Posted in India, J Krishnamurti, Philosophy

J Krishnamurti: A Life of Compassion beyond Boundaries

Key questions on my biography

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.

Posted in Books, J Krishnamurti, Philosophy

J Krishnamurti : A new biography

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Jiddu Krishnamurti [1895-1986] is very relevant today, as he spoke about how the world could be transformed, through the transformation of each individual. It is when one looks deep into oneself, without self-praise or condemnation, when one sees oneself clearly, one’s motives, ambitions and desires, that a change takes place, through that very act of seeing.

Everyone wants to live in peace and harmony, but Krishnamurti points out that this cannot be achieved through social activism, but through a transformation of each person.

This biography presents his strange story, from his early life to his adoption at the age of 14 by Theosophists, who proclaimed this backward, Telugu speaking boy to be the new messiah, the coming world teacher, and further through the many difficulties he faced, as he became a teacher of a new philosophy, a philosophy that he travelled across the world to present to anyone who was interested in peace and transformation.

But was Krishnamurti himself transformed? What was Krishnamurti, the man like, was he different from Krishnamurti, the philosopher? This book looks at these and other questions, and also at the essentials of his philosophy, his educational theories, and some of the educational experiments in schools following his ideas.

Read more in this book.

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Hinduism, Philosophy, Spirituality, Upanishads

The 108 Upanishads

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The deep and extraordinary philosophy of Hinduism is often ignored and among the great philosophical texts are the Upanishads. This article was written in response to a question on why I wrote the book.

The main concept in the Upanishads is that of Brahman, which is both the ultimate goal of all existence, and the common aspect of all life forms. Brahman can be defined as the substratum of the world. The Upanishads agree that everything originates from Brahman, which is uncreated and always existed. It is eternal, infinite, and has no form or shape. It is beyond time and space. Its nature is sat-chit-ananda, that is ‘truth or true being, consciousness and bliss’. Even though  Brahman is responsible for the creation of the world, and is identical with or part of the soul in every living being, Brahman retains its original, unchangeable, eternal, nature. Brahman is beyond thought and words, which is why no description can ever reveal it. Only  through a knowledge of it, would one know its reality. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the rishi Yajnavalkya explains Brahman in many ways. He says that just as different types of smoke come from  fire, in the same way everything including the Vedas comes from a limitless reality  which can be equated with Brahman. And everything merges with it, just as all sorts of water merge in the sea, as all sounds merge in the ear, all thoughts in the mind,  and as salt in water pervades all of it. He also explained  that when everything is Brahman, there can be no duality. Brahman is best explained in the Upanishads, though this idea is also known in other religions where different terms are used. A true understanding of this concept would remove all divisions and inequalities in society and would lead to respect and compassion, for if every person is of the same essence, there could be no awareness of differences based on religion, caste or even on economic status. Further, this same essence exists in every living being, which would lead to the protection of trees, plants, insects and animals.

India is a vast storehouse of sacred texts, belonging to many different religions, and ranging in date from the ancient to the modern and contemporary, and the Upanishads can be considered among the most interesting and valuable of these. This group of Sanskrit texts form part of Vedic literature, the most sacred texts of Hinduism. Veda comes from the Sanskrit root ‘vid’ to know, and the word Veda implies ‘divine knowledge’.  The main texts of Vedic literature are the four Vedic Samhitas,  that is,  the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda, along with the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. All these texts are said to be ‘shruti’ or ‘ heard’, and are believed to be directly revealed from a divine source. The Upanishads, attached to one or the other  of the Vedic Samhitas are the definitive texts expounding the wisdom of the Vedas.

Though a number of people are aware of the Upanishads, there are many more who are not. Even those who know about them are familiar with one or two, while there are actually almost 300 Upanishads, some very ancient, and others more recent. Out of these, a group of 108 Upanishads, listed in the 17th century Muktika Upanishad, are considered  the most important. These  Upanishads are of different types, including early and late Upanishads, Upanishads focusing on a deity, or on the paths of sannyasa or yoga. These Upanishads include  numerous topics, such as  the source of all creation, the atman or soul, the jiva, or individual soul, the nature of consciousness, the different worlds, reincarnation, the body, the chakras and inner power centres, as well as meditations on deities, and a lot more, but the concept of Brahman can be said to be the most important aspect of these texts, and the main theme, that of ultimate realization and transcendence. Long ago, this common and main aspect was recognised and compressed into a single text, the Brahma Sutra, composed before the first century CE.

There are very few books dealing with all 108 Upanishads. Signe Cohen’s recent book looks at several of them, but is meant for academicians. T.M.P. Mahadevan’s book on the 108 Upanishads, does list them all, and provides a brief introduction and a translation of one or two verses of each, but my aim in this book is to go beyond this and  present a comprehensive overview of all 108 and of the Brahma Sutra, while at the same time  situating these texts in the context of Indian philosophy. As all 108 are described, each person can focus on the one that suits them. It is not necessary to alter one’s way of worship or of devotion to a particular deity, but only to recognise, that at the highest level, every deity is Brahman.

The 108 Upanishads, thus provides an introduction to the texts, a starting point to delve deeper into the profound philosophy contained in them. It is an attempt to make the Upanishads along with the concept of Brahman, better known. The book is also a sequel to my book on the Vedic Samhitas (The Vedas, An Introduction to Hinduism’s Sacred Texts), which places the Vedas in a historical context, and examines questions regarding their date and origin..

 

 

 

 

Posted in book review., Books, Philosophy

Bohm-Biederman Correspondence: Creativity and Science

The physicist David Bohm and the artist Charles Biederman wrote letters to each other on relationships between art and science, amounting to 4000 pages! This book presents some of these letters, edited by Paavo Pylkkanen. The letters are fascinating, brimming with ideas, and even opening the book at random and reading a few lines provides something to think about. Bohm, as seen earlier in a review of his biography, sought to find the universal principles of life, the inner reflecting the outer, and vice versa. Biederman, a structurist in his artistic style, tried to represent the structure of reality through geometric planes. Among the aspects they discussed was how the past existed in the present, each moment therefore, representing an inexhaustible totality. They discussed art, physics, nature, time, relativity, identity, and a lot more. A refreshing book to delve into, to look at two intellectuals exploring the nuances of life.

Posted in Books, India, J Krishnamurti, Philosophy

Thoughts on The Masters and the Path by C W Leadbeater

  1. The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti advocated having an open mind. A freedom from all beliefs was essential. This seems a very valid approach to life, even though in his later years Krishnamurti seemed to subscribe to several beliefs…more on that later.

C W Leadbeater, in The Masters and the Path, also puts forth the view that one should be free of beliefs and conditioning–and then goes on to describe his own beliefs! So this freedom is required only so that one can take on new ideas and believe in them. Is it the same with Krishnamurti? If one insists that ‘Truth is a pathless land’, as he said, isn’t that a belief, a concept?

2.  The Masters and the entire hierarchy were male, from the king of the world, to the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, Manus and Chohans, who form part of it. Leadbeater says there is also a female element, a world mother, Jagdamba Amba, permeating every aspect. At the same time he says, the greatest role of a woman is to give birth! She shouldn’t try to live the life of a man. With this, and the theosophical concept of ‘root races’ of which the ‘Aryan race’ is the present one, perhaps theosophy influenced Hitler?

 

Posted in Hinduism, India, Philosophy, Upanishads

The Upanishads–1

The Upanishads are a series of Sanskrit texts that form part of Vedic literature. As I am writing a book on the Upanishads, a sequel to that on the Vedas, I have been posting a few snippets from them. Here I have put together some of those snippets, with a few additions.

There are 108 classic Upanishads with different themes and varied contents. The main aim of every Upanishad, is however, the realization of Brahman, the ultimate source of all, which some schools of philosophy consider identical with the atman, the soul in each person.

The Brahma Sutra is a text that recognises this central theme, and puts together the main ideas on Brahman from the Upanishads.

The first sutra in this text is ‘athato brahmajijnasa’, ‘now therefore the inquiry into Brahman’. This small word ‘atha’ has been so extensively analyzed by commentators, that the commentaries amount to over a hundred pages. ‘Now’ , implies that there are some prerequisites before one can start such an inquiry, into that immutable and undefinable concept of Brahman. These prerequisites are extensively described, though commentators don’t agree on what they are. Without the commentators it is impossible to understand a sutra, which is a short, terse, minimalist statement.

The Upanishads are of different types. Some form a link between the earlier Vedic  texts and the philosophy of these.
The most important are termed major Upanishads, They have commentaries of the great philosopher Shankara of the 9th century [Adi Shankaracharya].

Studying the Upanishads enables one to understand the identity of the atman with Brahman. One cannot realise this when one is totally immersed in activities in the world.

The Upanishads write about ‘guha’ the cave in the body. This is often qualified as the ‘inner cave’ or ‘the cave within the heart’. It is there that the eternal light of the atman or soul, is to be sought. This special place is called a cave because of its hidden and secret nature.

How does one reach this ‘cave within the heart’, where the eternal light shines? An ethical life and control over the mind and senses, are the first step, according to the Upanishads.

‘This atman, resplendent and pure, whom the sinless sannyasis behold, residing within the body, is attained by unceasing practice of truthfulness, austerity, right knowledge, and continence.’ Mundaka Upanishad, III.1.7.

 

 

Posted in India, Philosophy

Two philosophers of modern India–alternative narratives

 

India has a vast philosophical tradition that continued into the twenty-first  century, providing an alternative to formal religion. Among the twentieth-century philosophers who broke new ground,  were two Krishnamurtis, Jiddu Krishnamurti and U.G. Krishnamurti, both of whom had connections with the Theosophical Society. In their early years both were mentored by the controversial,  but brilliant Theosophist, Charles W. Leadbeater.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti  was born on 11th May 1895 at Madanapalle, a small town in present Andhra Pradesh. His mother died when he was young, and after retiring from government service, his father volunteered to work for the Theosophical Society and moved to its headquarters at Adyar, Chennai (Madras). At this time the Theosophists were searching for a ‘vehicle’ that is, a pure being, into which the Messiah would incarnate. Leadbeater noticed Krishnamurti,  around fourteen years old, who most considered somewhat vague and dull, standing on the beach. He saw a wonderful aura around him and identified  him as the coming Messiah, the World Teacher. Krishna and his younger brother Nitya were adopted by the Society, and  trained by Leadbeater and Annie Besant. Their father at first agreed to this, but later fought a case to get them back. However, he lost. Krishnamurti was declared the Messiah, replacing a boy who had been chosen earlier.

In 1911 the Order of the Star in the East was founded, with Krishnamurti at the head. In his private letters Krishnamurti indicated that he was not very happy with his role as Messiah, but gradually began to believe it. He led the Order of the Star for some time, and had some mystical experiences, but then grew disenchanted with Theosophy. The Theosophists believed in a mystical hierarchy of beings, at the head of which was the Mahachohan. These beings lived in the astral world, but Krishnamurti had been taught how to visit them, and believed in their reality. In 1929, Nitya, his younger brother was seriously ill. Krishna received this news when he was on a ship, and visited the Mahachohan in his astral body, who assured him that Nitya would recover. However, Nitya died a few days later. It was a turning point for Krishnamurti, who lost all faith in the mystical hierarchy.  Soon after this, on August 2, 1929, the opening day of the annual Order of the Star of the East meeting at Ommen, Holland, Krishnamurti dissolved the Order. Three thousand members of the Order were gathered them, but Krishnamurti told them he was no longer their guru. They would have to seek their own path.

On that day he said, ‘ I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.’

Krishnamurti continued to develop his own philosophy over the years, gave talks all over the world, and developed a large following.  Krishnamurti Foundations were set up in England, USA, and India  to disseminate his teachings, and schools were opened to try to bring about a new type of human being. Krishnamurti spoke about the ‘religious mind’ that comes into being in silence, and of ‘freedom from the known’ when conditioned thought has ended.

In 1980, he summed up his own teaching beginning with  the following words, ‘The core of Krishnamurti’s teaching is contained in the statement he made in 1929 when he said: “Truth is a pathless land”. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophic knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection.’

He ended by saying, ‘Total negation is the essence of the positive. When there is negation of all those things that thought has brought about psychologically, only then is there love, which is compassion and intelligence.’ Krishnamurti died on 17th February 1986, but the Foundations and schools still exist. The collected works of his talks and writings amount to hundreds of volumes. His non-sectarian philosophy  appeals mainly to the educated elite, and though the roots of his  philosophy have been traced to both  Vedanta and Buddhism, he had not read any traditional texts.

U.G Krishnamurti

Uppaluri Gopala Krishnamurti, popularly known as ‘UG’, was born on 9 July 1918 in the town of Masulipatnam in present Andhra Pradesh. His early years were spent in the nearby town of Gudivade. UG’s mother died when he was only seven days old, and he came under the care of his grandfather, T.G. Krishnamurti, who was a Theosophist, though he also retained his orthodox Brahmana culture. Between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one, UG tried several spiritual techniques, and  engaged in self-enquiry, rejecting traditional beliefs. He joined the Theosophical Society, and In 1941 he even worked for some time in C.W. Leadbeater’s library at Adyar, but was disappointed that Leadbeater did not sufficiently recognise his  potential. UG  began lecturing for the Theosophical Society, and his talks were well received. Like J. Krishnamurti, he left the Society after a few years. Despite the similarities, he seemed in constant rivalry with J. Krishnamurti, whom he met frequently in early days. UG married in 1943, and had three children, though his marriage later broke up.  In 1967, he had a transformatory experience, in which he felt he died, and was reborn a different person.

UG did not give formal lectures or write books, but has a number of disciples, some of whom have recorded their conversations and dialogues. He said  that each person should be their own teacher, and that no guru is required. His biographer, Mahesh Bhatt says of him: ‘UG shuns religious persons, ridicules social reformers, condemns saints, speaks with disgust about sadhakas (spiritual aspirants), detests the chanting of the Vedas or the recitation of the Upanishads and is full of rage when one speaks of Shankara or the Buddha’.

U.G. died in March 2007.Though he did not acknowledge it, such rejection is similar to the Buddhist concept of negation. Through the rejection of all tradition, the mind drops its conditioning, and reaches a state of freedom.

In today’s India, these and other philosophers deserve to be better known. They differ from traditional gurus who often reformulate old statements, and instead provide fresh and different ways of looking at the world.

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Posted in India, karma, Philosophy

Ideas on Karma—-Sri Aurobindo

Concepts such as the One Reality, Maya and Karma have permeated Indian consciousness. Indians, no matter what their class, caste, or religion are familiar with these terms, which date back to the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and Shankara. Since then, there have been numerous refinements and analyses of these concepts, and notable among those who provided a fresh view of these ideas, is Sri Aurobindo.
Born in Kolkata on 15 August 1872, Aurobindo Ghose was a philosopher, poet and mystic. He was educated mainly in England and after his return to India in 1892 and took up various administrative and teaching posts and then began to seriously study Yoga. Between 1905 and 1908, he was one of the main nationalist leaders of the extremist school. Imprisoned in 1908, he experienced a ‘divine revelation’, and two years later when there was again a threat of imprisonment, escaped from British India to the French territory of Pondicherry (now Puducherry) where he started an ashram. He was joined in his ashram in 1920 by ‘The Mother’, a Frenchwoman named Mirra Richard, who took over the running of the ashram, while Aurobindo devoted himself to reading, studying ancient texts, and writing philosophical works including The Life Divine, Integral Yoga, the epic Savitri , a poem of 24,000 lines, as well as commentaries on The Bhagavad Gita, the major Upanishads, and other texts.
In these works, Aurobindo, a profound thinker, presented his philosophy and ideas. His basic assumption was that life is still evolving, and a human being is not the highest stage of evolution – a higher being will one day emerge. The light and power of the spirit, called by him, the ‘Supermind’, presiding over human evolution, would transform human consciousness and remould life on earth.
To Aurobindo, there is One Reality, but there are also individual souls. The world is not Maya or an illusion, but real, and needs to be perfected through the spiritual and material evolution of every living being. On karma, Sri Aurobindo challenges the popular concept of a divine accounting system which extends through the successive lives of a person. Instead, he dwells on the nature of cosmic energy, which incorporating all the complexities of one’s inner and outer life, takes one in a particular direction, depending on one’s inclinations and stage of life. Karma is thus linked with the process of evolution. Growth requires experiences of different kinds, both pleasurable and painful, and Aurobindo says, “the soul may of itself accept or choose poverty, misfortune and suffering as helpful to its growth, stimulants of a rapid development, and reject riches and prosperity and success as dangerous and conducive to a relaxation of spiritual effort… Cosmic existence is not a vast administrative system of universal justice with a cosmic law of recompense and retribution.” Instead it is a movement of the energy of nature, which provides, within the cycle of rebirth, whatever is needed for the next step in its evolution.
Sri Aurobindo died in 1950. His works need to be better known, as he provides a vision of a different world, a perfect creation, which will arise when each individual evolves. For him, there is no nirvana or moksha, providing an escape from sorrow and impermanence, but rather the material world made immortal, through the descent of the divine spirit.