A Note on U.G.

Jeffrey M. Masson


Neti neti was the way the old Upanishads characterized wisdom: "Not this, not that." You could not characterize it. So it is with U.G. Krishnamurti: try having a dialogue with somebody about him, and watch the trouble you get into.

Friend: I heard you went to visit U.G.Krishnamurti last ngiht. I don't really know who he is. Can you tell me?

Me: (The minute I try to tell people about him, I realize I am doing a terrible job of describing him.) He is an anti-guru guru. Well, not really. A man totally opposed to teaching.

Friend: What does he do?

Me: Well, he teaches. No, that's not it. He sits around in other people's homes.

Friend: So he lives off other people?

Me: No. He is independently wealthy. Well, not wealthy. Just independent.

Friend: And what does he sit around doing?

Me: Talking. About gurus, and how much he hates them, and what phonies they all are, every one of them.

Friend: Who listens to him?

Me: A group of people. I know what you are thinking, but no, they are not disciples at all. They are anti-disciples.

Friend: How does that show?

Me: Well, they make fun of him, they argue with him, they insult him. They do everything but treat him as a guru. And if they do (and some attempt it) he becomes abusive, angry, contemptuous. He genuinely does not like it.

Friend: But he seems to have something of the same format as the guru: he travels to countries where people hear about him and they come to listen to him speak. he speaks. He preaches, or rather he anti-preaches.

Me: You are right. Everything he does is the mirror-image of what the guru does, in reverse. He turns everything upside down. This is part of the attraction for people.

He is fascinating to watch. I have seen my own father, a guru seeker for the last 60 years, sit mesmerized in front of him, resisting with all his strength U.G.'s resistance against making him a guru. My father wants him to be a guru, longs for him to be a guru, but paradoxically winds up admiring him a la folie precisely for not being a guru. So much so, though, that U.G. is his guru.

The same is true, I feel for Julie, the marvelous Julie. She runs to him. He smacks her (figuratively speaking; that is, he insults her). Julie flies to Bangalore to be with him. "Get away from me," he tells her, "your worship nauseates me." He means it. She looks for the Zen koan in his comment. He wants her to stop. She insists he is teaching her via parable, paradox. Instruction by insult. But he is also fond of her, he can't help himself. Everybody is. But she won't let go. She is wealthy and offers him a house, an apartment, an income. He scorns her. He is genuinely disgusted, angry. He doesn't need it, and if he did, he wouldn't take it. Yet she keeps coming back. And he keeps letting her back. The same dance with a hundred different steps with other "friends" (the only term he will accept).

He is compelling, no question of it. And me? Where do I stand in all of this? I like him, as who would not. He is fun, he is entirely human, he is deliciously unspiritual. He is smart and quick and affectionate. A friend. But why, when I go to see this friend, do I find myself talking so much about gurus, and anti-gurus, and the whole phenomenon? Why is he so interested in this topic too? He repeats himself. I repeat myself. He comes to California, I go to visit him. We both talk about how many phonies there are in the world of gurus. Is this a subtle way of saying that he is not one of those phonies? No, it is a genuine comment, an observation. But he makes it in a thousand different ways, over and over, ad nauseam And yet it is never boring. It is infinitely fascinating.

The main reason for this fascination is the person in front of me, U.G. Krishnamurti himself. For while he abjures every single attribute of the guru, he also speaks of a strange life. Bizarre things have happened to him that have not happened to other ordinary people (but are strangely parallel to mystic experiences in reverse): he had a "catastrophe" that nearly killed him physically. He speaks of it obscurely. Other mystics are "illuminated". he is anti- illuminated, powerfully. Everything he is is calculated to be as unlike the traditional guru as possible. And yet, even if for the opposite reason, he, too, has no desires, he does not sleep, he does not dream, he eats no meat. There is some compelling purity about him, some way in which he captures a kind of longing that we all seem to have for a genuinely wise human being. I would not be afraid to characterize U.G. as a man of wisdom, not quite like the one described in the Bhagavadgita (the Sthitaprajña) but not entirely unlike him either. A paradox, a wonder, a marvel, a fine human being.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Berkeley, California, U.S.A.
November 1995.

Jeffrey M. Masson is the author of Final Analysis: The Making and Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst, Against Therapy, The Oceanic Feeling: The Origins of Religious Sentiment in Ancient India, My Father's Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion, etc.

Go to Courage to Stand Alone, Pt. I