Medieval regional literature is a vast storehouse of beautiful poetry. Here is a poem on Yashoda composed in Gujarati by Premananda [1636-1734] . His most popular Akhyanas are based on the Dasama Skandha of the Bhagavata. In the Nagadamana episode he graphically depicts the fear of Yashoda, when the young Krishna jumps into the Yamuna to retrieve a ball. Yashoda fears that he has lost his life. She says:
‘Why, my dark one, did you plunge into the river, leaving your poor mother behind?
The waters of the Yamuna are dark; the black Kaliya lives in it;
1. Do you think the life and teachings of J. Krishnamurti have become more relevant today? If so, why?
1A. Though J. Krishnamurti’s teachings have always been relevant, they are even more so today, in a world divided by race, religion and caste. His understanding was that all human beings are essentially the same, as they are motivated by the same emotions, fears, ambitions and desires. All divisions, therefore, are superficial. He spoke against identifying with any nation or religion, as such identity created a divided world. At the same time, he showed how through self-knowledge, one could gain a different understanding, going beyond these common perceptions.
2. Why have the depictions of Krishnamurti been so divergent till now? On the one hand we have a huge following of his views and ways in the public and on the other hand, biographies, like those of Radha Rajagopal Sloss which are considered seminal works on Krishnamurti have such criticism about his life and relationships. What is your view on this and how do you tackle these differences in your book?
2A. Krishnamurti did not see himself as a guru, and did not want followers. Yet, those who closely follow his teachings venerate him like a guru. They do not want to know or hear anything about him that in public perception may be considered negative. Some biographies of those who had been associated with him, thus present a sanitised version of his life. Radha Rajagopal Sloss’s book is also very personal, and not entirely negative, but she did provide a critique of certain aspects of his life. She wrote this book in defense of her parents, Rosalind and Rajagopal, with whom Krishnamurti was once very close, though he later rejected them totally.
In my book, I have attempted to present a balanced view of the different aspects of Krishnamurti, the person, while at the same time recognising his immense contribution to the world.
3. Why did you feel the need to write a biography of the philosopher and educator when there were many accounts available of his life and teachings?
3A. There are indeed numerous biographies of Krishnamurti, and considerable analysis of his educational theories as well. But there is no other book that presents his life, his philosophy, and his educational theories in a single volume. In addition, a number of people associated with Krishnamurti have written their memoirs after his death, and for the first time aspects of these have been incorporated into a biography. As I am a historian, I went deeply into various sources to create an objective and historical view of his life and teachings, linking his early life and theosophical influence with his later philosophy. This is also something unique in this book, which thus transforms our views on him, presenting a composite picture of his life.
4. In the book we find interactions of J. Krishnamurti with a varied range of people from Theosophists, nationalists, writers, politicians and social reformers from pre-independent and independent India, and especially quantum physicists and psychologists. How do you think he negotiated such terrains and have meaningful conversations with people from such diverse fields?
Krishnamurti himself said he did not read much, and when he read, it was often detective fiction. But he did read articles in magazines on the latest theories and developments, and watched documentaries. His friends and associates also explained to him the finer points of topics he was interested in. But there was another dimension to his ability to have meaningful discussions with people from diverse fields, and that was his contact with some unknown source, a vast emptiness, through which he could grasp and understand the complexities of any subject.
5. How did your long association with J. Krishnamurti as a topic of research for a book emerge? What sustained your interest in him for so long?
5A . Ever since I read J Krishnamurti’s magical words, ‘Truth is a pathless land’, I never lost my fascination for him. Then, I came across many people associated with Krishnamurti and began to delve deeper into his philosophy, and also its application in practical terms. I met those who had changed through their association with Krishnamurti and his teachings, yet he himself said no one had completely understood or lived his teachings. There were also so many different and fascinating aspects of his life. What could it have been like to have been proclaimed a messiah at the young age of 14? In his case, truth seemed stranger than fiction, and that too held my attention.
6. While your biography also goes beyond the partisan views to depict him in a more humane way, what do you think was special about Krishnamurti ?
6A. Krishnamurti spoke about eternal truths in simple terms, without quoting other texts and without any jargon. Yet even while travelling around the world and speaking incessantly to disseminate his teachings, there were different and human aspects to him. Despite this, I feel Krishnamurti was a messenger of truth, urging people to change their consciousness, and providing a new way to do so.
7. What are the major contributions of a visionary like Krishnamurti to society and humanity? How can we understand his legacy better?
7 A. Krishnamurti wanted to bring about a new world, through the transformation of individual consciousness. Self-knowledge was the key to change. In every part of the world there are people who pray and meditate, yet act without any empathy or compassion. Krishnamurti saw the root of the problem, he pointed out how individuals constantly escape from themselves, through entertainment, ambition, and a desire to become something one is not. Could one look within and understand oneself? This is one of the key aspects of his philosophy, and if every person who desires a better world, could do this, the world would indeed be transformed. Even an attempt in this direction would help one to understand his legacy.
The Vedic Samhitas were difficult to understand, and much learning was required to comprehend them. Before approaching the Samhitas, the Vedangas were to be studied. The Vedangas were a group of texts on six topics, shiksha or phonetics; vyakarana or grammar; chhandas or metre; nirukta or etymology, alternatively glossary; jyotisha or astronomy and astrology; and kalpa or ritual.
Most of these various Vedanga texts were written in sutras, a sutra being a short statement providing information in a compressed way. These sutras too, could only be understood by a learned person.
Did this ensure that only the elite could ever understand the Vedas?
Another category of secondary Vedic literature are the Anukramanis. Anukramani can be translated as a catalogue or index, but it is actually an additional explanatory text, providing details about various aspects of the Vedic samhitas. Anukramanis are assigned to various authors, and several Rig Veda anukramanis are said to be written by Shaunaka, a rishi known from other sources too. These provide the names of deities, metres, rishi authors, and other details of the Rig Veda suktas [hymns]. Anukramanis are also commented on by other authors. For the Sama Veda, some of the Sama Veda Brahmanas have characteristics of Anukramanis, while the there are other Anukramanis too for this, as well as for the Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.
As seen earlier, the main texts of Vedic literature are the Vedic Samhitas, followed by the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. But there are numerous other texts, used to memorize or explain aspects of these texts. Among these are the Padapathas or ‘word texts’. Those who know Sanskrit are aware that words are joined together in the language [sandhi], according to certain rules. This joining is often done by adding a consonant or changing a vowel. Vedic texts use sandhi, but Padapatha texts break up, join, and repeat the words in different ways. If words are represented by a b c d, some Padapathas have ab, bc, cd, etc. Others have ab, ba, ab, bc, cb, bc etc, or even ab, ba, abc, cba, and different variations. These texts were thus used to memorise and preserve the texts exactly.
Vedanta is a system of philosophy based on the Upanishads. Its main principles were summarized by Badarayana, who probably lived between 500 BCE – CE 100. Badarayana wrote the Brahma Sutra, also known as the Vedanta Sutra. To the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita is added, in order to understand Vedanta. Numerous commentators wrote extensive commentaries on every aspect of Vedantic texts. They interpreted these texts in different ways, giving rise to different schools of Vedanta. Among these are Advaita, Dvaita, Dvaitadvaita, Vishishtadvaita, Shuddhadvaita and Shivadvaita. These and other philosophies will be explained in a different group of posts.
As seen earlier, the focus of all the Upanishads is the realization of Brahman. But this concept of Brahman is difficult to understand. Two descriptions of this are given below. According to the Kena Upanishad, it is through Brahman that everything is known. Yet Brahman is neither the known or the unknown.
The Katha Upanishad says: ‘Brahman, the immortal, contains all worlds in it, and no one goes beyond it.’
Some Upanishads state Brahman has two forms, both mortal and immortal. The mortal form must refer to the gods, who, though a part of Brahman, are not eternal.
Brahman, in its true sense, has never been created and can never be destroyed.
Some of the later Upanishads focus on gods, others on rituals. There are yoga Upanishads and sannyasi Upanishads. But the aim of all is the same, to transcend the world and realize Brahman. For this one must first understand the bliss of true realization, for only then will one focus on it. And only when the mind is fully focused on Brahman and on nothing else, will such realization be possible.
For more on the Upanishads, read The 108 Upanishads depicted above.
The fourth part of Vedic literature consists of the Upanishads. Each of these, too, is attached to one of the Vedic Samhitas. There are numerous Upanishads, and 108 are listed in the 17th century Muktika Upanishad, but of these only about 14 are early texts, dating to before the 3rd century BCE. The Upanishads are highly philosophical. These texts are categorized as Vedanta [Veda + anta=end], as they are both the last of the four main groups of Vedic texts, and also the most important.
These texts have many topics, but the main focus is Brahman, the eternal, beyond birth and death, unchanging, the source of all creation, yet uncreated. Brahman pervades the whole world and is in every living being. The atman or soul, is of the essence of Brahman, its nature being true consciousness and bliss. A person has the potential to realize this true nature, but trapped in things of the world, they hardly even think about it.
The early Upanishads are the Aitareya, Kaushitaki, Taittiriya, Brihadaranyaka, Chhandogya, Kena, Kathaka, Shvetashvatara, Mahanarayana, Isha, Mundaka, Prashna, Maitrayaniya, and Mandukya.
The Aitareya Aranyaka forms part of the Aitareya Brahmana, and is attached to the Rig Veda. It has five sections, describing sacrificial rituals and philosophical concepts. It refers to several rishis.
The Kaushitaki Aranyaka is attached to the Kaushitaki Brahmana of the Rig Veda.
The Taittiriya Aranyaka, forming part of the Taittiriya Brahmana is attached to the Krishna Yajur Veda.
The Katha Aranyaka is also attached to the Krishna Yajur Veda.
For the Shukla Yajur veda, there is the Brihadaranyaka, or Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which actually comes in the category of Upanishads.
For the Sama Veda, the Chhandogya Upanishad has a first section that is similar to an Aranyaka.
Also of the Sama Veda, the Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana has the characteristics of an Aranyaka, and contains within it the Kena Upanishad. It is also called the Talavakra Aranyaka.
Thus one can see that the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and some of the Upanishads are closely connected. But there are many more Upanishads, and we will describe them next.
The third category of texts that form part of Vedic literature are the Aranyakas. Certain different rituals and sacrifices are described in them, and the symbolism of these rituals is also explained. They also have philosophical passages. The Aranyakas can be called ‘forest texts’ as aranya=forest. Some feel that these texts were for the vanaprastha stage of life, the third stage of the traditional varnashrama dharma, when the householder, having fulfilled his duties, retired to the forest. Others feel these texts explain the more complex sacrifices to be conducted away from the village or town.
As for the Brahmanas, each Aranyaka is attached to a Vedic Samhita.
The varnashrama dharma has not been explained earlier. It divides life into four stages, the first, that of the student or brahmachari, the second of the householder, the third, as seen above, when the householder retires to the forest, usually along with his wife, and the fourth, the stage of the sannyasi or ascetic, fully focused on god. This was a logical way of living, as at least in the final stage, there was an attempt to understand and focus on questions relating to life, death, and god, thus preparing the individual to meet death in a calm way.