Debating J. Krishnamurti

Debating J. Krishnamurti
Understanding Krishnamurti’s ‘silences’

First of all, I must thank TM Krishna for his questioning spirit, deep reflection and substantial wisdom in undertaking a review of the ‘silences’ in Krishnamurti’s work (“Silences of Jiddu Krishnamurti”, 4 June 2021). After all, he is a product of a Krishnamurti school and I do believe the values and critical consciousness that he has developed must, in part, have something to do with his school education.

Krishnamurti did not subscribe to any ideological position whatsoever and therefore did not consider it necessary to shout from the rooftops that equity was essential to social life. He did not seek allegiance to any political movement, organisation or ideological perspective. Precisely because he lacked an ideological position, I consider it somewhat pointless to view him alongside Gandhi, Ambedkar, Shree Narayana Guru, Savitribai Phule, or anyone else. Krishnamurti was talking about all of humankind that encompassed the marginalized, the poor, the excluded, as well as the Brahmin, the upper classes, the privileged. It is because he talked to his large audiences around the world only in English, it would appear that he therefore addressed only those similar to him in caste, class and privilege. As a young undergraduate attending his public talks, I did not find only one kind of ‘class’ present in his audience. It was a heterogeneous group of people who would show up to listen to him and it is also true that his audiences varied in the different cities he spoke in. It is pertinent to remember that he also spoke with great passion to young school children in his schools in India, the UK and USA. The audience in his public meetings was always mixed, children, men and women, some with their caste marks on their foreheads, others in western clothes, several young people, students, writers, poets, seekers, including young westerners, and many workers, who perhaps did not understand the English but wanted to be in his presence, touch him as he left the dais, and seek his blessings. It is somewhat inadequate and perhaps meaningless to judge them all to be like Krishnamurti, akin to his privileged background.

For decades now, and during Krishnamurti’s lifetime as well, his work has been translated into different languages, and has reached Indians across the country. While he may have spoken and written in English, his work is available to all in India and around the world.

No doubt, Krishnamurti had a privileged upbringing after the first 14 years of his life which he spent in a nondescript, dusty town in Andhra Pradesh. He was groomed to be the ‘World Teacher’ by the Theosophical Society that laid out all the infrastructure, vast tracts of property and an organizational structure at his disposal. Krishnamurti turned all this down and sought independence from an organization that was stifling him. It was not however a ‘political action’. It was in fact an act that was devoid of all politics, of all posturing, ideological moorings, or any kind of gimmickry. It was an act that was borne out of deep conviction, subsequent to the passing of his young brother, that no organization, religious or otherwise, could provide the key to understanding yourself. Krishnamurti did not seek out followers who would listen to him in mute silence or with ‘faith’ in him. Krishnamurti did not tolerate Gurus of any kind and disavowed any authority to himself.

Faith, TM Krishna suggests, is ‘an intimate experience; one that can open the room of selflessness concealed within’. On the contrary, Krishnamurti considers faith as a crutch, to overcome that which we lack, our own inability to question or examine our actions and their outcomes. We may have faith in a religion, in a nation, in a leader and it will bring us to the situation that India finds itself in today. Faith is a weapon of the weak, if I may tentatively suggest; it is what keeps one tethered to that which will definitely bring conflict, divisiveness, and sorrow. Faith in an ideology of whatever kind, is a narrow and sectarian approach to understanding the canvas of life. To be free from faith, one needs to abandon the attachments we cling to, whether of the social institutions in which we are embedded or from the political or religious moorings we connect to. Krishnamurti wanted to be free from all such attachments: from organizations, institutions, and even from the people he was close to.

In fact, he did not encourage any followers and often had small group discussions with friends, intellectuals, members of the Krishnamurti Foundation, and others, on an equal basis. He was questioned, pushed for answers, his words examined from every which way, and he was examining along with others, the various dimensions of his writings or perspective. It is hard to believe that Krishnamurti did not ‘learn’ from all this.

Pupul Jayakar, Achyut Patwardhan, Ashis Nandy, Sudhir Kakar, TN Madan, are some of those stalwarts who engaged in debate and discussion with Krishnamurti. The Buddhist scholar Samdhong Rinpoche, the Pandit, Jagganath Upadhyay, as well, debated with Krishnamurti. Not to mention David Bohm, Allan Anderson, David Shainberg and others in other parts of the world. This was not ‘intellectual jugglery’ with members of the ‘elite’. It was a deep learning experience for Krishnamurti, the participants and for the audience. Did Krishnamurti assert his wisdom over others as being more profound, insightful, or supreme? Contrarily, these small group discussions helped bring out the nuances of Krishnamurti’s thought in deeply insightful ways due to the prodding questions, the debating, the constant pushing him further, helping Krishnamurti unpack his thoughts deeper and deeper. As a consequence, did Krishnamurti need to proclaim that he had ‘learnt’ something? Did he not always say, ‘Let us understand together, the speaker and you together, try to understand’?

Perhaps we need to revisit the three volumes on Commentaries of Living by J. Krishnamurti wherein Krishnamurti documents a meeting with a visitor, his or her questions to him, a vignette from a walk, an observation of human behaviour, of interaction, and then follows it up with a brief discussion from different points of view. In these concise narratives, I find Krishnamurti is exploring life as much as himself and his understanding. They are reflective and deeply insightful writings, indicating his perception, based on his ‘learning’, from a human and social life perspective.

Attending a small group discussion in Madras, November/December 1973, Krishnamurti was sitting with us on a carpet on the floor at Jayalakshmi ammal’s home. We had just finished breakfast and it was an impromptu discussion. He questioned us that when he asks us to ‘look’, how do we look, at the corner of the carpet where we are seated, or at the whole carpet? He then proceeded to share with us what it means to look at the big picture because the small picture only has a limited view, and therefore only a partial understanding, and resolution can never be complete. Krishnamurti did not seek to address ‘reform’ because ‘reform, however necessary, only breeds the need for further reform and there is no end to it. What is needed is revolution in man’s thinking, not patchwork reform’ (Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living Third Series). He poses the question, ‘If one may ask, what do you mean when you talk about acting politically? Is political action, whatever that may be, separate from the total action of man, or is it part of it? ... A tree is the root, the trunk, the branch, the leaf, the flower. Any action which is not comprehensive, total, must inevitably lead to sorrow. There is only total human action, not political action, religious action, or Indian action. Action which is separative, fragmentary, always leads to conflict both within and without’ (Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living Third Series).

On being probed further by the questioner who seems to think that Krishnamurti is suggesting that political action is impossible, Krishnamurti responds, ‘Not at all. The comprehension of total action surely does not prevent political, educational or religious activity. These are not separate activities, they are all part of a unitary process which will express itself in different directions. What is important is this unitary process, and not a separate political action, however apparently beneficial’ (Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living Third Series).

Krishnamurti questioned the children in his schools, in his meetings with them, by asking them if they cared for those workers who cared for them, for the villagers whose paths they may cross during the day, for others less privileged than themselves. How would they care for them if they did not even understand their lives, he would ask. He relentlessly pushed them to look outside their own petty little concerns at the beauty of nature, to care for the earth, plant trees, be connected to nature. He pushed teachers to be related to children, not to judge them, but to understand them through the right kind of relationship that was based more on a kind of intimate communication than on the hierarchy between a teacher and student. Both teachers and students in Krishnamurti’s view were learners together, seeking to understand themselves and the world through relationship. Education was not only about academic growth and an intellectual life but more importantly about self- inquiry in which both the teacher and the student were equal participants.

The landscape that Krishnamurti provided for educational practice is vast and left open to interpretation as he left no precise structure or mandate to be adhered to. Krishnamurti’s silences perhaps need to be understood from the entire vision that Krishnamurti provided impacting education not only for the fee-paying Krishnamurti schools but also for the work for rural education done by the Krishnamurti Foundation India. The multigrade-multilevel (MGML) pedagogic method envisioned by the Rishi Valley Rural Education Centre has been adapted and is being used in more than 250,000 elementary schools in India and in several countries including Nepal, Kenya and Sri Lanka. More than 125 million students in India have been impacted by this methodology and the effort is to extend this to many other schools in remote areas of the country where children have little or no access to education. In neglecting these dimensions of the work of the Krishnamurti Foundation, we are perhaps missing the true legacy of Krishnamurti’s educational endeavour that is in process and is still unfolding.

-- Meenakshi Thapan, Krishnamurti Foundation India, Andhra Pradesh

Meenakshi Thapan, and others
Enquiry within

This is a brilliant essay by TM Krishna on Jiddu Krishnamurti, what he perceives as deficiencies in Krishnamurti’s enquiry and what the latter stimulated/stimulates in those interested in his thoughts.

However, Krishnamurti was not keen on discussing himself, so as to not edify himself. He was already a person known for dissolving an organisation, Order of the Star in the East, which had sort of 'edified' him as an integral person who was honestly enquiring 'truth'. His solution of making one's own enquiry can help in this process for questions raised within are difficult to digest. This is why he thought 'authority' of any form, including religion, was an anathema for personal enquiry.

-- Anirudh Deshpande

The ‘social’ as an individual

This is a wonderful analysis by TM Krishna of J. Krishnamurti and his messages.

The difference in their viewpoints is in the approach to issues. Krishna’s approach is moulded by his passion for the social or should I say caste injustices, something that cannot be ignored or pushed to the periphery of any discussion. Neither can this passion be all consuming. JK, as rightly pointed out, came from a privileged background. But JK was addressing the individual's problem, while Krishna approaches the issue socially. Even if anger, fear and other issues of a societal group are considered collectively, the problem and solution are diametrically different from those that address the angst of an individual.

JK's approach could be applicable to both an individual and a social group when seen as a single entity. This would be to understand the roots of issues, and to find a solution that would not be entirely embedded in a reaction to the primal instincts of self-preservation, fear, etc.

Nevertheless, hats off to TM Krishna for addressing, as he usually does, very pertinent issues.

-- Gopal K Parmeswar

Lack of understanding

In reading the article one thing is most pertinently clear, TM Krishna does not understand J. Krishnamurti. This is not to deny that there are points Krishna makes that are indeed noteworthy.

An understanding of J. Krishnamurti can only happen when the author has to a degree understood himself. While it is clear where the author's views are coming from, he doesn't seem to have understood where JK's words were coming from, and it was not from his past. JK did have an ostensibly privileged life and it was precisely because he was given such a life that he was adamant about not letting what he said become about him. He failed (rather miserably) at this because most people who listened to him still unfortunately made it more about what "K" said.

One could go on about what TM Krishna has missed out on, though but for that one would have to explain what the world has gotten wrong about Krishnamurti. This would lead one to point out what most people have gotten wrong about themselves, which is precisely what JK spent 60 years trying to point at with close to no success whatsoever.

-- Midhun Hari


The article is largely about what according to TM Krishna were the shortcomings of J. Krishnamurti’s work, in terms of his engagement or lack of it in the socio-cultural and political world.

The article seems to be a very sophisticated attempt by TM Krishna to display his own intellectual superiority and his education about socio-political nuances. There seems to be no invitation to a dialogue in TM Krishna’s writing; it did not have a quality of tentativeness. 

I feel there could be some readers who have not yet explored Krishnamurti who would now lose their motivation to do so. They could form an antagonistic opinion about him. Sure some may yet feel interested in exploring them. There could yet be different unintended possibilities in the way the text is received. These are mostly the dangers of the tone, and the attitude that seems to be embedded in the article. This potential exists more so when towards the end it carries a name like ‘TM Krishna’.

JK did remind people frequently that he was just a speaker and disclaimed any authority for what he was saying, I could not see something similar in TM Krishna’s article.

-- Skanda S, Bangalore

Focussing on the man, not the thoughts

The focus of the article by TM was more on J Krishnamurti the person rather than on what he said. The balance in the article was thus somewhat lopsided; too much on the persona and too little on what he spoke about all his life.

The article thus becomes more of a lengthy intellectual exercise. This is inevitable if a writer does not explore the full depth and expanse of the 'teachings' with an open mind.

I think most of us listen, see, act (and write) through the filters of our own conditioning. That may well be part of the problem with Krishna's well-written article.

-- K. Thacker

Learning from whom?

Maybe J Krishnamurti (JK) triggered people like TM Krishna to reach out to those in different strata of society.

TM Krishna points to Krishnamurti referring to himself as the “Speaker”. If JK had used the personal pronoun “I”, we would have said 'He is egoistic.' There was a real reason for Krishnamurti saying 'I am not your guru'. One should not be naive and say 'Then learn from me'. As for his remarks on those who listen/listened to Krishnamurti, TM Krishna is very right in saying ‘They continue to practice an enquiry that is empty, filled with jargon and cliches.’

-- Ramesh

Tough questions

The article is a long overdue assessment of Krishnamurti’s work. I am pleased it has been raised by TM Krishna. These are tough and robust questions, they need to be frontally faced and answered.

A dialogue between Krishnamurti and Ambedkar would have been fascinating. The utter improbability of such a conversation speaks volumes about who we are as a society. 

-- Sankaran Krishna

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