One of the joys of my life has been the discovery of, and periodic immersion in, the work of Indian thinker Jiddu Krishnamurti. Recently, I had the opportunity of interviewing Derek Dodds, Krishnamurti Foundation of America Trustee and Director of Publications.
Chris Faatz: The Dalai Lama called him "one of the greatest thinkers of the age." Rollo May describes his work as "a profound and fresh approach to self-understanding and deeper insights into the meaning of personal freedom and mature love." Just who was Jiddu Krishnamurti?
Derek Dodds:Who Jiddu Krishnamurti was is a real mystery. I don't even propose to have a good understanding of who I am, let alone another individual. So, I'll just give you my opinion which is based on two decades of daily exposure to his work — that doesn't make my opinion any more special, by the way. Krishnamurti was a man that had a life-altering experience in the late 1920s; if one reads his lectures from 1925 through 1933 it is evident that something profound happened to his mind. In scientific terms they would say his brain synapses got rewired. He started to communicate his ideas differently in that period, and in that expression a great truth and insight into life was revealed, and that insight continued to flow from him until the end of his life in 1986. K was a man who understood the limitations of man's psyche and he dedicated his life to helping humanity understand the self-imposed impediments to freedom, or in his own words his life purpose was, "to set man unconditionally free."
Chris: Krishnamurti famously declared that "truth is a pathless land." What did he mean by this? What is the nature of his teaching?
Dodds: I think Krishnamurti meant with that statement that any method or guide couldn't approach truth, and that ultimately nobody could usher us to freedom or show us the map to truth — it truly is a personal journey. In fact, what I understand is that truth isn't somewhere out there at the end of the somatic rainbow, and that the only possible thing to do is to be aware of the entire movement of thought as it interfaces with and creates a separate "me" in a time-based illusive reality. My daily journey is a dance in and out of sensitivity to all the subtle psychological movements of life as they arise in "me." Is it possible to honestly look at my behaviors, reactions, fears, and illusions and have an insight into their origins, exposing my own psychological nakedness and unearthing all of my vulnerabilities and insecurities? At the core, K's teachings are about love, not the love most people think about, but a love so profound and true that it is incorruptible, indivisible, and unconditional.
Chris: Are there salient points that bear noticing when approaching his work? I know he dealt with such issues as the nature of fear, conditioning, attention, and ultimate freedom. What other things did he tackle? How did he approach them, and how did he recommend that we approach them?
Dodds: K spoke about everything that we are made of — fear, joy, conditioning, compassion, greed, intelligence, etc. — the inner movements of what we are at our core, and he used questions to help untangle our confusion. I think it is important to note that K felt all humans had the potential to be free, to live a life without fear, conflict, and violence, anchored in love, compassion, and intelligence. He encouraged us to read the book of ourselves, and he stated that if one is attentive and sensitive to life's inner movements that all the right answers to life will appear. The alternative, he expressed, is to live life as a second-hand human being, the result of a lifetime of conditioning, fear, and insecurity.
Chris: There are two factors in Krishnamurti's teachings that particularly interest me. Those are meditation and the true nature of being religious. How did he describe these states, and how did he recommend understanding them?
Dodds: He did describe these states of meditation or oneness — a state of no division between himself and others or even nature — and, there are some wonderfully intimate expressions of what he felt in these states in Krishnamurti's Notebook. In this book, he also talks about a mysterious and powerful energy that would sometimes come to him, he called it the "other." Of course, it's fascinating to think that K was being influenced by or in touch with a mystical life-force. Whatever was happening in his life, there is no doubt that he had a special insight into the human condition.
He spoke a lot about meditation and was especially adamant about it not being something you practice. He felt much of what was happening in the meditation movement was just another illusion of the self, a further escape from reality. Meditation is a state of being, not something that you do but more like something that happens when you stop doing, when there is no division between the thinker and thought, he would say. Thus meditation isn't a practice, it's a very personal "happening" that might take shape in any number of ways. My life's meditation has been surfing. There is a moment when I disappear into the spontaneity of movement, meeting the unknown wave energy without a pre-mediated response. Sometimes it happens in my "normal" life, too, and I think that's true meditation and what K was pointing at as a state of non-separation with nature or people.
Chris: Krishnamurti can be very difficult to understand. How do you recommend to a new student of his thought the best way of approaching his body of work? Is there a practical aspect of his thought that can be practiced in daily life?
Dodds: Every person learns differently and thus I feel that one has to experiment with the various media available — audio, video, books, and now the Internet. I personally prefer books;I'll read a chapter or sentence and then ponder the questions proposed by K, letting it work on me as I move through the day. When I first found Krishnamurti's work I read it voraciously, thinking I could acquire K's same understanding if I read enough of his books or watched and studied all of the videos and audios available. Well, it doesn't work like that (unfortunately, and in fact in many ways it can lead to greater confusion). I simply replaced my world conditioning — from parents, teachers, society — with Krishnamurti conditioning, becoming a K puppet that sure sounded great quoting all that Krishnamurti content but that at its core was, and still is, rooted in fear and conflict.
Presently I feel I'm back to square one, which is most likely the very place I needed to be anyway. K always said that the first step is the last step, but I didn't realized until now that one could make a thousand wrong first steps and just go in circles. Thus, to answer your question about a practice, I would say keep experimenting with life, being conscious of the steps one takes along the journey and when that first right step comes along your entire life will change and that fundamental shift won't be the result of you wanting it, because as K also said on numerous occasions, "there is nothing in it for you!"
"What do you mean nothing for me?!" My life is a dance motivated by what I want and therefore I have found this concept of "nothing in it for me" to be a very difficult proposition, the understanding that total freedom is the result of ending the mechanism of desire is such a foreign concept to a man that seemingly is mostly motivated by this psychological life-fuel.
Chris: What books would you recommend? Some favorites of mine include Education and the Significance of Life, Think on These Things, and Freedom from the Known. Are there others that you think would prove a good gateway to his ideas?
Dodds: Those are all wonderful recommendations. Education and the Significance of Life is great for parents and teachers and is an easy read and perhaps the shortest of all K's books. Think on These Things is very digestible to the new reader of Krishnamurti; it contains short extracts based on questions from students presented in a very easy to read format. Freedom from the Known is also a wonderful book, and one of the best sellers over the years. My favorite series of books, though, by Krishnamurti are Commentaries on Living, three volumes of work written by K based on personal interviews with people. These books are true classics and offer an insight into life's bigger questions. In fact, we'll be releasing this entire series in cloth later this year as a K Publications collectible edition (paperback is available now). New readers can also check out www.jkrishnamurti.com which the foundations launched as a collective project this year to offer Krishnamurti's work free to the world, a true virtual gateway to this man's life work.
Thanks for the interview, I enjoyed sharing my thoughts and I encourage people to check out K's work, one of life's true jewels.
Books mentioned in this post