An exploration of Jiddu Krishnamurti's well-documented ‘transformational' experience that lead him to a state of god-intoxication.
Jiddu Krishnamurti! The name conjures up many images: benevolent soul who dominated the spiritual world; silver-haired seer with unparalleled vision and verbal felicity; educationist and thinker par excellence; institution builder; diminutive gentle giant with the unique ability to usher peace and joy into troubled lives and minds. In Toto, an enlightened soul, supremely in touch with himself and the world.
How did he evolve to this enlightened state? Was he born with a special mind? Was he transformed by experience, education and mentorship? Or, did he have a moment of spiritual awakening that changed his life forever, as his associates and biographers say? Unlike many world seers whose transformational experiences are hearsay, JK's was well documented by those close to him at that moment. It is the subject of this exploration.
Well known, but worth recapitulating. Born to a poor rural Brahmin family in the now famous Rishi Valley area in Andhra Pradesh, JK moved to Madras as a young boy. Frail and unremarkable, he was spotted playing on the banks of the Adyar River by C.W. Leadbeater, an associate of Annie Besant, founder of the Theosophical Society. He came under their combined influence. Identified as “the chosen one” by them, he was told he should await the emergence of the master. His transformational experience occurred soon after. Noteworthy that he awaited “the Master” living in a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains.
The turning point
Described by his brother Nithya, who was with him during this period, the transformation begins with JK feeling ill; the sequence of events leading to the turning point is summarised in the box titled “The Prelude”.
The setting for the transformation is described, “We were a strange group on the verandah. The sun had set an hour ago and we sat facing far off hills, purple against the pale sky in the darkening twilight, speaking little, and a feeling came upon us of an impending climax; all our thoughts and emotions were tense with a strange peaceful expectation of some great event”.
JK is described as sitting under a roof of delicate leaves, black in a starlit sky. He is heard murmuring “unconsciously”; then a sigh of relief. “Oh, why didn't you send me out here before?” This is followed by the weary repetition of a daily “mantra”. Then, silence.
JK on the transformed mind: “I was supremely happy for I had seen. Nothing could be the same again. I have drunk at the clear and pure waters at the source of the fountain of life and my thirst was appeased. Never could I be thirsty, never more could I be in utter darkness. I have seen the light. I have found compassion, which heals all sorrow and suffering; it is not for myself but for the world. I have stood in the mountain top and gazed at the mighty beings. Never can I be in utter darkness. I have seen the glorious and healing light. The fountain of truth has been revealed to me, the darkness has been dispersed. Love in all its glory has intoxicated my heart; my heart can never be closed. I have drunk at the fountain of joy and eternal beauty. I am god intoxicated!”
In a letter to Leadbeater written two days later, he goes on to say... “After August 20th I know what I want to do and what lies before me – nothing but to serve the Masters and the Lord. Now I feel I am in the sunlight with the energy of many, not physical but mental and emotional. My whole life, now, is, consciously on the physical plane, devoted to the work and I am not likely to change.”
His words were, as the world later discovered, remarkably prophetic.
The clinical-science perspective
The spectrum of symptoms during the prelude: pain, increased temperature, altered consciousness, exaggerated response to sound and touch (“exaggerated startle”) and repeated episodes of shaking with teeth clenched and fists closed indicate a seizure syndrome — an electrical storm in the brain. There are unusual features: quiet when comforted; quiet during mealtimes; having memory of the event and the ability to describe it later. All these are not normally encountered in a seizure syndrome. Was JK then experiencing psychosomatic symptoms: physical symptoms that have no physical cause and are underpinned by severe psychological stress?
In this particular situation one must not forget that he was a mere slip of a boy, aged 16. He had been told that he was the “chosen one” and that he was to await “the Master”, a much anticipated event, both for him and those around him. Were his experiences brought on by the weight of collective expectation?
He has said himself, “I wanted to meet with the Master as soon as I could. I thought about it every day but this was done most casually and carelessly. I realised where I was wrong and thereafter meditation became easy. I realised that there was a need to harmonise all my other bodies with the Buddhic plane (highest plane of consciousness) by keeping them vibrating at the same rate as the Buddhic. The main interest was to see Lord Maithreya and the Master.”
Freud proposed that the human tendency is to repress emotional conflicts that are anxiety provoking and so the conscious mind cannot possibly contemplate them. Emotional repression results in these conflicts remaining firmly rooted in the sub-conscious mind. Inevitably, there are times when repressed emotions transcend to the conscious, but given their unacceptable nature, manifest as a physical symptom. Medical men term this “hysterical conversion”. These and other explanations for the events leading to JK's transformational experience are outlined in the box titled “Neuropsychiatric Interpretations of JK's Turning Point”.
Trinity talking eureka moments
Should the clinician hesitate to make a diagnosis here? JK's experience was not followed by any decompensation in mental faculties. Indeed, they were enhanced! He underwent a positive transformation and went on to occupy a special place in the world, beginning his journey as a spiritual leader. Further, the experience was not repeated; and it was both shared and documented; all of which render it less likely to be “a figment of the imagination”. JK is described by his biographers as being reticent in describing and discussing his experience, for a number of reasons that people have thought fit to attribute.
I for one wonder if transformational experiences reflect unique moments when one is in touch with one's soul, that undeterminable part of the human psyche. Perhaps they represent a union between the brain (cognition), mind (emotion) and soul (realisation): a trinity talking “eureka” moment. Moments in which there is sudden clarity, often following a period of confusion and turmoil. Moments of insight, decision, and action.
Interestingly, both functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalogram (EEG) studies in Carmelite nuns, when they were “in a perceived state of union with god” have revealed activation of several brain regions concerned with emotion, memory and judgment, the temporal and frontal lobes and the connections that link them. It has also been suggested in these studies that personality rather than personal orientation may have a significant role in determining such experiences. Of course, what we do not know is whether these brain changes precede and therefore are presumably responsible for transformational experiences; or indeed whether they are the result of such a transformational experience.
The transformed mind
Transformational, life-changing experiences are well described among many seers, and often are a defining part of their reaching enlightenment. Our look at JK's turning point indicates that they defy conventional paradigms of understanding in clinical science. Positive transformation in the JK mould may well require a very special and unburdened mind: sans expectation, dogma, and prejudice; explaining perhaps the early age at which many seers attained realisation. Perhaps, too, it needs in some instances, preparation, opportunity, encouragement and mentorship, all of which JK enjoyed. Most importantly, perhaps, transformation requires that Eureka moment, when the brain, mind and soul trinity are talking to one another!
The author is Director and T.S. Srinivasan Chair at The Institute of Neurological Sciences, VHS Hospital, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org