Krishnamurti's upbringing was wholly uncommon. Few in history have been accorded the early status he knew. Thousands around the world knew of his special mission, and from boyhood, adulation followed his footsteps. Yet pride was never in his nature, nor any thought of personal gain. Though the deference he received was a great source of embarrassment for him, he met it with grace and dignity. This total lack of self-importance was evident from his earliest years.
He was born in 1895 in northern India to a high-caste Brahmin family. In his youth, he was completely generous and knew no distinction between himself and the servants attending him. Timid and inward, he could stand by a window for hours, staring into the distance. Tiny insects, fallen leaves, the rocks, and grass were objects of long and constant wonder to him. So vague and dreamy was his nature that many in his village thought him to be backward and dull-witted.
When he was 10 his mother died, and his father seemed unable to care for the family. Krishnamurti had always been sickly, at times close to death. His discovery by Leadbeater almost surely saved his life. From early on grew his feeling of the special protection that always surrounded him.
"What is relevant are the teachings. Who the teacher is, is not relevant." J.Krishnamurti
A pliable nature and deep sense of the spiritual encompassed each of the teachings he met -- of the Buddha, Sri Krishna and the Lord Maitreya -- without resistance or comparison. All of life, it seemed, flowed through the child in equal measure. With humility and wonder he bowed his head to the wellspring of Being he sensed in all existence. This quality of acceptance stayed with K* to adulthood. The complete fearlessness which became its expression would startle the world in many ways.
At the age of 15, K was instructing adult students in the principles of Theosophy. At 16, he headed an international society, "The Order of the Star in the East" (OSE) formed to create an atmosphere of welcome and reverence for the coming Teacher. In addition to daily tutoring in both normal and occult studies, he began to travel with Annie Besant and spoke to audiences throughout the world.
These were difficult years for Theosophy. Blavatsky's guidance had ceased with her death in 1891 and the world had yet to receive the teachings of Alice Bailey whose books, inspired by the Master Djwhal Khul, specifically outlined the path of initiation and the proper relation of humanity to Hierarchy. For the Theosophists of Besant's days, many details of the evolutionary journey were left to the imagination, and imaginations often ran rampant.
Undue emphasis was placed on personal contact with the Masters and competition for higher initiatory status became a disruptive force. These imbalances were deeply troubling to K, and the years he spent in England saw his beginning disillusionment with the Society, with the "Masters", and with spiritual practices. He felt rootless and bereft of meaning, yet he continued to head The Order of the Star, out of loyalty to his benefactors and some inner belief in the role he was to play.
"The moment you personify the spiritual force in you, a process of destruction begins. You will experience corruptive forces around you. This is ... a universal law. The mind is not to be personified. The spirit is not to be personified." The Lord Maitreya
Vision at Ojai
In 1922 he experienced a vision which would redirect the course of his life. It happened high in a mountain valley northwest of Los Angeles, named by the Native Americans "Ojai" or "The Nest." For two weeks, he had meditated constantly, envisioning the image of the Lord Maitreya before him. He then began to experience extreme pain in his neck and spine, and long periods of delirium. Day and night he struggled, unable to sleep or eat, often leaving his body, often seeing visionary happenings. On the third evening he was drawn from his small cottage to sit beneath a pepper tree alive with the fragrance of spring blossoms. What followed next was recorded in his own words:
"When I had sat thus for some time, I felt myself going out of my body, I saw myself sitting down with the delicate tender leaves of the tree over me. I was facing the east. In front of me was my body and over my head I saw the Star, bright and clear. Then I could feel the vibrations of the Lord Buddha; I beheld Lord Maitreya and Master KH. I was so happy, calm and at peace. I could still see my body and I was hovering near it. There was such profound calmness both in the air and within myself, the calmness of the bottom of a deep unfathomable lake.... The Presence of the mighty Beings was with me for some time and then They were gone. I was supremely happy, for I had seen. Nothing could ever be the same. I have drunk at the clear and pure waters at the source of the fountain of life and my thirst was appeased.... I have touched compassion which heals all sorrow and suffering; it is not for myself, but for the world. I have stood on the mountain top and gazed at the mighty Beings.... Love in all its glory has intoxicated my heart; my heart can never be closed. I have drunk at the fountain of Joy and eternal Beauty. I am God-intoxicated."
To Leadbeater he wrote: "I feel once again in touch with Lord Maitreya and the Master and there is nothing else for me to do but to serve Them. My whole life, now, is ... devoted to the work and I am not likely to change." And to Besant: "I feel as though I am sitting on a mountain top in adoration and that Lord Maitreya is close to me. I feel as though I am walking on delicate and perfumed air. The horizon of my life is clear and the sky-line is beautiful and precise."
Another occurrence, connected with his spiritual change, was the phenomenon he always described as "the process". It had begun in the three painful days before his vision and would recur, in varying intensity, throughout his life. Extreme pain and out-of-body experiences would accompany its advent. In its early manifestation, K would sense a definite presence, like the Lord Maitreya who came one evening with this message:
"Learn to serve me, for along that path
alone will you find me.
From this time in his life, all who knew him could sense his gathering power. From this point, he spoke from the heart, he spoke without fear, he seemed to speak from Truth itself.
At a Star gathering in 1925 he began to speak of the World Teacher, saying: "He comes only to those who want, who desire, who long ..." As his listeners watched, his face suddenly brightened. His voice, now speaking in the first person, rang out with resonant power: "... and I come for those who want sympathy, who want happiness, who are longing to be released, who are longing to find happiness in all things. I come to reform and not to tear down, I come not to destroy but to build."
Most who saw the speech assumed the Lord Maitreya had fully entered the consciousness of K, and at this point K seemed to as well: "The memory of the 28th (the day of the gathering) should be to you as if you were guarding some precious jewel and every time you look at it you must feel a thrill. Then when He comes again, and I am sure that He will come again very soon, it will be for us a nobler and far more beautiful occasion than even last time. I feel like a crystal vase, a jar that has been cleaned and now anybody in the world can put a beautiful flower in it and that flower shall live in the vase and never die."
Wide publicity was given to his assumed overshadowing. This, unfortunately, only served to exaggerate the existing imbalances in the Society. Some Theosophists were vying for position in the coming World Order, claiming impossible access to the highest levels of the spiritual world. Competition increased -- one disciple even claimed to have advanced three levels of initiation in three days. Public announcements were issued about the selection of 10 of the 12 "apostles" for the coming work. All of them were Theosophists.
Sometimes amused and sometimes disheartened, K observed the tumult surrounding him. In speech after speech he tried to show his fellows a truer path -- a way of inward direction that refused to follow anything but the spark of God within the soul. Over time he began to downplay a personal relationship with the spiritual kingdom. Less and less did he speak of Maitreya or the Masters or any other entity. His expression became increasingly abstract, as though seeking to reach beyond the realm of the physical to touch the essential source of Being that animates all expression.
"When I was a small boy I used to see Sri Krishna, with the flute, as he is pictured by the Hindus, because my mother was a devotee of Sri Krishna.... When I grew older and met with Bishop Leadbeater and the Theosophical Society, I began to see the Master KH -- again in the form which was put before me ... -- and hence the Master KH was to me the end. Later on, as I grew, I began to see the Lord Maitreya.... Now lately, it has been the Buddha whom I have been seeing, and it has been my delight and my glory to be with Him.
"I have been asked what I mean by 'the Beloved'. I will give a meaning, an explanation, which you will interpret as you please. To me it is all -- it is Sri Krishna, it is the Master KH, it is the Lord Maitreya, it is the Buddha, and yet it is beyond all these forms. What does it matter what name you give?... What you are troubling about is whether there is such a person as the World Teacher who has manifested Himself in the body of a certain person, Krishnamurti: but in the world nobody will trouble about this question.... My Beloved is the open skies, the flower, every human being.... I have been united with my Beloved, and my Beloved and I will wander together the face of the earth ... (and) you will not understand the Beloved until you are able to see Him in every animal, in every blade of grass, in every person that is suffering, in every individual."
As he began to distance himself from Theosophical teachings, he predicted that, "Everyone will give me up." He began to call his experiences of the Masters "incidents" and described the rites of initiation as completely irrelevant to the search for Truth. "If you would seek the Truth you must go out, far away from the limitations of the human mind and heart and there discover it -- and that Truth is within yourself. Is it not much simpler to make Life itself the goal ... than to have mediators, gurus, who must inevitably step down the Truth, and hence betray it?"
In 1929 he dissolved the Order of the Star. At this point it numbered 60,000 members, managed huge sums of money, and owned tracts of land throughout the world, many designated for K's future work. He was 34 years old.
Excerpts from his final speech follow:
"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.... I do not want to belong to any organization of a spiritual kind; please understand this ... If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth....
"This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth.... For 18 years you have been preparing for this event, for the Coming of the World Teacher. For 18 years you have organized, you have looked for someone who would give a new delight to your hearts and minds ... who would set you free -- and now look what is happening! Consider, reason with yourselves, and discover in what way that belief has made you different ... in what way are you freer, greater, more dangerous to every society which is based on the false and the unessential?...
"You are all depending for your spirituality on someone else, for your happiness on someone else, for your enlightenment on someone else.... You have been accustomed to being told how far you have advanced, what is your spiritual status. How childish! Who but yourself can tell you if you are incorruptible?... I desire those, who seek to understand me, to be free ... from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself.... You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned, nor with creating new cages, new decorations for those cages. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free."
Few there were who could grasp this freedom, and, sadly, those who had warned the world for years that the coming of the Christ would challenge all existing systems seemed themselves unable to encompass that challenge when it came. The Theosophical Society was left in total bewilderment.
Krishnamurti never looked back. What he did he did with love and no trace of bitterness. The Truth that was growing in him was his only concern; the Presence that filled his being was his only guide. From that Truth came compassion for every living thing. From that guidance would emerge a teaching that cut to the root of the attachments that have crippled humanity for thousands of years.
K would live another 56 years. During all of these years he would teach -- through his lectures, through his books, and through the schools he founded. Surprisingly, though most of his old friends fell away just as he had predicted, attendance at his talks did not diminish. In practically every year of his life, he toured the world. Rather than lecture he would "enter into inquiry" with his audiences, warning them not to blindly accept what he said but to look deep into their own hearts and discover the truth of their own being.
All of his teachings reverberate to the themes of freedom and self-awareness. Fear, death, love, thought, security, and time -- each can be a cage, and humanity can choose either to move beyond its limitation or remain a tortured prisoner. His insights are startling because totally honest. He shows that experience, when not based on pure observation, easily becomes distorted when thought introduces either the past, with its accumulated guilt and pain, or the future, with its vested interests to maintain.
Utopias and visions of personal perfection, the promised heaven of the sanyasi and saint -- all rob the present of its power. Each forms an avenue of escape from the pain of the world. This pain was not invented by some careless God, but by each human being who occupies the earth. As such, each one is responsible for its resolution.
In pure self-awareness is born the solution. K calls it choiceless awareness -- an acceptance that views life without resistance or prejudice, without offering itself any possible means of escape. This complete "honesty of mind" becomes a total penetration into the heart of what is. A humanity which can discriminate between the true and the false, that can face itself in all its glory, and all its shame, has begun to set itself free.
Many people would remark on the energy surrounding K wherever he went. In moments of intimacy, when sharing with close friends, K would suddenly stop and look around saying: "Can you feel it in the room?" Lutyens once asked him: "What is this thing? I know you have always felt protected, but what or who is it that protects you?" "It's there, as if it were behind a curtain," he replied, stretching out his hand. "I could lift it but I don't feel it is my business to."
In 1961 and again 12 years later K kept notes of "this thing" which he called by many names -- the "immensity", the "other", the "sacredness", the "benediction". The visitations of the "other" were always connected with his "process", and accompanied by pain, which he never resisted. The notes were written in pencil with hardly any erasures and were published as Krishnamurti's Notebook, and Krishnamurti's Journal. They are poetry of the highest order, the privileged sharing of a great soul's communion with the infinite.
"The room became full of that benediction.... It was the centre of all creation; it was a purifying seriousness that cleansed the brain of every thought, and feeling; its seriousness was as lightning which destroys and burns up; the profundity of it was not measurable, it was there immovable, impenetrable, a solidity that was as light as the heavens.... There was impenetrable dignity and a peace that was the essence of all movement, action. No virtue touched it for it was ... utterly perishable and so it had the delicacy of all new things, vulnerable, destructible and yet it was beyond all this.... It was 'pure', untouched so ever dyingly beautiful.
"... of a sudden that unknowable immensity was there, not only in the room and beyond but also deep, in the innermost recesses, which was once the mind ... that immensity left no mark, it was there, clear, strong, impenetrable and unapproachable whose intensity was fire which left no ash. With it was bliss."
The following he wrote when he was 85, describing the culmination of a meditation that had come to him in the depth of night for many years: "One night in the strange stillness ... he woke up to find something totally different and new. The movement had reached the source of all energy. This must in no way be confused with, or even thought of as, god or the highest principle, the Brahman, which are the projections of the human mind out of fear and longing, the unyielding desire for total security. It is none of those things. Desire cannot possibly reach it, words cannot fathom it nor can the string of thought wind itself around it. One may ask with what assurance do you state that it is the source of all energy? One can only reply with complete humility that it is so."
Who is Krishnamurti?
Mary Lutyens had known K since she was three years old. Her family had a deep and intimate connection with his life. Yet even she could never fully understand the essence of his strength. At the end of Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfilment, she records an inquiry into "the phenomenon of K".
How, she asked, could such a dreamy boy, sometimes considered retarded, produce such original and insightful teachings? Was there a universal pool of knowledge he had learned to tap? Was he the product of an evolutionary process -- developed through many lives? Or was it true that Maitreya had inhabited part or all of his consciousness for these many years?
K thought there was probably no way that he himself could give an answer, for, "Water can never find out what water is," but he encouraged others to explore. "If you find out," he said, "I'll corroborate it." Two aspects, he thought, were vital -- the vacant mind that had been his since childhood, and the sense of protection he had always known.
Referring to himself, K said: "How is it that the vacant mind was not filled with Theosophy etc?... Why didn't he become an abomination with all that adulation? Why didn't he become cynical, bitter?... Right through life (this vacuity) has been guarded, protected. When I get into an airplane I know nothing will happen.... It is extraordinary.... That thing must have said: 'There must be vacancy or I -- it -- cannot function.'
"It would be simple if we said that the Lord Maitreya prepared this body and kept it vacant. That would be the simplest explanation but the simplest is suspect. Another explanation is that K's ego might have been in touch with the Lord Maitreya and the Buddha and said, 'I withdraw: that is more important than my beastly self.' But I suspect this too. It implies a lot of superstition. It doesn't feel clean, right, somehow. The Lord Maitreya saw this body with the least ego, wanted to manifest through it and so it was kept uncontaminated.... So what is the truth? I don't know. I really don't know. Another peculiar thing in all this is that K has always been attracted to the Buddha.... Is that reservoir the Buddha?, the Lord Maitreya?"
Lutyens asked about his teachings. Were they made by him, or the mysterious power? He answered: "Let us be clear. If I deliberately sat down to write it, I doubt if I could produce it.... Here there is this phenomenon of this chap who isn't trained, who has had no discipline. How did he get all this?... It is like -- what is the biblical term? -- revelation. It happens all the time when I'm talking.... There is a sense of vacuity and then something happens."
"There is an element in all this which is not man-made, thought-made, not self-induced.... If you ask it what it is, it wouldn't answer. It would say: 'You are too small'.... Are we trying to touch a mystery? The moment you understand it, it is no longer a mystery. But the sacredness is not a mystery. So we are trying to remove the mystery leading to the source."
Lutyens was inclined to think that K had indeed been used by something from the outside since 1922, but K himself had often said that thought could never explain that which lay beyond it. Perhaps the freedom and the mystery of K lies in his venture to that realm beyond, not only of aspects of thought, but of time and space as well. Perhaps his journey was through that "pathless land" of the intuition wherein reside both eternal beauty and communion with all existence. When that land is found, then perhaps his mystery will be understood.
Krishnamurti died in 1986 at the age of 90, at Ojai, the place where his vision was born. He was surrounded by only a handful of friends. His body, in death, was wrapped in silk; a white camellia lay at his feet. His ashes were scattered in his most loved places so that no one would erect a temple to worship his remains.
Often he had wondered if his life had made a difference in the still suffering world that surrounded him. But until the end he never ceased to teach, like all of the others -- the Great Ones and Watchers of our evolution -- who silently witness and go on with their work, endlessly reaching out to a humanity often too blind to see.
He said that the "Presence" was with him at all times in the last few years of his life. The curtain which had hidden its view must have become, by then, a thin veil. One senses that his death was but a tiny step beyond that veil, and his entry into the life beyond an almost imperceptible departure from the life that he had given to the world.
* Krishnamurti preferred to be called K. He spoke and wrote of himself in the third person.
**For information on overshadowing see A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, pp.747-760, by Alice A. Bailey.