Star in
The East

The Invention
Of a Messiah

Roland Vernon
(Palgrave/St. Martins)
In the spring of 1909, Krishnamurti turned up with his brother on a beach near Madras. He was six years old. Charles Webster Leadbeater --- and I didn't make up that name --- saw him, saw auras, and said "This one is going to be the new divine." A Jesus of the East, as it were.

Leadbeater was co-founder of Theosophy. He was "massively built, he oozed strength and vitality, even in his mid-fifties, with a chest broad as an English oak...a thick silver beard and powerful shoulders." He immediately had the youngster moved him onto the school grounds. The boy was an "empty vessel," to be cleaned up (he was fly-specked, dirty) and brought up in the proper English manner, with a proper English education.

Unfortunately, Leadbeater was, they say, as interested in the beauty of the boy as in his auras. Over the next few years, there were claims of hanky-panky with the new empty vessel, his brother, and with others. To get away from the scandal of it, the Theosophists sent Krishnamurti --- hereinafter known as Krishna --- off to England to be properly educated as the new Christ.

They tried to get him into Oxford, but he was so spacey that whenever he was presented with the blank pages of an examination paper, he went blank. The best they could do was to ship him off to Paris, where several ladies were smitten with the now tall and handsome New Divine. Leadbeater insisted that he wear fine clothes and be celibate, for this was a second coming. It was a bit of a strain for a poor Brahamin off the beaches of Madras to fit into his rôle as direct connection to the gods, but he did have innate elegance, dignity and calm.

He never lacked for money for the Theosophists were as good as current-day American Fundamentalists at touching peoples' wallets while they were touching their hearts. Several places were set up for Krishna, including one in Switzerland, one in India, and one at Ojai, California. It was in this last place that, in August of 1922, Krishna went into delirium with powerful headaches, neckaches, fainting, eating no food. He was in the throes of what he referred to as spiritual "cleansings," which were to recur again and again over the years. During these mystical attacks, Krishna became, he wrote, at one with everything:

    There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; the very stone which he was breaking up was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the tree beside the man was myself. I almost could feel and think like the roadmender, and I could feel the wind passing through the tree, and the little ant on the blade of grass I could feel. The buds, the dust, and the very noise were a part of me. Just then there was a car passing by at some distance; I was the driver, the engine, and the tyres; as the car went further away from me, I was going away from myself. I was in everything, or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate, the mountains, the worm, and all breathing things.

This was a seminal experience for Krishna --- the mystical knowledge that there was no difference, no distinction, between "the observer, and the observed," that the divine was to be reached through "choiceless awareness."

At the same time, he was learning to abhor the divine pedestal upon which the Theosophists had placed him, so in August of 1929, he gave a speech before an army of the faithful saying that he was stepping down from being the divine agent of the organization; that he was going to go his own way; that he had lessons to teach those who wanted to hear, but that these lessons would have to come without the trappings of Human Divinity. The miracle was that he successfully distanced himself from those who had brought him to the attention of the world, and for the rest of his days, he spoke not as the leader of a religious organization, but, simply, as Krishnamurti.

§     §     §

Vernon does a top notch job of telling of Krishna's life, with a minimum of bias and a maximum of information. There come times when one gets restive at the eternal internal battles that went on within Theosophy over who was in charge (Krishna was a master at dodging all responsibility) and later, who was to be in control of his published speeches and works. But the author is excellent at handling the delicate issues, such as the exact relationship between Leadbeater and Krishna (Vernon thinks it might have been pure); the revelation --- after his death --- that at least one of his lady followers was lover to Krishna (he had never condemned sexual love); and most interesting of all, a theory about the exact nature of the seizures that continued throughout his life.

It was thought that Krishna was involved in a traditional form of Hindu awakening:

    Awakening Kundalini from this dormant state is considered a sure route to divine realization, but is also a destabilizing and dangerous undertaking. It involves inverting the generative potential of prana away from the reproductive system...and channelling it upwards along the spine in a stream of powerful energy that passes through six stages of chakras before reaching sublimation and release through the cranium --- the final step that frees the experiencer from the bondage of material reality. The spiritual result of awakened Kundalini is a vast increase in mental capacity and creativity, leading to absolute enlightenment....[It can] sometimes result in madness, sometimes in agonizing pain, especially burning along the course of the spine.

In addition to the extended history, there are some wonderful asides. During WWII, Krishnamurti could see no difference between the Allies and the Axis: for him, killing in the name of nationalism was evil. Saying the Germans were no different than the English created some difficulty with the FBI. The solution was simple: he gave no audiences for the five years of the war with, apparently, no bitterness and no sense of loss. He continued to live quietly at Ojai, meditating and meeting with friends like Aldous Huxley, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo.

When followers tried to put Krishna back on the divinity throne, he would go into a rage: "this sort of blank, inactive acceptance of his words infuriated him and led him to deride audiences for their spineless devotion." The hardest time for him was when it came time to hide from "a genuinely kind and sincere person...the Dalai Lama, whom he dreaded having to inform about the absurdity of institutionalized religion and spiritual authority."

Krishnamurti died 17 February 1986. Ten days before he passed on, he said,

    For seventy years that super energy --- no --- that immense energy, immense intelligence, has been using this body. I don't think people realize what tremendous energy and intelligence went through this body...You won't find another body like this, or that supreme intelligence operating in a body for many hundred years. You won't see it again. When he goes, it goes.

--- D. D. Das

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