J Krishnamurti and Yogavaasishta

February 16, 2008 at 10:26 pm 7 comments

I should apologize in advance to my regular readers who expect a poem or a short humorous post in this blog. I am not sure at all about any reader liking this. In fact, I am quite sure that nobody will like this. The hardcore Krishnamurti followers will perhaps hate the ‘Hindu’ tag that I am naively putting on him. And extreme right-wing Hindus will certainly not like the idea of a Hindu text abolishing several concepts popularly believed to be very Hindu. But let me put this whole thing up anyway.

A note on Sanskrit phonetics:

I have italicized all Sanskrit words in this article. The following phonetic regulations are to considered for correct pronunciation of those words:

  • aa – the second ‘a’ in ‘alarm’. (alaarm).
  • c – ‘ch’ in ‘chant’.
  • i – ‘i’ in ‘him’.
  • ee – ‘ee’ in ‘peel’.
  • N – hard ‘n’. Unfortunately, there is no European equivalent to this sound.
  • Use of capitals:
    • t – the soft ‘t’ used in French, (‘t’ in ‘tu’).
    • th – ‘th’ in ‘thank’.
    • d – ‘th’ in ‘the’.
    • T – the normal ‘t’ in English. ‘t’ in ‘tea’.
    • D – the normal ‘d’ in English. ‘d’ in ‘do’.

“I would like to talk about the whole problem of existence. . . . All values are changing from day to day, there is no respect, no authority, and nobody has faith in anything whatsoever; neither in the Church, nor in the establishment, nor in any philosophy. So one is left absolutely to oneself to find out what one is to do in this chaotic world. What is the right action?” – JK, Beyond Violence, Ch 1: Existence

I had wandered into the library of the KFI (Krishnamurti Foundation India) Chennai this Friday afternoon for want of something to do. I had expected the place to be a pile of books meant for the coffee-table philosophers (people who feign interest in philosophical or religio-philosophical matters only to secure a position among the heavyweights of a pseudo-intellectual circle) engaging in Jiddu Krishnamurti for their fall/winter conglomerations. To my pleasant surprise, they had a rather impressive collection of books on several subjects. Having bought a few books by J K recently, and having managed to reach the middle of only the second among them, I decided to select a non-Krishnamurti work from the shelf. For no reason whatsoever, I picked up yogavaasishtha

At this point, I should provide a brief introduction to the yogavaasishtha

Yogavaasishtha is a philosophical treatise written by the great Sanskrit poet and scholar Vaalmiki. The original treatise comprises of 30,000 slokas. It is written in the form of a dialog between sixteen year old Raama and the great sage Vasishtha. The book is one of the best discourses on monism, propounding that everything in the universe is a projection or manifestation of a singular consciousness. It is also a beautiful book even only in terms of its poetic charm. For a more elaborate description of this treatise, I urge you to visit – A Brief Introduction to Yogavaasishtha. Yogavaasishtha starts with Raama as a dejected prince who finds life and its achievements quite pointless by noticing, quite correctly, that all happiness and sorrow of life is transient. The sage Vasishtha decides to tell Raama about permanent bliss, liberation, bondage of life, etc. Broadly speaking, the book deals with the problem of inharmonious existence and impermanence.

As I kept on reading this wonderful treatise, I was repeatedly hit by the similarities between this ancient Hindu text and the teachings of one of the greatest contemporary teachers, J Krishnamurti. I would like to draw parallels between Krishnamurti’s book “Beyond Violence” and Yogavaasishtha.

“I am sure each one of us asks what is the right conduct. This is a very serious question.” (J K, Beyond Violence, Ch. 1: ‘Existence’)

In Yogavaasishtha, good conduct has been stated as an automatic outcome of the first of the seven stages of enlightenment. The first stage has been identified as “benevolent thought” or “auspicious wish”:

kim mooDha iva tishThaami preksheaham shaastrasajjanaih |
vairaagyapoorvamiccheti shubhecchetyuccate budhaih ||
(7.4.61: Yogavaasishtha

[Trans. “Why do I stand as if perplexed? I shall reflect with the scriptures and virtuous people.” This wish, preceded by detachment, is called the ‘auspicious wish’ or shubhecchaa.]

And the notion of ‘good conduct’ enters in the next sloka

shaastrasajjanasamparkavairaagyaabhyaasapoorvakam |
sadaacaarapravrttiryaa procyate saa vicaaraNaa ||

(7.4.62: Yogavaasishtha)

[Trans. Preceded by the ‘auspicious wish’, the proclivity towards good conduct is called ‘inquiry’.]

The question posed by J K in the very first page of Beyond Violence gets answered by Vasishtha.

The sage Vasishtha answers Raama’s dejection by revealing the reasons behind unhappiness. Bondage, he says, is the primary source of all unhappiness. If liberation, thus, is the goal, we must first understand what is meant by bondage. Krishnamurti considers fear to be the primary reason behind unhappiness:

“Unless the mind is absolutely free from fear, every form of action brings about more mischief, misery and more confusion. So we are going to inquire together into the implication of fear.” (J K, Beyond Violence,Ch. 2: ‘Freedom’)

The operative word in the action suggested by J K is “inquire”. What do we mean when we say “to inquire”?

koaham kathamayam doshah samsaaraakhya upaagatah |
nyaayenaivam paraamarsho vicaara iti kathyate ||

(2.3.46: Yogavaasishtha)

[Trans. “Who am I? How was this defect called worldly existence attained? Intrinsic reflections such as this are called “inquiry”.]

Krishnamurti uses the words inquiry and examination interchangeably in his book. He places tremendous importance on the notion of ‘learning/examining’ and ‘communication’ as a means of learning in this book. On these words he spoke thus:

“What we are going to do together is to examine the facts as they are, very closely, objectively, non-sentimentally, unemotionally. And to explore in that way, there must be freedom from prejudice, freedom from any conditioning, from any philosophy, from any belief; we are going to explore together very slowly, patiently, hesitantly, to find out. It is like good scientists looking through a microscope and seeing exactly the same thing. Because if you are a scientist in the laboratory using a microscope, you must show what you see to another scientist, so that both of you see exactly ‘what is’. . . . What does that word ‘to look’ mean? It is quite a difficult thing to look; one has to have the art. Probably you have never looked at your wife or your husband or your boy-friend or your girl-friend, because you have an image about her or him. The image that you built about her or him, or about yourself, is going to prevent you from looking. Therefore when you look there is distortion, there is contradiction. So when you look there must be a relation between the observer and the observed.” (JK, Beyond Violence, Ch. 1: ‘Existence’>)

At this point, the verse from Yogavaasishtha providing the definition of ‘bondage’ appears to be rather interesting:

drashtuh drshyasya sattaa hi bandha ityabhidheeyate |
drashtaa drshtavashaat baddho drshyaabhaave vimucyate ||

(3.1.2: Yogavaasishtha)

[Trans. The existence of seer and seen is called bondage. The seer is bound by the influence of the seen. Liberation comes with the absence of the seen.]

Vaalmiki proceeds to write on this very same nature of distortion, claiming that distortion is certain as long as the mind is active:

brahmaNaa tanyate vishvam manasaiva swayambhuvaa |
manomayam ato vishvam yannaama paridrshyate ||

(3.1.15: Yogavaasishtha)

[Trans. The universe is projected by the self-existent only by the mind. Therefore, the universe that is seen all around is made of the mind.]

Krishnamurti says there must be a relation between the observer and the observed in order to eliminate distortion. Vaalmiki says that there must not be any observed or any observer (with an active mind). Later, still in the very first chapter of the same book, Krishnamurti approaches this concept with more strength:

“It is very important to understand for oneself, to see, through one’s own observation, that conflict must exist everlastingly as long as there is a division between the observer and the observed. And in you there is this division, as the ‘I’, as the ‘self’, as the ‘me’ that is trying to be different from somebody else. . . . . how this division between the observer and the observed creates mischief, confusion and sorrow. . . . So that is the first thing: to observe without the observer . . .” (JK, Beyond Violence, Ch. 1: ‘Existence’)

Krishnamurti again writes in his diary about this discrimination between the observer and the observed:

“Any authority on meditation is the very denial of it. All the knowledge, the concepts, the examples, have no place in meditation. The complete elimination of the meditator, the experiencer, the thinker, is the very essence of meditation. This freedom is the daily act of meditation. The observer is the past, his ground is time, his thoughts, images, shadows, are time-binding. Knowledge is time, and freedom from the known is the flowering of meditation. There is no system and so there is no direction to truth or to the beauty of meditation. To follow another, his example, his word, is to banish truth. Only in the mirror of relationship do you see the face of what is. The seer is the seen.” (JK, Krishamurti’s Journal, October 13th 1973)

This distance between the seer and the seen has been condemned as a hindrance to the realization of truth in the Sanskrit text as well:

drastrdarshanadrshyaanaam madhye yat darshanam sthitam |
(3.2.36: Yogavaasishtha)

[Trans. In the middle of seer, seeing and seen (the supreme truth) exists as seeing, ie, cognition is the supreme truth.]

Both Krishnamurti and Vaalmiki have very similar things to say about the role of ‘thought’ too. We see in the above excerpt that Krishnamurti is talking about abolishing thought. Does that not seem to be an extremely strange way to reach any kind of truth?

“All thinking is the response of the past, the response of memory, knowledge and experience. So thinking is never new, never free.” (JK, Beyond Violence, Ch. 1: ‘Existence’)

As we saw before, in yogavaasishtha, the author Vaalmiki says in the third chapter that mind is the reason behind any distortion of the truth. In the seventh chapter of that treatise, called Lavanopaakhyaanam (The Story of Lavana), Vaalmiki has again, repeatedly asserted that the absence of thought/imagination is essential for liberation.

I understand that this article had an abrupt beginning and it is now going for an equally abrupt end. This article was not meant to be of a literary nature, however. I was terribly excited over the similarities I discovered! In a less excited state, I may be able to present these discoveries in a more comprehensible manner.

© 2007 Ritwik Banerjee

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Entry filed under: hinduism, india, life, perspective, philosophy, religion, spiritualism, theory. Tags: , , , , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. anshul  |  February 17, 2008 at 7:04 am

    No. That’s not how you anger JK fans. In fact I am simultaneously an authority and a non authority on this matter of annoying JK fans. Here goes.

    After reading these fine excerpts from JK, it appears to me that any criticism of JK can only be appreciation of him because the magic of his words, if can make you act foolishly, can also make you act wise. In fact, any action that results from the power of his works must also lead to inaction because after all action and inaction are the same thing, aren’t they? Thus anytime JK is contradicting himself, he is actually agreeing with himself and proving in his masterful ways that consistency can only come from inconsistency and inconsistency can only come from consistency and there in lies the reason why the observer in you, while should be distinct from you must also be the same.

    Ok. I am done. Sorry, I couldn’t resist! 😛

    Reply: KGB


    P.S. KGB: abstract noun, acr. “Khandelwal gone bonkers”. Etym. Anshul Khandelwal once decided to lose his head.

  • 2. brahnamin  |  February 22, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    i don’t know about your other regular readers, but i found your post pretty cool. and by cool i mean thought provoking. and, in some segments, thought revoking (thought being chained to my thoughts i do admit i find it hard to achieve the freedom of non-thought).

    excellent post.

    Reply: Thank you. I am glad that your thoughts were both provoked and revoked. Gets a trifle insipid otherwise.


  • 3. Ravindra Joshi  |  March 2, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Many thanks, Ritwik, for the post. I found it both interesting and stimulating.
    Here are a couple of comments though:
    One, the term “Krishnamurti fans” tickled me a great deal. I wonder what the mindset that produces ‘fans’ has got to do with Krishnamurti? A contradiction in terms, as it were. Either you are a fan and have no relationship with what K had to say. Or you relate to what K had to say and hence can not possibly be a fan of anyone, let alone K’s
    Two, how many of us – including me – look for reflection of K’s teaching in the traditional scriptures, whether Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or whatever! And only on finding such reflection do we feel assured of the rightness of K’s teaching. How terribly afraid we are of looking for truth entirely by oursekves!
    Ravindra Joshi

    Reply: You are quite correct in pointing out the meaninglessness of the phrase “Krishnamurti fans”. But sadly, I feel there is such a category of people. There is, unfortunately, a small crowd for whom J K is a religion (I use the word in its widely understood meaning, not its true significance). The ironic phrase has been aimed towards that crowd. As for the second point you raised, I did not mean to create the impression you got. I was merely excited over the similarities. I only wanted to propagate the idea that the ideas J K has popularized, are not exotic, not new; dazzling, but not in their innovation. His thoughts are the product of an intense honesty, and so was our great civilization. And is their any other way of achieving greatness? I hope you agree!


  • 4. sea of memories  |  March 9, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Hello? Anybody home? 🙂

  • 5. Sudha  |  March 11, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Hey thanks for leaving a comment! You dont always have to make a point in a comment. It could be just an acknowledgement of the blogger’s efforts too.
    btw, it brought me to ur page and I immensely enjoyed the poems here! They all leave a kind of trail even after u finish reading them.
    Will be around!

    Reply: Thank you Sudha for leaving such a kind and encouraging comment. It brings a smile to my face to know that you liked my poems this much! 🙂


  • 6. Gokul  |  May 23, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Hi.. i just chanced upon your blog post.. nice one 🙂 funny you said this might not be favoured by Krishnamurti followers because of the ‘Hindu’ tag. In fact the first thing that occurs to me while reading this is that a lot of religions and scriptures have been saying the same thing in different ways (in many cases with astonishing similarity like you’ve mentioned), only that the context and situation is very different. Honestly, i haven’t looked for reflections of K’s observations in other scriptures or anything else in order to find comfort, simply because when I read him, there is nothing to accept or deny, there was just the fact, and that brings with it a great sensitivity and energy. The fact that many religions of the world say the same thing in many of their scriptures (including the bible) excites me very much, at the same time I am astonished to see that the actual meaning is lost most of the time and and a tremendous amount of importance, energy and time is given to totally irrelevant matters of so called ‘religion’, which even leads to horrid wars. Wonder why we fail to see the essence of anything, however simple and direct it is..

    Reply: I completely agree with you Gokul. And I can’t tell you how glad I am to find that out!


  • 7. Sanjay  |  December 22, 2008 at 5:54 am

    Have been reading JK since a year – I too keep coming back to him after reading Zen, Advaita etc – there is a study comparing JK to Buddha which is also interesting. But JK focus on awareness also finds deep resonance with Ashtavkra Gita – which finally goes to show that all paths lead to similar goal.

    JK has been a constant guiding star to me – particularly there is no historical/cultural baggage of Zen and also no technical vocabulary of Advaita.


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