Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was a towering figure of twentieth-century spirituality, raised to be the new World Teacher in the Theosophical tradition but later rejecting this title in order to teach as an independent force.–––The Editors
We were in New Delhi in the late fall of 1965. Sally [the author’s wife—the Editors] asked me to deliver something to Mrs. Kitty Shivarao who had been very kind to her on her earlier visit to India as a volunteer. I went on my bicycle and came to a sudden stop in front of a very tall man sitting completely alone on a wicker chair on the porch of the Shivarao house. I asked if Mrs. Shivarao was in, and the man, who was extremely self-contained, said he would go in and look. Without any hurry, but without delay, he got up and went in, and returned to say that she was not in at that time, but I could wait until she came back. I do not recall why I could not wait; perhaps I had the usual haste of the young, especially of those recently returned from a long stay in the West. I handed over to him what I had to deliver to the lady of the house and rode away on my bicycle. But I kept looking back at this unusual man with an extraordinary presence sitting on the porch, until I fell off my bicycle, having crashed into a woman carrying a large bundle on her head.
A few months later, we went to Rajghat in Varanasi where Krishnamurti had arrived a few days earlier. Achyut Patwardhan was still the Head of the School there. As he had more or less adopted Sally as his daughter, I was now treated much like a son-in-law. Anybody with an Indian background knows how nicely a son-in-law is treated by the family of the daughter; as if he has done the family a favor by marrying their daughter. Many people were keen to meet Krishnamurti and they were kept waiting, but I was asked whether I would like to meet K. and immediately an interview with him was arranged for me at four o’clock on the day of our arrival.
I found myself in great turmoil close to the time of my appointment. I felt more and more agitated as the appointed time of the meeting approached. I was not sure what I needed to ask K. I knew I needed a different kind of knowledge and education than I had obtained in the many schools and universities I had attended. I had become sadder and sadder the closer I was to finishing my PhD. The more I was certified as an educated man by the world, the clearer I was about my ignorance of myself. What little I had gathered about Krishnamurti, mostly from my wife, and the little that I had read by him, had convinced me that he offered the sort of influence I needed. Here, at last, I was going to meet the great man himself. What was I going to say to him? What did I need to know? What should I ask him? Besides, how could he, or anybody else, say something that would really become a part of myself? After all, I had read what the Buddha had said, and I still behaved the way I did before. And what was I going to tell him about myself? What did I know of any value? What did I have of any value? What was my value? Why would I waste his time?
All these questions whirled around in my head, making me more and more restless as the time for my meeting with Krishnamurti approached. Something in me saw clearly that the source of my agitation was a wish to impress K. with the profundity of my question. Then, suddenly, a great calm possessed me. As my agitation disappeared, it was clear to me that I did not know who I am in reality and why I am here on this planet, at this time, in this body. Furthermore, I realized that nobody else could really tell me something deeply true unless I saw it myself and that there was no escape from an encounter with myself, an encounter without fear and without self-importance. I had no idea what had brought about these realizations and resulting calm.1 Maybe it was the work of the magic of this extraordinary man even before I met him. I walked over to his room with assurance, and precisely at the appointed hour he opened his door. I was surprised to discover that the man in front of me was the same man I had met on the porch in New Delhi. I had difficulty accepting his actual physical size, shorter than my own; my first impression of him had no doubt been of his real spiritual height.
He asked me to sit down on the same divan on which he was sitting. Then, after a brief silence, he asked, “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” I said with clarity. “I have really nothing to ask you. I have come just to look at you.”
He smiled; and we sat in silence for a long time, just looking at each other. Then, no doubt having noticed my attention wandering, he asked what I did and what interested me. I told him, and I also told him about my dissatisfaction with what I had learned. My clarity was dwindling, and I was returning to my habitual and more discursive mode of thought.
I thought I should ask him something; so, I asked, “Is there life after death?” He said: “Why worry about death when you don’t know anything about life?”
When it was time for me to leave, K. took me to the window of his room perched over the river Ganga, overlooking the path which the Buddha had walked on his way to Sarnath after his enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. That was the only time I understood why pilgrims over the centuries have regarded this river as sacred. There were dark, thick clouds over the majestic river, and a white bird was flying in and out of the clouds, sometimes disappearing completely and at other times clearly showing its innocent vulnerability. K. put his hand on my shoulder, and we stood there watching for a little while. Then he said, pointing at the bird in the clouds over the river, “Life is like that: sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t.” As I was leaving, he said simply, “We shall meet again.”
Several years later again I went to Rajghat where K. was expected to arrive the next day. I saw that the cook was very excited about the visit of K. I asked him, “Why are you so excited? Krishnaji speaks only in English, and you don’t know any English.” The cook said, “Sir, what does language have to do with it? Just look at the way he sits.” I was rightly corrected. How could I be so insensitive as not to realize that a person’s posture, sitting and walking, and every so-called ordinary gesture, displays the quality of being of the person!
During that visit to Rajghat I was happy to have gone on a long morning walk with K. on the very path that the Buddha had walked on after his enlightenment. K. stopped at one place and said softly to me that the Buddha had rested at this place. I wondered to myself if he could really sense the presence of the Buddha who lived two and a half thousand years ago. I am quite convinced that one who is connected with a subtler level of consciousness is free of many of the laws that apply at lower levels. I have no doubt that K. was freer of many more laws than I am. Many decades later I learnt from Radha Burnier that when K. had returned to the Theosophical Society compound in 1980 after nearly fifty years, he stopped near the Garden of Remembrance where the ashes of Annie Besant2 had been preserved. As far as I am aware, the only two people for whom K. had unmitigated respect were the Buddha and Annie Besant, whom he referred to as Mother. With an amazing sensitivity K. sensed and said that a particular, significant stone had been moved from an underground place there. Radha Burnier herself was surprised and later made some inquiries and discovered that what K. had sensed was in fact true.
I had several meetings with K. at different places, some in the company of a few other people, and some on my own without any others. In a conversation in Madras (now called Chennai) he said that the intelligence beyond thought is just there, like the air, and does not need to be created by discipline or effort. “All one needs to do is to open the window.”
I suggested that most windows are painted shut and need a lot of scraping before they can be opened, and asked, “How does one scrape?”
“Sir,” he said sadly, “You don’t see that the house is on fire.” He pointed out the obvious fact that in my usual state I don’t have the extraordinary clarity and passion which naturally emerge in a situation of emergency, such as facing death. If I were inside a house on fire, I would not consider scraping the window paint; I would likely break the window glass and jump out. ◆
1 I understood clearly that awareness is the mechanism of transformation, and that it is important to be concerned with the quality of my awareness. Several years later, in a conversation, K. provided an example of a serious change brought about by clear perception when he said to me, “I am still very shy, but I used to be much worse. I would stand behind the platform from where I was supposed to speak to an audience, and shake. One day I saw the total absurdity of it, and the shaking left me. I was free of it forever.”
2 Annie Besant (1847-1933) was the President of the Theosophical Society for many years and had adopted Krishnamurti and his brother as youths—the Editors.
Reprinted from Ravi Ravindras’s Blessed by Mysterious Grace: The Journey of a Pilgrim, by permission of The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Chennai 600 020, India (www.ts-adyar.org)
This piece is excerpted from the Winter 2023 issue of Parabola, COMFORT & JOY. You can find the full issue on our online store.