problems of what to do were just too distracting to allow the necessary concentration. But a seed was planted in my mind for the next time I would hear the name of this unique and wonderful man.
That moment came several years later when I was living at a yoga ashram in upstate New York. I had ultimately, after agonizing a great deal, taken a job as a photographer and media person in an educational project in Michigan. It was a good job, but my depression had persisted and I lived in a kind of fog, always feeling that my destiny lie elsewhere, that I must devote myself to the seeking of truth, whatever that might be. Eventually I went through a kind of crisis and decided to leave that job and follow a previous offer that had been made to me to go and live at a small yoga ashram, and both learn and teach yoga. Everyone thought I was crazy. The leader of that educational project went on to become renowned in his field and the project became world famous and the basis for the Head Start program. People rightly thought I had lost my mind to leave such a position to run off to study bizarre eastern teachings and teach middle class housewives how to bend their bodies and chant "Om." It didn't matter. Once I had take the step I began to feel better and my depression began to lift. I had finally answered my post-graduation question about what to do with my life. I realized that what I mainly wanted to do was to find the ultimate truth.
It was a tiny ashram, two houses on a beautiful estate, just a few people, and we taught yoga classes in various place to support ourselves and sometimes hosted weekend seminars on yoga and meditation. The most important thing for me was that I began to be introduced to the very finest teachings that have come out of India and other eastern places. Not the "fake" gurus and swamis which abounded in those days, but the very best and most genuine, the truly enlightened. We started with Sri Ramakrishna, the god-intoxicated 19th century Indian saint of Dakshineshwar, a temple near Calcutta. On my very first night at the ashram a very hefty book was placed in my lap and I was requested to read aloud, from the beginning, to the tiny group. The huge book was called " The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna ," and it was a meticulous verbatim stream of conversations of this great master and his disciples. A disciple called simply "M." had somehow written it all down at the end of each day, reconstructed from his prodigious memory, and this resulting book is like a bible to untold millions of Hindus in India and in fact people all around the world.
Sri Ramakrishna in bhav samadhi
I was thrilled by "The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna." To read it is to feel what it was like to actually spend time in the company of an avatar, an incarnation of God. Of the teachings of Jesus to his disciples 2000 years ago we have only some short snippets and bits and pieces, but here was hundreds of pages of transcription that really captured the feeling and details of being with a being whom the Hindus, at least, consider one of a number of "sons of God."
When Ramakrishna's most famous disciple, Vivekananda, first comes to see this uneducated temple priest in Dakshineswar he asks him the simple question he had been asking every other holy man for years: "Sir, have you actually seen God?" And to his surprise Ramakrishna answers straight away "Most definitely! More than that, I have seen him more clearly than I am seeing you now!" Vivekananda was surprised and taken aback. This was the first time he had ever gotten an unequivocal positive answer to his question. He stayed with the master for years and is generally considered to be the first person to bring the teachings of yoga to the West, just before the turn of the last century.
Someone who had actually seen God! I believed it. It was hard not to because the teachings that come through in "The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna" are absolutely wonderful. Ramakrishna spent a long time practicing, in turn, each of the major religions of the world, and achieved the vision of God in each of them. He went on to proclaim that every religion is but a different path to the same thing, the same Supreme Being. They use different names for things and practice different methods but they all lead to the same single source.
I had worshipped Jesus in my youth, having been brought up Methodist, and had yearned as a child that I could have actually seen him in person and looked into his eyes. One night I had cried to my child's image of God "Why did only those people thousands of years ago get to meet Jesus? Why did I have to be born so late that I could not meet him? Why did Jesus come only once?" I pleaded with God about this. It seemed so unfair. But at the ashram the Hindu idea about the "Son of God" was beginning to sink in, the idea of the "avatar."
Hindus believe that from time to time God himself incarnates in a human body for the upliftment of the world, and such an incarnation is called an "avatar." Not merely a great man who rose high, but God himself coming down. Thus in ancient times God reincarnated as Rama, and then later again as Krishna, and then later as Sri Chaitanya, and others. And in the "Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna" it is hinted that Ramakrishna was indeed such a one. It's a long story, and Hindus can argue endlessly about who was or was not an avatar. But the underlying concept seemed to be an answer from God himself to my childhood pleas about the unfairness of "Son of God" coming only once, to those lucky people 2000 years ago. But the Hindus were saying, long, long before Christ, that God comes many times! From age to age, he incarnates among men! I was thrilled and happy to learn about this different and more ancient idea about the Son of God.
We continued on with our daily readings recounting the joy and bliss and laughter of Sri Ramakrishna among his disciples. I came to believe that Ramakrishna had not been an ordinary man but an actual incarnation of God himself. And he had died less than 100 years ago! If only I could have been born back then I might have been able to come face to face with a Son of God!
Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar
After studying the teachings of Ramakrishna we went on to study the teachings of another, even more recent, great Indian, Ramana Maharshi, who had lived at the foot of a holy mountain in south India and died in 1950. No claims were ever made that Ramana was an avatar. He is regarded as a "sage" or "rishi" or simply an enlightened person who had arrived at the highest stage of consciousness, a stage sometimes called "self-realization." While Ramakrishna was of the path of devotion and love and God-intoxication, Ramana was of the path of self-enquiry, a path that is sober and thoughtful and peaceful and silent. His teaching was very simple: ask yourself endlessly the question "Who am I?" That was it. Meditate on that and eventually you will discover your true self.
Ramana Maharshi, spontaneously enlightened at the age of 17
I fell totally in love with Ramana Maharshi as well. There is a very famous portrait of him taken not long before he died in which his face literally shines with grace and kindness and compassion. I put this photo on a small simple altar in my bedroom at the ashram and every night before sleeping I would just sit and stare at it. And while staring I would think of all the stories of his life we had been reading, and all the anecdotes and things he had said and then eventually tears would come to my eyes. I just adored him and loved him and knew for certain he was one of the genuine ones of the type I had been yearning to see all my life. How kind he was! Even animals loved him and came to him. And again I felt a little bit of that disappointment that I had felt about Jesus, feeling oh why was I born a little too late to go and see this man in person and to look into his eyes?
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
Here was a perfectly enlightened one whose life span had actually overlapped my own: I was already five years old when he had died! My complaints to my childhood God seemed to be getting answered more and more, coming closer and closer. God was not so stingy after all. In fact, as I studied the great teachings more and more, it seemed as though there have always been a number of truly enlightened beings on the earth at any one time, and that now and then, according to his whim, God himself took on a human body to visit his creation and teach people the way to his kingdom. I was finding out the truth of Jesus' words: "Seek and ye shall find."
These two teachers, Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi, represented two of the great paths in the domain of the teachings of yoga: bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. Bhakti is the path of the heart, of love and devotion. Jnana is the path of the mind, discrimination and inquiry, meditation and the silencing of the mind. Heart and mind. The two main paths.
The man on the path of the heart simply loves God. He worships his chosen form of God, waves his incense, offers food and flowers on his altar, chants and sings the names of God and tries to see God in every being. Often he becomes intoxicated with his love and enters the state called "bhav samadhi," complete absorption in the beloved one to the point of actual union with the beloved one.
The man on the path of the mind follows a different but equally efficacious line, using his mind to discriminate constantly between the true and the false, inquiring deeply into the source of mind and consciousness, and sitting for long hours in stillness, silencing the mind altogether and experiencing the pure beingness. Eventually he may go into that state of consciousness called "nirvikalpa samadhi," complete absorption in the absolute, the ground of the beingness. In that state he loses all sense of himself as a separate entity and exists as the absolute only, out of which everything has come.
These two paths are perhaps the most ancient division in the human approach to finding the divine. One is suited to one type of human nature, the other suited to another type of human nature. And in Hinduism one is advised to choose the path which is most akin to one's own nature. The more emotional type of person might find the path of the heart to be quickest, while the more sober intellectual type of person would likely be more attracted to the path of the mind. After studying these teachings in depth it seemed quite natural when Swami Chidananda, the ultimate preceptor of our little ashram's founders, made a formal dedication on a visit to us and gave the ashram the name "Bhakti Jnana Yoga Ashram." Two different paths to the same single goal. Heart and mind.
Then one day my teacher came and announced that a very great teacher would be coming to New York City, and would we like to go and see him? He would be giving several public talks at New York's Town Hall, he said, and he proclaimed that this man was among the truly genuine spiritual teachers of mankind. He showed me a picture of the man on a brochure. The man's name was J. Krishnamurti.
I had a kind of deja vu. Hadn't I heard that name before? Then I remembered the book I had struggled with several years before and which had passed fairly well over my head. Though I had not comprehended much at the time I remembered having felt that there was something very important in his words, though I couldn't quite get it at the time.
I happily agreed with my teacher that we must most definitely go and see this man, without fail. I became very excited and started looking forward to the coming event. I managed to get another book by Krishnamurti, as well as a paperback book about his life: " Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening ." There I learned that Krishnamurti had come out of a spiritual group called the Theosophical Society and had been hailed by them as the World Teacher from the age of 13, when he was discovered on the beach at Adyar, near Madras.
Krishnamurti as a young man
His life was an incredible tale. There were hints here and there that he was actually the reincarnation of Buddha himself. However, in a now famous speech in 1929 Krishnamurti completely renounced his position as World Teacher and dissolved the group that had grown up around him, The Order of the Star. This speech of Krishnamurti's, called "The Pathless Land," has become, in the spiritual world, what the Declaration of Independence is in the political world. It declared freedom in the spiritual and religious realms, and denied that there was any fixed path to truth and that there could be no overall authority in such matters. Truth was a pathless land and one must find one's way by oneself.
As I read these books in preparation for the big event this time Krishnamurti's words did not simply fly over my head as before. For one thing I was no longer in deep depression but was living a fairly happy life. For another thing, I was not so distracted about wondering what to do with my life. I was doing it. I had decided that finding the truth was most important overriding thing to do with my life. And for yet another thing, all the days of studying the Indian teachings had prepared me more for thinking about the most fundamental problems and issues of life, God, and the world. Finally I was ready for Krishnamurti. And beyond that, after reading more of his words and about his life I had become absolutely convinced that here was yet another of the truly genuine "enlightened" beings. After so many years were my childhood prayers about to be answered in full? After those early complaints to God about Jesus only coming once, and not being able to meet him personally, was I about to see such a being in the flesh? Someone on the same level as Jesus? Deep down I felt that it was so. Had God heard the little boy I was and led me along year by year to the answer to my dreams? As the day approached I began to become certain of this. I felt that to seek out an enlightened one and go to see them was one of the most important and urgent things one can do.
Finally the day came and a number of us drove the hour or so to New York City. We parked the car, and walked to Town Hall. Lots of other seekers were gathered around the front door talking excitedly. For decades after his declaration of spiritual freedom Krishnamurti had been circling the globe once a year giving talks in a wide variety of venues. He did not allow any cult or religion to build up around him. There was only an organization to deal with the practical matters of arranging his talks and travels and the publication of his books. He repeatedly discouraged his listeners from putting him on a pedestal or worshipping him in any way. "The speaker [meaning himself] is of no importance whatsoever," he would say again and again. It was only the seeing of the truth that was important.
Despite Krishnamurti's repeated requests not to make a big deal out of his person, I, being human, could not help myself from wondering if he might really be Maitreya, the Buddha himself incarnated into our modern times. Was I about to lay my eyes on a genuine avatar? Krishnaji, I'm sorry, I just could not help from thinking this. I know you are right, it is the teachings and not the teacher that is important, but I am, at heart, a lover. I like to worship and admire and adore. My heroes are all those who have arrived at ultimate truth, and I DO put them on pedestals and love them, every one. I just can't help it.
There was an excited expectant buzz and murmur among the crowd as we took our seats. Eventually a slender figure appeared stage right and walked to a simple chair sitting in the middle of the stage. It was a shock to me from the very beginning. I simply had never seen anyone walk like that before. Immediately an instant hush fell over the audience as Krishnamurti took his seat. It is very hard to describe what it was about this which produced such a strong impression upon me. He walked with a complete elegance and grace and above all a sense of utter consciousness. He seemed to be completely awake and aware. One felt he was taking in absolutely everything completely. Later I thought back on this sense of shock that went through me, just from seeing him walk on the stage, and I thought that probably it came from my excited expectations and the joy of finally seeing him, but much later on in Switzerland and again in Ojai, California, I had a number of other chances to watch him simply walking and I again had the same kind of impressions. It was not so much the walking itself, as it was the total awareness and wakefulness with which he walked. To simply see someone so awake is to experience a slight wakening in oneself.
He sat silently for what seemed a very long time, looking over the audience. You could have heard a pin drop, as if every person there were holding their breath. And then he began to speak. He spoke for about an hour and a half, taking questions from the audience during the last half hour, and throughout the whole thing the audience was completely quiet. If you ask me now what he talked about or said I would have to answer honestly that I don't have the slightest idea or memory. I followed it all at the time, but for me, personally, it was not the words that I took away, it was the witnessing, for the first time in my life, of a human being existing completely in a higher state of consciousness. Just watching him for that hour and a half, taking away all the words or not, was the answer to my child's prayers to my childhood God to see a man of another order altogether. After that "talk" I never again had any doubt that a higher state exists or that a man may attain such a state and dwell in it. I never again had any doubt about whether Krishnamurti was enlightened or not. And it had nothing to do with the words that he spoke, but with the simple witnessing of him, his countenance, and the manner of his speech rather than the content. I simply realized that I was witnessing a man of another order, something I had never witnessed before, and if I had had any lingering doubts about my decision to walk away from a perfectly good job to become a seeker of truth, those doubts were dissipated that day in Town Hall. Yes Virginia, there IS enlightenment.
Another curious thing happened that day while watching Krishnamurti speak. I did not think that much about it that day, but much later, after attending many other talks by Krishnamurti and talking to other people, I came to realize that what I had experienced was a common occurrence for many other people as well. It was simply this: for a while during the talk I seemed to fall asleep. Not snoring sleeping, but almost what you could call, I guess, a kind of trance. It was an overwhelmingly peaceful silent feeling, and blissful. I was aware of his voice, like a stream, flowing in the background, but I was unaware of the meaning of the words. I struggled to wake up, feeling ridiculously embarrassed and surprised that, after waiting so long to hear him speak, I was dozing off uncontrollably. It was as if I had taken a powerful sedative. After about ten minutes of this it suddenly passed away and I was awake and alert, as before. What was it? In the years that followed I have talked to many other people who had the same kind of experience from time to time listening to him speak. I have come to the conclusion that it was simply his "presence." He had such an incredibly powerful presence and consciousness that sometimes the bliss of it acted like a soporific, inducing a sleeplike peaceful trance in the listener who was focused on him. I think of it now as a kind of "unintended side effect" of the powerful force of his awakened being. In 1971 while attending his talks in Gstaad, Switzerland we used to laugh about it whenever someone would confess, chagrinned, to having dozed off during the talk. The unintended side effect had struck again, the mysterious force of his very presence had taken over and prevented someone from taking in the meaning of the words which he was so earnestly trying to get across. I finally decided that the unintended side effect probably had a strange benefit all of its own.
After I had awakened from my brief "nap" I was very aware, and picked up the train of his thought again. Then another thing happened. While staring at him speaking on the stage I began to see a kind of light all around him extending outward, a white and slightly yellowish light. Again I kind of lost track of what he was saying, staring at his face as this light seemed to grow brighter and brighter and extended outward further and further.
Surely this is just some ocular eye phenomenon caused by staring, I thought. I am not someone who sees auras around people or things like that. Maybe people's auras exist, I don't know, but I have never seen them. Or perhaps rather I should say, this is the first time I saw one. Anyway, from yoga practice I knew that if you stare at anything for a while certain phenomena will occur like light shifts and glowing and such. So I decided to test this, because the light I was seeing was very bright and very strong, much stronger than any eye phenomenon I had ever noticed before. So I picked a point off to the side of the stage and stared at that for a while, to see what would happen. Nothing in particular was observed other than usual slight light shifts I already knew about. After a couple minutes of that I returned my gaze to stare at his face again. Once again I saw the yellowish white halo start to grow and spread, even more than before. I repeated the test, with the same results. So I returned my gaze back to his elegant and beautiful face, so full serious earnestness and so awake looking. Let's see what happens, I thought.
The glowing light around him just kept growing the longer I looked at his face. It grew out to cover the audience at the periphery of my vision. It reached high up, and to the sides, covering the stage curtains. I kept looking. Is this really some kind of actual real light I am seeing and not just an ocular phenomenon? Finally the light just seemed to be blazing all over the full field of my vision with only his head left, in the center of the field. Just this field of white and yellow with his face perfectly clear, hanging as if disembodied in the middle of it. During all this I was also following what he was saying and it was very peculiar, following the words of this face floating in the bright field of light. After my testing I realized I was indeed seeing some kind of very fine higher light emanating from this man. It reached far out from his body and engulfed the whole audience, including myself. After the talk I thought, today, indeed, I have witnessed something new for the first time in my life. This is the kind of being I have longing to see all my life. And I thought, is this why Jesus was often portrayed glowing in a halo of light?
I certainly don't want to imply that there is anything particularly important about seeing light around someone or about someone having a powerful presence that can induce a trance in a listener, or any other such thing. But I am just reporting my experience. Krishnamurti himself would have said all these things are trivial, don't waste your time with them. It is the teachings of these people that are important, the teachings about truth, about the living of life, about understanding ourselves. But I will also have to admit, frankly, that to a young man starting out on the search for truth sometimes little experiences like these seem to have a significance. Sometimes they serve as a kind of confirmation that indeed things exist and happen which are beyond our normal understanding. And in doing so they might function to keep us going, to keep digging and questioning.
For me the whole experience of seeing Krishnamurti for the first time was a happy conviction that enlightenment is indeed possible and that states of consciousness and awareness exist which are far beyond our ordinary state. My childhood wish to meet Jesus in person was fulfilled in a way by seeing Krishnamurti, and I got great joy by finally realizing that a being on the order of Christ does not appear one and one time only in all of human history, but that they are there throughout the whole of human history in a myriad of forms and situations, and that if one will truly seek, one will find.
There is much more to my tale about Krishnamurti's effect and influence on my life, but I will leave it for another time. For example, I had been studying intensely the traditions paths of the ancient and modern Indians saint and sages, and I loved them and was attracted to them. But Krishnamurti seems to advise throwing out everything you know or think you know and starting over afresh with pure unbiased inquiry. He rejects the idea of authority in the realm of spirituality and religion. He points out that often religious practices are often simply repetitious and repetition actually makes the mind dull, and that simply accepting some "truth" or dogma solely on the basis of some religious authority is a sign that something far more important, pure intelligence, is wanting.
And, in fact, the teachings of Krishnamurti eventually led me to a kind of crisis at the little ashram I was staying at, after which I left that place. My teacher at that time began demanding a kind of blind obedience and submissiveness that seemed at odds with what I had learned from Krishnaji, and so, reluctantly and with much trepidation, I left. Those were some of the happiest days of my life, those years at the Bhakti Jnana Yoga Ashram, but finally it was time continue my search elsewhere. I could not know at the time that down the road of my life another holy man was already waiting for me, even telling others that I would one day come. One's own fate and destiny, in retrospect, sometimes seem mysterious and baffling, and even on occasion miraculous. My childhood God had answered my earnest prayers by leading me to that day when I first saw Krishnamurti, the first truly enlightened being I had ever set eyes upon. Whether Krishnamurti was actually an avatar or incarnation of Maitreya or Lord Buddha is an academic question best left to the academicians. For me, seeing him was certain confirmation that the goal of one's search exists, and that the ultimate truth may attained, and that when it is attained, it just simply and purely shines.