The Teacher and the Teachings
Written by Scott H. Forbes (April 14th, 2019)
INTRODUCTION –With the emergence of so much biographical material about Krishnaji in the last few years, and the ensuing renewed interest in his life, people have discussed their interest in him and juxtaposed it to their interest in his Teachings. It seems right that this site, which has contributed to the distribution of some of this biographical material, also contributes to the discussion, which we do with the following small essay.
In some circles of Krishnamurti enthusiasts there are discussions about the relative importance of an interest in the Teachings versus an interest in Krishnamurti (Krishnaji) himself. Usually, people making this distinction insist that the Teachings are more important. However, this assumption of a dichotomy between the teacher and the Teachings may be mistaken and, if it is, it probably leads to limited understandings of both.
Of course, it would help enormously to understand the relationship between the teacher and the Teachings if we clearly saw the nature of both; but even without such clarity, we can examine this assumed dichotomy.
Part of what supports this assumption is, no doubt, the old trope of people as channels, vehicles, or conduits for “truth” emanating from outside themselves. In this trope, the channels can be deeply flawed but still “bring through” messages from a sacred source. But are supposed World Teachers just telephones bringing messages from beyond the material world, or are they beings with their own insights and realizations, which they articulate?
Our subject-verb-object language structure creates difficulties for us in investigating this question. Do I (or he/she) have insights that are separate from the seer, or is (as Krishnaji insisted) the content of consciousness consciousness itself? If (again, as Krishnaji insisted) the observer is the observed, then are not the insight and the one having the insight inseparable? Even on the surface of things, it seems incoherent to speak of articulated truth as separated from the one in whom it manifests, the one who brings it into the world, the one who gives it form. This would be especially incoherent if we are to believe Krishnaji lived the Teachings; and if he didn’t live the Teachings, he would be a hypocrite.
The trope of the channel or vehicle has the dubious benefit of providing the opportunity to claim that anything the channel/vehicle says with which a person disagrees is the result of flaws in the channel/vehicle and therefore not part of the truth the channel/vehicle normally produces. This excuse was given throughout Krishnaji’s life by people who disagreed with his words or actions and who felt they knew better than he what a really religious person would say, decide, and do.
It may help our inquiry to remember that Krishnaji was quite certain (and stated it several times) that his life would probably end if/when he could no longer teach. There is no doubt that he continued to teach until the end of his life, but the teaching was in private (to those who could attend his bedside), not public, so we will never know if his certainty was valid. What is interesting for our purposes is that he saw an intertwining of his teaching (and supposedly the Teachings) and the nature of his being that denies separation.
Similarly, he was often surprised at the end of his life (and expressed it frequently) that “the other,” “it,” (and the other names he had for what we can only express as a manifestation of something sacred) never left him as he got ill and could no longer teach publicly. 1 Again, those closest to him maintain that he never stopped teaching until the end of his life, and that may be a factor in this, but what is relevant here is Krishnaji’s perception of the convergence of his being, his teaching, and the sacred.
Of course, on the most superficial level, we can see that the man was born, lived, and died; and we can see that his Teachings as texts, as well as audio and video recordings still exist. On this superficial level, we can distinguish the man from the Teachings. However, this simple understanding may be misleadingly simplistic and merely point to a distinction without a difference.
Krishnaji remains a mystery. He was even a mystery to himself and he famously claimed that it was not right for him to uncover that mystery, but if someone else did, he could confirm it. 2 So, without fully understanding this mystery, what do we know about Krishnaji that may help us sort out this supposed dichotomy?
Fundamental to any understanding of the being who was Krishnaji is what he called “the process.” This singular activity, which began in 1922 under the pepper tree in Ojai, is described in some detail by his brother, Nitya. Nitya’s account, which runs to 40 typed pages, describes a long series of events that Krishnaji underwent that are not in the least normal. They are other-worldly, and any person who went through this would not be the same at the end as when this started. However, there are many indications that Krishnaji was not the same as the rest of us to begin with which may be why “the process” occurred to him. “The process” continued intermittently for the rest of his life.
To support the notion that Krishnaji was different, we have the remarkable story told by Pandit Jagannath Upadhyaya about ancient texts he found that he felt shed light on the nature of Krishnaji’s unique being.3
However, more remarkable than what anyone else has said about his being is what Krishnaji himself said. To pick out only one instance of Krishnaji describing the nature of his being, we can go to Chapters 7 and 8 in The Ending of Time. At one point, Krishnaji talks about himself as X and says that the teaching, writing, preaching, et cetera are “trivial,” but his being has an effect on the consciousness of man: “Because ‘X’ is not ‘satisfied’ with merely preaching and talking. That immensity which he is must have an effect, must do something.”
David Bohm replies, “You see, when you say this, it would suggest to people that here is some sort of extra-sensory effect that spreads.”
To which Krishnaji responds, “That is what I am trying to capture.”
“K: …I think that ‘X’ is doing something—not doing, but by his very existence…
DB: …he is making something possible?
K: Yes. … ‘X’ has that immense intelligence, that energy, that something, and he must operate at a much greater level than one can possibly conceive, which must effect the consciousness of those who are living in darkness.”
While these quotes could be used to affirm a distinction between “the man” and “the Teachings,” they still do not indicate that these are separate, but they do assert that in this distinction the “being” is at least as important as “the teaching, writing, preaching”—undoing the common assumption.
However, this doesn’t elucidate what the Teachings are, and it does not justify elevating Krishnaji above the Teachings, which would only reinforce a false dichotomy. When Krishnaji references “the immense intelligence, that energy, that something,” he is speaking about a sacredness of which both he and the Teachings were a part, which both he and the Teachings reflect. They seem inseparable, as he gives us to believe they would be for anyone who lives the Teachings.
If “the teaching, writing, preaching”, et cetera are “trivial,” it follows that they are not the Teachings, but only an aspect or a reflection of the Teachings. This leads us to the question that is as much of a mystery as the nature of Krishnaji’s being: Just what are the Teachings? They can’t just be the words that Krishnaji uttered and wrote. For a man who insisted for most of his life that “the word is not the thing” his words being the Teachings doesn’t make sense.
In attending the Saanen and Brockwood talks (and elsewhere) from 1972 until they ended in 1985, I couldn’t help but notice that there were often talks or discussions that people felt were particularly meaningful. After hearing audience members say this for many years and feeling this myself, I started asking people why a particular talk or discussion was especially moving, meaningful, important, or profound to them. No one could ever tell me. It was clear that the verbal content of the talk was not what made the impact. Often, people could remember only vaguely what had been said. Rather, it was something they saw or experienced that had this effect. The words were a medium, a means of conveyance. The Teachings that struck people were not the words.
This is reinforced by the number of non-English speakers who attended Krishnaji’s public talks. Most of them claimed that they received a great deal from the talks and discussions they couldn’t verbally understand. These people were either delusional or they were benefiting from something nonverbal. All these people (and I met a great many) seemed to me to be of sound mind. So, what exactly was the Teaching they were receiving?
Krishnamurti memorably once said that people seeing him on video (which one would superficially think adequately conveys the Teachings) was no substitute for seeing him in person, and that people got something from his presence whether they knew it or not. This unconscious receiving of the Teachings is intriguing and, again, shows the intertwining nature of his being and the Teachings.
We may partially understand this profound impact on people’s meaning structures by looking at art rather than lectures for which the content is all important. Great art defies objective explication and can’t successfully be converted to thought. Rather, it gives people an experience, or perception, or transformative moment that deeply affects them often without their knowing exactly how it occurred. Krishnaji always said he spoke out of “an empty mind.” Are we helped in understanding the nature of the Teachings by seeing some similarity with art, in which the nature of what the artist is living is a main component of what is affecting the audience? In Krishnaji’s case, what “the artist” is living is so radical (e.g., emptiness, total attention, timelessness, compassion) that we in the audience touched something so radically outside our normal existence that we felt shocked or stunned.
A demonstration of this phenomenon may be elucidated by looking at its opposite, and was presented by the extraordinary piano playing of a young man who is an autistic savant. He only had to hear a piano piece once, even a very complicated classical piece, and he could reproduce it exactly, with all the right notes and timings—except it wasn’t exact. The piece as I heard him play it had no emotion, no feeling; it was empty, lifeless, and mechanical. This is not to detract from his remarkable accomplishment, but it is to say that what the piano player is living is tremendously important to what is played.
Returning to the matter of the words not being the Teachings: I remember wanting to get from Krishnaji a quote that we could print on every video label. He gave me a nice quote, which I wrote down then went away to type. When I returned a short while later to read it to him for his approval, he changed it. Again, I went away, typed it up and returned to read it to him, whereupon he again changed it. This went on five or six times until he said that he would always change it, and that I had to decide when there was something I liked and then simply stop coming back for his approval. So, if the Teachings are the words, then I was deciding what the Teachings are, which is an epitome of absurdity. All the editors and translators of the Teachings face the same question: By manipulating the words, are they determining the Teachings?
A questioner once said to Krishnaji (and I have to paraphrase here, as it was not recorded at the time), “I see the effect your speaking has on most members of the audience, and it seems to be more than just the words, it seems to happen because you live what you are speaking about, and you are seeing what you are saying.”
Krishnaji replied, “Yes, that is correct.”
The questioner continued, “I have listened to you long enough that I can say a great deal of what you say, but I don’t live those things. For example, I can say, ‘The observer is the observed,’ but that is not something that I live, so my saying it would not have the same effect as your saying it.”
The questioner went on, “So my question is, when I say something you say but which I don’t live, is the statement still true?”
Krishnaji thought and replied slowly, “Yes, the statement is still true, but there is no truth in it.”
The truth in the Teachings is not in the words but in what the teacher is living, and therefore they are not separated.
There are, of course, Krishnaji’s many admonitions not to “worship the speaker,” of which he had entirely too much experience as a boy and young man. However, we make no improvement when we worship the words, when we repeat them as mantras, tenets, when we mechanically try to follow the “letter of the law,” because there are no laws. There is only our understanding to challenge and question, and our perceptions to follow.
Is there a difficulty in studying the Teachings now that the teacher is gone? I think not. Again, using art as a metaphor, we can still be moved by profound experiences, insights, perceptions, and transformative moments from art by artists who are long gone. In fact, I well remember being moved to tears by pre-historic art in caves in the center of France. I learned from those artists of 15,000 years ago. The nature of what they were living when they made that art was as plain to me as the nose on my face. Could I be wrong in my assessment? Of course. But their art was still a teaching for me.
© Scott H. Forbes
Forbes, Scott H. Krishnamurti: Preparing to Leave. Portland, Oregon: SHF Publications, 2018. Print.
Krishnamurti, and David Bohm. The Ending of Time. London: Victor Gollancz, 1985. Print.
Lutyens, Mary. Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfilment. 1983. Print.
Zimbalist, Mary. In the Presence of Krishnamurti: The Memoirs of Mary Zimbalist. www.inthepresenceofk.org. 2016. Internet.
- For more on both this and the previous claim that Krishnaji did not think he would live if he could not teach see Krishnamurti: Preparing to Leave by Scott H. Forbes and In the Presence of Krishnamurti: The Memoirs of Mary Zimbalist by Mary Zimbalist.
- See Chapter 20 in Who or What Is Krishnamurti?in Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfilment by Mary Lutyens.
- See Appendix Note 5 in Krishnamurti: Preparing to Leave by Scott H. Forbes.