Reviews

Subdued political sub-text in JK’s teachings

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) continues to engage the minds of the young and the old alike as a fascinating thinker of his times and beyond.

There were the early pains of patronage at the hands of the Theosophist and famous Annie Besant associate, C.F. Leadbeater, who “sensed something unusual” in Jiddu in a quiet Adyar setting of the Theosophical Society in old Madras, to where the boy’s Telugu Brahmin family had shifted from Madanapalle in neighbouring Chittor district. Yet, JK, as the thinker was widely known later, had everything going for him to be crowned a ‘World Teacher’ by a new ‘Order” formed by Theosophists.

But having become disenchanted with theosophy and accentuated by a great loss in his personal life that made him reflect on all forms of received teachings, what stunningly marked out Jiddu was the courage of conviction with which he disbanded the ‘Order’ in the late 1920s’ and the power and prestige that went with it. That put him on an arduous path of self-enquiry, re-thinking a range of issues from consciousness, freedom, truth, religion to inter-personal relations.

Jiddu’s speech ‘Truth is a Pathless Land’, then became a candidly self-critical re-defining moment. “By doing so, he rejected estate, money, power and all claims to authority or Guru status,” explains P. Kesava Kumar in this thoughtful addition to JK’s spiritual and intellectual way of negotiating a complex modern world.

While the expository portions show Kumar substantially covering the nuances of JK’s thoughts and vision on the multiplicity of issues that he explored till the very end — in an absorbing format of public lectures in different parts of the world that were hugely popular both for his captivating voice and his transparent concerns for a suffering humanity — the author’s critical part focuses on the problems of ‘Tradition and Revolution’. That is also the major thrust of the author’s thesis.

The varied perspectives on ‘Tradition and Revolution’ in the history of Ideas crisscross in myriad ways — right from Plato, Karl Marx to T.S. Eliot and post-modernist thought — even as the East has contributed to this debate in its own way. The two concepts have been driving socio-political changes across ages. They also help legitimise the elements that make up social order, including the institutionalisation of political authority and control that implicitly accepts the use of force/violence when needed.

Whether it is capitalism, socialism, a mix of the two systems, nationalism or religious revivalism, — the latter one Kumar points out has again come to the forefront of modern Indian society in the 1990s’ with the ‘Hindutva’ ideology “attempting to maintain continuity with the past, especially Hindu culture” — Krishnamurti’s radically different views on ‘tradition and revolution’ have an important bearing on this vital debate.

For Jiddu, explains the author, “all identities are unnecessary except human being”. For they reinforce divisions on caste, class, ethnic, religious or racial lines, fragmenting human consciousness and society even further and triggering more conflict, violence and chaos. He had revolted against any uncritical acceptance of what is handed down in the name of ‘tradition’ from notions of God, rituals, authority-centric claims that pass for ‘Knowledge’ to even day-to-day customs that only add to the ‘social conditioning’ and wider alienation of man from the true goals of Truth and Freedom; on the other hand — Jiddu took an iconoclastic view of ‘Revolution’ as springing from each individual’s transformation of consciousness, nothing to do with political and religious ideologies or ‘outward revolutions’.

All these, in Jiddu’s long philosophical journey, flow from a continuous effort to intuit ‘what is’, as a being-in-this world. “You kill a bird, there is another bird; you (Man) cannot destroy everything,” he once told his audience in Chennai while wondering, as a classicist would, whether they would pause to ‘listen to Nature’. “Have you ever looked at a sunset?” he would harmlessly taunt, combining Socratic irony with stark realism. ‘If you are lucky, you have a little money, or else what else is there in this world?” he posed in that lecture that drew on non-pitying pathos.

Though largely swaying towards ‘Mahayana school of Buddhism’ including a jewel of his thought that, “Freedom is a state of nothingness” — which was again very different from either the Marxist or the Existentialist Sartrean notions of Freedom and Nothingness respectively — Jiddu at one level was struggling to re-evaluate the Man-Nature dichotomy in a refreshingly new way, while staying clear of all ‘isms’. That should naturally impinge today’s ‘Climate Change’ concerns. The utter misery seen between the two World War days did influence him.

Nonetheless, the many things that Krishnamurti said with ‘humanism’ being at its core have tangentially trickled down to the spheres of political thought and action, an important aspect of Kumar’s work. The author has extended this hermeneutic to revisit some contemporary political thinkers and debates like the ‘Sinhala-Tamil Identities in Sri Lanka’, and feels that Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who played a big role in drafting free India’s Constitution, was perhaps closer to Jiddu than Mahatma Gandhi. They all certainly add to the interest of this book, but its political sub-text, however contemporary it may be, remains subdued. For at the end of the day, Jiddu Krishnamurti was not consciously prescribing anything, and Kumar’s concern seems to uphold that idiom, “live the teachings”.

Jiddu Krishnamurti - A Critical Study of Tradition and Revolution: P. Kesava Kumar; Kalpaz Publications, C-30 Satyawati Nagar, Delhi-110052. Rs. 790.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 11:27:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/jiddu-krishnamurti-a-critical-study-of-tradition-and-revolution-review/article6716698.ece

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