Krishnamurti and Theosophy

The name of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) has become linked in many people’s minds with that of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement.

This is partly understandable, for it was C. W. Leadbeater – a prominent figure in “The Theosophical Society – Adyar” – who announced in 1909 that this poor unsuspecting Indian boy was to be the chosen vessel and vehicle through which “The Lord Christ-Maitreya, the World Teacher” (purportedly living physically in the Himalayas but not inclined to come again in person) would make his imminent Second Coming.

After twenty years of being prepared for this role by Leadbeater and Annie Besant (the President of that Society), which largely consisted of being indoctrinated with the Leadbeater/Besant version of “Theosophy,” Krishnamurti publicly declared, to the dismay of thousands, that he was not the vehicle for the Second Coming, that there was no such being as the supposed Christ-Maitreya described by Leadbeater and Besant, and that he would forthwith cease to be connected with Theosophy and the Theosophical Society.

For that, he can only be applauded, seeing as Leadbeater, Besant, their teachings, plans, and the organisation they presided over, were diametrically opposed to the Theosophy of H. P. Blavatsky and the actual Masters who were her Teachers, which had been deliberately neglected, pushed to the background, increasingly criticised and depreciated, and replaced with the entirely new and very contrary version of “Theosophy,” derived very largely from Leadbeater’s own self-proclaimed “clairvoyant discoveries.” This has been sufficiently explained, examined, and demonstrated, in numerous articles on this site, which can be found under the sub-heading “PSEUDO-THEOSOPHY REVEALED” on the Articles page.

Even though Krishnamurti constantly maintained after this point that the teachings which he proceeded to present were not Theosophy, many members of the Adyar Society were not willing to relinquish their connection with him quite so quickly, hence why within that organisation there is still quite a lot of respect and reverence for Krishnamurti and his ideas.

This seems strange when one considers that he specifically tried to distance himself from it, even to the point of ridiculing Theosophy in his talks. But it seems that some Adyar members are so deeply devoted to Besant and Leadbeater that they are not willing to consider that they could have made a mistake about something so major. Some of them think that the “Second Coming” (a belief which is thoroughly denied in the original Theosophy of HPB and the Masters) did happen in some way through Krishnamurti but that it just happened in a different way than initially expected.

“The Theosophical Society and I do not meet. You might like to make us meet, but that is quite a different matter,” he once said.

What is important for researchers and enquirers to be aware of is that Krishnamurti’s twenty or so years of Theosophical (if it can be called that) involvement was with a Society which is only ¼ of the Theosophical Movement.

There are four main independent and international “branches” or “streams” of the modern Theosophical Movement and three of these – namely the United Lodge of Theosophists, “The Theosophical Society – Pasadena,” and “The Theosophical Society – Point Loma” – have never had the slightest thing to do with Krishnamurti, Leadbeater, Besant, etc., nor is there any reason why they should.

After Krishnamurti abdicated from the role which had been forced upon him since childhood and parted company with anything Theosophy-related, he ceased to be a subject of concern or importance for the Theosophical world at large.

It can be useful, however, for students of Theosophy to be aware of the ways in which Krishnamurti’s own post-Theosophical teachings or philosophy (although he didn’t call his message a philosophy) differ from the real Theosophical teachings.

There is of course no reason why they should agree; our point is simply that when a Theosophist comes in contact with a Krishnamurti admirer it is not enough to simply say “Krishnamurti’s ideas are not in harmony with Theosophy.” The Theosophical student has to know how and why the two are incapable of compatibility.

That is quite simple to summarise:

1. Krishnamurti says there is no Divine or Absolute.

2. Krishnamurti says there is no Atman or Higher Self.

3. Krishnamurti says there is no soul.

4. Krishnamurti says that reincarnation is an invented theory produced by fear and that there is no reincarnation other than in the sense of being “born” into life again each day when we wake up.

5. Krishnamurti says that cause and effect do exist but not in the sense of the Law of Karma, which he calls an invention of ignorance.

6. Krishnamurti says that the Masters have no significance and are only projections of human belief.

7. Krishnamurti says that the Bodhisattva Ideal is an irrelevant invention.

8. Krishnamurti says that to reach Truth there is no Path to follow and no self-discipline or self-mastery to be applied.

9. Krishnamurti says that thought and thinking are something fundamentally detrimental to human beings and that the mind is produced by the brain.

10. Krishnamurti dismisses all ancient spiritual teachers, philosophers, and scriptures, of both East and West, and says that only fearful people read books and study philosophies and/or esotericism.

11. Krishnamurti says that death is a deep, mysterious, and creative, process, but criticises people who want to know what happens after death.

12. Krishnamurti says that love and compassion, felt equally for everyone, is the most important thing.

It is on this last point that the original Theosophy of H. P. Blavatsky and her colleague William Q. Judge is in total agreement with Krishnamurti, although lest this be considered praise of Krishnamurti let us remember that virtually every religion and spiritual tradition known to history has maintained exactly the same thing. “The Voice of the Silence,” translated by HPB from the Book of the Golden Precepts, expresses it this way:

“Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of LAWS – eternal Harmony, Alaya’s SELF; a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal.” (p. 70, original 1889 edition, republished 2017 by Theosophy Company Ltd., London, UK)

Krishnamurti’s teachings could perhaps be best defined as a profoundly anti-intellectual and extreme form of Zen. He did not describe it as Zen but anyone acquainted with the more anti-mind forms of Zen can see a clear parallel.

In “The Voice of the Silence” is this passage:

“For mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of Soul-Wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions. Seek O Beginner, to blend thy Mind and Soul.” (p. 26, original 1889 edition)

Early forms of Zen Buddhism had a similar view and promoted the daily practice of what they called “mirror-wiping meditation.” Later schools of Zen taught that the mind should not be “wiped” or “cleaned” but that it should be completely ignored and forgotten about and that attending in any way to the mind is hindering one’s enlightenment.

In the above list it is not difficult to recognise that the majority of Krishnamurti’s ideas were a not surprising mental rebellion and reaction to everything remotely related to Theosophy. For this he cannot really be blamed too much, as almost anyone would do the same after being force-fed Pseudo-Theosophy for two decades and having their personal independence and freedom deprived from them.

During those two decades, Leadbeater and Besant had deliberately kept HPB’s books and teachings away from him and had given him their own books and teachings to study instead, many of which had ended up taking on a very Christian and Catholic flavour. For this reason, when, in March 1934 in Auckland, New Zealand, a Theosophical questioner asked him, “What is your attitude to the early teachings of Theosophy, the Blavatsky type? Do you consider we have deteriorated or advanced?” his reply was:

“I am afraid I do not know, because I do not know what Madame Blavatsky’s teachings are. Why should I? Why should you know of someone else’s teachings? . . . Now you who have studied Madame Blavatsky’s and the latest Theosophy, or whatever it is, why do you want to be students of books instead of students of life? . . . Why do you want philosophies? Because life is an ugly thing, and you hope to run away from it through philosophy. Life is so empty, dull, stupid, ignominious, and you want something to bring romanticism into your world, some hope, some lingering, haunting feeling.”

The idea that philosophy can help one to understand and make sense of life was always consistently rejected by him. To Krishnamurti, all the great thinkers throughout all the ages were ignorant. Why? Precisely due to the fact that they were thinkers.

“Thought is never free,” he often said. “Thought is always conditioned by past experience and knowledge.  . . . thought is always old, never new; thought is never free. . . . Because, as I said, thought is always old, thought can never be free, thought is always limited and is always of the past.” (Talk in Paris, 16th April 1967)

Some Theosophists, acquainted with Theosophy’s teaching about the human mind being dual – Higher Manas and Lower Manas, the Nous and the Psyche – might say that when Krishnamurti spoke like that he was referring only to the Lower Manas and not the Higher. If that were the case then such statements could be said to be in line with Theosophy. But it is not the case, for the notion of a Higher Mind and Lower Mind was something he repeatedly ridiculed and dismissed whenever it would come up in the questions from his audiences.

In response to a question in New Delhi in December 1970 about whether there is a Higher Mind and Lower Mind, he responded, “Oh, Lord! How can the lower-mind find the higher-mind? Apparently, at the end of an hour and quarter we are still talking about the higher and the lower. We have talked about division, we have talked about fragmentation . . . We have talked about an hour, and you still get up and say, ‘What is the higher-mind and what is the lower-mind?’ . . . you waste your energy by repeating words that have no meaning except to those who have invented them.”

On another occasion, in Madras in December 1953: “Our mind is the experience. Now, with that mind we approach all life’s problems. I hope I am making myself clear. Because that is the only mind you and I have, not a higher mind or a lower mind. Because, the higher mind is still a thought process. The higher mind has been invented by thought.”

And, as we briefly mentioned a moment ago in #9, he maintained:

“The mind is the result of the brain. The brain produces the mind. Without the brain there is no mind, but the mind is separate from the brain. It is the child of the brain. If the brain is limited, damaged, the mind is also damaged. The brain, which records every sensation, every feeling of pleasure or pain, the brain with all its tissues, with all its responses, creates what we call the mind, although the mind is independent of the brain.” (Talk in New Delhi, 15th February 1959)

That is pure materialism and, when one examines his talks, dialogues, and answers to questions, it becomes apparent that Krishnamurti’s teachings are not spiritual teachings. There is nothing directly or explicitly spiritual in them. With the exception of love and compassion – which, although in reality something profoundly spiritual, can nonetheless be felt and practised by anyone, even the most hardened atheist – every principle, teaching, concept, and idea, from every form of spirituality, religion, and metaphysics, is denied by him, declared to be “invention,” and dismissed as “ignorance.”

It would not be unreasonable, therefore, to describe his system (for it is a system, however much he may have described it otherwise) as a form of practical atheistic psychology with a slight semi-mystical flavour to it.

That does not mean that it is “bad”; on the contrary, it may be what some people need and there undoubtedly are people who felt able to get their lives back on track in various ways after coming in contact with his teachings. But how anyone can think or say that it is even remotely compatible with Theosophy is a mystery. Perhaps those who do are people who have only thus far encountered a little of his teachings and have filtered his words through their existing Theosophical views and thus applied to his statements a meaning and inference which he himself had never intended.

In contrast with the twelve points enumerated above, we encourage all who are interested to also read the article 12 Things Theosophy Teaches which provides a concise overview and explanation of some of the main teachings of Theosophy, i.e. the authentic Theosophy of H. P. Blavatsky and her Eastern Adept-Teachers.

It is possible that Krishnamurti personally and privately believed in things which he did not teach or promote. For example, he may have believed in reincarnation but might have felt that the teaching of this principle does not truly benefit people practically and psychologically. However, we do not know either way so that is merely a speculation, voiced only in order to say that just because his system is essentially atheism does not mean that he himself was truly a sheer atheist. He is known to have at times suggested or implied to friends and colleagues that he had undergone transcendental experiences of the unconditioned “Reality,” in which case it would be unfair and misleading to say that he was personally and privately an atheist.

When we say “atheism” here, in regard to his system and the message that he presented publicly, we are not talking about simply a disbelief in “God” but are referring to his almost nihilistic denial of everything spiritual and divine, in both the human being and the cosmos. Theosophy is not atheistic but, in common with Buddhism and Jainism, it – or at least the esoteric system of the Trans-Himalayan Masters most directly behind the Movement – is non-theistic. There is a big and important difference. The Master or Mahatma K.H. famously wrote:

“Neither our philosophy nor ourselves believe in a God, least of all in one whose pronoun necessitates a capital H. . . . Our doctrine knows no compromises. It either affirms or denies, for it never teaches but that which it knows to be the truth. Therefore, we deny God . . . we know there is in our system no such thing as God, either personal or impersonal. Parabrahm is not a God, but absolute immutable law . . . we are in a position to maintain there is no God . . . The idea of God is not an innate but an acquired notion, and we have but one thing in common with theologies – we reveal the infinite.”

Even though the end result is markedly different, Krishnamurti shares with Theosophy a belief in the rejection of all external authorities over the human being’s mind:

“Our duty is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions. To oppose and counteract – after due investigation and proof of its irrational nature – bigotry in every form, religious, scientific, or social, and cant above all, whether as religious sectarianism or as belief in miracles or anything supernatural. What we have to do is to seek to obtain knowledge of all the laws of nature, and to diffuse it. To encourage the study of those laws least understood by modern people, the so-called Occult Sciences, based on the true knowledge of nature, instead of, as at present, on superstitious beliefs based on blind faith and authority.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Key to Theosophy” p. 48)

“There are no authorities in Theosophy except such as every one chooses to accept for himself.” (William Q. Judge, “Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 167)

“We reject every authority except that of our expanding spiritual perceptions.” (Robert Crosbie, “The Friendly Philosopher” p. 56)

The main reason given by Krishnamurti as to why he rejected and dismissed all those things listed above was that, in his view, anything which can be thought about or talked about cannot be truly real, for that which is truly real must be incapable of any type of expression or formulation. To give just one example, this is how he deals with the subject of the soul:

“We have created, through our desire for immortality, the idea of the soul. . . . The idea of the soul is based fundamentally on egotistic continuance. . . .  As the mind creates illusion, it divides itself into the permanent, which it calls the soul, and the impermanent, the transient existence. This division merely creates further illusion. . . . What is implied in soul? There is something permanent, continuous, which is beyond thought, something not created by thought. Right? That is generally what we call the atma, the soul, and so on – something not within the field of time and thought. But if thought can think about it, it is in the field of thought; therefore, it is not permanent. Right, sirs?” (Talks in New Delhi, 22nd December 1966, and Buenos Aires, 19th July 1935)

“Wrong, sir,” Theosophy answers. That which is truly real and spiritual is indeed incapable of being adequately and properly described and expressed in human thoughts and words. But that does not mean that those things which are necessarily imperfectly rendered by the human mind do not have an actual transcendent existence above and beyond the human mind. It would be difficult to argue with this from a philosophical and logical standpoint. When people did endeavour to argue with Krishnamurti or point out some of the gaping flaws in his system, his response was usually the customary response of all quasi-spiritual anti-intellectuals: to accuse the person of being trapped by mental conditioning and imprisoned by this terrible thing called intellect.

After freeing himself from the clutches of Pseudo-Theosophy (this, by the way, was a term coined by HPB in her article titled “On Pseudo-Theosophy”) Krishnamurti repeatedly insisted throughout the rest of his life that he was not a teacher, that he did not have a philosophy, that no-one should be considered an authority, and that he did not want anyone to accept something another tells them.

Yet he did teach, he did have a specific philosophy, and it is obvious from his talks, dialogues, and answers to audience members’ questions, that he put his views across with an air of authority and wanted people to accept them and most definitely not to challenge or criticise them. In fact, by demonising thinking and painting those who criticised or questioned his ideas as prisoners of intellect, he assumed a far greater and more controlling authority than most philosophers and spiritual teachers. The man who repeated that “Truth is a pathless land” had mapped out a quasi-path for his audiences, a “path” not to be debated or challenged. The man who belittled the reading of books had his talks transcribed into book form for people to buy and read. Some see in this “a mystical paradox that goes beyond thought.” Others – probably most people – see it much more pragmatically.

We close this article by placing in juxtaposition statements on one and the same subject from Krishnamurti and William Judge:

“Is it possible to free the mind through the process of thinking? . . . Now, does thinking free the mind? What is thinking? . . . thinking is obviously the result of memory, and this result has produced the chaos, the misery, the strife that exists within and without. The mind is the outcome of time, of many influences, of so-called culture and education, and how can such a mind free itself from its own destructive activities?” (J. Krishnamurti, Talk in Sydney, Australia, 12th November 1955)

“Man, made of thought, occupant only of many bodies from time to time, is eternally thinking. His chains are through thought, his release due to nothing else.” (William Q. Judge, “Notes on the Bhagavad Gita” p. 141)

According to Theosophy, thought is the only thing that binds us and thought is the only thing that frees us. “Thought is the real plane of action” is a Theosophical maxim or axiom. The wrong kind of thought, the wrong use of mind, binds us, chains us, whereas a different kind, the right kind of thought, the right use of mind, the right direction of our consciousness, releases us, frees us, liberates us. Some people say that the mind is the only barrier or obstacle between the man of Earth and the Higher Self. Theosophy, on the other hand, says that the mind is the only link between them.

“The mind alone – the sole link and medium between the man of earth and the Higher Self.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “Occultism versus The Occult Arts”)

In this context it is the Higher Mind that is meant, rather than the personal everyday “lower mind.” This is explained in other articles on this site, linked to below. As a quite different Krishna said, five thousand years ago, when instructing his disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of life:

“Raise the self by the Self; do not allow the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and, in like manner, self is its own enemy.”

~ ~

SOME RELATED ARTICLES: Antahkarana – The Path, Ego Is Not a Bad Word, Manas – The Mystery of Mind, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, What Does Theosophy Say About God?, Atman – The Higher Self, Death and the Afterlife, A Right Understanding of Karma, A Right Understanding of Reincarnation, The Masters in Theosophy, Who was William Quan Judge?, Understanding The Importance of Mr. Judge, Original Theosophy and Later Versions, The Case against C. W. Leadbeater, Why Stick To The Original?, and Tibetan Master or Christian Priest? (Uncovering the real inspiration behind the Alice Bailey Books).

REFERENCES: Those who might wish to check for themselves whether the twelve points listed at the start of this article accurately represent what Krishnamurti actually said and taught are invited to refer to the transcripts on various websites from the following: Conversation with Swami Venkatesananda, Saanen, July 1969; Talk in New Delhi, 12th December 1970; Talk in Bombay, 5th March 1950; Talk in Bombay, 6th February 1982; Seminar Meeting at Brockwood Park, September 1978; Answers to Questions in Adyar, 3rd January 1934; Talk in New Delhi, 18th November 1965; Talk in Madras, 9th January 1982; Talk in Buenos Aires, 19th July 1935; Talk in New Delhi, 22nd December 1966; Talk in New Delhi, 15th February 1959; Talk in New Delhi, 13th December 1970; Talk in Madras, 27th December 1953; Talk in New York, April 1974; Talk in Sydney, Australia, 12th November 1955; Talk in Paris, 16th April 1967; Talk at the University of Puerto Rico, 17th September 1968; Talk at Ojai, California, 24th July 1949; Talk at Bombay, 31st January 1979; Talk in Madras, 18th December 1949; Talk in Bombay, 17th February 1954; Talk at Brockwood Park, 9th September 1975; Talk in Stresa, 8th July 1933; Conversation with Dr Allan W. Anderson, San Diego, February 1974.

“Each human being has his Manodhatu or plane of thought proportionate with the degree of his intellect and his mental faculties, beyond which he can go only by studying and developing his higher spiritual faculties in one of the higher spheres of thought.”
(H. P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 205)