Wednesday, April 22, 2009

J Krishnamurti and the Upanishads

I am still with Mary Lutyen’s beautiful book, Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening.

So far as I know, J Krishnamurti never taught the Upanishads, never gave a lecture on the Upanishads. He did not believe in scriptures or teachers, did not believe in traditions or paths. And yet while going through Mary Lutyens’s book, I was once again reminded of how amazingly close his personal experiences and teachings are to those of the Upanishad seers.

Here is one of the profound, life altering experiences from his early life described in the book. This happened in August 1923, when Krishnamurti was twenty-eight years old. He describes the experience in a letter he wrote to Mrs Annie Besant, his adopted mother, two days after the experience happened.

“Then, on the 17th August, I felt acute pain at the nape of my neck and I had to cut down my meditation to fifteen minutes. The pain instead of getting better as I had hoped grew worse. The climax was reached on the 19th. I could not think, nor was I able to do anything, and I was forced by friends here to retire to bed. Then I became almost unconscious, though I was well aware of what was happening around me. I came to myself at about noon each day. On the first day while I was in that state and more conscious of the things around me, I had the first most extraordinary experience. There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; the very stone which he was breaking up was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the tree beside the man was myself. I almost could feel and think like the roadmender, and I could feel the wind passing through the tree, and the little ant on the blade of grass I could feel. The birds, the dust, and the very noise were a part of me. Just then there was a car passing by at some distance; I was the driver, the engine, and the tires; as the car went further away from me, I was going away from myself. I was in everything, or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm, and all breathing things. “

This oneness with the universe, in which we see ourselves in all beings and all beings in ourselves, is precisely the experience of the Upanishadic seers, which they give words to in numerous Upanishads.

The sage of the Taittiriya Upanishad, for instance sings out in the moment of self-realization:

“Hāa vu! Hāa vu! Hāa vu!
Aham annam aham annam aham annam!
Aham annādo’ham annādo’ham annādah!
Aha’m ślokakrt aha’m ślokakrt aha’m ślokakrt!
Aham asmi prathamajā rtāasya!
Poorvam devebhyo’mrtasya nāabhāayī!
Yo mā dadāti sa ideva māavāh!
Aham annam aham annam adantam āadmi!
Aham viśwam bhuvanam abhyabhavāam!

I have quoted the words of the seer in Sanskrit because of the ecstasy that pulsates in every word he utters. He is not making a statement, but singing out full throated, as the ‘āa’s appearing throughout shows. [These are the extra long vowels of Vedic Sanskrit, which does not exist in classical Sanskrit. The short vowels [hrasva] are one mātrā long, the long vowels [dīrgha] two mātrās long, and these, called plutas, three mātrās long.

Here is a translation of the seer’s song.

Hāa vu! Hāa vu! Hāa vu! [Sounds of his ecstasy] I am the food, I am the food, I am the food! I am the eater of the food, I am the eater of the food, I am the eater of the food! I am the maker of verses [poet], I am the maker of verses, I am the maker of verses! I am the first born of this world, the manifestation of truth as the formed and the formless! I existed before the gods! I am the centre of immortality! He who offers food, it is this me he protects! I am food, I am food and I am the one who eats up the eater of food! It is I that has become the entire universe! I am the golden light!

The seer of the Shwetashwatara Upanishad expresses the same idea – the only difference being that his expression is in the third person. Here it is ‘He’ the sage sees in everything, rather than ‘I’ – but for him the He and I are one and the same. Here is what he says:

“tvam strī tvam pumān asi tvam kumāra uta vā kumārī tvam jīrno dandena vañcasi tvam jāto bhavasi viśvatomukhah
nīlah patango harito lohitākshhas tadidgarbha rtavah samudrāhanādimat tvam vibhutvena vartase yato jātāni bhuvanāni viśvā”

“Thou art the woman, Thou art the man. Thou art the youth and the maiden too. Thou art the old man who totters along, leaning on the staff. Thou art born with faces turned in all directions. Thou art the dark blue butterfly, and the green parrot with red eyes. Thou art the thunder-cloud, the seasons and the oceans. Thou art without beginning, and beyond all time and space. Thou art He from whom all the worlds are born.”

The Upanishad seer might as well have sung: “I am the man, I am the woman. I am the youth and the maiden too. I am born with faces turned in all directions. I am the old man who totters along, leaning of the staff. I am the dark blue butterfly, and the green parrot with red eyes. I am the thunder-cloud, the seasons and the oceans. I am without beginning and beyond all time and space. I am He from whom all the worlds are born.’ Strangely, this sounds somehow more correct!

It is the sage of the Kaivalya Upanishad who says this:

“mayyeva sakalam jātam, mayi sarvam pratishthitam
mayi sarvam layam yāti tadbrahmādvayam asmyaham.”

“Everything is born in me, all things have their existence in me and everything merges back into me. I am that Brahman, the one without a second.”

The Kaivalya Upanishad rishi is very clear that there is only one way to attain the Vast and no other – by knowing oneself as existing in all beings and all beings as existing in oneself:

“sarvabhootastham atmanam, sarvabhootani chatmani
sampashyan brahma paramam yati nanyena hetuna.”

[I had an interesting experience while thinking about this mantra. The mantra came to my mind as I thought about such mantras in the Upanishads, but couldn’t recall from which Upanishad it is. I closed my eyes and I saw my teacher sitting majestically in our ashram temple, where he frequently taught us, sitting in the special teacher’s seat that was placed there. Tall and fair, he looked every inch a royal sage, as he always did. I heard him chanting this mantra in his deep, resonant voice, his body swinging with it, his eyes intoxicated with the power of the mantra. The words I heard were chanted in his unique accent and then suddenly I knew from which Upanishad the mantra came – Kaivalya Upanishad.]


Vagambhrini [Vak Ambhrini - Vak, the daughter of sage Ambhrina] is one of the several wisdom-intoxicated female seers [rishikas] of the Rig Veda. She too had the experience and this is how she sings about it:

Aham rudrebhir vasubhiś charāmyaham ādityair uta viśvadevaih
Aham mitrā varunobhā bibharmyaham indrāgnee aham aśvinobhā. [1]

I move with the Rudras and also with the Vasus, I wander with the Adityas and the Vishwadevas. I hold aloft both Mitra and Varuna, and also Indra and Agni and the twin Ashvins.

Aham somam āhanasam bibharmi aham tvashtāram uta pūshanam bhagam
Aham dadhāmi dravinam havishmate suprāvye yajamānāya sunvate. [2]

I uphold Soma the exuberant; I uphold Tvasta, Pushan, and Bhaga. I endow with wealth the offerer of oblation, the worshipper and the pious presser of the Soma.

Aham rāshtrī sangamanī vasūnām chikitushee prathamā yajniyānām
Tām mā devā vyadadhuh puritrā bhūristhātrām bhooryāveśayantīm. [3]

I am the ruling Queen, the amasser of treasures, full of wisdom, first of those who are worthy of worship. That me the Gods have installed in all places, with many homes for me to enter and dwell in.

Mayā so annamatti yo vipaśyati yah prāniti ya ī śrnotyuktam
Āmantavo mām ta upa kshiyanti śrudhi śruta śraddhivam te vadāmi. [4]

Through me alone all eat the food that helps them see, breathe and hear the spoken word. He is not aware of me, yet he dwells in me alone. Listen, you who know! You must trust the words I speak to you.

Ahameva svayam idam vadāmi jushtam devebhir uta mānushebhih
Yam kāmaye tam tam ugram krnomi tam brahmānam tam rshim tam sumedhām [5]

It is I who announces the tidings that the gods and men alike rejoice to hear. The man I love, I make mighty in strength. I make him a priest, a sage, or a learned scholar, as I please.

Aham rudrāya dhanurā tanomi brahmadvishe śarave hantavā u
Aham janāya samadam krnomi aham dyāvā prthivee ā viveśa. [6]

I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may slay the hater of the words of sacred wisdom. I rouse the people, and make them strive. I have entered the Earth and Heaven, filling everything.

Aham suve pitaram asya mūrdhan mama yonir apsu antah samudre
Tato vi tishthe bhuvanānu viśvotāmūm dyām varshmanopa sprśāmi [7]

I give birth to the creator in the heavens atop the world and my own origin is deep in the ocean, in the cosmic waters. From there I permeate all existing worlds, and even touch yonder heavens with my forehead.

Ahameva vāta iva pra vāmi ārabhamānā bhuvanāni vishvā
Paro divā para enā prthivī etavatī mahinā sam babhūva [8]

It is my breath that blows as the mighty wind, while I hold together all the worlds.
Beyond the heavens and above the earth I tower, such am I in my might and splendour.


Like the Upanishad seers, Krishnamurti too believes that Truth is a pathless land. His words while dissolving the Order of the Star, the organization that was created to make the world ready for the World Teacher [Krishnamurti] and of which he was the head, sound like they are taken straight from the Upanishads. Those words have the same quality – the same fearlessness, the same directness, the same clarity and the same lightning power of the truth.

“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 organisation be formed to lead or coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others.

“That is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. 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….

“No man from outside can make you free; nor can an organized worship, nor the immolation of yourselves for a cause, make you free; nor can forming yourselves into an organization, nor throwing yourselves into work, make you free. You use a typewriter to write letters, but you do not put it on an altar and worship it. But that is what you are doing when organizations become your chief concern….

“Again, you have the idea that only certain people hold the key to the Kingdom of Happiness. No one holds it. No one has the authority to hold that key. That key is your own self and in the development and the purification and in the incorruptibility of that self alone is the Kingdom of Eternity.”

One of my all time favourite verses in Sanskrit is the first one in the Bhagavata Mahatmya:

yam pravrajantam anupetam apetakrtyam
dvaipayano virahakātara ājuhāva
putreti tanmayatayā taravobhineduh
tam sarvabhootahrdayam munim ānatosmi

The verse describes how once Shuka, the son of sage Vyasa, was going away from him, while he was still very young, while his Upanayana was yet to be performed. Shuka was leaving his father to wander the earth as a pravrajaka – a lifelong wanderer. A tormented Vyasa calls him back with a father’s natural agony, calling out “Oh son!” And the trees and plants around answer Vyasa, for Shuka had already become one with the whole creation and was in the heart of every being.

Here is a precious parting thought from Krishnamurti: “Meditation is the flowering of goodness; it is not the cultivation of goodness.”


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