In early January 1985 I left Yercaud where I was living in South India to travel around 200 miles to Madras, now called Chennai, for a bit of rest and recreation. While there I was going to hear a talk by the philosopher/mystic (I'm not sure if he would accept that description but it suffices) J. Krishnamurti. He was now in his late 80s but still intellectually sharp. I had seen him a few years before as described in my book Meeting the Masters but thought I would like to see him once more before he died which, as it turned out, was not long afterwards. Krishnamurti was one of the very few guru type figures at the time, Indian or otherwise, who impressed me. What he taught was basically a form of Advaita but he spoke from the position of one who had encountered the non-dualistic state at first hand and was not, like many of his imitators, on the outside looking in. I feel he really had merged his mind with the Great Silence and his soul with the spiritual core of life. Not just experienced this as a fleeting state which would then remain an experience and a memory but actually become it or as much as anyone still in a physical body could. I think his position is limited because it misses out on the extra something brought by Christ which you might call the offer of the sanctification of the self rather than its transcendence, but if anyone could be called a second Buddha then I would say Krishnamurti comes closest, certainly in my lifetime. His only rival (unfortunate word - it's not a competition!) in the 20th century would be Ramana Maharishi.
I saw Krishnamurti over two nights. I was with some American friends, Tom and Doris Rostas, who had also ended up in Yercaud on their Indian travels and who had rented a bungalow a couple of miles from the one Michael Lord and I were living in. They had arrived a few months before this trip and we had become friendly in the way people do when those from similar cultural backgrounds meet up in a foreign country. But I liked them apart from that and they were big Krishnamurti enthusiasts. In fact, he was the inspiration behind their spiritual searching. Michael stayed at home. He admired Krishnamurti as a person and spiritual influence but had no interest in his teachings. In those days he was more fully a Christian than me and besides he found K's approach too intellectual. It wasn't intellectual at all really but it can seem like that to a more devotional religious sensibility which Michael had. I was more of a universalist and I still am in a sense though in the overall framework of Christ who stands above and beyond everything else. He is the sun to which all other spiritual approaches are but planets. Planets exist and are good but they are not the sun.
I seem to remember that on the night of the first talk it rained quite heavily which seems unlikely in January in Madras so I may be wrong in that. But anyway the talk had to take place in a large wedding hall rather than in the garden of the bungalow in the Adyar district that K's talks normally were held in when he came to South India, which he did most years in the so-called cold weather. The venue really didn't chime with the talk and at the end of it Krishnamurti, who obviously felt the whole atmosphere was wrong, said that the next night's talk would be cancelled if it couldn't take place outside in the garden. Luckily the weather was good and so the next evening a large crowd assembled in the bungalow's compound. The talks were all free, anyone could come and there was a roughly 50/50 mix of Indians and Westerners there, making several hundred people in all I would say. As Krishnamurti walked slowly out from the house to the slightly raised dais there really did seem to be an atmosphere of peace and serious spiritual enquiry which had been lacking the evening before in the tacky modern wedding venue. He was dressed in traditional Indian clothes with the ochre colouring of the sanyasi, and there was a beauty and dignity about him that reinforced his message of spiritual freedom. Sometimes when he spoke one sensed a slight impatience but when he sat still and said nothing he really did convey the feeling of a man attuned to a sacred inner presence. It was like being taken back to the days of ancient India when the rishis taught in their forest hermitages and the Upanishads were first composed.
This is a link to one of the talks in the garden he give in January 1985. I don't know if it's the one I attended but it may be.
Here is a link to a Q&A session which I also went to a day or two beforehand.
I have to say I can't watch these all the way through now because I do feel a limited one-sidedness to them. This is by no means the whole story. However, Krishnamurti remains someone who cut through so much of the deception and self-delusion that surrounded 20th century spirituality. He was a genuine force for good and enlightenment using that word in its conventional sense.
When I left the second talk I went straight to the railway station to catch a train further south to Thanjavur. Michael, with whom I ran a small guest-house in Yercaud, had no interest in Indian temples so if I wanted to visit any of them I had to go alone. He did come to the Meenakshi temple in Madurai with me on one occasion but was more engaged by the temple elephant than he was by the temple itself with its elaborate rituals and exuberant architecture representing the whole of life in all its multitudinous expression.
|A Gopuram or Temple Tower|
|A Magnificent Hall in the Meenakshi Temple, Madurai|