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The Unconditioned Mind
J. Krishnamurti and the Oak Grove School
By David Edmund Moody
Theosophical Publishing House Copyright © 2011 David Edmund Moody
All rights reserved.
Much of the topography of Southern California is the product of colliding continental plates, sliding in opposite directions at the implacable pace of two inches per year. The zone of interaction between the plates is called the San Andreas Fault, and the tensions that accumulate there over the course of millennia are immense. These tensions are responsible for periodic massive earthquakes as well as for more enduring features of the terrain. Some of the mountain ranges and valleys that normally would run in a north-south direction are forced into an east-west configuration. Among these is the Ojai (OH-hi) Valley, some eighty miles north of Los Angeles and fifteen miles inland from the sea.
Because of its orientation, the valley receives a greater quantity of sunlight than it would otherwise, and its slight elevation combines with the sun to produce a Mediterranean climate. For this reason, the valley was at one time considered conducive to the treatment of tuberculosis.
In 1922, two young men came to the Ojai Valley for this purpose. Jiddu Krishnamurti and Nityananda were brothers, twenty-seven and twenty-four years of age, respectively. Nitya had been suffering from the effects of tuberculosis—fever, cough, and progressive weakness—for over a year.
Whenever they appeared in public, the two men were impeccably dressed and groomed. Krishna stood about five feet, seven inches and had the features of a Grecian sculpture: eyes, nose, and mouth were formed with fine regularity and beauty of proportion. His brother was two inches shorter, and his facial characteristics were less classical but almost as appealing in their way: his rounded cheeks and a slight tilt of the head (a consequence of impaired vision in his left eye) suggested a cherubic, somewhat vulnerable quality.
The property where the brothers had been invited to stay was in the far eastern end of the valley, adjacent to the surrounding foothills. Two houses were situated there among a dozen acres of orange groves. Pine Cottage, the smaller house, had a porch and a view of the valley and was flanked by a young pepper tree. Behind the property, a trail ran into the wilderness of Horn Canyon and beyond, all the way up to Topa Topa Bluff, a massive, striated structure a mile above the valley floor.
In a letter to a friend, Nitya described Ojai in these terms:
In a long and narrow valley of apricot orchards and orange groves is our house, and the hot sun shines down day after day to remind us of Adyar, but of an evening the cool air comes down from the range of hills on either side. Far beyond the lower end of the valley runs the long, perfect road from Seattle in Washington down to San Diego in Southern California, some two thousand miles, with a ceaseless flow of turbulent traffic, yet our valley lies happily, unknown and forgotten, for a road wanders in but knows no way out. The American Indians called our valley the Ojai or the nest, and for centuries they must have sought it as a refuge.
The brothers' first few weeks in Ojai were uneventful. The course of Nitya's illness was variable, as usual: at first, his symptoms seemed to stabilize, and he gained both weight and energy; then he coughed up blood again. On the whole, however, the restful setting and dry air of the valley appeared to be having a beneficial effect. He became strong enough to accompany Krishna on the trail behind the property for half a mile or so, where there was a stream with a pool deep enough to wade in up to the hips. The brothers rode horses as well as hiked, and when Nitya was feeling less well, Krishna would read to him for an hour or more each day. Ecclesiastes and the stories of O. Henry were among their mutual favorites.
It was not only Nitya who arrived in Ojai in need of recuperation; Krishna's malaise, however, was psychological in nature. He was suffering from a sense of deep discontent with the whole course of his life and the manner in which he was living it. His education had been a bore, and the career others had charted for him was a source of intense ambivalence.
Krishna regarded the isolation of Ojai as an opportunity to get to the bottom of what was troubling him. After the brothers had settled in, he began to sit in meditation for half an hour each morning and again in the evening. His idea of meditation had nothing to do with mantras or with some ascetic removal from reality. Rather, it consisted of a focused observation of himself—coupled with the intention, as he wrote in a letter to a friend, "to annihilate the wrong accumulations of the past years."
Two weeks after commencing to meditate in this manner, Krishna began to feel tired and restless one evening after dinner. He complained of a pain in the nape of his neck, and Nitya observed there a knot, as if of a contracted muscle, about the size of a marble. Krishna slept the night through without difficulty, but the discomfort and fatigue resumed the following morning, and he lay down on his bed.
Nitya recorded the events that followed in a long and detailed narrative. He wrote that, "Our lives are profoundly affected by what happened ... our compass has found its lodestar."
Also present to witness what occurred were Albert P. Warrington, who was staying on the property with the two brothers, and Rosalind Williams, a nineteen-year-old neighbor who had befriended them. At Warrington's suggestion, Rosalind entered Krishna's room in Pine Cottage and found him lying on his bed, moaning and writhing in pain. The pain appeared to be concentrated in the head, the spine, and the back of the neck. It came intermittently, in waves, and alternated with periods of intense shivering. While shivering, however, Krishna complained of burning heat.
Rosalind approached and tried to calm and comfort him. At times, she was able to hold him and to settle him down somewhat; at other times, he pushed her away. He often seemed only partially conscious; he was by turns coherent and unintelligible. Krishna settled down sufficiently for everyone to eat lunch, but afterward, the pain returned and became so intense that he could not keep his meal down. When nightfall came, he was able to relax somewhat, and again he slept the night through.
During the course of the next day, the symptoms became more acute. Krishna was extremely sensitive to light and noise. The room was kept darkened at his request, and everyone tried to keep all sounds to a minimum; even slight rustlings startled and disturbed him. He settled down again after nightfall, but the process resumed the following morning.
Toward the end of the third day, after the others had finished their evening meal, "[S]uddenly the whole house seemed full of a terrific force," Nitya wrote, "and Krishna was as if possessed."
He would have none of us near him and began to complain bitterly of the dirt, the dirt of the bed, the intolerable dirt of the house, the dirt of everyone around, and in a voice full of pain said that he longed to go to the woods.... Suddenly he announced his intention of going for a walk alone, but from this we managed to dissuade him, for we did not think that he was in any fit condition for nocturnal ambulations.
Mr. Warrington noted that he knew Krishna's bed was perfectly clean, for he had personally changed the linen that morning. Nitya continued:
Then as he expressed a desire for solitude, we left him and gathered outside on the verandah, where in a few minutes he joined us, carrying a cushion in his hand and sitting as far away as possible from us. Enough strength and consciousness were vouchsafed him to come outside but once there again he vanished from us, and his body, murmuring incoherencies, was left sitting there on the porch....
The sun had set an hour ago and we sat facing the far-off hills, purple against the pale sky in the darkening twilight.
A young pepper tree stood at the entrance to the cottage, "with delicate leaves of a tender green, now heavy with scented blossoms." Warrington suggested to Krishna that he might like to go sit under the tree, and after a moment's hesitation, he did so. Presently, those on the veranda heard a sigh of relief, and Krishna called out to ask why they had not sent him there much earlier. Then he began to chant an ancient song, one familiar to the brothers from their childhood.
A few moments later, according to Nitya, something occurred outside the parameters of ordinary reality. He claimed there was an unusual light in the sky, and he had an overwhelming sense of the arrival of some transcendent personality or intelligence. "The place seemed to be filled with a Great Presence," he wrote, and, "In the distance we heard divine music softly played."
After this evening, the strange process ended. A few days later, Krishna recorded his own impressions of what had transpired:
There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; the very stone which he was breaking up was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the tree beside the man was myself. I almost could feel and think like the roadmender, and I could feel the wind passing through the tree.... I was in everything, or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm, and all breathing things.
Krishna invoked images of nature to convey what occurred under the pepper tree. His experience there is not easy to correlate with the days of pain and semi-consciousness that led up to it:
There was such profound calmness both in the air and within myself, the calmness of the bottom of a deep unfathomable lake. Like the lake, I felt my physical body, with its mind and emotions, could be ruffled on the surface but nothing, nay nothing, could disturb the calmness of my soul....
I have drunk at the clear and pure waters at the source of the fountain of life and my thirst was appeased. Never more could I be thirsty, never more could I be in utter darkness. I have seen the Light. I have touched compassion which heals all sorrow and suffering; it is not for myself, but for the world.
* * *
At the time he came to Ojai, Krishnamurti's life had been largely shaped by the guidance of author and social activist Annie Besant. The entire arc of his career cannot be fully understood without reference to her extraordinary life and influence.
Annie was the first woman to defend herself before an English court. The year was 1877, and she was twenty-nine years of age. At issue was the right to publish a slender volume entitled Fruits of Philosophy. Composed by an American physician, the book was designed to provide the best information available on the subject of birth control. Annie and Charles Bradlaugh, president of the Free Thought Society, had republished the book for a general audience in England. As soon as it was made available for sale, British authorities seized all copies of the book and charged Annie and Bradlaugh with the dissemination of obscenity.
The two defendants could have cut a deal with the authorities and avoided charges by agreeing to discontinue selling Fruits of Philosophy. Bradlaugh was inclined to do so, but Annie refused. She insisted on challenging an unjust law, and she risked jail time to argue her case in court. The trial that resulted was highly publicized and brought her a wealth of admiration and notoriety. She and Bradlaugh won their case only on a technicality, but their position was widely regarded as vindicated. In the year following the trial, Fruits of Philosophy sold over 100,000 copies.
For the next twenty years, Annie employed her exceptional gifts as a writer and public speaker to champion a variety of progressive causes. She won an historic victory involving the right to organize on behalf of the "Matchstick Girls," young women whose health was severely compromised by the phosphorous they were exposed to on a routine basis in the factories where they worked. She flirted with atheism and socialism, but Annie's deepest instincts were religious in nature. She rejected the Christianity of her childhood and took up the cause of Theosophy, which maintained that all the major religions point toward the same fundamental set of truths.
In 1905, Annie became president of the Theosophical Society, and under her guidance, the organization expanded to encompass many thousands of members in countries around the world. Her involvement with Theosophy coincided with a parallel expansion in her more worldly interests. She developed a consuming passion for the independence of India from British colonial rule, far in advance of her contemporaries or the prevailing political parameters of the day. So successful was her advocacy for India that in 1917 she was elected president of the Indian National Congress, an extraordinary honor for any woman, much less one from England.
In her capacity as president of the Theosophical Society, Annie began to elaborate on a theme that had not received much attention from her predecessors. She maintained that the Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed represented successive manifestations of a World Teacher who appeared on Earth at rare intervals to guide humanity through its darkest periods. She said the time had come for another appearance of the World Teacher, and it was the mission of Theosophy to identify that individual and to facilitate his work.
Annie committed the resources of the Theosophical Society to search for the boy or youth who in his maturity would assume the mantle of the World Teacher. In this task, she was assisted by her associate, Charles Leadbeater, who was stationed at the Theosophical Society headquarters in Adyar, India, on the eastern coast of the subcontinent, just south of Madras. There, he often walked on the beach in the afternoon with a retinue of his students and co-workers.
In the spring of 1909, Krishnamurti was a fourteen-year-old boy from a Brahmin family, one of several siblings. His mother had died a few years earlier, and his father eked out a narrow living as a clerk with the Theosophical Society. The family lived in primitive quarters just outside the Theosophical compound.
Leadbeater observed Krishnamurti playing on the beach on several occasions, and he said he was impressed with the quality of the boy's aura. A skeptic might suggest it was Krishna's quiet, sensitive personality that captured Leadbeater's attention, as well as perhaps a somewhat passive attitude. In any case, Leadbeater arranged for Krishnamurti to visit with him for a more thorough assessment of the boy's qualities.
Krishna was inseparable from his younger brother, Nitya, so the two boys went together to be examined by Leadbeater. His assessment took the form of investigations into Krishna's past lives, a subject in which he was considered unusually gifted. A more decisive determination, however, occurred a few weeks later, when Annie next returned to Adyar. She concurred with Leadbeater's view that Krishnamurti possessed unusual qualities and might indeed serve as the vehicle for the next manifestation of the World Teacher. She resolved to take him under her care and to raise and educate him with all the formidable range of resources at her disposal.
For the first few years, Krishna accepted rather passively the grand expectations that were fastened upon him. He formed a deep and abiding bond with Annie, who removed him and Nitya to England. There they received first-class instruction as well as exposure to excellence in every arena of English culture and society. Krishna developed a taste for quality in clothing and in cars, and he enjoyed the humor of P. G. Wodehouse, whose satirical novels deftly exposed the vulnerabilities of the British upper crust. He acquired such skill in golf that his handicap was one under par.
In order to facilitate the emergence and the work of the World Teacher, Annie constructed an international organization, allied with the Theosophical Society, entitled the Order of the Star in the East. She appointed Krishnamurti as the head of this organization, exclusively responsible for its management and direction. At its peak, the Order of the Star numbered some 40,000 members in countries around the world.
By the time he arrived on the threshold of adulthood, Krishnamurti began to chafe under the weight of the role he was expected to assume. He found himself rather bored and dissatisfied with life and uncertain of his own sense of direction. His devotion to Annie remained undiminished, but she was advancing in years while he was just coming into his own.
This was the state of affairs at the time that Krishna and Nitya arrived in Ojai. Their purpose in coming was strictly related to Nitya's health, and neither brother could fully understand the meaning of what had occurred to Krishna a few weeks after their arrival.
Nitya interpreted what he observed in Theosophical terms. He maintained that Krishna had joined the company of the ascended Masters, an assembly of spiritual personalities residing in the astral plane. Others who have commented subsequently maintained that the experience represented the awakening of kundalini energy.
Whatever it may have actually meant, Krishnamurti insisted that the episode remain known to only a small number of those most closely involved in his life. After several decades had passed, and his work had unfolded on its own terms, he allowed the experience to become a matter of public record. Even then, however, he tended to discount its significance.
Excerpted from The Unconditioned Mind by David Edmund Moody. Copyright © 2011 David Edmund Moody. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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