Jaishree Kannan, Officer in Charge of the Archives, kindly invites you to come in and have a look around ... the photo series is published at the end of the biographical sketch
Jiddu Krishnamurti (May 11, 1895 – February 17, 1986) was an author and lecturer on spiritual and philosophical subjects who had a major impact on Twentieth Century thought. He was "discovered" as a child in India by Charles W. Leadbeater, who prophesied that the then sickly and almost illiterate boy would become a great religious leader. From that point Krishnamurti and his younger brother Nitya were raised and educated by Theosophists at the Theosophical Society based in Adyar, Chennai, India. The Order of the Star in the East was established, to promote the idea that Krishnamurti was going to be the "vehicle" of the "World Teacher" or Maitreya. Eventually Krishnamurti rejected the title, disbanded the organization, but spent the rest of his life speaking around the world to all kind of people about a spiritual life based on awareness, inquiry, and freedom.
Krishnamurti was often referred to by his friends as "Krishna", "Krishnaji", and "K". His very early writings were published under his "star name," Alcyone.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was born a Brahmin on May 11 1895 in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, near Madras in the south of India. He was the eighth son and, in keeping with tradition, was named after Sri Krishna.
Although his father, Jiddu Narianiah, was educated at Madras University and worked for the British Administration, the standard of life of the family was not good. Only five or six of the eleven children of the family would survive childhood. When Krishnamurti was two years old he nearly died of malaria, and his mother, Jiddu Sanjeevamma, eventually died of it when he was only ten.
In 1907 his father was given a compulsory retirement. Having been a member of the Theosophical Society since 1882, he eventually obtained a job at its International Headquarters in Adyar, Madras (now Chennai).
On January 23, 1909, the Jiddu family moved to Madras. In May of that year, Theosophical leader and clairvoyant C. W. Leadbeater runs into 13-year old Krishnamurti who was playing in the beach, and sees "the most wonderful aura he has ever seen, without a particle of selfishness". Although Theosophist and scholar Ernest Wood, who had tried to help him with his homework, considered him dim-witted, Leadbeater predicted that he would become a spiritual teacher and a great orator "much greater" than even Annie Besant. His Biographer Mary Lutyens wrote:
It could not have been Krishna's outward appearance that struck Leadbeater, for apart from his wonderful eyes, he was not at all prepossessing at that time. He was under-nourished, scrawny and dirty; his ribs showed through his skin and he had a persistent cough; his teeth were crooked and he wore his hair in the customary Brahmin fashion of South India, shaved in front to the crown and falling to below his knees in a pigtail at the back; moreover his vacant expression gave him an almost moronic look.
Soon, C. W. Leadbeater started researching their past lives and became aware of their relationship with himself and the Masters. These accounts were published in articles in The Theosophist, the mystic name given to Krishnamurti being Alcyone. All these accounts were eventually published in the book Lives of Alcyone.
During this time a group of Theosophists began to take care of him and his younger brother, Nityananda. They nourished them physically, and taught them hygiene, yogic postures, breathing exercises, and sports. Eventually they also took care of their academic education.
Annie Besant, who was abroad on a tour, met them for the first time on November 27, 1909. On March 6, 1910 she became their legal guardian.’
World Teacher movement
On January 11, 1911, George Arundale formed The Order of the Rising Sun to draw together those in India who believed in the near coming of a great spiritual teacher and prepare public opinion to receive him. At the same time a quarterly magazine printed at Adyar called The Herald of the Star was started. A few months later Besant and Leadbeater made this into an international movement called The Order of the Star in the East, of which Krishnamurti was the head.
On December 28, 1911, when Krishnamurti was handling certificates to new members of the Order, the following happened, as reported by C. W. Leadbeater:
All at once the Hall was filled with tremendous power, which was so evidently flowing through Krishna[murti] that the next member fell at his feet, overwhelmed by this marvellous rush of force. I have never seen or felt anything in the least like it; it reminded one irresistibly of the rushing mighty wind and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. The tension was enormous, and everyone in the room was most powerfully affected. It was exactly the kind of thing that we read about in the old scriptures, and think exaggerated; but here it was before us in the twentieth century. After that, each one prostrated himself as his turn came, many of them with tears pouring down their cheeks. The scene was indeed a memorable one, for the stream of devotees was remarkably representative in character. There were members from almost every country in Europe, from America and from all parts of India. . . .
After this Annie Besant made public the fact that Krishnamurti's body had been chosen by Maitreya to serve as his vehicle.
After this he would become more and more acquainted with the Masters on an independent basis. For example, on June 12, 1911, while in a lecture Annie Besant was giving at the Sorbonne, he claimed to have seen "the Count there", probably referring to the Mahatma known as the Count de Saint Germain. Then, on June 27, 1911, while in England, he remembered going with George Arundale to the house of Master K.H., where the latter accepted the former as his chela. He received confirmation of this from C. W. Leadbeater, who was at Adyar.
The last important experience recorded in this period was in January, 1914, while at Taormina, Sicily, when Krishnamurti "suddenly looked up and said, 'The Lord Buddha is here'. His whole face changed completely and he rushed from the room. Soon he came back and told them that he had seen the Lord Buddha standing beside him."
However, from 1914 to 1921 Krishnamurti became more and more absorbed by "mundane" pursuits, unsuccessfully trying to get to Oxford, Cambridge, and London University. He lost much of his enthusiasm for the work of the Masters and his role in it, and felt rebellious about it.
In 1923 (after having taken his third initiation in 1922) he began to work actively for the Order of the Star in the East and Theosophy. He started writing articles, answering official letters, and giving lectures around the world. That year Nitya wrote:
The Convention [in Chicago] was a record success, thanks to K’s presence and I think the greatest thing that can be said is that he more than came up to everyone’s expectations . . . everyone whom Krishna has come into touch with feels a new revival of their enthusiasm. Krishna now talks like someone who has found his goal, and his purpose in his talks has been to make the existence of the Masters an intense reality and in this he is really inspired.
Death of his brother
K and his brother Nitya, in the early twenties
Krishnamurti's brother Nitya had tuberculosis, and from time to time he was prostrated by it. At the beginning of 1925, when they were in India, Nitya became very ill and was several times on the brink of death. Krishnamurti was very worried about this. On February 10 he sent a letter to Annie Besant telling her the following recollection from one of his astral visits to the Masters:
I remember going to the Master’s house and asking & begging to let Nitya get well & let him live. The Master said that I was to see the Lord Maitreya and I went there and I implored there but I got the impression that it was not His business & that I should go to the Mahachohan. I went there. I remember all this so clearly. He was seated in His chair, with great dignity & magnificent understanding, with grave & kindly eyes. My futile description is so absurd but it’s impossible to convey, the great impression of it all. I told Him that I would sacrifice my happiness or anything that was required to let Nitya live, for I felt this thing was being decided. He listened to me & answered "He will be well". It was such a relief and all my anxiety has completely disappeared.
In March Nitya somewhat recovered and they left for Sydney. In June they started their journey back to Ojai, which they reached in the middle of July. During the trip Nitya had been very sick and in danger of passing away. His health remained very poor in August but started getting a little better by the end of September.
In November he caught influenza and became quite ill, while Krishnamurti was on a ship heading for India. When the news of his brother's critical condition came he told Shiva Rao that "if Nitya was going to die I would not have been allowed to leave Ojai". However, on the night of November 13, 1925, a telegram arrived announcing Nitya's death.
Struggle and transformation
In August 1925, while at Huizen and Ommen, George S. Arundale claimed that he and others had taken several initiations and had been appointed as "Apostles" of the World Teacher. Annie Besant, who had given up her clairvoyant powers due to her political work for India, trusted Arundale. Krishnamurti was in Ojai at the time, and when arriving at London a few months later he was visibly upset feeling "that something infinitely precious, sacred and private had been made publicly ugly and ridiculous, cheap and vulgar.”
C. W. Leadbeater, however, did not confirm all this and was rather suspicious of it. On July 28, 1926, he wrote to Krishnamurti:
Our brothers Wedgwood, George, Oscar and Rukmini are younger and less experienced in the work of translating memories and messages from higher planes; therefore when their reminiscences do not support my own I simply suspend judgement and say nothing, except perhaps to them. I do not for a moment suspect any of them of intentional misrepresentation . . . to you as one of the innermost circle, I admit that there may have been some misunderstandings and exaggerations in their reports, because even at these higher levels it is more difficult than you can imagine entirely to eliminate the personal factor. . .
In November Krishnamurti received the news that his brother had died. This broke him completely and shattered his view of a future were Nitya was supposed to be a vital part of his mission. The next ten days on the ship were full of agony, which eventually led to a transformation. When reaching Colombo, he expressed:
An old dream is dead and a new one is being born, as a flower that pushes through the solid earth. A new vision is coming into being and a new consciousness is being unfolded.... A new thrill and a new throb of the same life is being felt. A new strength born of suffering is pulsating in the veins and a new sympathy and understanding is being born out of the past suffering. A greater desire to see others suffer less and if they must suffer to see that they bear it nobly and come out of it without too many scars. I have wept but I do not want others to weep but if they do I now know what it means.... I know how to weep still, but that is human. I know now, with greater certainty than ever before, that there is real beauty in life, real happiness that cannot be shattered by any physical happening, a great strength which cannot be weakened by passing events, and a great love which is permanent, imperishable and unconquerable.
When C. W. Leadbeater reached Colombo he greeted Krishnamurti saying: "Well, at least you are an Arhat", meaning that after the crisis he had received his fourth initiation.
On November 27 while in Adyar, before the Jubilee Convention of the Theosophical Society, he was initiated into Co-Freemasonry and on December 21 he officiated a reformed Hindu ritual in a small Hindu Temple recently built in the Compound.
On December 28 the Congress of the Order of the Star in the East began. During its first meeting, at the end of Krishnamurti's talk a dramatic change took place. He had been speaking saying that the World Teacher "comes only to those who want, who desire, who long..." and then his voice changed completely and went on saying:
. . . and I come for those who want sympathy, who want happiness, who are longing to be released, who are longing to find happiness in all things. I come to reform and not to tear down, I come not to destroy but to build.
At the end of the Congress Annie Besant remarked that this event had marked "the definite consecration of the chosen vehicle . . . . the final acceptance of the body chosen long before.... The coming has begun". C. W. Leadbeater also expressed that there was not a shadow of doubt that the World Teacher had used the Vehicle more than once during the Congress.
Krishnamurti also had no doubts that this had been the case. On January 5, 1926, he said:
I personally feel quite different from that day.... I feel like a crystal vase, a jar that has been cleaned and now anybody in the world can put a beautiful flower in it and that flower shall live in the vase and never die.
Dissolution of the Order of the Star
Krishnamurti felt upset about G. S. Arundale's and J. I. Wedgwood's attitudes about the "Apostles affair" and all the public talking about dubious initiations. In March 1926 he wrote to C. W. Leadbeater saying:
I have woken up so often with feelings of revolt and distrust that my impressions and intuitions are growing stronger and stronger and I feel that the events of the last ten months aren’t clean and wholesome. Of course there’s nothing to be done but wait for events to develop. Of course none of them are very important but this apostles business is the limit. I don’t believe in it all and this is not based on prejudice. With that we shall have difficulty and I am not going to give in over that. I think it’s wrong and purely George’s imagination. Anyhow it’s a trivial thing but other people are making a mountain of it.... Wedgwood is distributing initiations around ... Initiations and sacred things will be a joke presently.... I believe in all this so completely that it makes me weep to see these sacred things dragged in the dirt.
All these happenings produced a mixed response in the press and the general public, arising suspicion, sarcasm, and idle curiosity.
Meanwhile, Krishnamurti continued to give talks and felt more and more in tune with his role. On February 9, 1927, he wrote to C. W. Leadbeater: "I know my destiny and my work. I know with certainty and knowledge of my own, that I am blending into the consciousness of the one Teacher and that He will completely fill me". In April Annie Besant declared to the press "The World Teacher is here".
As people began to place more and more authority on him, Krishnamurti began to discourage people from taking him as a crutch. He wanted people to be independent and self-motivated. As he said in a talk at the end of June:
You must become liberated not because of me but in spite of me ... all this life, and especially during the last few months I have struggled to be free—free of my friends, my books, my associations. You must struggle for the same freedom.... You must not make me an authority. If I become a necessity to you what will you do when I go away?... Some of you think I can give you a drink that will set you free, that I can give you a formula that will liberate you—that is not so. I can be the door but you must pass through the door and find the liberation that is beyond it.... I wish I could invent a new language but as I cannot, I would like to destroy your old phraseology and conceptions.
He then started simplifying his language and making it more abstract. He stopped talking about the Lord Maitreya and referred to "the Beloved" instead. He wanted to put less emphasis on the forms that lead to worshiping, to focus instead on the essence. His language began to be increasingly non-dualist at a time when this approach was virtually unknown in the West. At a Camp in the beginning of August, 1927, he said:
I have been asked what I mean by ‘the Beloved’. I will give a meaning, an explanation, which you will interpret as you please. To me it is all—it is Sri Krishna, it is the Master K.H., it is the Lord Maitreya, it is the Buddha, and yet it is beyond all these forms. What does it matter what name you give? ... What you are troubling about is whether there is such a person as the World Teacher who has manifested Himself in the body of a certain person, Krishnamurti; but in the world nobody will trouble about this question. So you will see my point of view when I talk about my Beloved. It is an unfortunate thing that I have to explain, but I must. I want it to be as vague as possible, and I hope I have made it so. My Beloved is the open skies, the flower, every human being. . . .
It is no good asking me who is the Beloved. Of what use is explanation? For you will not understand the Beloved until you are able to see Him in every animal, in every blade of grass, in every person that is suffering, in every individual.
However, he was not denying the existence of the Masters or Maitreya as some people interpreted. He went on to say in that talk:
Till I was able to say with certainty, without any undue excitement, or exaggeration in order to convince others, that I was one with my Beloved, I never spoke. I talked of vague generalities which everybody wanted. I never said: I am the World Teacher; but now that I feel I am one with my Beloved, I say it....
People who were expecting he was going to lend himself to be worshiped began to be upset, as did those who clung to concrete concepts and explanations. At the same time, new people who started gathering around Krishnamurti without a deeper understanding of concepts such as the Masters of Wisdom and Krishnamurti's relationship with them interpreted this attitude as a denial of their existence. A rift between the "Theosophical" view and the "Krishnamurtian" one began to be created by some of the listeners.
While Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater supported publicly the idea that Krishnamurti was acting as the vehicle of the World Teacher, G. S. Arundale and J. I. Wedgwood did not agree. People wanted Krishnamurti to publicly assert his own authority something that he, naturally, did not want to do.
In August 1928, at a Camp of the Order of the Star, he said: "Friends, do not concern yourself with who I am; you will never know.... If I say I am the Christ, you will create another authority. If I say I am not, you will also create another authority". He said he would dissolve the Order of the Star if it "claimed to be a vessel that holds the Truth and the only Truth".
As time passed Krishnamurti's non-dualistic position became more radical and a number of people began to side in agreement or disagreement with him.
K speaks at Ommen, the Netherlands, August 3, 1929
During the next Camp of the Order of the Star at Ommen, on August 3, 1929, Krishnamurti made a speech dissolving the Order. Among other things, he said:
I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along any particular path.
Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley.
If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth.
I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.
You are all depending for your spirituality on someone else, for your happiness on someone else, for your enlightenment on someone else; and although you have been preparing for me for eighteen years, when I say all these things are unnecessary, when I say that you must put them all away and look within yourselves for the enlightenment, for the glory, for the purification, and for the incorruptibility of the self, not one of you is willing to do it. There may be a few, but very, very few. So why have an organization?
How many members are there in it?" That is the first question I am asked by all newspaper reporters. "How many followers have you? By their number we shall judge whether what you say is true or false." I do not know how many there are. I am not concerned with that. As I said, if there were even one man who had been set free, that were enough.
But those who really desire to understand, who are looking to find that which is eternal, without beginning and without an end, will walk together with a greater intensity, will be a danger to everything that is unessential, to unrealities, to shadows. And they will concentrate, they will become the flame, because they understand. Such a body we must create, and that is my purpose. Because of that real understanding there will be true friendship. Because of that true friendship–which you do not seem to know–there will be real cooperation on the part of each one. And this not because of authority, not because of salvation, not because of immolation for a cause, but because you really understand, and hence are capable of living in the eternal. This is a greater thing than all pleasure, than all sacrifice.
For two years I have been thinking about this, slowly, carefully, patiently, and I have now decided to disband the Order, as I happen to be its Head. You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned, nor with creating new cages, new decorations for those cages. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free.
This, again, was naturally interpreted as a rejection of his role as a vehicle of the World-Teacher. However, as he wrote to Lady Emily five years later, on August 27, 1934:
You say, mum . . . that I have denied being the W.T. [World Teacher]. You know, mum, I have never denied it. I have only said that it does not matter who or what I am but that they should examine what I say.
Krishnamurti continued speaking in public lectures, group discussions and with concerned individuals around the world. In the early 1960s, he made the acquaintance of physicist David Bohm, whose philosophical and scientific concerns regarding the essence of the physical world, and the psychological and sociological state of mankind, found parallels in Krishnamurti's philosophy. The two men soon became close friends and started a common inquiry, in the form of personal dialogues–and occasionally in group discussions with other participants–that continued, periodically, over nearly two decades.[l] Several of these discussions were published in the form of books or as parts of books, and introduced a wider audience (among scientists) to Krishnamurti's ideas. Although Krishnamurti's philosophy delved into fields as diverse as religious studies, education, psychology, physics, and consciousness studies, he was not then, nor since, well known in academic circles. Nevertheless, Krishnamurti met and held discussions with physicists Fritjof Capra and E. C. George Sudarshan, biologist Rupert Sheldrake, psychiatrist David Shainberg, as well as psychotherapists representing various theoretical orientations. The long friendship with Bohm went through a rocky interval in later years, and although they overcame their differences and remained friends until Krishnamurti's death, the relationship did not regain its previous intensity.
In 1984 and 1985, Krishnamurti spoke to an invited audience at the United Nations in New York, under the auspices of the Pacem in Terris Society chapter at the United Nations. In October 1985, he visited India for the last time, holding a number of what came to be known as "farewell" talks and discussions between then and January 1986. These last talks included the fundamental questions he had been asking through the years, as well as newer concerns about advances in science and technology, and their effect on humankind. Krishnamurti had commented to friends that he did not wish to invite death, but was not sure how long his body would last (he had already lost considerable weight), and once he could no longer talk, he would have "no further purpose". In his final talk, on 4 January 1986, in Madras, he again invited the audience to examine with him the nature of inquiry, the effect of technology, the nature of life and meditation, and the nature of creation
Krishnamurti was also concerned about his legacy, about being unwittingly turned into some personage whose teachings had been handed down to special individuals, rather than the world at large. He did not want anybody to pose as an interpreter of the teaching. He warned his associates on several occasions that they were not to present themselves as spokesmen on his behalf, or as his successors after his death.
A few days before his death, in a final statement, he declared that nobody among either his associates or the general public had understood what had happened to him (as the conduit of the teaching). He added that the "supreme intelligence" operating in his body would be gone with his death, again implying the impossibility of successors. However, he stated that people could perhaps get into touch with that somewhat "if they live the teachings". In prior discussions, he had compared himself with Thomas Edison, implying that he did the hard work, and now all that was needed by others was a flick of the switch
Krishnamurti died of pancreatic cancer on 17 February 1986, at the age of 90. The announcement of KFT (Krishnamurti Foundation Trust) refers to the course of his health condition until the moment of death. The first signs came almost nine months before his death, when he felt very tired. In October 1985, he went from England (Brockwood Park School) to India and after that, he suffered from exhaustion, fevers, and lost weight. Krishnamurti decided to go back to Ojai (10 January 1986) after his last talks in Madras, which necessitated a 24-hour flight. Once he arrived at Ojai he underwent medical tests that revealed he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. The cancer was untreatable, either surgically or otherwise, so Krishnamurti decided to go back to his home at Ojai, where he spent his last days. Friends and professionals nursed him. His mind was clear until the last moment. Krishnamurti died on 17 February 1986, at 10 minutes past midnight, California time. In accordance with his wishes, no memorial service was conducted. His ashes were divided into three parts: for Ojai, India and England. In India they were immersed in River Ganga in Varanasi, Gangotri, and in the ocean Adyar beach.
Note from the editor: please note that Krishnamurti’s biographical sketch as published above is not complete. For a part this sketch consists of excerpts from two different bios available on the internet, and it functions as a general introduction, extending a connection to the selection of (rare) photos of the young Krishnamurti which are published below. Although it is hard to find any photos of K. that were not published previously, an attempt is made to present a series with “lesser known” material, attracting the attention of a larger audience and they were taken in the early 20th century, long before the digital era.
Here some links to comprehensive bios and websites
Like always I wish to thank Jaishree Kannan and Catalina Isaza Cantor Agnihotri in Adyar, as well as Janet Kerschner at Olcott in Wheaton for their kind cooperation and much appreciated support. (JNK)
K. in 1900 aged 5, with his mother
Beside a stone bas-relief carving of an elephant in Mahabalipuram Madras (Chennai), 1909
K on the first floor of Headquarters Building, Adyar, 1910
Age 16, 1911
Cycling away from the River Bungalow, 1911
Climbing a tree as it seems, dressed in a Chega, in front of Shanti Kunj, Adyar 1912
Probably in front of Shanti Kunj, Adyar, occupied with some gymnastic exercises.... 1912
In Italy, on the balcony of Hotel Naumachie, Taormina, Sicily, 1912
At Villa Cevasco, Portofino, Italy 1912
At Villa Cevasco, Italy 1912
In Venice, St, Mark's Square, Venice 1913
Back in England, with a dog at the cottage of Lady De La Warr in Uxbridge near London,1914
Alfred Hitchens' painting of K
K as an actor in a play at Adyar, year unknown but probably around 1915
Embracing youngsters at Adyar, year unknown