Krishnamurti and Traditions of Unitive Mysticism

Alan Gullette


College Scholars Program

University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Spring 1980


In 1929, Jiddu Krishnamurti dissolved the Order of the Star, proclaiming that "Truth is a pathless land" (see my Krishnamurti biography.).  With this gesture – with one sweep – he discarded the whole of spiritual, philosophical, and psychological tradition.  The teaching that he has unfolded over the past fifty years remains true to this central insight:  that truth cannot be organized, fixed in terms, or approached as a fixed point by any path or method whatsoever.  Intimately related to this insight is another constant theme in his teaching:  that the direct apprehension of truth requires the cessation of all thought, of all mental activity (see my essay Mysticism and Intentionality.)

Krishnamurti admits that his findings are not particularly original (KB6)[1] (though no mystic in the past has pointed so directly at the materiality of thought and knowledge), but it is, of course, historically impossible to trace "traditions" based on the notion that tradition itself is unable to contain or engender an apprehension of truth.  For all traditions – including even Zen Buddhism, with its "special tradition outside the scriptures" and thus its personal, nonverbal "transmission," and such obscure traditional schools as the Vashishta yoga of Dattatreya which (though not unequivocally) rejected the traditional Hindu notion of the need for a guru – rely on doctrines recorded in scriptures and on methods, techniques, or practices designed to aid in the attainment of insight into absolute truth, of oneness with God, of the realization of no-God, or whatever.  Methodologically, then, Krishnamurti is unique in the "history" of "enlightenment," despite a notable similarity to Buddhism – and Zen in particular – which we will deal with shortly.  Speaking ontologically, however, with respect to what is meant by the "absolute," and epistemologically, with respect to the direct apprehension of that absolute, Krishnamurti's "position" is virtually identical to that of many schools of what might be called unitive mysticism.  In this essay, we will reiterate Krishnamurti's arguments against spiritual tradition as a whole, and then very briefly note the important similarities and differences that appear to exist between Krishnamurti and select traditions.  Because of the number of notable similarities with Tantra and kundalini yoga, special emphasis is given to this tradition.  I cannot claim any sort of comprehensive knowledge of either Krishnamurti or of any of the schools I will mention here; I am merely pointing out some interesting similarities that I have found in my readings in the very broad field of eastern religious philosophy, and in all cases further study is indicated.  No mention will be made of western instances of unitive mysticism.

1.  Krishnamurti's arguments against spiritual tradition

The essence of Krishnamurti's argument against spiritual or religious tradition is basically that against non-technological tradition in general – namely, that it is tradition.  The word "tradition," he notes, literally means "to hand over" and consists in one person (generation, etc.) passing along patterns, beliefs, customs, models of behavior, solutions to life's problems, and what-not, to another person (generation, etc.).  Krishnamurti himself makes clear that he is not questioning the importance – even the necessity – of "technological" tradition, by which term he refers to anything relating to physical survival (including the sciences, skills or trades, etc.).  But concerning "the inner" or "the psychological world," Krishnamurti denies that an authority can exist; for the mind or psyche is constantly changing and is unique for each individual, so that it cannot possibly be "known" in a definite way, but requires non-accumulative learning or what Krishnamurti calls "self-knowledge." It is thus that Krishnamurti rejects psychology, religion, and philosophy (though he would probably acknowledge the value of logic and the philosophy of science), which proceed by applying thought and language – instruments developed by the brain, utilizing memory, in response to the "outer" or sensory world – to the "inner" or "spiritual" realm.  (As noted before, for Krishnamurti thought is "born of the senses" (KN, 204), and he claims that "the capacity to reason, compare, weigh, judge, understand, investigate, to rationalize and to act is all part of memory" (T&R, 163).) Thus, to attempt to think about or analyze the self involves something of a category error:  for Krishnamurti, the self is not a being, in the same way that ideas are "non-facts" (S1).  Thus, to postulate the existence of a "self" and then to analyze that self to determine its nature as an existent is to breed illusion, perhaps to distract the mind from the awareness that there is no self.  To create a self-image at all, Krishnamurti thinks, is not only to do violence to oneself (as a living being) but also to breed division and conflict within the mind of man as a whole – for the image, being constituted by thought and language (which are communal or shared), is a social or interpersonal phenomenon which involves comparison.  Comparison is involved in any sort of psychological pursuit, simply because psychological affairs are totally ideational – i.e., depend on images and symbols.

It is obvious, then, that for one person to accept the authority of another person on the grounds that that other person has engaged in traditional religious observances and practices, or in philosophical or psychological analysis or study, is an act of confusion which can only lead to further confusion.  To accept what another says about the way one "should" be inwardly – e.g., about what sanity is, how the mind should work, what is real, what righteousness is, etc. – is to formulate an imaginary standard to which to conform.  Further, the conformity is to a pattern set by one who is him/herself conditioned, confused, deluded, and so on.  The master or guru (the one who "knows") is no more free from conditioning than the disciple – perhaps even less so, to the extent that he has memorized the Vedas or the 400 vows of the Buddhist monk! Conditioning as a whole is the "me," and so Krishnamurti says that "psychologically the guru is 'me'" (T&A, 127).  Likewise, the person with the "I" structure is fragmented and not whole – since the self separates itself from the whole.  As Krishnamurti humorously puts it, "Your gurus are fragments!" (S1).  The guru is "tradition-bound" (T&A, 127), and even if he has faithfully memorized the ancient scriptures, together with the various levels of commentary which have accumulated he will still interpret the scriptures and the interpretations of others according to his own idiosyncrasies and oddities.  "And I have meet some very odd gurus," says Krishnamurti (    ).  He also warns that, insofar as the guru or spiritual teacher is operating from a "center," with an ego-structure, then that teacher is seeking power (T&R, 108) – and, one might add, the strengthening of his own beliefs.

Just as he rejects spiritual authority, Krishnamurti rejects all spiritual techniques and disciplines – all sadhanas or practices – and likewise all paths to the realization of truth – all darsanas (perspectives) or margas (paths).  For a technique implies an authority who practices the technique properly.  Of equal importance, techniques or methods imply that, a process of time is necessary for the gradual achievement of "enlightenment," which again implies comparison or measurement (degrees of advancement), the projection of a fixed point towards which one progresses, etc.  Most techniques, further, aim at a "sharpening" of the mind – e.g., through concentration on "one point" (as in yogic ekagrata) – and Krishnamurti warns that such forced focus might actually do damage, just as repetition of mantra, prayers, scriptures, etc.  dulls the mind.  For Krishnamurti, as we have seen, the natural state of consciousness is an unfocussed attention which nevertheless involves awareness of the particular object (which is always seen against the background of its relations to the whole) and which involves – or is – an effortless summation of energy.  In general, any aiming at a "what should be" involves a "directive" away from "what is;" and likewise the whole of the Indian spiritual traditions of moksa ("escape"), kaivalya ("isolation"), nirvana ("blowing out"), etc., tend to emphasize escape (from samsara – the cycle of reincarnation; from dukha – the human condition of suffering; from trsna – craving, which brings suffering; etc.).  For K, it is essential to understand "what is" – which requires total attention and which is thus impossible as long as one seeks in any degree to escape from "what is." And if "what is" at the moment happens to be the desire to escape, or the very movement of escape, then one must be aware of this – without judging it or seeking to end it (SD4).

This brings us to a very important point in Krishnamurti's critique of religious tradition, and of the human being in general:  being unable or unwilling to face "what is," one projects the "what should be" – the "highest principle" – and seeks to solve one's problems through the devoted effort of realizing that ideal.  If the ideal is not God or nirvana, it is utopia or the perfect state.  In general, the "what is" is the impermanence of the body, thus the falseness of the ego (as permanent); the desire for permanence or a pleasurable state; and the chaos and confusion that has accumulated in the world of cause-effect as a result of ignorance, selfishness, the movement of escape, etc.  In fact, this chaos – the disorder that exists in the world at present – is overwhelming, and the brain is pretty much incapable of finding (among its accumulated memories) an adequate solution to the problems or an appropriate response to the whole challenge of life-in-chaos.  Not knowing what to do, the brain seeks help from an outside agency (resorting to prayer) or withdraws into belief (projecting an ideal state in which there are no problems).  In effect, one carries on in the same old way – living by "directives" and acting on ideas.  Ideas, Krishnamurti points out, are "non-facts," and since we try to live in ideas "we get completely lost" (Sl).

In general, the problem with tradition is that it is essentially memory or knowledge (i.e., information, pattern, structure).  Living in accord with images – past knowledge – is necessarily fragmentary, breeds confusion, and cannot possibly lead one to a whole way of life.  But to seek a state of thoughtlessness is again the pursuit of realization of an ideal.  Krishnamurti's "solution" to this paradox is simply to observe the fact of "what is" – the confusion, the escape, etc.  By understanding what peace, truth, and wholeness are not, and by understanding the causes of suffering, fear, confusion, etc., the brain itself sets aside the totality of disorder, thereby bringing order.  In order, there is unobstructed functioning of attention and intelligence, which perceive the whole and act in a complete fashion.

2.  Krishnamurti and unitive mysticism:  ontological-epistemological themes

A suitable definition of mysticism, for our purposes, comes from Webster's: "the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)" and "a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power."[2] This definition is slightly misleading in certain ways.  In the case of the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, the existence of God is denied but the encounter with emptiness (sunyata) has religious significance.2 In the mystical schools that we will examine here, and in Krishnamurti's teaching, there is, strictly speaking, no "belief" or "theory" (except, perhaps, for the student who has not attained the actual mystical state); rather, the mystic has (or claims to have) a direct perception of the ultimate truth.  And for Krishnamurti specifically, the acquisition of knowledge or experience is denied in favor of non-accumulative learning, while "mystical powers" are an outcome of meditation but are not sought in themselves.  Nevertheless, this definition is generally suitable for the purpose of this discussion.

Unitive mysticism, further, involves an emphasis on the idea (or, rather, on the realization) that ultimate truth consists of the fact that reality forms an inseparable whole.  This emphasis on oneness, wholeness, and non-duality is thus, at the same time, a denial of plurality.  Thus "unitive mysticism," by definition, refers to any school or theory that holds that reality is ultimately one (an ontological claim) and that direct insight into this fact – an intuitive sense of wholeness and, thus, of holiness – is possible for human beings (an epistemological claim).

A number of eastern religious traditions hold the unitive mystical notion that "all is one." In pre-Aryan, indigenous Indic Shaktism, Shakti was worshipped as a form of the Mother Goddess and is the unitary principle or source of all things.  Mircea Eliade writes:  "All movement, and therefore all Creation and Life upon every cosmic level, are due to the manifestation of Shakti....  Shakti is the root of all that exists."[3]  In Shakti cults, Shiva plays a secondary role as the male consort with whom Shakti copulates to produce the universe.  In Shaivism, on the other hand, Shiva is the principle being or transcendent source of being, standing in relation to Shakti as unmanifest stands to manifest.  But this division does not constitute a duality:  all is an expression of the "one." In Tantrism, which developed out of the Shakti and Shiva cults, Shiva represents absolute or universal consciousness – the transcendent, which in itself is "absolute passivity, the immobility of the spirit"[4] – Shakti (Skt.  feminine of sakta, "power") is the universe as energy or activity – the immanent and mundane.  Shivadvaita Tantra thus holds an absolute non-dualism (advaita, "not two") in which Param-Shiva is the "one" and its aspects as passive transcendent (Shiva) and active immanent (Shakti) – infinite and finite – are "eternally coexistent."[5]

In Advaita Vedanta (which belongs to the Aryan Vedic Hindu tradition), brahman is the unitive principle.  Nirguna brahman is the unqualified, unmanifest, absolute truth, whereas saguna brahman is the qualified manifest world.  But for Sankara (accredited founder of the Advaita school), only the former is true (vastu), whereas the latter – the phenomenal world of plurality – is maya (illusion), vikalpa (mental projection or thought-construct), or just plain false (mithya).  Plurality is mere appearance brought about through adhysa, or the superimposition onto brahman of qualities not belonging to it, and therefore through avidya, or ignorance as to the true nature of reality.  There is only the unmanifest – and the appearance of a manifest; so Sankara's theory is called vivartavada:  the "one" only appears to have become "many." This gives phenomenal reality a peculiar non-existence which seems to imply an absolute idealism, and so mundane reality is rather devalued in favor of transcendence.  Saguna brahman, one might say, has "epistemological status" rather than ontological status; and though Sankara could not account for the "why" of maya (the illusion of the "many"), he was forced to find its origin in brahman.[6]

In Buddhism per se – i.e., in the sermons and discourses of the Buddha – we have no ontology, since Gautama thought it counterproductive to have a mental image of the u1timate state of being when that state – nirvana – is itself without mental activity or imagery.  Instead of ontology, we have Buddhist epistemology and logic.  The Buddha answered metaphysical questions with silence – i.e., with truth itself.  The Madhyamika school founded by Nagarjuna likewise emphasized knowing-without-thought (as opposed to merely thinking about) ultimate reality.  Thought is seen to be "empty" of reference, for things themselves are seen to be "empty" of self-being (svabhava) or independent ontological status.  (This is not to say that things rely for their existence on our perception of them, as in Yogacara; rather, things have no existence at all qua things – i.e., as separate entities with individual identities.) Emptiness (sunyata, also translated as "void") is thus both the actual state of being (or non-being) of all things and the state of awareness of this fact.  In Zen, the awareness is called prajna (wisdom), and prajna is nirvana (as ontic-noetic state).  Likewise in Advaita, the state of nirvikalpa-samadhi is both an awareness-of-brahman-as-brahman (i.e., as nirguna-brahman) and an attainment of brahman as a state of being.  The knower is the known in any truly unitive or non-dualistic school.  For Krishnamurti, of course, "the observer is the observed" and "you are the world outside you." Thus unitive mysticism is simultaneously ontological and epistemological in its claim of non-duality or oneness.

The Madhyamika philosophy is often categorized as nihilism, in keeping with the translation of sunyata as "void," since Sunyavada (the Doctrine of the Void) is an alternative name for the school.  The ultimate is put in rather negative terms, to be sure, but this is part of the negative method or "negative dialectical" of Nagarjuna, whereby all thought categories are transcended (e.g., nirvana is neither being nor non-being, nor both, nor neither!) Yogacara, the other main school of Mahayana Buddhism, takes a more positive approach to the absolute.  This school, also known as Vijnavada (the Doctrine of Mind) or Cittamatravada (the Doctrine of Mind Only), is a form of absolute idealism in which objects are not real (abhava) in themselves.  Instead, the dharmas (or elements of the "external" world) are void or empty (i.e., empty of self-being, svabhava), though seen in the light of wisdom they are ultimately constituents of the one Mind (Citta) known as Alayavijnana in its aspect as the primordial "storehouse" of all thought-forms.  The Alaya is the fundamental cause of both samsara (the mundane world) and of nirvana – which are held to be identical in Madhyamika, Yogacara, Zen, and in Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism.  The Alaya doctrine is also important in the school of Chinese Buddhism known as Hua-yen (Jap., Kegon) or Totalism, which also emphasizes sunyata and Dharma-dhatu (lit., "realm of dharma," implying the absolute or totality).  According to at least one scholar, Garma Chang, Hua-yen "truly holds the highest teaching of Buddhism."[7]

A concomitant of the ontic-noetic doctrines of all of these schools is that the "I" or self-as-separate is an illusion without basis in reality.  Thus the Buddhists generally hold the doctrine of anatman (no-self) while the Advaitins pronounce the jiva or jivatman as the subject of the objective world to be just as illusory as that world:  it is the "locus" of avidya (ignorance).  In the Samkhya school of philosophy, which had great impact on Yoga and Advaita, the false pronunciation of "Aham" ("I am") is what gives rise to the whole phenomenal world as a manifestation of unmanifest primordial nature (prakriti).  Likewise for Krishnamurti, the "I am" is "not true" (T&R, 55) and the world as we know it is always perceived in relation to the "me" or "center," so that without the "me" (the "observer," which is thought or memory) the world is entirely different (namely, unitary or whole, and thus holy – i.e., seen as a manifestation of, or as, the sacred).  In Buddhism, it is the illusion of a permanent self which lies at the root of all craving which in turn lies at the root of suffering and is the factor that binds one to samsara – the circle of life, death, and rebirth.  In Zen the state of "emptiness" (as Krishnamurti calls it) is called "no-mind" (wu-hsin) or "no-thought"(wu-nien); wu-hsin is described in a beautiful couplet-from the Zenrinkushu:

The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection;

The water has no mind to accept their image.

As for Krishnamurti, the mind remains empty, thus ever ready to receive.  In Zen, as with Krishnamurti, it is memory that gives rise to the "me."[8]

It should be emphasized that, for all of the above schools, even though the self (as separate) is an illusion, it is nevertheless a real illusion – just as for Sankara and the Advaitins maya is:  the illusion is there.  The very real effect of avidya (ignorance) is not only confusion and suffering, but also the "fate" of reincarnation (with renewed suffering).  Even for Krishnamurti this seems to be the case.  Sometimes he refers to karma – or the time-binding (samsara-binding) principle – as memory (CL, II-79-80), which "reincarnates" daily (FE, 142).  He also speaks of reincarnation as a clever ploy to justify procrastination (T&A, 137).  But in speaking of "the stream of selfishness" or "the stream of image-making" he once said quite plainly:  "When you are living you are like the rest of the world, in the same stream, in the same movement.  And when you die you go on in the same movement....  It is only the man who is totally aware of his conditioning, his consciousness, the content of it, and who moves and dissipates it, who is not of the stream."  Otherwise, "When we die we'll be like the rest, moving in the same stream as before when we were living" (T&A, 139).  He repeats:  "What we are saying is that consciousness, with all its content, is the movement of time.  In that movement all human beings are caught.  And even when they die that movement goes on.  It is so; it is a fact." (140).  This seems rather unequivocal. 

A notable distinction should be drawn between Krishnamurti and the tradition of Brahmanism or Hinduism with respect to the nature of the ultimate.  Brahman is conceived of, or described, as being permanent, unchanging, and eternal – even though the word itself implies "swelling" and brahman is said to "breathe without breathing" (i.e., to manifest without manifesting)(Rig Veda, x.129.2).  Yogacara, insofar as it posits a positive entity, would also seem to hold that ultimate reality is permanent and unchanging.  For Krishnamurti however, both brahman and the Atman (or universal Self or soul which is identical with brahman) are projections of the "me" which seeks to ground itself in permanence.  For Krishnamurti, the "other" as the source is described as the essence of creation and destruction:  "In it al1 creation takes place.  Creation destroys and so it is ever the unknown" (KN, 18).  "It is totally 'new,' a state that has not been and never will be, for it is living."(18) This is to say that it is totally without time, for time implies continuity; and in this state "there...  [is] no continuity but only being" (21).  Elsewhere he claims "There is only one fact, impermanence."[9]  Time as we know it, of course, is both an apparent fact (there is process, growth, decay) and a function of thought and memory (the comparison of the memory of the perception of the pendulum at time T1 with the present perception at time T2).  There is apparently some evidence that space-time is discontinuous in the sense that the electron, for example, is an abstraction based on discontinuous appearances – i.e.  that matter is always popping in and out of existence.  For Krishnamurti, there is no time in the present, which is outside of thought and memory and which is a "timeless dimension" as a movement "without beginning or ending" – without continuity or duration.  This is seemingly identical to Nagarjuna's theory of sarva-samskara-anitya – that all conditioned things are impermanent and that there is therefore "No duration."[10]  In general, Takakusu says, the Mahayana schools hold the doctrine of constant flux and momentary destruction (ksana-bhanga),[11] though I have conjectured that the Yogacarins posit a primordial, positive, unchanging source at the basis of all flux.  Apparently, the ksana-bhanga-vada applies only to conditioned reality (the realm of dharmas or elements), but for the Sunyavada school, at least, the ground of being itself is insubstantial, as it were.  In absolute non-dualism, as I conceive it, this must be the case:  this is that (the finite is the infinite), therefore this is the coming-into-being or unfolding of that.  But "being" implies "through time," which is denied; and "unfolding" implies a primordial unmanifest which then manifests or reveals itself through time.  For Krishnamurti, "that" (being the essence of creation and destruction) is not from one moment to the next; therefore neither is "this" (and vice versa).

3.  Krishnamurti, Tantric yoga, and the kundalini phenomenon

It might at first seem odd to compare Krishnamurti to Tantrism, since the latter often connotes certain sexo-yogic practices (or indulgences, it might seem) – especially in the so-called "left-hand" paths (vamacara), and then especially in the pancanakara schools of the "5 Ms." This prejudice is not entirely justified historically, at least insofar as at least some of the "right-hand" paths of Tantra use sexual terms only symbolically.  The metaphysical affinity with Krishnamurti has already been pointed out, as both seem to hold a sort of "absolute non-dualism," which makes no ontological distinction between the immanent and the transcendent, the manifest and the unmanifest, the infinite and the finite, the extended and the nonextended, the temporal and the durative, the sacred and the mundane, etc.  Another important similarity is that between the kundalini phenomenon of Tantric yoga and in yoga per se, and Krishnamurti's mysterious "process."

The aim of the Tantric sadhana (practice or path) is to attain "deliverance" (from suffering, mortality, samsara) through the union of Shiva and Shakti "in the very body of the tantrika (practitioner of Tantra).[12]  While Shiva is extra-physical and immobile (hence, I suppose, non-extended – in the same way, for example, that "empty space" would be non-extended – cp. Krishnamurti's "other" as non-directional energy, or emptiness), Shakti is the physical, and is most purely manifested in the human body as kundalini (Skt.  "coiled up," as of a snake – the gender is feminine), which is thought to reside near the base of the spine.  As Eliade summarizes:  "The Tantric procedure consists primarily in the awakening of ... the kundalini, and in making it ascend from the base of the torso where it is slumbering right up into the brain, to re-unite it with Shiva."[13] According to Gopi Krishna – a contemporary who claims to have accidentally awakened the kundalini-shakti – kundalini is the evolutionary force, which, when awakened, brings about further evolution within the individual.  Specifically, it embarks on a process of neurophysiological "engineering," in effect, in order to create a new physical center of (higher) consciousness.  This new organization is allegedly at the top of the brain,[14] therefore corresponding to the seventh or highest cakra (or spiritual center) known in Yoga as sahasrara (the "thousand-petalled" lotus).  On some accounts, this cakra is not in the physical body itself, but is the point of contact between the physical (shakti) and the spiritual (Shiva).  The purpose of kundalini yoga, and of Tantrism as we have formulated it, is thus to bring about this union of principles (tattvas) in order to realize one's own evolutionary potential and thus to become aware of the basic principle behind all things.

The kundalini-like phenomenon which Krishnamurti is subject to, and which he refers to in his Notebook (written in 1961-2) as "the process," apparently began in 1922, according to Mary Lutyens' biography.  It was followed by periods of intense physical suffering.  Charles W.  Leadbeater, the Vice President of the Theosophical Society and the man who "discovered" Krishnamurti as a boy, was puzzled by "the process" at the time (1922) and warned that Krishnamurti was "forcing" physical evolution (and thus spiritual evolution) by forcing the "opening" of additional "spirallae" in the atoms of the brain.[15] Although Krishnamurti apparently claims to have direct perception of the materiality of thought (compare the extraordinary sensitivity of yogis who claim to sense individual nerve currents or impulses in the body), he has not to my knowledge offered a detailed description of "the process" in terms translatable into scientific terms (unless we consider "mutation in the brain cells" to be scientific, though it is not at all detailed).  One relevant bit of information I have on this point is a second-hand account of a statement made in confidence to Mark Lee of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America (in Ojai, California) to the effect that Krishnamurti thinks of himself as being not a freak, exactly, but a "fluke:" a human being who is a million years ahead of his time evolutionarily.  Nevertheless, he claims that anyone who is healthy is capable of the "transformation" of which he speaks – instantly, without preparation, and thus without preliminary neurophysiological developments (although [whether] these may follow [is a separate question]).  Gopi Krishna claims that the Vedic poet-seers (rishis) and great yogis of the past were able to attain their "transhuman" vision through the activity of "the evolutionary mechanism" within their bodies, thereby realizing the aim or "target of the evolutionary drive in the human race" (i.e., awareness of "the Creator").[16]

In his Notebook, Krishnamurti describes experiences of the "other" (the source) as involving the sensation of a "flame" (e.g., KN, 35).  When speaking in public or in private, he sometimes becomes very excited and on two instances that I know of exclaimed "I'm on fire! I must go on" (Ojai, 1976) and "Do see it quickly, do see it.  Please just listen for two minutes, I am on fire!" (T&A, 104).  In the latter instance, he was talking about discovering whether there is any part of the brain that is unconditioned and which is therefore "non-mechanistic." He points out that the quest for such a region is in fact misguided, since thought (which is mechanical) is searching with the use of an image (which is conditioned) of the "unconditioned." Thus:  "If there is no image, which is mechanical and there is freedom from the image, then there is no part of the brain that has been conditioned.  Full stop! Then my whole brain is unconditioned...  therefore it is non-mechanistic and that has a totally different kind of energy; not the mechanistic energy" (104-5).  In many ascetic and shamanistic practices, and in yoga, an "inner heat" is produced which in the Vedas is called tapas or "f1ame-power." According to one writer, tapas also "refers to the contemplative act which as a result of contraction or focusing to one point (ekagrata) arouses to action the 'flame divine' or supreme creative energy...  till then in a state of pure latency; this both macrocosmically and microcosmically."[17] The latter point relates to Tantric cosmology, wherein the human being is viewed as a microcosm of the universe – a concept also spelled out in Hatha Yoga (and in alchemy, et al).  For Krishnamurti, of course, no purposive achievement or attempt at awakening energy is allowable, because both time and desire would be involved; but he does talk of the effortless summation of all energy which when "focused" brings about a "mutation."

This "mutation" is apparently a transformation of "mechanistic" (physical?) energy into "non-mechanistic" energy (as in Krishnamurti's "life-energy"), which would seem to be what takes place in Tantric yoga:  one school of esoteric Tantra is called Upavidya Tantra and is concerned with "the conversion of mechanical energy into psychic force," whereas in general "the rousing of the kundalini brings about an inner transformation in the physical, vital and psychic forces," according to L.  Singh.[18] Eliade writes that "Tantric texts specify [that] kundalini involves the 'transmutation' of sexual energy" and that its awakening is "an experience which modifies the very physiology of the ascetic."[19] Gopi Krishna agrees on both points, emphasizing the role of sexual sublimation not as suppression but as "refinement and purification." "The cause [of higher consciousness] is the reversal of the reproductive system," he claims, which involves "the sexual energy going up."[20]  He even equates kundalini-shakti and prana-shakti with sexual energy, which he also calls "evolutionary-cum-reproductive" energy and life-energy.[21]  Of course, it is not exactly clear what it is that travels up the spinal column (sushumna) to the top of the head in the kundalini "awakening;" but that it is accompanied by the physical sensation of intense heat is well noted, and kundalini is also referred to as "the serpent fire." If subtle, biochemical, generative activity in the brain is one result of the awakening, one would tend to think that genetic information is involved – and it would be no coincidence therefore that kundalini is thought to reside near the reproductive organs.

Krishnamurti has not, to my knowledge, given any indication that a bioorganic development is involved in his "process." What he does indicate is involved, at least in part, is "the purification of the brain" (e.g., KN, 9); and it seems that the "mutation in the brain-cells" is at least related to the "wiping out" of the "me" as memory-content.  When he speaks of "dying to the past" and "emptying" the mind of all experience, which prevents the (re-)formation of the "me," he seems to refer to a literal, physical expunging of certain memory-contents, which might by itself be painful.  If the "process" further involves the transformation of physical energy into nonphysical or very subtle energy (Krishnamurti's "intelligence" or "attention," if such energy indeed arises out of organic activity rather than existing somehow independently), then the molecular activity that would seem to be here involved might itself strain the nerves, causing pain.  This higher or more subtle energy, which would be higher or more subtle awareness, would then "exist" outside of space-time insofar as it would be non-physical (and non-extended).  Another clue as to the origin of "intelligence" as Krishnamurti describes it, by the way, is found in a dialog in which Krishnamurti claims that everyone – "assuming that the whole organism is healthy" – has the "capacity" to clearly see (with "attention" or "intelligence") at least the very fact that one cannot see clearly.  This insight into confusion would constitute "the awakening of intelligence."  But if the brain is damaged, "if there is an accident, your brain suffers concussion and something is injured, then it is finished" – the capacity is lost (TWL, 237-9).  This is still ontologically ambiguous, however, since the "capacity" for intelligence might be a subtlety of organic activity in the nervous system by virtue of which an extra-physical entity or principle ("intelligence") is contacted or sensed.  Nevertheless, Krishnamurti seems to indicate that it is the very wholeness or unity of psycho-physical energy that is or becomes an "other" sort of energy.

A final note concerning yoga:  It should be mentioned that Krishnamurti regularly practices yogic postures and pranayama (breath-control) exercises – apparently having been trained to do so by the Theosophists, though he has had a number of yoga teachers in his maturity (Iyengar being one).  He refers to these practices as if they were purely hygienic in nature (T&R,  ), rather than involving an effort to effect spiritual growth.  One breathing exercise which he performs is to inhale slowly for a full minute, then to exhale slowly for two minutes.[22] What effect this might have, say, on the mitochondria of the nerve cells, thus on the nerve-energy, and on the ion-charge in the brain, is a very interesting question.  But the yogis and tantriks connect the experience of samadhi or enstasis (the stopping of thought; for Krishnamurti, quieting the response of the memory-storing cells) to the cessation of breath and the stasis or to the reversal of the flow of semen (in sexo-yogic rituals).  The practice of pranayama is supposed to lead to a stasis of the breath and thus of thought (nirodha).

4.  Praxis:  methodology and ethics

Krishnamurti rejects all practice, for reasons we have discussed.  "Learning"  – involving no accumulation of experience and resulting from no method but rather from the momentary absence of thought and thus the activity of "perception" or "insight" – is for Krishnamurti "the only way." "That is real Bhawana practice:  learn as you go along.  Therefore keep awake...  therefore be alert as you go along" (AI, 136).  Here "the way" is not an upaya or means to an end (knowledge, attainment, etc.) but rather the way to live, the proper conduct of life:  namely, to follow no rules or stipulations, but to discover for oneself what life is, what is true, how to live and act rightly.  For intelligence is – or utilizes – the natural, harmonious functioning of the brain; the "natural" way of life, then, is "known" immediately and intuitively, not as a conformity of action to standards or ideals.  Instead of understanding Sankara, Patanjali, Buddha "or X, Y, Z," Krishnamurti suggests that we understand the confusion which is our daily life:  this puts us in contact with reality immediately.  This is in keeping with Krishnamurti's "ontology" as it equates absolute or transcendent truth ("the other") with the reality – which we find ourselves right smack in the middle of ("what is"). [Cp. Yoshinori, 9 and Heiler, "beyond the beyond" (epekeina).]

In encouraging the spirit of personal inquiry, Krishnamurti is similar to the Buddha, who offered no ontology or metaphysics.  Gautama himself largely rejected the Vedic Brahminical tradition in a rather pragmatic "revolt of reason against the transcendentalism of the Upanishads and the excessive ritualism of the Vedic Age."[23]  Like Martin Luther, Gautama attained insights of his own which went against tradition, forcing him to act to establish, in effect, a new tradition in order to propagate his own message.  "Self-taught," he said, "whom should I Master call?"[24]  His famous dying words were an adjuration to "Work out your own salvation with diligence."[25]  This runs parallel to Krishnamurti's emphasis on being a light to oneself:  the guru may point out, "Look, go through that door" (i.e., go into oneself), but the individual must "work tremendously on himself...  he has to do the work entirely from the beginning to the end" (AI, 124).  Yet Gautama paradoxically established a monastic community with a very rigid and meticulous code of vows to govern behavior; whereas for Krishnamurti, true action cannot be codified:  thus, "goodness is the absence of a blueprint" (AI, 117); "righteousness must come from within" (ibid.), and "You never ought to act according to old habits but in the way life wants you to act – spontaneously, on the spur of the moment."[26]

Krishnamurti does not deny that others have "seen the truth," [so to speak] as it were.  For example, he acknowledges that "What Buddha said outside the field of thought was true" (KB1).  Referring to Patanjali and the Vedic rishis generally, he once said:  "Probably the man who saw, perceived the reality, said 'the seer and the seeing are one'" (i.e., that "the observer is the observed," that "the seer is nothing more than the instrument of seeing").  "Then the followers came along and made theories without experiencing the state" (T&R, 54-5).  Thus he decries the fact that in India and elsewhere a number of people now go around saying "you are the world and the world is you" – "It has become the latest catch-phrase" (SD4). 

In all his talks, Krishnamurti invites the listener to "travel" with him, "as two friends," inquiring into the whole problem of human life.  His aim is to force people to look at "what is," where insight will inevitably follow.  Thus he is not dogmatic, though he says that when one sees the fact of something one can then "assert;" instead, he "points out" and invites one to see for oneself if what he is saying is true.  "The speaker" – he says of himself – "is only a mirror in which you are seeing yourself.  When you see yourself, the mirror becomes unimportant.  Break it up! Throw it away! I mean this." (SD4). 

Krishnamurti's role in "the inquiry" is rather similar to that of the traditional Hindu guru, up to a point.  In Advaita Vedanta, the state of nirvikalpa-samadhi or highest knowledge (paravidya) must arise, as Eliot Deutsch points out, "sui generis:  it is reached not through a progressive movement through the lower orders of knowledge [aparavidya, made up of six pramanas or means of valid knowledge], as if it were the final term of a series, but all at once, as it were, intuitively, immediately."[27]  This would comply with Krishnamurti's rejection of "enlightenment" as a final fixed state to be achieved through time.  Nevertheless, for Advaita the reading of the Vedas (especially of the mahavakyas or great sayings) and, usually – with the surveillance of a guru – a period of reflection (upon the meaning of the "revealed truths" of the Vedas) and of experiential assimilation of these truths (through nididhyasana or constant meditation) is necessary for the realization of non-dual brahman.  Krishnamurti, of course, rejects all spiritual texts and the whole idea of spiritual authority; but he nevertheless admits that one must be told that reality is "one," that one is oneself the door to truth, etc.  (AI, 125).  And this amounts to the same thing as the mahavakyas (e.g., Tat tvam asi, "Thou are that;" prajnanam Brahma, "consciousness is the absolute;" Aham Brahmasmi, "I am that infinite;" etc.).  However, Krishnamurti points out that the "me" wants to perpetuate itself, and so imagines or projects Brahma, God, etc., with which it identifies and seeks to unite.  One cannot find the unconditioned when one is oneself conditioned; one cannot get beyond the "known" into the "unknown" by following well-known paths.  One can only decondition oneself, and this only by observing the whole of conditioning – choicelessly, seeing how it arises, seeing its nature, and seeing the whole chaos which it has produced in the world.  And, while Krishnamurti acknowledges that one who is unconditioned – and who thus realizes that "the observer is the observed" (cp.  "thou art that"), and that "there is only that" (cp.  non-dual brahman) – must come along and point out this fact and the fact of conditioning, he is adamant on the point that here the role of the guru ("dispeller of darkness and bringer of light") ends.  "I ask a man on the road, 'Will you please tell me which is the way to Saanen,' and he tells me; but I do not spend time and express devotion and say, 'My God, you are the greatest of men.' That is too childish!" (AI, 125)

In "the inquiry," Krishnamurti takes a rather negative approach to truth similar to the via negativa of Vedanta and the "negative dialectics" of Nagarjuna.  The Vedas say that brahman is "not this, not that" (neti neti), thus pointing beyond plurality and denying subjective identification with name, form, or body.  The negation of all conception for Nagarjuna brings about a state of no-thought in which awareness itself is the absolute (the Buddha-nature) and things (samsara) are revealed in their true nature (as nirvana or sunyata).  Likewise for Krishnamurti, it is through the recognition and denial (negation or setting-aside) of what is false that the omnipresent truth is discovered and revealed.  Since all that is recognizable is the "known," when the whole of knowledge is set aside (the state – rather, the movement – of "not-knowing"), then out of this "emptiness" truth is revealed.  "Out of negation comes the positive called love" (TWL, 150).  In this connection we might mention the paradoxical or "irrational" nature of Zen Buddhism, whose koan method consists in asking a question that cannot be answered (cp.  Krishnamurti's "impossible question"), with the aim of bewildering the rational mind.  Satori or sudden enlightenment is thus a seeing (prajna) into actuality (tathata or suchness – things as they are; cp.  "what is") without the interference of conceptualization (Japanese nen or Sanskrit ekacittakshana – the arising moment of consciousness with mental activity and thus with the subject-object duality).  Many of Krishnamurti's statements are koan-like; for example, his whole idea (sic!) that to be "there" (i.e., enlightened) does not take time (since you are there) is a paradox, since "you" are (as self-separating, etc.).  He claims that the "you" is an illusion and that the observer is always, in fact, the observed.  (Reminiscent of the Zen koan, "How do you get the goose out of the bottle? The goose is out of the bottle!") For all traditions, of course, time is required – if only to learn the tradition!

The nearest that Krishnamurti has come to offering a technique is when he suggests (as he has done in print at least twice) that one might try to "Observe without moving the eye; because if one moves the eye the whole operation of the thinking brain comes into being.  The moment the brain is in operation there is distortion.  Look at something without moving one's eyes; how still the brain becomes" (TWL, 218; another references is somewhere in Krishnamurti on Education).  Beyond this, he often suggests that one "find out what happens when there is no movement of energy in any direction" (excepting, of course, in normal metabolic functions).  As a "method" of discovering something about the nature of thought, he suggests that one automatically write down one's thoughts as they arise – paying no attention to their sequence – and then read them over.  And, of course, what he calls "meditation" is just looking at thought and at psychological responses as they arise, as well as at everything around one physically.  Insofar as this involves no focus of attention and no practice of a system – and no activity of "the observer" in awareness (though there is awareness of thought as the response of "the observer" as the past) – then this is not truly a "method" at all.  Since the fact is that "the observer is the observed" at all times, Krishnamurti claims, only an immediate insight into this is an authentic experience of "truth" and involves no process whatsoever.  "I think that is the only way." (TWL, 241).

By insisting on the fact that we as human beings living socially create society and are directly responsible for it, Krishnamurti powerfully challenges us with an ethical imperative that is without parallel in religious history (just as the present state of chaos is unparalleled in human history).  Theoretically, the Buddhist doctrine of Clear Comprehension of Suitability involves action which takes into account the whole of reality – including the world situation insofar as it is known at the time.[28]  Buddhist monks nevertheless tend to withdraw into the sangha (community of monks) for "refuge," in a rather dispassionate gesture of indifference to the fate of mankind.  Perhaps by being a living example of the dharma (truth, especially truth in action), one is doing as much as one can; but the monk thereby teaches monastic withdrawal.  Krishnamurti points out the futility of withdrawing from society only to retain the whole of one's conditioning:  "I may renounce the world, I may live in a cave but I am still related to my whole background and that background is the 'me'" (T&R, 214-15).  Because the world is in such utter chaos and is degenerating ever further, Krishnamurti points out that one cannot just sit and "look at your navel" (Sl):  "You become extremely serious" in light of the spreading fragmentation, preparations for war, etc.  – "it is not a thing to play around with, you have to act." (TWL, 167).

To reiterate Krishnamurti's points of divergence from mystical tradition:  his "absolute" is not unchanging (as many traditions maintain) but is the essence of creation and destruction; his complete rejection of spiritual authority, tradition, and all paths to truth (though this very idea must be communicated by one who sees with compassion the fact of ignorance and resultant suffering); his insistence that thought and desire are not to be suppressed but be allowed "to flower, fade, and die" to be understood completely; and his condemnation of withdrawal from "the world" (into ashramas, monasteries, caves, etc.) as selfish and neurotic, though it is seen to be an act of confusion, conditioning, and incapacity to deal with "what is."




[1] The following abbreviations have been used for easy reference – e.g., "(UC, 47)" refers to page 47 of The Urgency of Change.  In all cases, unless otherwise indicated, the publisher is Harper & Row, with publication dates as given.


AI           The Awakening of Intelligence (1973)

BL          The Beginnings of Learning (1975)

BV          Beyond Violence (L973)

CL,I-III                Commentaries on Living, vols.  I-III (1956, 1958, 1960) ed., D. Rajagopal. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.

FE          The Flight of the Eagle (1971)

FFK               Freedom From the Known (1969)

FLF        The First and Last Freedom (1954)

IQ           The Impossible Question (1972)

KB1-12                Krishnamurti-Bohm Dialogs 1-12. These dialogs 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.

KN                Krishnamurti’s Notebook (1976)

LA          Life Ahead (1963)

S1-6       Saanen talks 1-6, and

SD1-4    Saanen dialogs 1-4. These talks and dialogs, given at Saanen in the summer of 1976, are available on audiocassette from the Saanen Gatherings Committee, Saanen, CH-3792, Switzerland.

T&A       Truth and Actuality (1978)

T&R               Tradition and Revolution (1972) (Bombay: Sangam Press, 1974)

TTT        Think on These Things (1964)

TWL      The Wholeness of Life (1979)

UC         The Urgency of Change (1970)

YAW      You Are the World (1972)


[2] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield:  G & C Merriam Co., 1974), p.  762.

[3] The issue of the postulation in Madhyamika of the existence or nonexistence of an absolute is a complicated one.  In his Madhyamika-karikas Nagarjuna refuses to ascribe any qualities to the absolute, including that of existence, since all qualities are relative.  Sunyata is taken not as an existent nor as the ground or substratum of all existence or qualities but is, rather, a fact about all phenomena, ideas, etc.  According to Frederick Streng, Nagarjuna always uses the term sunyata as an adjective and never as a noun.  (See Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967).)  Nevertheless, in his Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra Nagarjuna is decidedly positive in his view of the absolute (see Jaideva Singh’s introduction to Stcherbatsky’s The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977; 2nd ed.), p. 20ff.).

[4] Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries, trans. Philip Mairet (New York:  Harper & Row, 1960), p. 144.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lalan Prasad Singh, Tantra:  Its Mystic and Scientific Basis (Delhi:  Concept Publishing Co., 1970), p. ix.

[7] A good introduction is Eliot Deutsch, Advaita Vedanta:  A Philosophical Reconstruction (Honolulu:  East-West Center Press, 1969).

[8] Robert Linssen, Living Zen (New York:  Grove Press, 1958), p. 126 ff.  There two short chapters and many references relating Krishnamurti to Zen.

[9] Quoted in Daniel Goleman, Varieties of the Meditative Experience (New York:  E. P. Dutton, 1977), p.101.

[10] Junjiro Takakusu, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy (Westport:  Greenwood Press, 1973), pp. 134, 198.

[11] Ibid., p. 193.

[12] Eliade, p. 144.

[13] Ibid., p. 145.

[14] Gopi Krishna, Kundalini:  The Evolutionary Energy in Man (Boulder:  Shambhala, 1971), e.g., pp. 148-9.

[15] Mary Lutyens, Krishnamurti:  The Years of Awakening (New York:  Avon, 1975), pp. 223, 223n.

[16] Gopi Krishna, Higher Consciousness:  The Evolutionary Thrust of Kundalini (New York:  Julian Press, 1974) p. 178.

[17] Jeanine Miller, "The Hymn of Creation:  A Philosophical Interpretation," in G. Feuerstein and J. Miller, eds., Yoga and Beyond:  Essays in Indian Philosophy (New York: Schocken Books, 1972), p. 74.

[18] Singh, p. ix.

[19] Eliade pp. 146, 147.

[20] Krishna ([1971 or 1974: which book?]), p. 126.

[21] Ibid., p. 99.

[22] Source of my knowledge of Krishnamurti’s yogic practices: personal communication with yoga instructor at Brockwood Park.

[23] P. T. Raju, The Philosophical Traditions of India (London:  George Allen and Unwin, 1971), p. 47.

[24] Spoken to Upaka, Digha-Nikaya, XXVI, trans. Bhikkhu Silacara, quoted in D. T. Suzuki, The Essentials of Zen Buddhism (Westport:  Greenwood Press, 1973), p. 87.

[25] Spoken to Ananda, Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Digha-Nikaya, Sutta no. 116.

[26] Quoted in Rom Landau, God is my Adventure:  A Book On Modern Mystics, Masters, and Teachers (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1936), p. 342.

[27] Deutsch, p. 82.

[28] Nyanaponika Thera, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (New York:  Samuel Weiser, 1962), p. 49. [Chapter 2, Mindfulness and Clear Comprehension: ". . .the Art of the Practicable, the adaptation to the conditions of time, place, and individual character."]



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