JIDDU KRISHNAMURTI (1895-1986): One Of The Greatest Mind Ever


Was a renowned writer and speaker on philosophical and spiritual subjects. His subject matter included: psychological revolution, the nature of the mind, meditation, human relationships, and bringing about positive change in society. He constantly stressed the need for a revolution in the psyche of every human being and emphasized that such revolution cannot be brought about by any external entity, be it religious, political, or social. Jiddu Krishnamurti was born on 12 May 1895 in the small town of Madanapalle in Madras Presidency (modern-day Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh). He came from a family of Telugu-speaking Brahmins. In accordance with common Hindu practice, as the eighth child who happened to be male, he was named after the Hindu deity Krishna. Krishnamurti’s father, Jiddu Narayaniah, was employed as an official of the then colonial British administration. Krishnamurti was fond of his mother Sanjeevamma, who died when he was ten.  His parents had a total of eleven children, of whom six survived childhood. As was common among pious high-caste Hindus, the family was keenly observant of traditional customs and religious practices. In 1903 the family settled in Cudappah, where Krishnamurti had contracted malaria during a previous stay.

Jiddu Krishnamurti. Circa, 1910.

He would suffer recurrent bouts of the disease over many years. A sensitive and sickly child, “vague and dreamy,” he was often taken to be mentally retarded, and was beaten regularly at school by his teachers and at home by his father. In memoirs written when he was eighteen years old, Krishnamurti described psychic experiences, such as “seeing” his sister, who had died in 1904, and his mother, who had died in 1905. During his childhood he developed a bond with nature that was to stay with him for the rest of his life. Krishnamurti’s father retired at the end of 1907, and, being of limited means, sought employment at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar. In addition to being an observant orthodox Brahmin, Narayaniah had been a Theosophist since 1882. In 1909, Krishnamurti first met Charles Webster Leadbeater, who claimed clairvoyance. Leadbeater had noticed Krishnamurti, who frequented the same beach on the Adyar river, and was amazed by the “most wonderful aura he had ever seen, without a particle of selfishness in it.” This impression contrasted with Krishnamurti’s outward appearance, which, according to eyewitnesses, was common, unimpressive, and unkempt. He was also considered “particularly dim-witted”; he often had “a vacant expression” that gave him an almost moronic look. Leadbeater was convinced that the boy would become a spiritual teacher and a great orator; the likely “vehicle for the Lord Maitreya” in Theosophical doctrine, an advanced spiritual entity periodically appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of humankind.


In her biography of Krishnamurti, Pupul Jayakar quotes him speaking of that period in his life some 75 years later: “The boy had always said, ‘I will do whatever you want’. There was an element of subservience, obedience. The boy was vague, uncertain, woolly; he didn’t seem to care what was happening. He was like a vessel, with a large hole in it, whatever was put in, went through, nothing remained.” Following his “discovery,” Krishnamurti was nurtured by members of the Theosophical Society in Adyar. Leadbeater and a small number of trusted associates undertook the task of educating, protecting, and generally preparing Krishnamurti as the “vehicle” of the expected World Teacher. Krishnamurti (often later called Krishnaji) and his younger brother Nityananda (Nitya) were privately tutored at the Theosophical compound in Madras, and later exposed to a comparatively opulent life among a segment of European high society, as they continued their education abroad. Despite his history of problems with schoolwork and concerns about his capacities and physical condition, the fourteen-year-old Krishnamurti was able to speak and write competently in English within six months. Lutyens says that later in life Krishnamurti came to view his “discovery” as a life-saving event. Often, he was “asked in later life what he thought would have happened to him if he had not been ‘discovered’ by Leadbeater. He would unhesitatingly reply, ‘I would have died’.”During this time, Krishnamurti had developed a strong bond with Annie Besant and came to view her as a surrogate mother. His father, who had initially assented to Besant’s legal guardianship of Krishnamurti, was pushed into the background by the swirl of attention around his son. In 1912 he sued Besant in order to annul the guardianship agreement.


After a protracted legal battle, Besant took custody of Krishnamurti and Nitya. As a result of this separation from family and home, Krishnamurti and his brother (whose relationship had always been very close) became more dependent on each other, and in the following years often traveled together. In 1911, the leadership of the Theosophical Society at Adyar established an organization called the Order of the Star in the East (OSE), to prepare the world for expected appearance of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti was named as its head, with senior Theosophists assigned various other positions. Membership was open to anybody who accepted the doctrine of the Coming of the World Teacher. Controversy erupted soon after, both within the Theosophical Society and without, in Hindu circles and the Indian press. Mary Lutyens, a biographer and friend of Krishnamurti, says that there was a time when he believed that he was to become the World Teacher after correct spiritual and secular guidance and education. Another biographer describes the daily program imposed on him by Leadbeater and his associates, which included rigorous exercise and sports, tutoring in a variety of school subjects, Theosophical and religious lessons, yoga and meditation, as well as instruction in proper hygiene and in the ways of British society and culture. At the same time, Leadbeater assumed the role of guide in a parallel, mystical instruction of Krishnamurti; the existence and progress of this instruction was at the time known only to a select few.


While he showed a natural aptitude in sports, Krishnamurti always had problems with formal schooling and was not academically inclined. He eventually gave up university education after several attempts at admission. He did take to foreign languages, in time speaking several with some fluency. His public image, cultivated by the Theosophists, “was to be characterized by a well-polished exterior, a sobriety of purpose, a cosmopolitan outlook and an otherworldly, almost beatific detachment in his demeanor.” Demonstrably, “all of these can be said to have characterized Krishnamurti’s public image to the end of his life.” It was apparently clear early on that he “possessed an innate personal magnetism, not of a warm physical variety, but nonetheless emotive in its austerity, and inclined to inspire veneration.” However, as he was growing up, Krishnamurti showed signs of adolescent rebellion and emotional instability, chafing at the regimen imposed on him, visibly uncomfortable with the publicity surrounding him, and occasionally expressing doubts about the future prescribed for him. Krishnamurti in England in 1911 with his brother Nitya and the Theosophists Annie Besant and George Arundale Krishnamurti and Nitya were taken to England in April 1911. During this trip Krishnamurti gave his first public speech, to members of the OSE in London. His first writings had also started to appear, published in booklets by the Theosophical Society and in Theosophical and OSE-affiliated magazines. Between 1911 and the start of World War I in 1914, the brothers visited several other European countries, always accompanied by Theosophist chaperones.


Meanwhile Krishnamurti had for the first time acquired a measure of personal financial independence, thanks to a wealthy benefactress. After the war, Krishnamurti (again accompanied by Nitya, by then the Organizing Secretary of the Order) embarked on a series of lectures, meetings and discussions around the world related to his duties as the Head of the OSE. He also continued writing. The content of his talks and writings, revolved around the work of the Order and of its members in preparation for the Coming. He was described, initially, as a halting, hesitant, and repetitive speaker, but his delivery and confidence improved, and he gradually took command of the meetings. He also fell in love, in 1921, with Helen Knothe, a seventeen-year-old American whose family was associated with the Theosophists. The experience was tempered by the realization that his work and expected life-mission precluded what would otherwise be considered normal relationships and by the mid-1920s the two of them had drifted apart. In 1922 Krishnamurti and Nitya travelled from Sydney to California. While in California, they stayed at a cottage in the Ojai Valley. It was thought that the area’s climate would be beneficial to Nitya, who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis; Nitya’s ailing health would become a concern for Krishnamurti. At Ojai they met Rosalind Williams, a young American who became close to them both, and who was later to have a significant role in Krishnamurti’s life. For the first time the brothers were without immediate supervision by their Theosophical Society minders. They found the Valley to be very agreeable, and eventually a trust formed, by supporters, purchased a cottage and surrounding property there for them. This became Krishnamurti’s official place of residence.


It was at Ojai in August and September of 1922 that Krishnamurti went through an intense, “life-changing” experience. This has been variously characterized as a spiritual awakening, a psychological transformation, and a physical conditioning. The initial events happened in two distinct phases: first a three-day spiritual experience followed, two weeks later, by a longer-lasting condition that Krishnamurti and those around him would refer to as the process; this condition would recur, at frequent intervals and with varying intensity, until his death. According to witnesses, it started on 17 August 1922, with Krishnamurti complaining of sharp pain at the nape of his neck. Over the next two days, the symptoms worsened, with increasing pain and sensitivity, a loss of appetite, and occasional delirious ramblings. He seemed to lapse into unconsciousness, but later recounted that he was very much aware of his surroundings, and that while in that state had an experience of mystical union. The following day the symptoms and the experience intensified, climaxing with a sense of “immense peace.” Following, and apparently related to, these events, the condition which came to be known as the process started to affect him, in September and October of that year, as a regular, almost nightly occurrence. Later, the process would resume intermittently with varying degrees of pain, physical discomfort and sensitivity, occasionally a lapse into a childlike state, and sometimes an apparent fading out of consciousness explained as either his body giving in to pain, or as him “going off.”


Following the dissolution prominent Theosophists turned against Krishnamurti, including Leadbeater who is said to have stated, “the Coming had gone wrong.” Krishnamurti had denounced all organized belief, the notion of gurus, and the whole teacher-follower relationship, vowing instead to work in setting people “absolutely, unconditionally free.” There is no record of him explicitly denying he was the World Teacher; whenever he was asked to clarify his position, he either asserted that the matter was irrelevant, or gave answers that, as he stated, were “purposely vague.” Krishnamurti constantly emphasized the right place of thought in daily life. But he also pointed out the dangers of thought when it becomes knowledge that acts as a calcified projection of the past. According to Krishnamurti, such action distorts our perception and full understanding of the world we live in, and more specifically, the relationships that define it. He saw knowledge as a necessary, but mechanical, function of the mind. The capacity of mind to record can present barriers, however. For example, hurtful words spoken in a relationship may become memories that influence actions. Thus knowledge can present a division in a relationship and may be destructive.


Krishnamurti used the term “meditation” to mean something entirely different from the practice of any system or method to control the mind, or to consciously achieve a specific goal or state. He dealt with the subject of meditation in numerous public talks and discussions. “A mind that is in meditation is concerned only with meditation, not with the meditator. The meditator is the observer, the senser, the thinker, the experiencer, and when there is the experiencer, the thinker, then he is concerned with reaching out, gaining, achieving, experiencing. And that thing which is timeless cannot be experienced. There is no experience at all. There is only that which is not nameable.” “Meditation is one of the greatest arts in life–perhaps the greatest, and one cannot possibly learn it from anybody, that is the beauty of it. It has no technique and therefore no authority. When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy-if you are aware of all that in yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation.”


“Man, in order to escape his conflicts, has invented many forms of meditation. These have been based on desire, will, and the urge for achievement, and imply conflict and a struggle to arrive. This conscious, deliberate striving is always within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom. All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation. Meditation is the ending of thought. It is only then that there is a different dimension which is beyond time.”