Ojai sits a number of miles inland in southern California. There the Krishnamurti Foundation sits, as Californian as any foundation could possibly be.
Jiddu Krishnamurti's story reads like a particularly absurd novel. He and his brother played on a beach in India, when Mr. Charles Leadbeater, a practitioner of that curious blend of eastern mysticism, stray occult ideas and western progressive thinking (admixed with a good bit of just good old-fashioned salesmanship) called theosophy, discovered them.
Reverend Leadbeater claimed that he saw in Krishnamurti immense potential. Most of us, when we see children at the beach with immense potential, say a kind word to child or parent, and then go build a sand castle. Mr. Leadbeater took a different tack. He saw a messiah on the hoof. He took the boys home with him.
Mr. Leadbeater's approach was novel, even in the days when the Raj treated some residents of India with far less than due respect. Because Mr. Leadbeater's intentions towards the boys drew controversial assumptions, he was more or less hounded out of India. But he took the boys with him to the UK. Their father, amazingly, lost a custody battle for them.
Leadbeater and the other well-known theosophical leader, Ms. Annie Besant, thought that Jiddu Krishnamurti could function as a great religious leader. They intended to raise a messiah of sorts. In fairness to them, the historic record apparently ambiguously suggests that they may have thought their "recognition" of the boy as a messiah to be an invention, and their real intention was, through a "proper" upbringing, to create a new religious figure. They had Jiddu's brother tag along, by the way, as a playmate.
During his early life, Krishnamurti played along, and a religoius foundation, the Order of the Eastern Star, rose up to glorify him. He attracted masses of listeners and a good-ish if not massive number of devotees. He managed to serve as an agent of division in theosophy, as some accepted him and some did not.
But one day, as a young-ish man, Krishnamurti decided that he would rather not play Christ in the set-piece designed for him. He gave a powerful speech announcing that he dissolved the Order of the Eastern Star. He pronounced that truth was a "pathless land", which one cannot discover by joining a religion or following another person's way. Krishnamurti proclaimed that he chose not be the founder of one more religion.
One might imagine, after such a refreshing break from guru-dom, that Krishnamurti might have used spare funds to start a plant nursery, and perhaps as a particular gesture of renunciation sold the mountain mahogany tree, a notoriously pathless but wonderful bit of chapparal, which teaches no creed. But in fact, Krishnamurti continued to lecture and speak. To summarize Krishnamurti's message in a few lines would disserve a rather interesting thinker. But he frequently rejected not only authority but also experience, suggesting that through concentration one could become freed of all prejudices, including the prejudices instilled by one's own prior life events.
Rather predictably, Krishamurti won a new following of people who regarded him as a kind of guru. He is still widely read, and people flock to Ojai to attend his foundation. He died an old man some years ago, still widely revered, and still showing a refreshing acerbity in his rejection of the easy pathway.
The past two decades have brought forth new information which has palled Mr. Krishnamurti's appeal for some. He proved, as many "leader-types" do, to have had
a rather messy personal life. His long-term affair with his best friend's wife--apparently well-documented, has received wider publicity through the publication of a book by her daughter. The picture that has emerged is of a man who had not one but at least two and perhaps a number of rather seamy affairs.
Krishnamurti never claimed to be a puritan, and in fact disavowed puritanical thinking. But he did stress asceticism, and in fact suggested in interviews words to the effect that he had transcended some matters of the flesh. Unlike, say, a Christian televangelist, the disenchantment with his personal actions experienced by some arises not from the affairs per se, but from his apparent efforts to conceal them (spiced, sadly, with claims that he insisted upon his lover securing abortions, though the record on this is apparently disputed).
To my mind, Krishnamurti's professed asceticism rings hollow in a more material way as well. He essentially lived in a certain enviable style and obtained financial assistance from well-wishers, but somehow managed to still claim that he was a man without possessions. There is the old joke, of course, that even Gandhi's supporters said that it cost them a fortune to keep Gandhi in poverty, so perhaps this is not so interesting observation but instead an innuendo as to Krishnamurti as well. I'm interested, though, by people who live in poverty in charming places with wonderful scenery and gorgeous homes. The vow of poverty is truly a difficult one for a guru to take (and I am not sure a necessary one). Yet if one is to pass oneself off as freed of the material, it seesm to me unfortunate to be immersed in it.
I must admit that I do not have much of the guru-following gene in my DNA. I think that my connection with the eastern mysteries reaches its height when I go to the Bodhi Tree bookstore in the Los Angeles area. There I browse arcane texts, inhale amazingly high quality incense, listen to music in which sitars and synthesizers reverberate, and marvel at how many women with herbal essence hair, clear nail polish, yoga-developed healthy appearances, and a kind of new age chic fashion sense (sandals and designer wear, or heels with a some exotic attire, such as perhaps a dirndl) roam the shelves, seeking out truth, as contrasted to the men, who tend to be rather less impressive middle-aged "stake out a corner by the shelves" readers of the esoteric, with indifferently cut hair, khaki and jean clad, less chic than chagrining (read: postal worker or high school physics teacher which, now that I think about it, is cool rather than chagrining).
But I think it might be fun to weekend at the Krishnamurti Center, plunging into complex texts about how complex texts don't help, and discussing the importance of independent thinkers with those who depend on Krishnamurti's thinking. I'm not so worried that Mr. Krishnamurti was deeply flawed. I no longer believe in the infallibility of man, and I believe that the skeletons often dance, and not only during the days of the dead.
I knew a guru once, and her husband. I did not know them well--they were witnesses in a case in which I was involved, and as to which I'll spare the details. I loved the way that the woman with the charming Hindu sounding name was really Rachel or Polly Jean or some such from rural Kentucky. I thought it intriguing that these people lived what I consider to be a southern California stereotype.
I'm not of Krishnamurti's mind that one must reject everything to understand anything. I'm a simple person, who accepts much, and learns more every day.
I think that I'm also a complex person, because I have reached the point in which I recognize that my theories do not matter as much as the living of them.
I believe in faith and hope and love and, yes, pathways and grace and salvations and God. But does it really matter if I tell you that I do? I'd rather just live as if I did. I think that would be a marked improvement.
I wonder, sometimes, at the worship of people. Politicians, artists rock stars, and prominent ministers all acquire their camp followrs. I can understand this in part, because who can resist spending time with the enchanting? But fame, power, and money prove intoxicating and enchanting. It's not lost on me how attractive the unattractive become if they have money.
In some ways, the worries that arise in these concerns are pedestrian and not worth the trouble of having. What does it matter whether a guru drives a Lincoln? It's not like he's out kidnapping peace activists on the streets, as fanatic "insurgents" did in Iraq this week (parenthetically, I never cease to be amazed at those who lament misguided American policies, but never recognize the threat that theocratic thinking at home and abroad poses to our individual liberty. As September 11 approaches, I do think that we must never forget the spectre of innocents slaughtered with airplanes, or Afghan women executed in soccer stadiums for daring to long for rights).But I think there is a virtue to truth. Diogenes hunts for it, as well as for a fat-free quarter pounder.
Maybe this is part of why science is so satisfying. People don't matter so much in science--data does. Find a truth, and then repeat it in the lab. When it ceases to be truth, discard it. But this approach takes too long for day to day living--one must rely on faith and intuition, too.
But I think we can read books by flawed men and women and learn from them without quite worshipping them. You read a bit, discard a bit, and accept a bit. Never mind that it's heart-breaking that nothing is perfect. We're not really perfection-oriented folks. We just need good stories and a hint or two of truth. Then the sun sets.