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Permission granted by S. Lloyd Williams to appear on this website. Available on-line since April 16, 2003. Originally at my previous http://www.algonet.se/~tourtel/ domain, since July 2006 found at present location.
|Talk at the Annual Gathering of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America
|Ojai, California, May 6, 2000, by S. Lloyd Williams
|Revised by the author (2nd revision, October 2001)
|Copyright © by S. Lloyd Williams (This work is unpublished)
It is my privilege and pleasure to speak to you today on “Preserving the Teachings: The Historical Importance of Krishnamurt”. In this year 2000, at the turn of the century and of the millenium, it is fitting to take stock of how Krishnamurti's life and work stands in history, and in the intellectual life of humanity. I have been steeped recently in an historical research project on Krishnamurti. I have made a few observations about his work and the issue of preserving it for the future. What we do in the coming years and decades will have much to do with the fate of Krishnamurti's message, of Krishnamurti's legacy to the world. What is our responsibility to keep his teachings before the public, available and accessible so that those who come after us can learn directly for themselves of his revolutionary and transformative message?
Given the grave crises that beset the world, the widespread violence, the ever-increasing poverty and environmental decline, and given the causes of those crises in our self-centered activities and fragmented minds, it is clear that conventional lines of outward action cannot reverse the tidal wave of sorrow and destruction. We sense the importance of the revolution in consciousness to which Krishnamurti pointed, which seems to be the only approach that has hope of bringing about a new society.
It was more than fourteen years ago that Krishnamurti took his last walk in those hills above Ojai. We are among an ever-dwindling number of people who saw and heard and knew Krishnamurti. In a few more decades no one will be left who did so. What will people know of Krishnamurti when no living person links them to him? What place will his teachings have, if any, in the future of humanity, in the future of human consciousness, and in the future of human intellectual and cultural life?
In my view, which many here probably share, Krishnamurti occupies a prominent place as one of the very important teachers, not only one of many inspired teachers of the 20th century, but a true “World Teacher” as Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater predicted. I use the phrase World Teacher not necessarily in an occult sense, but in the sense of a teacher whose work is of international and enduring importance, who stands within a small group of special teachers in history.
Although Krishnamurti considered his work to be religious in character, that work is far indeed from an appeal to faith or to devotional sentiment. It is an intellectually deep, original, and challenging set of observations about the human mind and the world condition, often penetrating to the heart of an issue in a thought-provoking way. His work undermines the very foundations of conventional religious practices, denying any role in religion for belief, devotion, and spiritual leading or following. He addresses not just religious issues per se, but fundamental philosophical and psychological issues in his call for a revolution in consciousness. He rejects some of our most firmly held ideas, indeed, even questioning the value of ideation altogether.
If Krishnamurti was truly a World Teacher, then we have an unprecedented opportunity to preserve in great detail the life and work of such a teacher. Of course it is hard to know if the world will come to share my high estimation of Krishnamurti, even assuming that this unfortunate world survives for very long. There is no quick version of the test of time. Krishnamurti's life and work could become little more than a minor historical footnote in 100 years. But if interest in Krishnamurti were to be proportional to the actual importance and revolutionary character of his work, then future generations will be grateful for what we do now in preserving the record of this extraordinary man and his message.
All of us who feel that Krishnamurti's work is special are in a sense the heirs of his intellectual estate. As such we are faced with what it means to pass on his legacy to those who will in their time be struck by it. What does it mean to preserve and enable access to original undistorted works by Krishnamurti? What are our specific tasks and responsibilities? Of course the best way to preserve the teachings is to live them and to communicate them with others out of the fullness of our own understanding. Krishnamurti called for people to observe and discover their own mental activities, and in that meditation to perhaps come upon a state beyond the limits of thought and time. The transcendence of time was part of the core of Krishnamurti's teaching, as he put it, “Time is the psychological enemy of man” (Krishnamurti, 1983, p. 204), and he exhorted listeners to discover themselves now, not tomorrow or next month.
In the present context of preserving Krishnamurti's works and his place in intellectual history, it is ironic that his nonhistorical, or even antihistorical “do it now” approach almost discourages interest in preservation and historical research. The principles of transforming consciousness and transcending time give little guidance for preserving Krishnamurti's words and his history. Indeed, some people probably hear in his call for inward revolution a compelling argument against K-related archival preservation or historical publication projects altogether.
Now, one never loses sight of the fundamental points of Krishnamurti's teaching, and certainly it is important that in the “post-K” period people inquire into themselves and meditate, as well as support and participate in Krishnamurti-related study centers, dialogue and discussion groups, video showings, and so on. But understanding his teaching and transforming oneself seem difficult to achieve. I believe Krishnamurti doubted whether anyone had really done so during his life. Self-transformation alone is a very risky basis for preserving Krishnamurti's message. It must be supplemented by more direct efforts to preserve and disseminate the physical record of his life and work.
As the legal heirs to Krishnamurti's physical and intellectual estate, the Krishnamurti Foundations internationally face the challenge of acting prudently as caretakers. The Krishnamurti Foundation of America (KFA) has one of the world's best collections of printed Krishnamurti material, and certainly one of the best from the early period. Fundamental to preserving the original historical materials is suitable quarters for storing them safely, organizing and cataloging them, and making them accessible for research. A safe climate-controlled, chemical-controlled and pest-controlled environment is vital because these historical materials are fast being lost from, and deteriorating and crumbling to powder in, archives and libraries worldwide. The dedication of the KFA Archives building today is a landmark event in the history of Krishnamurti's legacy to the world, and it shows how seriously the Foundations and all of us take the challenge.
The importance of this historical material has been impressed upon me by the work I have been doing over the past seven years on the early period of Krishnamurti's work. These are the incredibly rich and interesting “years of awakening” as Mary Lutyens (1975) called them, from when the 15 year old Krishnamurti first came to public attention in Theosophical circles in 1910, until 23 years later, when his work reached a certain degree of maturity in 1933. I have been zealously ferreting out these early writings by Krishnamurti and related historical data from around the world, a search that has led me to appreciate both the importance and the difficulty of preserving this record.
Why is it important to preserve all of this material? Most important, of course, is to have the texts of the writings available undistorted and in their original form for later students. The biographical and historical data are also very important for preserving the message. A common fate of great teachers is superstition, dogma, ritual, and myth. False ideas arise easily. People are capable of believing almost anything. Having a very detailed record of Krishnamurti's life and work enables us to really document objectively, and know very well what he did and said. Devils abound in lack of details, hence the importance of preserving the details.
Why should we care about his life and its contexts, and not just his teachings? First, because you cannot separate the work from the life, you cannot disembody the teaching from the life of one who teaches self-understanding and self-transcendence. Those who are struck by his message will always be interested, and legitimately so, in if and how his life reflected his message. It is our responsibility to enable them to look into that issue by preserving the information and keeping it available. Second, a vacuum of knowledge about his life will be fertile ground for myths and fictions. His life was truly stranger than fiction, there was much mysterious in it including occult societies and secret initiations, so even with a well preserved and detailed record available there is very much room for mythmaking. Without such a detailed record, the only limits on mythmaking about K would be the limits of human fancy, in other words, almost no limits at all.
One of Krishnamurti's major concerns was about the creation of a church of Krishnamurti. Preserving the record of his works helps prevent this of course, but not necessarily entirely. Anyone who has read the gospels of the last World Teacher of two thousand years ago must be struck by how outspokenly critical he was of established religious authorities and practices, and how the same criticisms apply with equal force to the present day Christian church. Consider his strong sentiments against spiritual authority, for example, “Call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). In my youth when I first read Jesus's scornful rejection of churchly attitudes and practices, I found myself wondering in amazement whether most people who call themselves Christians actually know what Jesus taught. Although texts of his anti-church sentiments survived brilliantly, they did not prevent the usual exploitation of people by others acting in the name of God. So there is more to preserving Krishnamurti's teachings than simply preserving his words.
Of course we recognize our responsibility to avoid creating a new church. And now is the time to live up to that responsibility, which means above all else not making Krishnamurti an object of our adoration, an authority, or a perfect person who cannot make a mistake, and to whom we must look for guidance in what to do. We need to perceive Krishnamurti as a human being, which is why it is especially important to have detailed life information about him. It has a humanizing effect on our perceptions of him. We see in Krishnamurti's life not someone who floats above the ground, but a human being with all that implies. Our openness to the possibility of weaknesses means that what emerges is not a superhuman being, but more miraculous yet, a living breathing ordinary human being in many ways, who made mistakes, yet who also penetrated so deeply and originally into the human condition and who gave us an entirely new perspective on complex and intractable problems.
The last World Teacher said, beautifully, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). There is no resting place where we can just go to sleep. Every challenge is new and there are no teachers or pat formulae to tell us what to do, to spare us struggling to find the right action or to spare us quite possibly not finding it. Even enlightment does not give the sons and daughters of man, not even Jesus Christ or Krishnamurti, a place to lay their heads, free from having to puzzle out what to do in the ambiguous and ever-changing circumstances of life. And that means precisely that there is no end state that guarantees anyone a life free from mistakes. As Krishnamurti (1953) put it,
So I do not say to myself that the perfect entity will never make a mistake. But, after making the mistake, can I not acknowledge it and then let it go by and not be occupied with it? . . . . That requires a great deal of understanding, a great deal of subtle freedom. To know that one is capable of making a mistake and not have a standard according to which one is living, that way the mind is set free to make, perhaps, more mistakes. But, to know how to deal with the mistake is what is so very important (p. 20).
Krishnamurti was the first to say that we should not take him as an infallible guide to what we should do. He never taught that self-understanding conferred immunity against error, nor did he ever hold himself up as an example of virtuous or problem-free living to be emulated. He did live, for all I can see, an exemplary life, but it was not a life free of all personal or professional mistakes. To give one modest example, Krishnamurti made a big mistake by not permitting his talks to be audio-recorded for most of his career. So with the exception of the talks in Ojai in 1949, we have almost no audio recordings of the thousands of public talks Krishnamurti gave between 1921 and 1960. Fortunately he corrected this error in time to leave us a rich treasure of audiotaped and videotaped material from the last 25 years of his life. And I think this was not his only serious mistake. The point is that we must remain mindful of the human side of Krishnamurti to keep religious devotion and orthodoxy from infecting our approach to his work, so that we may better understand his message.
For seven years now I have been working on a KFA project to publish The Complete Early Works of J. Krishnamurti, 1910-1933. What this title calls the “early” period ends rather arbitrarily in mid-1933, when he was approaching middle age at 38 years old. This work has immersed me in his early history with Theosophy and the Theosophical Society (TS). It is a history very much discussed and debated even today. Why should we preserve and publish the record of these early days, of these early works? The early period was in some ways the most important of Krishnamurti's life, when he went from vacant boy to World Teacher. This was the most exotic and fascinating part of Krishnamurti's life, with occult initiations, travel on the astral plane to Masters in the Himalayas, and secret spiritual organizations. It was pervaded with an aura of drama and mystery. The most celebrated event of his life, his dissolution of The Order of the Star, took place during this period, in 1929. A large number of enduring controversies focus on the early period as I will discuss. The flowering of his message during that period will always be of great and legitimate interest to people struck by Krishnamurti's mature works.
The early works show the unfolding miracle of Krishnamurti transcending his past and the powerful pressures of current circumstances. They show him when he was not always the revolutionary he was to become, and the intellectual struggle he went through. They also show that the brilliant insights we think of as the mature K, which began emerging abundantly in his works in the mid-1920s, were not just given to him on a silver tray. So this is also part of the necessary humanizing of Krishnamurti. To go from vacant boy to brilliant revolutionary, Krishnamurti spent many years of hard work. He made false starts and errors along the way. And he said much of great beauty and truth along the way, going back to the very beginning of his work. The Complete Early Works promises to lay out this 23-year spiritual journey for all to see.
I would like to give you a little impression of Krishnamurti's work during this early period, painted in broad brush strokes. His work as an author began at age 15 in what I call the Alcyone [pronounced al-key-o-nee] period from 1910 to 1912, when he used that pen name on several works. Then came the student period, from 1913 to 1920, when he acquired a general education in England but did very little public writing or speaking. Then in 1921 he began his adult career in earnest, actively leading The Order of the Star. From that point forward for the next 65 years he worked as a spiritual teacher continuously and ardently until the end of his life. So his adult career as a spiritual teacher began in 1921, more than 12 years before the mid-1933 date marking the end of the Complete Early Works period.
Let me try to characterize briefly the change in Krishnamurti's message from 1921, when he was 25 years old, through mid-1933 when he was 38 years old. His teaching sounded very different in 1933 than it had sounded in 1921. These 12 years can be divided roughly into two halves, the six years 1921 through 1926, and the six and one-half years 1927 through mid-1933.
Krishnamurti spent the first six years 1921 through 1926 in an earnest effort to find his message, while preparing Star members and himself for the coming World-Teacher he firmly believed in. I call this the period of self-preparation (following a suggestion of Dr. Parchure). These six years were punctuated by several transcendental experiences such as the celebrated pepper tree experience in 1922 and the “overshadowing” of K by the World Teacher in December 1925. There were also gradual changes in the message, going from a viewpoint with more Theosophical elements to what we know today as the mature Krishnamurti, all taking place over a number of years rather than suddenly. During this self-preparation period he was a Theosophist not only in some major points of his teaching such as emphasizing the importance of the Theosophical Masters and the occult spiritual path, but by his active participation in TS activities.
But his works always had his own stamp on them. Krishnamurti's teachings are no exception to Wittgenstein's dictum, “Great things start great”. Even at their least mature, even when they sound themes Krishnamurti later abandoned, the early teachings are nothing to be ashamed of. The works of the Alcyone period have their own beauty, and by early in the self-preparation period, long before 1933, he was already sounding some of his lifelong themes such as questioning spiritual authority, denying the value of suppressing desire, and advocating rapid self-transformation over slow spiritual evolution. His work then was not always the inspired and revolutionary teaching it was to become, but it contained much of depth and beauty.
Then during the subsequent period, 1927-1933, the period I call the Coming of the World Teacher (again following Dr. Parchure's suggestion), Krishnamurti's understanding and his message seemed to really flower. In 1927 he began announcing his liberation, stating, “My Beloved and I are one” (Krishnamurti, 1927, p. 290). Shortly before he dissolved the Order of the Star he declared openly, “I am the World-Teacher” (Krishnamurti, 1928 , p. 9). Soon he stopped making such claims about himself in his talks and writings, but he never denied them. The remainder of the early period that extended until mid-1933 (when he discontinued the Star Bulletin magazine), and indeed the rest of his life, was spent in finding the means of expressing his discoveries.
In the works from this last six years of the early period, which comprise the great majority of the texts in the Complete Early Works, Krishnamurti elaborated at length on themes characteristic of his later works, so that his message had already matured a great deal and had done so for quite some years by the cutoff date of June 30, 1933 that defines the end of the Complete Early Works. So that precise date was not the occasion of a spiritual breakthrough, but simply an accident of his publishing history, a convenient but arbitrary cutoff point that should not mislead anyone into thinking that on June 30, 1933, Krishnamurti was blindly following Masters, but next morning on July 1, 1933 he woke up an enlightened master himself. I can assure you that there was not a great difference between his talks in 1932 and those in 1934, despite our calling the 1932 talks “early” and the 1934 talks “mature”.
It is also very important to note that Krishnamurti himself seems to have left no contemporaneously recorded statement of a date or time period before which his work was “early” and after which his work was “late” or “mature”. At least, I have been quite unable to locate any such statement beyond a sketchy anecdote lacking any documentary corroboration. And his associates' opinions of what date divides “early” from “mature” vary radically. Some say 1927, others 1929, others 1933, and yet others 1947 and even later dates. So one cannot consider the mid-1933 cutoff date for the so-called “early works” to be in any way definitive or sacrosanct.
Of course Krishnamurti spoke so much against the idea of spiritual development that one feels almost heretical using the word “develop” to characterize changes in his message over time. But the inescapable fact is that Krishnamurti traversed a great distance spiritually from the beginning of his adult work with the initial 1921 “Editorial Notes” in The Herald of the Star (Krishnamurti, 1921) to his first “later” period talks in Italy in 1933 (Krishnamurti, 1934), and whether you want to call that journey “development”, “awakening”, “maturing”, or some other term, it took time.
Some people have serious misgivings about publishing early Krishnamurti works, for fear that they will divert the unwary from his mature teachings. The Complete Early Works will not mislead inquirers about Krishnamurti. Remember that the bulk of the early works were authored after K began openly questioning the Theosophical approach. No serious reader of the early Krishnamurti works could have any doubt about his turning away from his former Theosophical positions, even if that reader read only the early works. We would defeat ourselves by limiting our preservation and dissemination of Krishnamurti's history in a hopeless attempt to prevent the least interested and least serious inquirers from misunderstanding something.
The early works have value beyond being merely a technical historical record of what Krishnamurti said and wrote. They are an integral part of the whole of his life and work, they are not magically separable. One cannot just start at mid-1933 as if to pretend the early period did not exist. The mature works stand on their own quite well without needing any special historical perspective to understand them, but the early works add to our appreciation of Krishnamurti's life and his message, and help prevent myth and distortion. They show the flowering of his teachings, and they also humanize Krishnamurti by showing that his transcendence of time, thought, and self came only after long years of energetic spiritual teaching, searching, mistakes, and just plain hard work, yet with a certain beauty, depth, and originality throughout it all.
Now I would like to consider myths surrounding Krishnamurti, and whether and how historical information can address those myths. There is much about Krishnamurti's life of mythical proportion. Certainly his association with Theosophy and occultism provides very fertile ground for myth. Perhaps the most myth-engendering aspect of Krishnamurti's life was the remarkable fact that the great spiritual unfolding that Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater predicted of him in his youth actually came to pass. In about 1909 Besant began proclaiming the near coming of the World-Teacher, literally Christ returned. Soon Leadbeater “discovered” Krishnamurti and his selfless aura and his illustrious past lives, and Besant predicted that Krishnamurti was to be the "vehicle" or body used by the World Teacher, just as Theosophical teachings held that the body of Jesus had been used by the Christ to speak to humanity two thousand years ago. This prophecy concerning a very inauspicious-looking, undernourished, and apparently slow-witted boy of 14 is truly uncanny and remarkable in light of the great spiritual awakening Krishnamurti was to experience many years later.
Remarkable too was Besant's adherence to her prophecy despite its offending many people at the time, and despite its costing the TS, which she headed, large losses of membership around the world. For example, Rudolf Steiner, who was head of the TS's German Section at the time, wrote that he could not abide with Besant's assertions “about a Hindu boy that he was the person in whom Christ would appear in a new earthly life . . . . For the propagation of this absurdity, a special society was formed within the Theosophical Society, that of the ‘Star of the East’” (Steiner, 1986/1923-4, pp. 314-315). By 1913 Steiner's opposition to “this absurdity” led him and his faction to exclude Star members from the German TS, which led Besant to expel Steiner from the International TS, and he took most German TS members with him to his thus-born Anthroposophical Society. But despite such fierce opposition in many quarters, Dr. Besant stood by her prophecy and died believing it had come true.
Another point of myth-making is Besant's dual-consciousness principle, the separating of Krishnamurti's consciousness from the consciousness of the World Teacher, which has been the source of much theorizing and controversy ever since she proposed it. Even the mature Krishnamurti of Krishnamurti's Notebook (Krishnamurti, 1975), writes of the “otherness”, the sacred state that comes and goes uninvited, strongly implying a dual consciousness as Besant's prophesy foretold. A related mysterious phenomenon is Krishnamurti's “process”, the periods of intense pain in his head and neck, variably accompanied by the benediction of the “otherness”. Why the pain and what, if anything, does it have to do with self-transcendence? The process does not fit in with standard occult phenomena such as the raising of kundalini, at least Leadbeater did not understand it as such (see Lutyens, 1975, p. 163 and 171), and neither could Krishnamurti explain it.
Then there is the question of whether Krishnamurti's spiritual awakening required Theosophical upbringing. Some have suggested that the Theosophical training was necessary, the occult initiations, the personal attention from the Masters of Wisdom, and all that. A related claim by some is that almost any child raised as Krishnamurti was raised would have become a distinguished teacher. I do not know about the role of the occult, but it seems to me that almost any child raised as he was raised would have been thoroughly ruined by it. To me the most remarkable thing about Krishnamurti's life is that he achieved a spiritual revolution in spite of the decades of reverential attention and expectations of spiritual glory. Was he born special and therefore his Columbus-like achievement (as he characterized it) was unique to him? Perhaps we will never resolve these mysteries. But they will not go away either. Recent books by Irving (1995), Meyer and Vreede (1993), Sanat (1999), and Schuller (1997) testify to the continuing lively interest in the mysterious and mythical surrounding Krishnamurti's life.
Even an abundance of information about Krishnamurti's life might never lead us to understand the role of the occult in his spiritual flowering, so myths and speculative theories will abound despite our best efforts to preserve history. But there are some ideas about Krishnamurti that are amenable to direct historical examination. One example is the myth that his transformation was sudden, which is strongly challenged by his early works and much other evidence, as I mentioned already.
Another line of historical theorizing about Krishnamurti sees him as merely a Theosophical pawn until he dissolved The Order of the Star. Until that point, so the myth goes, Krishnamurti was an empty shell into which Besant and Leadbeater poured their own ideas and he just repeated them like a parrot until he finally woke up in 1929. This is far from the truth. Although he did accept some Theosophical ideas, he also showed strikingly independent thinking from early on. For example, the Adyar Archives has a photocopy of a handwritten letter from the 17-year-old Krishnamurti to Besant in October 1912, in which he tells her, an internationally renowned founder of ceremonial orders, “I want to ask you a few questions concerning about [sic] the Order of the Star. . . . If we have ceremonies the members will spend all their time in that business instead of more important work. And also there are enough ceremonies in the Society?” This stand against ceremonies, stated politely as a question but clearly asserting his disapproval, shows him to be thinking for himself from early on.
Moreover, Annie Besant always considered Krishnamurti her spiritual superior. She was more inclined to learn from him about spirituality than to teach him about it. When he was asked on New Year's day 1934, three months after her death, what her attitude had been toward him and his brother Nitya, he replied,
Dr. Besant was our mother, she looked after us, she cared for us. But one thing she did not do. She never said to me, ‘Do this’, or ‘Don't do that’. She left me alone. Well, in these words I have paid her the greatest tribute (Krishnamurti, 1935, p. 50).
Krishnamurti was not raised to be an unthinking TS puppet, nor did he behave as one.
The opposite tack is taken by those who think Krishnamurti was never a Theosophist, that at most he quietly played along to please Annie Besant but inwardly never accepted it. This appears just as untrue as the previous myth. During the first years of his adult teaching period, that is, after he undertook his active work as a spiritual teacher in 1921 that was to continue for the rest of his life, he was a self-described Theosophist who openly and frequently praised and took inspiration from the Theosophical Masters. From the beginning he had maintained a certain independence from standard TS ideas, for example he never showed much interest in the fine extensive details of Theosophical cosmology. But he was a TS member at the local, national, and international levels and an active participant in TS meetings at all levels during much of the early period, including paying dues, seconding motions, and giving impromptu talks from the floor of such meetings. Indeed, a mere eight months before he dissolved The Order of the Star in 1929 he presided over the annual international meeting of the TS in Varanasi, India. Although he openly distanced himself from the Theosophical approach after 1927, for most of the early period he was incontestably a Theosophist.
A variation on the theme of doubting his participation in Theosophy and the TS is to think that he did not write the early works, or at least to assert that he did not write the first book attributed to him at age 15, At the Feet of the Master (Alcyone [Krishnamurti], 1910). This book was a set of mostly reasonable suggestions for spiritual living. It is not the enlightened K, but neither is it an embarassment. Very much fuss was made about it when it was published and for long after, and to the present day it continues to be a bestseller of Eastern devotional literature. Skeptics questioning whether Krishnamurti wrote that book seem actually to be questioning whether Krishnamurti advocated sitting at the feet of a Master, so to speak, in spiritual matters. The answer is that he most certainly did. The historical evidence about the authorship of that one book is beyond the scope of this talk, but I would point out that a subsequent book with similar content, Education as Service (Krishnamurti [Alcyone], 1912), exists in Krishnamurti's own handwritten manuscript in the KFA Archives, showing, along with a large body of other evidence, that he at least genuinely endorsed the ideas expressed in At the Feet of the Master. In short, whether Krishnamurti wrote that one book or not matters little, because for over 15 years after it was published he frequently extolled the Masters and expressed inspiration from them in numerous works.
Can we live with these facts? We have read them in the biographies, yet for some reason we feel an impulse to rebel against or even to deny them. I do not personally see what is to rebel against. Krishnamurti began his work as a 15-year-old boy taking his first steps as a spiritual teacher, in association with a legitimate society of serious spiritually-minded people, and he ended up with a brilliant and revolutionary message. In between he said and did for many years many things that he was later to set aside. This is the record of the unfolding of an extraordinary spiritual and intellectual genius, a genius that was not just handed to Krishnamurti from on high, which means precisely that he had to try different things and to make mistakes along the way. This is nothing to be ashamed of. We need not recoil from his early works or try to bury them, or deny his TS history. Let us keep all of his work and all of his life preserved and open to full public view. Then people can judge for themselves, without relying on any authority, the various claims and counterclaims about when and how and why Krishnamurti's teaching emerged.
Now I would like to return to what it means and what it requires to preserve Krishnamurti's message. Perhaps for the first time in history we have the opportunity to preserve in detail the work of a very special religious thinker and teacher, but to make the most of this opportunity requires us to consider carefully our responsibilities. Preservation of Krishnamurti's teachings is a very complicated issue.
As of today, the world has a marvelous physical facility in which to store the physical record of Krishnamurti's history. And KFA has a fabulous collection to preserve. But operating an archives means more than passively storing a set of material, or relying on it growing only by happenstance donations of documents. A large amount of extant material on Krishnamurti, even published material, is not in Krishnamurti Foundation archives internationally. We cannot rely on anyone else to gather and preserve this material for us, nor assume that important documents will be donated automatically. These materials need to be actively collected, with financial support for people to spend time tracking them down, and a budget set aside to buy materials quickly if and when they thankfully become available.
Now is the time to do it. Krishnamurti referred to psychological time as the enemy of man, and I would add that physical time is the relentless enemy of the material work of man. Documents are highly perishable in this world where, as Jesus put it, “moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Over the past seven years I have traveled on four continents looking for Krishnamurti's works. They often appeared in local magazines or newspapers. In many cases only a single example of a Krishnamurti work exists, at least that I ever saw, meaning that other works must once have existed whose rarity is now complete and they exist no more. Numerous rare or unique documents I have seen listed in an archives list or in a bibliographic reference have apparently disappeared, ranging from an important voice recording of K in 1929 to entire sets of K-related magazines that have proved impossible to locate. Destruction I have seen firsthand includes rainwater pouring down on collections of precious material through leaky roofs, squirrels building their nests using a very rare newspaper with many articles by Krishnamurti, and acidic deterioration so severe that the material simply disintegrates when handled. It seems to me our responsibility is to actively gather as much of this material for preservation as we reasonably can. Much has already perished forever, and things that might seem easy to get today will suddenly be impossible to get tomorrow. We must mindfully collect it as we go. Some projects can wait, but every day of delay in establishing a vigorous well-funded acquisitions program means further loss of Krishnamurti's legacy.
Publishing texts of Krishnamurti's works is a vital part of preserving them, because the more widely the material is distributed outside the confines of a few special collections, the more likely it is to survive the ravages of time. “Don't put all your eggs in one basket” the saying goes, hence the importance of publishing his works in well-circulated editions. The Complete Early Works is an example of a scholarly edition that potentially has tremendous preservational value because it could bring to light and make widely available many rare K texts that would otherwise disappear entirely or remain hidden from all but the most dedicated scholars. I hope that the Krishnamurti Foundations will openly publish an authoritative edition (authoritative in the scholarly sense that I will discuss later in this talk) of the complete works of Krishnamurti from 1910-1986, so that his entire life's work will be preserved for posterity by wide distribution.
All our efforts to round up and carefully preserve Krishnamurti's record will be for naught if his teaching does not establish a real place in the world's intellectual tradition, especially in universities, which have long been, like their monastic forebears, the repositories of the world's important ideas, the places more than anywhere else that bring these ideas before each new generation. I can confidently predict that in five hundred years students of philosophy will read Plato, just as students have done for the last five hundred years and more (whether they like it or not!).Why? First, of course, because Plato inquired deeply and originally into fundamental questions. Second, and equally or perhaps even more important, because academics appreciate the value of Plato. Why not Krishnamurti too? Why should his work not be discussed in standard textbooks of psychology, philosophy, and religion? Krishnamurti also inquired deeply and originally into fundamental questions, and his work merits enduring visibility in higher education.
A big advantage of academic interest is that scholars take obsessive care in keeping the texts of valued works accurate. They will always translate Plato into modern languages based on the most original source documents and most current research data available, all carefully preserved. The texts of Plato's works five hundred years from now could well be more authentic and more accurate than they are today because of new research findings. And students will read those texts verbatim. Even the most obfuscating professor will require students to read Plato's own words directly, so the students can and will gain their own understanding of Plato (whether the professor likes it or not!).
All of the preceding marvelous preservation and dissemination occurs only because academics have a deep interest in Plato, which they do not have in Krishnamurti. This lack of interest raises grave concerns about whether Krishnamurti's teachings will survive. Academic disinterest in K is especially sad given that university students tend to be among the brightest and most idealistic young people, searching earnestly and with youthful energy for meaning in life. But they are unlikely in their studies ever to hear of Krishnamurti. Of course Krishnamurti's own personal and intellectual style was entirely different from the scholarly academic approach. His brother Nitya was the sharp scholar, whereas Krishnamurti was the mystic visionary who seemed to lack interest in, and aptitude for, the academic. He proved in spades that intelligence and intellectual depth can be quite different from mere scholarly adroitness. But we neglect the academy at his legacy's peril.
Raymond Martin (1998) has examined academic disinterest in Krishnamurti, and I find his analysis generally persuasive. I will summarize and embellish it here if I may. A problem for Krishnamurti in the academy is that his philosophical position discouraged theories, ideas, and analytical reasoning, in preference for meditating to achieve a revolution in consciousness now. Academics make and analyze theories, and evaluate theories with reasoning and evidence, but Krishnamurti discouraged theorizing and analysis in preference to meditation. Analysis is to meditation as oil is to water, and academics will not start meditating as a mode of academic inquiry.
But, Martin (1998) continued, Krishnamurti was not only meditative. He clearly offered theories expressed as ideas, for example, “the observer is the observed” and “thought breeds fear”. He did not argue for his theories because he wanted people to see for themselves. But the points of his teachings could be presented in a more academically palatable way. Martin (1998) gives the example of 19th-century philosopher David Hume's analysis of the illusion of self-permanence, which is similar to Krishnamurti's views. So it is possible to give Krishnamurti an academic presentation, and unless many academics do work his ideas into theories and evaluate them in the usual academic way, “Krishnamurti will never be accepted at the university” (Martin, 1998, p. 33).
Not everyone is in sympathy with the academic approach to Krishnamurti. After Martin's comments on the academy were published in The Link, its Education Section editor (1999) noted the “vehemence of the anti-intellectual invective” (p. 39) in letters replying to Martin's points. But I must agree with the editor's (1999) further comment, “For me, one of the great things about Krishnamurti's teachings is that they encompass all human processes, including logic and the intellect, and that his insights appear, at least to me, to satisfy all tests, including those” (p. 39). The anti-academic, anti-intellectual view is unfortunate because in this post-Krishnamurti period there is good reason to encourage all kinds of dialogue and discussion of his work, including his ideas as ideas, at the level of intellectual discussion and at other levels.
The word is not the thing, and the idea is not the reality. Perhaps there is a fundamental reality beyond the measure of time and thought, beyond the formulations of words and ideas and theories, something sacred. But that does not mean we cannot use words, or that we cannot exchange ideas as ideas, even while recognizing their limitations. Krishnamurti himself used words and expressed ideas, and it seems to me that keeping his work alive in human consciousness means, among other things, talking about his ideas as such, examining them openly in the light of reason and objective evidence, and encouraging others to do the same. If such discussion does not take place in academic settings, the future of Krishnamurti's legacy might well be very brief.
Another big advantage of academic discourse is that it enables taking a position of tasteful advocacy, not preaching or proselytizing, but simply presenting a case that Krishnamurti's ideas objectively merit attention, just as Plato's ideas and Hume's ideas do. We must develop a voice to talk about the substance of Krishnamurti's ideas in the context of discourse about ideas. We have to get specific about it, to point out specifically the ways in which he was an original and revolutionary thinker and an important contributor to human understanding. People glibly dismiss K's work as being just Buddhism or Vedanta or philosopher X's ideas recycled, so why waste time on K? If we do not accept such interpretations, we must be able to counter them, which means stating the positions K took and defending the integrity, truth, and value of those positions in the world of ideas, and, yes, comparing them to the ideas of others to show that K shed original light on important questions.With some luck, perhaps academics will become interested in K, so that his work may enter the stream of the world's most valued and carefully preserved teachings.
Yet another contribution the academic perspective can make to Krishnamurti's legacy is the academy's emphasis on objectivity. Krishnamurti and those interested in his work rightly worry about whether a Church of Krishnamurti will emerge. Academic discourse is an antidote to churchiness because it strongly discourages devotional sentiments toward the thinker whose work is being studied. In the academy it is OK to appreciate and OK to admire, but it is not OK to adore, in public at least, because adoration puts objectivity at risk. Objectivity means that we can advocate the importance of Krishnamurti's ideas as long we remain open to weaknesses in what he says, and to the idea that he could make mistakes. Even if one thinks he made few mistakes with his message, one has a duty as a good student, a good scholar, to be genuinely open to that possibility. This keeps our doubting faculties alert, humanizes Krishnamurti as I discussed earlier, and is a central element in preventing a Krishnamurti church.
Now I would like to say a few words about interpreting Krishnamurti's message, and to make a distinction between official knowledge and authoritative knowledge. The first line of Mary Lutyens's (1990) introduction to The Life and Death of Krishnamurti is, “Krishnamurti requested several times that there should be no authoritative interpretation of his teaching, although he encouraged those interested in it to discuss it among themselves” (p. xi). This statement contrasts two ideas: authoritative interpretations versus discussing the teachings among ourselves. I would like to comment on both of these.
With respect to authoritative interpretations, there are two very different senses to the word “authoritative” in my dictionary. The first sense is the problematic one: “Having or showing authority; official”. The Krishnamurti Foundations, as heirs of K's intellectual and physical estate, must exercise a certain amount of official authority, but only within very strict limits. They must never act as official dispensers of the indisputable truth about Krishnamurti from on high. With respect to the truth or accuracy of statements regarding Krishnamurti's works and his life, “there should be no authoritative interpretation”, that is, there should be no official presentation of Krishnamurti's writings, his teachings, his history, his place in history, nor of anything else about him. Otherwise one is only a few slight and very slippery steps away from the Church of Krishnamurti.
The second definition of “authoritative” in my dictionary is based not on officialness, but on competency and expertise: “Based on competent authority; reliable because coming from one who is an expert or properly qualified [an authoritative biography]”. A biography is “authoritative” in this second sense not because it is official, not because it is sanctioned by its subject, nor even because it is free of errors. Rather, it is authoritative because it is researched extensively and carefully, achieves high standards of completeness, accuracy, objectivity of method, and knowledge of the historical context. Similarly, an edition of an author's works is authoritative to the extent it is thoroughly researched, is transparent in editorial method, has objective, explicit, uniformly applied rules for selecting and editing texts, and identifies all source documents so others can check on the editing for themselves. All of these latter attributes constitute a proper and indeed essential kind of authority, but an authority that is not the private property of any person or any organization. At the end of the day the K Foundations can do as any serious student or researcher can do, namely, offer their informed opinions, their best judgments in light of objective evidence and reason, not less, and not more.
Regarding the second part of Lutyens's (1990) statement, about interested people discussing Krishnamurti's ideas among themselves, I would say that any time we discuss Krishnamurti we are interpreting, and there is nothing wrong with that. My sense is that what horrified Krishnamurti was official interpretation by an interpreter vested with some kind of sanctioned authority, which is clearly close to priestliness. Whereas the interpretation involved in discussing Krishnamurti's ideas, even saying what I think they mean, or writing in a book what I think they mean, is the very thing we hope enough people will do to ensure that Krishnamurti's ideas remain always before people, and that people remain always concerned about them. The kind of discussion and dialogue we see in the magazine The Link, for example, seems to me to be entirely positive, although the contents can be interpretive and controversial regarding Krishnamurti's work.
We must avoid the fundamentalistic spirit that can creep into almost any religious stream of activity. It befits this work for us to avoid taking a self-certain position, and to take a tolerant view of what approaches people use in presenting and discussing Krishnamurti's work. For example, not long ago I read objections being raised to the recent series of K theme books, On Fear, On God, and so on. The critic correctly pointed out disadvantages of taking passages out of context. But there are obvious advantages as well in gathering together thematically related material to give a broad picture of Krishnamurti's ideas about a topic. Taking a puristic stand has the self-defeating effect of undercutting interest in Krishnamurti. Some would hardly let us do other than read and listen directly at the feet of Master K so to speak, and this spirit is not good for the future of his work. We cannot be dogmatic about it, but we can come up with our best understanding and be tolerant of others' communications. And if some communications are too adoring, or too authoritarian, or too condemning, or too tainted with misunderstandings, then rather than scorn interpretation we can present our own understanding as a corrective.
In academic discourse thoughtful interpretation is considered a necessary attribute of quality. When, for example, the National Endowment for the Humanities funds a scholarly edition, it requires that critical (i.e, interpretive) commentary be included:
All printed editions aided by the Endowment are accompanied by critical introductions and annotations that provide essential information about the form, transmission, and historical and intellectual context of the texts and documents involved (National Endowment for the Humanities, undated, p. 6).
Such commentary can give a larger perspective and identify issues that add to readers' interest and edification. It can engage readers by encouraging their joining in thoughtful exploration. Or, readers can skip it and go straight to the texts. As long as such commentary is authoritative in the better sense of that word, that is, it eschews all pretense of being official truth, is not offered as a substitute for reading the original writings, and is made in a spirit that welcomes differences of opinion, it is not the kind of priestly interpretation that rightly horrified Krishnamurti.
A related major issue for the K Foundations and their archives is their credibility, which is maintained best by taking an objective, nondefensive, nonprotective stand toward Krishnamurti. We need not pretend that we do not admire Krishnamurti and his work. But neither should we appoint ourselves his partisan defenders by, for example, excluding publications critical of him from Krishnamurti libraries and archives, or by denying access to qualified researchers whom we fear might criticize his work or distort his history. Such censorship is a real danger when historical materials are housed within specialized organizations (for example, the K Foundations) whose intellectual and financial interests are focussed on only one or a few individuals or a particular philosophical approach, rather than in a general research setting such as a state library or university library. A specialized organization is far more likely than a general research library to censor or conceal, or even to destroy material on the grounds that “they”, the outsiders, the uninitiated, the ordinary masses, should not see it, it is too personal, too embarassing, too inconsistent in appearance with what we” think the world “ought” to know about our hero(es). To the K Foundations' great credit and credibility, all of them internationally that I have approached have given me full access to their archival materials as far as I know, which is not true of every organization I have approached. Ironically, denying access to critics and dissenters can harm what it seeks to protect by implying, far beyond what the objective facts might warrant, that there really is something terribly shameful to hide.
Censorship and concealment would harm Krishnamurti's legacy directly. We are fortunate to know objective facts about potentially controversial aspects of his life and work, for example, about his experiences with the occult and the Masters, about “the process”, about his early Theosophically inspired writings and activities, and, yes, about his romantic life. Our understanding of his life and work would be limited, distorted, or downright false if these facts were kept hidden from us. Censorship and “protectionism” also lead down the priestly path of my being the official determiner of what the public may read and shall not read, may know and shall not know, and may write and shall not write of K's work and his life, thereby creating the very church of Krishnamurti he so wanted to avoid.
A specialized archives such as the KFA Archives might well be able to give its materials more physical care and protection than they would get in a vast general research library. But the specialized focus comes with a corresponding obligation to follow a policy of openness both for its own sake and to prevent any internal sense of personal ownership, or special entitlement, or secretive defensiveness toward Krishnamurti and the archival information about him. Otherwise its efforts will be seen rightly as an image-mongering operation, a mere propaganda factory for Krishnamurti, jeopardizing its perceived integrity and believability, and in turn harming its preservation of his legacy.
So in our archival preservation of Krishnamurti's works and history we must not assume the misguided role of protecting the intellectual purity or truth of his teachings or his virtue as a person. We preserve Krishnamurti's legacy best by preserving and making openly available everything by and about him, good or bad, true or false, early or late, and by hearing and enabling every voice that wishes to speak of him. We must temper our admiration of K by remembering that our impulse to protect his legacy, if acted upon shortsightedly, can endanger and distort his legacy just as official interpretations can do.
In conclusion, we began today with the topic of “Preserving the teachings: the historical importance of Krishnamurti”. We end with knowing our profound regard for the legacy Krishnamurti left the world, and with a sense of the importance his work has for the future of humanity. Now it is up to us to do what we can to ensure the continuation of that work, first and foremost by understanding and living the teachings, but also by gathering and preserving the complete record of his life and work, by making it available and disseminating it openly and without censorship, and by avoiding making Krishnamurti the object of our protectiveness or our adoration.
We can foster interest in Krishnamurti's teachings by discussing them with others, not only in dialogues aimed at self-discovery, but in theoretical and analytical discussion of his ideas, including in comparison with others' ideas where we can highlight the great originality and importance of his work. Now is the time for us to do what we reasonably can to ensure that all future generations will find ready access to Krishnamurti, as we have ready access to Plato, because Krishnamurti's teachings will have become an integral living part of the world body of great cultural, intellectual, and spiritual ideas. Thank you.
|Alcyone (J. Krishnamurti)
1910. At the feet of the master. Adyar, India: The Theosophist Office.
|Editor, The Link Education Section
1999. On education. The Link, (16) Spring/summer, pp. 39-40.
1995. Serpent of fire: A modern view of kundalini. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser.
|J. Krishnamurti (Alcyone)
1912. Education as service. Adyar, India: The Theosophist Office.
1912. [Letter to A. Besant (“My Dearest Mother”)], Esher [England], October 18. Photocopy in Adyar Archives.
1921. Editorial notes. The Herald of the Star, 10(1) January 1, pp. 2-3.
1927. My Beloved and I are one. The Herald of the Star, 16(8) August, p. 290.
1928. A discussion at Eerde. International Star Bulletin, (11) December, pp. 7-11.
1934. Verbatim reports of talks and answers to questions by Krishnamurti Italy and Norway -- 1933. Hollywood, California: Star Publishing Trust.
1935. Verbatim reports of talks and answers to questions by Krishnamurti Adyar, India -- 1933-34. Hollywood, California: Star Publishing Trust.
1953. Krishnamurti's talks 1953 (verbatim report) London. Ojai, California: Krishnamurti Writings Inc.
1983. [Untitled statement]. In M. Lutyens. 1983. The years of fulfillment. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, p. 204.
1975. Krishnamurti: The years of awakening. New York, New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.
1990. The life and death of Krishnamurti. London: Rider.
1998. Krishnamurti at the university. The Link, (15) Autumn/Winter, pp. 31-34.
|T. H. Meyer & E. Vreede
1993. The Bodhisattva question. London: Temple Lodge.
|National Endowment for the Humanities
undated. Scholarly publications: editions translations. Washington, DC: author.
1999. The inner life of Krishnamurti. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest.
1997. Krishnamurti and the World Teacher project: Some Theosophical perceptions. Theosophical History Occasional Papers, no. 5.
1986/1923-4. The course of my life. Bell's Pond, New York: Anthroposophic.