U.G.Krishnamurti:  A Life

2. Early Years

'A real guru, if there is one, frees you from himself.'

Uppaluri Gopala Krishnamurti was born on 9 July 1918 in the small town of Masulipatam in South India and was brought up in the nearby town of Gudivada. Those were the days of the First World War. 'This boy is born to a destiny immeasurably high,' predicted U.G.'s mother just before she died, seven days after she gave birth to him. His maternal grandfather, Tummalapalli Gopala Krishnamurti, a wealthy Brahmin lawyer, took his dying daughter's prediction seriously. He gave up his flourishing law practice to devote himself to his grandson's upbringing and education. The grandparents and their friends were convinced that this child that was born in their family was a yogabhrashta, one who had come within inches of enlightenment in his past life. U.G.'s father played no role in his life except the 'hereditary role,' as U.G. puts it. Although they lived in the same town, they never lived under the same roof for any length of time. U.G.'s father remarried soon after his wife's death and left his son to be cared for by his grandparents.

In the year 1873 Helena Petrova Blavatsky, a Russian immigrant to the United States, along with Colonel Alcott, an American lawyer, founded the Theosophical Society. The Theosophical Society was built largely on their reading of Buddhism and Hinduism and on a fusion of assorted occult presuppositions. Its object was to delve into the riddles of creation to discover the dormant power in man. It was open equally to believers and non-believers, as well as to the orthodox and the unorthodox. In those days Theosophy had a strong appeal to those who found little solace in orthodoxy and yet were not content to call themselves atheists. It attracted an articulate group of free thinkers and avowed atheists searching for some order and spiritual support.

Strangely, even though he was a Theosophist, T.G. Krishnamurti was also a very orthodox Brahmin. He was, according to U.G., a mixed-up' man. With orthodoxy and tradition on the one side and Theosophy on the other, T.G.Krishnamurti failed to strike an equilibrium. And that was the beginning of U.G.'s problems.

When U.G. was three, instead of playing with toys, he sat cross-legged in meditation, imitating all those holy men who visited his house. His grandfather not only invited every holy man that he could to his house but he also kept learned men on his payroll. He was totally dedicated to creating a profound atmosphere in which to educate his grandson in the right way. Every day, from dawn to dusk, U.G. was made to listen to the Upanishads, Panchadasi, Naishkarmya Siddhi, the commentaries, and also the commentaries on the commentaries. By the time U.G. reached his seventh year he could repeat from memory most of the passages from these holy books.

In the year 1925, when he was barely seven years old, God became irrelevant to U.G. The incident that led to this break also ended his faith in the efficacy of prayer forever. The incident occurred in December 1925. The Theosophical Society was commemorating its Golden Jubilee celebration at the headquarters in Adyar, Madras. Since they did not have room reservations in Adyar, U.G.'s grandparents were uncertain about participating in this gala event. U.G. was very keen to go. He thought of praying to Hanuman and gifting him with coconuts.  But now U.G. had a problem: there was an unsettled account of almost 500 coconuts for all of U.G.'s prayers which Hanuman had already gratified. U.G. was a defaulter. He did not have the money to buy 500 coconuts. Should he steal? Even if he did, what would he do with all the other coconut halves that the temple would return? Where would he keep them? He was cornered.

Then suddenly U.G. learned that the grandparents had decided to attend the celebration after all. How did this happen? He had not settled his account with Hanuman. How was it possible then that his prayer had been granted? It was then that he saw for himself that it was the power and vigor of his own thought which had swayed his grandparents. He had found fulfillment not through the efficacy of prayer but through the strength of his own desire.

On the 29th December 1925, the Golden Jubilee function took place in Adyar. It was a regal affair. Scores of people from all over the world participated in the celebration with great fervor. It was here that U.G. saw and heard J. Krishnamurti speak for the first time. As an orator, Krishnamurti did not impress U.G. On the stage the man stammered and struggled for words. Compared to Annie Besant (whose oratory, according to U.G., could make inanimate objects pulsate with life), Krishnamurti was a 'pygmy'.

The next evening, on Elliot Beach in Adyar, as U.G. was wading in the water, collecting shells, he saw Krishnamurti taking a walk with some admirers. For an instant, the two Krishnamurtis' eyes met.  Krishnamurti moved away from the crowd. He joined U.G. and began helping him collect shells. I wonder whether U.G. had the slightest inkling then of the part Krishnamurti would play in his life in the years to come.

Around the time when U.G. was twelve, printers would leak test papers to students for a price.  To prevent this the school authorities used stencils and destroyed the master copy immediately after making copies.  One day U.G. devised a scheme for defeating the authorities with the help of ten other boys in his class.  Between them they collected a hundred rupees.  U.G. was able to bribe the attendant who ran the machine into giving them the original stencial.  Then just before the examination, U.G. thought to himself, `Why should we alone be benefited?'  So, he and his friends distributed the question sheets to all the students in the class.  Naturally, the authorities of the school came to know of this.  The poor attendant was dismissed.  A re-examination was held and U.G. and all his friends failed.  The authorities would have expelled them if it were not for the fact that U.G.'s uncle happened to be on the governing committee of the school.

The event that propelled U.G. into his quest for truth was a traumatic one.  His grandfather had a personal meditation room in which he used to meditate every day for hours. U.G. was not permitted to enter into this room since he had meddled with the photographs of the Masters (of Theosophy). After all, one had to be initiated into the Esoteric Group of the Theosophical Society to even catch a glimpse of these Masters. The Esoteric Society (or E.S. as it came to be called) was strictly for those who had proved their dedication to Theosophy, mostly through work. These select members were deemed ready for exposure to the ancient wisdom which would help them along the path of the Masters. Membership of the E.S. was supposed to be absolutely secret. U.G. was too young to be initiated into that group. Later, when he reached the age of fourteen, he was admitted as one of its privileged members. Only the so-called 'spiritually evolved' people were enrolled in this elite group.

T.G.Krishnamurti was meditating one day when his great granddaughter, a little baby, started to cry for some reason. The child's wailing interrupted the old man's meditation.  This infuriated him. He came down and thrashed the child brutally. 'There must be something funny about the whole business of meditation,' said U.G. to himself, as he helplessly witnessed his grandfather savaging his own great granddaughter: 'Their lives are shallow and empty. They talk marvelously. But there is a neurotic fear in their lives. Whatever they preach does not seem to operate in their lives. Why?' This was the beginning of his search, a search that lasted till his forty- ninth year.

In the year 1932, when U.G. was fourteen, three significant events took place which steered him further away from the world of orthodoxy and tradition. One day, a pontiff of great repute, a Shankaracharya of a well-known math, visited U.G.'s house. Not everybody in those days could afford to have guests. The Shankaracharya traveled with a huge entourage of disciples and attendants. The religious ceremony that was performed extended to several days. All this cost a lot of money.  The pomp and the color, the crown and the scepter of the pontiff fascinated U.G. He wanted to be like him when he grew up. He wanted to leave his house, his grandparents and everything else to become the pontiff's assistant. He wanted to succeed him and inherit all that he had.

The pontiff turned U.G.'s request down saying that he was too young for that kind of life and that leaving his home would make his family extremely unhappy. This did not distract U.G. from his aspirations. 'There must be somebody else somewhere who can fulfill this desire of mine,' he thought to himself. The pontiff, when leaving, gave U.G. a Shiva mantra. For the next seven years U.G. recited this mantra three thousand times a day, every day, everywhere he went.

The 1932 convention of the Theosophical Society was once again held in Adyar. Scores of people stood in a line to pay their respects to the Society's President, Annie Besant. U.G., holding flowers in his hands waited along with his grandfather in the line. When his turn came, he noticed that Annie Besant did not recognize his grandfather. She was more absorbed in looking at U.G. As he laid the bunch of flowers he was carrying onto the quilt in her lap, she affectionately asked him, 'You are going to work for the Theosophical Society in Adyar, aren't you?' U.G. did not respond.

Mr. Jinarajadasa, the Vice-President of the Theosophical Society, who had been standing behind Annie Besant, overseeing the occasion, heard what she had said to the boy. He was amazed. He called U.G.'s grandfather aside and asked him to visit him along with U.G. that evening.

Later in the evening, as the gathering at Adyar dispersed, Mr. Jinarajadasa gave an autographed copy of the book entitled I Promise to U.G. The book dealt with the process of receiving acceptance by the Masters and with the ways and means of preparing for discipleship.

It was on the death anniversary of his mother that U.G. finally broke away from the practice of all religious rites. Every year on this day U.G. was made to fast. The little boy was permitted to eat only at the end of the day, after  feeding a couple of Brahmin priests and washing their feet. U.G. was also made to meditate and recreate in his mind, the image of his dead mother whom he had hardly seen.

U.G. was enraged that day when he discovered the Brahmin priests eating heartily in a nearby restaurant. 'They too are supposed to be fasting. Enough is enough. They are all fakes,' he said to himself. Furious, he raced back to his grandfather and, in an act of defiance, broke his sacred thread, the symbol of his religious heritage and threw it away. He then asked his grandfather for money. He was leaving home to begin his own search. 'You are a minor. You cannot have the money,' said the grandfather. 'I don't want your money. I want my mother's money,' answered U.G. 'If you go on this way, I'll disown you,' said the grandfather, hoping to frighten the little boy. What U.G. said was the last thing the old man expected, 'You don't own me. So how can you disown me?'

Between the ages of fourteem and twenty-one, U.G. undertook all kinds of spiritual exercises. He practiced all the austerities. He was determined to find out if there was any such thing as moksha, about which all the great teachers of mankind had spoken endlessly. He wanted that moksha for himself. He had also resolved to prove to himself and to everybody that there cannot be hypocrisy in the people who have realized themselves. He searched for a person who was an embodiment of this realization.

There was in those days a Hindu evangelist, a strict and self-righteous `spiritual authority' called Sivananda Saraswati with whom U.G. spent seven summers in the Himalayas studying classical Yoga. Those years laid the foundation for his quest.

While practicing Yoga and meditation, U.G. had every kind of experience talked about in the sacred books--samadhi, super samadhi, nirvikalpa samadhi. 'Thought can create any experience you want--bliss, beatitude, ecstasy, melting away into nothingness--all those experiences. But this can't be the thing, because I have remained the same person, mechanically doing these things. This is not leading me anywhere,' thought U.G. to himself.

About the same time, sex became an issue for U.G.  He wondered why religious people wanted to deny or suppress a natural biological urge.  He wanted to find out what happened to that urge if he did not do anything with it. He wanted to understand everything about sex. 'Why do I want to indulge in auto-erotism. I don't know anything about sex. Then why is it that I have all kinds of images about sex?' U.G. inquired. This became his meditation:

How am I able to form these sexual images? I have never gone to a movie or seen anything of a sexual nature. How is it that these sexual images exist inside of me and are not put in me from outside? All stimulation apparently comes from outside. But there is another kind of stimulation which comes from within. I can cut out all external stimulation. But how can I eliminate what is inside of me?
U.G. had not experienced sex but he says that even then he seemed to know what the sex experience was. Since his aim in those days was to become an ascetic or a monk, he did not entertain the thought of marriage. He saw for himself that though he thought of gods and goddesses he had wet dreams. He questioned why he felt guilty about this when he had no control over it. His meditation, his discipline and his study of holy books had not helped him with this issue. Even his staying away from salt, chillies and all kinds of spices had not worked.

U.G.'s Yoga Master, Sivananda, was startled when U.G. caught him devouring some hot pickles behind closed doors. 'How can this man deceive himself and others, pretending to be one thing, while doing another. He has denied himself everything in the hope of getting something but he cannot control himself. He is a hypocrite. This kind of life is not for me.' So U.G. gave up his Yoga practice and left Sivananda.

As U.G. moved into his adulthood, he became a cynic rejecting the spiritual bonds of his culture and questioning everything for himself. He displayed a healthy contempt for his religious inheritance, a contempt which was to develop into an acute repugnance toward what he was later to call, 'the hypocrisy of the holy business.' He wanted to 'do things my way.' He relentlessly questioned the authority of others over him. No wonder his grandmother said of him that he had 'the heart of a butcher.'

By twenty-one, U.G. had become a quasi-atheist.  He joined the University of Madras and for some years studied Psychology, Philosophy (Eastern and Western), Mysticism, Modern Sciences.

The human mind had always intrigued U.G. 'Where is this mind? I want to know something about it; here inside of me I don't see anything,' he introspected.  'Why read all this? All this knowledge does not satisfy me.' With the passage of time, the intensity of his search had grown. One day, he asked his professor:

We are talking about the mind all the time. Do you know for yourself what the mind is? All the stuff I know about the mind is from these books of Freud, Jung, Adler and so on, that I have studied. Apart from these descriptions and definitions that are there in the books, do you know anything about the mind?
'These are dangerous questions.  If you want to pass your examinations, memorize what there is in the books and repeat it in your examination papers. You will get your degree,' said the professor. U.G. retorted, 'I am not interested in a degree. I am interested in finding out about the mind.' Even now, looking back, U.G. fondly refers to this professor as the 'only honest person' he ran into in those days.

'There is a man at Tiruvannamalai called Ramana Maharshi. Come, let us go and see him. It is said that he is a human embodiment of the Hindu tradition,' said a friend to U.G. one day during the course of a discussion. U.G. by then had arrived at a point where he felt certain that all the teachers of mankind--Buddha, Jesus, Sri Ramakrishna, etc. had deluded themselves and deluded others. The description of that state which these teachers talked about had absolutely no relation to the way he was functioning. He had a revulsion, an 'existentialist nausea' against everything sacred, everything holy:

I am a brute, I am a monster. I am full of violence. This is a reality. I am full of desire. Desirelessness, non-greed, non-anger, those things have no meaning for me. They are false. They are not only false, they are falsifying me. I am finished with this whole business. I don't want to sit at the feet any holy man. If you have seen one, you have seen them all.
'Go there just for once. It is said his look changes you. In his presence you feel silent, your questions disappear,' the friend persisted. He gave U.G. a book to read, entitled, Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton. U.G. read the chapter in it relating to Ramana and, in the year 1939, reluctantly, hesitantly, unwillingly went along with his friend to meet the famous sage of Arunachala. 

Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi was reading comic strips when U.G. first saw him. At the very first glimpse of him U.G. thought, 'How can this man help me?' As he sat there for two hours, watching the Bhagawan cut vegetables and play with this, that or the other, he wasn't at all surprised to find that all those fancy assertions to the effect that this man's look changed you and that all questions disappeared in his presence, remained fables.

'Is there,' asked U.G., 'anything like enlightenment?' 'Yes, there is,' replied Ramana. 'Are there any levels to it?' The Master replied, 'No, no levels are possible. It is all one thing--either you are there or you are not there at all.' Finally U.G. asked, 'This thing called enlightenment, can you give it to me?' Sri Ramana did not answer. After a pause U.G. repeated the question, 'I am asking you whether you can give me whatever you have?' Looking U.G. in the eyes, Bhagawan replied, 'I can give it to you but can you take it?'

'What arrogance!' U.G. thought to himself, '`I can give it to you but can you take it?' Nobody had said anything like that before.' Everybody that he had met before had advised him to do something. For seven years he had been through all kinds of sadhanas.  He had also gone through a 'masochistic' period of self-denial. 'If there is any individual who can take it, it is me. But what is that state? What is it that he has?' queried U.G.  'He can't be very different from me. He was also born to parents. People say something happened to him. How do I know if there is anything like enlightenment? I must find out. Nobody can give me that state. I am on my own....'

U.G. never visited Sri Ramana again. As he left Tiruvannnamalai, his real search began, and with it, his long involvement with the Theosophical Society.


Go to Ch 3: Life Among the Theosophists