Krishnamurti and Theosophy
Professor P. Krishna and Mrs Radha Burnier
The following dialogue between Professor P. Krishna and Mrs Radha Burnier, which was held at the Indian Section Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, Varanasi, on 29 March 2008, was originally published in The Indian Theosophist, July-August 2008.
PK: I have read that Madame Blavatsky and Mrs Besant both said that Theosophy is not a religion; it is the religion. They also called it the wisdom-religion. So I would like to begin our dialogue by asking ourselves: what is the essence of Theosophy?
RB: It is not only Madame Blavatsky and Mrs Besant, but also many prominent members of the Theosophical Society who came after them, who have said that Theosophy is a word which is easy to translate but difficult to define. Let us look at the word itself: Sophy means wisdom. It is very difficult for us who are unwise people, who do all kinds of foolish things, who suffer, who do not enjoy the sense of bliss that belongs to the wise, to say who is wise or what wisdom is. We really do not know. Then there is the word Theos which can be translated as divine. Therefore the meaning of the two words together is divine wisdom. Sometimes Theos is translated as God. That depends on what we mean by God, since it is a very doubtful kind of word. God means anything from a stone that you use to worship to something which cannot really be put into words. You have to know it in your heart. So divine is in a way a better word. Theosophy is divine wisdom in that sense. The question is: who knows it? There are many people who think they know something of Theosophy, but it is a very doubtful statement because Theosophy can be known only by the wise to some extent. Perhaps it can never be known fully until there is liberation from the state of ineptitude there is in a human being. The one who knows would never himself say ‘I am a Theosophist’ because words have no relevance to the real thing.
PK: So if we want to probe deeper into that we must probe both into what is the possible meaning of “divine” and what is the possible meaning of “wisdom”, knowing full well that a projected meaning given by our own mind may not represent what is real. Instead of defining positively what wisdom is shall we approach it negatively because, perhaps, it is easier to say what wisdom is not? Would you say that a mind that is caught in illusion, which means caught in images made by itself, by its imagination, cannot possibly be wise since it is not in contact with the real?
RB: This really brings one to see first of all the fallacy in the saying that Theosophy is truth. This is very commonly said among people who are very serious. There is a Theosophy which we learn throughout our life, perhaps we have to know it minute by minute as we live our life; but there is also the Theosophy which states in words the essence of what we consider it is. Each person who writes about Theosophy, or speaks about it, may think that what he expresses in words is really inexpressible. The question is: To what extent does he express it? Perhaps nobody can really express it; but certain fundamentals connected to what Theosophy is in the real sense of the term may be put into words. But it is very difficult to say the words I use really express those truths.
PK: I understand this difficulty in expressing and communicating a truth, because the expression is done through words which have loaded meanings and different meanings for different people. These are the difficulties of communication. Say I have perceived something deeply and I want to communicate it to you. How do I do it? That is the difficulty of expression and communication. And your ability to perceive what I have perceived is subject to the difficulty of your ideation and your mind projecting things about it and all that which we have discussed in the last few days. But are there not eternal truths about humanity, about human consciousness, which are universal? Just as scientists would say that truths about nature are not completely known to us, but they are universal. You may not fully understand gravitation or how gravitation operates, but it cannot be different for one human being and another human being, so there is a truth out there. Our difficulty is, first, how to come in contact with it, to become aware of it, to perceive it as the truth and then at the second level, how to express it, how to communicate it. So in science we use the universal language of mathematics and find it to be useful. But essentially we are positing that there are truths about nature which are universal, which are operative, which are eternal, which are not fully known, which we call law of nature and we are attempting to discover them.
Could we say a similar thing about Theosophy: that there is a body of universal and eternal truths which are not just to be known but also to be perceived, being fully aware of the fact that truth itself is not an idea or an intellectual concept but a fact. Only that person actually perceives the fact who comes in direct contact with it, in the sense of seeing the truth and not ideating about it. Could one say that Theosophy is this universal, eternal body of truths, perhaps both about matter as well as about consciousness, since Theosophy includes science, and from time to time wise human beings in different cultures, who have been able to shed their barriers of individuality, what we call liberation, have come deeply in contact with those truths and from that perception tried to communicate them, someone in poetry, someone in prose, someone through stories? As you said, it is indescribable because the description is through the word and the words are associated with images, whereas perception is beyond words and images. So when the sage speaks, it conveys images and concepts to the mind of the listener who has then to break through them to come upon perception; otherwise he doesn’t perceive the truth, which is the greatest difficulty in communicating truths. But stepping aside from this difficulty of communication, would you say that there is a body of eternal truths which is universal, which is accessible to any human being who is willing and able to shed his images, his limited individuality, and who therefore sees through that part of his being which is universal which we may call the human being, as distinct from the individual personality?
RB: I think this is a much more subtle, elusive kind of seeing than we realize. In science much has been said about the same thing being seen as a wave and a particle. You presume that when you see the particle it is also a wave, but that is only a presumption, because you cannot see the two aspects at the same time. When we say we perceive a truth it refers to only some part of the truth. This is the difficulty in expressing the truth. It is so subtle. So it seems to me, that you cannot put it into words, therefore you cannot express it. When someone who has had some idea of a truth, from time to time tries to convey it to other people, he may be right up to a point, but not all the way. This is difficult to realize because the truth as it appears at a time is very real to the person concerned. It seems as if the whole of truth is expressed in that form, but it is not. It may express itself in a different form at a different time.
PK: Because it may be only one aspect of the whole.
RB: Based on this fact it is said that even the wisest of people have a great deal which can be put into words, but very much more which cannot be put into words at all. So how is he to communicate it? He cannot. If you take Krishnaji, for instance, I am convinced that he knew many things in detail and also in principle which he could not communicate to people. But he recommended what they needed perhaps at that time. There was also something else in what he said which suggested that there is a whole world of meaning which we had to find out for ourselves.
PK: Yes, he has stated that explicitly, that there is much more than what we see, which is unfathomable, indescribable, and that he is not going to attempt to describe it. He is only pointing out the barriers which we could shed if we perceive that the barriers are self-created and brought about by superficial thinking; so that the window is open. But that is only the beginning of exploration, before that one is not even exploring the truth; one is only exploring the very limited space of what one could call the conditioned thought and unless one breaks through that barrier it is no use talking about the vast, the immeasurable and all that, because this limited mind is always going to translate that perception into the known, which would therefore be false. The scientists have also realized this fact. Even with respect to such a simple thing as physical reality, not talking about consciousness at all, which is far more complex and intricate and of which they understand nothing or almost nothing. They cannot even define what consciousness is though they use it to do their science! But even with regard to our conception of physical reality – matter, time, space and energy – they have realized that what we can conceive of is limited by our own experience, which in turn is limited by our senses. For example, we never see the connection between space and time though they are connected in a way which we are not capable of perceiving because in our experience space and time have always been two distinct separate entities. For instance, they say space is curved but it is very difficult for us to imagine that. So, they have long ago forsaken what were earlier taken for granted and called self-evident truths, such as two parallel lines will never meet. They say it is only true in a certain type of flat space which you are aware of; but real space is not like that, it is curved. If you draw two parallel lines on a sphere they will meet like two longitudes meet at the North Pole and the South Pole. So our conceptions even about physical reality are very limited and they are now saying: ‘don’t trust your conception because your conception is limited’. For example, you can never really explain to a man who has been blind from birth what colour really is.
What is really an electron? They say ‘we don’t know really’. It helps us to make a model of an electron like a billiard ball and call it a particle and that explains certain behaviours; and it also helps us to have a model of it as a wave for that explains some other part of its behaviour. But these are just conceptual models assisting us in finding out what it is and the truth is that it is both! That ultimate truth I am not able to conceive of because I have never seen an entity which is both a particle and a wave. They say our conceptualization has limitations, therefore don’t use it too far, use mathematics instead! Mathematics is a kind of universal language which has been repeatedly tried out and found to apply in nature.
In the same way as there are these physical limitations, there are also intellectual limitations. I see a parallel between the limitation experienced in doing science and the limitation of thought which Krishnaji is pointing out in the religious quest. We think only in terms of the known and the known is so limited; therefore thought can never grasp the unknown and that there are vast truths out there which can only be perceived when you free yourself of this imprisonment, when you get out of this prison of the known. Freedom from the known is not the ending of the known but non-dependence on the known. We have given tremendous importance to that little bit of known and are all the time wanting to interpret everything in terms of the known and that blocks the unknown from being perceived. Real progress in science has also come from paradigm shifts which were the result of deep insights into the unknown, going far beyond conventional thinking.
RB: What is the known may be an illusion. What is known to me may not be what is known to a person whose consciousness is much more subtle, peaceful, vast and so on. Even what is known changes form all the time. So it becomes very difficult to understand a universe where everything is changing according to the level of our perception. If there is a person who could see the whole thing, then only will he be seeing the truth. But in saying that I feel there is a mistake, because I may not be aware of my limitation. So what is the known, and what is the knowable, and what is the unknown? These are all deep questions which always remain.
PK: In fact it is important to realize that we are part of a great mystery and that the mystery is very deep and scientists are only trying to penetrate one aspect of it; but there is much more which remains a mystery. It extends, perhaps, far beyond what we are even aware of. Often in our pride in our knowledge we lose our awareness of the mystery.
RB: That brings us back to the objects of Theosophy. If you take the second Object of the Theosophical Society – it speaks about philosophy, science and religion. Let me leave philosophy out of the picture for the moment, and take only science and religion. As one goes deeper and deeper into science, one comes upon a religious feeling of beauty, unity, wonder and mystery, which is akin to the feeling of the real man of religion. I mean not a person who is called a man of religion, according to Hinduism or Christianity or Buddhism or whatever, but one who has gone beyond all these forms and come to a much vaster and deeper perception of the unity and totality of existence, an element which we cannot express in words, but which has a sacredness, a holiness that can be felt. That thing is there beyond all the speculations of science and the forms of religion. When you go that deep, then the findings of science may correspond to what is known to true religion. I feel that there is a reality which is both science and religion, which can be felt and perceived, but not expressed or communicated.
PK: It has to be because both matter and consciousness are part of a single reality: consciousness exists and so do matter and energy. Science may not be able to explore very deeply into consciousness since it is not measurable. Their investigations are limited to what is measurable so they are still struggling to understand the nature of space, time, matter and energy. But their picture is bound to be incomplete because they have left consciousness out of it. The scientist uses his consciousness to do science but his science cannot tell what he is using! I am here reminded of the words of Schroedinger, who was the scientist who invented wave mechanics which was a precursor of the quantum mechanics of today. He was also a philosopher who had deeply studied the Vedanta. He was not a religious man, he was a scholar. His personal life was in shambles but intellectually he was a giant. He said something quite profound which I would like to share with you. He said, “I consider science an integrating part of our endeavour to understand the one great philosophical question which embraces all others: Who are we? I consider this not one of the tasks but THE task of science, the only one that counts.”
To answer that question we have to answer what is the body, its origin, its components, its form and function. But not only that, we must also explain the awareness and consciousness which operate in that body, the way they arise and function and so on. Schroedinger regarded both science and Vedanta as a part of philosophy and he could see that it was necessary to integrate the two and not separate them. Otherwise you will always get a partial picture of life and reality. For instance, in the world of the physicist there is no need for life, they treat it as an accidental happening which they do not understand.
But let me come back to Krishnamurti and Theosophy. The Theosophical Society was created with the motto that Truth is the highest religion and since Theosophy in its true meaning is not a new religion, but the essence of all religions or the wisdom-religion, this demands that we come in contact with the eternal truths beyond all religions and beyond all forms. Now if that is the essence of Theosophy, as expressed in our motto, is that not what Krishnamurti is asking us to do all the time? He is saying you must understand yourself, break through your conditioning, only then you will have a true perception, without that you cannot come upon the truth. So I don’t see any division between what Theosophy in its essence is asking us to do and what Krishnaji is advocating as necessary for us to do.
RB: I think we do not know what Theosophy is, and we do not know what Krishnaji is talking about, therefore difficulties arise. It is obvious when one contacts people in the Theosophical Society and people in the Krishnamurti Foundation who are not members of our Society, that they are going along a line which Krishnaji himself would consider fallacious, because when you confuse the superficial with the essential there is bound to be illusion and conflict. Just as in science one can perceive the same thing as a wave and a particle, here too different people perceive things differently, creating contradictions where none really exist. People get carried away by superficial differences and it becomes difficult for them to remain conscious of the fact that opinions are not very important things. It is the truth which is important.
PK: But ignorance as illusion or imagery is common to all mankind. So what difference does it make, whether the ignorance of a man is of the Christian variety or the Krishnamurti Foundation variety or the Theosophical variety? The importance is of breaking through that and going beyond it, so why distinguish?
RB: We think there is a difference. Someone who has dabbled in Krishnamurti (I am deliberately using that word) feels that he knows what is the truth and what is not truth better than other people.
PK: But the truth is something that can’t be known! We said earlier that the truth cannot be known, it cannot be described.
RB: Similarly, many theosophists think they know what Theosophy is, or what the truth is. It becomes a way of making things secure in one’s own life. This prevents one from being free in the mind, about the importance of which Krishnamurti spoke repeatedly. Many Theosophists also spoke about the need to be completely free to listen to somebody, to see that illusion arises when belief becomes strong.
PK: It is extremely important, I feel, to remain aware of this danger in oneself because one has basically the same consciousness as other human beings out there. And the human consciousness has repeatedly made the same mistakes whether it is the Christians or the Buddhists, the Hindus or the Theosophists or the people in the Krishnamurti Foundations. I don’t see too much difference. A man like Jesus touches something very deep, we don’t know how he touches it, comes upon a profound, deep state of consciousness which is based on love, compassion or whatever word you want to use. From that state he tries to communicate that truth and speaks the words which are there in the Sermon on the Mount; but the followers bring down that truth, create a church, a religion, saying do this and don’t do that. It is the same among the Hindus. They have not discovered the truth expressed in the Upanishads or the Vedanta. They keep doing various simplistic performances without coming into contact with the truth. One finds the same in Buddhism; what is going on today in the name of Buddhism is a far cry from the truth which the Buddha taught. So one must remain aware of this danger in oneself, having seen the potential of all people in the world to bring down the truth into the familiar and then concentrate on the familiar because that is easy. It becomes an ego process, seeking to feel secure. The idea that I am progressing gives one a good feeling. It becomes a barrier to the perception of the truth because your energies are now dissipated in all kinds of superficial activity which is not seeing at all.
RB: It is important to realize that the path itself is a metaphor, it does not really refer to a path with a beginning and an end. It has no beginning because everything belongs to it and it has no end. I am reminded of something in the Mahatma Letters about the Master K.H. (whether one believes in the Masters or not is not relevant here.) He goes into some kind of Samadhi because he is due to go on a long journey inwardly and needs to be undisturbed at the physical level. There is a reference to that in Light on the Path. It says that when you have finished this journey and everything which is of the animal nature has come to an end, then you will realize that the path proceeds endlessly and goes much further. Now to think of that path as having no end in itself implies a state of being with a capacity for unlimited learning which has nothing to do with collecting knowledge of the ordinary kind.
PK: I think Krishnaji has expressed the same thing in somewhat different words when he says that freedom is at the beginning of learning, not at the end. Because you do not begin to learn so long as your perceptions are being distorted by the ego process, by the individual colouration that it gives to that perception. Therefore you cannot perceive the truth. So if perception of the truth is learning then that learning cannot go deep until you are free; but that freedom, in my view, is not a fixed point that has to be attained. The possibility of perceiving the truth undistorted always exists in human consciousness. That is why it is possible even for a conditioned person to have a glimpse of the truth. For example, even a very cruel emperor like Ashoka could get a deep insight and change completely after the Kalinga war. So the ego does not completely debar all capacity for insight.
RB: That is why I also feel that a human being has this capacity for pure awareness through which he gets a glimpse of the real, but he tends to translate that in terms of the old, the whole pattern of his conditioning, which is the known. He has to extricate himself from that limitation and perceive through his true consciousness. People like Krishnaji, I think, were born in order to help human beings to come out of the limited, conditioned state of individuality, and realize that there is something much vaster, more beautiful which they are missing, because they remain confined to the world of their own thoughts.
PK: This means to me that what Krishnaji rebelled against in 1929 or 1933, somewhere in that period, was not the essence of Theosophy but the tendency towards encrustation, treating Theosophy not as an enquiry but as some new form of belief or some new body of knowledge which one accepts, as had happened in all other religions. He must have seen the danger of that and he revolted against that, wanting to bring it back to the quest for what he called a religious mind — not a Christian mind or a Hindu mind. There is only one religious mind. And as a Theosophist one had to go beyond all the superficial forms and come upon the true religious mind with wisdom, love, compassion, truth, beauty and the ending of all violence. I would like to quote here what he said about the scientific mind and the religious mind. He said, “The religious mind has no beliefs; it has no dogmas; it moves from fact to fact, and therefore the religious mind is the scientific mind. But the scientific mind is not the religious mind. The religious mind includes the scientific mind, but the mind that is trained in the knowledge of science is not a religious mind.”
RB: The true theosophical mind is both scientific and religious in that sense.
PK: We don’t have to dislike any religion or condemn it or anything like that. It is just an incidental fact that we are born into it. There are good things in it, there are superficial things in it and there are superstitions. We have to go beyond that. I don’t have to remain limited to that, I don’t have to be attached to it and defend it. It may have helped me in childhood to grow but it doesn’t have to limit me in any way in my exploration of what is true and what is false.
RB: So a truly theosophical life is one which allows you to grow in truth, and discover greater and greater wisdom.
PK: We can end it here.