J. KRISHNAMURTI (1895 - 1986)

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) is acknowledged the world over as one of the most outstanding religious teachers of the modern age. His vision of life transcends all national and sectarian boundaries and his message has relevance for all people irrespective of religious persuasion or circumstance. Without a particular philosophy or school of thought he focuses attention on bringing about a radical change in human consciousness.

He travelled untiringly all over the globe and was regarded everywhere as a revolutionary in matters of religion. He often shocked people by shattering their assumptions, uncompromisingly stating that to follow another in spiritual matters is to destroy oneself and the other, that organized religions do not unite but divide mankind, that virtue cannot be cultivated, that knowledge does not free the mind, and so on. His concern focused on the nature of the mind and freeing it of the many psychological barriers that prevent clarity of perception.  He spoke of observation, listening and enquiry as essential to life.

Early Days

J. Krishnamurti was born at midnight on 11 May 1895 in Madanapalle, about 250 km north of Madras.  (According to Western reckoning it was 12 May 1895). His parents were high-caste Brahmins. Being the eighth child, according to orthodox custom, he was given the name Krishna. The sacred thread ceremony (upanayanam) was performed when the child Krishna was six years old. His father, Jiddu Narayaniah, was a Government official, and a member of The Theosophical Society from 1881.

His father’s frequent transfers and Krishna’s bouts of malarial fever interrupted the latter’s studies. He often looked around vaguely in the classroom and his teacher repeatedly punished him for his inattentiveness. In his generosity he would also give away his books and pencils to needy students and distribute food to beggars who came to his home. He lost his mother when he was ten. 

In January 1909, after Mr Narayaniah retired, he started working for The Theosophical Society. He moved with his family to a dilapidated cottage outside the Society’s campus. Krishna and his younger brother Nityananda were helped with their school work by members of the Society such as Prof. Ernest Wood.

Both the brothers would go down to the beach with other children to paddle and watch swimmers. Towards the end of April, after Dr Besant had left on a tour, Mr Leadbeater went one evening to the beach with his secretary, Mr Wood, and saw the boys there. On returning he told Wood that one of the boys had a very unusual aura, that he had never seen an aura so free of selfishness, and that the boy would become a great speaker. Mr Wood was surprised, as he had been helping the boy with his homework, and had found him slow to learn and physically very weak.

When R. Balfour-Clarke, a young English member, arrived to work for The Theosophical Society, Leadbeater talked to him about Krishnamurti, adding that his Adept Teacher had said:

‘There is a purpose for that family to be here and both these boys will undergo training about which you will hear more later.’  

He had been instructed by his Teacher to help and train Krishnamurti. Leadbeater then asked Narayaniah to bring Krishnamurti to his bungalow after school. Leadbeater sat beside the boy on a sofa and placing his hand on the boy’s head, began to describe his former lives. This was then done every Saturday and Sunday. Once he looked more closely at Krishna’s aura and as he studied clairvoyantly some fifty of the boy’s previous incarnations, he became convinced that not only would Krishna develop into a great speaker but that the Lord Maitreya would ‘overshadow’ him. The Lord Maitreya, known as the Christ in the West, would thus set the keynote for the new era that Madame Blavatsky had referred to in her writings.

Training and Education

In September 1909, Mr Leadbeater wrote to Dr Besant about the boys, and on his advice the family moved inside the campus. As the boys were badly beaten in school,  Leadbeater advised their father to remove them from the school, which he did reluctantly. A few senior Theosophists like Ernest Wood and S. V. Subramania Iyer started tutoring them. Balfour-Clarke took care of other aspects of their training.

Young Krishna received at night, the exquisite teachings from the Adept Teacher who taught him the true laws of life and conduct — a teaching that has been imparted to similar candidates throughout the ages. These were summarized into a few simple sentences, which he remembered and noted in the morning. These notes, published later in 1910 as the little book At the Feet of the Master, have changed the lives of thousands of people all round the world.

Annie Besant and Krishnamurti

Krishna and his brother Nitya met Dr Besant for the first time on 27 November 1909 when she returned from England. Ever since their relationship was one of deep and abiding love. In March 1910 Narayaniah assigned guardianship of Krishnamurti and Nityananda to Dr Besant by a legal document. But later Dr Besant had to send Krishna and Nitya out of India when she learnt that an attempt would be made to remove them from her care, as the father wished legally to annul her guardianship. Dr Besant was ordered to bring the boys back to India by a court presided over by a British judge. However, she appealed to the Privy Council in England and won the case because the Privy Council held that the boys’ wishes had not been ascertained. They remained in her care till they came of age. In January 1910, Dr Besant wrote to Leadbeater:

'It is definitely fixed that the Lord Maitreya takes this dear child’s body.  It seems a very heavy responsibility to guard and help it, so as to fit it for Him, as He said, and I feel rather overwhelmed’.

In later years, when Krishnamurti was asked about Dr Besant he said:

'Dr Besant was our mother, she looked after us, she cared for us.  But one thing she did not do.  She never said to me, "Do this" or "Don’t do that".  She left me alone. Well, in these words I have paid her the greatest tribute.'

The Theosophical Society

In 1910 Mr Arundale selected a few students of the Central Hindu College, Benares, and started ‘The Order of the Rising Sun of India’. On 11 January 1911, Dr Besant changed the name to ‘Order of the Star in the East’ and asked Krishnamurti to be its Head, young though he was. The purpose was to draw together those who believed in the coming of the World Teacher and to prepare the public to receive the Teachings. A magazine was started called The Herald of the Star, edited by Krishnamurti, which was translated into several languages.

Krishnamurti and his brother went to the Indian Section Headquarters of The Theosophical Society at Benares for the first time towards the end of September 1910. Here they applied to join the Society, with Dr Besant and Mr Arundale recommending their applications. Membership diplomas were issued to them on 17 February 1910.

Dr Besant left Bombay with the two boys on 22 April 1911 for England. In her talk at the Theosophical Headquarters in London she announced publicly the formation of the Order of the Star in the East and in June and July gave three lectures in the Queen’s Hall on ‘The Coming of the World Teacher’.

After travelling in Europe they returned to Madras on 7 October 1911, and proceeded to Benares for the Theosophical Convention. In December the members of the Order of the Star in the East gathered in the Hall to receive their certificates from the hands of Krishnaji — as Krishnamurti was lovingly called.  ‘All of a sudden the Hall was filled with a tremendous power which was evidently flowing through Krishnaji’ and the members fell at his feet as they received their certificates. Krishnaji returned to his seat and after a few minutes of silence, the meeting was closed. This was the first intimation of the future role of Krishnamurti, as a vehicle of the Lord Maitreya. From May to July 1912 Dr Besant, Leadbeater and Jinarâjadâsa stayed with the two brothers at Taormina, in Sicily, where Krishnaji had further training, before the party moved to England.

During 1912–21 Krishnamurti’s meditation entered depths, and his insight into the causes of human pain and suffering found expression in his utterances and writings. He held fireside camps at Ommen, Holland where a Dutch nobleman donated his estate of 5000 acres with an old castle to Krishnaji for camps, while others donated generously to the construction of an amphitheatre. All these and other assets he returned to the original owner after the dissolution of the Order eight years later.

Now Krishnamurti’s writings came in quick succession, the major ones being: The Path, Who Brings the Truth?, By What Authority?, The Goal, Here and Now, The Search, Life in Freedom and The Kingdom of Happiness. The famous Ommen talk on By What Authority? shook out of complacency the group of devoted people who had been conditioned into various beliefs.

1925 Onwards

In November 1925, Nityananda died of tuberculosis in Ojai, California.  He was three years younger than Krishnamurti and the brothers were deeply devoted to each other. Sorrow touched the deepest recesses of Krishnamurti’s being and stirred the ‘intelligence’, which was perhaps lying dormant within him.

While addressing the International Convention of The Theosophical Society on 28 December under the Banyan Tree at Adyar, Krishnaji spoke of the coming of the Lord Maitreya,

‘We are all expecting Him who is the example. He will be with us soon . . .’  

Then suddenly his voice changed to a powerful tone of penetrating sweetness, and he concluded his address in the first person with the words,

‘I come to those who want sympathy, who are longing to be released, who are longing to find happiness in all things.  I come to reform, and not tear down; not to destroy, but to build.’

The year 1925 was the Golden Jubilee of The Theosophical Society and one of the events was the inauguration of the reformed ritual of Hindu congregational worship called the ‘Bhârata Samâj Puja’. Individual worship was the immemorial tradition of Hinduism, but this was a ritual of a new type for congregational worship. Krishnaji had spent many days with Pandit A. Mahadeva Sastri and others learning the Vedic verses with extraordinary zeal and enthusiasm. The first puja in the newly completed Bhârata Samâj Temple was combined with the first public performance of the ritual by Krishnaji on 21 December 1925. The congregation consisted not only of Hindus of all castes but also of representatives of all the other major religions, and more noteworthy still was the presence of a representative of the outcastes, the Panchamas. There was no image in the Holy of Holies, but only a light.

In 1926, Krishnamurti wrote to Mr Leadbeater:

'I know my destiny and my work. I know with certainty that I am blending into the consciousness of the one Teacher, and that he will completely fill me.'

In 1929 Krishnamurti disbanded the Order of the Star in the East, which had more than 75,000 members, declaring: 

'Truth is a pathless land.’  

He said that if Truth is individual, eternal and unique, any organization born of time can only imprison and distort Truth.

The Process

From the time of his ‘discovery’ there has been a silence surrounding Krishnaji’s inner life. Most of those who have been interested in his life and work have perceived him as being opposed to any esoteric doctrine. It is generally believed that Krishnaji denied the existence of the Masters and that he was the vehicle of the Lord Maitreya, as his Theosophical mentors had proclaimed. However, a deeper investigation reveals that the Masters and the Lord Maitreya continued to be realities in his life, apparently every single day since he first came into touch with them in his youth. Moreover, some understanding of Krishnaji’s inner life is essential for grasping clearly the deeper aspects of what he taught. Krishnamurti himself suggested this. Regarding Krishnamurti’s process, both he and Leadbeater had stated independently that it was an initiation, and statements made by Krishnamurti subsequently on the subject affirmed the same.

Krishnamurti made some comments after the 1960s to the effect that his brain was still not a perfect vehicle and thus the process needed to continue into his later life. He commented shortly before he died that throughout his life he had been used as a vehicle by ‘an immense energy, an immense intelligence’. However, he was not inclined to discuss his inner life until the late 1960s. It was first made public in Mary Lutyens’ biography, the first volume of which was published in 1975.

Travels and Lecture Tours

Krishnamurti gave his first public talk during the Theosophical World Congress in Paris in 1920, where he made a profound impression by his wisdom and power and the extraordinary originality of his thought and expression. After a decade-long absence from India he gave a lecture on Theosophy and Internationalism at the International Convention held in Benares in December 1921. In 1922 Krishnamurti and Nitya stayed in the Ojai Valley, because the climate was beneficial to the latter. In 1927 Dr Besant acquired land in Ojai, California, for Krishnamurti’s work. In 1928, owing to her work for the Indian National Congress, she placed the management of the International Convention in Benares in Krishnamurti’s hands. From 1923 onwards Krishnamurti travelled and spoke in USA, Holland, India and several other countries. Dr Besant continued to invite him to address the Annual Theosophical Conventions at Adyar and Benares.

For more than sixty years, through public talks and private interviews he addressed millions of people, saying that only through a complete change in the hearts and minds of individuals can a change come about in society and the world. The emphasis in his talks and writings was on the psychological barriers that prevent clarity of perception. The rejection of all spiritual and psychological authority, including his own, was a fundamental theme. His stature as an original philosopher attracted traditional and non-traditional thinkers and philosophers alike. Heads of various religious organizations held discussions with him and in 1974 a group of distinguished physicists and psychologists stayed for ten days at the Krishnamurti school in Brockwood Park, England for daily discussions with him.

He spent three to four months in Ojai every year, going directly from India where he usually had a very full schedule of talks and travels. From Ojai, he would travel to speak at San Francisco, New York (at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden), at the United Nations, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, DC and so forth. In 1984, he spoke to the nuclear scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico, USA, where the atomic and hydrogen bombs were developed. Dr David Bohm, the well-known quantum physicist, recognized in Krishnamurti’s teachings parallels with his own revolutionary theories in physics, which led to many years of dialogue between them and helped to form a bridge between so-called mysticism and science. Increasingly, the world came to him, and through videotapes and television, he was speaking to countless thousands in their homes across the world.

Krishnamurti Foundations

During Krishnamurti’s lifetime, Foundations in India, the USA, England and Latin America came into being to arrange his travel and organize his public talks, publish his books and run the schools founded by him. These foundations had the express role of protecting the teachings from being distorted and of disseminating his work, without the authority to interpret or deify the teachings or the person.

Last Days

When Mrs Radha Burnier became President of the Theosophical Society in 1980, Krishnamurti began to visit Adyar, where he had spent many memorable years. Four and a half decades had passed before that day on 3 November 1980 when he again visited the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, where he was warmly welcomed.  He walked through the grounds to the Adyar beach followed by a throng of people. Again in December during the Theosophical Convention he met the delegates, and visited Dr Besant’s room and the apartment she had built for him. In the following years, Krishnamurti regularly visited Adyar whenever he was in Chennai and took a walk on the beach. During the last years of his life, he was often heard speaking about Annie Besant’s greatness, love and understanding.

In November 1985 during his stay in Benares, he visited The Theosophical Society’s campus there, spent a little while in Shanti Kunj, Annie Besant’s Benares home and spoke briefly to members and others assembled in the Section’s Hall, after an interval of more than fifty years. Even at the end of 1985, when he was very frail, he had his evening walk on the Adyar beach, and greeted as usual the Convention delegates who had gathered there to pay their respects to him.

Krishnamurti took his last walk in Adyar on 10 January 1986; he requested those who had accompanied him to go ahead and wait for him at the gate. He then turned to all the four directions and paused for a minute in a reverential farewell. That day he left India for California, and breathed his last on 17 February 1986 aged ninety years, at his home, Pine Cottage, in Ojai.




J. Krishnamurti


1.The Inner Life of Krishnamurti, Aryel Sanat, Quest Books, 1999.
2.'J. Krishnamurti', Annie Besant, The Theosophist, Vol. 107, No. 6, March 1986.
3.The Childhood of Krishnamurti, III, p.2-3, Balfour-Clarke (Theosophical Society Archives).
4.The Years of Awakening, Mary Lutyens.
5.‘Preparing for the Krishnamurti Journey’, Achyut Patwardhan, The Theosophist, Vol. 109, No. 1, October 1987.
6.'Hindu Puja by a Woman Purohit', C. Jinarâjadâsa, The Theosophist, Vol. 53, No. 10, July 1932.
7.'J. Krishnamurti, Theosophy and the Theosophical Society, Qs. and Ans.' by Radha Burnier, The Theosophist, Vol. 126, No. 11, August 2005.
8.A Short History of the Theosophical Society, Josephine Ransom, TPH, 1989.
9.'Krishnamurti in Adyar', Subha Nilakanta, Talk delivered on Adyar Day, 17 February 2003.