Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was an Indian mystic and philosopher whose teaching stresses universal religious values, personal insight, and autonomous self-discipline, synthesizing both Indian and Western philosophical and psychological principles.

Jiddu Krishnamurti was born on May 11, 1895 in Madanapalle, a small town in southern India, 150 miles northwest of Madras. His parents, Jiddu Sanjeevamma and Jiddu Narianiah, were devout Brahmin Hindus, who named their eighth son Krishnamurti ("the image of Krishna"), after the god Krsna, who appeared as an eighth child. He nearly died of malaria when he was two and the disease would continue to reappear and sicken him. When Krishnamurti was six, he was initiated into Brahminhood with the sacred thread ceremony, and he formally started his schooling. Amid poverty and hardship Krishnamurti was a shy and withdrawn child who found school life difficult.

Krishnamurti's father was a civil servant in the revenue department and a part-time worker at the Theosophical Society. After his wife died in 1905, Krishnamurti's father was forced to retire from his job with the colonial bureaucracy and seek full-time employment with the Theosophical Society. The family moved to Adyar near Madras, and it was there at the age of 12 that Krishnamurti's precocious spirituality attracted the attention of Annie Besant, head of the Theosophical Society—an organization promoting the religious unity of all men chiefly within the framework of Indian values. She gained guardianship of Krishnamurti and his younger brother, Nitya, and privately educated them in the Society.

In 1911 Besant and her colleagues founded the Order of the Star in the East (OSE), with Krishnamurti to be its spiritual head. He was the expected "World Teacher" and began a long period of training directed toward fulfillment of this role. However, Krishnamurti's father was worried by Besant's influence on his sons, and he tried to regain custody of them, but eventually failed. Krishnamurti and Nitya continued their studies in England and France. In England Krishnamurti developed a close friendship with Lady Emily Lutyens, who introduced him to aristocratic circles. According to Hillary Rodrigues, in Insight and Religious Mind, Krishnamurti read extensively during his time in England, enjoying the works of Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and P.G. Wodehouse. He was also influenced by Paul Carus' The Buddha's Way of Virtue and Sir Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia.

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Leadership and Discovery

By the early 1920s, Krishnamurti had begun to take on more of a leadership role. He started contributing the editorial notes to the OSE's Herald of the Star and heading OSE conferences in France and India. He also moved to Ojai, in California where the weather was kinder to his brother, who suffered from tuberculosis. In Ojai he underwent a life-changing experience following extensive meditation and lapses close to unconsciousness, which brought him joy and profound peace. After his experience, he declared, "Love in all its glory has intoxicated my heart; my heart can never be closed. I have drunk at the fountain of Joy and eternal Beauty. I am God-intoxicated."

Krishnamurti's brother died in 1925, and he entered a period of great grief. Amid increasing popularity and renown, he also began to chafe under the worldly institutional restraints imposed on him. In 1929 he broke openly with this organization and disbanded the formal order of some 50,000 adherents, saying, "I maintain that the truth is a pathless land and you cannot approach it by any path what-so-ever, by any religion, by any sect." He officially resigned from the Theosophical Society in 1930.

For the rest of his life, Krishnamurti talked to wide audiences around the world. He mostly visited India, England, the United States, and Switzerland, although he also visited Australia, South America, and Canada. During World War II, he became friends with the writer Aldous Huxley, who encouraged him to write; Krishnamurti subsequently published a number of works, including Education and the Significance of Life (1953) and The First and Last Freedom (1954).

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Krishnamurti's Philosophy

Krishnamurti's teaching is non-dogmatic, centered on his own spiritual experiences and oriented to the particular needs and capacities of his listeners. He regarded life as a voyage of self-discovery in which self-doubt, uncertainty, and self-criticism are inextricably related to inward spiritual transformation. The human problem begins with the "I-process"—an insatiable self-generating and all-consuming greed that is manifest not only in personal selfishness and in the social and historical instances of man's brutality to man but also in conventional morality filled with expediency, self-satisfaction, and subtle self-pride: "He who says he loves does not love." Fear and anxiety, obsession with security, self-assertion, and aggression (the "appearance" of courage) are all forms of frantic self-affirmation. This includes the delusion of the immortality of the soul, which is a particularly egregious projection of the "I" alarmed by annihilation.

Krishnamurti believed spiritual maturity and enlightenment come only with a radical breakthrough to deeper levels of man's psychic resources which then obliterate the debased superficialities of the ego state. This takes the form of a direct intuition and an inner transformation. It is not the result of simple moral striving but of critical self-reflection, doubt, and final enlightenment and self-knowledge, complete and therapeutic. This, in turn, leads to the integration of the human personality, freedom, and love in pure, selfless compassion.

Krishnamurti died on February 17, 1986 in Ojai, California after suffering from pancreatic cancer. His body was cremated and the ashes scattered in California, England, and India. Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India expressed his sadness over Krishnamurti's death: "The People of India deeply mourn the passing away of Sri J. Krishnamurti. He was one of the most stimulating philosophers of our land and age. … Our country and the world are poorer with his death."

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Further Reading on Jiddu Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti and his thought are discussed in Emily Lutyens, Candles in the Sun (1957); Robert Powell, Zen and Reality: An Approach to Sanity and Happiness on a Non-sectarian Basis (1962); Atmaram Dhondo Dhopeshwarkar, J. Krishnamurti and Awareness in Action (1967); Wolfgang Saxon, The New York Times (February 18, 1986); and Hillary Rodrigues, Insight and Religious Mind: An Analysis of Krishnamurti's Thought, Peter Lang (1990).