Saturday, September 8, 2018

Welcome, Mr. Krishnamurti




There are two well-known spiritual teachers named Krishnamurti. The "real" Krishnamurti is Jiddu Krishnamurti, known as K by his followers. He was a respected and respectable gentleman, on a first name basis with leading scientist David Bohm. And then, there's the other Krishnamurti, the notorious U G Krishnamurti. U G was not related to K. If anything, he was K's evil twin! Both Krishnamurtis started out as Theosophists, were groomed to become gurus, frequently encountered each other (voluntarily or otherwise), and both ended up becoming a kind of "anti-gurus" or perhaps "anti-guru gurus". There, the similarity seems to end.

"The Mystique of Enlightenment" contains a series of transcribed talks and interviews with U G. On the face of it, U G sounds like an atheist or even materialist. He denies that there is such a thing as enlightenment. Heaven, hell, reincarnation, absolute morality or "meaning in life" doesn't really exist either. Meditation is meaningless. U G is unsure whether evolution is real, although he concedes that it might be. All gurus, holy men and sacred traditions are frauds. Societal conventions and Indian nationalism are also bunk, and so are Communism and all other schemes devoted to the improvement of society. Religious or secular notions of apocalypse simply aren't true. The human species is clever and will find some way of surviving. The only important thing is the free flowering of the unique individual. If there is such a thing as "enlightenment", it varies from person to person. U G calls this "the natural state".

But how do we reach "the natural state"? On this point, U G is silent. He suggests that "there is no message" and that he has "nothing to say...it is finished". All questions are meaningless. All attempts to reach the natural state lead further away from it. There is really nothing to attain. U G claims to abide in the natural state, but says that what he has, we probably don't want to have ourselves! He created no movement, had no students or disciples, and talked to people who came to visit him only to disabuse them of the idea that there is something to communicate in the first place. "The Mystique of Enlightenment" starts with the words: "My teaching, if that is the word you want to use, has no copyright. You are free to reproduce, distribute, interpret, misinterpret, distort, garble, do what you like, even claim authorship, without my consent or the permission of anybody".

U G claims to have attained the natural state spontaneously, at the age of 49, while sitting on a park bench in Switzerland. He calls the event "the calamity". Interestingly, the "natural" state seems to have traits usually considered supernatural. U G's body became filled with electricity, he attained some kind of clairvoyant powers, and the entire chemistry of his body changed. However, the author doesn't believe that the changes really were paranormal. Rather, it was an involuntary biological mutation! Nobody can say when it will happen, or why it happens to some people but not to others. Morality or spiritual attainment has nothing to do with it. Even rapists or murderers might mutate into the natural state.

In many ways, the natural state sounds almost like a parody of the Hindu and Buddhist notions about "emptying your mind", "emptiness", etc. U G says that his mind really was emptied in a quite literal manner: he no longer recognized familiar things, couldn't remember the taste or the smell of the food he was eating, no longer felt his own body, etc. Instead of seeing the world as a meaningful and complex network of causally connected objects and events, he saw it "raw", as a patchwork of pure impressions with no causal relations to each other. It seems U G saw the world as David Hume claims it actually looks like! What is left when "thought" disappears is "life", and life is simply about surviving and reproducing, neither more nor less. It's almost as if U G's consciousness receded to that of an animal. He called his state of mind "declutched". Small wonder many critics of U G Krishnamurti accuse him of being barking mad and fit for the fun house...

What are we to make of "the radical ideas" of this madman? Personally, I found the book to be both fascinating and bizarre. The "calamity" of the author seems to have been a genuine spiritual experience, a kind of spiritual emergence turned into an emergency. For whatever reason, the experience was negative rather than positive, or perhaps U G decided to interpret it in a negative way (he often says that it was like torture, that we don't want what he got, etc). At the same time, I constantly suspected when reading the book that all the provocative, anarchistic and nihilistic brouhaha is really a kind of "guru trick". One of the interlocutors actually suggests that U G's message might not be that different from that of Jiddu Krishnamurti! Despite denying being a teacher, U G did "teach" through books and conversations, rather than simply leave the stage a broken man. If read carefully, several of his statements are similar to those of other teachers: "there is nothing to attain" since everyone already abides in the natural state, so just let go and you will realize it. That's why all "efforts" are useless. Even U G's denial of reincarnation sounds hollow, since he sees life as eternal and cyclic. Apparently, the person abiding in the natural state will become more peaceful and in that sense "moral", since he accepts everything that happens as natural, etc. Samsara is nirvana?

Was U G literally crazy, or was he actually a covert teacher of crazy wisdom? Was he a crackpot version of Peter Seller's character Mr. Chance, whose trivial statements are interpreted as profound by silly onlookers, or was he a genuine guru using somewhat unusual tactics? Who knows?

Or, as U G would no doubt put it, "who knows...and who cares?"

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