J. Krishnamurti, Theosophy and the Theosophical Society

Radha Burnier

Radha Burnier, International President of the TS, answers questions from young Theosophists, San Rafael Theosophical Centre, Argentina, April 2004. Originally published in The Theosophist, August 2005.

1. Many people say that, when he left the TS, Krishnamurti betrayed the TS and the Masters who instructed him. What do you think about this?

Not many people, but some people say this. I think it is a wrong idea. There was no question of Krishnamurti betraying the TS or the Masters who instructed him. In the TS at that time, there was a group of people who claimed to have contact with the Masters, and who assumed authority for themselves. They believed they were in a position to declare: ‘You have been put on probation; someone else has become a pupil of the Master’, or ‘Now you are an Initiate’. But it could be seen by the behaviour of these people that they did not fulfil the qualifications which are described in The Masters and the Path and other books about what a true disciple of the Master or Initiate would be like. So it became like a drama, a farce, and Krishnamurti disliked all this very much.

Dr Annie Besant was old, and Krishnamurti himself said that for many years she had worked too much — constantly working for the Theosophical Society, for India’s political freedom, and for many other causes, such as women’s upliftment, the antivivisection movement to protect animals, and scouting. The number of causes she championed was amazing; nobody else could have done it. Krishnaji said that when the body became old, she failed to have the same kind of intellectual power that she had previously. So, when this group of people around her were saying all these things, she neither interfered nor put an end to it. My father, who was Annie Besant’s secretary for some time, and who knew her well in the last years, said that she had a very trustful nature. She trusted all people who worked with her — that may have been one reason why she did not oppose these beliefs. Although Krishnaji felt that the Society was going in the wrong direction, he was not able to stop this trend, and therefore left the Society. I believe Annie Besant was not so much upset as deeply concerned about how he would look after himself, for he had not been prepared to look after himself in the turmoil of the world. So she advised some members of the TS to look after him and work for him.

I think the idea that he betrayed the Masters is ridiculous. My personal opinion is that he was in constant touch with the Masters. He knew far better what the Masters were than most of the people who talked much about the Masters and claimed to be their agents. According to Krishnaji, the mistake made in the TS at that time was that the sacred and holy were brought down to a personal and material level. Swami T. Subba Row objected even to HPB talking as much as she did about the Masters, because of the danger of degrading the concept of the Masters. God is said to be made in the image of man; similarly people attribute to the Masters what is familiar to themselves, but it has little to do with what they actually are: very holy, pure, wise people. Madame Blavatsky also made it clear that those who want to contact the Masters must rise to their level, it being impossible to bring them down to the worldly level. But the bringing down was what was happening. Krishnaji rejected the ideas about the Masters, but not the existence of liberated ones.

According to Pupul Jayakar’s account of Krishnaji’s life, when the ‘process’ was taking place, he sometimes said: ‘They are here.’ Who are the ‘they’? ‘They’ were doing something to his brain, and so on. Even just before he died, it is reported that he remarked: ‘I am ready to go. They are waiting for me.’ Another side to the matter was that in the TS too much was made about where the Masters lived, what kind of colour of hair each one had, and that kind of thing. These details, even if accurate, concern only the outer appearance; the Master is really a state of consciousness. He may wear a certain body at some time, and another body at another time. Thinking of the appearance and the physical body as the Master is completely wrong. HPB wrote that the people who say they want to contact the Master do not know what they are talking about, because the body is only a mask, not the real thing. This is true even in our case; the body is a mask, concealing a different reality. In the case of the Mahatmas, the reality is a certain level and quality of consciousness. Perhaps Krishnaji did not like reducing the Masters to these details, and thinking about them as being somewhat like ourselves.

2. Did Krishnamurti keep in touch with the TS in some way?

After he left the TS, there were people in the TS who felt he was creating a disturbance, but there were also people in the TS who felt he was saying something profound and valuable. It is because of them that the ambience was created for Krishnaji to come back much later into contact with the TS. He himself told me that Mr Jinarâjadâsa (whom he called Râjâ) was always very nice to him. They did not have the same ideas; Bro. Râjâ’s conventional Theosophy and Krishnaji’s new presentation did not agree on many things. But he told me that Râjâ was always so affectionate, he would take books and other things for him, send his car and give him money. In those days, Krishnaji was not so well known. When my father became President, he deftly brought a change within the Society in favour of understanding what Krishnamurti was talking about.

3. Did Krishnamurti deny the Mahatmas? Did he deny the path of discipleship?

He used a vocabulary which is not the traditional one. He did not use such words as ‘the path’. In fact, he said ‘Truth is a pathless land’, and many people are still puzzled by it. But from the Theosophical point of view, every Monad is unique and, entering the material plane, follows its own unique path. The development that takes place in every individual is unlike any other — the whole of Nature is like this. Some years ago they said the thumb-print of every one of the millions of human beings is different and identifiable. Now they say they can identify a person by the teeth, the vocal cords, the hair, and so on. That kind of uniqueness exists even at the physical level. So each person has to proceed through his own understanding to the truth. Nobody else can say ‘This is the path you must tread’.

Krishnaji did not talk about either the path or discipleship, because a disciple is supposed to obey; and obedience, particularly if it is blind, is a barrier to the development of true intelligence and intuition for which he used the word ‘insight’. People get set ideas about the meaning of words, and perhaps he used different words to encourage listeners to examine the meaning afresh.

4. Some members of the TS say that Krishnamurti’s work is not related to occultism, which was a word used by HPB and the Mahatmas.

What is occult is what is hidden. There are innumerable things which are hidden from our eyes, ears and other senses which have a limited range. A few hundred years ago, if you had turned the knob of an instrument in order to hear music flow from two thousand miles away, they would have called it magic, but now it is science. When you understand Nature and her laws, more and more of the occult ceases to be so. But the so-called occult may also be what people do not know for themselves, but think they know. They may disseminate wrong information or falsehoods for the sake of gain. Therefore, in the TS we do not encourage too much interest in so-called occult things. Alice Bailey writes about the Rays. How many people know what they are and whether what she says is correct? It is best to keep an open mind on these questions. The same thing applies to Leadbeater, or Madame Blavatsky. We need not reject or accept what is said, but keep an open mind. Holding one’s judgement in sus-pense is very important.

The Buddha’s illustration of a poisoned arrow piercing a person’s flesh must be recalled. Should he be dis-cussing from what direction the arrow came, who was the carpenter who made it, and at what velocity it flew? That would be absurd. He must first remove the arrow and heal the wound. So the Buddha did not talk about abstruse or occult things. Krishnamurti’s approach was similar. He said, ‘Your house is burning’, meaning the world itself is in great danger. Should not attention be directed to this, and not to talking about the occult? He did not allow people to distract themselves. But he was an en-lightened person who knew many things not known to us about the depths and mysteries of life.

5. What do you think Krishnamurti’s feelings were towards the TS?

I think his feeling was friendly, which does not mean that he agreed with what TS members in general said and thought, because, as you know, even among mem-bers, there are all sorts of varying ideas since the TS stands for freedom of thought. Some people hold Theosophy is what Blavatsky wrote and nothing else. This is not different from the Muslim idea that Muhammed was the last and only prophet: ‘After Muhammed, there is nothing further.’ Anything other than Blavatsky is not Theosophy, or should be called pseudo-Theosophy. But others maintain that the wisdom that is Theosophy can come from many sources, in many ages. Even people who are not enlightened may say some things which are wise. So the only reasonable attitude is what HPB described as ‘the open mind, the pure heart’. This needs to be encouraged.

Krishnaji spoke of unconditioning the mind. The TS works for universal brotherhood — without distinction of race, religion and all that divides people, every form of conditioning — the universal mind, the unconditioned mind. I think — I cannot of course speak for Krishnaji — that he appreciated some fundamental approaches of the Theosophical Society. On one occasion, he said to me with a smile: ‘You know, I like the TS.’

6. In your opinion, were the foundation of the TS and Krishnamurti’s work part of the same plan of the Mahatmas, or were these two different things?

When C. W. Leadbeater saw Krishnaji for the first time, there were several people on the Adyar beach. Krishnaji was with his younger brother, and — probably due to malnutrition — looked dull, some people even thought sub-normal in intelligence. His younger brother was brighter and got good marks in school, which Krishnaji could not. He may have been too sensitive to bear what is called the brunt of life. But when Leadbeater saw him, he unhesitatingly said: ‘This is a highly evolved soul, untainted by selfishness and in many incarnations he has had contact with the Masters.’ After Leadbeater wrote to Annie Besant that the two motherless boys were not properly looked after, she made arrangements for them to be taken care of. She and Leadbeater felt that he would be the vehicle of the World Teacher. Even earlier, Annie Besant had been lecturing on the coming of the World Teacher. Before Krishnaji was discovered, another boy had been identified as the vehicle, so some said Leadbeater did not really know, which may not be true; he may have simply realized that he had made a mistake. But when he saw Krishnaji he was absolutely certain and so was Annie Besant, and they did everything they thought fit for Krishnaji.

One common idea which many people have is also wrong — that they said Krishnaji was the World Teacher. They did not say that. He was to be the vehicle of the World Teacher, and at some point his consciousness would blend with that of the World Teacher. On 12 January 1910, Annie Besant wrote to Leadbeater: ‘It is definitely fixed that the Lord Maitreya takes this dear child’s body. It seems a very heavy responsibility to guard and help it, so as to fit it for Him, as He said, and I feel rather overwhelmed . . . .’ (Mary Lutyens, Years of Awakening, ch. I). In 1926, Krishnaji wrote to Leadbeater: ‘I know my destiny and my work. I know with certainty that I am blending into the consciousness of the one Teacher, and that he will completely fill me.’

On one occasion Mrs Jayakar asked Krishnaji: ‘If Theosophists had not dis-covered you, what would have happened?’ He answered: ‘I would have died.’ She replied: ‘No, you would not have died. You would have been like Ramana Maharshi, and people would have come to you.’ Krishnaji said: ‘No’; it sounded as if there was a plan and purpose ac-cording to which his father was brought to Adyar. If Krishnaji had remained in the circle of an orthodox Brâhman family, he may not have been able to feel at ease with the whole world nor, outside the TS, would he have had the necessary inter-national contacts. I am inclined to think that the course of his life was part of the Plan. It is said all the details of the Plan are not fixed in advance, but the general Plan was worked out.

Krishnaji had great admiration and love for Dr Annie Besant. She looked after him and spoke of him as somebody who would be a great teacher even when people laughed at her or upbraided her. Some of her friends in India told her: If you want to sponsor somebody, there are better boys than Krishnamurti. They were angry with her, but she did not change. Krishnaji himself related that at an important banquet in England, where liberal politicians like Lord Lansbury who supported India’s freedom were present, Bernard Shaw taunted Annie Besant, who took Krishnaji with her. Shaw, who always made fun of everything, said: ‘Annie, is this your little Messiah?’, and everybody laughed. But she did not flinch. She did not care what other people’s attitude was, because she was so certain that a great message would be given to the world through Krishnaji. He mentioned this particular incident and said she supported him unfailingly until the end.