ANNIE BESANT AND KRISHNAMURTI : TWO GREAT SOULS IN QUEST OF TRUTH
Prof. P. Krishna
A life-member of the Theosophical Society and a Trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation, India.
Dr. Annie Besant and Sri J. Krishnamurti ( Krihsnaji) have been two great seekers of Truth. They were both inspired and influenced by theosophical ideals which state that Truth is the highest religion. Their life was so dedicated to the quest for Truth that they were prepared to sacrifice anything and everything for it. Though I never met Dr.. Besant, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about her relationship with Krishnaji. Therefore, in this article, I wish to present a different perspective based both on personal knowledge and my readings.
It is clear from Dr. Besant’s autobiography that even before she joined the Theosophical Society and came to India, she never compromised with her perception of what was true, irrespective of the price she had to pay for it. She did not allow anything to stand between her and her perception of the truth- neither religious beliefs nor family and friends. Whenever she saw something was false or unjust, she immediately dropped it and pursued the truth by transforming her life fearlessly. It was this quality in her which must have led Krishnamurrti to say to me in reply to a question why people find it so difficult to get the truth of his teaching, “ Sir, if Amma had been younger, she would have got it.” I think he was telling me in 1985 that it needs the kind of fearless passion for truth which Dr. Besant had, for someone to be able to break through all the past conditionings and perceive the truth of which he was speaking.
That same year in Varanasi, when Krishnaji was asking me to take charge of his institutions at Rajghat, he asked me, “ Sir, have you read about Dr. Besant?” I said, “A little Sir. I have read her autobiography but not much else since I was most of the time busy studying science.” “ You must read, Sir. She was an extra-ordinary woman!”. To my knowledge Krishnaji never praised anyone or advocated any reading, but on this occasion he made an exception!
Most people think that Krishnamurti denied the existence of the Masters and this created a big rift between him and Dr. Besant which led her to feel disappointed in him. This is a mis-understanding. What Krishnaji really objected to was a belief of convenience and the dependence on any outside agency for help. When Sri Mahesh Saxena ( A former Secretary of the Krishnamurti Foundation, India) asked him in Rajghat, “ Sir, do you deny the Masters?” Krishnaji told him, “ No Sir, I have never denied the Masters; but Leadbeater and Arundale brought what was sublime to the ridiculous, and I denied the rediculous”. In 1958, when I first met Krishnaji in Delhi, I had asked him, “ Sir, I have read that in the Esoteric Section you people used to bring messages from dead spirits and talk to them. Was all that hallucination?” To which he replied, “ No Sir, those things exist. It is another form of power. It has nothing to do with goodness; therefore I am not interested in it. Of course, the mind is also capable of hallucinations.” I understood that he was telling me that freeing one’s consciousness of the ego is far more important than the cultivation of any power and that includes occult power; because the ego can misuse that power.
Another time when Krishnaji was with Dr. Radha Burnier, he asked her, “ Radhaji, do you believe in the Masters?” and she said, “ yes, Sir”. He retorted, “ No, not like that. You know what it meant to Amma? She would give her life for it! Knowing that, now tell me, do you believe in the Masters?” Radhaji reiterated “ Yeas Sir, to which Krishnaji responded, “ Good!” These episodes point out what one finds is a recurrent theme throughout his teaching. To him the attachment to any concrete idea or concept was a barrier to the perception of the deeper truth, which was always to be posited as the unknown and not projected out of the known because only the direct perception of the truth transforms consciousness and not the belief in an idea about it. Belief without perception becomes choice which is egoistic; it creates division and also hypocricy. On the other hand when one posits the truth as the unknown, it generates humility which is essential for any deep enquiry.
We must remember that Krishnaji did not deny God; he denied all the concepts people accept about God. He did not deny the sacred; he denied what people consider to be sacred. He did not deny love, but he denied all the usual concepts about love. He did not deny the religious mind, he denied all concepts and beliefs about what is religious. To him, something imagined and fashioned by thought had little value, as it blocked inquiry and therefore the perception of the deeper truth. He posited the truth as the unknown and advocated an approach to it through the denial of the false.
Dr. Besant’s approach to truth was not very different from this. Let me quote what she said much before Krishnamurtu’s teachings had even begun to appear in print :
“ All students should understand something about investigations into the super physical, in order that they may avoid the blind credulity which accepts all, on the one side, and the equally blind incredulity which rejects all, on the other……
Our one great danger, as HPB ( Madame Blavatsky) recognised, is the danger of getting into a groove, and so becoming fossilized in the forms of belief that many hold today ….. The Society is intended, always has been intended, to be a living body and not a fossil, and a living body grows and develops, adapting itself to new conditions …….
Nothing could be more fatal to a Society like ours than to hall-mark as true, special forms of belief, and look askance at anyone challenging them…… If the Society is to live far into future, as I believe it will, it must be prepared to recognise now, quite frankly and freely, that our knowledge is fragmentary, that it is partial, that it is liable to very great modifications as we learn more and understand better……..
We are not dealing with theories, or flights of fancy or a mixture of the two but with records of observation…..
To proclaim one person as an infallible authority on a subject unknown to the proclaimer is to show fanaticism rather than reason. I would ask my own friends not to do that with me…….
It is interesting to notice that the matters on which considerable differences of opinion arise are matters which do not bear on life and conduct, but on those which however Interesting as knowledge, are outside that which is needed for the guiding of human-life….
Very few people analyse the complexity of what seems to them to be the very simple act of sight. In most acts of vision there is little real sight and a great deal of memory. What we call “sight” is a complex, compacted of the translation of the impression just made on the retina and the memory of the whole of the past impressions made by the same or by similar objects…….
Only well-trained and experienced seers will avoid the errors of looking at facts through a veil of their own thought-forms.
…………Generations far into the future, ourselves in new bodies, will still be extending the limits of the unknown; we do not want our limbs to be fettered then by appeals to our present researches, exalted into scriptures, used as walls to bar our onward progress then”. ( Ref-1)
One can see the seeds of Krishnaji’s later teachings in the above statement of Dr. Besant. Of course, Krishnamurti did not accept these statements from her or from anyone elese; he re-discovered the truth of these for himself. His whole teaching emphasises the distinction between the knowledge of a truth and the actual perception of it. The mission assigned to him by Dr. Besant and Mr. Leadbeater, on the basis of messages received by them from their Masters, was to function as the World Teacher, giving a new interpretation to religion for the age of reason, and this is precisely what he did all through his life.
In December 1933, after Dr. Besant had passed away and at the end of the Theosophical Convention, Krishnaji was invited to speak at the Theosophical Society in Adyar. At the end of one of his talks someone asked him,
“ The one regret of Dr. Besant is said to have been the fact that you failed to rise to her expectations of you as the World Teacher. Some of us frankly share that regret and that sense of disappointment, and feel that it is not altogether without some justification. Have you anything to say?”,
to which Krishnaji replied:
“ Nothing, Sirs. When I say Nothing,, I mean nothing to relieve your disappointment or Dr. Besant’s disappointemnt- if she was disappointed, for she often expressed to me the contrary. I am not here to justify myself; I am not interested in justifying myself. The question is, why are you disappointed, if you are? You had thought to put me in a certain cage and since I did not fit into that cage, naturally you are disappointed. You had a preconceived idea of what I should do, what I should say, what I should think………… Your disappointment is based not on thought, not on intelligence, not on deep affection, but on some image of your own making, however false it may be. You will find a body of people who will tell you that I have disappointed them, and they will create a body of opinions holding that I have failed. But in a hundred years’ time I don’t think it will matter much whether you are disappointed or not. Truth, of which I speak, will remain- not your fantasies or your disappointments.” ( Ref-2)
At the end of the next talk at the same time he was asked,
Krishnaji responded as follows :
“ Mr. Warrington kindly asked me to speak about this matter, but I told him that I did not want to. Now don’t condemn me by using such words as ‘guardianship”, “gratitude” and so on. Sirs, what can I say? Dr. Besant was our mother, she looked after us, she cared for us. But one thing she did not do. She never said to me, “ Do this” or “Don’t do that”. She left me alone. Well, in these words I have paid her the greatest tribute ………….”.
We must remember that theirs was not like an ordinary family relationship- it was a relationship of true love and affection, between two extra-ordinary wise human beings in quest of truth. Such a relationship is not based on expectations and does not seek support or gratitude from each other. An enlightened mother wants her child to be true to his or her own innermost perceptions and pursue what he/she considers to be true. This is what Dr. Besant did in her own life and to think that she would have expected anything less than that from her son would be ignorance on our part. It was a relationship based on true love and respect for each other, neither of which has anything to do with the demand for support or fulfilment, much less obedience of any kind.
The major philosophical divide between the leaders of the Theosophical Society at that time ( 1929) and Krishnaji’s teachings was that the former believed that different religions are different paths to Truth and Krishnaji said, “ Truth is a pathless land.” The rest was only political division arising from the personal likes and dislikes of those who had vested interests and who felt hurt because they were not free from ego-reactions. Dr. Besant was certainly not capable of such reactions. In fact her only concern in 1930, when Krishnaji parted ways with the Theosophical leaders, was her anxiety for Krishnaji’s future and she prevailed upon some of her best assistants and close associates to resign from the TS and go with Krishnaji in order to protect him.( Ref-3)
In fact she told Krishnaji that she wanted to resign as President of the TS and desired only to sit at his feet and listen to the teaching; but he refused to let her do so. In fact, Dr. Besant was the one person who never doubted that Krishnaji was the world teacher. She had warned everyone that when the World Teacher manifests, he may say things completely contrary to what they expect. Sri Achyut Patwardhan, told me at Rajghat, she used to tell us never reject what Krishnaji said, however much our opinions may differ from him, since it is a conciousness that sees very far”. That of course did not mean one must blindly accept what he says but to listen to it with respect and consider it carefully without quickly rejecting it. That is what Krishnaji also means when he talks of staying with the question.
In keeping with what K was saying in 1928, Dr. Besant closed down the Esoteric Section throughout the world and wrote to him,
That winter in Adyar she insisted on sitting on the ground with the rest of audience instead of with him on the platform.
Other leaders of the T.S. at that time did not agree with her actions, as they could not accept K’s teachings. They pleaded with her to re-open the E.S. saying the T.S. believed in several paths to the Truth and K could follow his own path but they had a right to follow their own. So Dr. Besant had to re-open the E.S. We must remember that whatever she may have felt personally, she could not as President of the T.S. insist that other members must accept her views since the Constitution of the TS permits everyone to hold any view and nobody has the right to impose one particular view on the organization. It is in that sense a truly democratic and secular organization with freedom to every member to pursue the truth in any way he or she chooses to, without being disrespectful of others. Since the other senior members of the TS were unwilling to accept K’s teaching and wanted the E.S. to be re-opened, she had no option but to accept their plea.
Krishnaji summed up the situation beautifully in his letter to Dr. Besant in Feb 1930.
In December 1933, writing to Mrs. Emily Lutyens he said,
So the man who was proclaimed the “ World Teacher” had to renounce the title in order to become the World Teacher ! All through his life Krishnaji retained a deep affection for the TS and remained concerned about its welfare. He also extended his help to the Society whenever he felt it was needed. During the last meeting of the Foundation held with him in India in January 1986, someone wanted to ask him a question,
But Krishnaji intercepted him and said with strong affirmation,
The next day I went to him and asked,
He listened intently and asked me animatedly,
His reply was,
He was not willing to deliberate on a hypothetical question, but he was open to consider it if it actually arose!
The last meeting between Krishnaji and Dr. Besant took place in Nov. 1932, when Krishnaji went to see her on her death-bed. ( Dr, Besant passed away on 20 September, 1933]. We do not know what actually transpired between them but the following imaginary conversation, taken from a play on the life of Dr. Besant, written and directed and staged by Dr. Irawati of the Vasanta College for Women at Rajghat in Varanasi to my mind very aptly sums up the essence and character of that relationship :
A.B : Krishna, my son, what will you do if you leave here? We have not brought you up to earn a living.
K : Do not worry, mother. If there is something in me, I shall float on the seas of life; and if there isn’t, let me sink!
It reminds me of the last conversation between Krishnaji and me when I visited him on his death-bed in Ojai, California in February 1986 :
K : Sir, do you have enough money for yourself, your wife and children?
P.K.: Yes Sir. I have enough money for the way I want to live.
K : You may think so, Sir. I do not think so ! I want you to know that I trust you completely.
PK : I will keep your trust, Sir.
K : Sir, never dominate anybody and do not let anyone dominate you.
PK : Sir, the first I promise. The second I shall try.
In conclusion, I only want to say that we cannot fully understand the quality of their love and their relationship unless we attain to their level of wisdom. Until then, it is best not to speculate, judge or attribute motives to their actions and their relationship.