Brian Despain Alexander Izrailevsky,Ph. D

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Brian Despain

Alexander Izrailevsky,Ph.D.

PHIL 1000-020


A Modern Transcendentalist: Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti was born in May of 1895 in a small town called Madanapalle, in what is now the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, India (Lutyens 1). Jiddu Narayaniah, Krishnamurti’s father, worked as a clerk for the British Raj for most of his professional life. As Brahmins, the family was trusted by the British to work in government, which most Indians were excluded from doing (Bayly 43). This enabled Narayaniah to provide for his wife and 11 children, most of whom survived famine in 1896-1897. While Krishnamurti was the 8th born child, he was one of only 6 of his siblings to survive into adulthood. Malaria, tuberculosis, a variety of fevers, and other deadly diseases were endemic in India at the time. Krishnamurti himself suffered from recurrent bouts of malaria throughout his life, but managed to live for nearly 91 years. Jiddu Narayaniah became interested in Theosophism in his middle adulthood. As he grew more involved in this esoteric Christian sect, he took a secretary position at the Theosophical Society’s headquarters in Adyar, Madras, and moved his family to a small cottage on the premises. Up to this point, Krishnamurti had been considered slow and dim-witted, detached and dreamy. His father and schoolteachers often beat him to encourage him to focus and study, with little effect but to cause Krishnamurti to avoid his father and school teachers as much as possible by playing outside (Lutyens 1- 10). In 1909, at age 14, a prominent Theosophist named Charles Leadbeater encountered Krishnamurti while the latter was doing just that. He claimed that Krishnamurti had the "most wonderful aura he had ever seen, without a particle of selfishness in it” (Lutyens 22). Leadbeater claimed clairvoyance and great spiritual power, and he enlisted other members of the society to help him train this remarkable boy to become a messiah, a world teacher, a vehicle of God. Krishnamurti assented to this regimen with humility and innocence, and his life changed drastically. He and his younger brother came to live at the compound, separated from the rest of their family, and trained rigorously in arts and humanities, math and science, meditation and yoga, foreign languages, athletics, and spirituality. However, even with array of individual tutors who did not beat him, he remained a horrible student. When it came time for him to apply to universities, none would accept him (Lutyens 27-28). He was adopted by the president of the Theosophical Society, Annie Besant, who also became his legal guardian (Vernon 35-41). He then began visiting European countries with Theosophist chaperones, and later to Ojai, California, where he had what he describes as a spiritual experience in 1922. According to biographer Roland Vernon, “the process at Ojai, whatever its cause or validity, was a cataclysmic milestone for Krishna. Up until this time his spiritual progress, chequered though it might have been, had been planned with solemn deliberation by Theosophy's grandees. ... Something new had now occurred for which Krishna's training had not entirely prepared him. ... A burden was lifted from his conscience and he took his first step towards becoming an individual. ... In terms of his future role as a teacher, the process was his bedrock. ... It had come to him alone and had not been planted in him by his mentors ... it provided Krishna with the soil in which his newfound spirit of confidence and independence could take root (Vernon 131-132).” From this time on, he gradually gained independence from the society that raised him, culminating with the dissolution of the order founded to promote his role as a world teacher. In 1929, when he was 34 years old, at a conference of this Order of the Star of the East, he claimed that “Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect… I have now decided to disband the Order, as I happen to be its Head. You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned” ( He returned donated money and property and cut ties with the Theosophical society. While he remained on good terms with some members and former members for the remainder of his life, he denounced Theosophy as foolish and false, along with every other religion, philosophy, and every other prescription for living. He continued lecturing, making speeches both public and private, and propagating his philosophy (or anti-philosophy) for the remainder of his life (Lutyens 244-248, 284-285).

Krishnamurti’s philosophy is a response to what he sees as the primary problem facing mankind. The problem, as he sees it, is that “[t]here is extraordinarily acute suffering, and it is not individual but collective…[O]ur whole psychological being is confused, and all the leaders, political and religious, have failed us… Surely, the more trouble there is in the world, the more chaos, the more one seeks security… either that of a bank account or that of an ideology; or else you turn to prayer, you go to the temple- which is really escaping what is happening in the world” (Krishnamurti 22-23).

His diagnosis of society’s illness is nearly identical to that of the Buddha, that each individual, and society at large, suffers and is in turmoil. I somewhat agree with his diagnosis. I believe that suffering and chaos are but a symptom of yet another problem, selfishness, and that this selfishness stems from yet another root, a narrow-minded and individualistic consciousness. I have observed that nearly all people identify themselves as one individual human form, and act with the best interests of that one minutia of life, and, by extension, other minutiae that have some sort of significance to the principle. It is this limited perspective that puts individuals in conflict with each other, causes individuals to suffer, war with one another, enslave one another. If an individual identified oneself as the universe, it would act in the best interest of the universe, which is, to me, the paradigm of virtue or morality, and my interpretation of what Buddhists call Nirvana and what Taoists call wu wei.

Krishnamurti approaches the solution from yet another angle. He proposes love as the solution. For Krishnamurti, “Love cannot be thought about, love cannot be cultivated, love cannot be practiced. The practice of love, the practice of brotherhood, is still within the field of the mind, therefore it is not love. When all this has stopped, then love comes into being… You do not say, “I love the whole world” but when you know how to love one, you know how to love the whole. Because we do not know how to love one, our love of humanity is fictitious. When you love, there is neither one nor many: there is only love. It is only when there is love that all our problems can be solved and then we shall know its bliss and its happiness” (Krishnamurti 234). This “all this” that must be stopped for love to come into being is more than just practicing love. It is any thought or ideation, psychological activity. He says, “When man becomes aware of the movement of his own consciousness he will see the division between the thinker and the thought, the observer and the observed, the experiencer and the experience. He will discover that this division is an illusion. Then only is there pure observation which is insight without any shadow of the past. This timeless insight brings about a deep radical change in the mind.

Total negation is the essence of the positive. When there is negation of all those things which are not love - desire, pleasure - then love is, with its compassion and intelligence” ( He also claims that self-knowledge is the way to freedom and love. Like Socrates, he champions self-knowledge as a prime virtue. “Thus the transformation of the world is brought about by the transformation of oneself, because the self is the product and a part of the total process of human existence. To transform oneself, self-knowledge is essential; without knowing what you are, there is no basis for right thought, and without knowing yourself there cannot be transformation” (Krishnamurti 44). This individual transformation is the keystone of his philosophy, and what he identifies as the way to a perfect love that will heal the world. His definition of society is the sum total of human relationships. At present, these relationships are based in selfish greed, that even altruism is self-motivated, we are good to each other to advance ourselves. More often, we are bad to each other to advance ourselves. He taught that by transforming ourselves, are relationships with others will be similarly transformed. It was clear to him that a societal revolution is necessary to create a more perfect world with less suffering and chaos. However, a revolution from communism to capitalism or vice-versa, or to fascism, or any –ism, is not a revolution at all, just trading one system for another ( “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 philosophical 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. Man has built in himself images as a fence of security — religious, political, personal. These manifest as symbols, ideas, beliefs. The burden of these dominate man’s thinking, relationships and daily life. These are the causes of our problems for they divide man from man in every relationship (”

I find it paradoxical that a man who claims that “truth is a pathless land” speaks and writes of thousands of ways to truth. If every man must make a personal journey to discover truth, why write thousands of pages about this journey, extolling certain paths and dismissing others as folly? And for a man who claims that thinking and beliefs hold men back from true love and understanding, he sure does a lot of thinking and believing. The 20 years of messianic training he received certainly had a deep and lasting influence on him. Not just on his philosophy, but in the way he viewed himself in relation to others and his behavior towards others as well. He wrote thousands of pages on spiritual progress and growth, as if he had the truth and could lead others to it. He claimed that he didn’t want followers or disciples, yet lived off of the generosity of disciples and followers (Lutyens 288). Yet I have to admire that he denounced his purported fate to be the next reincarnation of Jesus. It would have been very easy from a material standpoint to roll along with it and milk it for all it was worth. Instead, he returned donations and told his followers to leave. He also did not form normal relationships with others, always seeing himself as elevated in relation to others. I judge a philosophy on its effectiveness in practice. If Krishnamurti himself practiced what he preached, and it appears that he did as best as he was able to, I am forced to conclude that his philosophy is ineffective. The man never did an honest day’s work, he bore no children, and his relationships with others were, as far as this researcher can determine, never of the perfect love he proclaimed was the solution to life’s problems. However, I have admiration and respect for a few of his philosophical positions. In particular, the call to “know thyself” seems to be something like wisdom. His denunciation of organized religion, political parties, and all other social structures also appeals to me. I suppose his political philosophy could best be described as a utopian anarchy, which would be incredibly free and effective, if all human relationships solely consist of true love. I classify him a modern transcendentalist because of his modernist dismissal of pre-modern thought, as if he bulldozed the sum total of human philosophical thought and built anew. This parallels the modern schools of the arts. And he is certainly a transcendentalist akin to the early American philosophers, in that he champions inward transformation to effect outward relationships and society. Despite his flaws, both personal and philosophical, I deeply admire this philosopher and firmly agree with him that truth is, indeed, a pathless land.

Works Cited

Lutyens, Mary. The Life and Death of Krishnamurti, London: John Murray, 1990.

Bayly, Susan. Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. London: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Vernon, Roland. Star In The East: The Invention of A Messiah. London: Palgrave, 2001.

Krishnamurti, Jiddu. The First and Last Freedom. HarperCollins: New York, 1975.

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