Krishnamurti and Advaita Vedanta


(First draft)


Alan Gullette

Winter 1980


When one has examined the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti closely, one is hard put to find any distinction whatever between his ideas and those of the Advaita Vedantic tradition.  It is unclear whether there are any differences -- which would indicate something of a contradiction in Krishnamurti, insofar as he denies all tradition. Only two points of divergence have suggested themselves to me:  one involves an unclear ontological point of considerable importance and the other is a subtle but significant methodological distinction.

The similarities, then, are remarkable.  Each of the following Advaitic notions has a close correlate in Krishnamurti's teaching: non-dual Brahman (absolute or ground of existence), maya (illusion), upadhi (limitation), adhyasa (superimposition), karma (causation or bondage), avidya (ignorance), badha (sublation or subration), the via negativa (negative method), moksa (freedom), the mahavakya (great saying, expression of the truth), nirvikalpa-samadhi (non-dual Brahman-consciousness), and susupti (dreamless sleep as a state of awareness).  How these notions find correlates in Krishnamurti I will demonstrate after examining the differences.

The possible ontological distinction is what Krishnamurti (hereafter "K.") gives evidence of being, primarily, a realist and would seem to favor a parinamavada interpretation of the relationship between the phenomenal world of apparent multiplicity and the non-dual essence or Brahman.  This interpretation (giving reality to the effect -- i.e., the world -- as an actual, and not merely apparent, transformation of the cause -- i.e., Brahman) is accepted by the dualistic Samkhya school of Hinduism but rejected by the Advaitins.

The only obscurity lies in whether it is only the apparent multiplicity of the phenomenal world that is illusory in the theory of maya, or else the phenomenal world altogether.  Krishnamurti, for example, says that trees, nature, the cosmos, pain, etc., are real independent of man's awareness of them, or at least independent of thought.1  But the tree that is seen in avidya to be separate from the earth, the sky, and from the jiva -- is this tree seen not at all by the jivanmukta (free man), who must still eat its fruit to survive; or is it merely seen as not separate from the rest of the world (unified as saguna brahman), and this world seen as not-different from brahman (as nirguna brahman)?  If the latter is the proper interpretation (and there may be academic dispute over this point), then Krishnamurti might be considered, for all intents and purposes, to be an Advaitic jivanmukta who sees brahman in all things (i.e., who sees only brahman).

Related to this ontological question, and to the question of reincarnation and karma, is the question of death and survival beyond death.  When he was young and under the supervision of the Theosophists Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, Krishnamurti (who was yet to undergo a mysterious transformation after which he would renounce the whole Theosophical organization) spoke of himself as having spent many incarnations on earth. In fact, he even spoke in such terms after the apparent transformation (which took place in 1927), and as late as 1935 an interview quoted him as having said (possibly at an earlier date -- I have not seen this interview) "I have lived many lives on earth."2  But he no longer speaks of reincarnation and criticizes the idea as a rationalization of procrastination.  Furthermore, he has spoken of "racial inheritance" and "racial accumulation" as among the contents of conditioned consciousness (i.e., memory)(AI, 375-6), and has said that "your mind is the residue of the whole world and it contains all that human beings have experienced" (TOT, 100).  Therefore, we might assume that his earlier references were either metaphorical, a hang-over from the Theosophical period, or an interpretation of non-ordinary, racial-memory experiences (such as those professed by Raja Yoga adepts).  At any rate, K. does speak explicitly about karma and explains that causation and bondage are aspects of conditioning.  Conditioning is merely memory and causation is automatic reaction to stimuli, and bondage to this whole process is an effect of ignorance of the whole process.  Karma is (psychological) time as "the movement of thought" (which is "the response of memory") as it meets the present, interprets it in terms of the old, and projects the future according to desire.  One must free oneself from this conditioning through careful observation and understanding, K. says, in order "to come upon that which is immeasurable, timeless."  Thus, "you must cease to be a Brahmin to realize God" (COL, II 79-8O).

Coming, then, to the question of death and survival, K. stresses that one must set aside all beliefs, hopes, fears, illusions, and conditioning -- and thus have a free mind -- in order to inquire into this question.  Questioning the very motive of the question, he points out that it is the conditioned, fearful self that seeks continuity in an afterlife.  This self is for K. a product of thought, a "bundle of memories," and thus a material condition of the brain (AI, 24).  When this is understood and set aside so that the unconditioned portions of the brain can operate in the active present, then one is free.  In a public talk once, Krishnamurti said that "you cannot kill a free man." (BV, 174)  Yet he tends to indicate that with the death of the organism, the mind dies as well, and so the whole personality (TWL, 154-5).  What, then, was this talk of God, the timeless, and so on?  Krishnamurti admits that he doesn't like the world "eternal" and talks instead of "the timeless" as being the present moment as it flows and changes, essentially creative (cite?).  And as for "God." he also expresses dislike for this word, saying "it  smacks of  anthropomorphism."  But he says very significantly: "In a man's sensitivity to, in his choiceless awareness of the totality of existence, in this alone I find whatever meaning the word God conveys" (my italics).3  Elsewhere he says "It is very important to understand that the act of seeing is the only truth; there is nothing else" and "seeing is the act of love" (love being a state of non-duality, without the separation of "the observer" and "the observed")(AI, 172, 177).

For Krishnamurti, then., non-dual consciousness (cp. nirvikalpa-samadhi) is God and this consciousness in man is alone God.  This emphasis on God in man might be purely referential -- that is to say, of the many things known to the mind of the listener, it is man, the listener himself, who alone is "the door to truth" and thus (potentially) is truth. Whether, with the decay of the brain cells following death, some aspect of an individual's consciousness survives and "returns" (sic: this indicates duality) to God or brahman forever, is a question that K. does not answer but which I suspect he would answer in the negative.

The methodological distinction concerns the role of the guru as the dispeller of avidya (ignorance) and the bringer of vidhya (knowldge).  In Advaita Vedanta, the guru is essential as a guide and as interpreter of the Vedas and smrtis, which are also essential.  Krishnamurti himself has traveled around the world for over fifty years, talking and making such mahavakya-like statements as "you are the world" and "you are the universe" (cp. Tat tvam asi).  And while he agrees that there is widespread ignorance as to the true nature of the human being, and that someone who is free of this ignorance must tell one who is bound by it that he is bound by it and thus to indicate the means of liberation, K. nevertheless denounces all organized religion and all tradition, decries the mushroom-like proliferation of gurus in the West, and denies any darshana (path) or sadhana (method) to truth.  One cannot be guided by another, he says, but must renounce all authority and "work tremendously on himself ... to do the work entirely from beginning to end" (AI, 124).  He denies all spiritual authority, claiming that "truth is a pathless land" and that "you are the door through which you yourself have to go" (AI, 125).  Nevertheless, K. elsewhere confides that one who is ignorant, bound by conditioning, must listen to, read, and be with one (such as K.) who is free of conditioning.4    But this hint of personal transmission beyond and outside of the mahavakya is implicitly possible only for a true jivanmukta, and not by a mere swami or proponent of some tradition or another.

So, although K. admits the need to point out ignorance and thus truth, and specifically to point out that truth lies within, and though he even speaks of "planting a seed" in the mind of the listener, it is nevertheless implicit that there is no tradition, no method, that can be followed to attain truth.  Search itself implies the ability to recognize truth once found, which in turn implies already knowing it!  Krishnamurti's own great insight, which came in 1927 and which lead him in 1929 to dissolve the Order of the Star (which had formed around him as the new Messiah, the vehicle of the Lord Maitreya, the World-Teacher), was that "truth is a pathless land."

This unclear methodological divergence with Advaitic tradition is perhaps clarified and reinforced in light of K's theory of karma, already discussed.  Since knowledge, tradition, etc., is all a matter of memory, of conditioning contained physically in certain portions of the brain, then what is called for is a quieting of this brain-activity, and thus an awakening of a dormant, unconditioned portion of the brain (or a becoming aware of that already operant region). That brain, in silent meditation, has "a religious quality of unity" (BV, 156).  K. often uses the synonyms whole, holy, healthy, and sane. Thus the religious mind is not only a pure instrument for perceiving truth -- it is truth (T&A, 20).


Notes (Incomplete)

1      Truth and Actuality

2      [lives on earth] cited in Lutyens??

3      Rom Landau, God is My Adventure:  A Book On Modern Mystics, Masters, and Teachers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937), p. ??

4      Krishnamurti-Bohm dialogs which took place between April and October 1975 at Brockwood Park, near Bramdean, Hampshire, England, and at Gstaad, near Saanen, Switzerland.  Although the tapes of these dialogs are not publicly available, I was allowed to listen to them, taking notes, during my visit to Brockwood in the fall of 1977.  Four of the dialogs were edited and appeared as three chapters in Truth and Actuality.




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