Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2120
Article abstract: Krishnamurti maintained that only individual transformation of the human mind can bring peace and harmony to the world, and that every individual transformation contributes to the world revolution necessary to escape decades of global wars and environmental degradation.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was born in Madanapalle, a small town in South India near Madras, where he lived with his family until they moved to Madras, after the death of his mother and when he was a young teenager. His name is from Sri Krishna, a Hindu god and an eighth child, like Jiddu. He was frequently beaten in school because he did not learn his lessons. Then he was discovered by C. W. Leadbeater of the Theosophical Society, a group led by noted English writer Annie Besant. In 1911, she arranged for Krishnamurti and his brother Nitya, who died of tuberculosis in 1925, to go to England for training to become the reembodiment of the Buddhist spiritual teacher Lord Maitreya, as head of a new religious organization, the Order of the Star in the East. For years, Krishnamurti served as a vehicle for the society’s teachings, traveling to many cities in India, the Netherlands, France, and the United States.
Krishnamurti made his permanent home in California’s Ojai Valley, where he spoke and taught for the duration of his long life. His method was to talk informally to the hundreds, and then thousands, who came to visit and hear what he had to say. However, he began to doubt that he was all that the society had made him believe. In 1929, after a vision, he disbanded the Order of the Star in the East (claiming some sixty thousand members) and pronounced that no truth could be found by any formal organization or philosophy. In the same year, he started a school near his birthplace, in Rishi Valley, India, for an education without pressure of tradition. In later years, he established five more schools in India: in Rajghat (on property purchased by Besant), Uttar Kashi in the Himalayas, Bangalore, Chennai, and Mumbai. He repudiated all religions and political groups, all ideals and ideologies, all cultures and nationalities, and, most dramatically, his own spiritual authority. He began a rigorous and arduous career of constant world travel, lecturing to all who would listen.
Krishnamurti attacked the root problem of conformity through pressures of education in his 1953 work Education and the Significance of Life. In the first and second series of his Commentaries on Living, he discussed specific problems caused by the obstacles of hopes, fears, illusions, beliefs, and prejudices.
In the 1960’s, Krishnamurti engaged in extensive dialogues with David Bohm, a theoretical physicist who taught at the University of London. They discussed the nature of time, consciousness, the brain, and, above all, the transformation of humankind and the future of humanity. These experiences are background to the third series of Commentaries on Living, in which Krishnamurti returns to the varied fears and ideas that interfere with free consciousness. However, most important was Krishnamurti’s Notebook, based on seven months in 1961 and 1962 when Krishnamurti kept a daily record of his perceptions and states of consciousness of the Otherness whose immensity and benediction filled the spaces of his life.
In 1964, Think on These Things was published to become one of Krishnamurti’s most popular works. It is made up of discussions he had with students, teachers, and parents in the schools in India. Although this work does not systematically develop any particular theme, the recurring motif of the work is a concern for right education to cleanse world consciousness. In 1968, a time of great unrest on college campuses in the United States, Krishnamurti conducted similar discussions with students. In these discussions, published in 1970 as Talks with American Students, 1968, Krishnamurti shows students a way to explore the true meaning of freedom and rebellion.
In 1968, Krishnamurti was videotaped for the first of many times. In the same year, he joined others in establishing the Brockwood Park School in England, and seven years later he founded the Oak Grove School in the United States. The paradox and irony of his message are captured in the title of Freedom from the Known, in which true education is shown to begin with asking basic questions to which individuals must find individual answers. The irony is that the student must unlearn before learning these truths, and the paradox is that knowledge must be emptied from the mind in order for true education to occur. This and previous concerns were brought together in a collection called Freedom, Love, and Action, drawn from meetings with students throughout the 1960’s.
In 1971, Krishnamurti gave a talk in New York City, in which he focused on the fundamental significance of relationships. Without overcoming social and psychological divisions, there can be no revolution of consciousness. Whatever corruption there may be in the world, it comes from individual division of consciousness, and unless this division is healed, there can be no significant social relationships. The key to healing lies in attention to loneliness, the plight of so many in the world but especially in the United States. Love is the way out, but love must pass by the dangers of lust into passion, where sorrow lies. Beneath sorrow is death, which also must be confronted as part of living.
This message is published in The Impossible Question, which takes the questioner toward the encounter with death. Asking about impossibilities will force the mind to explore origins buried beneath ideas which are culture’s possibilities. Probing questions lead into a process which Krishnamurti called meditative, although he often attacked traditional forms of meditation as practiced in his home country. The point of these lessons is captured in The Awakening of Intelligence, which includes conversations with Jacob Needleman, Alan Naude, Swami Venkatesananda, and Bohm on teaching, traditional beliefs, fragmented consciousness, and psychological revolution without violence. This last theme is repeated and expanded in Beyond Violence, where it is given greater urgency by recognition that high technology has intensified our awareness of mass violence.
Krishnamurti focused on the problems of education. Out of his many dialogues with students and teachers, he came to realize that all problems can be reduced—in origin, formulation, and resolution—to the problem of education. In a series of talks from 1974 to 1976, he articulated his thoughts on this subject, and he published them in Krishnamurti on Education and J. Krishnamurti Talking with Student and Staff at Brockwood Park School on Inward Flowering. The first book covers talks with teachers in India, the second with teachers in England in September, 1976, and with students in England in October, 1976.
In Truth and Actuality and The Wholeness of Life, Krishnamurti returns to the underlying challenge of all education: confronting truth in the problems of everyday living. Individual misery is a symptom of cultural chaos and history. The mind must be saved from this chaos and freed to find its original energies, long dissipated by layers of culture and tradition. This can happen only when the individual has the courage to abandon all securities, from religious beliefs to family values. A free mind, which is the only healthy mind, must accept danger as its proper medium.
The many dialogues and discussions with Bohm led to several areas of agreement and understanding, although there were strains as each believed the other was being manipulated by others to serve selfish purposes. Nevertheless, they represented a serious effort to unite science and imagination in a single, integrated model. The scientist had been persecuted by American politicians attacking communism, and the philosopher was criticized for leading people away from traditional values of nationalism. What brought them together in a positive way was Bohm’s theory of implicate order, in which matter and consciousness are one.
An important publication that gave further expression to insights polished by talks with Bohm and others was The Network of Thought, in which Krishnamurti compares bad education with computer programming, in which minds are turned into biological and emotional machines to fit into preconceived patterns, or mental networks, for controlling social and political behavior. Self-observation without thought is the paradoxical way to break out of these networks.
The idea that bad education has disturbed harmony throughout the world is the message behind The World of Peace, which was published with parallel texts in both English and German, from talks at Brockwood Park in England in 1983. In this work, Krishnamurti invites his audience to be free from the blind illusions of the self as the only basis for world peace.
The appeal of his insights to scientists took Krishnamurti in March, 1984, to the National Laboratory Research Center at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he participated in a seminar on the subject of creativity in science. The resulting publication was Krishnamurti at Los Alamos, 1984. Later, his discussions of this and other matters with Bohm were published as The Ending of Time, in which Krishnamurti emphasized that the setting of goals interferes with genuine creativity for scientists and, indeed, for every person. Self-centered thinking confuses and destroys clear perception of reality. Only love and compassion can move one toward the reality that lies beyond thought and time.
Krishnamurti’s final talks in India in 1985 were published in 1988 as The Future Is Now, a call to each person to accept responsibility for the pain and chaos of the world. The posthumously published Meeting Life gently suggests that revolution can occur in quiet ways, when problems are observed by minds free of ideas and ideals, the clutter of tradition and history. The paradox, he repeats, is that all of being is fulfilled when people let go of everything, as in death, the subject of his final utterances, published as Krishnamurti to Himself.
Krishnamurti died at ninety years of age on February 17, 1986, at his home in Ojai, California. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered to discourage followers from localizing his memory as an object of worship.
Krishnamurti’s life and thought have established themselves in many ways. In books, films, workshops, schools, and the Krishnamurti Foundation, his talks have been widely disseminated in nearly fifty languages during his life and since his death. The profound impact of his influence was felt by such thinkers as David Bohm, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Albert Einstein, Jackson Pollock, and even Charlie Chaplin. All testify to the enduring influence of his ideas on individual consciousness and the need for spiritual revolution to eliminate chaos in the world. As a result of this influence, an increasing number of schools and educational institutions have been encouraged to teach that people are whole human beings and not merely tools of nations or religions or ideologies. Science has been influenced to attend to interrelationships of observer with observed. Lacking system, Krishnamurti’s teachings have lacked the sanctions usually accorded to Western products of the Greek philosophical tradition, but in his lack of system lies Krishnamurti’s greatest appeal to minds left unsatisfied by analytical reason alone. For that reason, his philosophy embodies features of universality that transcend the limitations of East and West, science and religion, individuals and societies.
Blau, Evelyne. Krishnamurti: 100 Years. New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 1995. A stirring assortment of recollections, writings, and photos published as a tribute to denote the centennial of Krishnamurti’s birth.
Chandmal, Asit. One Thousand Suns: Krishnamurti at Eighty-five and the Last Walk. New York: Aperture, 1995. A becoming tribute to Krishnamurti’s life and work.
Huxley, Aldous. Foreword to The First and Last Freedom. New York: Harper, 1954. The main theme of Jiddu Krishnamurti is that hope lives in individuals, not in societies. Huxley met and often spoke with Krishnamurti, near whom he lived in California. Both men were critical of organized religion, national politics, and technology for suppressing and discouraging free thought and full human development.
Jayakar, Pupul. Krishnamurti: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1986. An appreciation of the man and his ideas, this biography lacks a larger vision of the evolving context for Krishnamurti’s development in a rapidly changing world. The significance of Krishnamurti to Indian and Eastern cultures, however, is evident.
Krishnamurti, J. Limits of Thought: Discussions Between J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm. New York: Routledge, 1998. In this book Bohm and Krishnamurti survey human nature and an individual’s relationship to society, yielding insights on cosmic order, death, and human thought.
Lutyens, Mary. Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfillment. London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. The second volume in Lutyens’s biography, this provides a detailed account of Krishnamurti’s activities during the period of his greatest influence. Although there are other volumes, this one is the most focused on the years Krishnamurti’s basic ideas and teachings were formulated.